Wallace’s “Theory of Intelligent Evolution” (Part I)
I’ve previously mentioned Michael Flannery and his edition of A.R. Wallace’s World of Life titled Alfred Russel Wallace’s Theory of Intelligent Evolution: How Wallace’s World of Life Challenged Darwin which recently appeared under the imprint of Dembski’s vanity press (see here, here and here). The work consists of a four page foreword by Dembski, a 55 page introduction by Flannery, and a 151 page extract of Wallace’s original work (omitting most of the work, by the way). This, Flannery claims, “will allow for a full and thorough presentation of what in Wallace’s day was called Wallaceism and is referred here as intelligent evolution” (p. 59). (As an aside, the term “Wallaceism” was coined by the novelist Samuel Butler in 1890 but was one rejected by Wallace himself.)
Wallace has long interested me precisely because of his acceptance of the efficacy of natural selection to a degree that outstripped Darwin’s own claims. Yet Wallace felt that selection could not explain the human mind. In that he was very similar to St George Jackson Mivart (the Victorian anatomist whom I have been working on for a while now) whose treatment by the Darwinian inner-circle could not have been more different from how Wallace was treated. Flannery sees Wallace as championing a “unique theistic evolutionary theory” (p. 59). If I was to classify Mivart it would be as a theistic evolutionist whose position is very similar to that maintained by the Catholic church today.
It is doubtful whether I will have enough free time this summer to compare Flannery’s edits with Wallace’s original. What I do, however, want to do is comment both on Dembski’s foreword and Flannery’s introduction. This post will concentrate on Dembski while a subsequent one will deal with Flannery.
Dembski’s piece doesn’t start off well. In fact, it starts with the sort of error that would result in a student hovering in fail territory. As any competent student of Darwin knows, he worked on barnacles for eight years in the 1840’s and 50’s.. He resumed his investigations into natural selection in 1854 and began work on his “big book” (titled Natural Selection) two years later. That work was approximately half-way completed by mid-June 1858 when Darwin received the famous manuscript from Wallace. Dembski shows his ignorance of basic history by claiming:
In fact, it was Darwin’s receipt of Wallace’s so-called “Ternate paper” in 1858, outlining this theory, that prompted him to stop puttering with barnacles and rush his Origin of Species into print the next year.
Dembski, it seems, is as good a historian as he is a mathematician and philosopher. Darwin’s work on barnacles was published in 1851 & 1854. He hadn’t “puttered” with them in over four years. Indeed, Michael Ghiselin has noted that Darwin’s “puttering” with barnacles resulted in four volumes that are still useful to modern systematists and taxonomists. Would that Dembski’s “puttering” in philosophy and math were so productive, or even that he could win a medal from the Royal Society for his work.
Somewhat ironically, Dembski goes on to note that
the history of science is filled with good ideas that were first applied indiscriminately but then later had been applied with discernment to a narrower range of phenomena
Indeed, And one of those ideas is design.
Dembski makes much of the contrast between Wallace’s selectionism (which was even more wide-ranging than Darwin’s) and what he terms “Darwin’s inflated view” omitting to mention that the difference was largely to do with Wallace – for spiritualist reasons – not believing that the human mind could be a product of natural selection.
Dembski accuses Darwin of “calculated duplicity”. He claims,
Darwinism never was science but rather was (and is) an attempt to validate and buttress philosophical naturalism with a series of naturalistic speculations drawn from Darwin’s five-year voyage on the Beagle.
This, by the way, mirrors the argument in Wiker’s latest diatribe, The Darwin Myth. If nothing else, ID proponents sure stay on message, albeit an inaccurate one.
Dembski claims that Wallace would “nowadays be regarded as a proponent of intelligent design”. This raises two issues. Firstly, Flannery sees Wallace as a theistic evolutionist. Given the traditional antipathy of ID proponents to theistic evolutionists (see here for example), Flannery & Dembski cannot have it both ways. Is Dembski willing to admit that theistic evolutionists are actually on the side of the angels? Secondly, and in many ways more importantly, who cares? Of what possible relevance to modern ID is it if Wallace held some teleological views regarding the human mind. It’s about as relevant as Darwin’s theory of gemmules to modern genetics.