Lincoln’s Birthday Today-Also Darwin’s

Today is Lincoln’s birthday, and it is also Charles Darwin’s birthday. These two men not only share the same calendar day birthday, they were also born on the same day in history, February 12, 1809. They are both 201 today.

Lincoln and Darwin never met. Lincoln may have known about Darwin since The Origin of Species was published in 1859 and Lincoln can be expected. This book explores other parallels in the lives of these two great men:

rebel giants

The author draws parallels in the life of Lincoln and Darwin because both introduced paradigm shifts in how people think about the world and human existence. Slavery had been a universal institution around the world for a thousands of years. As Lincoln rightly saw, it was unthinkable that the U.S. Constitution could have abolished slavery in 1789. But he also understood that Slavery in America violated our founding principal, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, and among those are the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That was denied to slaves and it was a stain that Lincoln sought to remove.

Before Darwin, with minor exception, the prevailing view of the creation of life on earth was the book of Genesis in the Bible. While some version of that remains true today for a great majority of humanity, Darwin made it impossible for the religious myth of creation to totally dominate the field of thinking. Now there is a scientific approach and the enlightenment it brings is refreshing and unavoidable.

At first glance Lincoln and Darwin are very different: the former from a frontier family who had little formal education; the latter, from a wealthy family, graduated from Cambridge. Yet they both lost their mothers at an early age; both struggled with doubts about religion, were ambitious and had quick minds.

Here is what a reader review at Amazon said about this book:

I’ve often amused (or irritated) people with little known trivia and one of my favorites was the fact of Lincoln and Darwin having been born on the same day. It may not be mere trivia from now on.

Darwin and Lincoln have long been favorites of mine so when I saw this book I was immediately drawn to it. I have been nicely rewarded as this book is terrific. It is packed with detailed knowledge of these two great men of the 19th century and told in a delightful and accessible manner. Mr. Contosta is obviously sympathetic to both men, and why wouldn’t he be? Their stories are compelling. The intriguing similarities in their lives go beyond their shared birth date, and many are quite astounding.

The author’s method of telling the story of Lincoln and Darwin by comparison of the details of their lives is a neat trick and I think it worked well.

Mr. Contosta is an historian who knows a bit of science history as well. His description of Darwin’s theory of natural selection and of the state of natural science in the 19th century seem impeccable. Few people outside of the life sciences today are aware of the mountain of evidence that Darwin collected, analyzed and tested before publishing The Origin of Species, nor of the personal conflicts with which he struggled. Those who today disparage Darwinian evolution as “just a theory,” as if it were no more than an educated guess, will be disabused of that notion and will come to a better understanding of the scientific method. If you delight in new knowledge and information you will revel in the pages of this book.

The Publishers Weekly description above calls Mr. Contosta’s effort “thin” and “sophomoric.” I think it is Publishers Weekly that is thin and sophomoric.

Sounds right to me. Well, why wouldn’t it, it was my review.

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