Thursday, February 12, 2009

Darwin and Lincoln - Science and Politics

Today marks the 200th birthdays of two incredibly influential men in history. Charles Darwin, the man who used science to give a more rational answer to the origin of life than `divine creation', the celebration has taken on a new meaning. The concept of evolution has become ingrained in our understanding of the world. And yet, to this day there are many who seek to interject the idea of creationism, or the versions into which it has evolved, "creation science" or "intelligent design" into science class (and yes, the pun is intended).

Interestingly, the idea of "evolution" has crept into virtually every aspect of modern life. There are the obvious connections, like genetics, in which we essentially speed up evolution (or perhaps create our own version of evolution) through genetic engineering in pharmaceuticals, crops, and other applications. But evolution is understood as we talk about first and second (and third) generation innovations, where first generations are often unwieldy and later generations are more user friendly. Think iPhones, iPods, computers, and everything from communication to transportation. Essentially, Darwin changed forever the way scientists, ecologists, sociologists and political thinkers view the world.

Abraham Lincoln, who also would have turned 200 today, was another thinker who made his mark on the US and the world. As the first of his new political party to become President, Lincoln presided over both the splitting, and the reunification, of the United States. The additional powers that he brought to the federal level set the stage for many of the national regulations that we have today. By keeping the United States united, he positioned us to grow into a leader of the free world, and perhaps the entire world. Of course, what we do with that power and leadership is another matter.

Lincoln's influence stretches forward through many President's hence, and takes on special significance in the current administration. Besides being elected from Lincoln's adopted home state, President Obama clearly was influenced by Lincoln's history and Lincoln's struggles. Obama admitted to reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's book, Team of Rivals, about Lincoln's ability to pull together his archest rivals for the presidency, all to lead the country through its most troubling period. Even the Lincoln bible was used in the swearing in ceremony for the new president.

Born on the same day in very different parts of the world, Darwin and Lincoln never met, and perhaps never even knew about each other. Darwin spent five years traveling the world on The Beagle and eventually defined how we think about life. Lincoln spent four years staying pretty much in Washington DC and eventually came to define how we think of leadership.

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