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Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Exploits of Lincoln and Darwin Are Not Comparable

I have complained about people conflating these two historical figures before due to the irrelevant coincidence that they were born on the same day, which is perhaps why it isn't surprising that on today, their birthdays, people continue to make stupid American-centric swipes at Darwin. I found that post kind of randomly, and it irked me. As I mentioned in the comment I left there, Google and Wikipedia are both internationally available websites with a vested interest in world-wide applicability. However, I suppose if you fail to realise (or willfully ignore) the profound effect evolutionary theory has had on our understanding of biology (and therefore medical science, agriculture, ecology, and many other areas which contribute to the welfare of humanity worldwide), then it might be possible to construe honouring the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth as somehow being an insult to the memory of Abraham Lincoln. Otherwise, I see no basis for such a conclusion.


Anonymous said...

It irks me to see words such as "randomly" modified. "Kind" of randomly. It is either random or it isn't in my books.

Mozglubov said...

I suppose you are correct. I wrote that flippantly since it really didn't have a lot of bearing to the post... I was reading a post at Good Math Bad Math and saw a rather vacuous comment. I followed the commenter back to his own sight on a whim (the random bit... I don't often do that, but I for some reason chose to this time), whereupon I saw the post about Lincoln and Darwin. Therefore, part of the story was random (following the link back) but part of it was not (reading a blog I regularly read). Still, you are correct. I will endeavour to be more careful with my words in the future. said...

Speaking of usage, when did "stupid" become a synonym for "I don't agree with"?

William Wallace said...

When did "stupid" become a synonym for "I don't agree with"?

Mozglubov said...

It isn't. Stupid means something that is not well thought out or lacks in logic or wit (among other similar definitions. Another common meaning is for something that is pointless), and I stand by that definition in my comment. As I pointed out, there is no reasonable argument for why it is a slight to Lincoln to honour Darwin today, and thus it is a stupid claim. I probably disagree with you about Lincoln's eminence as an historical figure, but that's not what I am calling stupid.

William Wallace said...

"there is no reasonable argument for why it is a slight to Lincoln to honour Darwin today"

Who was most important, Darwin to science or Lincoln to the United States?

Would the United States still have 50 states if it weren't for Lincoln?

Would the theory of evolution not have ever been invented if it weren't for Darwin?

Think, now, then tell me who's being stupid.

Mozglubov said...

I address this in the old post I linked to, actually... but anyway, that isn't really the point. My point was Google's main search page is not just an American thing... science is a world-wide endeavour, and therefore Darwin has more relevance and makes more sense to honour.

That was my entire point. Asking me the question you just did doesn't even make sense... how does one quantify, nevermind compare, the effects of one man on science and another on a country? Despite that, I suppose I will rise to the bait and pontificate for my own amusement.

Yes, evolution likely would have been discovered without Darwin. However, it was Darwin's comprehensive and methodical approach to the original construction of the theory that helped it gain widespread appeal and powerful resistance to ideological attack, something which it would be hard to argue would have taken place at that time without Darwin. Wallace, Darwin's contemporary, had not taken nearly the same care as Darwin had in constructing the evidence and reasoning for evolutionary theory. Thus, without Darwin it is possible resistance to the idea of evolution may have caused it to be ignored and brushed aside for another dozen years or more, which would have severely hampered the development and blossoming of the field of biology.

It's really hard to say whether the or not the United States would have 50 states had Lincoln not been around. Had Lincoln's party not won the election, civil war likely would have been at least delayed, as it was in response to his election on a platform of halting the expansion of slavery that sparked the secessions. Had Lincoln's party won but with a different person (let's call this guy Phil), the war likely still would have started, as it wasn't just Lincoln who condemned the secession as rebellion. Since the Confederates initiated hostilities, likely Phil would have had no choice but to respond with force. Sure, he might not have had the sureness of purpose and vehemence against the idea of letting the union fall apart that Lincoln had, so perhaps he would have sued for peace partway through the war. With mounting worldwide pressure, however, likely slavery would not have lasted, and perhaps these two disparate nations may have one day rejoined (like East and West Germany) once the South lost its taste for building its wealth on the back of unpaid labour. This is all really loose conjecture, however. Without Lincoln, another man would have been President of the United States. Likely there would have been a war, if not during that term sometime in the near future. Likely the North would still have won simply due to advantages in population and industry, so long as the President was willing to continue the war no matter the cost (which I also do not think is entirely unreasonable).

However, as I mentioned before, this is really idle speculation. You could easily construct a completely different picture loosely based on historical fact to the one I have generated here. Thus, leaving aside the unanswerable question you posed and returning to the original claim, I stand by the statement that it is stupid to claim Lincoln has been slighted by Google's choice of honouring Charles Darwin on 12 February, 2009. Both men were important historical figures, but one man (Lincoln) was important to a single nation, while another was important to the development of a broad field of science which has strong ramifications the world over. Since Google's search engine is internationally used and its mission statement is one of world-wide scope (regardless of where the company happens to be headquartered), it is reasonable and appropriate for them to have selected a Darwinian theme for their illustration. It is unnecessarily dismissive to the rest of the world to claim that one man's importance to your country takes precedence.

William Wallace said...

I am not sure I agree with your assessment of Darwin. My view is that if it weren't for T.H. Huxley and 2 or 3 other evolutionary evangelists creating a tipping point, Darwin's book may have been only slightly more remembered than Mendel's pea experiments--that is, largely not influential, and not remembered, until much later.

That aside, you do also realize, I hope, that google has many country specific domains, e.g.,,,, etc., and that Google was not only able, but actually appears to have rolled out the Darwin tribute at different times around the world?

That is, it would have been possible to pay homage to Darwin in the U.K., while giving Lincoln his due mention in the United States, in 2009, the year we first elected a black president.

Mozglubov said...

I disagree with your use of the term "evolutionary evangelist", but I agree with you that it was others who helped carry on the idea, especially in public debates, where Darwin's mild manners were not a great asset. However, it was Darwin's book and his personal discussions with Huxley and others which convinced them of the merits of evolution, thus still putting the original rigour and importance of evolutionary formulation with Darwin.

Also, of course I realise that Google has different domains. That still doesn't change the fact that it is not a slight to Lincoln to have honoured Darwin. While it would perhaps have been fitting popular (mistaken) opinion had Google chosen the United States as the only domain not to honour Darwin, that would have been a much more conspicuous choice. As well, Wikipedia does not have specific domains, just languages, and if I recall correctly you included them in the list of those who had slighted Lincoln by honouring Darwin.

William Wallace said...

Wikipedia foundation has several wikipedias specifically set up for other languages, (though none for those who speak UK English, for some strange reason).

The following all have their own sub-domains, and have 100,000 or more articles:

German, French, Polish, Japanese, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, Swedish, Chinese, Norwegian, Finnish, Catalan, Ukrainian, Turkish, Romanian, Czech, Volap√ľk, Hungarian, Esperanto
Slovak, Danish

Mozglubov said...

Um, right... that's what I said.

As well, Wikipedia does not have specific domains, just languages

Anonymous said...

The discussion between Mozglubov and Wallace made me think of mediaeval theologists debating how many angels could stand on the point of a pin. See also Defoe's philosophers on whether one should crack a boiled egg on the round end or the pointed end.

cornucrapia said...

I'm glad I actually read the comments on this post, I pretty much never do that. Dude do you usually have comment threads this fun? Am I missing out?

Mozglubov said...

Hah, I wish... not that I want to discourage you from reading the comment threads, but they are rarely as involved as this.