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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Henry MacKay   16 November 1872

Brady’s Bend. | Armstrong Co. | Pennsylvania. | U.S. America.

Novr 16th. 1872.


These many years I have been measurably familiar with your works on the “Origin of Species” and “Descent of Man”. I had not, however, read these books until quite recently.

I am a Clergyman of the Amn. Prot. Epis. Church. I have read your books with intense interest. And because of this interest, I am desirous to obtain information on a few more points, which are inseparable from the questions at issue.

I feel how intrusive I am in addressing you— I am painfully sensible of my own littleness and ignorance, which, perhaps, is my quickest stimulus, I hope, therefore, that you may hold me excused, and grant my request.

Your treatment of the Descent of Man must impress your readers with, at least, the supposableness of your arguments.

If we grant you to be correct in the Origin of man, And if your very ably presented arguments on Sympathy and Morals1 be even approximately correct, then thereout spring questions and issues which are vital to those calling themselves Christians.

If your moral theory be true, as I understand it, then morals are resultants of sympathy and experience, as inventions are results of other Causes.

The moral standard of enlightened Christian peoples differs in toto from those of our forefathers, the ancient anglo saxons even. For we were, no doubt, once as low as Papuans or Fuegians. If our moral nature, so called, has not been a Creation, then, reversion to immorality, should not be a marvel, though much to be regretted and resisted. Cases of atavism are not responsible for the reversionary processes which produced them, no more than we are for the rudiments you have so ably referred to in other families or varieties of mammals, as in man.

My difficulty is one which will evoke your sympathy and pity, rather than the opposite. If my understanding of your theories be correct, and the theories too be correct, then I would like to know your answers to the following question.

1. Has man what Christians and others entitle, a soul?

2. Is man morally responsible to his Creative Cause or force?

3. Does he live in an intelligent state after death? I do not ask, does man go to heaven and to hell, as fitted by his life and desires. I wish to know your opinion as to whether or not he lives at all, hereafter, as an animal?

Again hoping for your kind indulgence for the temerity which has prompted this letter, and with very respectful assurances of thankfulness for your able treatment of so unpopular and delicate a subject.

I am, sir, | With profound respect. | Your obedient Servant. | (Rev) H: Mackay


See Descent 1: 70–106.


Has just read Origin and Descent and wants to know: 1. Has man a soul? 2. Is man morally responsible "to his creative cause or force"? 3. Is there any form of after-life?

Letter details

Letter no.
Henry MacKay
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Brady’s Bend, Pa.
Source of text
DAR 171: 4
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8630,” accessed on 25 June 2018,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20