Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace

The imaginary Darwin-Wallace affair


Introduction

Sometimes theists, in their attempts to discredit Charles Darwin, make the claim that the theory of the origin of species by means of natural selection had been discovered before Darwin by Alfred Russell Wallace [1], and that Darwin did not want to share any credit for "his theory", claiming it only his.

Another closely related claim is that Darwin was forced to publish his Origin of Species rushed, when Mr Wallace came up with his theory, in order to lock him out; and yet another is that Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker, the friends of Darwin who first published Darwin's and Wallace's papers, put Darwin's paper first to make a false priority for Darwin.

Even though the claims that Wallace came up with the theory before Darwin, that Darwin was working on Origins when Wallace published his findings and that Darwin and Wallace published their theories simultaneously, are clearly contradictive, they sometimes come from the same person (e.g. Does God exist? a debate between John P. Koster and Frank Zindler). This fact alone should be sufficient to debunk the claims, but since I think it is such an important issue, I cannot let the accusations remain unanswered.

I will here show that the christian claims about the Darwin-Wallace affair are unsubstantiated lies. I will give an account of the real story, and show that the discovery of the same principle, by two independent scientists make the theory of evolution more credible.

The true story

On his journey with The Beagle, Darwin noticed that species seemed to gradually evolve through fossile strata and geographical regions, and was quite astonished at the diversities of species of the Galapagos archipelago . His grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, and the French scientist Jean Pierre Lamarck, had previously come up with theories for how such an evolution had occured, but Darwin found them too speculative and in his Autobiography he even wrote that they had no effect on him, though he admitted they may have inspired him in his own theories (Darwin, 1958):
"He [Robert Edmund Grant, 2] one day, when we were walking together burst out in high admiration of Lamarck and his views on evolution. I listened in silent astonishment, and as far as I can judge, without any effect on my mind. I had previously read the Zoönomia of my grandfather, in which similar vievs are maintained, but without producing any effect on me. Nevertheless it is probable that the hearing rather early in my life such views maintained and praised may have favoured my upholding them under a different form in my Origin of Species."
(For a more complete speculation on Darwin's relation to his grandfather's work, see appendix one in Darwin, 1958)

After returning to England, Darwin started to collect data for producing his own theory for the mechanisms of evolution (Darwin, 1958):

"I worked on true Baconian principles, and without any theory collected facts on a wholesale scale, more especially with respect to domesticated productions, by printed enquiries, by conversation with skillful breeders and gardeners, and by extensive reading. (...) I soon percieved that selection was the keystroke of man's success in making useful races of animals and plants."
It was not until he read Malthus' work Population, that the mechanisms for natural selection -- that is, selection without any intelligent breeder involved -- occurred to him:
"In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic enquiry, I happened to read for amusement Malthus' On Population, and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everwhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable variations would be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species."
Darwin made a small sketch of this new principle but was, in his own words, "so anxious to avoid prejudice", that he determined not to do so at once. In the beginning of 1856 he began to work on his Origin of species, as adviced by his good friend, the famous geologist Charles Lyell, (who did not become a supporter of Darwin's theories himself until after the publishing of Origin).

Then in the summer of 1858 Alfred Russell Wallace sent an essay to Darwin, On the Tendency of Varieties to depart indifenitely from the Original Type. At the request from Lyell and Joseph Hooker [3] an extract from Darwin's works, together with a letter to Asa Gray, were added to the essay by Wallace and read for the Linnean society (Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society, 1858, p.45). At first Darwin was unwilling to add his article to Wallace's, because he thought Wallace might be hurt, and that his own writings were badly written (Darwin, 1958):

"I was at first very unwilling to consent [to have his own extract added], as I thought Mr Wallace might consider my doing so unjustifiable, for I did not then know how generous and noble was his disposition. The extract from my MS. and the letter to Asa Gray had neither been intended for publification, and were badly written. Mr Wallace's essay, on the other hand, was admirably expressed and quite clear."

Wallace had also hatched the theory of natural selection (though he did not use that word) after having been on an expedition and after reading Malthus' On Population and Lyell's Principles of Geology. (Huxley, 1964)

On the strong advice of Lyell and Hooker, Darwin set to work to prepare a shorter version of the Origin of Species. As he himself wrote, he did not do so in order to forecome Wallace (Darwin, 1958):

"I gained much by my delay in publishing from about 1839, when the theory was clearly concieved, to 1859; and I lost nothing by it, for I cared very little whether men attributed most originality to me or Wallace; and his essay no doubt aided in the reception of the theory."

The friendship between Darwin and Wallace

In 1855 Alfred Wallace published a paper On the Law which has regulated the Introduction of New Species (Ann. May. Nat. Hist. 1855, p.184), and that paper would start the correnspondence between him and Charles Darwin (Huxley, 1964). They would become the best of friends and, as can be seen in the quotes above, Darwin always credited Mr. Wallace for his work. In Origins he mentioned Wallace several times in the Introduction and other chapters (Darwin, 1859), and in the chapter "An historical sketch", which was added in the third edition (because Darwin was criticized by anti-evolutionists for not giving enough credit to other evolutionists), he wrote about Wallace (Darwin, 1861):
"The third volume of the 'Journal of the Linnean Society' contains papers, read July 1st, 1858, by Mr Wallace and myself, in which, as stated in the introductory remarks to this volume, the theory of Natural Selection is promulgated by Mr Wallace with admirable force and clearness."

Neither did Wallace have any contempt for Darwin. It was Wallace who coined the term "Darwinism" of the theory which he himself had independently discovered, and he was the one who first called Darwin "The Newton of Natural History" (Huxley, 1964). His admiration for Darwin can be showed by this quote by Sir J. Lubbock (Prehistoric times, 1865, p.479):

"[Mr Wallace] with characteristic unselfishness, ascribes it [the idea of natural selection] unreservedly to Mr. Darwin, although, as is well known, he struck out the idea independently, and published it, though not with the same elaboration, at the same time" (Appleman, 1979)

Independent birth of the same theory by two different people supports the plausibility of the theory

To me it seems that the independent birth of the same theory by two different people would increase the probability that they are right in their conclusions. It is quite unlikely that two different researchers would come up with the same theory if there was not strong evidence in nature that the process is real.

By comparison, it may be asked, if it is likely that somebody who has never read the first book of the Bible would go out in nature and conclude that the world was created in six days; that birds were created before reptiles; that plants came to be before the sun; that all fossiles in the world were created by one large flood which covered the entire earth; and that the kiwi bird, which can neither swim nor fly, came from mount Ararat in Armenia to New Zeeland and Australia, but couldn't make it to the other Middle East countries.

Summary

Darwin had come up with the idea of natural selection 20 years before Wallace. The two scientists came up with the idea independently. Both credited each other for the discovery, and they were really good friends. The Darwin-Wallace affair is a totally groundless lie created by creationists to discredit great evolutionists. Because they can't refute the theories they turn to made-up personal attacks. I encourage anybody to take some time to investigate creationist arguments like this one, and you will see that they are all as unsubstantiated.

That Darwin and Wallace came up with the same theories independently is great evidence that natural selection is something real in nature, while there is no objective evidence for the fundamentalist creation myth, which cannot be established without the book of Genesis.

Notes

  1. Alfred Russell Wallace, 1823-1913, naturalist and traveller, author of several works on evolution.
  2. Robert Edmund Grant, 1793-1874, Proffessor of comparative anatomy and zoology at London University 1827-1874.
  3. Joseph Hooker, 1817-1911, naturalist and traveller, fellow - and for five years president - of the Royal Society.

References

  1. Philip Appleman (editor), Darwin - a Norton critical edition, second edition, 1979
  2. Charles Darwin, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809-1882. With original omissions restored. Edited with appendix and notes by his grand-daughter Nora Barlow. The only complete edition., 1958
  3. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, first edition, 1859
  4. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, third edition, 1861 (The link is probably to the last (6:th) edition)
  5. Huxley, Sir Julian, The Emergence of Darwinism in Essays of a Humanist, 1964 (Reprinted as Evolutionary Humanism); Evolution after Darwin, ed. Sol Tax, 1960; originally published in Journal of the Linnean Society of London, vol. 44 (July 1958), p. 7
  6. Does God exist? a debate between John P. Koster and Frank Zindler

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