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Old 6th February 2009, 02:10 PM   #1
Socratease
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Believers turned skeptic

I am a former paranormal 'believer' turned critical thinker doing some research into serious paranormalists, New Agers or Christians who abandoned their beliefs. So far I have three names who seem to be reasonably high-profile:

Dr Susan Blackmore
Former evangelist Dan Barker
Karla McLaren, former New Age healer and teacher

Could anyone help with any more? I would greatly appreciate it.
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Old 6th February 2009, 04:46 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by Socratease View Post
I am a former paranormal 'believer' turned critical thinker doing some research into serious paranormalists, New Agers or Christians who abandoned their beliefs. So far I have three names who seem to be reasonably high-profile:

Dr Susan Blackmore
Former evangelist Dan Barker
Karla McLaren, former New Age healer and teacher

Could anyone help with any more? I would greatly appreciate it.
Micheal Shermer - Founder of The Skeptics Society

Julia Sweeney - Actress
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Old 6th February 2009, 04:58 PM   #3
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Jonny Carson was one too, I think.
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Old 6th February 2009, 05:31 PM   #4
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A big name in Canada is Charles Templeton (1915-2001).

http://www.templetons.com/brad/cbt.html

Quote:
He would hit his first career switch soon, and it was a big one. A religious experience led to a sudden conversion and entry into the ministry. Known then mostly as Chuck Templeton, he quickly rose to the top of protestant evangelism. He hosted the weekly religion show "Look up and Live" on CBS. He and Billy Graham toured the USA and the world filling football fields. He counts among his proudest accomplishments using his role as an evangelist to arrange the first integrated public meeting south of the Mason-Dixon line in the USA. Back then many predicted it would be him, not Graham who would become the biggest evangelical preacher in history. But he didn't. He went to the seminary to learn more and came out an agnostic.

This was a pretty big event at the time. Though no preacher was as big as Graham is today, it was almost like Graham renouncing Jesus. A web search will show you that even 45 years later, there is still rancor about it.
Templeton went on to become a major journalist, author and TV personality in Canada.

Sorely missed.
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Old 6th February 2009, 05:34 PM   #5
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Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Muslim turned atheist).

Sean Prophet - son of New Age cult leader/guru Elizabeth Clare Prophet, active member of cult growing up, now atheist.

Bart Ehrman - born-again evangelical, now agnostic.
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Old 6th February 2009, 05:38 PM   #6
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I suspect every skeptic, well known or not, has believed in woo-woo stuff at some point in their early adult lives. It is extremely rare for one to be a complete and utter "skeptic-since-birth". The human mind works in non-intuitive ways, and requires some level of training to actually recognize common weaknesses in the way most people think.
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Old 6th February 2009, 05:49 PM   #7
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Richard Dawkins says he used to be something of a practicing Christian.

Derren Brown is a former evangelical Christian- or so his Wikipedia page says.
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Old 6th February 2009, 05:58 PM   #8
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[edit] I was gonna say Dawkins but Eeney said it first, bawww. He was a christian until his teenage years if I remember correctly.
Quote:
"I suppose that by that time the main residual reason why I was religious was from being so impressed with the complexity of life and feeling that it had to have a designer, and I think it was when I realised that Darwinism was a far superior explanation that pulled the rug out from under the argument of design. And that left me with nothing."
guardian.co.uk/world/2003/feb/10/religion.scienceandnature

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Old 6th February 2009, 06:07 PM   #9
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Not really famous, but Daniel Florien was an evangelical ctian before turning atheist and now runs the unreasonable faith blog.
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Old 6th February 2009, 06:09 PM   #10
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Even Bertrand Russell was religious during his younger years. It wasn't until later in life that he considered himself an atheist/agnostic.
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Old 6th February 2009, 06:14 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Wowbagger View Post
I suspect every skeptic, well known or not, has believed in woo-woo stuff at some point in their early adult lives. It is extremely rare for one to be a complete and utter "skeptic-since-birth". The human mind works in non-intuitive ways, and requires some level of training to actually recognize common weaknesses in the way most people think.
Hitchens claims to have been a skeptic since a very young age.
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Old 6th February 2009, 06:34 PM   #12
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Best example- Charles Darwin himself!

Not only did he once believe in the literal truth of the Bible, he initially studied to be a clergyman.

He was "quite orthodox" even on board the HMS Beagle and was teased by the officers on board for quoting the Bible in their chats.

http://www.age-of-the-sage.org/philo...win_quote.html

Irony of ironies.
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Old 6th February 2009, 07:24 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by KingMerv00 View Post
Micheal Shermer - Founder of The Skeptics Society
According to Shermer's 1997 book, "Why People Believe Weird Things": "I became a skeptic on Saturday, August 6, 1983, on the long climbing road to Loveland Pass, Colorado."

However, according to Logan Kaufman of advunderground.com, this exchange took place in 2007 between Kaufman and Shermer:

Kaufman: "When did you first become what you would consider a skeptic? Was there a defining moment or did your general philosophy evolve with time?"

Shermer: "No particular defining moment, but an evolution over time of my critical thinking skills, honed by scientific training, applied to more and more topics."

Also, what evidence is there that Susan Blackmore was ever a believer?
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Old 6th February 2009, 07:27 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by Rodney View Post
Also, what evidence is there that Susan Blackmore was ever a believer?

Other than her own words?

http://www.susanblackmore.co.uk/journalism/NS2000.html
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Old 6th February 2009, 07:40 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by Hokulele View Post
Thanks for the link, but do you take Michael Prescott's word for it when he says that he used to be an atheist?
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Old 6th February 2009, 07:46 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by Rodney View Post
Thanks for the link, but do you take Michael Prescott's word for it when he says that he used to be an atheist?

Never heard of him.
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Old 6th February 2009, 07:55 PM   #17
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Stephen F. Uhl, Ph.D. Former Roman Catholic priest turned psychologist. He's the author of, "Imagine No Superstition". (I believe he may also have a web site as well.) and was at TAM5.
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Old 6th February 2009, 07:58 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by Hokulele View Post
Never heard of him.
See http://www.internationalskeptics.com...chael+prescott
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Old 6th February 2009, 08:01 PM   #19
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Jonathan Edwards.
One time prominent christian, world record holder for the triple jump and BBC presenter ( athletics and a Sunday evening religious programme)
Apparently he used to carry a tin of fish with him to competition for motivation ??
At one point he was to be appointed by the British government as an ambassador on morals or some such non-sense.
Complete conversion to Atheism now though. Sadly it seems it has put a lot of pressure on his marriage.
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Old 6th February 2009, 08:33 PM   #20
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Originally Posted by Rodney View Post

Ah, thanks for the background (I don't read many of the MDC threads).

Actually, I don't have a problem with his claim. People change their minds often, and it is often for reasons that may be good or bad. It isn't so much that someone changes their mind, it is why they make the change. For example, Bart Ehrman (referenced earlier) has not only changed his mind from being an evangelical Christian, he coherently stated his reasoning for the change in his most recent book. Same with Susan Blackmore.

I haven't seen the reasoning behind Mr. Prescott's change, but I will keep reading.
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Old 6th February 2009, 08:38 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by KingMerv00 View Post
Hitchens claims to have been a skeptic since a very young age.
That might explain why he has such difficulty debating against religious folks. He doesn't have the experience to "crawl into their mindset".
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Old 6th February 2009, 11:46 PM   #22
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Ask Chillzero. She says she came here as a believer and was converted. But I could not find old posts that confirm she was a believer.
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Old 7th February 2009, 01:17 AM   #23
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Douglas AdamsWP wasn't known primarily for his skepticism but he was a self described 'committed christian' who later became a 'radical atheist'.
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Old 7th February 2009, 08:12 AM   #24
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Originally Posted by Hokulele View Post
Ah, thanks for the background (I don't read many of the MDC threads).

Actually, I don't have a problem with his claim. People change their minds often, and it is often for reasons that may be good or bad. It isn't so much that someone changes their mind, it is why they make the change. For example, Bart Ehrman (referenced earlier) has not only changed his mind from being an evangelical Christian, he coherently stated his reasoning for the change in his most recent book. Same with Susan Blackmore.

I haven't seen the reasoning behind Mr. Prescott's change, but I will keep reading.
See http://www.internationalskeptics.com...ad.php?t=52791. My point is that you can compile a long list of self-professed skeptics turned believers, but frequently when someone asserts that s/he used to be a skeptic, folks here question the accuracy of that assertion or ridicule the person as delusional. On the other hand, when someone asserts that s/he used to be a believer, folks here uncritically accept that assertion and hail that person as a prime example of critical thinking.
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Old 7th February 2009, 08:29 AM   #25
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Originally Posted by Rodney View Post
See <link>

Thanks.

Quote:
My point is that you can compile a long list of self-professed skeptics turned believers, but frequently when someone asserts that s/he used to be a skeptic, folks here question the accuracy of that assertion or ridicule the person as delusional. On the other hand, when someone asserts that s/he used to be a believer, folks here uncritically accept that assertion and hail that person as a prime example of critical thinking.

So? I am not them, and once again, it is the reasoning I am interested in, not just the names.
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Old 7th February 2009, 10:58 AM   #26
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Another person who started out believing (although I'm not sure about that), became an atheist, and then became a believer again is geneticist Francis Collins.


M.
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Old 7th February 2009, 01:25 PM   #27
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From my observation of my friends and aquaintances, I see that people who were formally brought up in a fundamenatalist or orthodox religion, like orthodox Judaism or Catholisicm were the people who completely rejected religion in favor of atheism. On the other hand, friends who had a liberal religious upbringing were the ones who investigated Eastern beliefs like Hinduism and Buddhism, which seem to be more compatable with a scientific view. Liberal Jews got into Kabbalah. And some people got into Freemasonry.

Also, some people believe that Darwin returned to Christianity on his deathbed. Einstein was brought up a secular Jew and his God wasn't a problem in his scientific work.
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Old 7th February 2009, 01:33 PM   #28
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As for New Age-ers and religioners who have turned skeptics; yes, I think that everyone is becoming more critical in their thinking, even the Pope!

The fact is, even the most ardent skeptics, after researching all the "hows" of life, are left with the question "why?"
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Old 7th February 2009, 01:53 PM   #29
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Originally Posted by KingMerv00 View Post
Micheal Shermer - Founder of The Skeptics Society

Julia Sweeney - Actress
Many thanks, and thanks to all who proffered examples.

I had read Shermer's book and had comletely forgotten about his 'conversion.'

And I am thinking also that perhaps included in this group could be religious fundamentalists or literalists who became more moderate, like John Shelby Spong, for example. If any others come to mind please share them here, also.
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Old 7th February 2009, 03:51 PM   #30
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Originally Posted by Socratease View Post
I had read Shermer's book and had comletely forgotten about his 'conversion.'
Apparently, based on his 2007 interview with Logan Kaufman, so had he.
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Old 7th February 2009, 04:29 PM   #31
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Originally Posted by Aquila View Post
Also, some people believe that Darwin returned to Christianity on his deathbed. Einstein was brought up a secular Jew and his God wasn't a problem in his scientific work.
@ Darwin: most likely a lie spread by christians, they try this with many freethinkers, like Voltaire and others.
@ Einstein: definite an atheist but in his own words: "I am Not a Crusading, Professional Atheist."
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Old 8th February 2009, 11:15 AM   #32
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Originally Posted by Blackadder View Post
@ Darwin: most likely a lie spread by christians, they try this with many freethinkers, like Voltaire and others.
Darwin still agreed to be buried in a church and had a state funeral in Westminster Abbey.

Quote:
@ Einstein: definite an atheist but in his own words: "I am Not a Crusading, Professional Atheist."
And his other famous words - to Max Planck, I think: "God does not play dice with the universe".
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Old 8th February 2009, 11:27 AM   #33
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John Lennon said that The Beatles meant more to young people than cheeses, but then recanted and apologized:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ri6-N...e=channel_page

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Old 8th February 2009, 11:32 AM   #34
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Originally Posted by Aquila View Post
Also, some people believe that Darwin returned to Christianity on his deathbed.
Shortly after his death, Lady Hope addressed a gathering of young men and women at the educational establishment founded by the evangelist Dwight Lyman Moody at Northfield, Massachusetts. She had, she maintained, visited Darwin on his deathbed. He had been reading the Epistle to the Hebrews, had asked for the local Sunday school to sing in a summerhouse on the grounds, and had confessed: ""How I wish I had not expressed my theory of evolution as I have done."" He went on, she said, to say that he would like her to gather a congregation since he ""would like to speak to them of Christ Jesus and His salvation, being in a state where he was eagerly savouring the heavenly anticipation of bliss.""

With Moody's encouragement, Lady Hope's story was printed in the Boston Watchman Examiner. The story spread, and the claims were republished as late as October 1955 in the Reformation Review and in the Monthly Record of the Free Church of Scotland in February 1957. These attempts to fudge Darwin's story had already been exposed for what they were, first by his daughter Henrietta after they had been revived in 1922. "I was present at his deathbed," she wrote in the Christian for February 23, 1922. "Lady Hope was not present during his last illness, or any illness. I believe he never even saw her, but in any case she had no influence over him in any department of thought or belief. He never recanted any of his scientific views, either then or earlier. We think the story of his conversion was fabricated in the U.S.A. . . . The whole story has no foundation whatever."

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/hope.html
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Old 8th February 2009, 01:20 PM   #35
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Originally Posted by Aquila View Post
are left with the question "why?"
Because.

I suppose if I wanted a more anthropocentric reason I would have to invent one or use one already invented by someone else - but then I don't really think being skeptical should guarantee my emotional wellbeing. So sure, I can believe people switch between one and the other in their lives - living out the conflict between what you want to be true and what you know to be true.
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Old 8th February 2009, 02:21 PM   #36
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Originally Posted by Aquila View Post
Darwin still agreed to be buried in a church and had a state funeral in Westminster Abbey.
Yes, I don't doubt that. His wife was still a Christian and he loved her very much. My guess is that he figured it didn't matter to him how they buried him, but it mattered a great deal to her.
Originally Posted by Aquila View Post
And his other famous words - to Max Planck, I think: "God does not play dice with the universe".
Yes, those words got widely quoted. He was apt to turn a metaphor, was old Al, and was not a rabble rouser. But in more believable, private correspondance, his message was very different.

Quote:
The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. "

Letter to philosopher Eric Gutkind, January 3, 1954
and the more famous:
Quote:
"It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it. "

- Albert Einstein, letter to an atheist (1954), quoted in Albert Einstein: The Human Side, edited by Helen Dukas & Banesh Hoffman
And yet, systamatically, people still quote the "dice" thing as if it was a statement of his personal religion.

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Old 8th February 2009, 03:11 PM   #37
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Originally Posted by Tricky View Post
Yes, those words got widely quoted. He was apt to turn a metaphor, was old Al, and was not a rabble rouser.

And to make the citation of this phrase even more ironic, the randomness implied by quantum mechanics that triggered his quip is supported by experiment, so it appears that god, if he did exist, does indeed throw dice.

And I really wish that people would get the original quote right.

Originally Posted by Albert Einstein
I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice.
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Old 8th February 2009, 05:58 PM   #38
JoeTheJuggler
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And none of this stuff matters if it's meant as an argument for or against believing in the supernatural.

Randi himself could become a born-again Christian who swears that homeopathy "works" but that fact would in no way add a shred of evidence to arguments for those beliefs.

Nor would the Pope and Billy Graham publicly renouncing their belief in God be a valid argument in favor of atheism.

Socratease, what's your purpose for compiling this list?

I do hope you're not using it as ammo in a debate with a believer. I think that way of arguing is harmful to the reputation of skepticism. Also, it would be fallacious.
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Old 8th February 2009, 06:00 PM   #39
Frying Dutchmen
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Not as interesting as everyone else's posts but I was a ufo believe once, I'm still open on the idea of aliens visiting the earth but I found most of the "evidence" wanting.
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Old 9th February 2009, 06:23 AM   #40
EHocking
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Originally Posted by Tricky View Post
Yes, I don't doubt that. His wife was still a Christian and he loved her very much. My guess is that he figured it didn't matter to him how they buried him, but it mattered a great deal to her.
By all accounts both he and his wife and family wished him to be buried in St.Mary's church in Downe, Kent (the church his wife attended). It was at the insistence of colleagues at the Royal Society that he should be given a state funeral and buried at Westminister Abbey.

Darwin didn't "agree" to it - he was dead.

Excerpt from Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Volume 2
C/o Gutenberg.org

On the Friday succeeding my father's death, the following letter, signed by
twenty members of Parliament, was addressed to Dr. Bradley, Dean of
Westminster:--

HOUSE OF COMMONS, April 21, 1882.

Very Rev. Sir,

We hope you will not think we are taking a liberty if we venture to suggest
that it would be acceptable to a very large number of our fellow-countrymen
of all classes and opinions that our illustrious countryman, Mr. Darwin,
should be buried in Westminster Abbey.

We remain, your obedient servants,
.....
The Dean was abroad at the time, and telegraphed his cordial acquiescence.

The family had desired that my father should be buried at Down: with
regard to their wishes, Sir John Lubbock wrote:--

HOUSE OF COMMONS, April 25, 1882.

My dear Darwin,

I quite sympathise with your feeling, and personally I should greatly have
preferred that your father should have rested in Down amongst us all. It
is, I am sure, quite understood that the initiative was not taken by you.
Still, from a national point of view, it is clearly right that he should be
buried in the Abbey. I esteem it a great privilege to be allowed to
accompany my dear master to the grave.

Believe me, yours most sincerely,

JOHN LUBBOCK.
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Last edited by EHocking; 9th February 2009 at 06:52 AM.
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