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Swedish, Nature conservation freak, Passionate about Africa, Loving Peace, Politically neutral

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Natural science also needs to apologize

Malcolm Brown, a reverend at The Church of England, says that they owe naturalist Charles Darwin an apology. He states The Church of England misunderstand Darwin and "by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still". I find this as a sober insight, but I wonder why only Darwin gets an apology, and moreover when will natural science apologize to Alfred Russel Wallace.

Few people, biologist included, are familiar with Wallace and his great contribution to the field of evolutionary biology. He put forward his theory of natural selection together with, but independently of, Charles Darwin in 1858-1859. Additionally, it is said that it was Wallace who first introduced the terms "survival of the fittest" (taken from the economist Herbert Spencer's work) and "Darwinism" into evolutionary biology. The respect between Wallace and Darwin was also said to be mutual and vast.

Why is it than that The Church of England chose to just apologies to one of the two co-founders of evolutionary theory? Well it is probably due to the above depicted ignorance of Wallace significant contribution to this field of science. But what is the reason for Darwin becoming so famous and so tightly linked to evolution, whereas Wallace been completely forgotten? The answer may lie in Wallace inquisitive nature, which is said to have brought spiritualism, mysticism and alchemy into his life.

Wallace seems to never had ruled out a higher force (e.g. "God") from the equation of natural selection. I believe, based on my own experience, that this kind of thinking "outside the box" is the reason why natural science have refused to acknowledge his work to the levels of Darwin. Wallace's thoughts on evolution theory are simply regarded as less worthy to bring up, just because he was searching for answers to his questions outside the field of natural science.

I find it a bit tragic-comical when biologist complain of religious groups ignorance and intolerance to evolution theory. The situation is analogous to the ignorance and intolerance that natural science have shown Wallace during more than a century. Is it not time for an apology and reinstatement of Wallace as the co-founder of evolutionary theory?

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Martin said...

I don't think natural science need to apolpogize to Wallace if that's what you're suggesting. What would that change? They wouldn't aknowledge his work any more then they did before the apology. Maybe Wallace's ideas was only ignored by natural science through a process of natural selection where the best and most widely accepted scientific theory prevailed. Why should natural science not ignore something that is not part of natural science? if Wallace included non-scientific aspects it is no longer science.The scientific community did aknowledge his sceintific work though, especially Darwin, but as you say Wallace brought in mysticism.that and so called "out of the box" thinking relating to the non-scientific. There is no reason for natural science to apologize to Wallace simply because the scientific community did'nt accept and applaud his theories like they did with Darwin, That's life! In a way it's just like the concept of "survival of the fittest" put into practice, obviously some of wallace's theories were simply not fit for science as they ventured into the non-scientific. In addition Darwin was the one that further developed the ideas of natural selection and made the actual breaktrough. Sure, the work was partly based on Wallace's previous work but Darwin was the one that took natural science to a whole new level with origin of the species.

Darwin's work does not completely rule out a divine creator either. Darwins work just further minimizes the need for one. No apologies!

Geoffrey Goines said...


The apology I had in mind is of symbolic value. I just want science students to see Wallace as the co-founder of evolution theory.

As what goes for the evolution of evolutionary theory, Wallace did not included any meta phisical or sucha alike aspects in his early works (dont know if he did so in his later works). And this is my point, he has been punsihed for what he did outside the science "sphere".

Arne (afBeaver on wordpress) said...

I actually never heared of this guy until I got your comment. Checked him up on wikipedia and it seems like he discovered natural selection kind of independently from darwin. Kind of impressive!

It's pretty cool, but i don't think he needs an apology for not being as famous as darwin. From what i've read he seems to have chosen to give darwin the honor by himself.

And to your comment on my blogg about him being more open-minded than darwin: Some would call mysticism "open-mindedness". I would rather say superstition. In either case it has nothing to do with science.

Not to say it demotes his work in science. They just has nothing to do with each other.