Darwin to Joseph Hooker, 1844

By Katherine Bagley Darwin to Joseph Hooker, 1844 Researchers and historians have collected approximately 15,000 letters written both to and by Charles Darwin in an effort to better understand his life and science. One of his most frequent contacts was Joseph Dalton Hooker, a botanist who helped identify many of the plant specimens collected during Darwin’s HMS Beagle journey, including his famed stop at the Galapagos Islands. Their discourse, which spann

By | April 1, 2010

Darwin to Joseph Hooker, 1844

Researchers and historians have collected approximately 15,000 letters written both to and by Charles Darwin in an effort to better understand his life and science. One of his most frequent contacts was Joseph Dalton Hooker, a botanist who helped identify many of the plant specimens collected during Darwin’s HMS Beagle journey, including his famed stop at the Galapagos Islands. Their discourse, which spanned more than 1,400 letters over 4 decades—including the one pictured here, dated January 11, 1844—was one of the first places Darwin expressed his theory of natural selection as a driver of speciation and evolution.

Image MS.DAR.114:3 Reproduced by kind permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library

1. …ever since my return…
After five years traveling the southern hemisphere on the HMS Beagle, Darwin returned to England, where he set out to classify the fossils and samples of flora and fauna he collected on his journey.

2. …heaps of agricultural & horticultural books…
Darwin first postulated his theory of natural selection after reading Thomas Malthus’s An Essay on the Principle of Population in September 1838, says Duncan Porter, former director of the Darwin Correspondence Project and a botanist at Virginia Tech. Malthus argued that the availability of resources, such as food, dictates human population growth; Darwin took this theory and expanded it to plants and animals.

3. …species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable.
Darwin shared his theory of natural selection with a few close colleagues before publishing On the Origin of Species in 1859, but “this letter to Hooker is Darwin’s first revelation to anyone that he believed in evolution,” says Porter.

4. Heaven forfend me from Lamarck nonsense…
Publicly, Darwin acknowledged the contributions of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck to the theory of evolution. But privately, the naturalist dismissed Lamarkian theory, even referring to the French biologist’s Philosophie Zoologique as “a wretched book” in letters to other scientists.

Comments

March 28, 2010

Why all this fuss about Darwin coming up with the idea of natural selection on his return from his voyages on the "Beagle"? The historical fact is that both Darwin and Wallace admitted that Patrick Matthew and William Charles Wells originated the idea before Darwin even set foot on the "Beagle"! For more information search Google for "wainwrightscience".\nProf.Milton Wainwright,Sheffield.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 2

April 5, 2010

...the concept of survival of the fittest and what would later be described as Darwinism, appeared several decades before Patrick Matthew, William Charles Wells, or Darwin in the field of sociology. Even if Darwinism were a bona fide theory with testable hypotheses, it would do the community of supporters great credit to expend thought, energy, and money in applying Darwin's own criteria of success or failure to his theory. I suspect Darwin would be distressed at the god-like attributes credited to him by his followers, in view of the atheistic beliefs that overtook him as he aged.
Avatar of: Daniel Dvorkin

Daniel Dvorkin

Posts: 20

April 5, 2010

Anonymous coward, the only people who talk about "Darwinism" or think that Darwin has "followers" who credit him with "god-like attributes" are creationists like you. Rather than dealing with the overwhelming body of evidence which underlies modern evolutionary biology, you set up this quasi-religion you call "Darwinism" and spend absurd amounts of intellectual effort tearing it down. It's a magnificient straw man, and as utterly meaningless to real debate as such constructs always are.
Avatar of: Dirk Bellstedt

Dirk Bellstedt

Posts: 1

April 5, 2010

If one reads this as written by Darwin, then the comment by Porter is an interpretation:\n\n3. ?species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable.\nDarwin shared his theory of natural selection with a few close colleagues before publishing On the Origin of Species in 1859, but ?this letter to Hooker is Darwin?s first revelation to anyone that he believed in evolution,? says Porter.\n\nWhy should Darwin have "believed" in evolution. I interpret this as that he was convinced that his theory was correct, not as a "belief". In my opinion it is just at this point where this whole argument fuels all of the religious objectors to the theory of evolution. This was a theory and not a "belief".\n\nI am of the opinion that scientists should be careful of their word usage when it comes to these matters or they just supply supporting evidence to the religious fundamentalists.\n\nDirk Bellstedt, Professor of Biochemistry \n\n

April 7, 2010

I have long shared Prof. Bellstedt's objection to use of the word "belief" in the context of evolution. Belief in an entity or event, by definition, is based on faith, unsupported by physical evidence. A scientific theory is a model of some aspect of the physical world that is accepted as true by the majority of scientists in the field of study. A theory, unlike a belief, is based upon a significant body of evidence and leads to testable predictions of future observations. Also unlike a belief (at least, unlike Western fundamentalist religious belief), a theory is subject to modification and fine-tuning to accommodate new observations. In a similar vein, use of the term ?Darwinism? as a synonym for evolution is inadvisable, as the suffix "-ism" is generally associated with religions (e.g., Catholicism, Hinduism) and other ideologies (e.g., Socialism, Republicanism).
Avatar of: Dov Henis

Dov Henis

Posts: 97

April 9, 2010

Beyond Historical Concepts\n\nNatural Selection Is E Temporarily Constrained In An m Format\n\nDov Henis\n(Comments From The 22nd Century)\n03.2010 Updated Life Manifest \nhttp://www.the-scientist.com/community/posts/list/54.page#5065\nCosmic Evolution Simplified\nhttp://www.the-scientist.com/community/posts/list/240/122.page#4427\n"Gravity Is The Monotheism Of The Cosmos"\nhttp://www.the-scientist.com/community/posts/list/260/122.page#4887
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 10

April 23, 2010

I am constantly bemused by the same old round and round about evolution being some sort of belief system. The fact that the 'argument' still exists is a testament to the stubborness of fundamentalists and their unwillingness to allow the facts to get in the way of their beliefs.\n\nEvolution is both a set of facts and a well supported theory. A surefire way to display the depths of one's ignorance is to claim that evolution is some sort of belief system. To continue to do so in the face of the facts confirms the level of ignorance one is displaying.\n\nFaith is untestable. Evolution is highly testable and has been tested time and again throughought its storied history. Beliefs are based upon the need or desire for Reality to be something other than what it is - hence the need for belief - whereas theory is a structured collection of principles that explain how Reality is and are based upon observations combined with experimental data. Theories are by necessity subject to refinement as new data is observed or produced by experimentation whereas belief rarely if ever changes as it is developed in the absence of any data and is intended to convince one that Reality is something other than what it is; after all, if one has data one has no need for belief.\n\nIt is sad that these kinds of arguments persist in the 21st Century and it is even more sad when misguided fundamentalists attempt to inject their beliefs into science education. Darwin was the principle pioneer of modern evolutionary theory and his work has stood up quite well over the years.
Avatar of: Hugh Fletcher

Hugh Fletcher

Posts: 44

April 23, 2010

This is where different understandings of a word by different users gets silly. I believe the world is round because of the evidence, including satellite pictures. I believe in evolution, like I believe in electricity, it is the only thing that makes sense of living organisms. But others mean something else by "belief", so when asked I turn the question around, and ask them "Do you believe in gravity?". The problem is, there isn't another short word that fits the required meaning. Accept is grudging, understand is different, propound, preach - whoops, could be misunderstood.
Avatar of: David Gilley

David Gilley

Posts: 9

April 23, 2010

Darwin didn't consider himself an atheist. Late in his life, he called himself an "agnostic theist". I'm currently re-reading his autobiography, which is extremely well written. Can't put it down. Highly recommend it.\n\nObviously, the theory of evolution is a hypothesis that is being tested and refined, but solidly supported by current evidence. No question about this. \n\nThe gravity analogy makes a strong point and is good for a laugh... but it doesn't explain the complexities of how scientists test and re-test a hypothesis. The gravity example may ...potentially...(I'm not saying always) squash the thought of questioning a hypothesis...even one as rock solid as evolution...by any student of any age...even us professor-types. \n\nThis topic has nothing to do with the God/no-God debate. The extremely dissappointing thing is Darwin's theory of evolution and his published works have been poorly characterized by both the God, and also the so-called anti-God folks. Both "sides" have been the source of misconceptions and misinterpretations about what Darwin actually wrote. Each side seems to use Darwin's theory of evolution to either tear down or support their personal concepts of God/Higher Power/Budda/life force (natural or supernatural). Darwin feared this in his lifetime and actually writes about this in several manuscripts, including Origins of Species. \n\nI agree that Darwin's theory of evolution is not a "belief", but do his writings need to be perpetually misinterpreted to support some religious or anti-religious agenda/opinion? \n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 10

April 24, 2010

Evolution is not really about anti-god, it is about describing the way things actually are. This is no different than any other theory. All theories are descriptions of how things are based upon the evidence.\n\nIn a context of science based knowledge vs. religious belief systems belief has a very specific meaning - it means faith in something lacking evidence yet which the beholder desires to be true. In this context belief is about wanting the Universe to be something it is not and an unwillingness to allow evidence to alter that belief.\n\nIn this same context it is reasonable to state that one does not 'believe' in gravity or evolution, one 'knows' the truth of gravity or evolution. I do not 'believe' that gravity or evolution are real, I 'know' that they are real. The crucial difference is that belief, again, is formed in an absence of evidence whereas knowledge rests firmly on a (typically) large body of evidence. The distinction is both meaningful and relevant.\n\nFinally, while it is true that Darwin was a Christian, this has little relevance to the substance of his work. At the time pretty much everybody in the Western World was a Christian. The true irony is that this is the time when the dogma of origins began to fall apart and it has never recovered since then as the evidence grew steadily and clearly contradicted bible based dogma. This trend will never change.
Avatar of: CAMILO COLACO

CAMILO COLACO

Posts: 10

April 26, 2010

To resolve the dispute, the key question must be if the 'heaps of agricultural & horticultural books' included Naval Timbers and Arboriculture by Patrick Matthew published in 1831.\n\n
Avatar of: Andrew Lamb

Andrew Lamb

Posts: 2

April 26, 2010

Strictly speaking there are no ?non-religious? scientists, either evolutionist or anti-evolutionist. All people have foundational philosophical beliefs / assumptions, which roughly equate to religious beliefs. \n\nEvolutionists occasionally acknowledge the religious nature of their beliefs, as shown in the following quotes:\n\n? http://creation.com/article/4139 (Professor Michael Ruse quote)\n\n? http://creation.com/article/3819 (M Shallis quote)\n\n? http://creation.com/article/4147 (Professor Hubert Yockey quote)\n\n? http://creation.com/article/1495 (Sir Edmund Leech quote)\n\n? http://creation.com/article/703 (Professor Richard Lewontin quote)\n\n? http://creation.com/article/4138 (Dr Scott Todd quote)\n\nAs one evolutionist with a Darwin fish sticker on their car bumper said ?I believe that the Darwin fish sums up my religious beliefs? http://www.uga.edu/columns/991025/campnews.html

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