RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1838. 'Macculloch. Attrib of Deity' [Essay on Theology and Natural Selection]. CUL-DAR71.53-59. Transcribed and edited by Paul H. Barrett. actors (Darwin Online,

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Paul H. Barrett; corrections by John van Wyhe 10.2009. RN1

NOTE: Introduction and notes by Paul H. Barrett:

The document transcribed in this chapter is a set of notes jotted by Darwin as he read selected passages from Macculloch's book Proofs and Illustrations of the Attributes of God. In the notes Darwin states, or alludes to, most of the postulates of his theories of Transmutation and Natural Selection. If the paper, as evidence indicates, was in fact written in the fall of 1838, then it has special historical importance. The evidence, which is circumstantial, is (1) the paper has an 1838 watermark, (2) Malthus' postulates are alluded to (Darwin had read Malthus beginning September 28, 1838), and (3) he cites Macculloch throughout the essay, and he also cited Macculloch in the N notebook (p. 35) in a passage written between October 30 and November 20. The latter citation was almost certainly made after he had scanned Macculloch's book.

In his Autobiography Darwin said he had determined, after having grasped the idea of evolution through natural selection, that "to avoid prejudice" he would for some time not write even the "briefest sketch" of his theory. The jotted notes in this transcribed document may not qualify as a "brief sketch," but they do constitute as complete a résumé of his theories as exists in any other single, short document. No such similar outline of his theories is in the transmutation notebooks, even though he continued writing them through the year 1839. And it wasn't until 1842, nearly four years after reading Malthus, that he allowed himself the "satisfaction" of writing out the first acknowledged "briefest sketch." Another interesting aspect of this early undated discourse is that in it Darwin tests the power of his own theory against that of Providential Design in explaining the origin of special adaptations. He concludes that the Creationists' theory lacks predictive power, and is also deficient in explaining many known sets of facts, such as, for example, geographical patterns of species' dispersions, vestigial organs, unnecessary variations, etc. To Darwin, the simple Malthusian postulates of checks and population pressures, and of Candollian struggles and wars, and of accidental and slight variations (the "grain of small advantages") were sufficient to explain even the most bizarre adaptations.

In a different parcel of the Darwin Manuscripts in the Cambridge University Library (in Box B) is a recently discovered four-page document which appears to have been originally a part of the same set of Macculloch notes transcribed in this Chapter. Darwin at some later date must have separated these newly found notes and put them with a collection of notes on Natural Selection in preparation for writing one of the early versions of the Origin of Species. This Box B paper is of particular importance because in it Darwin discusses "the Malthusian rush for life." He points out that offspring which are by chance born with favorable adaptations will if circumstances permit have a greater probability of survival and therefore will have a reproductive advantage. He says that in ten thousand years the new race "will get the upper hand, though continually dragged back to old type by inter-marrying with ordinary race." The manuscript of the Essay on Theology and Natural Selection is in the Cambridge University Library.

Reproduced from: Barrett, P. H. 1974. Early writings of Charles Darwin. In Gruber, H. E., Darwin on man, pp. 414-422. F1582

Reproduced with the permission of Wilma M. Barrett, the Syndics of Cambridge University Library and William Huxley Darwin. The volume CUL-DAR71 contains Darwin's abstracts of scientific books.



Macculloch. Attrib of Deity. Vol I: p. 280. adduces provisions of seeds for transportation through the air.— ((it will be better always to refer to the author if I use these facts)) cocoa nut by water /fucus for adhesion/.1— as example of design.— perhaps they are so.— but the coral rock might have been uninhabited as the alpine pinnacles.2— One thing must be admitted, there would not be these plants, if there was not some provision for transportation:— But I do not want to deny laws.— the whole universe is full of adaptations.— but these are, I believe, only direct consequences of still higher laws.— I do not /then/ believe, the pappus of any one seed (all have not it) was DIRECTLY created for transportation. it follows from some more general law.— [that the laws of propagation were created with reference to successive developement I admit, but the admission is probably from ignorance.]CD

Who would even have thought that the intestine of a thrush was means sufficient to ensure propagation of misseltoe?—

1. John Macculloch, Proofs and Illustrations of the Attributes of God, etc., 3 vols., Duncan, London, 1837, Vol. 1, p. 280: "[The seeds of fuci] are surrounded by a mucilage which water cannot dissolve, and which enables them to adhere to whatever solid body they touch… ."

2. Ibid., p. 279: "If the floating of seeds through water is a contrivance which, like the action of the winds, appears too much akin to what we carelessly term accident, to deserve notice, yet thus chieny are the naked coral rocks of the great Pacific Ocean clothed with vegetation, and rendered fit for the habitation of man. Are we entitled to give the name of accident to that cause, or combination of causes, by which so great an end is produced—even though metaphysics, and religion equally, did not show that there can be no accident to the Creator and Governor of all things? The buoyancy of a cocoa nut … can be no accident… ."


do p. 284. it is hard on my theory of grain of small advantages thus to explain the curling of the valves of the broom.3— or the springing of other seeds.— But are we certain that these are necessary adaptations.— may they not be accidental? we have good reason to know that they would not be detrimental accidents, & domesticated variations show us accidents may become hereditary [produce some peculiarity in seed vessel]CD if man takes care they are not detrimental.— N.B. One limit to the transmission of abortive organs will be as long as they are not detrimental.—

p. 285 the seed-pod of a desert plant (anastatica) is rolled along & splits when it comes to a damp place.4— ((Kohlreuter mentions some hybrid, whose flower great tendency to break off))

3. Ibid., p. 285: "In broom, the crackling of which in a hot day is familiar, each valve recoils in a spiral direction when the detent yields… ."

4. Ibid., p. 285: "Thus also is it with the rose of Jenyns (anastatica), where the seed-vessel is rolled along the sands by the winds, until, meeting with a moist spot, it opens and parts with its seeds in that only place amid the parched plain where provision has been made for their vegetation."


p. 292. Mac. has long rigmarole about plants being created to arrest mud &c at deltas.5— Now my theory makes all organic beings perfectly adapted to all situations, where in accordance to certain laws they can live.— Hence the mistake they are created for them. If we once venture to say plants created to arrest the valuable soil in its seaward course,— we sink into such contemptible queries, as why should the earth have drifted; why should plants require earth, why not created to live on alpine pinnacle? if we once to presume that God created plants to arrests earth, (like a Dutchman plants them to stop the moving sand) we do lower the creator to the standard of one of his weak creations.— All such facts are merely relations of one general law. the plants were no more created to arrest the earth, than the earth revolves to form rain to wash down earth, from the mountains upheaved by volcanic force, for these Marsh plants. All flow from some grand & simple laws.—

5. Ibid., p. 291: "… who can doubt that the singularly long, powerful, and prolific root of the latter [bulrush and common reed], was constructed for the very purpose of consolidating the earth… ."


p. 308 ((Study Cuviers Anatomie Comparé))6 Traces the gradation of skeleton in Vertebrates7 & constantly alludes (& at p. 312) to the abortive bones.8 He explains it by saying "It is the determination to adhere to a plan once adopted: & it is from these very circumstances, that we become satisfied respecting an original thought, or design, pursued to its utmost exhaustion, & till it must be abandoned for another."9— The design determiner of a God-head.— the designs of an omnipotent creator, exhausted & abandoned. Such is man's philosophy, when he argues about his Creator!

p. 309. says the ribs in Draco support the flying membrane?!!10— that the phalanges have separate movements in the Holocentrus ruber (a fish)11

Man has abortive muscles to his ears.— p. 313— many other good cases.— p. do Mac. remarks all mammifers originally land animals.

6. Ibid., p. 307: "[Comparative anatomy] proves, not merely design, but One intelligent and designing Creator, so does it exclude all systems of chance; the very variations marking that steady pursuit of a single primary object, which no multiplicity of designs could have equally proved to those who have adopted this scheme of Creation." (See also Cuvier, G., Leçons d'anatomie comparée, par Duméril, 5 vols., Baudouin, Paris, 1800. 1805.)

7. Ibid., pp. 315–316: "But I must quit details which I have not space to pursue any further, to point out some familiar examples of what are termed gradations in the animal kingdom; or cases of intermixed structure, or of transition, such as that just noticed from the quadruped to the whale."

8. Ibid., p. 312: "Even in some serpents, the rudiments of the pelvis have been traced, though apparently quite useless to them. …"

9. Ibid., pp. 306–307.

10. Ibid., p. 309: "… while in the serpents they [the main ribs] may almost be said to become feet; and in the flying lizards some of them are extended straight, so as to be the base of wings."

11. Ibid., p. 309: "… in the Holocentrus ruber, the rows of phalanges become as independent as fingers… . Such variations as this render the whole progress of the design more uniform… ."


p. 314 Mac. remarks all land mammifers animals originally terrestrial.12— for we find even in Cetaceae traces of hind extremities.— How are we to explain this.— Did reptiles first inhabit seas.— Were they then killed out /by the intense cold/, & did mammifers than take their place? Would they not first occupy the Poles? Is this origin of the Polar attributes of the Cetaceae.— How came Bats also? before birds? They are ancient.— Are Cetaceae found in Paris Basin?—

N.B. The explanation of types of structure in classes— as resulting from the will of the deity, to create animals on certain plans,— is no explanation— it has not the character of a physical law /& is therefore utterly useless.— it foretells nothing/ because we know nothing of the will of the Deity, how it acts & whether constant or inconstant like that of man.— the cause given we know not the effect

12. Ibid., p. 314: "The unexpected nature of the Cetaceous fishes seems also best explained on the same principles: it is the terminal point of a plan commencing in the quadrupeds as land animals, and gradually traced to a perpetual residence in the water, through intermediate stages of construction or variation."


p. 412 Macculloch explains the shortness of life (peculiar to each species) owing to the growing size of the world?13 & the physical changes it was to undergo /animals feeding on each other &c &c/. — There are reasons /causing death to some, &c, &c/ just as liability to accidents & any other cause.— (& my theory) [ALL PARTS OF THE GREAT SYSTEM. C.D.]CD [All this does not explain death, but reproduction]CD though such a scheme would require constant miracles.— 14

p. 420 thinks the great fecundity of germs is to afford support to other beings.15true (& the doctrines of checks & my theory)

13. Ibid., pp. 412–414: "… the mere enlargement of the earth is not all … it has differed in climates and soils… . Species beyond number were originally created to occupy every climate and every soil, every conceivable point of the world… . The constitutions and the inclinations of the animals must be altered to meet these changes … it could not have been occupied by an original and undying creation of animals, without some further provision … nothing but continued new creations, or a principle of reproduction, could have sufficed to fill the new blanks, or meet the varying changes of the earth's surface… . And while this demands the constant interposition of God, or a providence, in the most rigid sense of that term, that is one of the views which are held in particular disesteem by all those who would thus amend the order of nature. All hypotheses of this kind are connected with a system of general laws and non-interference: so difficult is it to be consistent, in remonstrating with the plans of the Deity, and in inventing systems of that philosophy so often stigmatized by a term which I suppress whenever that is possible" (i.e., Transmutation).

14. Ibid., p. 415: "He must have created new species, equally immortal, to fill those new blanks, or He must have empowered the original species to increase in exact proportion and at the exact times required … nothing less than miraculous interposition could have prevented them from being destroyed by accidents."

15. Ibid., p. 420: "The germs of plants are produced in myriads, without any design that they should grow into representatives of the original: this excessive fecundity is designed for the support of animals, and the mortality of the former is the life of the latter … it is from the mortality of one species that another receives the means of existence."

P. 421: "It is the same principle, too, which is now producing new islands, new continents; extending new territories for new races of life, and, under one great scheme of joint life and mortality, laying the preparations for an endless succession of new lives under new forms."


Macculloch. Attrib. Vol. I

p. 330. Mentions the many cases as in Papilionaceous flower, where such case seems to be taken that the anthers should not be exposed to weather.16— this is against my theory of frequent intermarriage.— A plant is in the same predicament as a group of bisexual animals living in the borders of a country favourable to change.—

It might be concluded that Plants would be subject to extreme variation as long as crossing with other varieties was prevented.

Do races of peas become intermixed & gardener have hybrid seedlings

p. 333 Macculloch brings forward the impregnation of Dioecious Plants by foreign agency— as insects, as wonderful case of adaptation!17 There would not have been any Dioecious plants, had there been no insects. The right inference is, there were insects (?when were Pollen formed?) as soon as Dioecious Plants were formed.

16. Ibid., p. 329: "The anthera was … to be protected from rain and wind, lest its pollen should be lost…"

P. 330: "… the peculiar forms of flowers seem directed to this sole end… . In papilionaceous flowers, the securities are multiplied beyond all apparent need or use."

17. Ibid., p. 331: "… the meeting of the pollen and the stigma is the ultimate end of all this contrivance… ."

P. 333: "Insects are here [in the case of dioecious plants] the great agents… ."



Macculloch says life forms a broken, recurrent series, whilst the habitation /or world/ simple series.— My theory shows life equally simple series, & therefore trace of beginning in organic world.—

Macculloch. Attrib of Deity Vol. I, p. 232. gives Woodpecker as instance of beautiful adaptation.— & then Chamelion, which feeding on same food, differs in every respect, except in quick movement. (Sliminess instead of barbs)18— In all these cases it should be remembered, that animals could not exist without these adaptations.— fossil forms show such losses.— Consider ground Woodpecker stiff tailed cormorant: pain & disease in world & yet talk of perfection

18. Ibid., p. 232: "… [the tongue of the woodpecker] is a sort of spear provided with barbs … and … the tail is rendered stiff, so as to be an assistant in climbing… ."

P. 232: "Similar food … was destined for the chameleon … and … the motion of the tongue has the rapidity of lightning… ."


Get instances of adaptations in varieties.— greyhound to hare.— waterdog, hair to water— bulldog to bulls,— primrose to open fields banks— cowslip to banks /fields/ — these are adaptations just as much as Woodpecker.— only we here see means— but not in the other.

All Bridgewater Treatises are reduced simply statements of productiveness, & laws of adaptation.

p. 234 The non-absorbing Camel's stomach a puzzler— 19

p. do. says inconvenience would have arisen had /some/ insects not been provided with proboscis, /as bee & butterfly/.20 inconvenience! extinction, utter extinction! let him study Malthus & Decandoelle.—

19. Ibid., p. 234: "The stomach of the camel offers another of those special contrivances, where the purpose, and the means of attaining that, are so perfectly adapted, that the design has been universally admitted. It was created to live in a land of little water… . This contrivance consists in certain appendages to one of the stomachs… . But it is ordered that the water receptacles of the camel shall not be absorbent … and thus is the perfection of this design evinced."

20. Ibid., p. 234: "In the insect races, there is a very general case, where inconvenience or evil would have followed … had there not been an analogous special contrivance made.… I allude to those insects in which the mouth is a proboscis, as in the bee and the butterfly."


The Final cause of innumerable eggs is explained by Malthus.— [is it anomaly in me to talk of Final causes: consider this?—]CD consider these barren Virgins

p. 235. talks of the long spinous processes in Giraffe &c as adaptation to long necks21— why they may as well say /long/ neck is adapted to long necks.—

p. 236. Marsupial bones especial adaptation, to young — good God & yet Mails have them.22 What trash

p. 237 Gives as summary of adaptations horny point to chickens beak, to break egg shells23 — why chicken could not have lived had it not been so.—
let egg shells grow harder. so must those with weak beaks be sifted away.—

21. Ibid., p. 235: "… the long spinal processes of the withers, or upper dorsal vertebrae, in the animals of long necks, like the camelopard, where the purpose of giving a lever to the muscles is apparent… ."

22. Ibid., p. 236: "The marsupial bones in the opossum race offer another instance of the same nature [of a special invention] … it being granted that the young required the protection which the pouch affords, the invention is perfect… ."

23. Ibid., p. 237: "I allude to the horny point on the beak of a chicken, with which it is supplied for the purpose of breaking the shell to procure its release, and falling off a few days after the birth."


& the species, like 10,000 others permits, & who will dare to say that this is an infringement on the wisdom on Providence, when /whole/ rocks being very mountains are formed of such dead & extinct forms.— ((the excuviae of the dead & extinct))

The analogy between the worker of art /or intellect/ such as hinge & hinge of shell, work of laws of organization is remarkable— what is intellect, but organization, with mysterious consciousness super-added. This is similar idea to cells of bees, corresponding to every one or any — brain making structure, instead of parts of body.— now we know what instinct is— consider this

I look at every adaptation, as the surviving one of ten thousand trials.— each step being perfect ((or nearly so (except in isd) although having hereditary organization. Man could exist without mammæ.)) to the then existing conditions.— An adaptation made by intellect this process is shortened, but yet analogous, no savage ever made a perfect hinge.— reason, & not death rejects the imperfect attempts.


In the Mollusca /Bees/ the nervous system is endowed with the knowledge of trying a hundred schemes of structure, in the course of ages /step by step/.— in man, the nervous system, gains that knowledge, before hand, & can in idea (with consciousness) form these schemes.—

I see no reason why structure of brain should not be born, with tendency to make animal perform some action.— as well as gain it by habit.— New theory of instinct, returning to Kirby's24 view.—

24. See Kirby, William, On the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God, as Manifested in the Creation of Animals and in their History, Habits, and Instincts, 2 vols., (The Bridgewater Treatises), Pickering, London, 1835.

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