RECORD: Darwin, C. R. [c. 1827.] [Notes on reading Sumner's Evidence of Christianity]. CUL-DAR91.114-118 Transcribed by John van Wyhe. (Darwin Online,

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed from the microfilm by John van Wyhe, corrected against the manuscript by Kees Rookmaaker 9.2008. Checked against the manuscript by van Wyhe 7.2010 RN1

NOTE: After giving up the study of medicine at Edinburgh University in 1827, Darwin studied a number of works on Christianity before deciding to become a clergyman (a plan that was never completed). These notes record Darwin's reading of the Revd John Bird Sumner's, The evidence of Christianity, derived from its nature and reception. London: J. Hatchard and son, 1824. For more detail see Gruber 1974, pp. 125-126. See Darwin's recollections of this period in his life in his Autobiography, p. 56-7.

This document is written in brown ink on cream-coloured paper which bears a watermark of 1822. 118r is of a different, very thin, paper watermarked 1815.

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Reproduced with the permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library and William Huxley Darwin.

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It can be proved most indisputably at what time the Christian Religion was first preached.

At a period of 30 or 40 years afterwards, the Christians disciples, "are called a vast multitude of women and children." (by Claudius & other writers) hence the system was not gradually formed, but authoritative & regular from the first.—

The actual existence of Christ cannot be proved by evidence: but Sceptics must be reduced to this dilemma. — Either Jesus did not exist or he actually lived, but was not the son of God. & hence an imposter.—

Supposing his non existence we must believe that a number of persons undertook to persuade

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their countrymen, that a man within a very few years had been born bred & performed wonderful works & finally excecuted at one of their principal festivals — when no such person had ever existed. This supposition is evidently absurd. —

Taking then his existence for granted, sceptics must say that he was an imposter or an enthusiast & deceived himself. —

The generals prevalence of the idea that a Messiah was about that time to come would favor an imposter, but then one would expect an imposter to frame his doctrines so as to coincide & favor the then popular opinions. (?        )

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But how different do we find it. — Jesus himself comes not as a prince & temporal savior, but instead of this, prophecies the overthrow of Jerusalem & the downfall of the temple. 2nd assumes authority & even preaches against the Mosaic laws both of which things were held most sacred by the Jews. — Lastly they admitted Gentiles into the pale of Christianity, a thing held as an utter abomination by the Jews.—

How can we suppose such doctrines should enter into the mind of Jesus, & why, if imposters should preach such doctrines, without the probable support of one of their country men. —

The still further improbability of impostership

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is shown by the entire discrepitude of the Christian doctrine with any previous ideas of either Jew or Gentile.

It begins by preaching two opinions, which never even entered the minds of the Jewish people viz. their alienation from God & 2nd the redemption of sin by Jesus Christ and lastly why should the disciples of Christ make a boast of Cross? a thing so utterly degrading in the eyes of the Jews. —

Supposing Jesus to be an enthusiast: — It is extremely improbable that his enthusiasm should have taken a line so directly contrary to his own & other peoples previous opinions: but waiving this there must have been a certain degree of imposture in his miracles & prophecies, & if so the foregoing arguments apply to it

Supposing...apply to it] marked in margin with three backwards facing question marks.

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All through the old testament there are evident allusions to a Messiah that was to come about the time Jesus appeared. Indeed the Jews themselves expected one, although by misinterpretation one of a very different character. The metaphorical allusions to Jesus are wonderfully numerous & correct. & even describe the coming of John the baptist, the nationality & death of Jesus, & many other things over which the disciples of Jesus could have had no influence. — as for the idea of the disciples introducing those passages into the old Testament is quite absurd: as the Jews could not have failed to have discovered it & that alone would prove their impostureship.— To ascribe all these facts to chance or conundrum is much more

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improbable than the divine mission of Christ, which explains all the mystery.—



Sumner tries to prove by the entire originality of the names used in Scripture- that the disciples had a full conviction of the truth in their own minds: it certainly proves that the Christian Religion did not spring out of the Jewish.


We have hitherto shown how improbable it is that the disciples, supposing them imposters, should have struck out so very original a plan of religion. now we will show in what a remarkable manner they predicted 1st persecution, which might have been expected, but they also pointed the line viz for rightesnous sake. — 2nd they prophecy divisions & contentions how improbably they should have thus gained up a prejudice against themselves.

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by foretelling that the effect of their religion would be so entirely contrary to its precepts. 3rd that the religion should spread itself far & wide. an original idea, for the Jews never imagined that there was any chance for their religion being promulgated. thus: again that it should increase gradually, & how it was to be received is remarkably shown in the parable of the sower: many other parable show this, also how different the lives of Christians are from their faith:— The wonderful insight into Human nature & their arguments are equally wonderfull.—

Ch VII. Wonderful wisdom shown in the scriptures about disputed points so different from Mahommad.—can not be accounted for except by Christ's divinity.—

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Ch VIII. When one sees a religion set up that had no existing prototypes demanding such a life as is held in the lowest esteem & yet most suitable to its object, it gives great probability to its divine origin:— When one sees men devoting themselves to a religion which inculcates things most contrary to human nature & for which there would be no necessity if the religion was false one must believe that they really believed.. 3rd how wonderfully suitable is the Christian character to our ideas of happiness in this & the next world. —

Ch IX.— Men do not so much refer to admire the Gospel on account of Evidence as on account their unsuitableness to their prejudices

The true principal things 1st Men are liable to Gods judgements & the redemption by Christ. Sumner shows in a long chapter to be very reasonable

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Ch X. Shows supposing the Christian religion to be true in how very natural manner it was promulgated. — We have no right to deny miracles the only proof which God could use for the purpose of convincing.—

We can easily understand that the Christian religion opposing every national feeling & every innate prejudice might be expected by a large body of men, even as Christ to this day is practically disobeyed but that a single man without the evidence, which the Scripture states to have been used should have been converted goes against every dictate of reason & experience.—

Ch XI for such wonderful & sincere change in the character of the first Christians. we can find out no explanation, but their real believe

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of the Christian doctrine & the life to come and if we can pin their sincerity we have reason to think that they were witnesses of the miracles &c &c & were convinced of there divine origin.—

Ch XII shows how perfectly the effect of the Christian religion is consonant with what we suppose would happen from a divine revelation.—

Ch XIII. Recapitulation. showing that there is no other way except by divinity of explaining the series of evidence & probability.—

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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

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