Monday, June 29, 2009

The Forgotten Alfred Russel Wallace

There is an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution by Michael Casey detailing the life and times of the other author of the theory of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace. Casey writes:

"Excellent. This is the actual spot," he yells.

It is on this site, in a long-gone thatched hut, that Alfred Russel Wallace is believed to have spent weeks in 1855 writing a seminal paper on the theory of evolution. Yet he is largely unknown outside scientific circles today, overshadowed by Charles Darwin, whom most people credit as the father of a theory that explains the origins of life through how plants and animals evolve.

Now, in the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, a growing number of academics and amateur historians are rediscovering Wallace. Their efforts are raising debate over exactly what Wallace contributed to the theory of evolution, and what role, if any, the spiritual world plays in certain aspects of natural selection.

Beccaloni, a 41-year-old British evolutionary biologist with London's Natural History Museum, is on a quest to return Wallace to what he sees as his rightful place in history. He and Fred Langford Edwards, a British artist making an audiovisual project about Wallace, are retracing the scientist's eight-year trip around Southeast Asia.

Unlike Wallace, Darwin spent two decades developing his theory of natural selection and had far more evidence to back it up, as presented in his defining work, "The Origin of Species," published 150 years ago. But Wallace reached the same conclusion before Darwin published his findings, and Beccaloni contends that Wallace deserves equal billing.

Wallace was a fascinating man and is the subject of a chapter called The Man Who Knew Islands, from the excellent book, The Song of the Dodo, by David Quammen. Darwin was pressured by Charles Lyell to publish his findings once he found out that Wallace also had come to the same conclusion. Lyell feared that Darwin would be scooped.

Sort of deflates the bubble of those who use the term "Darwinist" doesn't it?

1 comment:

  1. Sort of deflates the bubble of those who use the term "Darwinist" doesn't it?

    Next time someone referst to me as a Darwinist, I'll put on an air of umbrage and huff, "I'll thank you to refer to me as a Wallacian, if you please!"