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Darwin Correspondence Project

To G. J. Romanes   5 December [1878]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | (Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R.)

Dec. 5th

My dear Romanes

I am much pleased to send my photograph to the future Mrs. Romanes.—2

I have read your anonymous book,—some parts twice over—with very great interest: it seems admirably & here & there very eloquently written, but from not understanding metaphysical terms I could not always follow you.3 For the sake of outsiders, if there is another edition, could you make it clear, what is the difference between treating a subject, under a “scientific”, “logical”, “symbolical” & “formal” point of view or manner? With respect to your great leading idea, I shd like sometime to hear from you verbally (for the answer wd be too long for letter) what you would say if a Theologian addressed you as follows.

“I grant you the attraction of gravity, persistence of force (or conservation of energy) & one kind of matter,—though the latter is an immense admission. But I maintain that God must have given such attributes to this force, independently of its persistence, that under certain conditions it develops or changes into light, heat, electricity, galvanism, perhaps even life. You cannot prove that force (which physicist define as that which causes motion) would inevitably thus change its character under the above conditions. Again I maintain that matter, though it may in the future be eternal, was created by God with the most marvellous affinities, leading to complex definite compounds & with polarities leading to beautiful crystals &c &c. You cannot prove that matter would necessarily possess these attributes. Therefore you have no right to say that you have “demonstrated” that all natural laws necessarily follow from gravity the persistence of force & existence of matter. If you say that nebulous matter existed aboriginally & from eternity with all its present complex powers in a potential state, you seem to me to beg the whole question”

Please observe it is not I, but a theologian who has thus addressed you, but I could not answer him.— In your present “ideotic” state of mind, you will wish me at the Devil for bothering you

Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from G. J. Romanes, [8] December 1878.
Ethel Duncan married Romanes on 11 February 1879 (ODNB).
Romanes’s book A candid examination of theism was published under the pseudonym ‘Physicus’ ([G. J. Romanes] 1878c). CD’s annotated copy is in the Darwin Library–CUL; the annotations were made by Francis Darwin. The book went through several editions, but no revisions were ever made.


ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.


Comments on GJR’s anonymous book [A candid examination of theism (1878)]. Notes possible theological objections.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
George John Romanes
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.553)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11773,” accessed on 28 February 2021,