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Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin's views on religion
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Charles Darwin's Education
Inception of Darwin's theory
Development of Darwin's theory
Publication of Darwin's theory
Reaction to Darwin's theory
Charles Darwin's views on religion
Journey on the Beagle

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Charles Darwin came from a Nonconformist background. Though several members of his family were Freethinkers, openly lacking conventional religious beliefs, he did not initially doubt the literal truth of the Bible. He attended a Church of England school, then at Cambridge studied Anglican theology to become a clergyman and was fully convinced by William Paley's teleological argument that design in nature proved the existence of God. However, his beliefs began to shift during his time on board HMS Beagle. He questioned what he saw—wondering, for example, at beautiful deep-ocean creatures created where no one could see them, and shuddering at the sight of a wasp paralysing caterpillars as live food for its eggs; he saw the latter as contradicting Paley's vision of beneficent design. While on the Beagle Darwin was quite orthodox and would quote the Bible as an authority on morality, but had come to see the history in the Old Testament as being false and untrustworthy.

Upon his return, he investigated transmutation of species. He knew that his clerical naturalist friends thought this a bestial heresy undermining miraculous justifications for the social order and knew that such revolutionary ideas were especially unwelcome at a time when the Church of England's established position was under attack from radical Dissenters and atheists. While secretly developing his theory of natural selection, Darwin even wrote of religion as a tribal survival strategy, though he still believed that God was the ultimate lawgiver. His belief continued to dwindle over the time, and with the death of his daughter Annie in 1851, Darwin finally lost all faith in Christianity. 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. In later life, when asked about his religious views, he wrote that he had never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God, and that generally "an Agnostic would be the more correct description of my state of mind."

Charles Darwin recounted in his biography of his grandfather Erasmus Darwin how false stories were circulated claiming that Erasmus had called for Jesus on his deathbed. Charles concluded by writing "Such was the state of Christian feeling in this country [in 1802].... We may at least hope that nothing of the kind now prevails." Despite this hope, very similar stories were circulated following Darwin's own death, most prominently the "Lady Hope Story", published in 1915 which claimed he had converted on his sickbed. Such stories have been propagated by some Christian groups, to the extent of becoming urban legends, though the claims were refuted by Darwin's children and have been dismissed as false by historians.