I received a query regarding my earlier post, “Finding Darwin’s Real God,” pointing out that Darwin subsequently withdrew his endorsement of Francis Abbot. True enough, but this must be placed in proper context.
Although one contemporary biographer (Janet Browne) calls the retraction “inexplicable,” it in fact was not. Adrian Desmond and James Moore give a clearer picture of the truth. Darwin by the late 1870s began to worry about his cozy relationships with noteworthy atheists, Edward Aveling in particular. Darwin went to his son William on this concern.
“They both read it [The Index] avidly,” write Desmond and Moore, “but agreed that after nine years — with the English papers now kicking up a pother about atheism — Charles’ weekly endorsement of Abbot’s Truths for the Times should be scrubbed. It could be appropriated by these English headline-grabbers and republished in Britain. Charles, having just sent Abbot a generous subscription, found it a bit embarrassing, so William took on the task” (Darwin, p. 643).
So it should be clear that Darwin’s request to discontinue his endorsement in no way retracted his embrace of the principles enunciated in The Index or Abbot’s Truths for the Times. This discontinuance was prompted by strategic considerations, not a change of heart.
This only serves to show Darwin’s continued duplicity in such matters. It is often difficult to take Darwin at face value; he was always cagey about protecting his public image. The real Darwin often lurks beneath the sequence of superficial events and actions.
Professor Flannery is the author of Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life (Discovery Institute Press) and other books.