By a coincidence of history, Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born the same day--February 12, 1809. Last week marked their birth bicentennial. These history-making, world-changing men from two very different environments effected major revisions in thinking which, for better or worse, have shaped much of our modern Western culture.
Adam Gopnik, writing in the February 2009 Smithsonian Magazine said, "On February 12, 1809, two boys were born within a few hours of each other on either side of the Atlantic. One entered life in a comfortable family home, nicely called the Mount, that still stands in the leafy English countryside of Shrewsbury, Shropshire; the other opened his eyes for the first time in a nameless, long-lost log cabin in the Kentucky woods." (emphases ours throughout).
Malcolm Jones, in the July 7-14, 2008 issue of Newsweek asked, "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."
Jones added, "Both lost their mothers in early childhood. Both suffered from depression (Darwin also suffered from a variety of crippling stomach ailments and chronic headaches), and both wrestled with religious doubt. Each had a strained relationship with his father, and each of them lost children to early death. Both spent the better part of their 20s trying to settle on a career, and neither man gave much evidence of his future greatness until well into middle age: Darwin published The Origin of Species when he was 50, and Lincoln won the presidency a year later (ibid.)."
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Jones noted, "Lincoln and Darwin were both revolutionaries, in the sense that both men upended realities that prevailed when they were born. They seem—and sound—modern to us, because the world they left behind them is more or less the one we still live in (ibid.)."
Many realities of our world do need upending! Many accepted norms need to be abandoned or brought into harmony with God's will.
Gopnik remarked, "...This makes them, plausibly, 'heroes.' But they are also amazing men, something more than heroes, defined by their private struggles as much as by their public acts (op. cit.)."
Some today question Lincoln's place as a hero. Even more question Darwin's hero-status. Katherine T. Phan, in an article on February 11, 2009 in the Christian Post wrote, "Charles Darwin may be an influential name in the scientific community for the theory of evolution but a new Gallup poll shows that roughly one-third of Americans have no clue who he is or what he's known for. " Indeed, in some circles, there is widespread disagreement with Darwin's ideas. USA Today writer Dan Vergano reported on a 2006 survey in Science magazine, in which researcher Jon Miller of Michigan State University found that 62 percent of U.S. respondents agreed with the statement: "Human beings were created by God as whole persons and did not evolve from earlier forms of life" (February 9, 2009).
For good or for ill, Lincoln and Darwin indelibly left their mark on succeeding generations despite wrestling with their personal doubts.
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