Friday, September 06, 2013

Lincoln and Darwin--A Course at Lone Star College

Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin share more than just the coincidence of being born on the same day--February 12, 1809.  In a series of posts over the years--many of them posted on February 12th--I have argued for at least seven points of similarity between Darwin and Lincoln. (1) Both saw the universe as governed by natural laws, which included the natural laws for the evolution of life. (2) Both were accused of denying the Biblical doctrine of Creation. (3) Both spoke of God as First Cause. (4) Both appealed to the Bible as a source of moral teaching, even as they also appealed to a natural moral sense independent of Biblical religion. (5) Both abhorred slavery as immoral. (6) Both were moral realists. (7) Both were classical liberals.

This fall, John Barr is teaching a remarkable course at Lone Star College-Kingwood entitled "The Emancipators: Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin, and the Making of the Modern World."  Here's the course description:  "On February 12, 1809, Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were born, although in vastly different circumstances.  They both had a profound impact on their respective countries, and indeed the entire world.  In many ways, the world is still struggling with the legacy of their lives and thought.  This course will examine the lives and ideas of Darwin and Lincoln (and their critics) through reading, discussion, essays, film, and literature.  'The Emancipators' is what the historian Jill Lepore once called a 'microhistory.'  It is premised on the idea that these two men's lives were exemplary insofar as they serve 'as an allegory for broader issues affecting the culture [and world] as a whole.'"

There are four required books for the course: James Lander, Lincoln and Darwin: Shared Visions of Race, Science, and Religion (SIU Press); Charles Darwin, Evolutionary Writings (Oxford University Press); Abraham Lincoln, Selected Speeches and Writings (Library of America); and James H. Jones, Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment (Free Press).

Professor Barr is the author of Loathing Lincoln, a excellent book on the history of criticizing Lincoln and his legacy that will be soon published by LSU Press.  Looking at his course syllabus makes me wonder whether he should write another book--Denying Darwin--on the history of criticizing Darwin and his legacy.

I will be lecturing at Lone Star College on October 10th, and so I'll be interested to talk with the students in Professor Barr's class.

I am not sure whether the syllabus for this course is available online.  But Professor Barr has agreed to send a copy to anyone who contacts him at

I wonder whether this course is unique.  Does anyone know about any other college course comparing Lincoln and Darwin?

A few of my many posts on Lincoln and Darwin can be found here, here, and here.


Anonymous said...

I think this might be more your individual interest than a broader similarity between the two.

Darwin was a brilliant scientist, perhaps (along with Newton) the most brilliant scientist of the modern era.

Lincoln, on the other hand, was a puritan ideologue. Using Lincoln's background and Hackett Fischer's Albion's Seed as a point of departure, it's not a far stretch to say that Lincoln was a puritanical nut who ripped USA apart in a senseless war. This same mindset is part of the current engine of political correctness.

And, no, I'm not some Confederate sympathizer; I just think it's obvious that Lincoln was a mediocre present at best, but more than likely one of the worst in American history.

Anonymous said...

Though, I will say that Lincoln, like Darwin, had a very realistic assessment of the biological nature of racial disharmony:

"I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. There is physical difference between the two which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position."

Lincoln's views here aren't far from modern findings in population genetics:


Larry Arnhart said...

What you have quoted is from Lincoln's reply to Douglas at the Ottawa debate (August 21, 1858). Notice that Lincoln speaks of "physical difference." He does not say "physical inferiority." Of course, there is a "physical difference" between the races--color. And that physical difference in color can be the basis for a racial bigotry that makes it hard to achieve "perfect social and political equality." Lincoln said that such racial bigotry would indeed make perfect equality difficult if not impossible to achieve. But he thought equality could be a "standard maxim for a free society" to be constantly "approximated" even if never fully attained. He was right: racial bigotry still hinders us from attaining "perfect social and political equality," although we have made great progress in approximating it.

I know of no evidence in genetic science that supports the idea of inferior races.

Larry Arnhart said...

Let's remember that it's possible to eliminate the "physical difference" in color through racial intermarriage, which is the best way to promote racial equality. And, of course, we are making progress in that direction as racial intermarriage becomes socially acceptable, which was evident in the election of President Obama.

w said...

Is your Lone Star College lecture open to the public?

Larry Arnhart said...

Yes, I believe that the lecture is open to the public. Check with John Barr at

Anonymous said...

Promote racial equality by destroying the races. Brilliant! Kinda like destroying the village in order to save it.

Anonymous said...

Put me in with the Lincoln loathers. No one else personifies the urge to centralized power to the same degree.