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How Evolution’s Co-Discoverer Came to Doubt Darwin in Favor of Intelligent Design

That’s right, Alfred Russel Wallace. I’ve got a two-part interview with the author of a very interesting new book that tells the story over at Evolution News & Views. (UPDATE: An AP story that you can read at MSNBC recalls Wallace’s life and plugs Wallace promoter George Beccaloni. The story tries to gloss over the Wallace/proto-intelligent design connection in three paragraphs at the very end, in which Beccaloni’s only response to Wallace’s major defection from Darwinism is to “groan” and dismiss those seeking to dust off the truth of history as “grasping at straws.” This is so typical, unfortunately.)
From my post at ENV:

To judge from previews, the new Darwin biographical movie Creation will emphasize the challenge Darwinian theory posed from the beginning to religious belief. Yet the life of evolution’s co-discoverer, Alfred Russel Wallace, suggests that properly understood, and that’s a major proviso, evolution needn’t upset faith at all. On the contrary, Wallace reasoned from what he knew about life’s history to a belief that an “Overruling Intelligence” guided life’s development, much as intelligent design (ID) does today. Science historian Michael A. Flannery calls Wallace’s evolutionary thinking a “preamble” to ID.

An opportunity to evaluate this provocative claim is now before us in the form of Flannery’s new edition of Wallace’s great work, A World of Life (1910), which slims the dense and massive volume down to a manageable size and includes an illuminating introduction by Flannery. His book is Alfred Russel Wallace’s Theory of Intelligent Evolution: How Wallace’s World of Life Challenged Darwinism (Erasmus Press).

Wallace famously arrived at his own version of evolutionary theory while Darwin was still sitting on his. When Wallace made contact and shared his thoughts, Darwin panicked and rushed to make his theory public so as not to be scooped. Yet the two men did not formulate their ideas in exactly the same way. As Flannery writes, “Wallace emphasized the ‘principle of utility,’ namely, that ‘no organ or attribute can exist in a natural species unless it is or has been useful to the organisms that possess it.'”

This emphasis led to the increasingly rapid unraveling of Wallace’s confidence that natural selection by itself could account for the most interesting features of life: major items like sentience, the complexity of the cell and of the hemoglobin molecule, the origin of life itself, and more discrete features like a bird’s wing and feathers (evidence of a “preconceived design,” Wallace wrote) and the “unnecessarily elaborate” patterns and coloration of butterfly wings. Vladmir Nabokov — novelist, lepidopterist, and Darwin doubter — would make that same observation in the middle 20th century, as I’ve noted in this space previously.

Adding to all this Wallace’s comfort with the idea of common descent, it starts to sound like a mix of Michael Behe, Stephen Meyer, and William Dembski.

Read Part I and Part II of my interview with Flannery at ENV.
Wallace, Nabokov, Jefferson — some pretty unlikely candidates to be ritually dismissed, per Darwinist practice, as ignorant, backwoods Fundamentalist Christians — the phantom menace that haunts the secular mind. 
By the way, in response to my Thomas Jefferson post, it’s obviously true that he wrote what he did before Charles Darwin’s name became associated with evolutionary theory. But Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, had published his Zoonomia, or the Laws of Organic Life in 1794, with its evolutionary theme, and the idea had circulated widely in Europe and America.
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posted June 29, 2009 at 8:58 pm

I see you’re still living in the past, but even that past cannot support the modern religious doctrine of anti-science creationism, even if it is tarted up by the Discovery Institute as intelligent design.
Once again, you show us that you have no idea how science works. Scientists care about the evidence, not what someone thought about a century ago. ID supporters spend their time looking for high priests to quote.
You are truly clutching at straws when you imply that Jefferson should have understood evolution based on Erasmus Darwin’s book.

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Glen Davidson

posted June 29, 2009 at 10:09 pm

If you cared about the science you’d respond to the many scientific issues we raise, not continue to try to dredge up “authorities” and excuses for never doing your homework.
Nevertheless, I’ve never seen a pseudoscientist do anything but what you do, David, such as using fallacies like argumentum ad verecundiam, ignore what the prevailing theory explains handily, and shift constantly in your desperate need to come up with any reason to deny the science.
Glen Davidson

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posted June 30, 2009 at 12:15 am

Selections from the Wikipedia article on Wallace (emphasis and comments added in all cases):
Re natural selection: “Darwin emphasized competition between individuals of the same species to survive and reproduce, whereas Wallace emphasized environmental pressures on varieties and species forcing them to become adapted to their local environment. Others have noted that another difference was that Wallace appeared to have envisioned natural selection as a kind of feedback mechanism keeping species and varieties adapted to their environment.” [Thus it is misleading to say, as David does, “This emphasis led to the increasingly rapid unraveling of Wallace’s confidence that natural selection by itself could account for the most interesting features of life….” The issue isn’t natural selection per se–just how it works.]
Re Wallace’s beliefs about the shortcomings of evolution: “[Wallace] began to maintain that natural selection cannot account for mathematical, artistic, or musical genius, as well as metaphysical musings, and wit and humour. He eventually said that something in “the unseen universe of Spirit” had interceded at least three times in history. The first was the creation of life from inorganic matter. [But as I’ve pointed out before, God could have created life initially by essentially zapping it into existence, or setting up the universe in such a way that it inevitably came about. We don’t know which of these happened, but in either case God was equally the Creator of life. Thus, this is trivial.] The second was the introduction of consciousness in the higher animals. [The nature and extent of animal intelligence is so hotly debated that I don’t think it’s helpful in this context.] And the third was the generation of the higher mental faculties in mankind. He also believed that the raison d’être of the universe was the development of the human spirit. [Agreed–as I’ve said before, I have no doubt that the human mind, on some level, is immaterial and cannot be explained by solely material causes, evolutionary or otherwise. However, this probably cannot be either proved or disproved definitively, and it’s a far cry from ID.]”
Re Wallace’s beliefs in general: “I am thankful I can see much to admire in all religions. To the mass of mankind religion of some kind is a necessity. But whether there be a God and whatever be His nature; whether we have an immortal soul or not, or whatever may be our state after death, I can have no fear of having to suffer for the study of nature and the search for truth, or believe that those will be better off in a future state who have lived in the belief of doctrines inculcated from childhood, and which are to them rather a matter of blind faith than intelligent conviction. {Doesn’t make him seem like a conventional believer; and remember, David’s concern with evoltuion is that it undermines conventional belief, whereas ID supports it. If Wallace was an IDer, it didn’t help him, did it?]”
“After reviewing the literature on the topic and attempting to test the phenomena he witnessed at séances, [Wallace] came to accept that the belief was connected to a natural reality. For the rest of his life, he remained convinced that at least some séance phenomena were genuine, no matter how many accusations of fraud sceptics made or how much evidence of trickery was produced….Wallace’s very public advocacy of spiritualism and his repeated defence of spiritualist mediums against allegations of fraud in the 1870s damaged his scientific reputation. [David, are you really sure you want to recruit this guy to your cause?]”
“In the early 1880s, Wallace was drawn into the debate over mandatory smallpox vaccination. Wallace originally saw the issue as a matter of personal liberty; but, after studying some of the statistics provided by anti-vaccination activists, he began to question the efficacy of vaccination. At the time, the germ theory of disease was very new and far from universally accepted. Moreover, no one knew enough about the human immune system to understand why vaccination worked. When Wallace did some research, he discovered some cases where supporters of vaccination had used questionable statistics. Always suspicious of authority, Wallace became convinced that reductions in the incidence of smallpox that had been attributed to vaccination were, in fact, due to better hygiene and improvements in public sanitation. He also suspected that physicians had a vested interest in promoting vaccination. Wallace and other anti-vaccinationists pointed out that vaccination, which was often done in a sloppy unsanitary manner, could be dangerous. In 1890, Wallace gave evidence before a Royal Commission investigating the controversy. When the commission examined the material he had submitted to support his testimony, they found errors, including some questionable statistics. . [Got me there! He’d sure be a good IDer in that regard!] The commission found that smallpox vaccination was effective and should remain compulsory, though they did recommend some changes in procedures to improve safety, and that the penalties for people who refused to comply be made less severe. Years later, in 1898, Wallace wrote a pamphlet attacking the commission’s findings. It, in turn, was attacked by The Lancet, which stated that it contained many of the same errors as his evidence given to the commission.”
OK, so David is trying to press into service a man who, while a great naturalist and theorist, was also a quasi-Deist, a Spiritualist, and an anti-vaccinationist. Once more, is this someone that you, as anti-evolutionists want on your side? Is this the poster boy for the beneficent philosophical, intellectual, and sociological results of denying evolution?
Of course, it’s clear that Wallace did no such thing as denying evolution, but pointing out that there is a spiritual dimension to the human mind and a universe capable of supporting life–but wait, that’s what theistic evolution says, too! What’s ID about that? Or, rather, why is theistic evolution not ID? I mean, theistic evolutionists think that God is intelligent, and that He designed the cosmos (though not through the methods that anti-evolutionists want to attribute to Him)? Where’s the problem?
The thing is that science has a method of showing what works and what doesn’t. Evolution has stood the test–séances and anti-vaccination theory haven’t. Thus, a scientist can perfectly well say that Wallace was great in some areas and cuckoo in others. He wouldn’t be the first scientist to be so (remember, Newton was an alchemist and was obsessed with the Book of Revelation and predicting the end of the world). On the other hand, anti-evolutionists have no criteria for separating out the gold from the dross. They may like him because he believed that the human spirit was immaterial and Divine–but by what criterion do they separate this out from his believe in mediums?
Finally, even if Jefferson had read Erasmus Darwin, the latter had not marshaled the scientific data and evidence we have available now; and for all his erudition, Jefferson was not a scientist. Neither was Nabokov (a lepidopterist, yes–a biologist, no). No matter how great one is, when he speaks outside his area of expertise, he’s on the same level as anyone else who doesn’t know what he’s talking about!

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Gabriel Hanna

posted June 30, 2009 at 12:23 am

David, you have proved over and over that you and your fellow travelers cannot be counted on even to quote anyone accurately, much less describe people’s positions fairly. One example is here:
When Wallace made contact and shared his thoughts, Darwin panicked and rushed to make his theory public so as not to be scooped.
It was Darwin who insisted that Wallace be published, and Wallace was always regraded as a co-discoverer of evolution, by Darwin and his contemporaries, despite the differences in their opinions about how exactly evolution works.
Wallace was also a spiritualist and phrenologist, a believer in Martian canals and an opponent of vaccination. Should we believe in those things now too? Newton was an alchemist for that matter. Should alchemy therefore be included in physics textbooks?
As usual, you won’t retract your deceptive and ignorant statements, or acknowledge that anyone challenged them.
You don’t read anything for yourself. You get cherry-picked quotes third-hand from people and try to pass it off as scholarship.

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big 'ol homo

posted June 30, 2009 at 1:17 am

It is OK to be deceptive/lie, sell tainted meat to the gentiles, in the Jewish faith, as long searves a “higher” purpose. The Muslems have a similar ethos. They can also lie to protect the faith.

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Sam Spencer

posted June 30, 2009 at 1:54 am

What Darwin discovered was already common knowledge to anyone raising livestock for thousands of years, breeding works! The discovery of so-called “Natural Selection” was simply backward engineering from “unnatural selection” aka animal husbandry or breeding livestock. It works on a farm because it works in nature, folks. He just put a name to it. Please wake up and smell the obvious.

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Gabriel Hanna

posted June 30, 2009 at 8:58 am

Beccaloni’s only response to Wallace’s major defection from Darwinism is to “groan” and dismiss those seeking to dust off the truth of history as “grasping at straws.” This is so typical, unfortunately.
Coming from a guy who regularly distorts quotes by ellipsis, this is hilarious.

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Curt Cameron

posted June 30, 2009 at 9:35 am

You seem to have the impression that science is some kind of personality cult. It doesn’t matter what Wallace thought, nor would it matter if Darwin had renounced it all on his deathbed and become a Bible-thumping creationist.
However, I do have to wonder what Wallace would have thought if he had access to the massive amount of evidence that we’ve accumulated since his time, in genetics and with all the fossils we have now.

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Just ME

posted June 30, 2009 at 11:31 am

The Klinghoffer doesn’t believe any of the garbage he defending. He sees the Discovery Institute as a bank; a way to cozy up to Christian fundys who believe he is going to hell, but are willing to throw some cash in his direction if he gives cred to creationism.

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Glen Davidson

posted June 30, 2009 at 11:39 am

By the way, in response to my Thomas Jefferson post, it’s obviously true that he wrote what he did before Charles Darwin’s name became associated with evolutionary theory. But Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, had published his Zoonomia, or the Laws of Organic Life in 1794, with its evolutionary theme, and the idea had circulated widely in Europe and America.

And Paley, while not mentioning Erasmus Darwin by name, quite ably attacked the evolutionary ideas of his day as being unfalsifiable, albeit in different words. His ideas, while hardly precise or biologically comprehensive, were in principle falsifiable (which, btw, I consider a rule of thumb for science, not a demarcation principle).
Of course, his ideas were falsified by Darwin. IDists now avoid entailed predictions because of that, and because they continue to be well answered at every turn. People like Stephen Meyer simply conflate evolutionary consequences with design, falsely equating the very different expectations coming from the two processes.
Whether Jefferson knew of evolutionary ideas or not is thus hardly of any consequence. He was not actually a scientist, but he probably did understand the principles of science well enough to recognize that “evolutionary theory” in his day was little more than idle speculation.
David, as per his usual, fails completely to recognize the differences between well-founded theories like that behind the evolutionary science of today, and inconsequential speculations. What would you expect of someone who thinks ID is at least the equal of science?
Glen Davidson

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Your Name

posted June 30, 2009 at 11:50 am

As Rush Limbaugh says, FOLLOW THE MONEY. From Wikipedia:
Klinghoffer has published a series of articles, editorial columns, and letters to the editor in both Jewish and conservative publications seeking to promote opposition to Darwinian views of evolution.[3][4][5] Larry Yudelson has responded, in a piece directed at Klinghoffer, that rabbinical Judaism has accepted evolutionary theory for more than a century, and that Judaism has never rejected science.[6] Yudelson also charges that Klinghoffer IS PAID TO PROMOTE his ideas by his employer, the Discovery Institute, which Yudelson identifies as a Christian think tank that is funded by organizations that seek to promote a “Christian-friendly world view

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Your Name

posted June 30, 2009 at 11:42 pm

David, your continued parroting of the Dishonesty Institute’s lies is becoming too obvious – give it up.
The Dishonesty Institute and other creationist apologists can also stop trying to continue to fool the public into thinking that their brand of post-1987 US Supreme COurt Aguillard Decision “intelligent design” creationism is the same as Paley’s “intelligent design” or Plato’s “intelligent design.” All this Darwin bashing is getting tiresome.

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posted July 1, 2009 at 3:18 pm

I think dogmatic religious types have a tendency to project. They worship a book as authoritative despite lots of human learning and experience that would improve it, so they have a hard time imagining that other’s don’t share this disfunctional epistemology.
It is not necessary as part of studying evolution today to ever read anything Darwin or Wallace ever wrote. Darwin was the founding genius of a branch of science, not a prophet. No one reveres him, or hesitates to contradict him in the particulars he was wrong about.
I know it’s basically impossible to convince the faithful of this, but evolution stands on its own merit, on current evidence, on the overwhelming plausibility of its paradigm, and the astonishing power of its predictions. No one outside the choir cares what Wallace thought of intelligent design. It’s like criticizing the Theory of Flight by citing an colleague of the Wright Brother’s. The very fact that this is considered an argument demonstrates amply the bankrupt nature of this line of “reasoning”.

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posted July 3, 2009 at 1:37 pm

Your name? By the way? Aren’t most people who write for magazines paid? Aren’t reporters, authors, journalists etc. paid to put down in words what they believe in? So, just be some one writes thoughts that are ‘other thinking’ than the status quo, does that mean they should not be paid to write it?
The scientists (Darwin the people who are part of the ‘branch of science’) that you referr to are or were paid to put their thoughts on paper or online (yes, I know Darwin is dead that is why I said are or were)?
If being paid for publishing his thoughts invalidates Klinghoffer, wouldn’t that invalidate those who write in support of evolutionism?
By the way, ever read this quote by Richard Lewontin:
We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. 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 (predetermined agenda) to material causes 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 an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. “Billions and Billions of Demons”
Hmmmm… a ‘proof’ of a science built around a priori adherence (‘we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations’) ?… I don’t know about you… I preferr to discover my world based on objective research… not research that will follow only one path because someone has decided that they will accept nothing but what they are setting out to prove and if they find evidence of something other they will reject it right out (‘for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door’)…
I find it interesting that you are reluctant to leave your actual name with your comments.

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David Klinghoffer

posted July 3, 2009 at 1:40 pm

Thanks for all your great comments, Marie!

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