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Whatever Darwin may have been, he was (probably) not a plagiarist

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Another book is set to drop on the market claiming that Darwin plagiarized the work of another evolution theorist:

Charles Darwin is credited with transforming the understanding of natural history – but a new book claims to have found evidence that he stole his Theory of Evolution.

Written by an experienced criminologist, it argues there are overwhelming similarities between Darwin’s seminal On The Origin Of Species and an earlier work by a naturalist called Patrick Matthew…

In 1859, having observed such creatures as the giant Galapagos tortoise, he published On The Origin Of Species, spelling out the theory of a ‘Process of Natural Selection’. However, 28 years earlier Matthew had published On Naval Timber And Arboriculture, which expounded similar findings through his theory of the ‘Natural Process of Selection’.

Dr Mike Sutton, whose book Science Fraud: Darwin’s Plagiarism Of Patrick Matthew’s Theory is published by Curtis next Saturday, said: ‘This is the biggest science fraud in history.’ …

Perhaps most damning is a letter from Darwin’s wife, Emma, written on behalf of her husband.

Dr Sutton said: ‘She wrote claiming Darwin was too ill to write, with a telling line to Matthew. She says, “Darwin is more loyal to your own original child than you were yourself.” If you want an admission, there it is – “Your own original child”.’

John Dingwall, “Charles Darwin is accused of stealing Theory of Evolution from rival naturalist in history’s biggest science fraud” at Daily Mail (February 5, 2022)

Heady stuff.

On a bet, we asked science historian Michael Flannery, who has written a fair bit on early evolution theorists himself:

There is nothing new in this plagiarism claim. It’s at least as old as Samuel Butler (1853-1902). One of the more recent versions of this theme can be found in Roy Davies’s The Darwin Conspiracy (2008). My problem with this take on Darwin is that much of its evidence is shaky and more based upon a priori assumptions and interpretations than incontrovertible data.

Also, it can serve as a way of getting Darwin off the hook as it were. If Darwin was merely echoing ideas of others (such as Patrick Matthew) then we’ve all been barking up the wrong tree. If true, maybe Matthew should be the target or someone else. But it should also not be forgotten that Darwin added a “Historical Sketch” in the third edition of Origin (1861) that does a pretty good job of outlining most of his evolutionary predecessors.

My preferred position would be to say that despite numerous earlier attempts at formulating an evolutionary theory, Darwin’s complete package really did contribute something new and different. In short, it was a fairly complete materialistic metaphysic that used science or scientific explanation as its presumptive foundation. The key to Darwin is to be found not in its historical similarities but in its unique differences. Even when contrasted with Alfred Russel Wallace, the differences are striking. I discuss this at length in Nature’s Prophet (pp. 33-42).

That’s Nature’s Prophet: Alfred Russel Wallace and His Evolution from Natural Selection to Natural Theology, if you want to follow up.

We’ll assume that the Darwin-in-the-schools people have picked the right hero.


You may also wish to read: Washington, DC Mayor’s Office: Let Darwinism take care of the unvaccinated. Darwinism? Just when we thought we were veering off-topic, our issues all collide.

6 Replies to “Whatever Darwin may have been, he was (probably) not a plagiarist

  1. 1
    chuckdarwin says:

    What’s next: Darwin (probably) wasn’t a child molester? Or, perhaps, Darwin (probably) wasn’t a serial killer? Or, perhaps, hey, Mr. Darwin, when did you stop beating your wife (assumably for letting fly that husband Charles was a plagiarist)?

    ID and UD’s animus towards Darwin is a bottomless pit of fear and loathing. Remember Nietzsche’s warning about staring too long into the abyss……..

  2. 2
    asauber says:

    ChuckyD,

    The evidence indicates that Darwin was a White Priv Colonialist Racist, everything you leftist bowling balls pretend to oppose.

    What’s not to hate?

    Andrew

  3. 3
    polistra says:

    The charge of plagiarism is more destructive than the charge of “racism”. Every creator plagiarizes from other sources and from his own work, intentionally or not. If you avoid all hints of plagiarism you will NEVER create anything at all. There’s no such thing as pure innovation.

  4. 4
    ET says:

    Darwin’s natural selection was different than Mathews. Darwin’s was a creative force capable of producing the appearance of design without an intelligent designer.

  5. 5
    chuckdarwin says:

    Polistra makes a good point……

    “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” –Newton

  6. 6
    jerry says:

    What’s next: Darwin (probably) wasn’t a

    Prophet for Evolution.

    That we know. But none of these attacks on Darwin undermine what the typical educated person believes about Evolution. It’s foolish to believe so.

    ID and UD’s animus towards Darwin is a bottomless pit of fear and loathing.

    Probably true and dysfunctional. Though I don’t believe it’s fear. He did not establish anything to be afraid of. He did mislead billions of people because he over promised.

    If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants

    Without Galileo, would Newton have discovered anything? Maybe things about optics.

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