You already know that Charles Darwin was born on 12 February 1809 — that’s 204 years ago today. Our question for today is whether you agree with this article we found in London’s Daily Telegraph: Charles Darwin: the man who had history’s best idea.
We understand that a British newspaper would be proud of Darwin’s accomplishments, but is the theory of evolution really “history’s best idea”? Is that how you see it? The Telegraph‘s first few paragraphs expand on the question that came to mind when we saw their headline. We added the bold font for emphasis:
It’s Charles Darwin’s birthday today – the great man is 204 years young – and I thought we ought to mark it in some way, because, I think, he has a very good shout for being history’s most important thinker, or at least for having had history’s single greatest idea.
You may disagree: you may think, for instance, that Newton or Copernicus or Galileo should have that accolade, for their wonderful insights into the movements of the heavens and Earth’s place in the cosmos. Or Einstein, for relativity, which was really the first time that a scientific theory showed that the universe and our perception of the universe are two extremely different things. Kant and Bentham might be worthy recipients. The Reverend Thomas Bayes or Father Georges Lemaitre would deserve honourable mentions.
The author, Tom Chivers, goes on at length about why he thinks evolution was more important than everything else. Maybe he’s right, but we’re not sure. As much as we appreciate Darwin’s work, is evolution really the greatest idea in history?
In addition to the contenders mentioned by Chivers, there have been other ideas that also played an enormous part in the development of our civilization. What about Aristotelian logic? Athenian democracy? Euclidean geometry? Let’s not overlook Eratosthenes, who, around 200 BC, was the first to calculate the circumference of the Earth.
How about Ben Franklin and electricity? (We know Franklin isn’t solely responsible for our modern electrical age, but we like Ben so we’re using him as an exemplar to represent all the others.) Didn’t electricity make a bigger contribution to the modern world than evolution? It’s a stretch, but we can imagine a star-traveling alien species who never conceived of evolution; but they would have know about electricity.
Perhaps the greatest idea of all was the development of the scientific method, which liberated us from the shackles of supernaturalism. Its completion was one of the crown jewels of the Enlightenment, which is utterly despised by contemporary creationists.
Some of the things we mentioned were the work of one man, and some, like the scientific method, were the cumulative effort of several. We’re not necessarily looking for the individual with the greatest idea, but the idea itself. So what was history’s greatest idea? That’s our question. dear reader, and we’d appreciate your input.
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