Skip to main content
  1. Life
  2. Society & Culture
  3. Generations

Benjamin Franklin's influence on scientific thought

See also

Benjamin Franklin was truly a renaissance man, his expertise spanned many aspects of science, literature, politics, public service, and military endeavors. Hardly an American school child today is unaware of his famous experiments with electricity, envisioning the iconic Benjamin Franklin with his key and kite during a lightening storm. He helped to organize the militia during the French and Indian war of 1754; he organized public service efforts including a clean streets initiative and the posting of night watchmen. Most famously Benjamin Franklin played a major role in the shaping of our nation; at the ripe age of 70 he helped a young Thomas Jefferson draft the United States Constitution. More importantly Benjamin Franklin influenced scientific thought regarding population studies before the mechanisms at work were even remotely understood.

The man has right to claim many achievements during his 96 years of service to the world. He founded numerous education institutions that still operate today, informing students and laymen alike in the wonderful world of the sciences, which include Philadelphia's own University of Pennsylvania and the wondrous Franklin Institute. His influence spanned centuries and continents. It was Benjamin Franklin's scientific passion that pushed him to pursue the answers to some of life's daunting questions including those of population studies.

Benjamin Franklin anonymously published his work Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind in 1755. This piece became the authoritative scientific writing on population studies in the later eighteenth century. His work greatly influenced others such as David Hume and Lord Kames; eventually his ideas would trickle all the way down to Charles Darwin, science's foremost writer of evolutionary theory and population studies. In this piece Franklin introduced the very foundations of Malthus' Essay on Population which is tantamount to Darwin's later theories and observations. It was in Franklin's Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind that the ideas regarding subsistence's influence on population growth or decline were first understood. While some writers of the time deemed the work to be a bit pessimistic others found the ideas proposed to be worth investigating, including Thomas Robert Malthus, a major influence of the later Charles Darwin.

Thomas Robert Malthus proposed some of the essential details to Darwin's later cohesive theories of natural selection and evolution. Malthus presented the foundations needed for a working theories of natural selection and evolution including the first inklings of survival of the fittest. Malthus suggested that population sizes increase as available resources increase and thus decrease as available resources decrease. This Malthusian theory of population growth was greatly influenced by the previous work of Benjamin Franklin and Malthus himself credited Franklin as such. Malthus' piece Essay on Population laid the ground work for Darwin's theory of natural selection and theory of evolution.

Few people credit anyone other than Charles Darwin for the development of the now accepted theories of natural selection and evolution. His theories not only revolutionized how the scientific community perceived biology, time itself, and the natural progression of things, but also shook the very foundations of religious belief. This revolutionary theory is in such stark contrast to certain religious beliefs that even over a century later people still have trouble melding the worlds of religion and science together. Darwin's proposals surely inspired controversy and scientific thought, however like all scholars Darwin built upon the many works of past intellectuals, including the works of Thomas Robert Malthus whose roots are intwined with the great Benjamin Franklin.