Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Happy Darwin Day! Happy Lincoln Day!

Today is the birthday of both Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln, who were both born on this day in 1809. That's quite a haul for an unassuming February day a few years into the 19th century.

There are many reasons to admire Abe Lincoln, and reading his Second Inaugural Address or Gettysburg Address (to name only two of his more famous works) reveals a facility of expression and a depth of thought that was exceptional for his time and all but absent from today's political class.

Darwin could wield a pen himself. How many scientists can claim the eloquence with which he closed On the Origin of Species?

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

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