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Wallace FAQs



Wallace’s Life and Significance:

Who was Alfred Russel Wallace?

Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) was one of the nineteenth century’s leading naturalists and explorers. He co-discovered with Charles Darwin the theory of evolution by natural selection, and he is one of the founders of the modern field of biogeography.

Why is Wallace important?

Alfred Russel Wallace is important for at least four reasons. First, he co-discovered natural selection and prompted Darwin to finally rush his Origin of Species to press. Second, Wallace is perhaps one of the modern world’s greatest scientific adventurer explorers. When Wallace returned from his eight-year exploration of Southeast Asia and the Malay Archipelago he wrote The Malay Archipelago in 1869, regarded by The Dictionary of Scientific Biography as “one of the finest scientific travel books ever written.” A third reason for Wallace’s importance is his work in biogeography. His Geographical Distribution of Animals (1876) is one of the seminal works in the field. A fourth reason Wallace is important is that this co-discoverer of natural selection, the workhorse of Darwinian evolution, diverged from Darwin’s methodological naturalism (i.e., the notion that scientists must invoke only natural processes functioning via unbroken natural laws in nonteleological ways) to propose a theory of evolution defined by intelligence and design.

Why isn’t Wallace remembered like Darwin?

The reasons are complex but largely related to the complete and sweeping dominance of Darwinian evolution. From the very beginning, when the theory of natural selection was unveiled to the scientific community at the Linnean Society on July 1, 1858, the entire program was engineered by Darwin’s colleagues and close friends, Joseph Hooker and Charles Lyell, to give their friend priority. When Origin was published a little over a year later modern evolutionary theory became Darwin’s theory. Another of Darwin’s allies, his “Bulldog” defender Thomas Henry Huxley, sought to solidify the theory by managing its every promotional and public aspect so as to gain paradigmatic status for it within the scientific community. In order to facilitate this end, Huxley composed the X Club, a group of eight kindred spirits: Huxley (the leader), Joseph Hooker, John Tyndall, George Busk, Edward Frankland, Herbert Spencer, Thomas Hirst, and John Lubbock.  Under Huxley’s skillful management the X Club ensured the success of Darwinism, establishing it as the preeminent theory of biological life first in England and later throughout all of Europe. As if this weren’t enough to consign Wallace to obscurity, his insistence upon using the term “Darwinism” in the context of his own very different theory tended only to cause confusion and misunderstanding. Today, when Wallace is mentioned at all it is usually through a decidedly Darwinian lens.

What are the implications of forgetting Wallace?

The chief implication of forgetting Wallace is that all evolution becomes one-dimensional: materialistic and reductionist. Wallace’s theory of intelligent evolution, an evolution imbued with purposive design, is a very different kind of proposition. The other serious implication of a Darwin-only evolution is that, unfortunately, as the term evolution is now synonymous with science, science becomes synecdoche for Darwinism. Science then becomes not simply a search after truth in the natural world but rather a search after only those truths amenable to methodological naturalism, the philosophy that undergirds Darwinism (see question # 2).

What is the story of Wallace's Life?

Alfred Russel Wallace was born near the English/Welsh border town of Usk on January 8, 1823 to Mary Ann and Thomas Vere Wallace. Thomas, though trained in the law apparently never practiced, leaving the family struggling financially and with unstable housing. By 1836 Thomas removed Alfred from the local school to go off to London with his brother John, six years his senior and intent on serving as an apprentice carpenter with a London builder. There Wallace was introduced to some of the most radical working-class ideas of the day at the London Mechanic’s Institute. Young Alfred became enamored of the ideas of Robert Owen. Owen blamed the criminal behavior of the lower classes on the politicians and the clergy who aided and abetted them. Owen called for improved working conditions, education for the working youth, and the inculcation of a sound work ethic and moral principles at the workplace. These ideas would never completely leave Alfred. After some years as an apprentice land surveyor with his oldest brother William, Wallace began a self-study of botany with an inexpensive field guide. Wallace expanded his interests to include insects when he met Henry Walter Bates at Leicester. They were both soon bitten by the “bug” of adventure (figuratively and literally) and in spring of 1848 they left England to investigate the flora and fauna of South America. Wallace returned to England in October of 1852. After a few years he again embarked upon another expedition for rare specimens to bring back and sell to an eager British museum market and wealthy private collectors. This time he ventured to the Malay Archipelago. Having read Robert Chamber’s Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation in 1844, Wallace was determined to unlock the mystery of transmutation. He had failed to do so while in the Amazon River Basin, but in the Malay Archipelago, while on the island of Gilolo, he discovered the principle of natural selection during an attack of malarial fever. When Wallace finally posted his letter "On the Tendency of Varieties to depart from the Original Type" to Darwin on March 9, 1858, from the Island of Ternate, Wallace’s seminal statement on natural selection became forever known as the “Ternate Letter.” With twelve years of field experience and having amassed a staggering collection of 125,660 specimens from the Malay Archipelago, and some 10,000 known specimens from South America (the latter total is incomplete as many of Wallace’s specimens were lost at sea on his South American return voyage), Wallace’s letter made him famous as the co-discover of natural selection. At one time part of the Darwin camp, Wallace committed “treason” when he suggested in 1869 that the special attributes of humanity (ability to reason abstractly, ability to create and enjoy music, humor, etc.) were the result of some Overruling Intelligence. Darwin was appalled. Yet Wallace continued to make major scientific contributions, especially in the field of biogeography. Wallace also continued to develop his ideas about intelligent design in nature in his books Darwinism (1889), Man's Place in the Universe (1903), and his grand evolutionary synthesis, The World of Life(1910). Wallace died at his home “Old Orchard” at Broadstone on Friday, November 7, 1913, at 9:25 in the morning. While Darwin’s X Club forces kept a sure and certain distance from Wallace after 1869, his continued contributions to biology earned him recognition. In 1868 he received the Royal Geographical Society’s Founder’s Medal. In 1892 he received the Linnean Society’s Gold Medal. In 1908 he was awarded the prestigious Order of Merit and the Royal Society’s Copley Medal. At his death, Wallace had become a Fellow of the Royal Society. The Darwin-Wallace Medal, which the medal’s namesake received on the fiftieth anniversary of the reading of their joint papers (July 1, 1908), is still given by the Linnean Society.

What was Wallace’s educational background?

Almost all of Wallace education was self-taught. He attended a grammar school as youth, but lack of funds pulled him from the school and into an early apprenticeship. Wallace also attended the Mechanic’s Institute of London where he imbued the utopian idealism of Robert Owen and other radical working-class ideas.

How have historians viewed the life of Wallace?

By and large historians have tended to view Wallace through a rather Whiggish lens. That is, they tend to interpret Wallace’s position unsympathetically and with a presentist eye. Since all biological history is filtered through the paradigm of the victor, Wallace is made to seem idiosyncratic and opposed to scientific progress. There are a few others, equally unhelpful, who attempt to strip all theism and teleology out of Wallace and have him out-Darwin Darwin. Neither examine Wallace in his entirety but rather skew the resources they use to support their a priori preferences. That said, biographies by Martin Fichman and Ross A. Slotten published in 2004 (see Resources page) have done much to clarify the life of this complex historic figure in the history of science.

What is the current state of scholarship on Wallace?

Aside from Martin Fichman’s The Elusive Victorian (2004), there has been little interest in or extensive examinations of Wallace’s natural theology or his views on intelligent design. Two exceptions are Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life (2011) and Alfred Russel Wallace's Theory of Intelligent Evolution: How Wallace's World of Life Challenged Darwinism (2008). It is hoped that the present web site contributes substantially to viewing Wallace in his entirety and to understanding his relevance for today.

Since Wallace based one of his chief objections to the explanatory power of natural selection on the uniqueness of the human mind, is modern biology or neuroscience any closer to explaining the human mind by Darwinian principles than in the Victorian era?

No. All attempts to explain the human mind by wholly materialistic means have fallen short. Innovations in genetics, Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanning, and other aspects of neuroscience prompted the U.S. Congress to declare the 1990s “the Decade of the Brain.” While the decade did produce major advances in neurology, some philosophers disguised as “scientists” felt that the door to purely materialistic explanations for the human brain, and hence the mind, were about to be unlocked. But as physician James Le Fanu has recently pointed out in his book   Why Us?, "the electrical activity of the material brain and the non-material mind (of thoughts and ideas) as two quite different things might seem so self-evident as to be scarcely worth commenting on. But for neuroscientists the question of how the brain’s electrical activity translates into thoughts and sensations was precisely what needed explaining—and their failure to do so has come to haunt them. So, for everything that the Decade of the Brain undoubtedly achieved, nonetheless, as John Maddox, editor of Nature, would acknowledge at its close: ‘We seem as far from understanding [the brain], as we were a century ago. Nobody understands how decisions are made or how imagination is set free’." Maddox’s statement still stands today. Even though evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker has showered the literature with speculations, wishful thinking, and self-fulfilling scenarios on how man’s hominid ancestors might have developed a human mind, the only thing that clearly has not “evolved” is an adequate explanation for the human mind by means of natural selection.


Wallace and Intelligent Design:

What is Wallace’s relationship with intelligent design (ID)?

Wallace is best seen as a precursor to modern ID. Wallace’s elaborate rebuttal to the Copernican Principle, the idea that the earth is an inconsequential speck in the universe without special meaning or significance in Man’s Place in the Universe, and his detailed representations of design in the complexity of the cell and similar examples found in The World of Life clearly anticipate many similar arguments within the ID movement. Wallace came to his ideas through inference and logic; today ID theorists have modern developments in information theory and the DNA code that have allowed for the advancement of ID in ways Wallace could never have imagined.

What is the simplest definition of intelligent evolution?

Intelligent evolution is directed, detectably designed, and purposeful common descent.

Is Wallace’s intelligent evolution identical with ID?

No. Wallace believed that natural laws were used by spirit beings (at times he referred to them as “angels” at others simply as “minds”) to effect teleological ends directed by an eternal First Cause that he variously called an “Overruling Intelligence,” “Supreme Mind,” or “Infinite Being.” Wallace rejected the idea of a first cause in the natural world since all detectible causes were, for Wallace, produced through efficient causes. But these detectible causes were directive, purposeful, and resulted in a universe at macro and micro levels that evince design. In this sense Wallace’s intelligent evolution is infused with genuine theism. By contrast, modern ID makes no claims as to the nature of the designer, only that chance and randomness cannot account for the complexity of nature. Wallace and ID intersect at the points of design and their delectability and the resultant teleology that they imply; they diverge at Wallace’s attempts to explain the nature of the designer, something about which ID makes no particular claims.

What did Wallace’s scientific colleagues think of intelligent evolution?

Most rejected it. But Charles Lyell, the great geologist to whom both Darwin and Wallace owed so much of their theories, never gave Darwin the approval he so desperately sought. When Darwin complained to Lyell of Wallace’s defection, Lyell replied, “I rather hail Wallace’s suggestion that there may be a Supreme Will and Power which may not abdicate its functions of interference, but may guide the forces and laws of Nature.”

What are the implications of Wallace’s theory of intelligent evolution in the classroom?

Wallace’s proves that more not less evolution needs to find its way into the science classroom. In discussing evolution teachers should explain that the term itself can have many meanings and need not necessarily be interpreted through a Darwinian lens. Through the theories and careers of Darwin and Wallace students can be led to understand that natural selection and common descent can lead to dramatically different conclusions regarding their relative explanatory powers and implications. Darwin and Wallace can be excellent opportunities to foster genuine discussion about the nature and processes of biological life and indeed the nature of science itself.

Eugenie Scott, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education, has called intelligent design a “science stopper.” How does Wallace’s life and career disprove this claim?

On its face the claim makes little sense. It assumes that anyone who proposes that nature has certain features that are designed somehow (almost magically) becomes unable to engage in scientific inquiry. Yet this belies the history of science itself. Kepler, Copernicus, and Newton all assumed law in nature to have a law giver and to have been designed. Wallace gives clear proof too against the “science stopper” charge. If ID was a “science stopper” then all of Wallace’s scientific work would have ceased after the spring of 1869. This is not true. Wallace’s great work on biogeography, The Geographical Distribution of Animals, was published in 1876, and its sequel Island Life, which Darwin considered Wallace’s best book, was published in 1880. As it stands, Scott’s claim is largely polemical and inflammatory with little historical support.

What are the implications of Wallace’s career and ideas for the public discourse on ID?

The primary implication is that the all too familiar dividing lines—creationism versus evolution, science versus religion, creationism versus science—are unhistorical and inaccurate. The real issue isn’t between any of these things but whether science can be free to pursue the evidence wherever it leads or whether science must be bound a priori to a philosophy of methodological naturalism. Wallace demonstrates that from the beginning modern evolutionary theory need not entail materialism or methodological naturalism. Darwin believed evolution was blind, guided only by chance and necessity; Wallace disagreed and argued for a theory of intelligent evolution. Rather than turning the discourse into a caricature of stereotypes a real and honest discussion needs to take place to decide who was right. It cannot be both.


Wallace and Charles Darwin:

What was Wallace’s relationship with Darwin?

Wallace and Darwin always had a cordial relationship. Wallace was very magnanimous in his grateful acknowledgment (after the fact) of the joint reading of their papers at the Linnean Society. Darwin, for his part, never forgot Wallace’s generous spirit in the affair. However, when Wallace proposed an “Overruling Intelligence” to account for the complex mind of Homo sapiens, Darwin clearly was appalled. “But I groan over Man—you write like a metamorphosed (in retrograde direction) naturalist,” Darwin wailed, “and you the author of the best paper [referring to Wallace’s ‘On the Origin of Human Races and the Antiquity of Man’] that ever appeared in the Anthropological Review!  Eheu! Eheu!  Eheu!—Your miserable friend, C. Darwin.” Yet when Darwin became aware of Wallace’s dire financial straits in 1879 he tried to get him a government pension. Though his initial plea fell on deaf ears, a later effort was launched in 1881 that secured Wallace an annual pension of £200. Nevertheless, Wallace’s defection from Darwin’s ranks made him a permanent outsider. It is important to realize that Darwin’s revulsion at Wallace’s “heresy” against the Darwinian paradigm was not scientific, it was metaphysical. Thus, those who claim that Darwinism has no metaphysical commitments need to explain Darwin’s horror at Wallace’s proposal. In turn, Wallace merely replied, “It is really quite pathetic how much he felt difference of opinion from his friends.”

Did Darwin “steal” Wallace’s theory of natural selection and launch a surreptitious campaign to take credit for it?

This has been a common accusation. There are two problems with this idea. First, most conspiracy theories of this type rely upon a speculative interpretation of the British mail system, insisting that Darwin “must have” received the Ternate letter well before Darwin’s stated date of June 18, 1858. There is little to prove this assertion. Secondly, and more importantly, the charge of intellectual theft or plagiarism assumes the theories were identical in the first place. This, however, was not true. Darwin’s theory is more heavily focused upon individual struggle while Wallace’s tends to concern itself more with populations and groups. Also, Darwin always believed animal breeding could be used to demonstrate natural selection in action. Wallace always disagreed, arguing that such examples were examples of artificial rather than natural selection. That said, there is no doubt that Darwin’s friends, Hooker and Lyell, orchestrated the readings of the papers at the Linnean Society on July 1, 1858, so as to leave little doubt that Darwin had priority in the matter.

As theories that would “revolutionize” society, how does Wallace’s theory compare with Darwin’s?

While Darwin’s theory clearly replaced William Paley’s “divine Watchmaker” view of nature as espoused in his Natural Theology (1802), the degree to which Darwin's evolutionary theory actually “revolutionized” the Victorian world in which he lived is questionable. On the one hand Darwinism redefined “science” in terms of stark materialism. On the other hand it provided a secular creation myth for a society that had been becoming increasingly secularized since the so-called “Enlightenment.” In many ways Darwin merely ratified the skepticism of David Hume and the positivism of Auguste Comte. Darwin’s theory also tended to ratify the preconceptions of race and class common to his Anglophilic world. Darwin’s emphasis on individual struggle caused Oswald Spengler to conclude that the theory reeked of the English factory. Darwin’s emphasis on pangenesis and his belief in the inheritance of acquired characteristics further lent itself well to the extrapolations that his cousin Francis Galton would make in forming eugenics theory. Wallace’s views were quite different. Wallace opposed Darwin’s pangenesis and eugenics, proposed equal rights for women, and viewed native peoples as having the same intrinsic attributes of any European.

What was Wallace’s view of science and how did it differ from Darwin’s view?

Wallace believed that science should be a fair and impartial search for the truth in nature. As such, Wallace accepted testimony from eye-witness accounts as having some evidentiary weight in the application of scientific method along with empirical data. Darwin was hidebound to methodological naturalism (see question #2). Thus, Wallace’s view of science included the standard processes of hypothesis construction, testing, and repeatability, but was not restricted to only material explanations for natural phenomenon. It should be pointed out that methodological naturalism is not itself scientific; it is a philosophical position about how science should be pursued.

 

Was Wallace a Darwinist?

Wallace always claimed to be a Darwinist. This was largely because he tended to define Darwinism solely in terms of natural selection. In basing natural selection firmly on the principle of utility, Wallace believed he was extending and strengthening Darwinism. What Wallace failed to understand was that by limiting its application to exclude the origin of life, sentience in animals, and the intellect of humankind he effectively undercut the main purpose of Darwin’s theory, namely, to explain everything in naturalistic terms. So the best answer to this question is that Wallace always insisted he was a Darwinist but his actual theory and its applications were quite different and deserve a different designation. Intelligent evolution is far more descriptive of Wallace’s theory than is Darwinism.

Wallace has been accused of being an “ultra-Darwinist.” What does this mean and why is it false?

This was a charge leveled against Wallace by George John Romanes who attempted, after Darwin’s death, to assume the role of spokesman for Darwinian theory. He did this by claiming that Wallace was a “strict selectionist,” that is, he (unlike Darwin) refused to call upon any subsidiary theory such as pangenesis or sexual selection in support of natural selection. This charge is wrongheaded insofar as it presumes to count only naturalistic explanations as those that count. In fact, Wallace profoundly limited the action of natural selection (see question #21). Much later this charge was resurrected by Stephen Jay Gould. For why Gould was just as wrong as Romanes, see Gould's Fatal Flaw.


Wallace's Religious Views:

Was Wallace a Christian?

No. Wallace rejected Scripture, judgment, and hence redemption or the need for a redeemer. Nevertheless, Wallace was sympathetic to the theistic position generally and was not hostile to Christian spirituality. His whole point in writing Man’s Place in the Universe and The World of Life was to reconcile science and religion against rank materialism.

What were Wallace’s religious views?

As discussed in question #23, Wallace was not a Christian. But neither was he a pantheist or, as Martin Fichman claims, a precursor to modern process philosophy or theology. Henri Bergson, to whom Alfred North Whitehead (who first developed process philosophy) acknowledged a tremendous debt, left Wallace unimpressed.  In a letter to Oxford University’s Hope Professor of Zoology, Edward Bagnall Poulton, dated May 28, 1912, the aged Wallace admitted to not having read Bergson but added that from what he understood, the French philosopher’s “vague ideas” such as “an internal development force” seemed to him “of no real value as an explanation of Nature.”  For Wallace the Overruling Intelligence or Mind worked “by and through the primal forces of nature” not in them and certainly not, Wallace added, by some vague “law of sympathy.”  Wallace confessed to Poulton that he didn’t think he could read such a book. Some think Wallace adhered to something akin to James Lovelock’s and Lynn Margulis’s Gaia hypothesis, the notion of the earth and a complex, interrelated “living” biosphere. The problem here is that the Gaia hypothesis is not teleological in the sense Wallace understood the term, i.e., as imbued with intentionality and purposeful foresight. For Wallace, teleology was something much more than an organic self-directedness.. To get Wallace’s ideas to fit you essentially have to erase most of Wallace writing after April of 1869, especially Man’s Place in the Universe and The World of Life whose main themes deal with teleology in the universe and in nature. Given these facts it is best to view Wallace’s religious views as a non-Christian theism operating as a creative hierarchy of spirit beings.

Was Wallace a creationist?

It depends on what one means by “creationist.” If by creationist one means a particular set of beliefs about the creation of the universe and the organic world including mankind based upon a particular reading of Scripture, then no. If, however, the term is broadened to include the more modest assertion that there was at some point in earth’s history a definite point of creation of organic life, then yes, Wallace was a creationist. Once asked what his idea of the origin of life was, Wallace replied “Well, it is the very simple, plain, and old-fashioned one, that there was at some stage in the history of the earth, after the cooling process, a definite act of creation. Something came from the outside. Power was exercised from without. In a word, life was given to the earth. All the errors of those who have distorted the thesis of evolution into something called, inappropriately enough, Darwinism, have arisen from the supposition that life is a consequence of organisation. This is unthinkable.” (See “New Thoughts on Evolution” [PDF])

How did the religious community respond to Wallace’s theory?

Because Wallace’s intelligent evolution so easily fit within a larger theistic framework, many theologians of Wallace’s generation heartily supported his ideas. John Magens Mello, vicar of Mapperly and fellow of the Geologist Society, for example, was captivated by The World of Life and published an essay, The Mystery of Life and Mind (1911) giving Wallace’s book the highest praise. He saw no problem with having the natural world guided by intermediary beings. “To whatever extent any may be disposed to accept or reject these views [of Wallace’s] upon Creation, we must all of us admit, if we do not set aside the teaching of Holy Scriptures, that there are in the Universe Spiritual Intelligences besides Man; Beings over and over again referred to in the Bible; and we are here taught that by God’s appointment they have special duties and work to perform in connection with this World and with us Men. Our Lord Himself speaks to us in no uncertain terms of the Ministry of Angels, and of the interest they take in Human life.” Similarly, James Orr, writing in the influential collection The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth (1917) essentially reiterated Wallace’s intelligent evolution as the only conception of evolution “compatible with all the facts of science.” “If this new evolutionary conception is accepted,” Orr insisted, “most of the difficulties which beset the Darwinian theory fall away.” But as Orr and indeed Wallace himself failed to fully appreciate, Darwinism was at heart a theory wedded to a metaphysical commitment to materialism and methodological naturalism. Orr was correct, all the problems of the Darwinian theory “fall away,” but so does the Darwinian theory itself. Unfortunately, over time these theologians’ voices were drowned out by two different extremes; one adamantly opposed to any and all evolutionary theory, and another that applied assorted intellectual and theological gymnastics to make Darwinism an acceptable accommodation to their respective theologies.

How should we view Wallace’s relationship with spiritualism?

That Wallace was an ardent spiritualist says less about Wallace than the times in which he lived. It is easy to dismiss Wallace as a “spiritualist crank” but the fact is spiritualism had caught the attention and at times devotion of other important scientists of the day. In Britain there were physicists William Crookes and John Strutt (1904 Nobel laureate Lord Rayleigh), mathematician Oliver Joseph Lodge, physician/novelist Arthur Conan Doyle, and psychologist Frederic William Henry Myers; in America there was noted psychologist William James and the lesser known but important James Hervey Hyslop, chemist Robert Hare, and inventor and assistant editor of Scientific American John B. Fairbanks. In France there was 1913 Nobel Prize-winner in medicine Charles Richet. It is wrong to connect Wallace’s intelligent evolution theory simplistically to his conversion to spiritualism. Rather, it is more appropriate to view his spiritualism as a means of negating Darwin’s insistence upon methodological naturalism. Wallace believed that the testimony of reliable witnesses based upon detailed observations should also count in the jury of confirmation. As historian Peter Lamont has pointed out in The History Journal (Dec. 2004), when scientists, stage conjurers, and assorted skeptics all failed to expose any chicanery on the part of Daniel Dunglas Home, the Victorian era’s best known medium, the mainstream scientific community simply dismissed it as “subjective experience.” This is not to vindicate spiritualism; it is merely to suggest that the movement posed a significant problem for scientists attempting to establish a meaningful discourse of objectivity and a normative basis for scientific inquiry based upon quantifiable empirical data on the one hand and those reliant upon personal testimony based upon experience and observation on the other. Seen in this light, the contention over spiritualism is better viewed as an effort to negotiate precisely what counted as legitimate evidence rather than as a collection of aberrant eccentrics who merely provide historians comic relief in the otherwise serious and steady march of scientific progress.


Wallace's Social and Political Views:

What was Wallace’s view of humanity and did it differ from Darwin’s view?

Wallace viewed Homo sapiens as a special creation. Darwin believed humans to be related to animals, different in degree but not in kind. While both believed humans were descended from ape-like ancestors, Wallace was convinced that those very attributes that make humans genuinely human—their intellect, morality, aesthetic sense, even their soul—was unique. For Wallace there was a special act of creation with the origin of life, then, as ape-like hominids emerged from the processes of natural selection, something unaccountable by the mere principle of utility happened. “I hold that there was a second act of creation,” insisted Wallace, “a giving to man, when he had emerged from his ape-like ancestry, of a spirit or a soul. Nothing in evolution can account for the soul of man. The difference between man and the other animals is unbridgeable.”

What did Wallace think of the eugenics movement?

Wallace opposed all efforts at social “improvements” by lending natural selection a “helping hand.” Wallace opposed positive eugenics, such as encouraging marriage between the most “fit,” as useless and unscientific. Calling it “simply the meddlesome interference of an arrogant scientific priestcraft,” Wallace was afraid it would easily lead to negative eugenics, the sterilization or perhaps even the elimination of individuals deemed “unfit.” Calling  it “in every way dangerous and detestable,” Wallace concluded, “I trust my readers will oppose any legislation on this subject by a chance body of elected persons who are totally unfitted to deal with far less complex problems than this one, and to which they are sure to bungle disastrously.”

Wallace declared himself a socialist in 1890. Why and what is its implication?

As a young man Wallace had seen poverty and the intrusive and oppressive effects of powerful elites over farmers in the implementation of the Enclosure Acts in rural Wales. He also witnessed firsthand working class life and conditions apprenticing with his brother in London. Those experiences stayed with Wallace all his life. But Wallace’s brand of socialism was based upon social cooperation. He was wary of Marxist militancy and government coercion. In fact, Wallace’s opposition to vaccination (see question #31) and eugenics (see question #20) were both premised upon a preference for individual liberty over government mandates and coercive policy enactments. There is a libertarian strain in much of Wallace’s political philosophy. Nonetheless, the broader implication is that one’s science (i.e. Wallace’s strong teleology and inference to design in nature) belies stereotyping intelligent design advocates as religious conservatives. ID is, in fact, politically neutral. For more see Horkheimer on Darwinism.

Wallace led the anti-vaccination campaign in England. Does this mean he was opposed to science?

No. The history of England’s vaccination laws is complex, but in 1867 authorities mandated compliance. Parents who failed or refused to vaccinate their children could be prosecuted. William Tebb enlisted Wallace in the anti-vaccination campaign in 1884. For Tebb, vaccination was unproven and placed a heavier burden of compliance upon poor working-class citizens than those better off. Wallace’s own investigations comported with physicians Charles Creighton and Edgar Crookshank who were skeptical of simplistic interpretations of vaccination’s effectiveness. Data for the vaccination status of 30% to 70% of persons recorded as dying from smallpox was unknown. Because the debate was based upon actuarial statistics (inferential statistics being unavailable at the time), both sides could interpret the data as they pleased since the results were inconclusive for vaccination’s general efficacy. In the face of inconclusive evidence, Wallace argued that liberty rather than coercion should prevail. The debate between the vaccinationists and anti-vaccinationists helped to clarify the nature of the evidence necessary to make large-scale epidemiological claims. Wallace’s objections were not religious but scientific. He felt, as did others, that the statistical arguments were simply not persuasive enough to force compliance. In 1898 Parliament passed a conscientious objection exemption from the law.