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Darwin Correspondence Project

From N. D. Doedes   4 April 1873


April 4, 1873.

Dear Sir;

A few words to thank you for your kind answer.1

Your telling about the bad state of your health has very much grieved my friend Costerus2 and me. We wish, you may soon wholly recover.—

Your chief argument for the existence of God is, as you write, “the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance”. To be sure, it is most wondrous and grand (“great as immensity, deep as eternity”, by the beautiful expression of Mr. Carlyle).3 But how, if it did notarise”, in the sense of commencing? if it had ever been? then it certainly did not arise “through chance”. I say: “arise”, in the sense of commencing; for I cannot think that you have used the word in the sense of developing; because I know that you in the first place are the man, who has made evident that the development of such an intricate thing as the organic world has been the resultant, not of the leading of Providence, but of natural causes, which might be called in some way “chance”, and who has given, by showing this, such a heavy stroke to Teleology.

Therefore it seems to me, that the impossibility of conceiving how this universe arose by chance, does not urge me to believe in God; because it may be possible that the materia has ever been.—

But if, as you write, the conclusion “that the whole subject is beyond the scope of man’s intellect”, is “the safest”, how could you speak then in the conclusion of your Origin of Species about a Creator, and likewise in the second Chapter of your Descent of Man, as if you thought the believing in him really needed?4

I remark this, because I know that there are some who make use of those passages from your works as an authority for their belief in God; others who regard them as your feeble point, or as an accomodation.—

But I recollect that it has not been in the least your intention to persuade me; and I dare not intrude any longer upon your precious time.

I finish my letter with renewed thanks for the friendly manner, in which you have made me know your opinion about such an important question.

With the same feelings of veneration and sympathy as before, and with many wishes for your long life and firm health, | I remain, Dear Sir, | Yours most loving | N. D. Doedes.

As for the many “able men”, to the judgment of whom you say to defer in some extent, are there not as many (not only in England, but through the whole world) standing on the opposite side, able and earnest men too?

But what can authority do here, where no one has observed and every one may judge the Arguments? Methinks nothing. Else, your authority would be very great for me.


Jan Constantijn Costerus.
The phrase in Thomas Carlyle’s French Revolution (Carlyle 1902, 2: 124) reads: ‘wide as Immensity, deep as Eternity’.
CD had referred to ‘the laws impressed on matter by the Creator’ in Origin, p. 488, in his argument that organisms originated from and were extinguished by secondary causes. In Descent, p. 65, CD had argued that there was no evidence that humans were endowed with a belief in the existence of an omnipotent God, but pointed out that the question was distinct from the higher question of whether God existed, which question, he allowed, had been answered in the affirmative by the highest intellects.


Carlyle, Thomas. 1902. The French revolution. With introduction, notes and appendices by John Holland Rose. 3 vols. London: George Bell and sons.

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

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.


Debates the existence of God.

Letter details

Letter no.
Nicolaas Dirk Doedes
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 162: 202
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8841,” accessed on 18 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21