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Revisioning Paradigms: Alfred Russel Wallace and the Relocating of Evolution

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Discussions of evolution (theistic and materialistic) have too often been cast within a Darwinian framework.  From M. A. Corey’s special pleading for deistic evolution (see his Back to Darwinism [1994]) to the recent sparring match between Robert A. Larmer and Denis O. Lamoureux in a series of exchanges in Christian Scholar’s Review (see issues for fall 2oo6 and fall 2007), discussions are invariably cast within a framework of how much or how little theism Darwinism will admit.  Seldom is Alfred Russell Wallace (1823-1913) ever brought up.  But, in fact, Wallace completely revised the theory he independently founded.  I suggest he did so within a much older Hermetic tradition in science.  What, you ask, does Wallace have to do with Hermeticism?  I’ll admit on its face it appears unlikely. But such a seemingly strained connection is relaxed considerably by seeing Wallace less as an evolutionist-turned-crackpot and more as a prescient thinker himself evolving a teleological view of nature on the one hand and seeing Hermeticism as less a curious exercise in medieval and early modern superstition and more as a viable metaphor for a more integrated worldview on the other.  By re-visioning both we may indeed find the foundation for a historically coherent — certainly a more historically rooted — ID paradigm.

What precisely is the Hermetic tradition in science?  For that matter, who was Hermes?  Literally it refers to Hermes Trismegistus, the so-called “thrice great.” An ancient mythical figure, he appears to be an amalgam of the Egyptian God Thoth and the Greek God Hermes, both of whom were associated with medicine, divination, and Hades; it was Thoth and Hermes who conducted their Egyptian and Greek subjects respectively to the realm of the dead.  Hermes Trismegistus came to represent the three great branches of ancient knowledge: alchemy, astrology, and magic.  Now many of us are already well familiar with the efforts of mystical adepts through the ages who spent a great deal of time and study on the transmutation of common metals into gold and similar manipulations of what they believed to be a malleable nature.  But something was gained through these intellectual cul-de-sacs. Through it all medieval and early modern Europe began to learn chemistry, and none were as great as Paracelsus (1493-1541) who spawned a well-known movement that advanced the healing art.

Since classical times and especially into the Middle Ages the spiritual, temporal, spatial, and rational worlds were seen as a unity, interacting and intimately intertwined.    In medicine the microcosm of living beings was a reflection of the macrocosm in the cosmos.  For example, the Doctrine of Signatures – the notion that God had “signed” things of the natural world so as to suggest their therapeutic use (walnuts were good for the brain, kidney beans for the kidney, and so on) – was commonplace in Medieval Europe and would remain so even into the eighteenth century. The world of marvels and mysteries portrayed by Roger Bacon around 1260 demonstrate this unity of spiritual and material words, a concept that would persist through the next four hundred years. 

From today’s vantage point they look at best quaint and at worst ridiculous. The march of progress awaited the Renaissance and the Enlightenment to break down this mystical edifice of ignorance and superstition, or so we’re told.  Hermes destroyed; Isis triumphant!  But not so fast here:  The actual history of science tells, I think, a different, less linear tale. 

Nowhere is the intersection between metaphysics and empirical practice — between theoretical and operational science — more evident than in efforts at alleviating the ills of God’s Temple, the human body, so let me begin by giving three brief examples of important figures in medicine.  They are Antonio Benivieni (1443-1502), Andrew Boorde (c. 1490-1549), and William Harvey (1578-1657). We begin with   Benivieni’s posthumously published 1507 Florentine volume, The Hidden Causes of Disease.  In 111 case studies Antonio Benivieni describes patients and corpses with consumption, pleurisy, fevers, ulcers of all kinds, assorted gynecologic problems, worms, even anomalies of birth.  But he also, and with equal ease, describes cases of demonic possession and miraculous cures.  Of one 16 year-old girl subjected to violent fits he concluded, “I decided she was possessed by an evil spirit who blinded the eyes of the spectators while he was doing all this.    She was handed over to physicians of the soul and then gave proof of the matter by plainer signs and tokens.  For I have often heard her soothsaying and seen her doing other things besides, which went further than any symptoms produced by disease and even passed human power” (Antonio Benivieni, De abditis nonnullis ac mirandis morborum et sanationum causus = The Hidden Causes of Disease [1507; reprinted, Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1954], p. 37).  This case was preceded by a perfectly clinical description of what we would today call an enterovesical fistula.  Similarly, after describing a successful débridement of a leg infection, he goes on to relay how an arrow was extracted from a man by means of a “magician who placed two fingers on the wound.  Then murmuring some charm or other he ordered the weapon to come forth from the bone.  It obeyed without harming the sick man’s body (though not without the loss of both their souls) and the soldier a few days later was duly cured and recovered” (p. 71). 

Andrew Boorde did much the same in his Breviarie of Health.  Boorde readily intermingled everyday maladies such as bladder stones and gynecological problems with discussions of the preternatural, as when he described “the Mare,” otherwise known as incubus and succubus, “that . . . is a kind of spirit which doth infest and trouble men when they be in their beds sleeping . . . incubus doth infest and trouble women, and succubus both infest men” (1598 edition, p. 44).   More interestingly, he pointed to a number of sources as the cause of this malady, from “a vaporous humour” rising “from the stomach to the brain” to “surfeiting and drunkenness” as well as to “lying in the bed upright” and to an ill-defined “reumaticke humour.” Boorde continued his description of preternatural ailments in his Second Booke of the Breviarie of Health when he included a detailed account (the longest in the entire book) of a demonic possession (pp. 4-7).   Yet this was an age when the supernatural conjoined the preternatural (a nebulous category somewhere between the mundane and the miraculous) and Boorde ends his case of possession with an interesting see also reference, “For Demoniacs look in the Chapter named Mania.”  Could the spirit world (good and evil) affect health and well-being through wholly natural secondary causes?  Absolutely! 

Finally, it is well known that the medical luminary, William Harvey, believed in astrology and befriended alchemists.  This greatest of physicians also supported the idea that living creatures had the mystical capacity to act –  supra vires elementorum–  beyond the powers of their own matter (for details see,  Don Bates, “Machina ex Deo: William Harvey and the Meaning of Instrument,” Journal of the History of Ideas 61.4 [2000]: 577-593). 

I would submit that all this was possible because in many ways these ideas were not considered unorthodox or unscientific in Benivieni, Boorde, or Harvey’s day.  Why?  Because of the Hermetic tradition.  According to this ancient and arcane teaching the universe is really a unity orchestrated by a Creator, it only took the unlocking of those secrets of nature and the importuning of God’s Will to manipulate that unity.  In its most succinct form the core of that belief is laid out in The Emerald Tablet attributed to Hermes Trismegistus:  “Tis true without lying, certain & most true. That wch is below is like that wch is above & that wch is above is like yt wch is below to do ye miracles of one only thing.  And as all things have been & arose from one by ye mediation of one:  so all things have their birth from this one thing by adaptation” (From the translation by Isaac Newton [c. 1680] available, along with numerous other translations, at The emerald tablet).  Thus the Hermetic tradition envisioned a microcosmic/macrocosmic world, a world of correspondences that to the Renaissance and early modern mind were very real. 

There was probably no greater believer in this Hermetic principle than Isaac Newton (1642-1727).  Most of us think of Newton in terms of the mechanical clockwork universe of his Principia (1687); Newton’s work on light, optics, gravity, planetary motion, mathematics, and physics did indeed revolutionize our understanding of the universe.  But Newton also believed in Hermeticism and alchemy.  According to Stanton J. Linden, “Newton’s alchemical studies comprise more than a million words in manuscript, examination of which has brought about a major reassessment of his thought and works” (The Alchemy Reader: From Hermes Trismegistus to Isaac Newton [New York: Cambridge UP, 2003], p. 243).  It is clear that this brilliant thinker took his alchemical studies seriously and he embarked upon a detailed commentary upon The Emerald Tablet.  It is worth stating the obvious here, namely, that nothing in his Hermetical beliefs prevented him from making significant contributions to science.  In fact, Newton’s science was inextricably bound up with his adherence to Hermetic traditions.  His fascination with light, for example, stemmed from the associate of light with the Word of God referred to in the Emerald Tablet.  Stated another way, without Hermeticism nature may have reached Newton’s intellect stillborn, a self-evident collection of phenomena that yields no deeper Truth or meaning.

Indeed for Newton or Benivieni or Boorde or Harvey their common worldview was one of  “as above, so below,” a world of correspondences between the physical and observable on the one hand and the spiritual and immeasurable on the other.  While we think of it in modern terms of a world haunted by superstition, I think it is probably more properly viewed as a world of holistic unity.  Hermeticism presented oneness between the temporal/physical world and a Christian paradigm of spirituality.  How was its pagan roots reconciled with the Christian faith?  “With the help of the thesis that the culture of ancient Egypt is generally to be understood only through the distinction between surface and depth” (The Secret History of Hermes Trismegistus: Hermeticism from Ancient to Modern Times[Uthaca: Cornell UP, 2007], p. 39), writes Hermetic scholar Florian Ebeling.   Furthermore, while there are, of course, significant points of difference between Hermeticism and the Christian bible, broad and noticeable parallels have long been acknowledged between Hermetic texts and the Gospel of John (see Mary Ely Lyman, “Hermetic Religion and the Religion of the Fourth Gospel,” Journal of Biblical Literature 49.3 [1930]: 265-276.)  Most importantly for our purposes here, however, whatever the specific links between the Corpus Hermeticum and Scripture, these Hermetic texts fostered scientific endeavor by forging a close connection between religiosity and natural philosophy (Ebeling, p. 81).  Scientists and physicians of the early modern period (a time when so much advance was made in physics, chemistry, iatro-chemistry, taxonomy, astronomy, and many other developing fields of modern science)  saw Hermeticism as the mystical clavis that would unlock nature’s secrets and thus reveal God’s handiwork.  But what makes this thinking so foreign to us today?  How did our universe become separated between “upper story” and “lower story” worlds? 

It didn’t really start in earnest until David Hume (1711-1776).   For those of us who remember our philosophy 101, we will recall that Hume denied all proofs for God and moreover all miracles.  For Hume we should deny all miracles because they are incredible and so improbable as to give overwhelming proof against them.  Of course, we could retort that Hume’s argument winds up as a meaningless tautology (i.e., we shouldn’t believe in miracles because they’re miracles) but that is not the point:  what Hume did for the first time was seriously and systematically challenge the holistic unity of the world of correspondences.  After all, could there be any correspondence to a world based solely upon empirical, observable evidence – if something corresponded then Hume asked, corresponded to what?  The link that might have united the two, namely miracles, Hume adamantly closed off as unprovable, untenable , and unreasonable. 

August Comte (1798-1857) agreed.  Indeed Hume’s skepticism in the 18th century paved the way for the scientism and positivism in the 19th century.  While Humanism had been around for some time, no one gave it more structure and meaning than Comte.   Indeed his positivism would remain a consistent strain in Western philosophy.  Science was all that was needed, insisted Comte, even human activity could be reduced to a science and with it sociology was born.

“The above” so much a part of “the below” was being cut off; a ceiling was being constructed shutting off the lower from the upper and the upper from the lower.  If Hume laid the joists, Comte surely began the process of finishing it off. 

But the ceiling thoroughly closed off completely with Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and his “bulldog” defender Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895).  Indeed early on it was Hume and Comte who profoundly influenced Darwin as he pondered the great questions of life (see posting to this blog “The Reluctant Mr. Darwin,” Dec. 26, 2007).  We know this because Darwin commenced a series of personal notebooks when he was 27 (1836), recently returned home from his famous excursion on the H.M.S. Beagle, in which he draws from the skepticism of Hume and the positivism of Comte in developing his theory of evolution.  Darwin’s scheme of blind natural selective processes and survival of the fittest shouldn’t come as a great surprise under such influences. The theological implications were revolutionary.  As historian Edward J. Larson has pointed out, “For Darwin, differential death rates caused by purely natural factors created new species.  God was superfluous to the process” (Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory [New York: Modern Library, 2004], p.69). 

True, Darwin allowed in the last sentence of Origin that life was initially breathed into this world but it was the fixed laws which governed it.  God, or whomever or whatever did the breathing, is pushed back to at best an ancillary role in creation; pushed to the fore are those fixed laws of science.  It is no mistake that his colleague Huxley coined the term agnostic.  It was not so much that God was unknowable as He was, under Darwin and Huxley’s theory, simply unnecessary.  Though many would disagree, I’m convinced that Maurice Mandelbaum’s characterization of Darwin’s position on such matters as “an undogmatic form of atheism” is more descriptively accurate (“Darwin’s Religious Views,” Journal of the History of Ideas 19.3 (June 1958): 363-378, 376). 

Now the separation was complete.  The spiritual world was severed from the physical world.  People could now re-conceptualize the world as Non-Overlapping Magisteria; the real world of the here and now (objective reality), and the mental/rational world of artistic and poetic creativity.  Res extensa and res cogitans were now capable of division in ways Descartes never intended.  The empirical world of reality was severable from the mythical world of notions and ideas.  In practical terms the modern world could separate the real, measurable and observable from the fanciful — i.e., Santa Claus, the tooth fairy and, yes, God.  Christ could now be reduced to the Easter Bunny without too much alarm.  The impact and pertinence of religion was diffused.

With Darwin and Huxley’s emphasis on fixed (be they natural selection or linear descent) principles nature was effectively a closed system.  Nothing like this had truly been suggested in so complete a form as with Darwinism.  It is not surprising that Darwin’s modest acknowledgement of a “life breathing” force was considerably reduced — indeed wholly absent — in his later work The Descent of Man published in 1871.  For Darwin humanity was little more than a conglomeration of developed instincts.  Even man’s morality was reduced to wholly naturalistic considerations as when he declared, “the first foundation or origin of the moral sense lies in the social instincts, including sympathy; and these instincts no doubt were primarily gained, as in the case of the lower animals, through natural selection” (Descent of Man [reprint, New York: Barnes & Noble, 2004], p. 556).

It’s interesting that the clearest historical statement on this comes not from a historian but from a Christian apologist, Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984), who observed this truly unique proposition in its most elemental form.  Harking to the long line scientists that came before Darwin, Schaeffer noted, “The early scientists believed in the uniformity of natural causes.   What they did not believe in,” and Darwin clearly suggested, “was the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system.  That little phrase makes all the difference in the world.  It makes the difference between natural science and a science rooted in naturalistic philosophy” (Escape From Reason[Downer’s Grive, IL: Intervarsity, 1968], p. 36). 

Many historians of science would like us to think that the story ends there.  Casting their scientific heroes in their own image and stripping them of their Hermetic roots, Newton, Harvey and others are seen as leading the march toward a materialistic worldview with Hume and Comte establishing the foundation of an allegedly “scientific” mindset.  But as Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton have reminded us, positivist history of this sort blinds us to the fact that science through most of its history has had “a soul” (see their Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy[Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994]).  Indeed a counter to the scientism of Comte, Hume, and Darwin remained even in the midst of constructing the greatest deception of the modern age, the NOMA; most notably in the very co-discoverer of evolution itself, Alfred Russel Wallace.

Wallace had spent considerable time in the Malay Archipelago and carefully observed variation in the flora and fauna around him.  Eventually he developed a theory of common descent very similar to Darwin’s.  Having met Darwin briefly, the two struck up a correspondence and on June 18, 1858, Wallace sent Darwin his ms. outlining his evolutionary theory.  Darwin, who had been working out his own theory quietly and nearly in secret (except for his closest confidants Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker), was stunned, admitting that he couldn’t have written a better abstract of his own theory himself.  Darwin needed to do something and quickly.  Consulting Lyell and Hooker, his two friends decided to present it as a joint paper to the Linnaean Society of London on July 1, 1858, and the modern theory of evolution was born.  Wallace’s reaction was one of satisfaction at being included among so lofty an assemblage as the Society.  Wallace was obeisant rather than obstreperous amidst these powerbrokers of scientific learning.  His attitude toward Darwin would remain cordial, more a reflection of Victorian class deference than genuine intellectual affinity.

Nevertheless, Wallace’s views themselves would evolve.  In 1864 Wallace published a paper, “The Origin of Human Races and the Antiquity of Man Deduced from the Theory of Natural Selection,” applying the theory to mankind. It would mark a split with Darwin and one that would increase over time.  Unlike Darwin who felt that man was just another animal, different in degree rather than kind and wholly explainable through the random processes of natural selection, Wallace felt man’s special capacities trumped natural selection processes.  “But from the time when this mental and moral advance commenced, and man’s physical character became fixed and immutable,” he declared, “a new series of causes would come into action, and take part in his mental growth. The diverse aspects of nature would now make themselves felt, and profoundly influence the character of the primitive man” (Infinite Tropics: An Anthology of Alfred Russel Wallace, ed. Andrew Berry [New York: Verso, 2002], p. 184).  Trouble was brewing.  Finally in a review of Charles Lyell’s 10th edition of the Principles of Geology appearing in an 1869 issue of The Quarterly Review, Wallace made a firm break insisting that the blind forces of natural selection simply could not explain why the human brain developed many times over the mere necessity for survival.  Wallace called upon an Overruling Intelligence directing man’s development, a revision which caused Darwin to scroll an emphatic “NO!!!” in the margin of Wallace’s review.  

It was obvious that Wallace was rejecting more than a technical detail; Wallace was making more explicit a shift away from scientism and materialism.  Nowhere was that clearer than in his thorough critique of Hume and defense of miracles in a paper read at a meeting of the London Dialectical Society on November 14, 1870.  Subsequently published as “An Answer to the Arguments of Hume, Lecky and others Against Miracles,” in The Spiritualist, Wallace charged Hume with giving a misleading and false definition of “miracle” and then proceeding to offer a self-contradictory rejection of the same.  After pointing out repeat offenses committed by contemporary skeptics, Wallace adds, “That the argument that dependence is to be placed upon men of science and upon them only, is opposed to universal experience and the whole history of science” (complete text available at Answer to Hume, Lecky and others against miracles). Wallace was doing more than making a philosophical point; he was trying to repair the fabric of a worldview he saw as rent in two by misguided theorists.

Wallace would continue to develop his ideas on evolution, and although he swore to his dying day that he remained a devoted “Darwinian,” he really had developed a quite different evolutionary scenario thoroughly imbued with teleology.  Others noticed and began calling it Wallaceism. Although not a strictly orthodox Christian, Wallace was no pantheist either.  Wallace essentially agreed with the theology of Stanley De Brath (1854-1937), a sort of Swedenborgian-tinged Christian spiritism divested of church dogma. Moreover Wallace insisted that nature evolved not only with purpose but with intent.  That was and remains in bold distinction to Darwin’s materialistic mechanisms.  Nowhere was his evolutionary theory more fully developed than in his book, The World of Life: A Manifestation of Creative Power, Directive Mind and Ultimate Purpose (1910) published just three years before his death.  

In that 400-page book Wallace declared boldly and forcefully that “the universe is not a chance product.”  All of Wallace’s research of plant and animal life throughout the world – and it was extensive (far more so than Darwin’s had been) – suggested that the processes of chemistry, physiology, geology and astronomy were, in Wallace’s words, “a prevision and preparation of the world for man.” Design was there and it was detectible.  The World of Life was his complete departure from Darwinian mechanisms, and interestingly it was a departure that won the praise of new Outlook contributing editor Theodore Roosevelt.  Roosevelt chided “the very blindest of those new scientific prophets . . . whose complacency is the greatest in their belief that the material key is that which unlocks all the secrets of the universe, and that the finite mind of man can, not merely understand, but pass supercilious judgment upon, these mysteries.  Mr. Wallace,” declared the former president, “stands in honorable contrast to men of this stamp.”  Showing “his scientific superiority to these men,” Roosevelt added, that Wallace wisely and convincingly asserted “his readiness to acknowledge that the materialistic and mechanistic explanations of the causes of evolution have broken down, and that science itself furnishes an overwhelming argument for ‘creative power, directive mind, and ultimate purpose’ in the process of evolution” (“The Search for Truth in a Reverent Spirit,” Outlook, 99.14  [Dec. 2, 1911]: 819-826, 823-824).  The New York Times was less impressed.  In its April 23rd Sunday edition for 1911 the reviewer gave some deferential praise for Wallace’s scientific accomplishments, but concluded that the book (written when Wallace was 87) was the product of a “wearied mind.” 

Indeed that has been the general historical assessment of Alfred Russel Wallace, a man whose brilliant luster began to fade as soon as he began to depart from Darwin and whose retreat from science was made demonstrable in his devotion to and defense of spiritualism.  Wikipedia, that ubiquitous source of uncritical generalization and misinformation, says of Wallace, “His advocacy of Spiritualism, and his belief in a non-material origin for higher mental faculties of humans strained his relationship with the scientific establishment, especially with other early proponents of evolution.”  True enough, but this is a gross oversimplification.  Before rejecting Wallace as a wide-eyed spiritualist, we would do well to remember that the Victorian era considered spiritualism and the occult legitimate though perhaps virgin scientific research territory.  The British Society for Psychical Research was founded by the well-known essayist Frederic Myers (1843-1901) and included such notables as physicist Oliver Joseph Lodge (1851-1940), politician and eventual Prime Minister Arthur Balfour (1848-1930), and etymologist and philologist Hensleigh Wedgwood (1803-1891).  Noted chemist William Crookes (1832-1919) attended séances and even Francis Galton (1822-1911), Darwin’s cousin, admitted at one that “something queer was going on” while Darwin’s older brother, Erasmus Alvey (1804-1881), “dabbled in ‘spirit photographs’ ” (Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Darwin The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist[New York: W. W. Norton, 1991]),  pp. 607-608).  Americans were even more captivated.  Members of the ASPR included psychologist/philosopher William James (1842-1910), Harvard mathematician Benjamin Peirce (1809-1880), Cornell neurologist Charles Loomis Dana (1852-1935), and Simon Newcomb (1835-1909), head of the Smithsonian Institution, served as the Society’s first president. 

Indeed a less presentist approach has recently subjected Wallace’s career to significant revision.  Rather than depicting him as a gullible, second or perhaps even third-rate counterpart to Darwin’s brilliance, an innovative if rather eccentric kook who steadily moved away from the uncompromising science of Darwinian evolution, Martin Fichman, Professor of Humanities at Canada’s York University, sees him differently.  Wallace’s theistic evolution, rather than the product of a declining mind, ran much deeper and gives evidence of a maturing mind.  “He [Wallace] was clearly sympathetic to certain teleological concepts from the outset of his career.  But Wallace’s first tentative steps toward an evolutionary teleology were implicit rather than explicit.  Certain of Wallace’s pre-1858 writings, however, indicate that he had indeed adopted teleological elements as part of his emerging evolutionary hypothesis but in characteristically idiosyncratic fashion”  (An Elusive Victorian: The Evolution of Alfred Russel Wallace [Chicago: U Chicago P, 2004], p. 79).  Wallace’s teleological vision was not a departure from science, but – and this is clearly demonstrated in his World of Life– a multidisciplinary integration of the sciences into a broader worldview of teleological final causes.  In Fichman’s words, “Wallace’s passion and expertise in pursuing a holistic and humane philosophy of nature remain a crucial legacy from the Victorian era” (p. 321).  In the end, Wallace would construct a very different evolutionary model. 

Wallace wasn’t the only one who would question Darwin’s materialistic reductionism.  Away from the political manipulations of Huxley’s X-Club, reaction among European scholars was far less enthusiastic; most were much less willing to abandon science to a lower storied Magisteria.  Heinrich Bronn (1800-1862) who had given Germany its first translation of Origin in 1860, for example, believed in a form of evolution but the famed geologist and paleontologist at the University of Heidelberg chided Darwin for skirting the real question of the origin of life and insisted that his evolutionary scheme would never be complete or completely believable until he did.  Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), in an address to the Sorbonne on April 7, 1864, declared that his refutation of Felix Pouchet’s spontaneous generation argument leveled a severe blow against materialism.  Ridiculing proponents of abiogenesis (a controversy that Darwin tried to stay out of and Huxley carefully manipulated a la the expulsion of abiogenesist and Darwinian inner circle wannabe, H. Carlton Bastian [1837-1915]), Pasteur nevertheless derided the notion of common descent saying, “bit by bit, they climb the ranks of creation, reaching, after, say, ten thousand years, the level of insects, and doubtless, after a hundred thousand years, the level of apes, and of Man himself. . . . But gentlemen, as far as this subject is concerned, I think we’ve had quite enough poetry, enough fantasy, and enough of intuitive solutions” (a complete translation of “On Spontaneous Generation” is available at Pasteur on spontaneous generation).  It is interesting to note that Pasteur dismissed Darwinism by relegating it to the upper Magisteria. Writing in 1878, Paul Janet (1823-1899), chair of philosophy at the Sorbonne, asked plaintively, “Will there not be found in British science a man of eminence to fight the battle of good sense and of the facts against the monstrous imaginations of Darwin?” (First Causes, trans. by William Affleck [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1878], p. viii).  There have been a few but not many.  Physicist Lord Kelvin (1824-1907), for example, didn’t believe there was sufficient time for Darwin’s natural selection mechanisms to take place (an argument that has renewed vigor under origin of life probability scenarios calculated by Marcel Schutzenberger in 1967 and Harold Morowitz in 1986).  Lord Kelvin’s colleague James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) also strongly opposed Darwin’s theory of evolution as flawed and unscientific.
But paradigms are powerful things.  Lost in the crowning of King Charles as regent reigning by materialistic right (a process too complex to cover here) is the Hermetic tradition of a holistic worldview – and make no mistake this is a question not primarily of science but of worldviews. We’ve forgotten that almost from its very inception evolution would burst upon the world from the pens of two very different authors.  Wallace over the next 50 years or so would increasingly develop a framework – a genuine framework not an accommodation – in which evolutionary processes could bespeak of Creative power and presence.   In fact, between Darwin and Wallace, it is with Darwin we see a static dogmatism that produced a theory of common descent in 1859 and then merely elaborated on themes introduced in the first edition of Origin.  With Wallace we see an evolution of thought.

The world has seemingly forgotten about Wallace.  True, efforts at biographical reassessment have begun, most notably with Martin Fichman’s The Elusive Victorian but also with Ross A. Slotten’s Heretic in Darwin’s Court (Columbia UP, 2004).  (Michael Shermer’s life of Wallace, In Darwin’s Shadow, is not recommended.  Shermer tried to cast Wallace’s actions within an ill-defined and inconsistently applied “heretic personality type,” a effort that reduces biography from insight and analysis to mere psycho babble.)  Yet Wallace remains to be incorporated effectively within the current discourse on evolution.  Thomas B. Fowler and Daniel Kuebler’s Evolution Controversy: A Survey of Competing Theories (2007) gives Wallace one sentence in their 360-page monograph!  I submit that Wallace’s teleological evolutionary model, despite all its arguable premises and disputable claims (Darwin’s theory certainly has its own share), should stand as a legitimate historical legacy countering the Darwinian paradigm.  Although obviously varying in specifics, as a generic form, Wallaceism is a compatible intellectual ancestor to the current Intelligent Design Weltanschauung.  Coextensive with Darwinian materialism, Wallaceism has not been given due recognition by the very community of scholars to whom this approach appeals.  Instead debates are cast within either/or Darwinian frameworks or (worse) in strained arguments for Darwinian theism ignoring the genuinely teleological perspectives of Wallace.  While the materialists cling to their Down House hero, theists have let them control the parameters of discussion by measuring everything by a Darwinian yardstick.  A re-visioning is needed.    Need this imply that we sign on to all aspects of natural selection simply because Wallace was its independent discoverer?  Of course not.  Indeed Wallace himself increasingly steered his theory away from naturalistic selection to a form of teleological selection.

We hear a lot of talk about “Darwin Day.”  Might it not be appropriate to temper this hagiographic love fest of materialism with an alternative?  What about Wallace Day?  I suggest 2010, the centennial of the publication of The World of Life and the complete birth of Wallaceism, as an appropriate celebratory benchmark.  Perhaps then there can be some revival of that Hermetic tradition that opened this blog, a tradition that has historically persisted but somehow got lost in the current discourse. I speak, of course, in the metaphorical sense.  If Aristotle could speak of the universe as a “vast organism,” if the mechanists could talk of the great “clockwork universe,” why not refer to a unified worldview in the metaphorical sense of the Hermetic dictum “as above, so below”?  To do so we will first have to remove those Darwinian shackles which have bound us for 150 years.  Interestingly they may be unlocked with the reverse side of that old Victorian key, a key cut by Alfred Russel Wallace.  
 

3 Replies to “Revisioning Paradigms: Alfred Russel Wallace and the Relocating of Evolution

  1. 1
    Atom says:

    Good read, thanks for the research.

  2. 2
    nullasalus says:

    The Wallace talk reminds me of a recent read-up on Gaia Theory (which I think Francis is not a fan of, insofar as it relates to Teilhard). What I found interesting is that one of the main proponents of the theory also classified herself as thinking the darwinian model was severely flawed – focused far too much on competition, whereas the model she offers is one where symbiosis and drives toward it play a far greater role.

    So I’d have to agree that it’s necessary – culturally and scientifically – to start looking at evolution/biological history, and realizing that darwinism is not the eternal model. The fact that every new ‘surprising discovery’ is followed up with ‘we’re confident we can cram this into neo-darwinism’ says a lot more about the importance of maintaining the n-d idea than anything else.

  3. 3
    lars says:

    Wow. Very enlightening. Thanks.

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