Friday, February 12, 2010

Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin -- Share another Birthday




























A year ago, Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln shared a bicentennial moment.  As I noted then, each in his own way made significant contributions to history and to humanity. Each has become a mythic figure -- though for different reasons. Both have been lionized and demonized. It's difficult to know who is the more important figure.   Lincoln played a central role in keeping the United States together as one nation, which surely has had ramifications for world history.  He also played a major role in ending slavery in America, though that was not his foremost concern during the Civil War.

Charles Darwin may have had the greater impact, simply because his reach was broader and more global.  His theories on evolution and common descent have revolutionized science -- though people continue debating the results. 

Last year, in my posting, I noted that  both men had an interest in slavery.  The rest of this posting continues that earlier conversation.  It is ironic, perhaps, considering that Lincoln is the Great Emancipator that Darwin was likely more committed to ending slavery. 

For Darwin, as several recent books have argued, our common descent argues against slavery. Indeed, it appears that Darwin's trip on the Beagle reinforced his own horror at slavery. These books, reviewed by Christopher Benfey in the New York Times in January, argue that despite attempts to use his theories to buttress racism, Darwin was anything but a racist. Indeed, he was an abolitionist. It was, apparently, the cause that helped drive his own scientific efforts.

The books under review in the Times essay are: DARWIN’S SACRED CAUSE: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin’s Views on Human Evolution. By Adrian Desmond and James Moore. [Illustrated. 485 pp. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $30]. And, ANGELS AND AGES: A Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life. By Adam Gopnik. [211 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $24.95]. I haven't read either book, but they look interesting. Check the review by Benfey for more information.

So, whatever the parallels and commonalities, at the end of the day, we will have paused to celebrate the lives and contributions of two unique and compelling individuals --- Abraham Lincoln, the American President, and Charles Darwin, the Scientist.

1 comment:

Stephen said...

Really good information...! Thanks.