Lincoln and Darwin: Happy 200th!

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lincoln-darwin

[Image swiped from Clashing Culture]

Malcolm Jones (Newsweek):

How’s this for a coincidence? Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were born in the same year, on the same day: Feb. 12, 1809. As historical facts go, it amounts to little more than a footnote. Still, while it’s just a coincidence, it’s a coincidence that’s guaranteed to make you do a double take the first time you run across it. Everybody knows Darwin and Lincoln were near-mythic figures in the 19th century. But who ever thinks of them in tandem? Who puts the theory of evolution and the Civil War in the same sentence? Why would you, unless you’re writing your dissertation on epochal events in the 19th century? But instinctively, we want to say that they belong together. It’s not just because they were both great men, and not because they happen to be exact coevals. Rather, it’s because the scientist and the politician each touched off a revolution that changed the world.

Simon Jenkins (The Age):

CHARLES Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were born on the same day two centuries ago, thanks be to the false god of coincidence. But which, you cry, was the greater? Was it the man who transformed our understanding of the human race, or the man who made the mightiest nation on earth also the custodian of liberty and democracy? Was it the scientist or the statesman?

Darwin claims the crown for the scale of his intellectual revolution, but was he no more than an observer, a describer, a cataloguer? Did he not fail Marx’s test, that any philosopher can interpret the world while “the point is to change it”? Lincoln may have ensured that America became a force for world freedom, but was he not just a lucky war leader, and of a cause whose time had anyway come?

The comparison is silly, but not the question. We can leave the two men as giants but we can set the pursuit of science against politics and ask which deserves the greater respect.

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