Apples vs. Oranges

In yet another in its ongoing series of idiotic cover stories, Newsweek has a big spread on the newsy topic of which was greater, Lincoln or Darwin? See, the two were born on the same day, February 12, 1809 (not even this week!), so the journalist thought it would be a good idea to compare them. The story presents them as two revolutionaries (which Lincoln wasn’t), but it just doesn’t make sense. That’s because you can only compare two things of the same kind. Two scientists would work (Darwin or Einstein?), or two statesmen (Lincoln or Washington?). But mixed comparisons (Einstein or Washington?) just don’t work!

As the saying goes, you can’t compare apples and oranges. Actually, you CAN compare apples and oranges since they are both fruits, and, as such, they have common points of comparison (taste, texture, nutrition, etc.) that you can go back and forth with. But you can’t compare apples to shopping malls or oranges to television sets. So, Newsweek, which is greater, Darwin or the first Star Wars movie? Lincoln or Bach’s Brandenburg concerto?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    Well, if one were inclined to argue, one might say that, just as both apples and oranges are fruits, so Darwin and Lincoln were both men. So there’s that.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    Well, if one were inclined to argue, one might say that, just as both apples and oranges are fruits, so Darwin and Lincoln were both men. So there’s that.

  • http://heresyhunter.blogspot.com Bob Hunter

    Not that I’m agreeing with Newsweek, but if you can compare apples and oranges because they’re fruit, can’t you compare Lincoln and Darwin because they’re humans? Maybe the writer can compare heights, hair style, hat sizes, etc.

  • http://heresyhunter.blogspot.com Bob Hunter

    Not that I’m agreeing with Newsweek, but if you can compare apples and oranges because they’re fruit, can’t you compare Lincoln and Darwin because they’re humans? Maybe the writer can compare heights, hair style, hat sizes, etc.

  • http://www.theavailablelight.net Dean

    Dr. Veith,

    I assume that from the point of view of the author Darwin and Lincoln are alike in that they are both liberals in the largest sense of the term.

    Lincoln, I’m sure, is seen as striking a grand blow against the forces of repression by emancipating slaves in the United States and advancing the political process of ensuring greater civil rights for marginalized groups.

    Darwin is seen as liberating the human mind from the repression of belief in God as creator and the accompanying teleological assumptions, particularly about sexuality, that belief entailed.

    I would guess the point of the comparison is to ask who made the biggest contribution to America as it now stands. Was it Lincoln who launched a new effort in political process of ever-expanding rights? Or, Darwin who laid the intellectual groundwork for the way we view humans and their relationships now that we don’t believe God created them for any purpose?

  • http://www.theavailablelight.net Dean

    Dr. Veith,

    I assume that from the point of view of the author Darwin and Lincoln are alike in that they are both liberals in the largest sense of the term.

    Lincoln, I’m sure, is seen as striking a grand blow against the forces of repression by emancipating slaves in the United States and advancing the political process of ensuring greater civil rights for marginalized groups.

    Darwin is seen as liberating the human mind from the repression of belief in God as creator and the accompanying teleological assumptions, particularly about sexuality, that belief entailed.

    I would guess the point of the comparison is to ask who made the biggest contribution to America as it now stands. Was it Lincoln who launched a new effort in political process of ever-expanding rights? Or, Darwin who laid the intellectual groundwork for the way we view humans and their relationships now that we don’t believe God created them for any purpose?

  • Joe

    I would disagree with the statement that Lincoln was not a revolutionary. His legal justification for the right to force states to remain in the Union turned everyone’s understanding of how our Constitutional Republic worked on its head. Until the Civil War, it was commonly understood that a state could withdraw from the Union. In fact, several New England states considered it a few decades before the South started leaving. Lincoln, however, argued that a state could not leave the Union and that the Union had a right to force states to remain. He premised his argument on an idea that the states were dependant on the Union for their existence when in actuality the states created the Union. That was revolutionary – it changed the nature of our government forever and was the first solid blow against the concept of federalism in the US.

  • Joe

    I would disagree with the statement that Lincoln was not a revolutionary. His legal justification for the right to force states to remain in the Union turned everyone’s understanding of how our Constitutional Republic worked on its head. Until the Civil War, it was commonly understood that a state could withdraw from the Union. In fact, several New England states considered it a few decades before the South started leaving. Lincoln, however, argued that a state could not leave the Union and that the Union had a right to force states to remain. He premised his argument on an idea that the states were dependant on the Union for their existence when in actuality the states created the Union. That was revolutionary – it changed the nature of our government forever and was the first solid blow against the concept of federalism in the US.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    I’m not saying the article was not written or that it didn’t have anything to say! I’m saying that a logical flaw permeates the attempt at comparison. The article asked which one is GREATER? That cannot be answered in these terms. Yes, one could compare their body types or personality or something like that. As I said, the article does ask which was the greatest revolutionary, but Lincoln, if you might remember, PUT DOWN a revolution. He was not by any means the first person who opposed or put a stop to slavery. A comparison between William Wilberforce and Darwin–both Englishmen from a similar time–might be interesting. Lincoln changed the assembly of independent states into a true union? OK. But that isn’t comparable to Darwin putting forth a biological theory.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    I’m not saying the article was not written or that it didn’t have anything to say! I’m saying that a logical flaw permeates the attempt at comparison. The article asked which one is GREATER? That cannot be answered in these terms. Yes, one could compare their body types or personality or something like that. As I said, the article does ask which was the greatest revolutionary, but Lincoln, if you might remember, PUT DOWN a revolution. He was not by any means the first person who opposed or put a stop to slavery. A comparison between William Wilberforce and Darwin–both Englishmen from a similar time–might be interesting. Lincoln changed the assembly of independent states into a true union? OK. But that isn’t comparable to Darwin putting forth a biological theory.

  • http://seconddrafts.wordpress.com Craig

    I had read part of that piece earlier this week but never finished it as I just couldn’t see the connection beyond the birthdates.

    Is it just me or has Newsweek undergone some serious lack of editorial leadership (or worse, bad editorial leadership) over the past two years? Anyone else noticed a shift?

  • http://seconddrafts.wordpress.com Craig

    I had read part of that piece earlier this week but never finished it as I just couldn’t see the connection beyond the birthdates.

    Is it just me or has Newsweek undergone some serious lack of editorial leadership (or worse, bad editorial leadership) over the past two years? Anyone else noticed a shift?

  • The Jones

    I have a hard time seeing Darwin do anything other than be the rallying point to an intellectual movement while Lincoln did the real work. As the article says, Darwin did a good job of writing, and he did have to be brave to put forth something so revolutionary to the order of the universe. But he did have the ability to just stop what he was doing and let everything go on as it had before. Lincoln did not. The nation was crumbling and he was in a very precarious position.

    Lincoln is the greater. Definitely. Darwin wrote a book and then sat at home for decades thinking about it. Lincoln took upon his shoulders the greatest weight in the nation’s history and had his life taken from him for doing what he knew to be right by the end of it. Veith, you might think wondering which person was greater is like apples and Oranges, but I see it more like the difference between a yes and a no.

  • The Jones

    I have a hard time seeing Darwin do anything other than be the rallying point to an intellectual movement while Lincoln did the real work. As the article says, Darwin did a good job of writing, and he did have to be brave to put forth something so revolutionary to the order of the universe. But he did have the ability to just stop what he was doing and let everything go on as it had before. Lincoln did not. The nation was crumbling and he was in a very precarious position.

    Lincoln is the greater. Definitely. Darwin wrote a book and then sat at home for decades thinking about it. Lincoln took upon his shoulders the greatest weight in the nation’s history and had his life taken from him for doing what he knew to be right by the end of it. Veith, you might think wondering which person was greater is like apples and Oranges, but I see it more like the difference between a yes and a no.

  • Don S

    Given the orientation of the education establishment today to abhor the memorization of historical dates, who, in the future, is going to recognize a coincidence like this and write such an important story?

  • Don S

    Given the orientation of the education establishment today to abhor the memorization of historical dates, who, in the future, is going to recognize a coincidence like this and write such an important story?

  • The Jones

    The magical elves that run Wikipedia, Don. That’s who!

  • The Jones

    The magical elves that run Wikipedia, Don. That’s who!

  • Manxman

    The title of the article didn’t ask which one was “greater.” It asked which one was more “important.” Those are two different arguments, and in each case those arguments hinge on the subjective values a person has about greatness & importance.

    In any case, I think it is stupid to try to rank which man comes in first place in either category. Such a thing, I think, arises out of our hyper-competitive American mindset, and isn’t very productive.

  • Manxman

    The title of the article didn’t ask which one was “greater.” It asked which one was more “important.” Those are two different arguments, and in each case those arguments hinge on the subjective values a person has about greatness & importance.

    In any case, I think it is stupid to try to rank which man comes in first place in either category. Such a thing, I think, arises out of our hyper-competitive American mindset, and isn’t very productive.

  • CRB

    How about this comparison: “Certain ‘journalists’ (fill in the blank!) and “fruitcakes” (as in the J. Buffett song,
    “fruitcakes in paradise”) :)

  • CRB

    How about this comparison: “Certain ‘journalists’ (fill in the blank!) and “fruitcakes” (as in the J. Buffett song,
    “fruitcakes in paradise”) :)

  • Katy

    I would have to say that in the form of “Star Wars” George Lucas made a more helpful contribution to science than did Charles Darwin.;)

  • Katy

    I would have to say that in the form of “Star Wars” George Lucas made a more helpful contribution to science than did Charles Darwin.;)


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