From So Simple a Beginning …

Two hundred years ago today, on 12 February 1809, Charles Darwin was born, sharing a birthday with America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.

As the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth—and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species—approached, I wasn’t sure exactly how to celebrate or observe it. I knew that I wanted to post a little tribute to Darwin, but I wanted to do something a little more substantial. So earlier this week, I ordered From So Simple a Beginning: The Four Great Books of Charles Darwin (ed. Edward O. Wilson), a single, hardcover volume (with slipcase!) collecting The Voyage of the Beagle (1839), On the Origin of Species (1859), The Descent of Man (1871), and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). I felt that I needed to read Darwin’s works firsthand and not settle for someone else’s opinion (misinformed or not) of what Darwin wrote.

As it is with every individual who has contributed immensely to the progress of human civilization, no one knew quite what lay in store for the world the moment Darwin’s tiny body entered the world after 40 weeks of being knit in the womb via an amazing evolutionary process. Just as no one knew young Abe Lincoln would, approximately 54 years later, emancipate an entire community of American slaves through the issuance of two executive orders in 1862 and 1863, no one knew that little Charles Darwin would develop a scientific theory and publish a monumental work that would free mankind from the shackles of scientific ignorance.

Happy birthday, Chuck. I look forward to reading your stuff.

PS — The book arrived on your birthday. Coincidence? I think not.

6 Comments

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6 Responses to From So Simple a Beginning …

  1. Seriously, Charles Darwin should have been knighted by now. “Sir Charles Darwin” sounds so much better.

    I have loaded a free text version of Origin to my iPod touch. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to read some of it soon, although what I really need is an annotated version, apprising me of new developments/confirmations, etc.

    But dude, Lincoln emancipated only a paltry few slaves. 1) He had no authority as president to do so, even with “executive orders” (it took the legislative branch via the thirteenth amendment to do this) and 2) the only states “emancipated” were states over which he had no jurisdiction, namely the Conferate States of America. It was fully a calculated political move, sought to engender more support in Europe and rouse blacks, who had been strangely ambivalent about the war before then. He himself stated that it was merely a means to the end of maintaining control over the southern states: as he wrote to Horace Greeley in 1862, “If I could preserve the Union by freeing all the slaves, I would do it. If I could preserve the Union by freeing no slaves, I would keep them all in bondage. If I could preserve the Union by freeing some and leaving others enslaved, I would do that.”

    Needless to say, not one of my favorite presidents. I have manifestly deemed him worth hijacking a blog about science over. 😀 I don’t really think I like being reminded that Darwin, whom I used to loathe but now revere, shares a birthday with Lincoln, whom I used to revere but now loathe.

  2. Angel

    I honestly have not read Darwin’s book Origin of Species yet. It’s terrible because I own the book. I got it really cheap. I know you’ve watched Expelled. Do you remember the quote that was used from Darwin in it? I still need to read that book. From a Scientific American podcast I found out they only said the part they wanted people to hear.

  3. Anonymous

    I would urge anyone who wants to read Darwin to do so in book form and always have a pen and paper ready. It is simply poetic, which surprises many people.

    Brian

  4. Steve,

    Deep breath. Do you cringe every time you pull change out of your pocket?

    Seriously, I understand where you’re coming from. I’ve been reading some “interesting” things lately about Lincoln and his views on blacks. Unsettling to say the least. That being said, I was going for a poetic tribute to Darwin rather than Lincoln. My apologies for not airing Abe’s dirty laundry. 😉

    Oh, yeah … your hijack of my blog is forgiven.

  5. Angel,

    The Darwin (mis)quote that Stein used can be found here.

  6. Angel

    Thanks for the link Mike. I could not remember the quote at all.

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