Although Darwin explicitly discusses religion in The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, he earlier did not want to explain his views on Christianity or religion in his published works. As his son Francis points out, Darwin's “his reticence arose from several causes. He felt strongly that a man's religion is an essentially private matter, and one concerning himself alone” (Ch. 8 "Religion"). As he explained a letter of 1879 “What my own views may be is a question of no consequence to any one but myself.” Furthermore, Francis adds, “He naturally shrank from wounding the sensibilities of others in religious matters, and he was also influenced by the consciousness that a man ought not to publish on a subject to which he has not given special and continuous thought. ‘ I feel in some degree unwilling to express myself publicly on religious subjects, as I do not feel that I have thought deeply enough to justify any publicity.’”

Neither Darwin nor his son mention what many have taken as the most obvious reason for his earlier reticence — an understandable desire to avoid conflict and the opprobrium that would place himself outside the pale, particularly at Cambridge where many of his mentors were devout. Historians of evolutionary theory occasionally allege that he delayed publishing On the Origin of Species (1859) to avoid the attacks that in fact came quickly after its the publication. Darwin, who utilizes the fairly common autobiography strategy of writing as if from beyond the grave, admits to many flaws in his intellect and general character, but does not mention intellectual cowardice or even caution, and it may not have been a significant factor at all. Unlike others, such as Arthur Hugh Clough, who lost their religious belief, Darwin would not have risked financial ruin. He did not depend financially upon a position at a university, since, as one of the heirs to the Wedgwood fortune, he was independently wealthy. Moreover, given that he and his family settled in Down away from both London and the universities, suggestions that fear of any possible social ostracticism also would not seem to serve as an important reason for reticence and delay.


The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin. Volume I. Ed. Francis Darwin. Project Gutenberg EBook #2087 produced by Sue Asscher in February 1999. Web. 29 July 2012

Last modified 2 August 2012