Did Charlotte Mason Believe In Evolution?

"I thought I read recently that CM was influenced greatly, as were many people of her era, by Darwin, and encouraged the study of evolution. If that's true, then wouldn't it have influenced her worldview?"

Yes, Charlotte Mason believed in evolution. I read a book once on evolution as it was understood during the Victorian era, and you would not believe how many "flavors" of evolution there were. Darwin represented only one aspect of the evolutionary theory--the "survival of the fittest," nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw variety. Charlotte Mason believed in teleological evolution--that is, evolution guided and directed by an intelligence. She believed that evolution was part of God's current revelation to mankind--that he had revealed the mechanism by which he had created the world, and that, understanding how evolution worked (so they thought), they could actively work to improve and perfect mankind so as to usher in the Kingdom of God (reflecting the premillenial views of the day).

So, yes, I would say that the theory of evolution affected Charlotte Mason's worldview. I haven't looked at the relevant passages recently, but the enthusiasm you see for evolution and Darwin in volumes 3 and 5 is seriously tempered in volume 6, written much later in Charlotte Mason's life, and after WWI. She specially says, then, that Darwinism had influenced the Germans and given them justification for their aggression.

You have to remember that the churches of England, by and large, embraced Darwinism and evolution while the scientists were still skeptical about it. You have to think hard about whether or not you would have disagreed with the theory of evolution if you had lived then, and your pastor had eagerly preached it as if it were revealed from God, and compatible with Scripture.

-Karen Glass

Charlotte Mason was limited to the scientific discoveries of her own time. She advocated keeping abreast of the most current scholarly research and believed that, since God's Word is true, science would eventually confirm it somehow. She believed that science's last word still wasn't in, and probably never would be.

These days, we have so much information at our disposal, I think she would have loved it! And I think her recommendation would have been to make use of the best information that explains how God created the world, realizing that we'll probably never have the complete story this side of heaven.

-- Leslie Noelani

As Leslie wrote, Charlotte Mason was a product of her time. There are a couple of things you have to understand about evolution and the Victorian era in order to understand Charlotte Mason's view of evolution. And she did believe in evolution, as she makes very clear.

First of all, she was a member of the Church of England. Almost entirely, the clergy of the Anglican church embraced evolution, and believed it to be true--even while some scientists were still skeptical. Charles Kingsley is a perfect example--he was both an Anglican preacher and an evolutionist. I can imagine few church members who would dissent from the mainstream view of the church at the time. Certainly, Charlotte Mason did not.

But, you also have to understand that evolution was not equated with atheism for the Victorians. Many of them believed in what is called "teleological" evolution, which means that the evolution is being directed or controlled by a powerful being. Charlotte Mason believed that with the "discovery" of evolution, God had revealed to mankind the mechanism whereby he had created the world. And, like most of the postmillenialists of her time, she believed that the world was getting better and better, and that people could take advantage of their understanding to help things out and speed up the process.

It doesn't make a lot of sense to us, and it doesn't ring true in the light of our current understanding of evolution. However, I believe that if I had lived in her time, I might have thought very much as she did. The modern creation science movement has done a great deal to strengthen the Biblical view of creation, but I can remember how it felt as a child to have to choose between the Bible and science, not having any clue that science, as I was being taught, might be flawed.

I, too, speculate that if Charlotte Mason were alive today, in our climate of scientific evidence for creation, and LACK of evidence for evolution, she might think differently.


These questions have been coming up for years, and are sometimes fueled by "reviews" of CM philosophy that have been posted on certain homeschooling sites. Often the question of whether or not Charlotte Mason was a "Christian" comes from a misunderstanding of her principle that children are not born "good or bad," which has been taken to conflict with the doctrine that human beings are sinful. That principle actually referred more to a prevailing idea in her time that social class, family and good genes were responsible for much of what made a person intelligent or morally upright; that you could not be or become other than what your family of origin made you--princes, paupers, criminals, etc.

Yes, Charlotte Mason believed in a God-inspired (teleological) evolution. Many Christians of her day did; they were taught that that was the only possibility. However, to label her philosophy "humanistic" in the "secular humanistic" sense is quite wrong. Studying the "humanities" or the liberal arts is quite different from having a worldview centered on man rather than God.

Anne White
Sept 2010

I recently saw a blog post about that some time ago, and as was said in that post, no offense to non-Christians who make use of Charlotte Mason's philosophy, and I know there are many who do, but CM does lay it out straight about her own beliefs in Parents and Children (volume 2 of her series), chapter 25: she repeatedly states that all things are under the control of the Holy Spirit. There is no way to read that and think that Charlotte Mason was anything other than a Christian. Not necessarily a 20th/21st century evangelical North American Christian, so please let's not try to force her into our own particular cultural mindset on this; but she definitely called herself a Christian, defended Christian beliefs, and would surely have been startled to think that she was being rejected by Christians for holding views that were not "Christian" enough.

Charlotte Mason, being British and living over a hundred years ago, didn't have the same perspective on religion as we do here in America. She had a deep faith and saw God's hand in the world around her, but, no matter how you slice it, she was a product of the culture she lived in. She didn't have a problem reading and assimilating ideas from non-Christians if she thought the ideas were sound. She wasn't a young earth creationist. If we had lived then, most of us probably wouldn't have been, either. I suspect that in 1800's England, the only literal young earth creationists were traditional old-time preachers who buried their heads in the sand and refused to consider anything science was coming up with.

In fact, England today (and Europe) sees American evangelicalism fundamentalism as something peculiar to America. The whole debate about whether public schools should teach evolution or creation that's such a big issue here doesn't exist in England. Their schools aren't as keen to remove every vestige of religion as ours are here. It's a whole different world. Today we have the benefit of creation scientists who have found evidence to support creationism, but that information wasn't available back then, so Christians did the best they could with what they had and tried to square their Biblical understanding with the findings of science.

It would be pretty remarkable for Charlotte Mason to have arrived at our modern American perspective from the world she grew up and lived in. Whether that makes her unworthy to heed as a teacher will be an individual decision.

Leslie Noelani
Sept 2010

Maybe Charlotte Mason gave Van's Loon's book a positive review because she herself wasn't a creationist?

Actually, Charlotte was a creationist. She may not have been a young earth creationist the way we understand it, but she did believe that God created the world. However, at the time she lived (she was 17 when Darwin's Origin of Species was published), it was looking so convincingly like evolution was a fact, that even creationist Christians had to somehow reconcile that information. Most (including Charlotte) figured that evolution was somehow the process God used to create the world. She didn't have the benefit of scientists like those at ICR and Answers in Genesis. ;) But she believed that somehow, with more illuminating discoveries, it would all work out and fit together, and that we needed to keep an open mind and have faith that it would eventually work out to God's glory. I think she would have been excited at the progress that creationist scientists have made; it's something I think she would have regretted missing out on.

Leslie Noelani

Why does AO use evolutionary books like Hillyer's CHOW and Van Loon's Story of Mankind?

A Child's History of the World by Virgil Hillyer [and Hendrick Van Loon's Story of Mankind] begins with the author speculating on an evolutionary view of how the world began. Some creationists may wonder whether this invalidates the credibility of the book - if the author begins with an error, can he be relied on to give accurate and trustworthy information in the rest of the book?

Hillyer never strikes me, as I read his work, as a stark evolutionist, but rather someone who has tried to mesh evolution with his religion. There are a number of committed christians who believe in evolution, but they believe that evolution was the means of God's creation of the world, not an independent, accidental process. Billy Graham has stated these views. You can believe in a sovereign God who created the world by means of evolutionary process.

The truth is that no one was there at creation but the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We only have the testimony of Genesis, which has been interpreted in a number of ways. The point of the Genesis account is to demonstrate the vast and awesome power and sovereignty of Almighty God. I'm sure we are not meant to puzzle over how He did it.

What is a day? The NT says that to God a day is as a thousand years. Does this apply to the Genesis account? I don't know. I happen to believe in a young earth because I have studied the issue and all the arguments pretty carefully, but if another believes the day age theory, as long as he acknowledges the sovereign God as creator, then we have no meaningful disagreement. I prefer to say with the Psalmist "Such things are too wonderful for me" God as creator is the key issue, along with accepting the Genesis account however you picture it happening.

Most of the events in the Hillyer book are a matter of historical record, and so we can assume that he is at least as accurate as the next guy in telling the story of history. We can't be sure that any of them are 100% accurate. Hillyer at least acknowledges God in his presentation of history, and even if you differ in views, it is better than an account that is void of God altogether. Please don't judge him to be untrustworthy because you differ in views on how creation was effected, just enjoy his engaging narrative. It really is a wonderfully written and entertaining volume.

In Him, who through his vast power created the world by His spoken word,

Kim W.

I too struggled with this thought. But the truth is, you will not find a 100% accurate text besides the Scriptures. If I am not mistaken--and I'm sure I'll be enlightened if so--CM believed in evolution. Now, it was a new theory in her time, and I guess made sense to her. Or maybe, as Kim earlier implied, she believed, as some do, that God had a hand in evolution. I don't know. I say this only to say that NO ONE can present any idea or history in 100% accuracy. That doesn't necessarily mean we throw out "the baby with the bath water," but of course you have to use your own discernment.

Kim G.

The trustworthiness of a historian can be tested by going back to original sources. Hillyer's history has pretty much stood the test. A man may be a very trustworthy historian, but untrustworthy in the area of pre-history. They are 2 different realms. Unfortunately, in most history books pre-history is lumped together with history. I wish historians would stick to history.

Terri J.

I would like to add that is doesn't hurt to let even young children understand that no book is 100% "trustworthy" except God's own written word! Maybe not so much at the first grade level, but later CM specifically included books in her curriculum which presented opposing viewpoints, or at least differing accounts of an event. She wanted her students to be sharply aware of the fallibility of books!

I suspect that a book that is 100% percent accurate, readable and entertaining, and interesting to children of all ages *does not exist*. So we make our choices and deal with their shortcomings as best we can. I have seen other history books that present a creationist viewpoint, but are not necessarily "trustworthy" in their presentation of other aspects of history. It doesn't make a good litmus test.

~Karen Glass

Hillyer's book is not explicitly Christian, by any means, but it is respectful of Christianity, and Hillyer appears to believe in God. Various Bible characters are discussed in a historical context--but you will probably want to read the Biblical accounts, because Hillyer takes a naturalistic view (David became King of Israel because he married Saul's daughter...right, let's see what the Bible says).

But, in a Charlotte Mason education, there is no distinction made between "sacred" and "secular." Only one book is perfect and infallible--but knowledge, wherever it is found, belongs to God. All truth is his truth, no matter where you find it. Among other things, CM calls this "The Great Recognition." There are various ways of defining "Christian education," and HIllyer's book, like any other, should be viewed through the lens of God's Word. Is it perfect in every respect? No, (there aren't any history books like that). Can we learn something from it? Yes.

There are different ways of handling those early, evolutionistic chapters--and any of them are legitimate. You can skip them, read them in conjunction with the early chapters of Genesis, or just discuss them. We are using Child's History of the World a little differently in our home, and we ended up skipping them for now--mostly because we are focusing on a different era of history.


How to explain "cave-dweller?"

Here's one quick and simple explanation:

After the flood, it would have been a long time before there was plenty of wood for building, or numbers of people necessary to build with stone.  We can see that they were building elaborately by the time of the Tower of Babel--but immediately after that incident is another time when you might have seen groups of people living in caves, as they were scattered across the world.

I know that the "search for the lost Ark of Noah" is sometimes a hot topic, even in the secular world, but I always think...

If I landed on a post-flood mountain, I'd dismantle the thing for building material and firewood. <g>

You can handle the first few chapters of Child's History of the World in different ways--skip them, read them concurrently with the Biblical account, or just discuss them thoroughly with your children.


I hesitate to enter into the discussion about Young Earth/Old Earth/Theistic Evolution, etc., because I think we may need to try to stay a little closer to discussions about how to implement the AO curriculum. This is an important topic, but we all have a variety of views and each family will need to determine how to use the books best for their own doctrinal and scientific position.

But I feel a need to clarify something here.

Theistic Evolution is a broad category into which we can put anyone who believes both in the theory of evolution as it is taught, and that there is a God or Designer who is behind it all, whether very directly, or indirectly (Charlotte Mason believed this - that He "started" it all).

Young Earth/creationists believe that God created a young earth, and that there are errors in the dating systems, etc., of modern scientists. Ken Ham and Institute for Creation Research and others teach this in great detail.

Old Earth adherents (and Billy Graham has been named here as one) do not believe in evolution in any form. They believe that the earth was created at a certain advanced age - in the same manner as God created Adam as an adult (and not as an infant). They believe that the earth has been here for a similar length of time as Young Earth/creationists, but that when God created it, He created it to be a certain age. That is how they account for the fossil record, etc. In general, those who believe in the Gap Theory have put themselves into this camp, although creationists would disagree and say that the Gap Theory reflects a type of theistic evolution. (Gap-ists vehemently disagree with this assessment.)

(For what it's worth, I am a young earth/creationist, but I am sympathetic to the views of an old earth, and I know many older godly people who hold to it. They do not in any way accept evolution.)

We need to be careful that we not continue with too detailed a discussion of the different views that thoughtful Christians hold on this matter. (Hmmm...even though I just did?? :-) I'm sure each of us is passionate in the view we hold, but we want to be sure we keep our discussion on the topic of how to use a book like Hillyer's Child's History of the World, given a divergence of views.

The question of whether or not a book is reliable when it is considered incorrect in its opening pages is a good one. (Of course, not everyone using AO believes the opening chapters of A Child's History of the World are incorrect.) However, every book we read - especially history books - will contain subjective material and yes, even inaccurate material. The only exception to that is the Bible. Even a history book written by a Christian, or a Christian who holds to our particular viewpoint, can be challenged by someone, or by new discoveries.

We had discussion in the past about some of the problems with Hillyer's book. The conclusion seemed to be that there is not, at present, an equivalent alternative - yet! ;-) (I'm counting on the graduates of CM-styled educations to write a whole new crop of great books! :-)

I think our goal in teaching history is to excite our children's moral imagination, to inspire them to do great things, and to challenge them to think through the mistakes of the past. Hillyer's Child's History of the World is still a good choice, but for sections of that book, parents may want to supplement, substitute, or discuss what is included there. I think that, too, is a good lesson - to remind our children that there is one infallible Book - and that they need to develop a discerning mind for all others.

I hope this has been a little bit helpful. Someone already mentioned what I had done with A Child's History of the World with my son. We read from some ICR books I had on Creation, the Flood, Life in the Great Ice Age, and Adam and His Kin (remembering that that last one by Ruth Beechick employs the use of a sanctified imagination, and is how "it might have been" in parts) - then we took up the A Child's History of the World on around chapter 5 or 6, I can't recall exactly. I did, however, discuss evolutionary ideas with my ds, and I've been heartened to hear him lately pick up on evolutionary ideas when he is confronted with them.

Because I read A Child's History of the World aloud to him, he was not really aware of my skipping any chapters. If your child is reading it themselves, it will be more obvious to them if you choose to skip chapters. I think you'd have to deal with that differently in that instance.

The idea that "if there's one thing we disagree with in this book, it's unreliable in all things" is an easy one to cling to, but I think it can be very dangerous. I think it's much more desirable to use the best books available (staying open to hearing about new and better books, as Charlotte Mason did) - and teaching our children (and ourselves) discernment in using them.

The same thing is true with our appreciation of art, music, poets, writers, scientists, and so on. I thrill to see Rembrandt's "Raising of the Cross" - but I'm not thrilled to know that he lived with a woman and got her pregnant. That fact, however, doesn't rob my joy in seeing that painting. It reminds me that truth is truth, wherever I find it.

Love in Him, Donna-Jean Breckenridge

The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson (used in year 6) is well worth reading, I think. Year 4 of AmblesideOnline suggests It Couldn't Just Happen as a science text, which is creationist in its point of view. It offers good information that helped my child to think about the whole evolution/creation debate. I have no concerns about her reading The Sea Around Us when she reaches Year 6. But my children see evolution as silly, anyway. If your child hasn't had a lot of exposure to creation science yet, perhaps It Couldn't Just Happen is a better place to start.


We read from Van Loon's Story of Mankind when our son was in 5th grade (AO combo 4/5) and then again for Year 6. Thankfully, my son had already been exposed to evolution through the ps system and we had discussed creation with him then in factual detail. However, in our home creation has been taught from the very beginning and has never been an difficult issue.

I think the best thing you can do is to make sure you are always teaching your children from a creationist viewpoint. I know that this would seem obvious but there are many, many Christians who are confused about God as creator and as a result send a mixed signal to their children. They really do not understand God's role and even though they have read Genesis, they are very easily swayed by the scientific data constantly being pushed in front of our noses by just about everyone (from neighbors to TV to schools). This mixed message can really confound young children who, in my humble opinion, want to believe God is their creator (that awesome inherent message of hope that God places in all creation).

In our home, we choose to believe what God says about his creation. So when we read someone else's viewpoint, we matter of factly state that the writer is obviously not a Christian and doesn't understand who God is. Then we move on. It might sound too simple but I have found that young children desire to believe the Bible and do not need a lot of explanation. Older children will develop discernment not by being shielded from opposing theory but instead by seeing it for what it is, a theory developed by man and whose central focus is on man and not God. Also, older children develop the capacity for understanding that people have different views and they can extrapolate how someone can believe something without really knowing the truth.

As far as using another text, there are many good history text's that are Christian. However, I do not think that Story of Mankind is really that bad. Van Loon has an anti-Christian bias that runs through his book but it is subtle (an adult will pick up on it) and didn't seem to bother my son at all. There are other books that are clearly evolutionary and also are more difficult to read without swallowing hard. The Sea Around Us is a prime example. This is a Year 6 book and while it is lovely to read it is so filled with ooze and primordial slime that both my son and I had to skip sections just because I felt reading them was giving them legitimacy! Also, we got tired of saying "how can she write that?"

Anyway, choose what you feel is best for your home. If you feel your children can handle hearing a contrary view and can move on, then give Van Loon a try. However, if you think that your children will really struggle with his comments and views, then you might want to try another source for early world history.

Just an aside...Year 6 also has Ruth Beechick's delightful study on the book of Genesis (Adam and His Kin) that clearly lays the biblical foundation as well as provides answers to some of the mysteries of creation and early man's development. If you haven't already studied Genesis with your children, you might want to do this along with your reading of Story of Mankind.

Carol H.

Does Van Loon's "The Story of Mankind" have an anti-Christian bias?

Unfortunately, I have not read the entire book, so I can't give as complete an answer as I'd like. Those who originally put together the curriculum considered a lot of history books. There were several things to consider--readability, literary quality, and not least--availability. But our over-arching principle was always to keep our program as close as possible to what we thought the PNEU would have done.

Van Loon does have an anti-Christian bias that is not easy to ignore, so far as I can see. The only two choices are to deal with it as you go, or not use the book. There are not many choices for a comprehensive world history book at this reading level--which may explain why Van Loon won the Newberry Award for this book. We had to choose from among those few that were available, and we chose this. That doesn't mean it is ideal, and it doesn't mean you have to use it.

Not every chapter is offensive, and most of what I've used/read so far with my kids (we skipped the first few chapters) has been okay. To better answer your question, I read several chapters dealing with religion/Christianity, and to be honest, I didn't like them. I could let my child read them, though, with discussion afterward. It's not a bad thing, and very much in character with a CM-style education, to allow a child to read a book and find it wrong.

I daresay that if a fabulous world-history book with a Christian perspective, or at least a better respect came on the market, we would take a look at it, but in the meantime, this is a choice that will give your children a broad look at the scope of world history, plus it is well-written and thoughtful.


Further Reading

Read more about Van Loon's Story of Mankind

These websites were submitted to the email list as resources for parents wishing to use additional materials side by side with A Child's History of the World. The Advisory has not perused these sites and cannot vouch for their suitability.

This explains creation vs evolution:

These two articles explain my viewpoint rather well:

Young Earth:

Old Earth:

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