Religious Affiliations of Significant Scientists III

Charles Darwin is a household name when it comes to the topic of evolution. He represents a case where his studies started to lead to questions regarding religion. Throughout his life, his viewpoints started to change. In this article, you will also learn more about the faith of Nicolaus Copernicus.

Charles Darwin

The theories of ‘survival of the fittest’ and ‘natural selection’ have all come from the English naturalist named Charles Darwin. He noted that all species of life have come from common ancestors and over time, certain patterns have been adapted to ensure the survival or advancement of the species. Darwin published many theories regarding evolution, including a book titled ‘On the Origin of Species.’ By the 1870s, the scientific community and most of the general public had embraced evolution as a fact and no longer a fleeting theory. Darwin’s work has been heralded as a way to explain the diversity of life.

Darwin came from a family that were nonconformist Unitarians, while his father and grandfather were freethinkers , meaning they held the philosophical viewpoint that opinion should be formed on the basis of science, logic and reason. They did not believe that opinions should be swayed by tradition, authority or other views. Darwin’s baptism and boarding school were associated with the Church of England. When he attended Cambridge, he studied to become an Anglican clergyman. Darwin agreed with the literal meaning of the Bible and did not doubt the word. He quoted the Bible often, and his viewpoints did not start to change until he embarked on his journey aboard the Beagle.

When he returned from sailing the seas, he had become critical of the Bible and started to wonder why all religions should not be considered as equally valid. Over the next couple of years, Darwin kept pondering on geology and the transmutation of species. He started to dig deep into his own beliefs and feelings regarding religion and openly discussed it with his wife, who held onto beliefs. She greatly studied and questioned topics centered on religion. He believed that God was the ultimate lawgiver, but saw religion as a way of survival. When he wrote On the Origin of Species, his theological views shined through.

In the long run, Darwin’s theories would later have a strong impact on many religions. His belief in Christianity also waivered and was greatly affected by the death of his daughter Annie. When she died in 1851, he stopped attending church altogether.

Nicolaus Copernicus

The astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, who lived during the Renaissance Age, was the first person to come up with a comprehensive heliocentric viewpoint, which he taught to others. This view went against the thought that the Earth was at the center of the universe. Copernicus was a Catholic that was actually part of the church. He was a cleric that may have been ordained as a priest, but might have only taken minor orders.