on Charles Darwin, 1871

January 30, 2015

In my research into fossils in early American works for children, mention of Charles Darwin has been conspicuously absent, perhaps because the editors of early American periodicals for children weren’t sure they understood the theories enough to present them, probably because his theories didn’t fit well with the theories of the editors about the history of the planet.

Not George Quayle Cannon, editor of The Juvenile Instructor in 1871. In his quest to educate young members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he included mention of publication of Darwin’s The Descent of Man in two volumes. It goes about as well as you’d expect.

(The Juvenile Instructor 6 [29 April 1871]: p. 68)

When men forsake God and seek for no revelation from him, there is no telling to what depths of folly they will reach. They will indulge in the most absurd fancies, and imagine they are correct. You cannot imagine, children, how much valuable time is spent, by what are called in the world wise men, advancing their theories and other so called wise men disputing them. Thousands of books are written for and against theories of this kind, after reading which many people have less idea of the truth than they had before they read them. This is vain philosophy; and yet it is the philosophy the world has always indulged in when they reject God. How much easier it would be for a man to seek unto God, who is the fountain of all knowledge, and obtain revelation from him. A few words from him, through His Holy Spirit, would set at rest many of the disputes in which they indulge; but this does not suit them, and they go on groping in darkness and spending their lives in doubt.

Two volumes have just been published in the East which were written by an English philosopher named Darwin. He tries to prove in these books that men are descended from monkeys, and he has got many learned men to believe that this is the case. Did you ever hear of such folly! What an idea men must have of themselves when they think of their forefathers being such creatures as we see in our Menagerie! Yet this is the wisdom of the world! Any man who thinks that he would like to have a monkey for an ancestor is welcome to the thought, but to us, such an idea is revolting. It is a great comfort for Latter-day Saints to know that they are descended from God, that He is their Father, and that if they are faithful, they will be like Him, and dwell with Him eternally. It is a great consolation also to know that we can be baptized for our dead friends, who died in ignorance of the gospel, and that they can be saved with us, until the whole race, from the present generation back to the days of our father Adam, will be united. There is something godlike in this reflection; a very different thought to what it would be if we imagined that after we had gone back a certain number of generations, we would gradually reach a tribe of monkeys.

We should be very thankful to the Lord for the knowledge which he has revealed unto us. We are not left in doubt or uncertainty, but everything necessary for our happiness and eternal salvation is revealed unto us, and we can obtain knowledge through the means which God has appointed. In relation to vain philosophy, Paul warned the Saints when he was upon the earth, to

“Beware, lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the traditions of men, after the rudiments of the world.”

The same warning is necessary in these days.

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