February 12, 2009

Today in History

Exactly 200 years ago, on Feb. 12, 1809, two giants were born. Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, was born in a frontier area formerly known as Hardin County, now LaRue County, Kentucky. British Naturalist Charles Darwin was born near Wales, in Shrewsbury, Shrosphire, England. Depending on perspective, which of these two made the greater contribution to mankind is open to speculation.

I’m late getting this post done. It had been my intention all along to blog some about this, but in doing web research I found that so many others had beaten me to the punch and done such wonderful work I couldn't stop reading. A few that I found particularly well done were A. Lincoln Blog, The New Humanist magazine and The Christian Science Monitor. For the anti-Darwin position, the CBN News has a fairly well written albeit misguided piece. I also found that Live Science was attempting to create a database of Darwin blogs in honor of this Darwin Day. The link is Blog for Darwin.

Abraham Lincoln: February 12, 1809 – April 14, 1865

I’ll start with a brief bio of our homeboy. Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican to win the office of President. His place in history was well established by his role as the great statesman who ended slavery and preserved the Union, and his name is recognized around the world. As we do with great Presidents, we honor him here by placing his image on the penny and the $5.00 bill. The Lincoln Memorial is among the most visited in the District of Columbia, and his name is invoked often in political debate. Our current President seems to be designing at least part of his administration on a Lincoln model.

This nation was well on its way to civil war before Lincoln won election in 1860. Prior to the secession of the southern states, in his Inaugural Address Lincoln warned the South: "In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you.... You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it."

And defend it he did, but it cost him his life. On Good Friday, April 14, 1865, actor John Wilkes Booth leveled a pistol and killed the President of the United States. If Booth thought he was aiding the south, the opposite proved true, for with Lincoln's death, Union sympathies died as well. The south lost all possibility of peace with magnanimity as the northern politicians were determined to exact severe punishments.

Charles Darwin: February 12, 1809 – April 19, 1882

Charles Darwin was born the same day as Abraham Lincoln, but outlived him by 17 years; succumbing to a natural death instead of assassination five days after Good Friday. When Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, he ignited a revolution in scientific thought unlike anything seen before or since. The result has been furious debate in the scientific arenas and outright anger and indignation in the religious communities. The denial in the United States is particularly apparent.

Natural selection, the theory introduced in that controversial work, is most certainly the single most important hypothesis in the field of biology, and quite possibly the most important scientific theory in history. Although the religionists battle constantly to discredit Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, it is supported by literally thousands of discoveries since Darwin traveled on the Beagle.

As Lincoln is celebrated in the United States, Darwin’s birthday is celebrated in Great Britain. Darwin’s image graces the British £10 (ten pounds sterling) note. This 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth will be celebrated in England to a greater degree than any monarch’s, and a commemorative £2 coin has been minted showing a silhouette of Darwin face to face with that of a chimpanzee.

London's Natural History Museum will host the largest of the British celebrations, with an exhibition displaying Darwin’s works as well as numerous displays offering validation of the Theory of Evolution. When you first walk into the museum you will encounter Darwin’s image carved in marble, contemplating a brontosaurus skeleton.

The museum director, Robert Bloomfield, is a huge promoter of Darwin, but wasn’t always. He admits to some doubts in his youth. Like many, Bloomfield was raised in a religious household and was taught the creationist version of the origin of man. As a young man he began to develop a passion for science, which caused him to question his faith.

Much like Darwin, Bloomfield has great sympathy for those still hung up on faith. He must, for his family remains devout Christian. Regardless, Bloomfield feels the work he is doing in building this Darwin Day exhibition to be a dream come true. The exhibition continues at the London Natural History Museum through April 19th. Another exhibition celebrating Darwin Day is titled Darwin and the Book that Shocked the World. This event is being held at The British Library until March 22.

Charles Darwin was born into a devoutly religious family and raised in the Church of England. Following the voyage of the Beagle, Darwin migrated to the Unitarian Church. It took many years for him to reconcile his discoveries with his faith and he was constantly tormented by thoughts of what his writings would mean for the Church. In the end, reason won and On the Origin of Species was published. In the final years of his life, Darwin described himself as Agnostic.

Two Giants

Indeed these two great men have made enormous impact on humanity. From the perspective of an American citizen, it is difficult which made the greatest.

Lincoln preserved the Union and held America together. In the years since, our country has become the leader of the free world. Much of the rest of the world might have some complaints about our behavior, but many of them must thank Americans for their freedom. The fact that America was still a standing nation is proof that Abraham Lincoln is the greatest of all U.S. Presidents.

Charles Darwin, on the other hand, could possibly be assigned the role of scientific revolutionary. By the very act of publishing an hypothesis, Darwin changed the whole world. Science has never been able to look back. For the first time in the history of man, science trumped superstition. Superstition is difficult to defeat, and the battle that began in 1858 rages still today. Not unexpectedly, the final front is here in the U.S., where religionists rant and rave unendingly of Darwin’s folly. I have confidence, however, in the eventual triumph of reason over the supernatural. The time for science is upon us.


Old NFO said...

Excellent post and an interesting comparison... I would have never thought to put the two together. Since they are BOTH still being argued over, I think I'll stay out of the middle of that argument :-)

Rogue Medic said...

We seem to approach things a bit differently, but reach similar destinations. I only briefly wrote about Lincoln, while you wrote quite a bit about him.

Nicely done.

Farm.Dad said...

"Lincoln preserved the Union and held America together. "

Especially if you consider that he took a somewhat foolhardy stance on states rights and pandered it into a human rights stance , incited a civil war , and won . Lincoln is remembered for freeing the black man , and rightfully so . I however will quietly submit that this was an " unintended consequence " of the need to reel in the south and cotton profits. Remember folks it was different times , and at the time no one would risk civil war to free the blacks . Once however the choice was made to go well the Abolitionist movement both gave a " moral imperative " and a ready pool of recruits . Not to argue morality, but we in the USA have seen imho basically the same thing happen in the evolution of the " war on terror " from find and punish the responsible for 9/11 to the " liberate " two country's from oppressive governments. Now my opinion on our war in the middle east has little bearing here ( though for the most part i support it ) , the point is that it now has nothing to do with the goals we were presented with when it started . My new President likes to compare himself to Lincoln, but from my take on history Bush has a lot more in common with that backwoods lawyer than O does . Time will tell tho as O can yet incite a civil war , but W cant anymore lol .

Mule Breath said...

“incited a civil war , and won”

He did win, but I will argue your stance that he incited the war. As I stated in my piece, the conflict was on the horizon, and had been for some time prior to the election. Yes, he had staked out his position, but calling that incitement is a stretch farther than I can reach.

“this was an unintended consequence”

The real reason for the split was state’s rights. The factory centered north saw no reason for slavery and wished the practice abolished, but the south claimed they ‘needed’ the slaves to make the cotton trade profitable. New territories were soon to join the union, which the south wanted to be slave states to prevent slaves running off to freedom into free territories. So slavery was peripheral to the main argument, but proved an effective battle cry.

”basically the same thing happen in the evolution of the war on terror from find and punish the responsible for 9/11 to the liberate two country's from oppressive governments”

Interesting analogy, and although I see a great deal of difference, I can see the similarities as well. I fail to see, however, any similarities between Shrub and Abe. You lost me on that one.

Rogue Medic said...


Some of the many things we will never know about the Lincoln years are: Would there have been any way to avoid war and not dissolve the Union? How would things have been different if the Confederacy had won? Why does it seem that we have started with the least appropriate military leadership in our early wars. Before Grant, we seemed to have been living up to Churchill's later comment on America, that we do the right thing, but only after trying everything else first.

I think that you are right about the evolving justification for the current wars. I have seen some on line debates. Many of the war supporters seem to view the moral imperative, of deposing a bad dictator, as the ultimate trump card in the debate. This moral imperative was, if a consideration initially, not a primary consideration. At least not if you watch the Congressional debates on the declaration of war.