Like a lot of other philosophies and beliefs, evolutionists reverence their founder and his ideas. Charles Darwin and his writing are revered in the evolutionary community, almost to the point of sainthood. Anyone daring to question the veracity of Darwin’s writings or even his thoughts is treated as a heretic by the scientific community. What no one in the fields ever talks about is who Darwin was, and how his life and beliefs influenced his science. This article will do just that and examine how Darwin’s background influenced his science, the ripples of which are still felt to this day.
Charles Darwin was born on February 12, 1809. Both sides of his family were children of notable abolitionists. Darwin himself was named for one of his uncles. Both grandparents were Unitarian and both parents grew up in the Unitarian church. For reference, the Unitarian church rejected the Trinity, believing God to be one entity, rather than the triune nature described in the Bible. Darwin’s father actually left the Unitarian church when Charles was very young and the boy was baptized into the Anglican Church of England. However, he would continue to attend Unitarian services with his mother until he went to an Anglican boarding school at age nine. His mother’s death when he was eight had a deep impact on the boy. His father, while well-meaning, was very hard on Darwin and expected him to follow in his footsteps and become a doctor. While the young Charles had a deep interest in science, he could not stand surgery and had little interest in a medical career. Still, his father persisted, sending Charles to the University of Edinborough in Scotland to study medicine in 1825.
The sixteen-year-old Darwin was very strongly molded by his college years. Because the University of Edinborough was technically outside the reach of the Anglican church, people who did not follow the Anglican churches line of teaching were free to graduate from there, unlike Cambridge or Oxford. This led to the Scotch university becoming a hotbed for what were called Dissidents, a catch-all term for everyone who was not Anglican. This included Baptists, atheists, Unitarians, Presbetyrians, and others. In Edinborough, Darwin was introduced to atheistic thought for the first time and was exposed to the concept of evolution. Evolution was not new. Greek philosophers as far back as Aristotle had proposed it and it had been kicked around among some parts of the scientific community in various forms for centuries. Darwin imbibed some of these ideas as part of the Plinian Society, a school club where students debated ideas about natural history, as well as performed some science on their own. One member of the society was Dr. Robert Edmond Grant, a zoologist and marine biologist who openly espoused the evolutionary ideas of Jean-Baptiste Lamark. This was a courageous stand for its time, and the impressionable Darwin was drawn to the ideas. He became one of Dr. Grant’s pupils, assisting him with numerous scientific investigations.
Darwin’s father, dissatisfied with his son’s poor performance in medical school, determined that Charles had no future as a doctor. Dr. Robert Darwin determined to remove his son from Edinborough and send him elsewhere. He made the logical choice for the time and sent Charles and his inquiring mind to Christ’s College at Cambridge to study for the prerequisites for a theology degree. Darwin was destined to become a minister. Christ’s College was beneficial to Darwin in a scientific sense as well. The prerequisite for a theology degree at the time was a bachelor of arts. Thus Darwin studied botany as part of his degree and was introduced to the works of creationist William Paley, among others. He also undertook the then popular hobby of beetle collecting with zeal, doing so well that some of his finds were published. He also took a tour of Wales with a geology professor, studying rock layers. It was here Darwin was introduced to the devastating idea of uniformitarianism.
Darwin’s life to this point was nothing too out of the ordinary. He was a college student with some eccentric tendencies and a passion for science. However, his time at Christ’s College had brought him somewhat back on course. His study of Paley and other creationists had caused him to, temporarily, shelf some of the ideas he had heard in Edinborough. Had it not been for his trip to Wales with Professor Adam Sedgwick, Darwin may have gone on to be a minister and scientist in the mold of Gregor Mendel. However, Sedgwick, while largely conservative in his views, had been strongly influenced by Charles Lyell. Lyell, who is known as the Father of Modern Geology, had published a book entitled, Principles of Geology in which he rejected the Biblical timescale and argued for millions of years. Sedgwick accepted this idea and heavily influenced young Charles Darwin. Ironically, Sedgwick would later become one of Darwin’s most outspoken critics.
This is by no means an exhaustive study of Charles Darwin’s early life, but a couple things jump out. Darwin’s family had a strong heretical background in the Unitarian church and one of his grandfathers, Erasmus Darwin, argued for a form of evolution in several of his published scientific works. The death of Darwin’s mother at a young age also dampened the young boy’s trust in God, as did being raised in a Unitarian church. In Edinborough, Darwin was introduced to a way of life coming into existence apart from a creator, an idea that never really left him. While Darwin’s time at Christ’s College gave him some respite from his forming doubts, what he took away most from the time some level of scientific knowledge and most importantly, Paley’s concept of natural selection, which Paley himself borrowed from John Ray. This concept, though not named as such, would be one of the key foundations for Darwin’s future theory.
NOTE:This series on the life of Darwin is meant to help creationists understand what motivated Darwin, and why he made the choices he did. It will also explain why those choices were poor. Darwin’s legacy is a huge part of evolutionary dogma. It is therefore important to know what that legacy is and how to discuss it.