March 3, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

Wallace for Darwin Running Mate

Shouldn’t Darwin Day be named Darwin-Wallace Day?  After all, Alfred Russell Wallace is by most accounts the co-discoverer of natural selection.  Papers by Wallace and Darwin were read together at the Linnean Society meeting of 1858, over a year before Origin of Species was published.  Some groups are seeking to give Wallace his due in the limelight – or, in the language of presidential politics, at least let him be Darwin’s running mate.
    In a letter to Nature,1 George W. Beccaloni and Vincent S. Smith complained that celebrations for Darwin Day are downplaying Wallace’s role.  This was not to disparage the great Darwin, for they agreed with Kevin Padian (02/11/2008) that next year’s 200th birthday should be “celebrated enthusiastically.”  But 2009 is also the 150th anniversary of the discovery of natural selection.
    There has been a long-standing attempt to marginalize the great Wallace, they argued.  It almost seems intentional:

This lack of interest in the 2008 anniversary is indicative of how Wallace’s achievements have been overshadowed by Darwin’s since Wallace’s death in 1913, a process certainly not helped by the Darwin ‘industry’ of recent decades.  During his lifetime, Wallace received plenty of recognition from his contemporaries for his part in the discovery, as indicated by the many honours bestowed on him.  These include the Darwin-Wallace and Linnean Gold Medals (Linnean Society); the Copley, Darwin and Royal Medals (Royal Society); and the Order of Merit.  Isn’t it perhaps time for the current darwinocentric view of the history of biology to be revised?

A website has been erected called The Alfred Russell Wallace Memorial Fund.  The sponsors seek to correct the darwinocentric view of the history of biology and give Wallace more recognition.


1.  George W. Beccaloni and Vincent S. Smith, Correspondence, “Celebrations for Darwin downplay Wallace’s role,” Nature 451, 1050 (28 February 2008) | doi:10.1038/4511050d.

Yes, it is time for the darwinocentric view of the history of biology to be revised.  But adding one more misguided racist apostate storyteller is a process certainly not helped by the Darwin-Wallace industry of recent decades.
    Reasons why Wallace doesn’t get the press Darwin gets: (1) he was from a lower social class, (2) he delved into spiritualism and held some other weird beliefs, and (3) he did not believe that natural selection could explain man’s soul, rationality and morals.  For this Darwin could only barely tolerate him.  Since Wallace did not go all the way to complete naturalism, he could not share the glory of the Grand Tale that allowed Dawkins to become an intellectually fool-filled atheist.
    Darwin was devastated when Wallace had sent him that 1858 letter outlining the same theory of natural selection that he had been working on for years.  Didn’t Darwin do the right thing, though, to share the stage at the Linnean Society with Wallace by having both their papers read together?
    Janet Browne in her excellent biography Charles Darwin: The Power of Place (Princeton, 2002) told how it was a scheme to protect Darwin from criticism while guaranteeing him the limelight.  Darwin’s X-Men friends gave Wallace just enough press to keep him from complaining about priority, but afterwards did little to share the honor with him, and worked to ensconce Charlie as the “real” hero of the Law of Natural Selection.  It was “audacious skulduggery” – as Browne termed the plan Charlie & Charlie (Darwin and Lyell) cooked up.  “No pair of practised fixers could, if they wished, have cooked up a better scheme for promoting Darwin’s interests” (p. 35).  Read all about it in chapter 1.
    The Wallace Fund site contains a quote from old man Wallace in 1913: “Truth is born into this world only with pangs and tribulations, and every fresh truth is received unwillingly.  To expect the world to receive a new truth, or even an old truth, without challenging it, is to look for one of those miracles which do not occur.”  Great.  Let’s challenge Wallace and Darwin both.  Question number one: How does Truth evolve?

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