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Remembering Alfred Russel Wallace


This year marks the centenary of the death of Alfred Russel Wallace, sometimes portrayed as “Darwin’s goad”. However, as Andrew Berry argues, Wallace should be remembered as a “visionary scientist in his own right, a daring explorer and a passionate socialist”. He was awarded the Order of Merit, the highest honour that could be given by the British monarch to a civilian. He has left a –

“- huge scientific legacy, which ranged from discovering natural selection to defining the term species, and from founding the field of evolutionary biogeography to pioneering the study of comparative natural history.” (page 162)

For more, go here.

Here’s the punchline:
Whilst Berry is willing to respect Wallace’s integrity in departing from Darwin in this key issue, he does not elaborate on the broader implications of worldview thinking. No mention is made of Wallace’s Man’s Place in the Universe (1903), which discusses the teleological anthropic principle, or his World of Life (1910), which is devoted to intelligent evolution. Wallace saw himself as a theistic scientist who recognised design and purpose in the natural world. Thus, he is a powerful witness against those who portray intelligent design per se as antiscience. People are free to reach different conclusions, but Wallace should not be dismissed as someone who sacrificed reason and science to satisfy religious scruples. This is a worldview issue and, at this level, both theists and atheists are equally religious in their thinking. We can echo Berry’s closing words, with the proviso that in the “etc., etc., etc.” are found Wallace’s advocacy of intelligent design in the natural world.

“As we remember Wallace 100 years after his death, let us celebrate his remarkable scientific achievements and his willingness to take risks and to advocate passionately for what he believed in. He was, after all, both a scientist, and, in his own assessment, a “Red-hot Radical, Land Nationaliser, Socialist, Anti-Militarist, etc., etc., etc.” In short, a whole lot more than Darwin’s goad.” (page 164)

David Tyler. Oh no. Science is a real thing. its not another word for studying hard. its a methodology that sures up conclusions. Did Wallace do science for his conclusions on biological evolution.? Or did he just, like Darwin, have a hunch to replace previous worst hunches? Was he a scientists or a explorer with hypothesis?? It seems to me je just saw diversity of like creatures on different isl;ands and went AHA it must be a common origin for them. Then what is the mechanism and bang its presented as evolutionary biology. A accurate observation and correction leading to a hypothesis wrongly morphing into a theory before his boat returned to England. I think its all benn mere lines of reasoning and debunking these lines requires other lines of reasoning. Yet it was the methodology cheating that all along was the great logical flaw. Robert Byers
Flannery Socialism was a wrong and inferior idea for civilization. Is it a reflection on Wallace's intellect to be a socialist? I think it hints about poor powers of investigation and this translates to his ideas on evolution. By his origin stuff I mean evolution and not the origin of life. I read one or more of his books and enjoyed it though I'm YEC. Sure he was one of few people to bother exploring obscure areas. Yet figuring out creatures came from common ancestors was already known by YEC'ers back then. Always all creatures came from original KINDS. Including people despite differences in looks. Finding variations on islands relative to mainland was not new. Perhaps it was in establishment circles which denied the flood story but did imagine a God creating creatures. Biogeography is a favourite topic of mine and it favours YEC. Nobody else. Robert Byers
Robert @ 3, "Was he a scientist? Prove it!" There is plenty to show this in my blog, and Michael Flannery has provided solid reasons for considering Wallace an eminent scientist. I'd like to add the thought that a scholar does not have to be right to be accepted as scientist. I find I learn from scientists who are communicators whether or not I think they are right. Whether we think Wallace sometimes came to wrong conclusions should not prevent us seeing him as a pioneer scientist and worthy of our esteem. David Tyler
PS to Byers, And by the way, if Wallace was "wrong about origin stuff," (if by that you mean origin of life) who precisely has definitively gotten that one right? I'm not aware of a single definitive theory on the origin of life. The key word here is "definitve"--lots of ideas, few conclusion; if we cannot conclude what is "right" when it comes to "origins" we are hardly in a position to pronounce on what is "wrong." I would say that Trevors and Abel have made a pretty convincing case that "Chance and Necessity Do not Explain the Origin of Life" (See Cell Biology 28, 2004, 729-739. See also David Abel's "The Capacities of Chaos and Complexity" in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences ). Flannery
Byers, Your characterization of Wallace's social and political views is far too simplistic. True, Wallace was a socialist but a decidedly libertarian socialist who wrote frequently on the limitation of government. Wallace opposed eugenics because he was convinced it was based upon bad science and infringed upon the peoples liberties. As to his scientific prowess I'll not even include his Ternate Letter outlining his theory of natural selection, but instead list the following: 1) His Sarawak Law paper (1855) caught Sir Charles Lyell's attention. Historian Iain McCalman has correctly noted that it was “the first ever British scientific paper to claim that animals had descended from a common ancestor and then produced closely similar variations which evolved into distinct species.” 2) His Malay Archipelago (1869) is widely regarded as one of the greatest scientific travel narratives ever published, influencing even literary figures such as Joseph Conrad and Somerset Maugham. 3) His two-volume Geographical Distribution of Animals (1876), is considered the seminal work in establishing modern biogeography, making Wallace in many eyes its founding father. H. Lewis McKinney, for example, states in The Dictionary of Scientific Biography that The Geographical Distribution of Animals was much grander than a mere extension of Darwin’s two chapters, “Wallace’s work actually transformed the subject and became the standard authority for years.” 4) His book Island Life (1880) was the first extensive treatment of island ecosystems, eliciting praise from Darwin and Joseph Hooker. I could go on, but I think the point has been made. Flannery
Wallace was wrong on socialism, land robbery, and opposing the need for just war. He was wrong about origin stuff too. It doesn't matter what prizes he got. Did he by scientific biological investigation demonstrate a theory of evolution? Or did he just do lines of reasoning and rejection of creationism.?? Was he a scientist? Prove it! Robert Byers
It strikes me that Wallace was a Spiritualist. fmarotta
a few related notes: Darwin's Heretic: Alfred R. Wallace - Did the Co-Founder of Evolution Embrace Intelligent Design? - video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxvAVln6HLI Rescuing Alfred Russel Wallace from his (Darwinist) Rescuers - May 22, 2012 Excerpt: By 1913, Wallace declared himself unapologetically for theism: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2012/05/rescuing_alfred059961.html New thoughts on evolution Excerpt: “There seems to me,” said Professor Wallace, “unmistakeable evidence of guidance and control in the physical apparatus of every living creature. Consider for a moment the question of nourishment. Men of various races eat different foods; men of the same race may follow diets as separate and distinct as chalk from cheese. But in all cases the main result is the same. The food is converted into blood. That is interesting enough, marvellous enough, baffling enough; but mark what follows. This blood circulating through the body becomes at one point hair and at another nail; here it transforms itself into bone and there into tissue; at the same moment that it changes into skin it changes into nerve; it is at once the bone in my finger and the eye in my head. Materialism forges such words as secretion, but no word signifying unconscious and accidental action can explain this mystery.” http://wallace-online.org/content/frameset?pageseq=1&itemID=S746.1&viewtype=text "Nothing in evolution can account for the soul of man. The difference between man and the other animals is unbridgeable. Mathematics is alone sufficient to prove in man the possession of a faculty unexistent in other creatures. Then you have music and the artistic faculty. No, the soul was a separate creation." Alfred Russell Wallace, New Thoughts on Evolution, 1910 bornagain77

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