Hermann's Dissertation


This domain used to host the online version of Kenneth W. Hermann's dissertation that analyzes the extensive correspondence between Asa Gray and Charles Darwin on the implications of Darwin's theory of descent for the traditional design argument, 1853-1868. Hermann died in 2009.


The Original Website


It can be visited here:




About Kenn Hermann


(From the original website)


I am a retired American intellectual history professor who specializes in the history of science and religion in 19th century America during the era of Asa Gray and Charles Darwin, 1809-1888. This online medium allows me to publish my dissertation along with significant primary sources that are not widely or easily available. My hope is that these sources will become the basis for an online sourcebook of major writings on science and religion in 19th century America.




The Gulf Between Design and Descent: Asa Gray and Charles Darwin Debate the Implications of Darwin’s Theory of Descent for the Traditional Design Argument, 1853-1868. Please cite the original dissertation title in any scholarly reference.


This was originally published as:




A Dissertation Submitted to Kent State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy


by Kenneth W. Hermann


December 1999




This dissertation probes the philosophical, scientific, and theological assumptions underlying Gray’s interpretation of Darwin’s views, Darwin’s thorough critique of the design argument, and Darwin’s final public rejection of Gray’s efforts to harmonize descent and design. It does this through a fine-grained analysis of the extensive Gray-Darwin correspondence and their numerous writings on these matters from 1853, the year of their first contact, to 1868, the year that Darwin for the first time publicly repudiated Gray’s claim that God had guided variations along beneficial lines. It concludes that their debate on the harmony of descent and design illustrates the subtle disintegration of the post-Newtonian natural theology tradition and the gradual emergence from within that tradition of an aggressive alternative Positivist paradigm. Both Darwin and Gray were caught in the web of that transition; the thought of both was riven by consequent ambiguities, inconsistencies, anxieties, and contradictions. Neither was fully aware of the sources of the yawning gulf that separated them or how to bridge it.


While tracing this central theme our study sheds light on a number of additional dimensions of Darwin’s initial American reception. These range from the centrality of Joseph Dalton Hooker’s botanical geography in the 1850s for shaping the views of Gray and Darwin on the “origin of species,” to the very visible fault line in Cambridge between the dominant Scottish philosophical tradition, ably defended by Francis Bowen, the prominent philosophy professor at Harvard and stern critic of The Origin, and the vigorous cadre of young Harvard men, led by Chauncey Wright, who applauded The Origin for scuttling the natural theology tradition and fulfilling the Positivist promise. The debate between Gray and Darwin on the harmony of descent and design opens a window onto the broader cultural disintegration of the post-Newtonian natural theology tradition and the emergence of its Positivist child in late nineteenth-century America.


Download the Dissertation




Chapter 1: Introduction


Chapter 2: Gray, Hooker, and Darwin on the “Species Problem,” 1853-1868


Chapter 3: Asa Gray and William Rogers Defend Darwin’s Derivative Hypothesis, 1858-1860


Chapter 4: The Scientific and Philosophical Criticisms of The Origin in Cambridge and Boston, 1859-1860


Chapter 5: The Reception of The Origin Amid Intellectual Ferment in Cambridge


Chapter 6: The National Reception of The Origin, 1860-1861


Chapter 7: An Apologia for Darwin


Chapter 8: Darwin, Gray, and the Clash of Philosophical Visions


Chapter 9: Gray’s Deepened Conviction of Both Descent and Design, 1862-1868


Chapter 10: Darwin’s Stone-House Analogy


Chapter 11: Conclusion




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"Causalidad y azar en el origen de la teoría de la evolución a partir de la correspondencia entre Charles Darwin y Asa Gray"
by Alejandro Macía Nieto is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.