Abraham Lincoln or Charles Darwin: who impacted the world more?

Hopefully just a friendly debate rather than a major slugfest.

February 12 is the 200th birthday of Lincoln and of Darwin. Which one do you believe impacted the world we live in today the most?

Lincoln was of course limited to America- never traveled beyond its borders- but then America became the most powerful nation in the world due to the unity and change and militarization that Lincoln brought about. Had another man been president they may have let the south go- at least eventually- if the south had ever seceded to begin with- and while slavery may or may not have been on its way out (personally I think it would have lasted for a very long time without the war because there’s no way you can convince tens of thousands of slaveowners to part with property that valuable peacefully) it most certainly wouldn’t have ended in 1865 without Lincoln. Then there’s the “United States are/United States is” case change that’s often referenced due to the war.

[del]Darwin on the other hand led to the Holocaust. [/del] (Okay, only Ben Stein claims that, so I’ll strike it.)

Darwin on the other hand led to a near worldwide revolution in science and sociology. Social Darwinism, which he of course not only did not champiton but completely disavowed, led to much of the abuses of late 19th century capitalism, while the acceptance among intellectuals and scientists of evolution led much to the church v. science rifts of the modern world that we are still fighting.

Neither of these men introduced anything particularly new (the North-South/abolition/pro slavery factions had been agitating on an escalating scale of irreconcilability and violence for decades by the time of Lincoln’s election and something or someone was bound to bring it to arms sooner or later, while evolutionary theory in simpler forms had been around since at least ancient Greece and would probably have had its codifier in the late 19th century without Darwin). However, both profoundly changed the world. So in your opinion, suppose scenarios in which Lincoln lived until 1865 but Darwin died in childhood, and one in which Darwin lived to old age as he did in life but Lincoln died in childhood: which would have made more difference in the world of 2009?

Somebody else would have come up with a theory of natural selection. No one else would have been a politician and war leader with the particular characteristics of Lincoln. Lincoln, hands down.

Vox Imperatoris

Somebody else did. In fact, Darwin might never have published except that another fellow was about to do it with the exact same theory.\

(Darwin then acted like a jerk and rushed to publish and cut the other guy out, which was definitely rude. Many other academics would jointly-publish under such circumstances. But Darwin being a dick is not the topic. Sorry!)

I’m not sure the fact that “somebody else would have” is relevent - the one that did the act deserves credit for it nonetheless.

For the record, that wasn’t his reaction at all. On receiving Wallace’s paper from the other side of the world he was devastated that someone else had had the same idea, but his anguished instinct was to do as requested and forward it for publication, thereby letting Wallace take all the credit. It’s Lyell and Hooker who propose reading some of Darwin’s previously privately circulated writings to the Linnean Society alongside Wallace’s paper and push Darwin into agreeing to that. Effectively jointly publishing, so they both got credit.
It’s an arrangement that Wallace, when he eventually found out that that’s what had happened, never took offence at.

For that matter, Wallace explicitly knew that Darwin was in the late stages of writing a big book on how species come about. That’s why he chose Darwin as the most suitable person to send the paper to. What he didn’t know was what Darwin’s book was going to propose.

“…Then there’s the “United States are/United States is” case change that’s often referenced due to the war…”

Wow! I have often used this point when discussing the Constitution, etc… Most folks look at me quizzicly. I am glad there are other folks who recognize this very important point.

Lincoln is my favorite president, I really respect him; he made the tough decisions that kept our infant country whole and managed to abolish slavery as well.

But Darwin was a genius who monumentally changed the world. It’s still too early to accurately judge the depth of Darwin’s impact. At minimum the man is the Isaac Newton of biology. Or the Einstein even. I’m out of my element here, so I’ll let others attempt to describe the achievements of Charles Darwin in more detail.

But I wonder: Are all the science folks going to vote for Darwin, and all the political/history types will go with Honest Abe? I’m sure it’s just me, but I can’t see putting any politician (even Lincoln) above even your average scientific genius, let alone someone of Darwin’s magnitude.

Not really. If the other guy had published his paper instead of Darwin, even if it came later or in incomplete form, there would have been minimal difference between that scenario and the one that actually happened. If the Democrats had won the 1860 election, however, or if a different Republican had been commander-in-chief, there’s no telling how things would have turned out. I’ve got nothing against scientists, but I think that the individual person who comes up with the theories is simply less important than the individual who wields political or military power at a given time, if only because personal flaws and virtues have a much greater influence on the latter than on the former. As long as Darwin published his theory, it didn’t really matter what kind of man he was.

Vox Imperatoris

ETA: And when mistakes are made in science, they can be revised later at any time; however, you can’t fight the Civil War twice.

OK? There have been few ideas that have changed the world more than Darwinism. I don’t think it’s even close.

I disagree, and it is not only because I take into account what the Northern Irish science historian James Burke said:

  • James Burke on The Day The Universe Changed.
    I see this also as an issue of perspective, Lincoln may be the choice in the USA, but the question concerns the world.

As even modern medicine is relying in the theory of evolution to fight disease, my choice goes to Darwin.

  • and Lincolns.

Lincoln. The 16th President ensured that the world understood that popular democracy is not a fluke, that constitutional government cannot be brought down by an armed and aggrieved regional minority, and that the U.S. would remain united and later play a decisive role in two world wars.

I take nothing away from Darwin’s accomplishments, but Lincoln had a far greater impact.

I’m going to go with Darwin because he advanced the study of biology and changed nearly everything we do everyday in some small or large way. Lincoln’s effectiveness was largely limited to the US.

As for Wallace, he had the same insight that Darwin did and was going to publish (and in fact had written the crucial sentences more elegantly), however Darwin had the same insight and all of the research to back it up to the point that an unbiased observer could not deny they theory. Wallace didn’t have all that evidence. Darwin shared credit with Wallace and Wallace was satisfied with that. However Wallace eventually recanted, making me wonder if he even understood what he had stumbled upon.

I think others would have hit upon these ideas soon, but Darwin and Wallace did in about 1859, maybe decades before others. Certainly Mendel’s work on genetics would have helped others see the light. Incidentally, Mendel’s work is just as important as Darwin’s.

In two hundred years, Darwin will still be remembered as the founder of evolutionary biology. (And note that his work in this regard was not the publication of a single book or paper, but literally decades of research in his post-Beagle life which added monumental support for his theories.) Lest we relegate natural selection to a bin marked “Interesting For Academic Interest Only,” I’ll point out that evolutionary theory and practical applications arising therefrom underpin much of modern medicine, and will be even more significant as biotechnology grows. Lincoln will just be one of a string of historical figures who made significant but incremental contributions to political history; one might equally point to Oliver Cromwell or Charlemagne (or Attila the Hun or Genghis Khan) as being equally significant in overall historical impact.

And, for the record, while Lincoln may have acted to keep the Union together, it was Wilson who (attempted to) impose a pan-nationalist governing counsel upon the world, and Franklin Roosevelt who involved is in world affairs to an inextricable degree and placed us in direct opposition to Soviet (and later Chinese) Communism as a replacement for the then-faltering British Empire. Heck, it was Teddy who gave the United States sufficient naval projection to allow us to be a major player in world affairs at all. Not to marginalize Lincoln, but it is arguable that he is far from the most important presidential figure except in terms of the American Civil War itself.

As for overall influence of 19th century and later figures on the overall progress of humanity, I’m going to point to James Clerk Maxwell, the father of electrodynamic theory and thus all modern technology, as the single most influential figure.


That’s a very provincial point of view and appears to accept a priori that those who wrote the American constitution somehow managed to devise a near perfect form of government. Such a claim is perfect nonsense and ignores the fact that Lincoln, at a cost of 600,000 lives, transformed the system from a federal form of government to a de facto unitary system.

Advances in almost any field of science, not only those introduced by evolutionary theory, have had much more tangible impact on our lives than politicians whose main contribution to human progress has, on balance, been more negative than positive.

I’m going with Darwin, too – nothing to detract from Lincoln’s accomplishments, but Darwin’s idea of natural selection is just so fundamental to modern thinking and science that it’s easily overlooked and taken for granted. Plus, he wanted to abolish slavery, too. :wink:

I’m going to go with Darwin on this. Darwin’s influence was not only felt in scientific circles but also social and political circles throughout the world. Darwin’s influence on the eugenics movement starting in the latter half of the 19th century was felt in the United States, Canada, and in many European countries. (Darwin didn’t support this so far as I know.) Others have already covered the importance of Darwin’s work in medicine and modern biology.

What did Lincoln do that had a profound influence on world events? Nothing really. That doesn’t take away from what he accomplished (for good or ill).

Not to put the man down, but Lincoln mainly influenced the US while Darwin influenced thinking in the enitre world. To put it in context, I think that children in many countries don’t get thought about Lincoln in history classes, while natural selection will be on most curricula (ironically, except in parts of the US I gather). Given that the OP asks who impacted the world…i would say Darwin.

Darwin. Lincoln online affected the US; Darwin’s effect is worldwide, and I think that the reasoning that someone else might have come up with it is as specious as the reasoning that there might have been another Lincoln.

The key word in the OP is ‘world’.

I think Lincoln possibly impacted America more than Darwin did, but Darwin certainly impacted the world the most. For reasons already pretty much already stated.

Arguments that suggest others would have down what Darwin did, could easily be applied to Lincoln, if he had not been born and someone equally or more great took his place then we would be talking about them instead (it can work both ways). Luck (or chance rather) has a lot to do with being great. The most horrible human alive can be thought of as a saviour for being in the right place at the right time (not referring to the two mentioned in the OP of course).

Frankly, I don’t think there is much comparison to be made. Both men were hugely consequential, and that ought to be enough.

The people who state that Lincoln’s influence was chiefly American are wrong, though - his writings and admiration for his actions crop up in interesting places around the world. Quotes from Lincoln were seen in the Tiananmen Square protests, Lincoln was admired by German socialists and was even congratulated in his reelection in a letter from Karl Marx, and he was extensively quoted in India in speeches by Nehru, who even owned a bronze cast of Lincoln’s right hand.