Friday, March 13, 2009

Contrast between Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin

Copied: One might pair the lives of the greatest of American Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, and that of the most famous and influential philosopher of science, Charles Darwin, as both were born on precisely the same day, February 12, 1809. This year marked the bicentennial of that event (as well as the sesquicentennial of the publication of Darwin’s most famous book, The Origin of Species, in 1859). Though born on precisely the same day, Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin in their beginnings and their legacies could not be more in contrast. Darwin was born in comfortable upper class circumstances in England with prospects for a first-rate education -- with the luxury of changing his focus from medicine (the profession of both his father and grandfather) to religion (for which he was notably unsuited) to amateur naturalist -- and a place in the easy life of English aristocratic society. The other, Lincoln, was the second child of an abjectly poor American pioneer family, the son of an at best semi-literate father and a mother of questionable pedigree. He grew to manhood amidst all the severe disadvantages of the cultural and economic realities of frontier life, and had but small prospects for any kind of education except the most rustic. The panorama of his life held out hope of little beyond an existence of hard and bitter labor in the unforgiving wildness of the frontier. Only a life of unremitting toil seemed to lie ahead; many years of such toil did in fact mark his path from youth to manhood. Both men are buried in prominent memorials, Lincoln in a massive mausoleum in a cemetery in Springfield, Illinois, Darwin in the scientists’ corner of Westminster Abbey, near the markers of such prominent Bible-believing Christians as Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday and Lord Kelvin. Lincoln wrote no books and kept no diaries, but was best known for his speeches -- his debates with Stephen Douglas over the slavery issue in the 1858 Illinois Senate race which brought him national prominence, but particularly his two Inaugural addresses, especially the Second one, and his Gettysburg Address -- the most famous speech of the nineteenth century -- besides some written items such as the Emancipation Proclamation and, inter alia, his letter to the Widow Bixby. Lincoln was an absolute master of English prose. It has been justifiably stated that Darwin’s theory would have never been proposed had the modern knowledge of genetics and inheritance been current in Darwin’s day; they would have simply made his claims untenable. But Gregor Mendel did not begin his experiments until the 1860s, and his results were not published until decades later still; DNA was not discovered until a century after Darwin wrote. Darwin’s legacy is one of progressively intensifying darkness and horror and all that is worst in man. Lincoln’s is that of a conscious dependence on our Creator, Who has revealed Himself to man, and who will hold man accountable for his conduct, particularly his treatment of his fellow man. Darwin’s hypothesis and subsequent worldview is truly a major driving force behind man’s descent -- into the abyss. Lincoln’s worldview sets man in his proper relationship to the Creator, and to his fellow man, “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”

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