(Note: See Response by JT at the end of this article or click here.)
Darwin “Man of the Year?”
(Copyright @2009 by Yonko Mali, All rights reserved.)
Some of you out there did not like Time magazine naming President-Elect Barack Obama as their “Man of the Year”. But many of you liked their choice.
Well, I think Time Magazine should have named, Charles Darwin as Man of The Year! Scandalous you say. But it would be in keeping with Time Magazine’s philosophy. And this year, coming up very soon, in just a couple of weeks from now, on February 12, 2009, it will be the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin birth.
And let me warn you, there is going to be lots of hoopla about this. Lots of programs on TV, many of them claiming to be “educational” and there will be lots of special celebrations. Watch out. Keep an eye on your small children. They will probably be assigned homework on Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution.
But I want to tell you a true story about Charles Darwin that you probably won’t hear from the regular media.
It’s the story of how Charles Darwin came to financially support a Christian Missionary Society for the rest of his life. Isn’t that interesting and somewhat amazing for this famous evolutionist and agnostic.
Here’s the story about Charles Darwin and the Christian South American Missionary Society.
While Charles Darwin was on his famous - around the world tour aboard the HMS Beagle - on his way to the now famous Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean, the boat first stopped at the southernmost tip of South America which is very close to the Antarctic. Charles Darwin took this chance to explore that region of the world.
In doing so, he came across a savage people called Fuegians which Charles Darwin described as follows:
“[These are] ‘the most abject and miserable creatures I anywhere beheld’ and existing ‘in a lower state of improvement than in any part of the world.’ … ‘These poor wretches were stunted in their growth, their hideous faces bedaubed with white paint, their skins filthy and greasy, their hair entangled, their voices discordant, and their gestures violent. Viewing such men, one can hardly make oneself believe that they are fellow [human beings] and inhabitants of the same world [that we live in].”
So you see Charles Darwin had a very low opinion of these Feugian people which he called savages. Now the interesting part of the story is how Charles Darwin described the language of this people:
“Concerning their language Darwin wrote, ‘The language of these people, according to our notions, scarcely deserves to be called articulate. [When Captain [James] Cook traveled through these parts], he compared it to a man clearing his throat,4but certainly no European ever cleared his throat with so many hoarse, guttural, and clicking sounds.’3”
So these people made various grunts and clicking sounds like these [Make those sounds. GRUNTS CLICKS]
And it is even more interesting to hear how Charles Darwin expressed his lowly opinion of these people to one of his fellow ship-mates, Vice-Admiral BJ Sullivan,
“Mr. Darwin has 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.”
So you see, Charles Darwin thought this people were sub-human and could never be civilized or Christianized. But his fellow traveler BJ Sullivan thought otherwise:
“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.”
Well, Charles Darwin was wrong as he was wrong about many things in his Theory of Evolution. These people were not sub-human, they were not part of the transition from Apes to humans but were potentially as intelligent and civilized as any group of people on this earth. Here is what transpired.
The first Christian missionary was Allen Gardner who first came to the Feugian people in 1841 and made attempts in 1841, 1845 and 1848 to settle with these people but their natural hostility prevented it. Later in 1850, he arrived with 6 companions but they all died that winter in this sub-Antarctic region because a relief-ship arrived 2 months late.
Another missionary to the region, Thomas Bridges, studied the language of these people called Yahgan. And much to Charles Darwin’s surprised Thomas Bridges compiled a list of 32,000 words! So all these clicks and grunts and other noises that these savages made were not just some simplistic, inarticulate noises but a complex form of communication between these people. For example, Thomas Bridges found that these Feugian people had 50 different words for family relationships.
So once Thomas Bridges understood their language, his translated the 4 Gospels and the Acts of The Gospel into their language and he also produced for them a Prayer Book. What a tedious and painstaking task this must have been in this primitive, cold region of the world and of course without the aid of a computer.
I thank you Thomas Bridges, my hat is off to you Thomas Bridges and God thanks you Thomas Bridges for your great gift of love to these people.
There is also an interesting story about another missionary, Waite Stirling. His doctors had warned him that he probably had only 3 years to live. To which he replied that he would use his remaining years of his life where they would be the most used of God. So he came to the Feugian people. Surprisingly he lived for another 38 years! Amazing how God will bless us when we do his will!
Waite Stirling traveled throughout this region on horseback and he brought the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them. So many were saved and were baptized into the Christian faith.
Well over the years as Charles Darwin received reports on the success of the Christian Missionaries, he finally admitted that he was wrong not only in his incorrect biological assessment of these people as being a sub-human species but also in his appraisal of their language and his wrong appraisal of their potential.
In 1867, almost 35 years after he had visited this region, Charles Darwin was so impressed with the work of these missionaries, that he began his first yearly contribution to their efforts. And Charles Darwin continued to make financial contributions to this Christian Missionary society for the rest of his life!
A few years after he began his contributions, he wrote to his fellow ship-mate BJ Sullivan this apology:
‘It is most wonderful, and shames me, as I always prophesied utter failure. It is a grand success. I shall feel proud if your Committee think fit to elect me an honorary member of your society.’12
Yes, Charles Darwin even asked to become an honorary member of the Christian South American Missionary Society.
Unfortunately, Charles Darwin never accepted the truth of the Gospels for himself. Sadly he remained an agnostic for the rest of his days. He simply believed as many of the English Gentry of his day, that Christianity had a “civilizing” effect on savages and hence should thus be encouraged.
He never believed that man was a special creation of God, that man was created in the image of God as it states in Genesis and Darwin never believed that Christian conversion made people adopted sons and daughters of God.
Modern scientists, the linguists, are both fascinated and confounded by these Clicking Languages as they are now called. These Clicking Languages are found in various parts of the world. They are not sure if all languages used clicking and grunting sounds originally and these sounds simply disappeared over time - or if these clicking languages are only unique to certain people groups.
By even in our country, while such sounds are not recorded in our dictionary, we do use a certain amount of grunting and clicking sounds. Just go to any sports evennt, like football and you will hear all kinds of grunts. One of our most famous grunt is used by our Marines for encouragement and approval rather than applause. And most of you have watched Tim Allen’s Tool Time on TV and heard the various grunting sounds that he makes. You may also have heard the famous Miriam McCaba sing her songs which includes a lot of clicking sounds from her native African village.
Most grunts are used by boys and men. I personally think that is the reason we no longer use grunting or clicking sounds for official communication because we have become too feminized, too civilized perhaps.
However if you listen to the sounds made by babies and small children, you will observe that they will experiment making various sounds without encouragement on our part. And children lose the ability to make these sounds as they do not receive any feedback from us. As they learn that those sounds are not useful for communication. That is why it is so important to teach other languages to children when they are small because they will lose the ability to mimic the unique sounds found in various language especially the tonal languages like Chinese.
Next week I will bring you another interesting story about Charles Darwin. Have a good day and God bless you.
Rebuttal By JT (Posted 12-May-2009)
Hi- there are a couple of minor factual errors in your posted piece. First, the language Darwin described so brutally could not have been Yahgan, which is quite melodious, but is more likely Kaweskar, the language of York Minster. It is filled with glottalized consonants, which would tend to give such an effect of clicks and grunts. Yahgan has NONE of these! I've been studying the language for ten years (look me up on Google or Yahoo if you want).
Second, Bridges did NOT translate 4 Gospels and Acts- rather TWO Gospels (Luke and John), Acts, the Lord's Prayer, and the Doxology (later John Williams appears to have had published the Morning and Evening Prayers, modified in an orthography that suited him better but perhaps originally from Bridges). I own copies of all these materials, as well as the dictionary (both printed and the manuscripts), grammars, and almost all printed articles on the language.
Unfortunately the Internet tends to see factual errors propagated infinitely- you have no idea how many I see every month.
In any case Darwin was a pretty smart guy on matters biological, but a dummy with regard to social relations and linguistics. Bridges was the reverse- which ultimately led to the deaths of most of the Yahgans because of the poor decisions he made in clothing them, feeding them low calorie foods, and keeping them concentrated all in one place. It let diseases cut them down, and now they are nearly extinct, after having survived for thousands of years without Western interference.