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Charles Darwin's views on religion

Charles Darwin's views on religion have been the subject of much interest. His work was pivotal in the development of evolution theory.

Charles Darwin had a non-conformist background, but attended a Church of England school. He studied Anglican theology with the aim of becoming a clergyman, before joining the Voyage of the Beagle. On return, he developed his theory of natural selection in full awareness that it conflicted with the teleological argument. Darwin deliberated about the Christian meaning of mortality and came to think that the religious instinct had evolved with society. With the death of his daughter Annie, Darwin lost all faith in a beneficent God and saw Christianity as futile. He continued to give support to the local church and help with parish work, but on Sundays would go for a walk while his family attended church. However, in his autobiography he recalled that at the time of writing On the Origin of Species he was convinced of the existence of God as a First Cause and deserved to be called a theist.

In his later life, Darwin was frequently asked about his religious views. He went as far as saying that "Science has nothing to do with Christ, except insofar as the habit of scientific research makes a man cautious in admitting evidence. For myself, I do not believe that there ever has been any revelation. As for a future life, every man must judge for himself between conflicting vague probabilities." He was always insistent that he was agnostic and had "never been an atheist".

Darwin's religious background

Charles Darwin was born during the Napoleonic Wars and grew up in their aftermath, a conservative time when Tory dominated government closely associated with the established High Church of England repressed Radicalism, but when family memories recalled the 18th century Enlightenment and a multitude of Non-conformist churches held differing interpretations of Christianity. His Whig supporting extended family of Darwins and Wedgwoods was strongly Unitarian, though one of his grandfathers, Erasmus Darwin, was a freethinker. While his parents were open enough to changing social pressures to have Charles baptised in the Church of England, his pious mother took the children to the Unitarian chapel. After her death when he was only eight he became a boarder at the (Church of England) Shrewsbury School, a public school.

Edinburgh — medical studies and Lamarckian evolution theory

The two universities in England, Oxford and Cambridge, were under the Church of England and required students to sign the Thirty-nine Articles of the Anglican faith, so many English Non-conformists sent their children to the Scottish universities which had a better reputation in fields like medicine. Charles initially attended the University of Edinburgh, and while he was put off medicine he took an active interest in natural history and from Robert Edmund Grant learnt about Lamarckism and evolutionism.

Natural history had grown from the idea that the different kinds of plants and animals showed the wonder of God's creation, making their study and cataloguing into species worthwhile. In Darwin's day it was common for clergymen to be naturalists, though scientific findings had already opened up ideas on creation. The established churches (of England and Scotland) and the English universities remained insistent that species were miraculously created and man was distinct from the "lower orders", but the Unitarian church rejected this teaching and even proclaimed that the human mind was subject to physical law. Erasmus Darwin went further and his Zoönomia asks ..would it be too bold to imagine that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament, which the great First Cause endued with animality.... possessing the faculty of continuing to improve by its own inherent activity, and of delivering down these improvements by generation to its posterity, world without end!, anticipating Lamarckism.

Cambridge — theology and geology

While Charles' father Robert had followed his own father Erasmus in medical practice and freethinking, he kept the latter quiet. When Charles proved unable to persevere at medical studies a career option was for his father to purchase at auction a country parish "living" as an Anglican parson. Charles was at first uncertain, but as he later wrote: "I liked the thought of being a country clergyman. Accordingly I read with care 'Pearson on the Creed' and a few other books on divinity; and as I did not then in the least doubt the strict and literal truth of every word in the Bible, I soon persuaded myself that our Creed must be fully accepted.". He then followed his father's bidding by enrolling at Christ's College, Cambridge for the required BA course.

He joined the natural history course of the Revd. John Stevens Henslow who gave him tuition in theology, and Charles became particularly interested in the writings of the Revd. William Paley. Paley's Evidences of Christianity and Moral and Political Philosophy were set texts. Darwin wrote: "I could have written out the whole of the 'Evidences' with perfect correctness, but not of course in the clear language of Paley....I do not think I hardly ever admired a book more than Paley's 'Natural Theology.' I could almost formerly have said it by heart." After doing well in his theology finals Charles read Paley's Natural Theology which saw a rational proof of God's existence in the complexity of living beings exquisitely fitted to their places in a happy world, proving their design by a Creator. While this was at odds with the ideas of Grant and Erasmus Darwin, it convinced Charles and encouraged his interest in science. During this time Cambridge was briefly visited by the Radicals Richard Carlile and the Revd. Robert Taylor on an "infidel home missionary tour", causing a stir before being banned, and Taylor would be remembered by Charles as "the Devil's Chaplain", a warning example of an outcast from society who had challenged Christianity and had been imprisoned for blasphemy.

Voyage of the Beagle

Before leaving Cambridge, Charles studied geology with the Revd. Adam Sedgwick, then got the opportunity to join a survey expedition as gentleman's companion to captain Robert FitzRoy on HMS Beagle. Before they left England FitzRoy gave Darwin a copy of the first volume of Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology.

The developing science of geological strata and the finding of extinct fossils appeared to contradict the Biblical account of Noah's ark, but this was reconciled by theories such as Catastrophism which postulated a series of catastrophic floods each followed by the creation of new species ex nihilo. Lyell's book explained features as the outcome of a gradual process over huge periods of time, and in the second volume he explained extinctions by a "succession of deaths" with new species then being created. Darwin later wrote home that he was 'seeing' land-forms as if he had the eyes of Lyell. FitzRoy evidently shared this view at the time, but on the return of the Beagle he wrote a section for his account of the voyage recanting this and earnestly explaining his renewed commitment to a literal reading of the Bible, with rock layers high in the mountains containing sea shells interpreted as proof of the flood and ideas of the six days of creation extending over aeons dismissed because the grass, herbs and trees would have died out during the long nights. In contrast, Darwin by then had developed a convincing new theory on the formation of coral atolls which supported Lyell's arguments.

Darwin's loss of faith

In his later private autobiography, Darwin wrote of this time:

"Whilst on board the Beagle (October 1836-January 1839) I was quite orthodox, and I remember being heartily laughed at by several of the officers (though themselves orthodox) for quoting the Bible as an unanswerable authority on some point of morality. I suppose it was the novelty of the argument that amused them. But I had gradually come, by this time, to see that the Old Testament; from its manifestly false history of the world, with the Tower of Babel, the rainbow as a sign, etc., etc., and from its attributing to God the feelings of a revengeful tyrant, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos, or the beliefs of any barbarian.

In seeking to explain his observations, by early 1837 Darwin was speculating on transmutation of species and writing of "my theory". Having decided to marry, he visited his cousin Emma on 29 July 1838 and told her of his ideas on transmutation. On 11 November he returned and proposed to Emma. Again he discussed his ideas, and she subsequently wrote beseeching him to read from the Gospel of John "our Saviour's farewell discourse to his disciples", a section on following the Way which says "Love one another" (13:34), then describes Jesus as the Word Incarnate saying "I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (14:6), and warns:

"Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned"(15:6).

His warm reply eased her heart's concern, but this tension would remain. Emma worried that his lack of faith could mean that they would not be together in the afterlife, and as disbelief later gradually crept over Darwin, he came to:

''"hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished.
And this is a damnable doctrine."

Darwin was interested in ideas of Natural "laws of harmony", and made enquiries into animal breeding. Having read the new 6th edition of the Revd. Thomas Malthus's Essay on the Principle of Population, around late November 1838 he compared breeders selecting traits to a Malthusian Nature selecting from variants thrown up by chance so that "every part of newly acquired structure is fully practised and perfected", thinking this "the most beautiful part of my theory". He was well aware of the controversy his theory would cause, and of the likely reaction of the scientific establishment he was trying to become part of, so was very cautious in considering all possible arguments against his theory and in discussing his theory with friends. As Richard Millner wrote: "Darwin dreamt of being beheaded or hanged; he thought a belief that went so contrary to biblical authority was `like confessing a murder'." (Encyclopedia of Evolution (1990), p. 113). Darwin himself wrote to his friend Joseph Dalton Hooker, "I am almost convinced... that species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable."

Death of Annie

At the end of June 1850 his bright nine year old daughter Annie who had become a particular favourite and comfort to him fell sick and after a painful illness died on 23 April 1851.

During Annie's long illness Darwin had read books by Francis Newman, a Unitarian evolutionist who called for a new post-Christian synthesis and wrote that "the fretfulness of a child is an infinite evil". With Annie's death Darwin lost the last embers of his faith in a beneficent God and saw Christianity as futile. Darwin wrote at the time, "Our only consolation is that she passed a short, though joyous life." For three years he had deliberated about the Christian meaning of mortality. This opened a new vision of tragically circumstantial nature.

On Sundays Emma took the children to church. After Annie's death, Darwin sometimes went with them as far as the lych gate to the churchyard, and then he would go for a walk. During the service, Emma continued to face forward when the congregation turned to face the altar for the Creed, sticking to her Unitarian faith.

On the Origin of Species

Darwin continued to avoid public controversy and to accumulate evidence supporting his theory against the anticipated arguments. In 1858 the information that Alfred Russel Wallace now had a similar theory forced early joint publication of Darwin's theory. The reaction to Darwin's theory, even after publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859, was more muted than he had feared. In 1860 seven liberal Anglican theologians caused a much greater furore by publishing a manifesto titled Essays and Reviews in which they sought to make textual criticism of the Bible available to the ordinary reader, as well as supporting Darwin. Their new "Higher Criticism" represented "the triumph of the rational discourse of logos over myth." It argued that the Bible should not be read in an entirely literal manner, thus becoming "a bogey of Christian fundamentalists ... but this was only because Western people had lost the original sense of the mythical."

Christian fundamentalists were as vocal, and in an 1860 letter to his collaborator Asa Gray Darwin expressed his doubts about the teleological argument which claimed nature as evidence of god :

"With respect to the theological view of the question: This is always painful to me. I am bewildered. I had no intention to write atheistically, but I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars or that a cat should play with mice... On the other hand, I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe, and especially the nature of man, and to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance."

In his autobiography written in 1876 he recalled that at the time of writing the On the Origin of Species the conclusion was strong in his mind of the existence of God due to "the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist.

Downe parish

Although he is commonly portrayed as being in conflict with the Church of England, Darwin was supportive of the local parish church.

On moving to Downe, Kent in 1842, Darwin supported the parish church's work, and became a good friend of the Revd. John Innes who took over in 1846. Darwin contributed to the church, helped with parish assistance and proposed a benefit society which became the Down Friendly Society with Darwin as guardian and treasurer. His wife Emma Darwin became known throughout the parish for helping in the way a parson's wife might be expected to, and as well as providing nursing care for her own family's frequent illnesses she gave out bread tokens to the hungry and "small pensions for the old, dainties for the ailing, and medical comforts and simple medicine".

In 1864 Innes retired to a property he had inherited in the Scottish Highlands, changing his name to Brodie Innes and leaving the parish in the dubious hands of his curate, the Revd. Stevens, while still remaining the patron. The meagre "living" and lack of a vicarage made it hard to attract a priest of quality. Innes made Darwin treasurer of Downe village school and they continued to correspond, with Innes seeking help and advice on parish matters. The Revd. Stevens proved lax, and departed in 1867. His successors were worse, one absconding with the school's funds after Darwin mistakenly shared the treasurer's duties with him. The next was rumoured to have disgraced himself by "walking with girls at night". Darwin now became involved in helping Innes with detective work, subsequently advising him that the gossip that had reached Innes was not backed up by any reliable evidence.

A new reforming High Church vicar, the Revd. George Sketchley Ffinden, took over the parish in November 1871 and began imposing his ideas. Darwin had to write to Brodie Innes, explaining what had upset the parishioners. Ffinden now usurped control of the village school which had been run for years by a committee of Darwin, Lubbock and the incumbent priest, with a "conscience clause" which protected the children from Anglican indoctrination. Ffinden began lessons on the Thirty-nine Articles of the Anglican faith, an unwelcome move from the point of view of the Baptists who had a chapel in the village. Darwin withdrew from the committee and cut his annual donation to the church, but continued with the Friendly Society work.

For two years Emma organised a winter reading room in the local school for local labourers, who subscribed a penny a week to smoke and play games, with "Respectable newspapers & a few books... & a respectable housekeeper..there every evening to maintain decorum." This was a common facility to save men from "resorting to the public house". In 1873 the Revd. Ffinden opposed it, as "Coffee drinking, bagatelle & other games" had been allowed and "the effects of tobacco smoke & spitting" were seen when the children returned in the morning. Emma got Darwin to get the approval of the education inspectorate in London, and just before Christmas 1873 the Darwins and their neighbours the Lubbocks got the agreement of the school committee, offering to pay for any repairs needed "to afford every possible opportunity to the working class for self improvement & amusement". A furious Ffinden huffed that it was "quite out of order" for the Darwins to have gone to the inspectorate behind his back. In the autumn of 1874 Darwin let off steam at Ffinden and formally resigned from the school committee on health grounds.

Ffinden then refused to speak to any of the Darwins, and when two evening lectures were proposed for the village in 1875, Lubbock had to act as an intermediary in requesting use of the schoolroom. The committee agreed, but Ffinden refused to co-operate, writing that "I had long been aware of the harmful tendencies to revealed religion of Mr. Darwin's views, but.. I had fully determined.. not to let my difference of opinion interfere with a friendly feeling as neighbours, trusting that God's grace might in time bring one so highly gifted intellectually and morally to a better mind." Darwin was equally haughty in return, condescending that "If Mr. F bows to Mrs D. and myself, we will return it". He found dealing with Ffinden, along with arguments about natural selection with the Roman Catholic convert Mivart, increasing his private hostility to Christianity. However, although he disagreed with Brodie Innes about evolution and politics they remained good friends.

Religion as an evolved social characteristic

In his 1871 book The Descent of Man Darwin clearly saw religion and "moral qualities" as being important evolved human social characteristics. Darwin's frequent pairing of "Belief in God" and religion with topics on superstitions and fetishism throughout the book can also be interpreted as indicating how much truth he assigned to the former.

In the introduction Darwin wrote:

"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science."

Later on in the book he dismisses an argument for religion being innate:

"Belief in God — Religion. — There is no evidence that man was aboriginally endowed with the ennobling belief in the existence of an Omnipotent God. On the contrary there is ample evidence, derived not from hasty travellers, but from men who have long resided with savages, that numerous races have existed, and still exist, who have no idea of one or more gods, and who have no words in their languages to express such an idea. The question is of course wholly distinct from that higher one, whether there exists a Creator and Ruler of the universe; and this has been answered in the affirmative by some of the highest intellects that have ever existed."

"The belief in God has often been advanced as not only the greatest, but the most complete of all the distinctions between man and the lower animals. It is however impossible, as we have seen, to maintain that this belief is innate or instinctive in man. On the other hand a belief in all-pervading spiritual agencies seems to be universal; and apparently follows from a considerable advance in man's reason, and from a still greater advance in his faculties of imagination, curiosity and wonder. I am aware that the assumed instinctive belief in God has been used by many persons as an argument for His existence. But this is a rash argument, as we should thus be compelled to believe in the existence of many cruel and malignant spirits, only a little more powerful than man; for the belief in them is far more general than in a beneficent Deity. The idea of a universal and beneficent Creator does not seem to arise in the mind of man, until he has been elevated by long-continued culture."

Enquiries about religious views

Fame and honours brought a stream of enquiries about Darwin's religious views, leading him to comment "Half the fools throughout Europe write to ask me the stupidest questions." He sometimes retorted sharply, "I am sorry to have to inform you that I do not believe in the Bible as a divine revelation, & therefore not in Jesus Christ as the Son of God", and at other times was more guarded, telling a young count studying with Haeckel that he "did not believe that there ever has been any Revelation. As for a future life, every man must judge for himself between conflicting vague probabilities." He declined a request by the Archbishop of Canterbury to join a 'Private Conference' of devout scientists to harmonise science and religion, for he saw "no prospect of any benefit arising" from it.

When Brodie Innes sent on a sermon by E. B. Pusey, Darwin responded that the Origin had no "relation whatever to Theology", though when he wrote it his own "belief in what is called a personal God was as firm as that of Dr. Pusey himself." Brodie Innes deplored "unwise and violent" theological attacks on his old friend, for while they had disagreements, "How nicely things would go if other folk were like Darwin and Brodie Innes."

In a letter to a correspondent at the University of Utrecht in 1873, Darwin expressed agnosticism:

"I may say that the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God; but whether this is an argument of real value, I have never been able to decide. I am aware that if we admit a first cause, the mind still craves to know whence it came from and how it arose. Nor can I overlook the difficulty from the immense amount of suffering through the world. I am, also, induced to defer to a certain extent to the judgment of many able men who have fully believed in God; but here again I see how poor an argument this is. The safest conclusion seems to me to be that the whole subject is beyond the scope of man's intellect; but man can do his duty."

Caution about publication, spiritualism

In 1873 Darwin's son George wrote an essay which boldly dismissed prayer, divine morals and "future rewards & punishments". Darwin wrote "I would urge you not to publish it for some months, at the soonest, & then consider whether you think it new & important enough to counterbalance the evils; remembering the cart-loads which have been published on this subject. – The evils on giving pain to others, & injuring your own power & usefulness... It is an old doctrine of mine that it is of foremost importance for a young author to publish.. only what is very good & new... remember that an enemy might ask who is this man... that he should give to the world his opinions on the deepest subjects?... but my advice is to pause, pause, pause."

During the public interest in Modern Spiritualism, Darwin attended a séance at Erasmus's house in January 1874, but as the room grew stuffy Darwin went upstairs to lie down, missing the show, with sparks, sounds and the table rising above their heads. While Galton thought it a "good séance", Darwin later wrote "The Lord have mercy on us all, if we have to believe such rubbish" and told Emma that it was "all imposture" and "it would take an enormous weight of evidence" to convince him otherwise. At a second séance Huxley and George found that Williams was nothing but a cheat, to Darwin's relief.

In 1876 Darwin wrote the following regarding his publicly stated position of agnosticism: "Formerly I was led... to the firm conviction of the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. In my Journal I wrote that whilst standing in the midst of the grandeur of a Brazilian forest, 'it is not possible to give an adequate idea of the higher feelings of wonder, admiration, and devotion, which fill and elevate the mind.' I well remember my conviction that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body. But now the grandest scenes would not cause any such convictions and feelings to rise in my mind."

In November 1878 when George Romanes presented his new book refuting theism, A Candid Examination of Theism by "Physicus", Darwin read it with "very great interest", but was unconvinced, pointing out that its arguments did not rule out God creating matter and energy at the beginning of the universe, with a propensity to evolve. If theism were true, "reason might not be the only instrument for ascertaining its truth".

Agnosticism

In 1879 a letter came asking if he believed in God, and if theism and evolution were compatible. He replied that a man "can be an ardent Theist and an evolutionist", citing Charles Kingsley and Asa Gray as examples, and for himself, he had "never been an Atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God". He added that "I think that generally (and more and more as I grow older), but not always, that an Agnostic would be a more correct description of my state of mind."

Those opposing religion often took Darwin as their inspiration and expected his support for their cause, a role he firmly refused. In 1880 there was a huge controversy when the atheist Charles Bradlaugh was elected as a Member of Parliament and then prevented from taking his seat in the House of Commons. In response, the secularist Edward Aveling toured the country leading protests. When Aveling later requested permission to dedicate a book on Darwin and his Works to Darwin, he declined in a four page letter marked PRIVATE, adding that "though I am a strong advocate for free thought on all subjects, yet it appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against Christianity & theism produce hardly any effect on the public; & freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men's minds which follows from the advance of science. It has, therefore, been always my object to avoid writing on religion, & I have confined myself to science. I may, however, have been unduly biased by the pain which it would give some members of my family, if I aided in any way direct attacks on religion."

In Germany militant Darwinismus elevated Darwin to heroic status. When the eminent Freethinker Doctor Ludwig Büchner requested an audience he thought he was greeting a noble ally. To Darwin this was a grotesque misunderstanding, but he felt unable to refuse. Darwin's wife Emma Darwin expressed her expectation that their guest "will refrain from airing his very strong religious opinions" and invited their old friend the Revd. Brodie Innes. On Thursday 28 September 1881 Büchner arrived with Aveling. Darwin's son Frank was also present. Darwin wittily explained that "[Brodie] & I have been fast friends for 30 years. We never thoroughly agreed on any subject but once and then we looked at each other and thought one of us must be very ill". In uncharacteristically bold discussions after dinner Darwin asked his guests "Why do you call yourselves Atheists?", saying that he preferred the word "Agnostic". Aveling replied that "Agnostic was but Atheist writ respectable, and Atheist was only Agnostic writ aggressive". Darwin responded "Why should you be so aggressive?". Freethought is "all very well" for the educated, he argued, but are ordinary people "ripe for it?" Aveling retorted what if "the revolutionary truths of Natural and Sexual Selection" had been confined to the "judicious few" and Darwin had delayed publication of the Origin, where would the world be? Surely "his own illustrious example" encouraged freethinkers to proclaim truth "abroad from the house-tops". Darwin agreed that Christianity was "not supported by the evidence", but he had reached this conclusion only slowly: "I never gave up Christianity until I was forty years of age."

Funeral

Darwin's Westminster Abbey funeral expressed a public feeling of national pride, and religious writers of all persuasions praised his "noble character and his ardent pursuit of truth", calling him a "true Christian gentleman". In particular the Unitarians and free religionists, proud of his Dissenting upbringing, supported his naturalistic views. The Unitarian William Carpenter carried a resolution praising Darwin's unravelling of "the immutable laws of the Divine Government", shedding light on "the progress of humanity", and the Unitarian preacher John Chadwick from New York wrote that "The nation's grandest temple of religion opened its gates and lifted up its everlasting doors and bade the King of Science come in."

Posthumous Autobiography

Darwin decided to leave a posthumous memoir for his family, and on Sunday 28 May 1876 he began Recollections of the Development of my mind and character. He found this candid private memoir easy going, covering his childhood, university, life on the Beagle and developing work in science. A section headed "Religious Belief" opened just before his marriage, and frankly discussed his long disagreement with Emma. At first he had been unwilling to give up his faith, and had tried to "invent evidence" supporting the Gospels, but just as his clerical career had died a slow "natural death", so too did his belief in "Christianity as a divine revelation". "Inward convictions and feelings" had arisen from natural selection, as had survival instincts, and could not be relied on. He was quick to show Emma's side of the story and pay tribute to "your mother, so infinitely my superior in every moral quality... my wise adviser and cheerful comforter".

The Autobiography of Charles Darwin was published posthumously, and quotes about Christianity were omitted by Darwin's wife Emma and his son Francis because they were deemed dangerous for Charles Darwin's reputation. Only in 1958 Darwin's granddaughter Nora Barlow published a revised version which contained the omissions. This included statements such as the following:

"By further reflecting that the clearest evidence would be requisite to make any sane man believe in the miracles by which Christianity is supported, — that the more we know of the fixed laws of nature the more incredible, do miracles become, — that the men at that time were ignorant and credulous to a degree almost incomprehensible by us, — that the Gospels cannot be proved to have been written simultaneously with the events, — that they differ in many important details, far too important as it seemed to me to be admitted as the usual inaccuracies of eyewitness; — by such reflections as these, which I give not as having the least novelty or value, but as they influenced me, I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation. The fact that many false religions have spread over large portions of the earth like wild-fire had some weight with me. Beautiful as is the morality of the New Testament, it can hardly be denied that its perfection depends in part on the interpretation which we now put on metaphors and allegories." (p.86)

"Thus disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but at last was complete. The rate was so slow that I felt no distress, and have never since doubted even for a single second that my conclusion was correct." (p.87)

"I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine." (p. 87)

"The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection had been discovered. We can no longer argue that, for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by man. There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows. Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws." (p.87)

"At the present day (ca. 1872) the most usual argument for the existence of an intelligent God is drawn from the deep inward conviction and feelings which are experienced by most persons. But it cannot be doubted that Hindoos, Mahomadans and others might argue in the same manner and with equal force in favor of the existence of one God, or of many Gods, or as with the Buddists of no God...This argument would be a valid one if all men of all races had the same inward conviction of the existence of one God: but we know that this is very far from being the case. Therefore I cannot see that such inward convictions and feelings are of any weight as evidence of what really exists." (p.91)

"Nor must we overlook the probability of the constant inculcation in a belief in God on the minds of children producing so strong and perhaps as inherited effect on their brains not yet fully developed, that it would be as difficult for them to throw off their belief in God, as for a monkey to throw off its instinctive fear and hatred of a snake." (p.93)

The Lady Hope story

See Elizabeth Hope for details of this story and arguments refuting it.

After Charles Darwin's death it was claimed that he underwent a deathbed conversion to Christianity. Beyond being a common story frequently applied to famous non-believers, the claim can be dismissed by his never having left the church. The claims were refuted by Darwin's family, but resurfaced several times, often by those said to be agenda-driven.

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