ID Foundations Intelligent Design

ID Foundations, 7: suppressed history — Alfred Russel Wallace’s Intelligent Evolution as a precursor to modern design theory

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Alfred Russel Wallace (1869)

(Series to date: 1, 2, 3, 4 , 5, 6)

One of the saddest facets of the modern, unfortunately poisonously polarised debates over origins science, is the evident suppression of relevant history, such as Alfred Russel Wallace’s Intelligent Evolution. (HT: Flannery.)

[Yes, suppressed: at top level, people are responsible to give a true, fair, balanced view of an important matter based on the due diligence of thorough and balanced research . . . ]

Wallace was co-founder of the theory of evolution, and his Ternate letter forced Darwin to present a joint paper to the Royal Society in 1858, then to publish his Origin to further expand and explain his theory in 1859. But Wallace was no Toff, and ended up publishing his fuller thoughts only in 1910 ff, in his “forgotten book,” The World of Life (cf. here, here, here and here at Amazon — republished, of course, by Forgotten Books).

In that book, he presented his thesis of intelligent evolution, which was introduced in the subtitle: a manifestation of Creative Power, Directive Mind and Ultimate Purpose, that is the whole title, in a modern presentation,  is:

The World of Life: a manifestation of Creative Power, Directive Mind and Ultimate Purpose

Wallace then elaborated this thesis in his preface [pp. vi – vii 1914 UK edn., I introduce my own simplifying paragraphing — Victorians loved Looooong paras!]  as follows:


>> But besides the discussion of these and several other allied subjects, the most prominent feature of my book is that I enter into a popular yet critical examination of those underlying fundamental problems which Darwin purposely excluded from his works as being beyond the scope of his enquiry.

Such are, the nature and causes of Life itself ; and more especially of its most fundamental and mysterious powers growth and reproduction. I first endeavour to show (in Chapter XIV.) by a care-ful consideration of the structure of the bird’s feather; of the marvellous transformations of the higher insects ; and, more especially of the highly elaborated wing-scales of the Lepidoptera (as easily accessible examples of what is going on in every part of the structure of every living thing), the absolute necessity for an organising and directive Life-Principle in order to account for the very possibility of these complex outgrowths.

I argue, that they necessarily imply first, a Creative Power, which so constituted matter as to render these marvels possible ; next, a directive Mind which is demanded at every step of what we term growth, and often look upon as so simple and natural a process as to require no explanation ; and, lastly, an ultimate Purpose, in the very existence of the whole vast life-world in all its long course of evolution throughout the eons of geological time.

This Purpose, which alone throws light on many of the mysteries of its mode of evolution, I hold to be the development of Man, the one crowning product of the whole cosmic process of  life-development ; the only being which can to some extent comprehend nature; which can perceive and trace out her modes of action ; which can appreciate the hidden forces and motions everywhere at work, and can deduce from them a supreme and over-ruling Mind as their necessary cause.

For those who accept some such view as I have indicated, I show (in Chapters XV. and XVI.) how strongly it is sup-ported and enforced by a long series of facts and co-relations which we can hardly look upon as all purely accidental coincidences. Such are the infinitely varied products of living things which serve man’s purposes and man’s alone not only by supplying his material wants, and by gratifying his higher tastes and emotions, but as rendering possible many of those advances in the arts and in science which we claim to be the highest proofs of his superiority to the brutes, as well as of his advancing civilisation.

From a consideration of these better-known facts I proceed (in Chapter XVII.) to an exposition of the mystery of cell-growth ; to a consideration of the elements in their special relation to the earth itself and to the life-world ; while in the last chapter I endeavour to show the purpose of that law of diversity which seems to pervade the whole material Universe. >>


A few remarks, to prompt thoughtful discussion:

1 –> Remember, this is the co-founder and independent proposer of the theory of evolution speaking.

2 –> He plainly held that The World of Life [is] a manifestation of Creative Power, Directive Mind and Ultimate Purpose.

3 –> That is, he inferred from the observed world of life, on empirically credible and tested signs, to design as best explanation of observed features, including the results of the evolutionary processes he proposed.

4 –> A chief example, in Ch XIV,  is the origin of birds (which he plainly loved), with a particular focus on the wings and on feathers:

The bird wing
Feather interlocking (Wallace)

. . . the bird’s wing seems to me to be, of all the mere mechanical organs of any living thing, that  which most clearly implies the working out of a pre-conceived design in a new and apparently  most complex | and difficult manner, yet so as to produce a marvellously successful result. The idea worked out was to reduce the jointed bony framework of the wings to a compact minimum of size and maximum of strength in proportion to the muscular power employed; to enlarge the breastbone so as to give room for greatly increased power of pectoral muscles ;and to construct that part of the wing used in flight in such a manner as to combine great strength with extreme lightness and the most perfect flexibility.

In order to produce this more perfect instrumentfor flight the plan of a continuous membrane, as in the flying reptiles (whose origin was probably contemporaneous with that of the earliest birds) and flying mammals, to be developed at a much later period, was rejected, and its place was taken by a series of broadoverlapping oars or vanes, formed by a central rib of extreme strength, elasticity, and lightness, with a web on each side made up of myriads of parts or outgrowths so wonderfully attached and interlocked as to form a self-supporting, highly elastic structure of almost inconceivable delicacy, very easily pierced or ruptured by the impact of solid substances, yet able to sustain almost any amount of air-pressure without injury. [[287 – 88] . . . .

A great deal has been written on the mechanics of a bird’s flight, as dependent on the form and curvature of the feathers and of the entire wing, the powerful muscular arrangements, and especially the perfection of the adjustment by which during the rapid down-stroke the combined feathers constitute a perfectly air-tight, exceedingly strong, yet highly elastic instrument for flight ; while the moment the upward motion begins the feathers all turn upon their axes so that the air passes between them with hardly any resistance, and when they again begin the down-stroke close up automatic-ally as air-tight as before.

Thus the effective down-strokes follow each other so rapidly that, together with the support given by the hinder portion of the wings and tail, the onward motion is kept up, and the strongest flying birds exhibit hardly any undulation in the course they are pursuing. But very little is said about the minute structure of the feathers themselves, which are what renders perfect flight in almost every change of conditions a possibility and an actually achieved result.

But there is a further difference between this instrument of flight and all others in nature. It is not, except during actual growth, a part of the living organism, but a mechanical | instrument which the organism has built up, and which then ceases to form an integral portion of it is, in fact, dead matter. [[290 – 1]

5 –> This is of course very close in thought to Behe’s irreducible complexity and to Dembski’s complex, specified information.

6 –> A true and fair view of modern design thought and of wider origins science issues would bring that sort of connexion to such antecedents to light; as a matter of duties of care to the truth, to fairness and to balance.

7 –> In short, there is a lot more to the real story and history than meets the eye at the hands of today’s evolutionary materialist magisterium now so commonly seen imposing its agendas as a reigning orthodoxy. Lewontin, of course is a chief example of this:

. . . To Sagan, as to all but a few other scientists, it is self-evident [[actually, science and its knowledge claims are plainly not immediately and necessarily true on pain of absurdity, to one who understands them; this is another logical error, begging the question , confused for real self-evidence; whereby a claim shows itself not just true but true on pain of patent absurdity if one tries to deny it . . ] that the practices of science provide the surest method of putting us in contact with physical reality, and that, in contrast, the demon-haunted world rests on a set of beliefs and behaviors that fail every reasonable test  [[i.e. an assertion that tellingly reveals a hostile mindset, not a warranted claim] . . . .

It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes [[another major begging of the question . . . ] to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute [[i.e. here we see the fallacious, indoctrinated, ideological, closed mind . . . ], for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. [NYRB, 1997. If you think the immediately following words JUSTIFY the above, and reduce the clip to “quote-mining,” I suggest you follow up the link above to the longer excerpt, and consider the notes there and the context of the following three excerpts.]

8 –> Philip Johnson’s retort in First Things, November that year, is well merited:

For scientific materialists the materialism comes first; the science comes thereafter. [[Emphasis original] We might more accurately term them “materialists employing science.” And if materialism is true, then some materialistic theory of evolution has to be true simply as a matter of logical deduction, regardless of the evidence. That theory will necessarily be at least roughly like neo-Darwinism, in that it will have to involve some combination of random changes and law-like processes capable of producing complicated organisms that (in Dawkins’ words) “give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”
. . . .   The debate about creation and evolution is not deadlocked . . . Biblical literalism is not the issue. The issue is whether materialism and rationality are the same thing. Darwinism is based on an a priori commitment to materialism, not on a philosophically neutral assessment of the evidence. Separate the philosophy from the science, and the proud tower collapses. [[Emphasis added.] [[The Unraveling of Scientific Materialism, First Things, 77 (Nov. 1997), pp. 22 – 25.]


It is plainly time to think outside the materialist box — or should I say, cave — that some would push us into. END

9 Replies to “ID Foundations, 7: suppressed history — Alfred Russel Wallace’s Intelligent Evolution as a precursor to modern design theory

  1. 1
    GilDodgen says:

    Even more impressive than a bird’s physical attributes is its GN&C (guidance, navigation and control — one of my specialties in aerospace software engineering). This control system is phenomenally sophisticated, far more so than anything human engineers have been able to come up with.

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    Gil, I just saw a little video on the ‘Bird compass’ yesterday:

    Does the Magnetic Compass of Birds Involve a Coherent Quantum Process? Yes! – video


    further notes:

    Birds have a ‘Quantum connection’ to the earth’s magnetic field: Jan. 2011
    Quantum robins lead the way

    Natural ‘Magnetometer’ in Upper Beak of Birds
    Excerpt: Iron containing short nerve branches in the upper beak of birds may serve as a magnetometer to measure the vector of the Earth magnetic field (intensity and inclination) and not only as a magnetic compass, which shows the direction of the magnetic field lines.

    Magnetic Compass of Birds Is Based on a Molecule with Optimal Directional Sensitivity

    Natural ‘Magnetometer’ in Upper Beak of Birds? – Feb. 2010
    Excerpt: Specialized iron compounds in the dendrites locally amplify the Earth magnetic field and thus induce a primary receptor potential. Most probably each of these more than 500 dendrites encodes only one direction of the magnetic field. These manifold data are processed to the brain of the bird and here — recomposed — serve as a basis for a magnetic map, which facilitates the spatial orientation.

  3. 3
    arkady967 says:

    Excellent post, wonderful material!

    Would have been interestin­g had I seen informatio­n, relavant history, like this is during my formative years -anywhere, not to mention high school.

  4. 4
    kairosfocus says:


    It was a revelation to me too, to learn some few years back, that the co-founder of the modern theory of evolution was a design thinker and viewed his results as pointing to “Creative Power, Directive Mind and Ultimate Purpose.”

    Sadly, no prizes for guessing why we just never heard of such until the rise of the net and the blogosphere broke the monopolies of the various establishments.

    (And this is on their underlying rhetorical strategy. That is why the IOSE draft course has this purpose.)

    Why not tell us a bit more of your story?

    GEM of TKI

    PS: As you know, this is a for record series [hopefully next in succession — subject to change, OOL (including vNSRs and Paley’s additionality principle), OO body plans, OO mind and man, OS in society issues . . . ]. Consequently I will revisit posts and do some fixing up, incorporating things that come up in discussions. Above, I have now added links to the series so far [forgot this morning!] and I have done some minor adjusting.

  5. 5
    kairosfocus says:


    Your inputs are always valued.

    I was of course underscoring what Wallace knew about; to help highlight suppressed history and idea antecedents.

    Why don’t you take some time to talk a bit about the GN&C systems and other key adaptations like the bird lung.

    As someone who has had a few things to do with control systems, I know just how complex controlled wing-flapping flight is, and the long distance nav systems of birds are astonishing.

    Let us hear a bit on such functionally specific complex organisation, and what it takes to make a successful bird.

    Let’s try for size: would the control system fit within 125 bytes worth of information, to specify components on a structured chain of yes/no questions?

    What would that strongly suggest?

    GEM of TKI

  6. 6
    PaV says:

    From my poor recall of things, Wallace was, in his times—from the 1840’s to the 1860’s—perhaps the greatest naturalist of his times.

    Incredibly, after amassing a huge number of specimens throughout all of SE Asia, the ship transferring the huge collection encountered severe weather, and, in a desperate effort to shed weight, tossed the collection overboard. The collection would have made Wallace a world-renown naturalist, and fabulously wealthy.

    All of this is meant to say: he was a great (absolutely heroic in his specimen collecting) and learned naturalist, the equal, if not the superior, to Darwin. IOW, his opinion should be highly regarded, not tossed to the one side.

    I believe he was in line for a Nobel Prize, but because of his “spiritualist” thinking, was ignored. You know: science is science. Got to keep any hint of religion out of it.

  7. 7
    PaV says:

    It should also be noted that the bird feather is still something that evolutionary theory is completely incapable of explaining.

    Oh, they will say that have some sort of explanation. But it is an explanation in search of actual facts. The feather—as remarkably adapted as it is—just appears out of nowhere.

    The idea of a “proto-feather” is hotly debated; but I believe the experts in the field say that there really is no evidence of such a predecessor to actual feathers. If you look at good images of Archeopteryx (I know, it’s not really the ‘first’ bird) the feathers are very modern looking.

  8. 8
    kairosfocus says:

    On the beauty of the Peacock’s tail.

    (And BTW, an illustration of the impact of design theory on Creationists . . . F/N: Peacock herl makes fishing flies work like almost nothing else, due to the iridescence, a thin layer interference effect similar to mother of pearl; cf a living, silvery-white fish’s side. The subtle rainbow colours are astonishing.)

  9. 9
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: While the Norway issue is hot, we should not forget this post on the design thought of Alfred Russel Wallace, co-founder of the modern theory of evolution.

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