ARTICLE: Darwin’s error? Patrick Matthew and the catastrophic nature of the geologic record

In Historical Biology: A Journal of Paleobiology:

Darwin’s error? Patrick Matthew and the catastrophic nature of the geologic record

Michael Rampino

Abstract In 1831, the Scottish horticulturalist Patrick Matthew (1790-1874) published a clear statement of the law of natural selection in an Appendix to his book Naval Timber and Arboriculture, which both Darwin and Wallace later acknowledged. Matthew, however, was a catastrophist, and he presented natural selection within the contemporary view that relatively long intervals of environmental stability were episodically punctuated by catastrophic mass extinctions of life. Modern studies support a similar picture of the division of geologic time into long periods of relative evolutionary stability ended by sudden extinction events. Mass extinctions are followed by recovery intervals during which surviving taxa radiate into vacated niches. This modern punctuated view of evolution and speciation is much more in line with Matthew’s episodic catastrophism than the classical Lyellian-Darwinian gradualist view.

6 thoughts on “ARTICLE: Darwin’s error? Patrick Matthew and the catastrophic nature of the geologic record

  1. Dr Rampino
    Howard Minnick here…Patrick Matthew’s 3rd great grandson… who called you out of the blue about a year ago. Have you heard and read anything written on Patrick Matthew by a person named Hugh Dower ??? He also seems to be a proponet of P.M.’s work and a believer that Darwin knew of P.M.’s work On Naval Timber long before he disavowed having any knowledge of it. He also seems to be joined with a growing number of others in a bielief that Darwin was easily light fingered in lifting ideas from others…especially his own close collegue’s usually waiting til after they passed. He sites a few comparisons in the sturctural text of some of Darwins writings. and compares them to the same thoughts written in P.M.’s works. I found it intriguing but have only scratched the serface on the matter.

  2. Here are some articles of note by Hugh Dower
    Darwin’s Guilty Secret
    Darwin’s Dark Side
    An Evolution for Evolution

    …and by the way I’m a little Dyslexic and ADD… so my spelling sometimes suffers a wee bit… like the wording of structural in previous post.

  3. Thank you for the info. I did not know about Dower’s articles.

    If someone had a sentence that sounded like special relativity buried in a text two decades before Einstein proposed and developed it, would there be all this fuss and holler? Likely not. But because Darwin is a figure who is constantly attacked, folks look for these little things.

    Dower in Darwin’s Guilty Secret states that this issue is about “weighing up the evidence, not about pre-conceived notions.” But what kind of evidence is assuming that missing pages have particular content when that can’t be known? Or that Darwin used similar words and language? Or a date inscribed on a book? If he did lift ideas, I doubt he was being devious, but bringing together ideas from all sorts of sources. And as much in the history of science, some stand on the shoulder of giants (or lesser-knowns!).

    Until actual evidence is turned up from archives or personal collections, I’ll consider the Matthew issue as, in Dower’s own words, “intriguing, but hardly conclusive.”

  4. The point is that Darwin claimed in both the Gardeners Chronicle (1860) and in every edition of the origin of species – from the second edition onward that neither he nor any other naturalist that he was aware of had read Matthew’s ideas. In other words – both Darwin and Wallace claimed to have independently (of Matthew and one another) discovered and replicated Matthew’s hypothesis of the “natural law of selection”. I have irrefutable proof that 7 naturalists read it and that 3 of those were in Darwin’s inner circle. As for Wallace, he is closely linked to one of those 3. Both Darwin and Wallace stole Matthew’s hypothesis and then lied when they claimed it as their own. We are celebrating the two greatest science fraudsters of all time. I will be publishing my findings very soon.

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