skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From George Morrish1   18 March 1871

114 Camberwell Road | London S.E.

March 18, 1871


I have seen several extracts from the new edition of your Origin of Species, and being interested in the subject, I hope you will excuse my troubling you.2

I understand you to put the pith of the moral part of the subject thus:

1. That you compare some of the higher animals (baboon and monkey say) with a savage; and in several things the man seems to be at the disadvantage

2. That we must all have descended from one or other of the above

3 Why then be shocked at the thought of having proceeded from a baboon? (I use the word ⁠⟨⁠“⁠⟩⁠proceeded” in preference to “descended”, because this latter word has quite another meaning when in contrast with “ascended”.)

Now what I cannot see in the above is why we must have proceeded from either a baboon or a savage. Why may not (to put Scripture aside for the moment) all men have proceeded from one pair who were created refined, intelligent, &c., and that some may have descended into the savage; and others may have kept on about the same level as their first parents—sometimes losing ground morally, and once and again regaining it? I cannot see why we must have proceeded from either the savage or the baboon.3

But there is altogether another element in the question which I fear you have overlooked—namely sin. Suppose now a botanist produces some beautiful plant by selection and extra care: a small insect by obtaining possession of the root spoils the whole. So sin has spoiled man. The baboon seems to compare advantageously with the savage in some things; but surely the reason is that sin (as the worm in the supposed plant above) has permeated the entire nature of the man, and morally spoilt it all; whereas the baboon is as the Creator made it. (except as it may suffer exteriorly from the sin of man. Rom. 8. 22) That is, the one is spoiled; and the other is not. Have you sufficiently taken this into account?

I hope you believe the scripture; and if so, this seems to me to meet a great many of the moral difficulties. Take Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden—innocent, able to hold intercouse with their Maker, intelligent, refined—and compare them with the savage: what a vast difference! And yet scripture gives the key to it: Man sinned and was driven out from the presence of God. And from that time, though every man is infected with sin (like the worm at the root of the plant) while some have descended by degrees into the savage, others have kept on a more refined and decent level

A case will illustrate this. Suppose a man in middle life in England. He has two sons: one turns out a decent honest fellow; the other becomes a thief, and descends greatly in the moral scale. He brings up his children to be thieves and they live in the grossest ignorance and degradation. Compare now these children with their grandfather, and see the difference in say fifty years, notwithstanding the check upon evil by the moral state of England: and what may not have been done in a thousand years, and where there was no such moral state to check the development of evil? Thus man degenerated; and the descendants of Adam and Eve became savages and cannibals. God says He made man upright, and accounts for his degradation by sin, as I have said. And this is quite sufficient, as it seems to me, with difference of climate, habits, associations, and indulgences, to account for all the difference between the most enlightened naturally and the most degraded: omitting for the moment what God has done to rescue man from his degradation.

But graver difficulties lie in your theory: namely 1. Scripture says that God breathed into Man’s nostrils the breath of life; and Man became a living soul (Gen. ii. 7.): a thing which is never said of the animals. I do not mean that the Hebrew words for ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ are not applied to both man and beasts; but that God “breathed into his nostrils” is not applied to beasts.

2. Scripture says that God made man in His own image, which is not said of any animal

3 That man fell, and was driven out from the presence of God.

4 That all mankind will rise again, and appear before the judgment: which will not be true of the animals.

Allow me to ask if you have considered these points, and how can they be reconciled with the theory of man proceeding from a baboon? It may be that animals vary and change and are developed diversely; but is there not in the above, proofs of an immense bar over which no animal can pass.

Again; philosophers are apt to say that such and such things must be. And as far as man is concerned it is true. For instance, if a man brings me a beautiful plant, I say he must have had some cutting or root or seed from which to produce it. Or an animal: he must have had other animals of some sort to produce this one. But I cannot say this of God. If I say of Him, It must be so & so, He would surely cease to be God. God can create: that is, something out of nothing. Why not then have made man just as scripture describes, and animals just as scripture describes? It seems to me that your theory creates many difficulties that are entirely avoided if scripture be taken. And to say that things must have been so and so, is often to shut God out, or to make Him no God. And supposing you could trace man back to a baboon originally—who made the baboon? God. Then why could He not have made both the man and the baboon?

In one of the extracts I have seen you speak of “a higher destiny in the distant future.” But what can be known of a future except by the revelations of One who can look into the future? If a man can have proceeded from a baboon, may he not also descend into one again? What is to prevent it? And if we take scripture, let us take it not only for the future, but for the past! How good then of God to draw aside the veil and let us look into the past as well as into the future.

Scripture not only details the fall of man, involving all Adam’s descendants; but for 4000 years man was in probation—some under law and some without law. But all ended in failure. And now (because man can be saved in no other way than by pure favour) God gave His only-begotten Son to die for sinners; that whosoever believeth in Him should never perish.

These are some of the things I believe scripture teaches on the subject under consideration. You will see they seem to clash materially with your theory though you may have a way of reconciling them in your own mind. If God has spoken in His word, I think you will agree with me that we are bound to read that revelation quite as much as the book of nature and science. And I hope you do not hold the impossibility of God making a revelation to man: for if so, how can He be God if there is something which (though man can do it to his fellow man quite easily) God cannot do?

Then why may not scripture be that revelation, seeing that it unfolds the past and the future which could be known in no other way? And thus we are brought back to the revelation of God to man in the Scripture

Pray pardon my long letter. I fear I may tire you with going over ground you may have often trod before. You will see I am interested in the subject, and believe me I feel interested in you, though unknown to me personally. I fear lest you may not see that you are involved in the common fall of man and need a saviour. Indeed it seems to me that you are in peculiar danger of overlooking this, seeing that you are occupied with the rise of man from something lower. But supposing this were so, and that eventually men could be so improved as to be angels (though I do not know that this is any part of your theory) what comfort would that be to you and me?4 How are we to obtain perfection—such a perfection that will do for God? What consolation will it be for us that in some future generation man may be as far above what man is now as civilised man is now morally above the savage, if you & I lack that improvement and perish eternally?

We have sinned, and Christ has died that you and I may be saved by the atonement He wrought. But what need was there for Him to have died if man could be so improved as to be fit for God’s presence? God knew this could not be, and in mercy has provided a remedy. And I trust that you with me are resting on the atoning blood of Christ; in whom there is full and complete salvation

Pray excuse this freedom from an humble private individual—not as a caviller—but as one interested in the subject and interested in the future welfare of yourself

Yours truly | G. Morrish.

C. R. Darwin Esq, F.R.S. Etc.


It is not known whether the letter was written by George Morrish (1819–1912) or his son George Morrish (1850–1920).
Morrish mistakenly refers to extracts from a new edition of Origin, but evidently read extracts from Descent.
For more on the idea that human societies had degenerated from an original more perfect state, see Whately 1854, Whewell 1854, pp. 166–90, and Gillespie 1977. In Descent 1: 174, CD had dismissed the arguments of degenerationists as weak.
This is possibly a reference to the evolutionary views of Vestiges of the natural history of creation, in which no limits were placed on the perfectibility of humankind ([Chambers] 1844, p. 276).


[Chambers, Robert.] 1844. Vestiges of the natural history of creation. London: John Churchill.

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Gillespie, Neal C. 1977. The duke of Argyll, evolutionary anthropology, and the art of scientific controversy. Isis 68: 40-54.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Whately, Richard. 1854. On the origin of civilisation. A lecture by his grace the archbishop of Dublin to the Young Men’s Christian Association. London.

Whewell, William. 1854. Of the plurality of worlds: an essay. Also a dialogue on the same subject. 2d ed. London.


Having read extracts of CD’s work, he argues that the scriptural version of man’s origin is superior, and he is concerned about CD’s salvation.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Morrish
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Camberwell Rd, 114
Source of text
DAR 171: 244
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7599,” accessed on 17 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19