This I Believe

Worthington, E. Barton (Edgar Barton)


  • Dr. Edgar Worthington, Secretary general of the Scientific Council of Africa, describes his belief in the mutability of beliefs and how his personal beliefs eveolved out of traditional religious dogma into a wider appreciation for nature and beauty and principles irrespective of doctrine. He also describes his perspective of Africa as an European immigrant to the country.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Dr. Edgar Barton Worthington is the secretary general of the Scientific Council of Africa. This organization was set up by six nations—Britain, France, Belgium, Portugal, South Africa and Southern Rhodesia—to share scientific knowledge and bring higher living standards to the peoples of Africa. Dr. Worthington has participated in regional development work in the Middle East with the British Colonial Service and the Protectorate of Uganda. He is the author of a number of books: the most important is his survey, Science in Africa. Here now is Dr. Worthington.
I believe that most people change their beliefs as they grow up, and that it would be a mistake to think that we had finished growing up until we were dead. In other words, I believe in looking forward, not backward, and I think that beliefs are not hereditary but are mostly conditioned by our environments. To people who have believed in particular religious dogmas for many years, that may sound a cynical and rather flippant approach to faith. But let me enlarge. As a boy, I passed through a phase of traditional religious beliefs, perhaps because I was well brought up. Then I began to learn about plants and animals and realized that to understand is to have faith. I found myself worshiping the beauty of nature.
My first piece of research, when very young, was on the maternal habits of earwigs. Now to most people, an earwig is not a particularly beautiful object. It smells and it has pincers on its tail. But I found them so beautiful that I developed a faith that I now realize was akin to the animism of many primitive tribes. Trees, wild animals, fishes, and even earwigs had for me at that time a kind of spiritual aurora.
Soon after that, I had an experience of shipwreck. It was in a very tiny sailing boat on a very large and remote lake in the middle of Africa. We were overcome at night by a fearful storm and, after casting away our equipment and being exhausted from bailing for many hours, had all but given up hope.
My only European companion had served before on sailing ships, and at the height of the hurricane, he pointed to the tip of the spar, where an astonishing ball of luminescence appeared. “St. Elmo’s Fire,” he said. “We shall pull through.” And sure enough, we eventually landed with whole skins, though the boat was sunk in the process. That experience nearly made me turn back to traditional religion.
After a while, I got married, had children, and also gained a sufficient experience of the world to think that I could be of service to my fellow men and women. I believed, and still do, in Christian principles rather than in Christian dogma,
because they are the best guide in using any abilities I may have for the service of others, whether they be my own family or humankind in general. It doesn’t really matter who one happens to serve or where one is, provided one has faith in the future.
At present, Africa happens to be my field. Africa, being the least developed of the continents, has furthest to go in the path of progress. I’m one of the so-called “immigrant Europeans” in Africa, people who are sometimes vilified as taking Africa away from its original owners. I believe, however, like many others, that the vast majority of we immigrants to the dark continent, together with our wives and families, have given far more of good than of bad to the native peoples.
We are points from which civilization and a better life can emanate, just as many of the indigenous men and women are also focal points of civilization and progress. But it’s very easy for the dark ages of Africa to erupt through a veneer of civilization.
I believe in the future happiness of multiracial societies and I believe I can help toward that end. At 48, I regard myself as a promising youngster and would give no guarantee that ten years hence, the particular directions of my faith may not change, although the central core—that is, my faith in the future—will, I hope, remain.
That was Dr. Edgar Barton Worthington, a British scientist who lives with his wife and three daughters in the Congo of Africa.