Who was the greater scientific genius: Albert Einstein or Charles Darwin?

Darwin was curious, observant, methodical, and both willing and able to follow a line of reasoning to its conclusion, regardless of conventional wisdom. All excellent traits in a scientist, unquestionably, but he also happened to be in a position to apply those traits to particularly great effect, which gained him historical stature beyond that of similarly talented scientists.

I would say that Einstein, by contrast, was more innovative, and–because of his subject matter–his discoveries were less the product of circumstance, and more of his own capability and inspiration. In terms of genius, Einstein wins.

I am reminded of a quote from Bridge of Birds:

I wouldn’t quite say that. There is a reason why, for example, it’s called the Lorentz transformation, instead of the Einstein transformation. Einstein pulled all of the pieces together, but there were certainly other people looking in that direction.

Einstein, whose mind generated ides that my mind cannot grasp. I understand Darwin, which is actually pretty simple and intuitive.

I could never take away the genius of either man. But if forced to pick one, I think Einstein for being so original, mainly for the time dilation aspects of his theory of relativity, which goes against all common sense, but many empirical tests have shown to verify it time and time again. Just to be able to do the mathematics correctly, probably only a fraction of 1% can actually do.

Darwin gets credit for recognizing what he recognized, but in hindsight it seems obvious. I think it’s a case of everybody smacking their foreheads and saying. “Of course! Why didn’t we see that?”

Einstein, on the other hand, gets credit for recognizing something that is woven through all reality and yet fantastically elusive to the great majority of us. It’s a case of everybody saying, “Wait, what?”

I have worked through the math deriving E=mc^2 in his special relativity (though it’s been decades), and although the whole trail can be followed using high school math, the fact that he envisioned this trail and blazed it fills me with amazement and love. It is really hard to get, in my poor view.

What Einstein did was way harder, and made much more intense use of the scientist’s skills, than what Darwin did. At least, to this mediocre scientist, that’s how it looks.

At this point, one vote for Darwin… And not by much! The two are really very much on a par!

Darwin made personal observations, went out into the field, actually dug up the bones, actually watched the tortoises and iguanas. Then he got theoretical, and then went back to being practical, by raising pigeons.

For me, what tilts the balance, is the mathematics. Einstein, obviously, was highly mathematical, and damn brilliant at it. But Darwin worked out the statistics of heredity in the abstract. He even worked out how heredity had to be discrete: he was well on the way to discovering chromosomes – indirectly. This, in my mind, is staggering.

Einstein based much of his work on what others had done or were doing, but Darwin worked almost entirely alone. This doesn’t really undermine Einstein’s genius, but it suggests that he was supported by a diffuse team of researchers, an advantage Darwin didn’t have.

And, to be sure, both men’s discoveries were “in the air.” Wallace actually scooped Darwin, and, if Einstein had died young, someone else would have put all the pieces together. Evolution and Relativity were waiting to be discovered. Evolution actually was discovered before Darwin, and Lorenz and others had prepared the building blocks that Einstein stacked together to discover Relativity.

Just a personal thing: I’m more impressed by Darwin than by Einstein.

Good arguments on both sides, but I have to go with Einstein. Both had genius level insights about the nature of the universe, but Einstein also made predictions borne out in future observations, I don’t think Darwin did that. Also, didn’t Darwin do one fairly narrow thing, while Einstein won the noble prize for the photoelectric effect and he worked on quantum theory.

I guess if it has to come down to a tie breaker, Einstein had better hair.

I voted for Darwin, because beards trump moustaches, which is really the only criterion on which to judge these two giants for us lesser men.

Einstein, by far.

QFT. Darwin and Wallace collaborated and has similar ideas (I am not saying Einstein didn’t collaborate with people such as Schrodinger- however, they seemed to argue more) but Einstein was also in a slightly later era. The difficult aspect is that they were in such different fields.

Echoing what others have said, but perhaps in a different way, if Darwin had not lived, I’m pretty sure we’d still have the theory of evolution, developed and articulated around the same time.

Had Einstein not lived, his three genius papers, and the later paper on general relativity, would have come piecemeal with many stops and starts and wrong turns over fifty years, rather than pristine in one/ten.

Got loads of respect for Einstein but had to go with Darwin. Most people don’t have a clue about what Einstein was really describing (although some do) and pretty much consider him a genius for getting other genius’s to say he was great. I don’t know what he’s talking about but all of those smart guys in the Ivy league think he is smarter than they are so he must be a great genius type of thing, sort of a cult figure. That and he was an actual genius in every sense of the word.

Darwin on the other hand presented a fairly simple theory that anyone could grasp. And it still pisses people off today. People understand it and consider the idea simple enough for them to attack it based upon their own limited scientific knowledge. You don’t see people getting pissed off at the Theory Relativity, but get them talking about Theory of Evolution and listen to them talk about monkeys and the age of universe.

So I give more credit to Darwin since he stood up for a more controversial theory and has taken the heat thru generations of ignorant people breeding more ignorant people just to prove to him that they obviously can’t evolve.

This is more or less my view as well. If we’re going to decide who is the greater scientific genius, I think the best way is to answer the question of how long it may have been before someone else came along and solved the problems that they solved. To this end, I’d have to go with Einstein.

Darwin was not alone looking at evolution, as I understand many others had similar ideas, and it was his insight of natural selection that was key. How long might it have been until someone else had that similar insight? Again, as I understand, there were already others on a similar path, so I can’t imagine it wouldn’t have been relatively soon thereafter.

When it comes to Einstein, he had multiple major insights across multiple papers. Yes, there were others working on topics nearby and in the same general direction, but I think precisely because he had several major insights and managed to connect so many different ideas that makes it more difficult that someone would quickly follow in his footsteps.

I think another interesting distinction, largely because of the difference in their fields, is how their insights came about. Darwin’s came about through careful observation and comparison. Einstein was working with much less tangible concepts that required complex thought experiments. They both did amazing work, but it’s sort of like the difference between two students that get an A on an exam, one who put a lot of work into studying for it, and one who just has an intuitive understanding and doesn’t need to study. So, I think the methods required to do the work that Einstein did are probably more difficult to replicate.

they did different types of science.

also the time they lived in and the body of knowledge present and what they would have learned are drastically different.

no meaningful comparison can be made.

I agree. It’s rather like apples and oranges.

Darwin presented a revolutionary concept that is considered the unifying theory of the life sciences, and he got it right before all the corroborating evidence (e.g. genetics) was available.

I think some of the adulation of Einstein is due to a lot of people feeling they don’t really grasp the essence of his work, though they accept that he too got it right. Thus they believe he must have been an extraordinary intellect (which he was, of course) to have figured it out. In contrast, a lot of people feel they do understand Evolution, so it doesn’t seem as remarkable a feat to have developed the theory. And while the general public does understand Evolution to some extent, most of them don’t really know it well and aren’t aware of how complex the whole process is. While scientists generally hold Darwin in the highest esteem, laymen tend to not appreciate the depth and significance of his work.

Hence the facial hair criterion is the best :slight_smile:

I’m flashing on that Robot Chicken routine on Einstein.

I picked him because observational science never impressed me as much as theoretical.

My inclination is to adhere to Einstein’s famous quote: Genius is 1% inspiration and 99$ perspiration.

Thus, I’d go with Darwin.

True, the great concept attributed to him was scooped by Wallace and the great phrase attributed to him was actually stated by an overtly racist Sociologist (Spencer) and it certainly seems “obvious” in hindsight. However, he did get out there in the field and do the work – I can even imagine him perspiring in the afternoon sun on a Galapagos island while sketching a tortoise.

One problem nobody else has mentioned is that Einstein’s concepts are fully accepted and voluntarily used by a majority of the modern population – anyone who uses a GPS is leveraging principles of general and special relativity – comparing atomic clocks on earth against those on satellites (or cell phone towers, depending on your carrier and – well, don’t get me started on a Verizon rant…). In contrast, the concept of Evolution is actively rejected by a lot of modern people (but let’s not derail this thread to debate Creationism).

And a part of me has a lot of faith in the power of math. [Ironically, that’s probably the same part of me that is unable to grasp and utilize it.]

Einstein’s work seems (to me, at least) to be the successful culminations of brilliant mathematical explorations. As long as one comprehends the language of math (algebra, calculus, etc.) one can eventually get to Energy is the product of mass accelerated to the speed of light. In contrast, Darwin’s work seems (to me, at least) to be the result of a lot of abstract ideas – geological drift, heredity, predation – that don’t seem quantifiable and therefore don’t seem quite so easy to wrap the brain around [“grok”?] or, for that matter, explain to the world. In fact, even with several clear and concise explanations, there is still a substantial portion of the world that still refuses to believe it.

–G!
There are times
When All the World’s asleep
The questions run so deep
for such a simple mind
…–Davies & Hodgson (Supertramp)
The Logical Song
…Breakfast in America

[grammar fascist]

You’re comparing only two persons, so you mean “greater,” not “greatest.”

Anyway, the answer’s clearly Einstein, for reasons given in post 2.

[/grammar fascist]

Most of the people who posted on this site seem to be aware of Einstein in connection with special relativity. That was brilliant, as was his work on brownian motion and the photoelectric effect. Brilliant but someone else would have come up with then sooner or later, probably sooner. Lorentz-Fitzgerald contraction was close, although it seems to have been thought of as a computation device rather than reflecting reality. On the other hand, general relativity was an extraordinary insight and I will conjecture that without Einstein it might have eluded discovery even today. Well, maybe not, GPS satelites would drift by 8 miles a day if general relativity were not taken into account in their design.

Darwin’s contribution is harder to characterize. Evolution had been in the air a long time. Erasmus Darwin, Charles’s grandfather was a firm believer and it was a widespread idea. What was missing was a mechanism. Variation and selection were Darwin’s answer and it was brilliant. But Wallace had come to the same conclusion and the idea was inevitable. A lot of people were opposed–and still are–on religious grounds and even Darwin was reluctant to make his ideas public. Wallace forced his hand.

But I believe that Einstein was an order of magnitude above Darwin.