Apparently, Wikipedia recently invented a mythical account of Lincoln reading and being deeply moved by Darwin’s Origin of Species.
Were that true, one wonders what he would have thought of The Descent of Man, wherein Darwin advanced his view that black people were becoming a separate species and predicted that Lincoln’s key political problems would be solved by exterminations, as just the way things were. There would have been no point in being Lincoln if one believed that. But the story is, in any event, a Darwinian fiction, as political scientist John West explains (February 13) at Evolution News & Views,
In its entry on Lincoln and religion, Wikipedia claims:
William Herndon, Lincoln’s law partner, stated that Lincoln… had read and knew of Charles Darwin before most. Herndon says Darwin’s book “interested him greatly, and he was deeply impressed with the notion of the so-called ‘universal law’ — evolution….and he became a warm advocate of the new doctrine.”
If the person(s) who posted this account to Wikipedia had bothered to read the sources they were citing, they would see that they had mangled the facts. Herndon does indicate that he was a voracious reader of Darwin, Spencer, and a number of other writers, but he says that he “had little success in inducing Lincoln to read them. Occasionally he would snatch one up and peruse it for a little while, but he soon threw it down with the suggestion that it was entirely too heavy for an ordinary mind to digest.” (Herndon’s Life of Lincoln, p. 353) So while it is theoretically possible that Lincoln may have read a little bit of Darwin, there is no evidence that he did, and he certainly wasn’t “deeply impressed” by Darwin’s book. More.
Actually, and this should be no surprise, Darwin admired a different theory of evolution, far closer to Alfred Russel Wallace’s.
Evolution News & Views’s David Klinghoffer cautioned anyone trying to edit Wikipedia about the time they would waste trying to get basic errors corrected correctly.
So it is interesting to see that at February 17, 2014, 8:55 am EST, the account at read:
William Herndon, Lincoln’s law partner, stated that Lincoln admired deists Thomas Paine and Voltaire. Herndon, an advocate of Darwin’s, said Lincoln the works of authors like Darwin and Spencer “entirely too heavy for an ordinary mind to digest” but he read and was “interested … greatly” in a book expounding on these ideas, “Vestiges of Creation”, and he was “deeply impressed with the notion of the so-called ‘universal law’ — evolution… and he became a warm advocate of the new doctrine.”
The corrected account doesn’t quite make sense now, principally due to agreement and syntax errors. (But then you didn’t pay a lot to read it, did you?) The problem is with what’s left out: As regards the book Vestiges of Creation, West offers,
As I explained in more detail in an earlier post, there was a world of difference between the two books. Most importantly, Chambers offered a teleological version of evolution that was directed by intelligent design. He even gives a shout out to William Paley and his arguments for intelligent design.
So although Lincoln (on Herndon’s account) appears to have embraced evolution, it was evolution by intelligent design. Indeed, according to the person who originally loaned Chambers’s book to Lincoln, Lincoln believed that “in view of the Order and harmony of all nature which all beheld, it would have been More miraculouis to have Come about by chance, than to have been created and arranged by some great thinking power.” More.
So for now, you can read an account at Wikipedia that is deeply misleading on the main point at issue (Lincoln preferred design to Darwin). But now that Darwin Day is past, it is no longer blatantly false.
Isn’t it interesting that sociologist Steve Fuller, who writes about ID with an attempt to understand rather than vilify, wrote a play where Lincoln and Darwin met but neither he nor anyone else ever pretended it was anything other than imagination. You won’t get that kind of service from Darwin’s followers today.
Too much is at stake. They do not care what is true; quite the opposite, they have every motivation to suppress discussion as well as distort facts. As long as the masses believe, it is true enough for them. And after a while, no one remembers or needs the facts.
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