150 years ago on 1 July 1858, Darwin and Wallace's ideas on natural selection were read to the Linnean Society. But why does this 150th anniversary not get much of a mention in the current euphoria about Darwin? Recent correspondence in Nature suggests that the celebration plans are not doing justice to Wallace's contribution.
George Beccaloni and Vincent Smith refer readers to information from the Alfred Russel Wallace Memorial Fund at www.wallacefund.info/.
Alfred Russel Wallace
The correspondents write:
"This lack of interest in the 2008 anniversary is indicative of how Wallace's achievements have been overshadowed by Darwin's since Wallace's death in 1913, a process certainly not helped by the Darwin 'industry' of recent decades. During his lifetime, Wallace received plenty of recognition from his contemporaries for his part in the discovery, as indicated by the many honours bestowed on him. These include the Darwin-Wallace and Linnean Gold Medals (Linnean Society); the Copley, Darwin and Royal Medals (Royal Society); and the Order of Merit. Isn't it perhaps time for the current darwinocentric view of the history of biology to be revised?"
Whilst Wallace deserves to be remembered along with Darwin for originating the theory of evolution by natural selection, it is worth considering why his memory has languished. It is not just that he did not live among the intelligentsia of London. Michael Flannery has some interesting comments on Uncommon Descent:
"While Beccaloni and Smith want us to remember Wallace's discovery, I suggest a fuller reflection upon what that discovery meant to Wallace and to the biological sciences will uncover a wholly different kind of evolutionary scenario than that fashioned by Darwin, Huxley and their X-Club fellow travelers. In short, I call for not a recognition of Wallace within this much-touted Darwinian context but rather upon Wallace as the originator of an independent design-centered view best expressed as Wallaceism."
In 1888 Wallace wrote a book which represented his maturing thoughts on origins. The title was: Darwinism: An Exposition of the Theory of Natural Selection With Some of Its Applications. Although Darwinism was in the title, it was not the Darwinism of Darwin! He argued that, as far as humanity is concerned, natural selection cannot deliver much more than our physical bodies. Here are Flannery's comments on Chapter 15:
"Wallace opens his chapter by agreeing that natural selection accounts for much in the natural world, even the human form. The unique properties of the brain, however, are another matter. Wallace proceeds to demonstrate that, Darwin's elaborate speculations in his Descent of Man (1871) notwithstanding, particular features of the human intellect simply could not have been the product of natural selection. Humanity, in short, is more than the mere refinement of traits found in lower animals. Mathematical skill, musical and artist appreciation and ability, humor, the capacity for metaphysics, none of these could be explained by way of natural selection processes. This forms the context for his main thesis, namely, that humanity and its distinctiveness cannot be explained by Darwin's strict materialism."
Here are Wallace's last words:
"We thus find that the Darwinian theory, even when carried out to its extreme logical conclusion, not only does not oppose, but lends a decided support to, a belief in the spiritual nature of man. It shows us how man's body may have been developed from that of a lower animal form under the law of natural selection; but it also teaches us that we possess intellectual and moral faculties which could not have been so developed, but must have had another origin; and for this origin we can only find an adequate cause in the unseen universe of Spirit."
Comments like this mean that Wallace was not welcome in Darwinian circles. In short, he was EXPELLED!
Celebrations for Darwin downplay Wallace's role
George W. Beccaloni and Vincent S. Smith
Nature 451, 1050 (28 February 2008) | doi:10.1038/4511050d
We agree with Kevin Padian ('Darwin's enduring legacy' Nature 451, 632-634; 2008) that next year's Darwin anniversaries - the 200th anniversary of his birth and 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species - should be celebrated enthusiastically. But few seem to be aware that this year marks the 150th anniversary of one of the greatest discoveries in the history of science: the theory of evolution by natural selection. [snip]
Flannery, Why the recent article in Nature calling for Wallace recognition is right AND wrong, Uncommon Descent, 11 March 2008
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