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Creation 44(4):52–53, October 2022

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Darwin, Marx, and two letters


CC BY-SA Public Domain 1.0 | Leonard Darwin | wikimedia, CC BY-SA Public Domain 1.0 | Int. Inst. Social History, Amsterdam | wikimediaDarwin-Marx

Karl Marx (1818–1883), the founder of communism, called religion (meaning Christianity) “the opium of the people”.1 He was enthusiastic that Darwin’s evolutionary theory (Origin of Species, 1859) provided a completely materialistic explanation of living things. Marx even sent a copy of Volume 1 of his book Das Kapital 2 (published in German in 1867) to Darwin with the handwritten inscription:

Mr Charles Darwin On the part of his sincere admirer Karl Marx London 16 June 1873 Modena Villas Maitland.

Darwin is unlikely to have read it, however. Apart from being in German, only the first 100 pages had been ‘opened’. (Prior to the widespread use of printing guillotines, a book was generally sold ‘unopened’, i.e. with “the folding of its component sections still intact at the top and fore-edges”, and so the pages had to be “severed from their neighbours with the paper-knife”.3)

Letter 1—the Marx-dedication myth

It has long been thought that at a later date, Marx wrote to Darwin offering to dedicate one of the later volumes of his book to him. This is because a letter from Darwin, dated 14 October 1880, was found in Marx’s archives, and in it Darwin declines the offer of a book dedication.

However, Darwin’s letter doesn’t mention either Marx or the book’s title, and no letter from Marx offering this has ever been found. Also, in declining, Darwin stated that he believed that:

direct arguments against christianity & theism produce hardly any effect on the public; & freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men’s minds, which follows from the advance of science.4

But if he had had Marx’s then-forthcoming book in mind, it had no such direct arguments.

It turns out that Darwin’s letter was very likely not written to Marx, but to Edward Aveling (1849–1898), a prominent English biology instructor and spokesman for evolution, atheism, and socialism. It could have readily become mixed up with Marx’s papers, since Aveling, who became the partner of Marx’s daughter Eleanor in 1884, was custodian of Marx’s archives.

A letter from Aveling to Darwin has been found, in which Aveling offers to dedicate his own forthcoming book The Student’s Darwin (Freethought Publishing, 1881) to Darwin. The book included arguments against Christianity and theism.

Darwin’s motivation

The wording of Darwin’s letter suggests that he was not opposed to arguing against Christianity, but to the tactic of confronting it directly. He would have been well aware that evolution is incompatible with the Genesis record. The idea of millions of years of suffering, disease, and death, long before people, denies the whole idea of a ‘very good’ world that was ruined through the sin of the first man. It thus logically undermines the basis of the Christian Gospel that the Lord Jesus Christ died for our sins on the Cross and rose from the grave.

Letter 2—Darwin makes it plain

Another letter from Darwin bluntly underscores his rejection of the Gospel and of ‘Christian evolution’. Less than two years before Darwin’s death, a young Christian barrister, Frederick McDermott, wrote to Darwin, asking him about his belief in the New Testament, as follows:

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. 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. … but without that assurance I fear my brain is not fine enough to argue out doubts which might be suggested by your works, … but if I can say that the author of these doctrines believes as I do that Christ was the Son of God, I can say that it is only in matters of detail that Mr Darwin differs from Charles Kingsley [a clergyman and theistic evolutionist5] and I may read with full pleasure of all the wonders of nature which he has collected.6

Darwin’s reply was short and to the point:

Dear Sir, I am sorry to have to inform you that I do not believe in the Bible as a divine revelation, & therefore not in Jesus Christ as the son of God.

Yours faithfully

Ch. Darwin.7

This letter was kept confidential for over 100 years, and then on 21 September 2015 it was auctioned at Bonhams of New York for the astonishing sum of US $197,000.8

The choice

There has always been a huge causal relationship between belief in evolution and disbelief in the Bible, disbelief in God, and disbelief in one’s need of the Gospel. The reasons for evolution’s unavoidable clash with Christianity are overwhelming on many fronts— notwithstanding McDermott’s desire to the contrary. They are set out with particular clarity and force in the landmark work by CMI’s Philip Bell, Evolution and the Christian Faith. The challenge of Joshua to the Israelites is no less appropriate today: “Choose you this day whom you will serve … . But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

Posted on homepage: 13 March 2024

References and notes

  1. Marx, K., “Die Religion … ist das Opium des Volkes.” (Written in 1843.) Return to text.
  2. Subtitled Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, so the English translation of the full title is Capital: A critique of political economy. This volume is in the Darwin library in Down House. Return to text.
  3. Carter, J. and Barker N., ABC for Book Collectors, 8th Edn, Oak Knoll Press, New Castle and The British Library, p. 226, 2004. Return to text.
  4. Darwin Correspondence Project, Letter No. 12757, to E.B. Aveling, 13 Oct 1880. Return to text.
  5. Grigg, R., Darwin’s quisling (Charles Kingsley), Creation 21(4):26–27, 1999; creation.com/kingsley. Return to text.
  6. Darwin Correspondence Project, Letter No. 12845, from Frederick McDermott, 23 Nov 1880. Return to text.
  7. Darwin Correspondence Project, Letter No. 12851, to Frederick McDermott, 24 Nov 1880. Return to text.
  8. World record for Charles Darwin letter at New York sale, bonhams.com, 21 Sep 2015. Return to text.

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