Letter from Charles Darwin to Sir John Herschel

Charles Darwin

The Royal Society

The Royal Society
London, United Kingdom

Darwin discusses intelligent design and declares himself "in a complete jumble on the point". Darwin expresses his confidence in the ultimate acceptance of his views and hopes that Herschel will at least partially acquiesce.


  • Title: Letter from Charles Darwin to Sir John Herschel
  • Creator: Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882)
  • Date Created: 1861-05-23
  • Transcript:
    Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E. ?May 23d ? Dear Sir John Herschel?You must permit me to have the pleasure to thank you for your kind present of your Physical Geography. I feel honoured by your gift, & shall prize this Book with your autograph. I am pleased with your note on my book on species, though apparently you go but a little way with me. The point which you raise on intelligent Design has perplexed me beyond measure; & has been ably discussed by Prof. Asa Gray, with whom I have had much correspondence on the subject.? I am in a complete jumble on the point. One cannot look at this Universe with all living productions & man without believing that all has been intelligently designed; yet when I look to each individual organism, I can see no evidence of this. For, I am not prepared to admit that God designed the feathers in the tail of the rock-pigeon to vary in a highly peculiar manner in order that man might select such variations & make a Fan-tail; & if this be not admitted (I know it would be admitted by many persons), then I cannot see design in the variations of structure in animals in a state of nature,?those variations which were useful to the animal being preserved & those useless or injurious being destroyed. But I ought to apologise for thus troubling you.? You will think me very conceited when I say I feel quite easy about the ultimate success of my views, (with much error, as yet unseen by me, to be no doubt eliminated); & I feel this confidence, because I find so many young & middle-aged truly good workers in different branches, either partially or wholly accepting my views, because they find that they can thus group & understand many scattered facts. This has occurred with those who have chiefly or almost exclusively studied morphology, geographical Distribution, systematic Botany, simple geology & pal'ontology. Forgive me boasting, if you can; I do so because I shd. value your partial acquiescence in my views, more than that of almost any other human being.?Believe me with much respect | Yours, sincerely & obliged | Charles Darwin
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  • Rights: Copyright The Royal Society, 2018
  • External Link: See a full transcription of this letter and others at the Darwin Correspondence Project
  • Medium: paper, ink
  • Scientist: Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882), John Frederick William Herschel (1792-1871)
  • Field: Biology
  • Catalogue Reference: HS/6/17

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