Posts Tagged ‘naturalist’

Darwin at Christ’s College

After a failed attempt to study medicine at University of Edinburgh and fearing that his son would “ne’er do well,” his father enrolled young Charles at Christ’s College, University of Cambridge, in 1827 to obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree in theology. A theology degree would qualify Darwin to become a clergyman in the Church of England—a guaranteed government professional.

Darwin’s father, Robert Darwin, thought this was a sensible career move. A “living” as an English clergyman would at least provide a comfortable income. In the Victorian era, clergymen in were trained as naturalists. Studying nature and exploring the wonders of creation were thought to be essential for clergymen in gaining an understanding of God’s creative handiwork.

While studying nature was perfect for the young Darwin, the aspect of becoming a clergyman was a different twist especially since Darwin was raised, as a Unitarian, to challenge the Church of England.

Since enrollment required acceptance of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, the thought of attending Christ’s College mandated a measure of reflection. Darwin wrote in his autobiography, “I asked for some time to consider, as from what little I had heard or thought on the subject I had scruples about declaring my belief in all the dogmas of the Church of England; though otherwise I liked the thought of being a country clergyman.”

On finally signing acceptance of the articles to enter Christ’s College in 1828 at the age of nineteen, Darwin recalls: “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.” Note the key words—“persuaded myself”.

Darwin found the Bible to inspire new ideas. In the characteristic free-spirit legacy, Darwin recalls, “inventing day-dreams of old letters between distinguished Romans and manuscripts being discovered at Pompeii or elsewhere which confirmed in the most striking manner of all that was written in the Gospels.”

Theology, however, was not Darwin’s first priority: “No pursuit at Cambridge was followed with nearly so much eagerness or gave me so much pleasure as collecting beetles.” Nature was Darwin’s focus.

At Cambridge, Darwin’s interest in Euclid’s mathematics, and geometry equaled that of his interest in William Paley’s Evidences of Christianity. Darwin aligned with Paley’s classic design perspective of creation. Darwin writing, “I am convinced that I could have written out the whole of the Evidences with perfect correctness… The logic of this book as I may add of his Natural Theology gave me as much delight as did Euclid.”

Later in life in retrospect, Darwin reflects, “Upon the whole the three years which I spent at Cambridge were the most joyful in my happy life; for I was then in excellent health, and almost always in high spirits.”

The question arises: why did Darwin finally claim that Christianity was a “damnable doctrine”?