Charles Darwin’s Letter to Billy Graham

HARLES  Darwin once wrote a letter to Billy Graham. Not the one you’re thinking of. The American evangelist was born thirty-six years after the British scientist’s death. The Graham to whom Darwin wrote was a Victorian philosopher and mathematician who challenged the scientific outlook of Darwin and others as a sort of religious conviction. In his 1881 book, Graham described Darwin’s view as The Creed of Science.

Graham’s book made Darwin think. So much so, he wrote a letter to William Graham to discuss his thoughts and even his own doubts. Darwin told Graham he had not enjoyed a book as much as this one in a long time. You can read the full transcript at the University of Cambridge’s “Darwin Correspondence Project.” Here’s an excerpt from the letter:

Dear Sir,

I hope that you will not think it intrusive on my part to thank you heartily for the pleasure which I have derived from reading your admirably written ‘Creed of Science,’ though I have not yet quite finished it, as now that I am old I read very slowly.1 It is a very long time since any other book has interested me so much. The work must have cost you several years and much hard labour with full leisure for work. . . . Nevertheless you have expressed my inward conviction, though far more vividly and clearly than I could have done, that the Universe is not the result of chance. But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind? 

It was with great interest that I picked up a first edition copy of this book a few weeks back. I began reading sections of it looking for what particular points might have piqued Darwin’s curiosity and stirred his doubt about the trustworthiness of the human mind. For those interested, here’s a short but helpful overview of Graham’s book.

This year marks the 160th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Darwin’s theories wield massive historic and contemporary influence. Yet, there is much about the human experience that a Darwinian view of life cannot explain. Nonetheless, many see this scientific outlook as offering a total worldview. That’s why Graham described such a view as amounting to a religious conviction or a creed.

Science cannot expalin the fullness of our humanity. We should be skeptical of claims that it can. As Graham points out, “when we come to mental, moral, and social questions, neither physicists nor naturalists are any longer authorities, however little some of them seem disposed to concede the point.”

Even as we face the scientism of our day, and as we remember the anniversary of Darwin’s influential publication, let us also remember Darwin’s doubt. If the world is an accident, then we are accidents, and our brain is an accident, and our thoughts are accidents. Like Darwin pondered, why should we then trust our thoughts or our brain that produces them? Would we trust the mental reflections of a monkey’s mind?

On the other hand, if there is a Mind behind the creation of the Cosmos, then our brain, when functioning properly, is directed at truth. And for Christians, particularly at Chrsitmastide, we recognize truth is more than a concept. Truth is a Person.

The Cosmos is the product of Mind not chance. There is an Intlligence behind the universe. Jesus is the Word by which the world came into being. And the Word became flesh and dwelled among us. Jesus came to deal with our doubts, to pay for our sins, and to offer us a way and life. And that’s the message another Billy Graham lived to proclaim.