Darwin's permanent damage control, a century and a half later
From review of Browne's bio of Darwin
Charles Darwin: The Power of Place
by Janet Browne
Janet Browne opens the second volume of her biography of Darwin in 1858, at the point when he received Alfred Russel Wallace's letter from the East Indies, containing Wallace's theory of natural selection and the development of new species. This alarmed the slowly cumulative writer of what was to become The Origin of Species, who was ashamed of his "trumpery feelings" of disappointment that his "priority" of discovery was compromised. Browne describes beautifully the gentlemanly way in which Darwin and his friends orchestrated the revelation of the theory, in a discussion that credited both scientists. As she rightly says, the friendship and respect that developed between Wallace and Darwin is a credit to both men - and it survived Wallace's later eccentric forays into spiritualism.
Stop pulling our legs, guys. The 'gentlemanly' tactics indicated are well described in Brackman's A Delicate Arrangement, commented ('refuted'?) in Shermer's latest book on Wallace.
These endless labors to rescue the great cultural icon are tiresome. There was a problem with the basic theory, Darwin was hesitant, it wasn't a proper theory, he delayed, but with Wallace on his track he had to commit. The tide of the theory was ignited therefore, not by confidence, but something else.
The public might reflect on the sordid confusion at the onset of one of the most dangerous theories ever produced, still beyond touch in this media manipulation of minds. And reflect that the theory was never necessary in this form and appeared in part at the point Darwin was desperate over his priority.
This is a strange comment on gentlemanly behavior. .
From Review of M. Shermer's In Darwin's Shadow
Delicate arrangements, August 8, 2002
This an important and readable contribution to the biographical lore of Alfred Wallace, the co-discoverer with Darwin of the selectionist theory of evolution, and later a dissenter on the question of the descent of man, both theoretically and in relation to his interest in Spiritualism. Although I differ considerably in perspective, the book is well worth reading and interesting and useful even to a critic of Darwin.
It also contains compelling 'for the defense' material (Darwin's, not Wallace's) on the controversy-debate over the priority question of Wallace and Darwin and the 'delicate arrangement' to use the phrase of Leonard Huxley and the title of A.Brackman's book by that name. Shermer's response to the charges of Brackman (and also Brooks in _Just Before the Origins_) is a needed analytical rejoinder from a Darwinist, whether successful or not remains open. The question of divergence and plagiarism seems partly settled, but still it is all fishy. And is it the real strategy of our Wallace biographer to rescue Darwin?
Even if the specific charges made by Brackman and Brooks, and it is an if, were found untrue, the fact remains that something is strange in the whole episode. As noted by Brooks, there is the more general question of Darwin's great delay in publishing his work. If we are confirmed Darwinists, this is one thing. But if we realize that the theory of selectionism, as Wallace finally realized, is not the full picture, we should wonder if Darwin was unconsciously unsure of his own theory, prodded only under duress to 'out with it'. His strategy would be obvious in that case.
Does it all matter if Darwin's theory is in fact not a true or complete theory of evolution? Surely, the theory is a strange case of 'why people believe weird things' and call their superstition about natural selection 'science',and why this snowball effect created by Darwin's book over a mechanism of evolution a host of dissenters found obviously wrong, a process continuing to this day in spite of the immense rigidity of social conditioning on the matter.
Here we have missed the point of Wallace, altogether. For he realized finally there was a problem.
In the final analysis, Darwinists have remained blind in their dogmatic mythology of Darwin's achievement, and we should be more attentive to the fact that the man in the 'shadow of Darwin', Wallace, the co-discoverer, finally shares a dialectical symmetry of dissent in the account of the descent of man. To shunt Wallace aside here is a strategy of the paradigm defenders, and it is Wallace who will be vindicated in the end. For he saw all too clearly that there was something extra required to account for man's evolution, and said so in no uncertain terms. That this must be a spiritual exception is not the issue, and Wallace's naivete does not change his important insight.
This has been confused by the issue of Spiritualism, whose silliness does not gainsay the issue that Darwin's theory is as silly in reverse on the fundamentals of man's evolutionary consciousness. But we are not required to accpet Darwinian claims as absolute. It is apt, however, for Shermer, our Mr. Skeptic, to rub his hands here and get to work, although I think the positivism of the age of Darwin requires a similar kind of analysis.In a world of millennia of Buddhists, Shermer's contempt for belief in reincarnation, for example, is simpply science provincialism. We have no means to decide these issues, using Darwin's positivist fairytale.
The book also has entwined material on the issue of the science of history, factor analysis in biography, and references to the work of Sulloway. I think Shermer's claim that we have found a science of history is open to some raised eye-brows, and the issue of Diamond's _Guns, Germs, and Steel_ taken as such simply throws the whole matter into doubt.
Wallace deserves many perspectives, this one from a severe Darwinist is both a welcome attempt to bring him back into view, and a subtle effort to keep him in his place.
There is a funny joke here, if you stand back and look at the strangeness of it all, as Darwin's endless delay and the synchronity of Wallace's extra-ordinary finish line catch up set the theory into its dialectical jitters right at the onset. Poetic justice, perhaps.
World History and the Eonic Effect
World History and the Eonic Effect