Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lincoln-Darwin Debates

One of my favorite things about Don DeLillo’s 1972 novel End Zone is the way the overweight and spiritually restless offensive lineman Anatole Bloomberg keeps sidling up to his teammates to pose not-so-answerable historico-philosophical questions like: “Who was the greater man? Sir Francis Drake or the prophet Isaiah? You get one try. Take your time answering.”

I thought of Anatole as I was reading some of the coverage of the Big Lincoln-Darwin Birthday Event. In all the tracing of the parallel threads in their lives, there seems to be the implicit, Anatolesque question: Who was the greater man? Abraham Lincoln or Charles Robert Darwin?

So which is it? As Great White Males go, they both seem likable, recognizably human. They both seem to have doted on their kids. Each had a sense of humor. But it’s on the indispensability scale that I think Lincoln might come out ahead. If I understand right, Darwin wasn’t the only one working out the details of evolution. Alfred Russel Wallace was on the trail, too, and even Darwin’s grandfather had figured out that species evolve. But who else besides Lincoln could have held the Union together? Plus, doesn't Lincoln get style points for the stovepipe hat?

So who was the greater man? As Anatole says, you get one try. Take your time answering


  1. I think Bloomberg sounds more interesting than either of them.

  2. Lincoln also wins in the Halloween costume department. Although Darwin may win the bumper sticker race. It's a tough call.

  3. Yeah, Darwin gets those little fish-with-legs magnets for the backs of cars, but Lincoln gets about a million monuments.

  4. Lincoln only wins in the Halloween costume department if you're not the kind of nerd who likes to dress in sideburns and carry a stuffed beagle to masquerade parties (as in the movie of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy).