RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1871. A letter from Mr. Darwin. The Index, a weekly paper devoted to free religion (Toledo, Ohio) 2 (51) (23 December): 404.
REVISION HISTORY: Scanned, OCRed, corrected and edited by John van Wyhe 2002-8, remainder of the article after Darwin's letter transcribed by Robert Brown 1996, textual corrections by Sue Asscher 12.2007. RN4
Photocopies kindly supplied by the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Spiegel Grove, Fremont, Ohio, USA.
THE COMING EMPIRE OF SCIENCE.
A LETTER FROM MR. DARWIN.1
In our issue of June 24, of the present year, the following passage was contained in an editorial article: —
"Only yesterday we received from one of the greatest scientific men of England, whose name is famous throughout the entire civilized world, a private letter of which the following was the closing sentence:—'I have now read 'Truths for the Times,' and I admire them from my inmost heart; and I believe that I agree to every word.'"2
We are now authorized by kind permission of the writer to say that the above extract is from a letter written by Mr. Charles Darwin. In another letter dated Nov. 16, Mr. Darwin says: —
"I have read again 'Truths for the Times,' and abide by my words as strictly true. If you still think fit to publish them, you had better perhaps omit 'I believe,' and add 'almost' to 'every word,' so that it will run—'and I agree to almost every word.' The points on which I doubtfully differ are unimportant; but it is better to be accurate. I should be much obliged if you would somehow prefer to word as an extract from a letter not originally intended for publication, or to this effect; as it seems to be somewhat conceited or arrogant otherwise to express my assent."
Our readers would be deeply interested by statements made in this and other previous letters of Mr. Darwin's, if we felt justified in publishing them; but we have no right to do this. What we do publish is deliberately authorized by him. We believe that every intelligent person who has read the "Truths for the Times" will see a far more important reason than egotism for the publication of this passage. While fully sensible of the great honor of such approval in our attempt to state the most important truth, and while filled with admiration of the spirit which leads Mr. Darwin, notwithstanding the almost universal reluctance of scientific men to express openly their religious convictions, thus to lend the weight of his great influence to strengthen the unpopular cause of free religious thought, we have a much better reason for quoting his words than any personal one whatever.
For several years it has been a deep and ever-deepening conviction of ours, publicly expressed in various ways, that there is but one method of attaining intellectual truth, whether in the domain of philosophy or religion; and that this is the SCIENTIFIC METHOD, enlarged and more widely applied than in what is called physical science, and yet substantially the same. This conviction was the key-note of our lecture in Horticultural Hall, Boston, on the "Intuitional and Scientific Schools of Free Religion." It is the key-note of all our work in THE INDEX, so far as this concerns the discovery or establishment of truth. It will be the key-note of other work that we hope to do before we die. And we believe it will be the key-note of all the genuine science, philosophy, and religion of the future of mankind.
It was with this conviction that we wrote the "Fifty Affirmations" and the "Modern Principles," which together constitute the "Truths for the Times." These statements were conscientiously prepared—most laboriously thought out and most carefully worded. That they can be greatly improved, we do not for a moment doubt. But that they express a general view of the religious problems of the age which is destined finally to supersede all other views, we entertain no more doubt. And we have submitted them (we trust with entire modesty) to the attentive, dispassionate study of all earnest and reflective minds.
Now the "Truths for the Times" is an effort to bring the truest science and the truest religion of the age into absolute harmony and mutual understanding. The supposed conflict between science and religion is superficial and unreal, when both are properly conceived. To show the common ground beneath the two, and to remove the rubbish that now hides it from men's eyes, has been the object of our endeavor. And what is specially to be noted is that this endeavor has been made from the side of religion. It is an honest effort on the part of modern religion to meet modern science as a friend—not to patch up a temporary and miserable compromise or truce between secret foes, but to establish an everlasting peace on the basis of absolute justice between open friends.
The importance, then, of Mr. Darwin's deliberate approval of the "Truths for the Times" lies in the fact that he is a man who by his genius has done more in this age to extend the bounds of science than any other man living, and who may therefore be regarded as fairly representing the probable opinion of scientific men in the future. Modern science is coming to a fair understanding with modern religion. That, we trust and believe, is the real meaning of his words. Although questions of the greatest consequence remain still open to investigation, discussion, and earnest thought, the most progressive science and the most progressive religion of the times are agreeing upon common principles and working for harmonious ends—science ruling supreme in the world of intellect, and religion ruling supreme in the world of morals. If we are correct in considering Mr. Darwin in this case rather as representing a general tendency of modern scientific thought than as expressing merely an individual opinion, then it is very plain that all personal considerations should be lost sight of, and that his approval of what we consider the most extreme statement yet made of the free religious movement should be taken as a very significant, indeed the most significant, sign of the times. It is because we believe this that we have thought it important to publish the extract which he has so generously and nobly allowed us to use—and not because we have
1 Written by Francis Ellingwood Abbot (1836-1903), American Unitarian minister, liberal religious philosopher, writer, co-founder of the Free Religious Association (1867) and editor of its newspaper The Index (1870-1880). See the inventory of Abbot's papers at Harvard University.
Truths for the times (Abbot 1872) was a pamphlet which, as Abbot described in this article:
is an effort to bring the truest science and the truest religion of the age into absolute harmony and mutual understanding. The supposed conflict between science and religion is superficial and unreal, when both are properly conceived.
Darwin's endorsement for Truths for the times was published in The Index from 1871-1880 when Darwin asked his son William to write to Abbot, who was no longer to edit the journal, to discontinue printing the endorsement in future (Calendar number 12633). See Life and letters 1: 304-6 and Browne 2002, pp. 391-2.
2 The quotation from Darwin's letter appeared in Darwin 1871. The editorial article was entitled 'The Index Association'.
sought to secure for the "Truths for the Times" the "endorsement" of venerated authorities, or any recommendation whatever beyond that of the intrinsic truth of the statement itself. Our conviction of this truth can neither be strengthened by the assent nor weakened by the dissent of others; and we have desired to give Mr. Darwin's words to the public for the simple purpose of showing that the tendencies of Modern Science and Free Religion are in the same direction.
We do not wish to lay any more stress on Mr. Darwin's opinions than they are justly entitled to, or to insinuate that they are shared by all scientific men. With a modesty which is the weightiest of rebukes to the arrogant spirit of theology, he considers his own opinions as of little value on such subjects; and it is indisputable that scientific men are at present divided in sentiment concerning them. But there is confessedly no scientific thinker now living whose thought has so profoundly affected the future of science, or done so much to direct the course of its development. Human investigation has taken a new start from his deep, original thought; and the impulse he has given to all future researches into the origin, nature and destiny of man will never be exhausted while knowledge is loved and sought. Law, and not miracle, is the key with which he would unlock these and all other problems; and to him belongs the rare glory of having discredited miracle even in the disguise which had deceived the very eyes of science herself—of having revealed the unity and harmony of Nature's processes in a region which had been still sacred to superstition. Faith in law has been the inspiration of his wonderful scientific career; and it has made him one of the greatest prophets of the new era.
It is surely, then, no trivial fact that such a man can recognize his own thought in the ground-principles of Free Religion. From the side of science and the side of religion comes alike the same deep affirmation of law as supreme; and in this common faith is the old feud between them healed. The superstitions which religion has intruded among men's thoughts must be utterly cast out from the sphere of human belief; and yet science must reverence her in her legitimate domain. The moss-grown errors of Christianity are crumbling away; science must clear the ground for the temple of truth, sparing no rubbish of idolatry that impedes or embarrasses her work; yet religion will survive in human hearts as the living endeavor to realize in life the resplendent ideal that illumines the inmost recesses of the soul—as the strong, brave effort of imperfect man to rise higher and higher into the sunshine of the universal and absolute Best. The supreme empire of science over the intellect, like that of religion over the will, is drawing nearer day by day; and both together, in their unjarred harmony, will make their advent as the one indissoluble empire of the Divine in Man.
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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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