Darwin’s letter professing atheism goes on auction

A handwritten letter in which English naturalist Charles Darwin confesses that he does not believe in Bible as a divine revelation or Jesus Christ as the son of God is expected to fetch up to $ 90,000 at an auction in New York.

The subject of Darwin’s religiosity had long been a cause of vehement debate. Darwin himself largely refrained from public comment, probably to respect the feelings of his friends and family.

Darwin’s letter is a reply to a young barrister named Francis McDermott. McDermott wrote to Darwin on November 23, 1880, with an unusual request.

“If I am to have pleasure in reading your books I must feel that at the end I shall not have lost my faith in the New Testament,” he wrote.

“My reason in writing to you therefore is to ask you to give me a Yes or No to the question Do you believe in the New Testament...” McDermott wrote.

McDermott continues by promising not to publicise Darwin’s reply in the “theological papers”. Darwin responded the very next day.

“Dear Sir, I am sorry to have to inform you that I do not believe in the Bible as a divine revelation and therefore not in Jesus Christ as the son of God. Yours faithfully Ch Darwin,” Darwin wrote.

Just a month before penning this note, Darwin wrote to the prominent atheist Edward Aveling, “It has been always my object to avoid writing on religion, and I have confined myself to science.”

McDermott was true to his word and this letter was unknown to scholars for over 100 years.

The letter will now go under the hammer at the Bonham’s History of Science and Technology auction on September 21 in New York. It is expected to fetch between $70,000-$90,000.

Darwin studied theology at Christ’s College, Cambridge at the suggestion of his father but preferred to spend his time collecting specimens with a select circle of naturalists.

It was Darwin’s mentor John Henslow, a clergyman and a professor of Mineralogy at Cambridge, who nominated the 22-year-old Darwin for the history-making voyage on the Beagle.

Once the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection was published in 1859 and it was then that Darwin’s faith in religion or lack thereof became the subject of public controversy.

Darwin died in 1882 and rumours of a deathbed conversion were widely believed but firmly denied by his daughter.

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Printable version | Sep 27, 2021 1:29:13 AM |

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