The article recounts a story known to most who have studied the life of Charles Darwin, the death of his daughter Anne. It is largely surmised (as Sanders does here) that it was this event that led Charles Darwin away from God. Here is what Sanders has to say:
Darwin’s faith was not in Jesus Christ, only in what he could see, touch, and understand. Perhaps more than any other scientist of his time, this hurting father came to understand the evil that really exists in the natural world—“red in tooth and claw” as the poet Lord Tennyson described it. The death of Anne just made the evil touch him personally. As far as we know, it also made him turn away from God once and for all.
This is at variance with other accounts. The Darwin Correspondence Project, for example, has this to say:
Darwin and his family had a lifetime involvement with the Church of England, and various dissenting establishments. In the Darwin and Wedgwood households, formal adherence to the Anglican Church was often combined with Unitarian belief. Unitarianism was a form of Protestant non-conformism that departed from the Anglican Church in its denial of the Trinity and the doctrine of eternal damnation. Unitarian congregations were comparatively small, well-educated, and allowed for a greater variance of belief (and doubt) than many non-conformist denominations.
In a letter to John Fordyce in 1879, Darwin writes:
It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist & an evolutionist.— You are right about Kingsley. Asa Gray, the eminent botanist, is another case in point— What my own views may be is a question of no consequence to any one except myself.— But as you ask, I may state that my judgment often fluctuates. Moreover whether a man deserves to be called a theist depends on the definition of the term: which is much too large a subject for a note. In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.— I think that generally (& more and more so as I grow older) but not always, that an agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind.
It seems that he possessed no belief in the salvation of Jesus Christ and drifted further away from the faith the older he got but never rejected God completely. Sanders ends the column thus:
Darwin proposed a new natural law—natural selection—which assumed that death has operated from the beginning. With this naturalistic, impersonal force of natural selection, he found a substitute for the God of the Bible, who is the Creator of all life-forms, the eternal Judge of sin, and the only possible Redeemer of fallen mankind and of our corrupted world.
This assumes that natural selection only came into the world as sin entered the world through
Adam and that Charles Darwin simply named it, an evil that already existed. This is also at variance with what we know from the natural record of the last 650 million years.
The problem of original sin is a vexing one for most Christians, let alone those that adhere to an evolutionary history of the planet. It seems, however, that natural selection, which was surely built into the fabric of the world by God, should not be viewed as evil but rather as a means by which God worked out his plan over the course of time.