John Burroughs the poet and naturalist once believed in God. Growing up on a farm in the Catskills, he delighted in the bumble bee.
Transcendence and joy filled his poems and essays. Nature was to be delighted in. Nature was evidence of a Creator! In a small rural community he would have listened to this read on Sundays:
O Lord, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth,
Who have set Your glory above the heavens!
2 Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants
You have ordained strength,
Because of Your enemies,
That You may silence the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
4 What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?
5 For You have made him a little lower than the angels,[b]
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
7 All sheep and oxen—
Even the beasts of the field,
8 The birds of the air,
And the fish of the sea
That pass through the paths of the seas.
9 O Lord, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth!
John hung with Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Theodore Roosevelt. He never liked Thoreau who always had a lesson to teach.
And then John Burroughs read The Descent of Man and On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life by Charles Darwin. The writing style and the bracing new ideas changed him and he wrote:
“When I look up at the starry heavens at night and reflect upon what it is that I really see there, I am constrained to say, ‘There is no God.’ The mind staggers in its attempt to grasp the idea of a being that could do that. It is futile to attempt it. It is not the works of some God that I see there. I am face to face with a power that baffles speech. I see no lineaments of personality, no human traits, but an energy upon whose currents solar systems are but bubbles. In the presence of it man and the race of man are less than motes in the air. I doubt if any mind can expand its conception of God sufficiently to meet the astounding disclosures of modern science. It is easier to say there is no God. The universe is so unhuman, that is, it goes its way with so little thought of man. He is but an incident, not an end. We must adjust our notions to the discovery that things are not shaped to him, but that he is shaped to them. The air was not made for his lungs, but he has lungs because there is air; the light was not created for his eye, but he has eyes because there is light. All the forces of nature are going their own way; man avails himself of them, or catches a ride as best he can. If he keeps his seat he prospers; if he misses his hold and falls he is crushed. Mankind used to think that the dews and rains were sent for their benefit, and the church still encourages this idea by praying for rain in times of drought, but the notion is nearly dissipated.” The Light of Day by John Burroughs
And then there’s these words by Darwin himself: “Up until the age of thirty . . . poetry of many kinds, such as the works of Milton, Gray, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley, gave me great pleasure. But for years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost any taste for pictures or music.” Darwin’s autobiography