In a new biography, Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life, University of Alabama science historian Michael Flannery tells how Wallace grew disenchanted with natural selection as a theory capable of explaining life’s complexity. Wallace (1823-1913) concluded that many features of living organisms could best be explained as the product of design by a “directive Mind.”
Critics of ID frequently attack the theory as a “science stopper.” Flannery shows that on the contrary, it was Alfred Wallace’s commitment to open inquiry that led him to the conclusion that far from being random and undirected, as Darwin insisted, evolution manifests scientifically detectable evidence of intelligent guidance. Biology, Flannery argues, is in the process of catching up with the prescient Wallace.
Flannery’s book has received enthusiastic endorsements from scientists and historians including Philip K. Wilson at Penn State College of Medicine, John S. Haller at Southern Illinois University, and Michael Behe at Lehigh University.
Michael Egnor, professor and vice-chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery at Stony Brook University Medical Center, said, “Flannery’s superb book provides the reader with indispensable insight into the earliest squalls in the modern tempest over Darwin’s theory and intelligent design.”
Along with the book, Wallace’s ideas are the subject of a brand-new website, www.alfredwallace.org, replete with free resources for the public including videos, book excerpts, and additional biographical information about Wallace.
Flannery is a professor and associate director for historical collections at the Lister Hill Library of the Health Sciences, University of Alabama at Birmingham. He is the editor of Alfred Russel Wallace’s Theory of Intelligent Evolution (2008).
Wallace, an English-born naturalist, conceived of his version of natural selection in 1859 while Darwin was still sitting on his own unpublished theory. On contacting Darwin and sharing the idea with him, Wallace threw Darwin into an upheaval, forcing the other man to go public with his theory so as not to be scooped by Wallace. Tension increased between the two after 1869 when Wallace publicly revealed his doubts about Darwinian evolution. He elaborated his mature theory of intelligent evolution culminating in his magnum opus, The World of Life (1910).
Unlike Darwin, Wallace was also a vocal opponent of pseudo-scientific racism and eugenics.