Those of us in the Unitarian Church like to lay claim to famous people as our own. There is a good case that Charles Darwin was a Unitarian, in spite of his being babtized in the established church. His mother was a Unitarian and he attended his first school at the Unitarian Church in Shrewsbury where he and his family lived. Here is a slideshow from Deutsche Welle of places in his home town which still exist today, including the Unitarian chapel.
He also spend a great deal if time with relatives place. There were the Wedgewood family of pottery fame. The Wedgewood family were Unitarians. In their country home children were given much more freedom of movement and expression than in Darwin home. His father was strict and wanted young Charles to become a doctor like himself. At the country home, Maer Hall, of the Wedgewood family Charles spent much time exploring the natural world, its flora and fauna, foreshadowing his life's work as a Naturalist. Within the dissenter culture of the Unitarian church Darwin experienced people open to science and other religions.
My sister's recent trip to the Galapagos Islands and the fact that Darwin and the Wedgewood family came from the part of England where my Grandparents grew up, The Potteries.,( the six towns that were the heart of the pottery, ceramic and fine china making of England.) peaked my interest in Darwin. My grandparents came from Stoke-on-Trent.
Darwin grew up in a life of privilege. He married his cousin, Suzanna Wedgewood, had children and lived the life of a country gentleman. In his day, science was a pursuit of the leisure class, the gentry, who had the time, money and education to do science. Darwin spent his life examining the natural world and writing about it. He also carried on a great correspondence. His life and thoughts are well recorded.
Darwin ,of course, is best know for his theory of evolution through natural selection, which is now the basic tool to understand the Natural World and the changes wrought in it through time.
Natural selection was very controversial in his day as organized religion felt threatened by this theory which explained how changes in God's creation came about. Perhaps, God was not necessary to explain the natural world. Darwin lost his faith as he got older and became a humanist and non-believer. This is why is is a great favourite among Unitarians as their are many among us who fall into this category as well as many liberal Christians and others. Within the Unitarian church all believers are welcome for we are best thought of as a community of seekers. Darwin would have been welcome among us even two hundred years late.
In time, most of the religious community came to accept Darwin's explanation of change in the natural world, through natural selection. It is essential to science and how science explains and knows the world.
Why there are those who reject Darwin's theory of evolution today I have trouble understanding.
For the believer surely the process of evolution can be viewed as the ongoing creation of the Divine. The idea that God created a static eternal world flies in the face of rudimentary observation of change in the World around us. Evolution is science; creationism is religion.
Darwin's life and thought continues to be fascinating to read and know.