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Darwin Correspondence Project

To William Graham   3 July 1881

Down, Beckenham, Kent. | (Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R) [Glenridding House, Patterdale.]

July 3rd. 1881.

Dear Sir

I hope that you will not think it intrusive on my part to thank you heartily for the pleasure which I have derived from reading your admirably written ‘Creed of Science,’ though I have not yet quite finished it, as now that I am old I read very slowly.1 It is a very long time since any other book has interested me so much. The work must have cost you several years and much hard labour with full leisure for work. You would not probably expect anyone fully to agree with you on so many abstruse subjects; and there are some points in your book which I cannot digest. The chief one is that the existence of so-called natural laws implies purpose.2 I cannot see this. Not to mention that many expect that the several great laws will some day be found to follow inevitably from some one single law, yet taking the laws as we now know them, and look at the moon, what the law of gravitation—and no doubt of the conservation of energy—of the atomic theory &c. &c. hold good, and I cannot see that there is then necessarily any purpose. Would there be purpose if the lowest organisms alone destitute of consciousness existed in the moon? But I have had no practice in abstract reasoning and I may be all astray. Nevertheless you have expressed my inward conviction, though far more vividly and clearly than I could have done, that the Universe is not the result of chance. But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind? Secondly I think that I could make somewhat of a case against the enormous importance which you attribute to our greatest men: I have been accustomed to think, 2nd, 3rd and 4th rate men of very high importance, at least in the case of Science.3

Lastly I could show fight on natural selection having done and doing more for the progress of civilisation than you seem inclined to admit. Remember what risk the nations of Europe ran, not so many centuries ago of being overwhelmed by the Turks, and how ridiculous such an idea now is in more civilised so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence.4 Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilised races throughout the world. But I will write no more, and not even mention the many points in your work which have much interested me. I have indeed cause to apologise for troubling you with my impressions, and my sole excuse is the excitement in my mind which your book has aroused.

I beg leave to remain | Dear Sir | Yours faithfully and obliged | Charles Darwin.


Graham 1881 was a discussion of how far philosophy, theology, and ethics needed to be revised in the light of new scientific theories of the conservation of energy and evolution by natural selection. Graham had sent CD a copy of the book (see letter to G. J. Romanes, 27 June [1881]).
See Graham 1881, pp. 344–50.
Graham argued that the development of human civilisation depended upon great men, not natural selection (see Graham 1881, pp. 64–72).
The power of the Ottoman Empire reached a peak in the sixteenth century, when the Turks reached Budapest (EB s.v. Turkey). On CD’s views on the Turks, see Bilgili 2017.


Bilgili, Alper. 2017. Beating the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence: Darwin, social Darwinism and the Turks. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 65: 19–25.

EB: The Encyclopædia Britannica. A dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. 11th edition. 29 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1910–11.

Graham, William. 1881. The creed of science: religious, moral, and social. London: C. Kegan Paul & Co.


Praises WG’s Creed of science.

He disagrees that the existence of natural laws implies purpose, but his "inmost conviction" is that "the Universe is not the result of chance". But then has horrid doubt whether convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from lower animals, are at all trustworthy.

Believes natural selection is doing more for progress of civilisation than WG admits.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Graham
Sent from
Patterdale Down letterhead
Source of text
DAR 144: 345
Physical description
C 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 13230,” accessed on 18 July 2024,