On this date in 1849, Luther Burbank was born in Massachusetts. He found fame early, when he single-handedly saved U.S. potato crops from the deadly blight by cultivating russet potatoes. The inventor, who ran Burbank’s Experimental Farms in Santa Rosa, Calif., produced more than 800 new varieties of fruits and plants, such as the Shasta daisy. He was recognized for his plant breeding by an Act of Congress.
The beloved naturalist was one of Robert Ingersoll‘s greatest fans. Burbank believed, “Children are the greatest sufferers from outgrown theologies.” Shaken by the Scopes trial, Burbank wrote: “And to think of this great country in danger of being dominated by people ignorant enough to take a few ancient Babylonian legends as the canons of modern culture. Our scientific men are paying for their failure to speak out earlier. There is no use now talking evolution to these people. Their ears are stuffed with Genesis.”
In 1926, an interview about his freethought views appeared in the San Francisco Bulletin, which headlined it: “I’m an Infidel, Declares Burbank, Casting Doubt on Soul Immortality Theory.” The article was reprinted around the world, creating shockwaves. Burbank was inundated with mostly critical letters, which he felt he had to reply to personally.
Friend and later biographer, Wilbur Hale, attributed Burbank’s hastened death to the exertion of his replies: “He died, not a martyr to truth, but a victim of the fatuity of blasting dogged falsehood.” A crowd estimated at 100,000 came to Luther’s memorial, and heard the openly atheistic and ringing tribute by Judge Lindsay of Denver, Colorado. California still celebrates Luther Burbank’s birthday as Arbor Day, planting trees in his memory. D. 1926.
“. . . as a scientist, I can not help feeling that all religions are on a tottering foundation. None is perfect or inspired.
The idea that a good God would send people to a burning hell is utterly damnable to me. I don’t want to have anything to do with such a God.
I am an infidel today.” —Luther Burbank, interview in San Francisco Bulletin, Jan. 22, 1926