Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were both born 210 years ago today, on February 12, 1809. They led very different lives.
Lincoln was the great emancipator, who in his arguments against slavery often appealed to an Ultimate Judge of the universe. Though not conventionally religious, LIncoln was intimately familiar with the Bible, and he understood that the concept of God, an eternal and omnipotent being who judges the actions of human beings, was necessary to convince his fellow Americans that slavery was an evil that any just God would judge and punish. In an 1859 letter, Lincoln wrote, “This is a world of compensation; and he who would be no slave must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and under a just God, cannot long retain it.”
Lincoln’s actions regarding slavery were guided by his own relationship with The Almighty. On September 22, 1862, a few days after the battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg, a union victory, Lincoln stated, “The time for the annunciation of the emancipation policy can no longer be delayed. Public sentiment will sustain it, many of my warmest friends and supporters demand it, and I have promised God that I will do it.” When Secretary Chase asked him to explain, Lincoln replied: “I made a solemn vow before God, that if General Lee were driven back from Pennsylvania, I would crown the result by the declaration of freedom to the slaves.”
Lincoln believed, as did Ellen White, that the horrific destruction and loss of life of the American Civil War was a punishment for the sin of slavery. In his second inaugural, March 4, 1865, just a few weeks before his assassination, Lincoln stated,
“If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God. … He now wills to remove, and that He gives … this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? … Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
By Contrast, Darwin’s theory of evolution by “survival of the fittest”, which pushes God out of the picture, has often been used to rationalize unjust and cruel policies. His theory was racist, as he frankly admits himself. In the Descent of Man, he writes:
“At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time, the anthropomorphous apes . . . will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the Negro or [aborigine] and the gorilla.”
“Biological arguments for racism,” wrote Stephen Jay Gould, “increased by orders of magnitude following the acceptance of evolutionary theory.”
The connection between Darwinism and Nazism has been well-studied. Many of the leading Darwinian biologists and social thinkers in Germany understood that Darwinism overturned traditional Judeo-Christian ethics, especially the view that human life is sacred. Many exalted evolutionary “fitness” as the only arbiter of a person’s value. Hence, Darwinism played a key role in the rise of eugenics, euthanasia, infanticide, abortion, and racial extermination. Darwinism influenced not only the Nazis but also Margaret Sanger and the American abortion/eugenics movement.
Less well studied but just as real is the connection between Darwinism and communism. Karl Marx read and re-read Darwin’s “Origin of Species,” and saw Darwin’s theory of “survival of the fittest” as validating his revolutionary, totalitarian ideas.. In an 1861 letter, Marx wrote: “Darwin’s book is very important and serves me as a basis in natural selection for the class struggle in history.” Marx even dedicated a personal copy his magnum opus, “Das Kapital,” to Charles Darwin, inscribing that he was a “sincere admirer.” Darwin also influenced Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot.
In the book “Landmarks in the Life of Stalin” it is written that, “at a very early age, while still a pupil in the ecclesiastical school, Comrade Stalin developed a critical mind and revolutionary sentiments. He began to read Darwin and became an atheist.”
Of communist-controlled religious education, Stalin wrote, “There are three things that we do to disabuse the minds of our seminary students. We had to teach them the age of the earth, the geologic origin, and Darwin’s teachings.”
Darwinism is causally related to Nazism, communism, and almost every other terrible idea that cropped up in the 20th Century.
Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin: two men born on the same day who left very different legacies.