Alfred Russel Wallace: Celebrating the Early Days of Natural Selection or Intelligent Design? - Evolution News & Views

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Alfred Russel Wallace: Celebrating the Early Days of Natural Selection or Intelligent Design?

There's a longstanding debate among scholars about whether it was Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, or someone else who first conceived of the idea of natural selection. Many credit Alfred Russel Wallace, who with Darwin co-presented their theory of natural selection to the Linnean Society of London, exactly 150 years ago today. (For a nice news piece on this topic, see here.) Some people celebrated this event by proclaiming, as Johnjoe McFadden did yesterday in the London Guardian, that "Darwin and Wallace destroyed the strongest evidence left in the 19th century for the existence of a deity." Darwin might have agreed, since he once wrote that "[t]here seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows. Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws." But few seem to remember that, contrary to Darwin, Wallace actually believed that it was possible to detect design in nature. As Wallace wrote:

"[T]here seems to be evidence of a Power which has guided the action of those laws [of organic development] in definite directions and for special ends. And so far from this view being out of harmony with the teachings of science, it has a striking analogy with what is now taking place in the world..."

(Alfred Russel Wallace, An Anthology of His Shorter Writings 33-34, (Charles H. Smith ed. Oxford University Press, 1991).)

It's also worth remembering how we discussed the irony of Wallace's view in Traipsing Into Evolution:

While Wallace certainly ascribed more religious meaning to his concept than was warranted by the data, he nonetheless recognized that it was possible to detect design in nature. It is ironic that Judge Jones' decision effectively renders unconstitutional the views of the co-founder of the modern theory of evolution.

(David K. DeWolf, John G. West, Casey Luskin, Jonathan Witt, Traipsing Into Evolution: Intelligent Design and the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Decision, pg. 18 (Discovery Institute Press, 2006).)