Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Lincoln, Darwin and History

Tuesday marks the date that, in 1809, two giants of history were born: Abraham Lincoln, arguably the most heroic president America has known, and Charles Darwin, whose theories changed people's perceptions and opened doors of scientific thought.

Like Darwin, Lincoln was controversial. I suppose one can't attain greatness without angering huge portions of the population. Lincoln wrote,

"If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best I know how - the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what's said against me won't amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference."

In defense of his Origin of Species, which was deemed by many to be anti-God, Darwin wrote, "It is just as noble a conception of the Deity to believe that He created a few original forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms, as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of His laws."

In their eloquence they were able to defend what they believed was true, and therefore just. Gloria Fiero wrote of Darwin, "Darwin's conclusions toppled human beings from their elevated place in the hierarchy of living creatures. If the cosmology of Copernicus and Galileo had displaced earth from the center of the solar system, Darwin's theory robbed human beings of their preeminence on that planet."

Similarly, Lincoln made decisions that shaped and changed the United States, and while his birth determined American destiny, his death left a nation bereft, as Walt Whitman poetically attested, asking

"O how shall I warble myself for the dead one there I loved?
And how shall I deck my soul for the large sweet soul that has gone?
And what shall my perfume be for the grave of him I love?"

How interesting that fate ushered these men into the world on the same day of the same year.

(Whitman quote from "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed")

This post was first printed last year on February 12th, by me.

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