The Contribution of the Discoveries and Theories of Charles Darwin in the Nineteenth Century to the Decline of Religious Belief in the Twentieth Century
In Victorian England, people wanted answers. Explanations for unusual
natural events were becoming unbelievable in an increasingly educated
time, and these religious and supernatural explanations were doubted
by many. People needed a sensible explanation for life and mans'
existence. Charles Darwin provided a possible answer, and man was no
longer an 'Adam' created in God's image, but descended from a simple
single celled organism. But was Darwin responsible for the transition
into a more atheistic society? Many would argue he was the main player
in undermining the authority of religion.
In November 1859, Charles Darwin's most famous work, 'Origin of the
Species' was published. It detailed his theory of evolution. This
theory was based on natural selection which is survival of the
fittest. The process of evolution is all about creatures with a slight
difference to other creatures surviving better. For example, if an
animal is born with a longer neck it may be more able to reach food
higher up, and thus has a better chance of survival. More of these
animals with longer necks breed, and the creature evolves.
While navigating the seas on the HMS Beagle, Darwin visited the
Galapagos Islands which are off the coast of Ecuador. While he was
there, observing the wildlife of the islands, he noticed some things
about the wildlife. He saw two birds that looked identical, trying to
eat some nuts. One of the birds could easily crack the nuts with its
large powerful beak, whereas the other bird didn't have the strength
in its smaller thinner beak. Darwin realised from this observation
that there had been a slight adaptation in the species which increased
its chance of survival by allowing it to eat food unavailable to
others. These two birds became known as 'Darwin's Finches'. Darwin
observed many other examples of evolution and change within species
later in his career.
Origin of the Species caused a huge rift in religious thinking. At
first Darwin was ridiculed, but as people became more aware of his
ideas they slowly began to accept them....