Darwin’s Letters

Previously unpublished letters by Darwin and friends are about to be published:

The correspondence with Darwin’s friend and theological sparring partner Asa Gray, an American botanist and God-fearing Christian, spans decades, beginning in 1854, five years before the publication of Origin, and continuing until Darwin’s death in 1882.

Despite Gray’s committed Christianity, he went on to become Darwin’s greatest champion in the US, where ideas about so-called intelligent design have re-ignited the debate about creationism…

The relationship between Darwin and Gray was good natured, if combative. In one letter, Darwin tells Gray: “An innocent and good man stands under a tree and is killed by a flash of lightning. Do you believe that God designedly killed this man? Many or most persons do believe this. I can’t and don’t.”

Gray responds: “You reject the idea of design, while all the while bringing out the neatest illustrations of it!” Darwin, rather self-conscious of his large nose, writes: “Will you honestly tell me that the shape of my nose was ordained and guided by an intelligent cause?”

Unlike the modern “debate” between scientists and creationists, 19th century discussions of evolution were generally quite calm and respectful. It was all so much easier then, to be sure.

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