Monday, July 07, 2008

Alfred Russel Wallace, Evolution and Faith

Jonathan Rosen has written an interesting piece for USA Today on the role that faith played in the life of Alfred Russel Wallace and how it differed from that of Darwin. Since Wallace was the co-inventor of natural selection theory, Darwin saw a problem. He writes:

For Darwin, the theory of evolution became part of his increasing identification of the blind materialist processes of a soulless world. (Though it is worth noting that Darwin lost his faith in God not as the result of his own theory but after the death of his beloved 10-year-old daughter, Annie.) For Wallace, the theory of evolution became not the end of religious inquiry but the beginning of it. Without ever renouncing the theory of evolution, he felt that human beings were evolving toward a higher purpose; he saw evolution as part of a larger plan and felt that human beings were too complex morally, emotionally and intellectually to be accounted for by mere biology. When Darwin got wind of Wallace's growing theism, he wrote in distress to Wallace: "I hope you have not murdered too completely your own and my child." (links in original)

It is interesting to note that neither Darwin nor Wallace were racist in their formulation of natural selection and that, while natural selection may have had different underpinnings for each of them, they both felt that all humans were created equal. He closes with this nugget:

It is foolish to be arguing about creation vs. evolution in the classroom, given the mountain of evidence for evolution by means of natural selection. But talking about Darwin and Wallace together, and the vastly different conclusions they drew from their theory of evolution, makes a great deal of sense in this fractured and contentious moment. We need them both.

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