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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Daniel Mackintosh   28 February 1882

Down | Beckenham Kent

Feb. 28. 1882.

Dear Sir.

I have read Prof Geikie’s essay & it certainly appeared to me that he underrated the importance of floating ice. Memory extending back for 12 a century is worth little, but I can remember nothing in Shropshire like till or ground moraine, yet I can distinctly remember the appearance of many sand & gravel beds—in some of which I found marine shells— I think it would be well worth your while to insist (but perhaps you have done so) on the absence of till, if absent, in the Western Counties, where you find many erratic boulders—1

I was pleased to read the last sentence in Geikie’s Essay about the value of your work.—2

With respect to the main purport of your note I hardly know what to say.— Though no evidence worth anything has as yet in my opinion been advanced in favour of a living being, being developed from inorganic matter, yet I cannot avoid believing the possibility of this will be proved some day in accordance with the law of continuity3 I remember the time above 50 years ago when it was said that no substance found in a living plant or animal could be produced without the aid of vital forces!4 As far as external form is concerned Eozoon shows how difficult it is to distinguish between organised & unorganised bodies—5 If it is ever found that life can originate on this world, the vital phenomena will come under some general law of nature— Whether the existence of a conscious God can be proved from the existence of the so-called laws of nature (i.e. fixed sequence of events) is a perplexing subject, on which I have often thought, but cannot see my way clearly— If you have not read W. Graham’s “Creed of Science” it would I think interest you, & he supports the view which you are inclined to uphold.—6

Believe me | Dear Sir | Yours faithfully. | Ch. Darwin.


See letter from Daniel Mackintosh, 25 February 1882 and n. 3. James Geikie’s article ‘Intercrossing of erratics in glacial deposits’ (Geikie 1882) had strongly supported the land-ice theory of boulder transportation. On CD’s support for the iceberg or floating ice theory, see ‘Ancient glaciers of Caernarvonshire’. See also Mills 1983 and Rudwick 1969 for more on the competing theories of erratic boulder transportation.
Geikie had concluded his paper by praising Mackintosh’s ‘unwearied devotion to the study of those interesting phenomena with which he is so familiar’ and for which his fellow-workers owed him a ‘debt of gratitude’ (Geikie 1882, p. 254).
By this time, a number of organic compounds had been synthesised from inorganic components; the first case was the synthesis of urea by Friedrich Wöhler in 1828.
CD had added information on the discovery of Eozoon canadense, thought to be a fossilised Foraminifera, to Origin 4th ed., p. 371, although disputes about its organic nature led him to modify his statement in Origin 6th ed., p. 287 (see Correspondence vol. 14, letter to J. D. Hooker, 31 May [1866] and n. 4, and Correspondence vol. 22, letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 March [1874] and n. 6). The mineral origin of Eozoon canadense was established in the 1890s (see O’Brien 1970).
William Graham’s The creed of science (Graham 1881) discussed the implications of CD’s theory for philosophy, religion, and ethics. For CD’s impression of the book, see Correspondence vol. 29, letter to T. H. Farrer, 28 August 1881.


‘Ancient glaciers of Caernarvonshire’: Notes on the effects produced by the ancient glaciers of Caernarvonshire, and on the boulders transported by floating ice. By Charles Darwin. Philosophical Magazine 3d ser. 21 (1842): 180–8. [Shorter publications, pp. 140–7.]

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Geikie, James. 1882. The intercrossing of erratics in glacial deposits. Scottish Naturalist 6 (1881–2): 193–200; 241–54.

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

Mills, William. 1983. Darwin and the iceberg theory. Notes and Records of the Royal Society 38: 109–27.

O’Brien, Charles F. 1970. Eozoön Canadense: ‘the dawn animal of Canada’. Isis 61: 206–23.

Origin 4th ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 4th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1866.

Origin 6th ed.: The origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 6th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.

Rudwick, Martin John Spencer. 1969. The glacial theory. History of Science 8: 136–57.


Comments on James Geikie’s ["Intercrossing of erratics", Scottish Naturalist 6 (1882): 193–200, 241–54]. Believes JG underrates importance of floating ice in explaining drift deposits.

Comments on origin of life and natural theology.

Recommends William Graham’s The creed of science [1881].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Daniel Mackintosh
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 146: 335
Physical description
C 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 13711,” accessed on 4 March 2024,