Charles Darwin’s relationship with the church is often thought to be a contentious one. It is known that either on the Beagle voyage (1831–6) or shortly thereafter, Darwin abandoned his plans to become a clergyman in the Church of England. The criticism of Darwinian theory by certain Anglican leaders, such as the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, still receives much attention, and it is sometimes claimed, quite erroneously, that the Anglican Church as a whole was united in condemning Origin of species . The more nuanced beliefs Darwin held, and the highly variable reception of his work amongst clergymen, are discussed elsewhere in this web resource, within the topics of design and belief.
This section focuses on a much neglected aspect of Darwin’s relationship with the church, namely his active involvement in the local parish of Down. Darwin’s activities in the parish extended to the management of charities, the care of church property, and the overseeing of clerical conduct. Letters exchanged with the Anglican vicar John Brodie Innes, the resident clergyman of Down for many years, and later the absentee incumbent still responsible for clerical appointments in the village, provide a fascinating picture of Darwin’s support for the church as a social institution.
The article “Darwin and the church” provides an account of Darwin’s interaction with the Unitarian and Anglican churches, with an emphasis on his activities within the parish of Down.