Thursday, February 12, 2009

From the Library: Darwin's Confession

For those just joining us, "From the Library" spotlights interesting items in the library of the Center for Origins Research at Bryan College. For past entries, click here.

A funny thing about collectors: We tend to get really excited over really weird things. I'm not talking about casual collectors, the kind that pick up a collectible spoon or keychain when on vacation. I'm talking about diehard collectors, obsessive, completist whackos who would gladly give up food or electricity for a month or two if only they could acquire that last item for their collection. If you've ever said something like, "You spent how much??? On that thing?!" then you probably know one of these collectors.

I am such a collector, and as I said, we tend to get really excited over strange things. So it was that I found myself digging through about two dozen big boxes of books donated to the college by one of the trustees. They were old theology and Bible study books, and I was delighted to find about 80 obscure creationist volumes to add to the CORE library. Then I found this at the bottom of one of the boxes, and my heart skipped a beat:



This is one of those silly tracts that claim that Darwin converted to Christianity and recanted his views on evolution. According to James Moore's The Darwin Legend, the story it recounts was probably based on a real incident. Lady Elizabeth Hope was a traveling evangelist who lived near Downe in the early 1880s (Darwin died in '82). The Darwin conversion story first appeared in 1915, and it was denied in print by Darwin's son Francis and daughter Henrietta Litchfield. In the story, Lady Hope claimed that she visited Down House and found Darwin reading the Bible and that he expressed regret over his evolutionary ideas. In addition to Moore's masterful study, the story was also repudiated by creationist Wilbert Rusch in articles published in 1975 and 1984 in the CRSQ.

Now why would I get excited about some lousy, old piece of propaganda? Because they're hard to find, it's an historically important (albeit strange) part of the Christian reaction to Darwin, and it was free (I think my assistant was most pleased with the last reason).

But if you're not a collector, you probably wouldn't understand.