Why the French Institute Rejected Darwin

Darwin picture.

In 1872, an attempt was made to elect Charles Darwin (above) to the prestigious Zoological Section of the French Institute, but this failed because he received only 15 out of 48 votes. A prominent member of the Academy gave the reason as follows:

‘What has closed the doors of the Academy to Mr. Darwin is that the science of those of his books which have made his chief title to fame–the "Origin of Species," and still more the "Descent of Man," is not science, but a mass of assertions and absolutely gratuitous hypotheses, often evidently fallacious. This kind of publication and these theories are a bad example, which a body that respects itself cannot encourage.’ (1).

However, later on 5 August 1878, Darwin was elected a Corresponding Member in the Botanical Section of the same French Institute. Darwin wrote to Asa Gray as follows:

‘It is rather a good joke that I should be elected in the Botanical Section, as the extent of my knowledge is little more than that a daisy is a Compositous plant and a pea is a Leguminous one.’ (2).


1. Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, D. Appleton and Co., London, 2:400, footnote, 1911.
2. Ref. 1, p. 401.

Thanks to Answers From Genesis for the idea of this box reminder.