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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   17 June [1860]

Down Bromley Kent

June 17th

My dear Lyell

One word more upon the “Deification” of Natural Selection.1 Attributing so much weight to it, does not exclude still more general laws i.e. the ordering of the whole universe. I have said that nat. selection is to the structure of organised beings, what the human architect is to a building. The very existence of the human architect shows the existence of more general laws; but no one in giving credit for a building to the human architect, thinks it necessary to refer to the laws by which man has appeared. No astronomer in showing how movements of Planets are due to gravity, thinks it necessary to say that the law of gravity was designed that the planets shd. pursue the courses which they pursue.—   I cannot believe that there is a bit more interference by the Creator in the construction of each species, than in the course of the planets.—

It is only owing to Paley & Co,2 as I believe, that this more special interference is thought necessary with living bodies.—   But we shall never agree, so do not trouble yourself to answer.—

I shd. think your remarks were very just about mathematicians not being better enabled to judge of probabilities, than other men of common sense.—

I have just got more returns about gestation of Hounds,—period differs at least from 61 to 74 days; just as I expected.—3

Etty has been decidedly better these two or three last days.4 This day makes 7 weeks in bed!

Yours affect | C. Darwin

I was thinking of sending G. Chronicle to you on account of a paper by me on fertilisation of Orchids by insects, as it involves a curious point; & as you cared about my paper on Kidney Beans; but as you are so busy, I will not.—5


William Paley and other natural theologians argued that the organisation and adaptations of living organisms indicated the existence of an intelligent creator.
The source of CD’s information has not been identified. See letters to Charles Lyell, 1 [June 1860] and 25 [June 1860].
See letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, [4–5 June 1860]. For CD’s earlier paper on the fertilisation of kidney-beans, see Correspondence vol. 6, letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, 18 October [1857] and Collected papers 1: 275–7.


Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

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


Discusses relationship between natural selection and more general laws. Law of gravity is not seen as requiring design. Mentions mathematicians’ judgment of probability.

Notes gestation periods for hounds.

Etty is somewhat better.

Mentions his paper on fertilisation of orchids by insects [Collected papers 2: 32–5].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.217)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2833,” accessed on 9 June 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8