Today in Science History: Darwin Receives Wallace Manuscript

From About Darwin:

1858 June 18 Darwin received a paper from Alfred Russel Wallace, who was still at the Malay Archipelago. The paper was titled: “On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type.” Darwin was shocked! Wallace had come up with a theory of natural selection that was very similar to his own. The paper contained concepts like “the struggle for existence,” and “the transmutation of species.” Upon further examination Darwin saw that Wallace had some ideas about natural selection that he did not agree with. For one thing, Wallace tried to mix social morality with natural selection, proposing an upward evolution of human morals which would eventually lead to a socialist utopia (Darwin’s natural selection had no goal). What’s more, Wallace believed that cooperation in groups aided in the progress of mankind (Darwin saw natural selection as being influenced by competition). Finally, Wallace’s natural selection was guided by a higher spiritual power (there was no divine intervention in Darwin’s version).

From Today in Science History:

Alexander Wetmore (Born 18 Jun 1886; died 7 Dec 1978). Alexander Wetmore, whose first name was never used, became a prominent ornithologist and avian paleontologist, noted for his research on birds of the Western Hemisphere. Between 1910 and 1924, he worked for with the U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey, Department of Agriculture. In 1925, he was appointed Assistant Secretary, head of the Smithsonian’s U.S. National Museum. From 1945 to 1952, he served as the sixth Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Upon retiring, he continued his research at the Smithsonian Institution for another quarter century.

F.A.F.C. Went (Born 18 Jun 1863). F. A. F. C. Went, was professor of botany and director of the Botanical Garden at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands where he initiated the study of plant hormones and advanced the study of botany in the Netherlands. With a modern, well-equipped laboratory of botany, he attracted a great many visitors from all over the world, many of them famous in their own right. His son, Frits Warmolt Went followed in his footsteps researching plant hormones, and became well-known for studying and naming auxins.

3 thoughts on “Today in Science History: Darwin Receives Wallace Manuscript

  1. The quote from the About Darwin website is rather curious! I could not find any of the following in Wallace’s 1858 paper:-
    1) Wallace tried to mix social morality with natural selection, proposing an upward evolution of human morals which would eventually lead to a socialist utopia.
    2) Wallace believed that cooperation in groups aided in the progress of mankind.
    3) Wallace’s natural selection was guided by a higher spiritual power.

    It always helps to read the original version – see it here: http://wallacefund.info/the-1858-darwin-wallace-paper

  2. Hi George – you are very correct that I should have gone with the original source – thanks for your observation and the link to Wallace’s 1858 paper. Would the statement from About Darwin make sense were it talking about Wallace’s idea developed after the 1858 paper?

    http://resource.library.tmc.edu/darwin/blog/index.cfm/2008/6/18/July-1-1858
    http://monkeymindonline.blogspot.com/2008/06/darwin-wallace-thinking-about-rigor-in.html
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/wales/7461348.stm

  3. Hi Michael – Wallace became a Spiritualist latter on in his life and I do not doubt that at that time he believed in the things you listed. However, to quote from my website (http://wallacefund.info/faqs) “Wallace was a (vocal) believer in Spiritualism, but so too were many other intellectuals at that time, including Darwin’s cousin, the scientist Francis Galton. Many have sought to denigrate Wallace by mocking his belief in Spiritualism, which is ironic considering that that paragon of scientific virtue, Charles Darwin, held irrational beliefs in a fictitious deity (= God). Darwin rejected Christianity in the latter part of his life but apparently believed in the existence of a God until the end of his days, according to Darwin experts Janet Browne and James Moore. For more information see:-
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=9316654 (interview with Browne)
    http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/darwin/ (interview with Moore)
    A person’s scientific work should be judged on its merits – not in relation to other, possibly irrational views that that person may also hold/have held. Otherwise we would be on a slippery slope leading to the scientific equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition. Under this regime Sir Ronald Fisher, who Richard Dawkins once described as “the greatest of Darwin’s successors”, would probably have been metaphorically burnt at the stake for his fundamentalist Christian beliefs!”

    Note also that Darwin’s beliefs also changed as time went on – sometimes for the worse! For example Darwin downplayed the importance of natural selection in the fifth and sixth editions of Origin of Species, and instead promoted his discredited Lamarckian theory of Pangenesis.

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