And a Whole List of Other Things That Came Trueletter to Charles Darwin is a classic. In the 1128 word missive the aging professor of geology at Cambridge University—after reading Darwin’s massive work in less than a week amidst his many other duties—managed to pack several cogent criticisms and profound observations of evolutionary thought.
Sedgwick began his review by explaining that he had read the younger Darwin’s manuscript “with more pain than pleasure.” For while parts were admirable and other parts humorous, there nonetheless were so many passages that Sedgwick read “with absolute sorrow; because I think them utterly false & grievously mischievous.”
For Darwin, it seemed to Sedgwick, had abandoned the tried and true method of empirically-based scientific induction and substituted for it his own baseless assumptions:
Many of your wide conclusions are based upon assumptions which can neither be proved nor disproved. Why then express them in the language & arrangements of philosophical induction?
Neither proved nor disproved? What a prophecy of the evolutionary just-so stories to come.
And as for Darwin’s grand principle, natural selection, “what is it but a secondary consequence of supposed, or known, primary facts.” Yet Darwin had smuggled in teleological language to avoid the absurdity and make it acceptable. For Darwin had written of natural selection “as if it were done consciously by the selecting agent.” Yet again, this criticism is cogent today. Teleological language is rampant in the evolutionary literature.
And anticipating the fixity-of-species strawman, Sedgwick explained to the Sage of Kent that he had conflated the observable fact of change over time (development) with the explanation of how it came about. Everyone agreed on development, but the key question of its causes and mechanisms remained. Darwin had used the former as a sort of proof of a particular explanation for the latter. “We all admit development as a fact of history;” explained Sedgwick, “but how came it about?”
Again, how cogent. Even to this day evolutionists continue to trumpet the fact of evolution because moths change color or viruses mutate, as though that somehow proves the spontaneous origin of all of biology.
Now the foundation had been laid and Sedgwick was ready to make his thesis point: “There is a moral or metaphysical part of nature as well as a physical. A man who denies this is deep in the mire of folly.” Yet again what an incredible prophecy of things to come. Evolutionary thought since Darwin extrapolated wildly on his vacuous thought experiments with so many just-so stories which tell us nothing about the actual science.
But that is not all. Sedgwick continued with his observation that the life sciences (organic science) holds a unique position within the sciences because its province includes sentient creatures and all that that entails, even consciousness and morality:
Tis the crown & glory of organic science that it does thro’ final cause, link material to moral; & yet does not allow us to mingle them in our first conception of laws, & our classification of such laws whether we consider one side of nature or the other— You have ignored this link; &, if I do not mistake your meaning, you have done your best in one or two pregnant cases to break it.
Darwin had broken the sacred trust entrusted to the life scientist with his cavalier and even presumptuous conclusions. But Sedgwick, in a chilling anticipation of the coming eugenics and abortion movements, believed such ignorance could never propagate:
Were it possible (which thank God it is not) to break it, humanity in my mind, would suffer a damage that might brutalize it—& sink the human race into a lower grade of degradation than any into which it has fallen since its written records tell us of its history.
If only Sedgwick could have read Nietzsche when the German polymath proclaimed that it was the sick, the oppressed, the broken and the weak, rather than evil men, who were the greatest threat to humanity:
Sick people are the greatest danger for healthy people. …
The invalids are the great danger to humanity: not the evil men, not the “predatory animals.” Those people who are, from the outset, failures, oppressed, broken— they are the ones, the weakest, who most undermine life among human beings, who in the most perilous way poison and question our trust in life, in humanity, in ourselves. Where can we escape it, that downcast glance with which people carry a deep sorrow, that reversed gaze of the man originally born to fail which betrays how such a man speaks to himself—that gaze which is a sigh. “I wish I could be someone else!”— that’s what this glance sighs. “But there is no hope here. I am who I am. How could I detach myself from myself? And yet—I’ve had enough of myself!”. . . On such a ground of contempt for oneself, a truly swampy ground, grows every weed, every poisonous growth, and all of them so small, so hidden, so dishonest, so sweet. Here the worms of angry and resentful feelings swarm; here the air stinks of secrets and duplicity; here are constantly spun the nets of the most malicious conspiracies—the plotting of suffering people against the successful and victorious; here the appearance of the victor is despised. And what dishonesty not to acknowledge this hatred as hatred! …
Take a look into the background of every family, every corporation, every community: everywhere you see the struggle of the sick against the healthy—a quiet struggle, for the most part …
Sedgwick’s unfortunate vision was not long in its fulfillment.
Next Sedgwick again sensed a trend that would extrapolate beyond Darwin when he warned the younger Darwin about his “tone of triumphant confidence.” If ever there was a consistent thread amongst evolutionists, aside from their metaphysics, it would be their incredible “tone of triumphant confidence” when proclaiming that the world came from nothing. The more absurd the theory, the greater the sound and fury with which it is proclaimed.
For Darwin, warned Sedgwick, had made claims well beyond the limits of science. Darwin issued truths that were not likely ever to be found anywhere “but in the fertile womb of man’s imagination.”
The fertile womb of man’s imagination. What a cogent summary of evolutionary theory. Sedgwick made more correct predictions in his short letter than all the volumes of evolutionary literature to come.
But Sedgwick would not sign off before offering his friendship and good will. It was in the “spirit of brotherly love” that Sedgwick wrote and he asked forgiveness for any sore points he may have left. Sedgwick spoke the truth as he saw it, but at the same time held no grudges.