Thursday, February 12, 2009

Darwin and Lincoln

It is Presidents' Day weekend in the States, a three-day weekend that memorializes the births of two of our most illustrious presidents, Washington and Lincoln. While many people simply appreciate the extra free day, we hope that our fellow Americans and friends abroad pause to reflect on the legacy of our first and sixteenth presidents and perhaps even take a moment to re-read the Gettysburg Address, one of the most eloquent appeals for freedom and for "a government of the people, by the people and for the people." Whatever your politics, it is a mighty testament to Lincoln's commitment to the ideals of American liberty and equality that today, 200 years after his birth, Barack Obama is in the White House. It is also a reminder that war should only be waged to further those sacred values and not for empire building, global economic dominance, or other immoral or evil objectives.

Today is the actual day of Lincoln's birthday 200 years ago, but it is also the birthday of Charles Darwin. How interesting that these two immortals came into the world on exactly the same day. To Darwin of course we owe the idea of evolution, and what an idea. In his monumental study, Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention from Fire to Freud, Peter Watson rates it as one of the all-time great ideas. It is a legacy that is sadly not appreciated in this country. Worse, his idea has been under vigorous attack since Origin of the Species was published in 1859. Incredibly, according to a poll reported on CNN today, only 39% of Americans accept the validity of Darwin's theory. The implications of this statistic for the future of the United States are dire. Here is a short article from today's New York Times on Darwin, the man, and on the importance to humanity of his groundbreaking insight into the processes of the natural world and the place of humankind among the other living things with which we share this world. We can think of no better way to celebrate his achievement than by committing ourselves to the struggle against those who would banish the teaching of evolution from our schools. We hope you join us.