Most of us have experienced regrets about something we have said or done that led to negative events. While misgivings are inevitable in our lives, they usually remain private and unknown to others. When certain regrets belong to a more public figure, however, they may reveal something remarkable. In the course of the past month I came across two such stories, and I will share the first one here.
Admiral FitzRoy was the captain of several navy ships, including the HMS Beagle famous for its five-year journey that included the young Charles Darwin. Admiral FitzRoy was a dependable sea captain, who never lost any of his crew. He was also interested in science, including taking precise weather measurements and observing plants and wild creatures. He invited Charles Darwin to join the expedition that went to the Galapagos Islands among other tropical places.
Although Darwin’s previous education had been in theology, he was a keen naturalist as well. However, as both FitzRoy and Darwin observed the natural world they came to “vastly different conclusions”. Where FitzRoy marveled at God’s design for each creature that enabled it to thrive in a particular environment, Darwin reasoned that small changes within a species could be extrapolated to explain the origin of life through purely natural processes.
After Darwin published his famous book On the Origin of Species, Admiral FitzRoy was distressed and took various opportunities to write and speak out against it. On one auspicious occasion at Oxford (UK), a debate was taking place between Darwin’s disciple Thomas Huxley and Reverend Samuel Wilberforce (son of the William Wilberforce who spearheaded the campaign to end the slave trade). From the back of the room Admiral FitzRoy walked up to the front holding a large Bible. He explained how he had known Charles Darwin and proclaimed, “Believe God rather than man.”
In a letter to a friend, Fitzroy expressed regret at having invited Darwin to join him on their shared expedition. I found this worthy of pondering.