Education, Class, Biblical Authority, Reasoning, Natural History, Functionalism, Design, Natural Theology, Theodicy
The narrator's Cornish uncle was uneducated, and yet had learned a good deal by observation and inference. The narrator reflects on the spread of education to all classes and tells a brief anecdote to demonstrate this, observing that 'it is the Bible only that gives us a proper knowledge of the Lord of heaven and earth', and contrasting the knowledge of the English poor with that of the poor of other races (75). As a child the narrator heard from his uncle an anecdote illustrating the meaning of inference, which concerned a dervish who inferred much about a camel from the traces it left in the sand. They were shortly after visited by a local clergyman, who placed a bird on the table and encouraged the narrator to infer its haunts and habits. The boy did so by functionalist interpretation of its anatomy, asserting: 'It can never have been created for purposes which it is unable to accomplish, since He who made all things is God; and with Him is fulness of wisdom' (78). The bird was a sky-lark but was also white, and they discussed the occasional appearance of such birds, relating the phenomenon to the need for camouflage in very severe winters. This, and several other provisions in the coats of animals, provided the company with 'interesting proofs [...] of the manifold wisdom of God!'. In response to the boy's inquiry about the inferences to be drawn from the lark's death, the clergyman replied: 'Whenever we see disease or any form of suffering, or look upon the dying and the dead, we may assuredly infer that our iniquities have separated between God and us, and our sins have hid his face from us' (80). They expand upon this theme in the remainder of the conversation.
© Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical Project, Universities of Leeds and Sheffield, 2005 - 2020
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