Weekend Assignment: Darwin and Lincoln and 200 years gone by

On February 13th, Karen came up with a Weekend Assignment based on February 12th:

Weekend Assignment #255: Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on the same day, two hundred years ago this week. Both went on to propound ideas that had a lasting effect on the world around us. Have either of them had a particular impact on you personally?

Extra Credit: Where do you rank Lincoln on your personal list of greatest U.S. presidents?

EC first
: I would rank Lincoln up near the top of my list of great Presidents, if I had one, especially in the context of the times over which he presided. However, I can’t say he’s had much impact on me personally – my own forbears didn’t even reach this country until about forty years after the Civil War was over. On his father’s side, however, my son does have a family tree that reaches back that far and even earlier – First Husband’s relations arrived from England in the mid-1600’s – but by Lincoln’s era, most of them were in Georgia. As citizens of the Confederate States of America, technically speaking, Lincoln wasn’t even their President.

Main topic: For some reason, I don’t recall that Darwin’s theories of evolution were as controversial when I first learned of them in school as they seem to be today. Granted, I was in school in the 1970’s, which was a very different social climate, but even so, they were presented pretty matter-of-factly as part of the curriculum – even in my biology classes in Catholic school.

Speaking of Catholic school, part of my freshman English course was a unit on “The Bible As/In Literature.” Historically, Catholics have been less likely to take the Bible literally than some other denominations (perhaps because of generations of having it interpreted for an illiterate population by learned clerics?), and as I learned to see the Bible as story and metaphor rather than historical fact, I didn’t think the creation account in Genesis – which isn’t unlike those of other early civilizations – necessarily conflicted with the concepts of evolution. A “day” in Genesis was a unit of time that people could understand, but didn’t have to mean a 24-hour period; couldn’t it just as easily be thousands of years? And why couldn’t God be what put it all in motion in the first place, and what’s continuing to direct it?

The concept of evolution makes sense to me. In some ways, I find it comforting to know that the world hasn’t been static in the past, and it won’t be in the future, either. It goes along with my belief in the randomness of life in general, and not really believing in “fate” or “destiny.” While opponents fight teaching evolution because it’s “only theory” and not proven fact…well, I think the same argument applies to the other side, so let’s just set that whole thing aside, why don’t we? Besides, as I mentioned, I’m not really sure why there has to be a science/faith conflict here in the first place, although I know that’s not a popular position.

But no, I don’t believe that evolution means that humans came from monkeys, although I have encountered some people who seem to have a lot in common with chimps.

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  1. I think along the same lines that you do. Most of what we learn in school is only theory anyway. Remember when Pluto was a planet? It’s the ideas that make use question that make us better thinkers. What I like most about Darwin (that I heard on a science show) was that he said it was only a theory, and when something better comes along, it was okay to use that theory instead. I think he’s a very interesting guy.

    Great post!

  2. Chris – Thanks. I was a little nervous about taking on this controversy. And I’m still getting used to Pluto’s not being a planet :-).

    But I totally agree with you – it’s the questions that make us better thinkers.

  3. I agree with you on The Bible taken as fact idea. I went to Lutheran school through 8th grade and I view it the same way you do. I can’t remember exactly how they taught us about it in school, though. I think they kind of left that for ourselves to figure out. And don’t get me started on the whole, “dinosaurs were around the same time as people”, thing. That bugs me.

    Anyway, Lincoln was probably more important in my youth, mostly because I’m from Illinois and he’s all over the place here. Well, his picture is, at least. 🙂

  4. I still think it’s weird that there’s any type of controversy over the fact that a scientist had a theory.
    Sylvia just did an essay contest on the Lincoln Memorial.

  5. Thanks for doing this – I was starting to worry that everyone would chicken out!

    I also believe that science vs. religion is a false dichotomy perpetuated by both extremes to the detriment of all. I wonder whether people who are threatened by evolution as a concept also have a problem with Copernicus and Galileo, or Neil Armstrong for that matter. Genesis clearly doesn’t conform to modern astronomy, so why should it take precedence over modern biology and archaeology?

  6. It might surprise you Florinda, but I agree. My own personal take is that we don’t know, and so while it’s nice to discuss theories they are just exactly that.

    I don’t feel my personal faith is threatened if it just so happens that God set things in motion to take place over thousands or millions of years instead of a literal 6 day creation. I don’t think it really has much to do with my day to day life at all. Seriously, there are so many other things both the hard core science and the hard core creationists could spend their energy on that would make the world a better place. 🙂

  7. Mike – Well, they do call it the “Land of Lincoln,” don’t they :-)?

    April – Good point. Almost all science starts with theory. Some theories can be proven experimentally, but others never really will, and this is one of them.

    KFB – I thought about not doing it, but decided not to chicken out – hope I’m not the only one :-)!

    The Church certainly had its problems with Copernicus and Galileo. I don’t know…I sometimes think that some people just want simple answers.

    Amy – That’s very true. Why argue over how the world was created when we should be concerned about where it’s going? Thanks for weighing in!