Thursday, January 10, 2008


Be Vewy, Vewy Quiet!

Over at Florida Citizens for Science they have more things to worry about than this, what with a confirmed report of a second and third school board vying with Taylor county's in the competition to be the silliest on Earth and an unconfirmed report that a total of a dozen have now entered the Twit Olympics. That latter report comes from Oscar Howard, superintendent of Taylor County Public Schools, who literally can't find his butt (or, at least, significant parts thereof) with both hands. Hopefully, the report is no more realistic than Mr. Howard's understanding of science.

Anyway, in a comment to the posting about the Baker County and Holmes County school boards partaking of the creationist Kool-Aid, a person calling himself "The Man" left the following on the porch in a burning paper bag:

Charles Darwin converted to christianity (sic) a couple months before he died and he donated his remaining fortune to a church.
Now, of course, the Lady Hope story about Darwin's "conversion" back to Christianity is well known. But the bit about his donating his fortune to a church is new to me. After a painstaking avoidance of a thorough search, the closest I could find was from this creationist, Malcolm Bowden, who, after striving mightily to find some good thing to say about the Lady's tale, can only conclude that he doesn't know if it is true or not. Trying to salvage what he can, Bowden notes:

What is not disputed is Darwin's approval of Church activities. Only a few weeks before he died he sent a donation to the South American Missionary Society in view of the good effect of the missionaries in Tierra del Fuego.
This much is apparently true. In a footnote to a letter his father sent to Admiral Sir James Sulivan (who had been a lieutenant on board the Beagle), Francis Darwin , in The life and letters of Charles Darwin, noted:

My father's connection with the South American Mission, which is referred to in the above letter, has given rise to some public comment, and has been to some extent misunderstood. The Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking at the annual meeting of the South American Missionary Society, April 21st, 1885 [in a leaflet published by the Society], said that the Society "drew the attention of Charles Darwin, and made him, in his pursuit of the wonders of the kingdom of nature, realise that there was another kingdom just as wonderful and more lasting." Some discussion on the subject appeared in the Daily News of April 23rd, 24th, 29th, 1885, and finally Admiral Sir James Sulivan, on April 24th, wrote to the same journal, giving a clear account of my father's connection with the Society:

"Your article in the Daily News of yesterday induces me to give you a correct statement of the connection between the South American Missionary Society and Mr. Charles Darwin, my old friend and shipmate for five years. I have been closely connected with the Society from the time of Captain Allen Gardiner's death, and Mr. Darwin had often expressed to me his conviction that it was utterly useless to send Missionaries to such a set of savages as the Fuegians, probably the very lowest of the human race. I had always replied that I did not believe any human beings existed too low to comprehend the simple message of the Gospel of Christ. After many years, I think about 1869, but I cannot find the letter, he wrote to me that the recent accounts of the Mission proved to him that he had been wrong and I right in our estimates of the native character, and the possibility of doing them good through Missionaries; and he requested me to forward to he Society an enclosed cheque for £5, as a testimony of the interest he took in their good work. On June 6th, 1874, he wrote: 'I am very glad to hear so good an account of the Fuegians, and it is wonderful.' On June 10th, 1879: 'The progress of the Fuegians is wonderful, and had it not occurred would have been to me quite incredible.' On January 3rd, 1880: 'Your extracts [from a journal] 'about the Fuegians are extremely curious, and have interested me much. I have often said that the progress of Japan was the greatest wonder in the world, but I declare that the progress of Fuegia is almost equally wonderful.' On March 20th, 1881: 'The account of the Fuegians interested not only me, but all my family. It is truly wonderful what you have heard from Mr. Bridges about their honesty and their language. I certainly should have predicted that not all the Missionaries in the world could have done what has been done.' On December 1st, 1881, sending me his annual subscription to the Orphanage at the Mission Station, he wrote: 'Judging from the Missionary Journal, the Mission in Tierra del Fuego seems going on quite wonderfully well.'"
The claim, however, that he gave away his fortune is, to say the least, highly unlikely. Darwin was proud of the meticulous records he kept, detailing every household expenditure from snuff and lawnmowers to microscopes and chimney sweeps. It is improbable in the extreme that a donation of any substantial portion of his considerable wealth, much less a bequest after his death, would have escaped the notice of so many historians.

So, if anyone knows of the original source of this claim, please let me know. It's one wascally wabbit I'd like to bag.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

. . . . .


How to Support Science Education