Wallace, Darwin and evolution

This video is called 2012 The Catalyst – Did Darwin steal theory of evolution from Wallace?

By Theo Arrowsmith in Britain:

Credit where it’s due

Sunday 20 January 2013

Hardly has the dust settled from the Darwin bicentenary in 2009 than we’re into another celebration of evolutionary science.

This year will see a programme of free lectures at the Natural History Museum in London under the overall title of “Wallace 100.”

It will culminate on November 7, the centenary of the death of the much-neglected Alfred Russel Wallace.

The inaugural lecture on February 7 is intriguingly titled Wallace and the Joy of Sects, Rewriting the Bible as a Scientific Text.

It will be given by popular biologist Professor Steve Jones.

The full programme may be obtained by inquiry at the museum. Although the lectures in the Wallace 100 series are free, tickets must be pre-booked online.

The name of Wallace deserves to be as well known as that of Darwin – despite the latter’s ironically godlike statue on the main staircase of the Natural History Museum.

One or two facts about the two men might explain this partial occlusion of one and the remarkable prominence of the other.

Had Darwin not enlisted as a naturalist on the trans-global survey ship HMS Beagle, he would most probably have “taken holy orders.”

As it happened, Captain Fitz­roy of the Beagle was a strict disciplinarian – very necessary in the Royal Navy in those times – but also utterly convinced of the literal truth of the Bible, especially of Genesis.

The necessary proximity of Darwin the developing scientist and questioner to a Fitzroy who had all the (Biblical) “answers” already led, for Darwin, to conflicted ideas and his development as one of the first dialectical materialists. Most histories however portray a respectful relationship between the two men.

On his return Darwin spent the next 40 years in active research and publication.

But two lesser-known facts stand out from his life.

Firstly, Darwin suffered from a continuing and chronic illness, involving nausea, vomiting and frequent bed-bound periods, due to which he was often unable to work.

Rather more satisfactory was the fact that his relatively secure financial background enabled him to speculate in shares in the then growing railway system.

Care and good luck with his investments resulted in Darwin amassing a fortune of £13 million – as the Morning Star pointed out on August 11 2010 – by the time of his death in 1882.

Understandably Victorian, ie capitalist, society would find itself in conflict with the revolutionary implications of Darwin’s evolutionary ideas.

But Darwin himself was far from the revolutionary conclusions of his great contemporary Karl Marx.

In the book Darwin’s Blind Spot Ryan explains that “at the time the Origin (of Species) was published, imperialism was the dominant … ethos in Europe … and the Britain in which Darwin lived as a comfortable country squire was the greatest imperial power since the Roman empire.”

At that time, “Darwinism was in perfect harmony with imperialism … the national expression of the evolutionary paradigm … the just reward for quality and struggle … Darwin eschewed any extension of his views to politics (but) his successors had no hesitation in carrying his ideas into more controversial areas.”

From Ryan’s insight we may understand how Darwin’s work has been misused by later ideologists – and misunderstood by well-meaning admirers.

Rather more sinister is the eclipse of that other great evolutionary scientist Wallace.

Let us hope that the Natural History Museum’s programme will right this historic wrong.

In a 2008 collection of essays edited by a science librarian from the US and a senior curator from the museum Wallace’s intellectual legacy is examined.

Natural Selection and Beyond describes Wallace as the “co-discoverer, independently of Charles Darwin, of evolution by natural selection.”

What is beyond doubt is that, by his memoir sent from the Malay archipelago to Darwin in 1858, Wallace was instrumental in kick-starting the Linnaean Society’s meeting on evolution.

If that is true, why has history not brought us the name of Wallace as prominently as that of Darwin?

Perhaps the reason lies in the fact that Wallace was an advocate of socialism at a time when the imperialist ethos referred to above by Ryan was already being questioned by Marx and similar thinkers and activists.

Certainly Wallace later became involved in the then fashionable craze for spiritualism.

But his achievements in the promulgation of the science of evolution should not be ignored. Hopefully this year’s series of lectures will greatly aid in establishing another great scientist’s reputation.

Scientists have proved one of Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution for the first time — nearly 140 years after his death. Researchers discovered mammal subspecies play a more important role in evolution than previously thought. Her research could now be used to predict which species conservationists should focus on protecting: here.

16 thoughts on “Wallace, Darwin and evolution

  1. I was surprised to see a continuation of the myth that Darwin was enlisted as a naturalist for the HMS Beagle. That position was held and jealously guarded by the ship’s surgeon, Robert McCormick. Darwin answered a newspaper ad called to his attention by botany prof, John Henslow for a supernumerary position as a “Gentleman’s Companion” for the Beagle’s captain, Robert FitzRoy. The position gave FitzRoy someone to associate with since he was forbidden to fraternize with his crew. McCormick strongly resented favors given to Darwin by Fitzroy, and finally by the time they reached Rio de Janeiro, McCormick “sicked out” and finagled a transfer of ships from the admiral. This allowed Darwin to semi-officially take over the position as the ship’s naturalist.

    The question of Darwin’s name being more familiar than Wallace’s is more a matter of education than Wallace’s being ignored by history. It is also a matter of Darwin belonging to the inner circles of the scientific elite at the time of the simultaneous publication of his and Wallace’s papers by the Linnean Society, as well as having published a major book explaining the formation of atolls, and Darwin’s previous discussions of natural selection with Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker with whom he had shared a book-length “essay” on the subject which he intended to publish posthumously. After Wallace returned to England, Darwin introduced him to some of his inner circle.

    Neither Darwin nor Wallace made much of a splash with the publication of their papers. At the time, Thomas Huxley was ironically dead set against the “transmutation of species” (evolution), but that changed as did Darwin’s celebrity with the publication of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, which sold out almost immediately on printing. One of the ironies is that Wallace and Darwin are often credited with be the only originators of natural selection, but as Darwin pointed out in an appendix at least 4 people beat them both to the punch, one of them being botanist Asa Grey. However, like Wallace’s and Darwin’s original papers, none of them had much of an impact, and it was only with the depth of detail in Darwin’s book that everything suddenly changed.

    Wallace went on into social activism supporting land nationalization, unbacked paper currency, and fighting eugenics. He was ahead of his time except for his forays into spiritualism and his ideas of separate development of consciousness and human spirit independently of natural selection. In fact, in his opinion the purpose of the universe was as a foil to human spirit. There were also several differences in his concept of natural selection from Darwin’s ideas, but it’s time to end this discussion.


  2. Oh, how could I have forgotten; Darwin’s idea of extinction came from finding fossils of animals that no longer exist and his concept of orogeny came from being anchored a few miles off the shore of Chile when a severe earthquake struck and when the ship returned, Darwin noted that one side of the fault line had risen 3 feet from before.

    As we all know, however, this is all explained by the Great Deluge, in which all the plants and animals ran up the hillsides to escape the approaching flood waters. Dinosaurs and pine trees could run the fastest, so we find them near the top. Clams, mussels, oysters, and algae were also pretty good runners, so they made it pretty far up the hills, and we can explain the strata of all other fossils through sound reasoning the same as explained above.

    The reason there are tall mountains is that during Noah’s Flood, the great isotropic pressure from the deep flood waters forced the dense rock upward, as a moment’s reflection would show. How Darwin could have come to the preposterous connection between earthquakes and growth of mountains leaves one wondering about his abilities as a scientist.

    Fortunately, I had this explained to me be one of my readers so that I wouldn’t make the same mistakes as Darwin.


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