Baden Powell (mathematician)

This article is about the Oxford geometer. For his son, one of the founders of the Boy Scouts, see Robert Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell. For the musician, see Baden Powell de Aquino.
Baden Powell
Born (1796-08-22)22 August 1796
Died 11 June 1860(1860-06-11) (aged 63)
Kensington, London, England

Baden Powell, MA, FRS, FRGS (22 August 1796 – 11 June 1860)[1] was an English mathematician and Church of England priest. He held the Savilian Chair of Geometry at the University of Oxford from 1827 to 1860. Powell was a prominent liberal theologian who put forward advanced ideas about evolution.

Powell married three times, and had fourteen children in total.


Powell's first marriage on 21 July 1821 to Eliza Rivaz (died 13 March 1836) was childless.

His second marriage on 27 September 1837 to Charlotte Pope (died 14 October 1844) produced one son and three daughters:

Survivors of Baden Powell's third family: Back row, standing (left to right): Major B. F. S. Baden-Powell; Miss Agnes D. S. Baden-Powell; Mr. Frank Baden-Powell; Colonel R. S. S. Baden-Powell. Front row, seated: Sir George Baden-Powell; Mrs. Henrietta Grace Baden-Powell with one of Powell's grandchildren; and Mr. Warington Baden-Powell

His third marriage on 10 March 1846 (at St Luke's Church, Chelsea) to Henrietta Grace Smyth (3 September 182413 October 1914), a daughter of Admiral Smyth, produced seven sons and three daughters:

Shortly after Powell's death in 1860, his wife renamed the remaining children of his third marriage 'Baden-Powell'; the name was eventually legally changed by Royal Licence on 30 April 1902.[3] Baden Henry Powell is often also referred to as Baden Henry Baden-Powell.[4]


Powell was an outspoken advocate of the constant uniformity of the laws of the material world. His views were liberal, and he was sympathetic to evolutionary theory long before Charles Darwin had revealed his ideas. He argued that science should not be placed next to scripture or the two approaches would conflict, and in his own version of Francis Bacon's dictum, contended that the book of God's works was separate from the book of God's word, claiming that moral and physical phenomena were completely independent.[5]

His faith in the uniformity of nature (except man's mind) was set out in a theological argument; if God is a lawgiver, then a "miracle" would break the lawful edicts that had been issued at Creation. Therefore, a belief in miracles would be entirely atheistic.[6] Powell's most significant works defended, in succession, the uniformitarian geology set out by Charles Lyell and the evolutionary ideas in Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation published anonymously by Robert Chambers which applied uniform laws to the history of life in contrast to more respectable ideas such as catastrophism involving a series of divine creations.[5] "He insisted that no tortured interpretation of Genesis would ever suffice; we had to let go of the Days of Creation and base Christianity on the moral laws of the New Testament."[7]

The boldness of Powell and other theologians in dealing with science led Joseph Dalton Hooker to comment in a letter to Asa Gray dated 29 March 1857: "These parsons are so in the habit of dealing with the abstractions of doctrines as if there was no difficulty about them whatever, so confident, from the practice of having the talk all to themselves for an hour at least every week with no one to gainsay a syllable they utter, be it ever so loose or bad, that they gallop over the course when their field is Botany or Geology as if we were in the pews and they in the pulpit. Witness the self-confident style of Whewell and Baden Powell, Sedgwick and Buckland." William Whewell, Adam Sedgwick and William Buckland opposed evolutionary ideas.[8]

When the idea of natural selection was mooted by Darwin and Wallace in their 1858 papers to the Linnaean Society, both Powell and his brother-in-law[9] William Henry Flower thought that natural selection made creation rational.[10]

The 'Philosophy of Creation' has been treated in a masterly manner by the Rev. Baden Powell, in his 'Essays on the Unity of Worlds,' 1855. Nothing can be more striking than the manner in which he shows that the introduction of new species is "a regular, not a casual phenomenon," or, as Sir John Herschel expresses it, "a natural in contra-distinction to a miraculous process."[11]

Essays and Reviews

He was one of seven liberal theologians who produced a manifesto titled Essays and Reviews around February 1860, which amongst other things joined in the debate over On the Origin of Species. These Anglicans included Oxford professors, country clergymen, the headmaster of Rugby school and a layman. Their declaration that miracles were irrational stirred up unprecedented anger, drawing much of the fire away from Charles Darwin. Essays sold 22,000 copies in two years, more than the Origin sold in twenty years, and sparked five years of increasingly polarised debate with books and pamphlets furiously contesting the issues.[6]

Referring to "Mr Darwin's masterly volume" and restating his argument that belief in miracles is atheistic, Baden Powell wrote that the book "must soon bring about an entire revolution in opinion in favour of the grand principle of the self-evolving powers of nature.":

Just a similar scepticism has been evinced by nearly all the first physiologists of the day, who have joined in rejecting the development theories of Lamarck and the Vestiges; and while they have strenuously maintained successive creations, have denied strenuously maintained successive creations, have denied and denounced the alleged production of organic life by Messrs. Crosse and Weekes, and stoutly maintained the impossibility of spontaneious generation, on the alleged ground of contradiction to experience. Yet it is now acknowledged under the high sanction of the name of Owen (British Association Address 1858), that 'creation' is only another name for our ignorance of the mode of production; and it has been the unanswered and unanswerable argument of another reasoner that new species must have originated either out of their inorganic elements, or out of previously organized forms; either development or spontaneous generation must be true: while a work has now appeared by a naturalist of the most acknowledged authority, Mr. Darwin's masterly volume on The Origin of Species by the law of 'natural selection' – which now substantiates on undeniable grounds the very principle so long denounced by the first naturalist – the origination of new species by natural causes: a work which must soon bring about an entire revolution of opinion in favour of the grand principle of the self-evolving powers of nature.[12]

He would have been on the platform at the British Association for the Advancement of Science 1860 Oxford evolution debate that was a highlight of the reaction to Darwin's theory. Huxley's antagonist Wilberforce was also the foremost critic of Essays and Reviews. Powell died of a heart attack a fortnight before the meeting.[6] He is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London.


Notable students

Lewis Carroll attended the lectures on pure geometry by Rev. Baden Powell.[13]


  1. GRO Register of Deaths: JUN 1860 1a 38 KENSINGTON - Baden Powell, age unknown
  2. B-P's diary transcribed by Colin Walker
  3. Charles Mosley, editor, Burke's Peerage and Baronetage, 106th edition, 2 volumes (Crans, Switzerland: Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd, 1999), volume 1, page 159.
  4. Books of Baden Henry Powell in The Library of Congress
  5. 1 2 Robert M. Young (1985). "The impact of Darwin on conventional thought". Darwin's Metaphor: Nature's Place in Victorian Culture. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-29.
  6. 1 2 3 Desmond & Moore 1991, p. 500
  7. Desmond, Adrian 1982. Archetypes and ancestors. Muller, London. p45
  8. Desmond & Moore 1991, p. 412
    Huxley, Leonard 1918. Life and letters of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker OM GCSI. London, Murray. pp. 477–478
  9. Flower married Georgiana Rosetta Smyth, younger sister of Henrietta Grace Smyth, on 15 April 1858.
  10. Desmond, Adrian 1982. Archetypes and ancestors. Muller, London. p51 et seq 'The Christian commitment'.
  11. Darwin 1861, p. xviii.
  12. "The 1860 publication: "Essays and Reviews" by (Church of England theologians) Temple, Williams, Powell, Wilson, Goodwin, Pattison and Jowett". Archived from the original on 30 August 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-29.
  13. The Lewis Carroll Society of North America, "A bouquet for the Gardener" (2011), pag. 194


Further reading

* Corsi, Pietro (1988). Science and Religion: Baden Powell and the Anglican Debate, 1800-1860, Cambridge University Press ISBN 0-521-24245-2, 346 pages

External links

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/18/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.