RECORD: Büchner, Ludwig. 1901. [Recollection of Darwin's religious views]. Last Words on Materialism and Kindred Subjects, translated by Joseph McCabe. London: Watts and Co., pp. 147-8.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed and edited by John van Wyhe 4.2009. RN1


[page] 147

a result which had been avoided in the earlier theory. Such distinguished thinkers as Huxley and Darwin, etc., subscribed to the theory, which was also called Agnosticism, and its followers were styled Agnostics. On the occasion of my visit to Darwin at his country house in 1881 (six months before his death) he defended this position with some warmth, in opposition to the more Atheistic views of myself and my companion (Dr. Aveling).1 When we had discussed the question sufficiently from the theoretical point of view, he passed on to its practical side, and maintained we should gain nothing by winning over the masses to our ideas. "All this," he said, "is very good for well-educated and thoughtful people; but are the masses ripe for it ?" We might have answered that the question of utility was of no consequence in dealing with truth and its investigation; that truth has never failed to be of service to humanity. But we contented ourselves with an argumentum ad hominem, asking him if these very questions he now put to us had not been put to him when he published his immortal work on The Origin of Species. Many had said at that time that it were better for humanity if these revolutionary truths were confined to the judicious few, and were withheld from the general public. New and subversive ideas have always been feared, and their publication regarded as dangerous, though these fears have always been falsified. But he himself had happily not shared that fear, and had considered the masses ripe for receiving his ideas. Had he kept silent, or only written for the scientific elect, the great progress of human thought which he provoked might have had to wait a considerable time longer, or might not have taken place at all. Thus

1 Compare with Aveling's account in Aveling 1883. See Darwin's description of his 'Religious Belief' in his autobiography and Francis Darwin's recollection of the conversation in Life and letters vol. 1, p. 317.

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his own great example was an encouragement to every thinker to communicate to the world whatever he thought true.

Darwin had, indeed, already formally recognised the theory of Agnosticism. In a letter to Fordyce, in 1879, he wrote: "I am not really an Atheist. The name 'Agnostic' would be the best description of my mental condition."


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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

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