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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Daniel Mackintosh   25 February 1882

36 Whitford Road, | Tranmere, | Birkenhead,

25th Feb. 1882.

Dear Sir,—

I presume you have received a pamphlet from Dr. James Geikie in answer to my paper on Boulders. He does not seem to have fully understood my paper, especially concerning the meeting of a warm and cold current (like the Arctic current and Gulf Stream off Newfoundland) in the neighbourhood of Wolverhampton. He likewise seems to be inconsistent in fully acknowledging the boulder-transporting power of floating ice, while underrating its visible effects.

But my main object in writing is to obtain farther light on a subject in which I have been interested for many years (having had discussions with Socialists on the subject as far back as 1842 in Yorkshire). My principal occupation is a lecturer on physical geography and geology to schools (including Liverpool College); and I cannot bring myself to believe that religion should be entirely excluded from such lectures. You would greatly oblige by letting me know what you think of the following statement (which I fear is much too diffuse) of what may be advanced in favour of theism:—

If we deny the derivation of life from inorganic matter (in other words the origin of life by spontaneous generation) the only alternatives left would appear to be (first) the existence of what may be called a speck of life or organic matter from all eternity, because the sudden appearance of this speck in time (in the form of the first animal) would, in the absence of pre-existing life, be an instance of spontaneous generation; (second) the eternal existence of a living being co-extensive with the material universe, if not infinite in extent. Certainly the most probable alternative is the idea of an eternal or ever-living being filling all immensity with his presence, and breathing into the first animal the breath of life. In a subject of this kind we ought not to limit the possible existence of life to the globe on which we dwell; and supposing some or all of the planets to be inhabited by living beings (in each planet sprung from a centre or centres of creation) it would be much less reasonable to believe in the sudden appearance in time of such a centre or centres in each planet, than to be believe in an underived, eternal, and ever-living being directly adding to inert matter the germs of organic life. In short, the assertion that animal life could have originated independently of an eternal living being is only another way expressing the theory of spontaneous generation.

I have not worded the above in sufficiently clear language, but I have no doubt you will be able to see the drift of the argument.

With thanks for past letters received from you on other subjects,

I am, Dear Sir | Your very obliged & faithful | Servant, | D. Mackintosh.


Asks for CD’s opinion on certain theistic ideas. If spontaneous generation from inorganic material is denied, then life must be derived from some eternal being.

Letter details

Letter no.
Daniel Mackintosh
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 171: 13
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 13708,” accessed on 25 June 2021,