Published online by Cambridge University Press: 25 September 2021
In 1879, Darwin wrote to John Fordyce, a Scottish-born congregationalist minister and author, who had asked about the state of the evolutionist’s religious beliefs. Darwin wrote that his judgement often fluctuated. ‘In my most extreme fluctuations’, Darwin told Fordyce, ‘I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God. – I think that generally (and more and more so as I grow older) but not always, that an agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind’ (Darwin Correspondence Project, Letter no. 12041). Since this was just three years before Darwin’s death, this can be taken as a fairly definitive statement of his mature views. Darwin, and many of the Darwinians who supported his evolutionary theory, depicted themselves as agnostics. But both critics on their right and on their left accused them of trying to use agnosticism as a disguise for their true position: materialistic atheism.