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What Would a World Without Darwin Look Like?

What if Darwin had fallen overboard on the Beagle at the end of December 1832? This is the provocative question asked by Peter J. Bowler in his latest book, Darwin Deleted: Imagining a World Without Darwin. It is a question with a very clear agenda that Bowler states at the outset: “My interest in exploring what happens in a world without Darwin is driven by the hope of using history to undermine the claim that the theory of natural selection inspired various forms of social Darwinism” (3).

On one level, Bowler’s counterfactual sets him upon the shifting sands of historical speculation, always a difficult prospect. Readily admitting the value of counterfactual questions in history, I myself engaged in an interesting such exercise with Michael Shermer, proposing that “If he were alive today, Alfred Russel Wallace would be an Intelligent Design advocate”. But Bowler is on much more tentative ground here, mainly because he is working with a series of historical subtractions — no Darwin, no publications, no positions (public or private), no influence. Bowler’s basic problem is that any of his proposed “evidence” for this non-Darwinian world must be derived from a world in which Darwin actually did exist or least some of his actions provided the context for what others thought and did; the removal of a figure of such stature not only erases his immediate influence, but a whole concatenation of events and individuals. It could also be objected that reducing the causation of social Darwinism to natural selection is unduly restrictive; Darwin’s drive train for evolution was indeed natural selection but it was always much more than that too.
It’s worth setting aside these reservations about Bowler’s counterfactual history to see how he constructs what amounts to a rather ingenious Darwin apologetic. To make it work, Bowler needs to convincingly demonstrate that the most egregious forms of social Darwinism (eugenics, the Nazis’ racial hygiene, genocidal imperialism) would still have occurred without its namesake. But this is not an all-or-nothing question. It should be said at the beginning that it would be wrong to ascribe all of the social ills of the modern world to Darwinism — socioeconomic, political, and cultural factors wholly unrelated to Darwin’s theory certainly had a part to play in forming the events and movements of our modern world. But has Bowler succeeded in proving that a world sans Darwin still would have experienced eugenics, Nazi “racial hygiene,” and genocidal imperialism anyway? Has Darwin unfairly become, in Bowler’s words, “the bogeyman” of modern society’s ills?

800px-HMS_Beagle_by_Conrad_Martens.jpgI will address these questions by pursuing the proposal submitted by Bowler himself: What if Darwin had fallen overboard and there was no Origin of Species or anything else from his pen? In so doing I will not examine to any great degree the issues of imperialism or the Nazi program of so-called “racial hygiene” and extermination. I leave that to Richard Weikart, whose books From Darwin to Hitler and Hitler’s Ethic Bowler seeks to challenge (in my view ineffectively) in a chapter titled “Social Evolutionism.” Instead, I wish to follow along Bowler’s path and examine what effect the absence of Darwin would have had upon biology, the sciences generally, and society (the latter particularly in terms of the development of the American eugenics movement).

A Lyell-Wallace World
Bowler sees in a world without Darwin one in which a coherent evolutionary theory would have been delayed until the late 1860s or 70s. He is probably correct about that. Alfred Russel Wallace, as the co-discoverer of natural selection the most likely next best candidate, was in no immediate position to produce a book-length study like Origin of Species. His original letter, “On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type,” written during a bout of malarial fever in the Malay Archipelago and sent to Darwin in the spring of 1858, was only about 4,200 words. Bowler’s suggestion that it would have taken Wallace another decade or so to flesh out his ideas enough to produce a complete monograph on the subject, as he did in 1889 with Darwinism: An Exposition of the Theory of Natural Selection with Some of Its Applications, does not seem unreasonable.

Nevertheless, Wallace presents a real problem for Bowler and he seems to recognize this. To deal with this issue he tries to diminish Wallace’s accomplishments by claiming he was “a minor author who never gained a significant professional position” (110). Wallace, according to Bowler, would never have been the leader of a movement, just a “gadfly” (113). It is true that Wallace did not have Darwin’s social standing, and in their Victorian world class mattered. Without Darwin, who might have given Wallace entrée to the ranks of power and influence? One person stands out: Charles Lyell, 26 years Wallace’s senior and famed uniformitarian geologist who had already been knighted in 1848 for his scientific accomplishments. Here Bowler’s entire counterfactual case relies upon his rather weak assumption that in a world without Darwin, Lyell would have “ignored the paper as too radical or sent back a list of queries and objections” (65). Bowler admits there is no way of knowing how Lyell would have reacted to the letter, but there seems no reason to assume that Lyell would have either ignored it or dismissed it with a series of objections as he suggests.
Bowler’s confesses that Lyell was already familiar with Wallace’s Sarawak Law paper of 1855, “On the law which has regulated the introduction of new species,” which appeared in the September issue of Annals and Magazine of Natural History. Iain McCalman has called it “the first ever British scientific paper to claim that animals had descended from a common ancestor and then produced closely similar variations which evolved into distinct species” (Darwin’s Armada, 266). Lyell immediately recognized its importance and urged Darwin to take serious note of it, advice which Darwin seems to have ignored. No scientist of the period exerted more influence upon Wallace than Lyell, and from 1863 to 1872 the two men saw each other frequently during the former’s residency in London. There seems little doubt that Lyell’s Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man (1863) had a profound influence upon Wallace. Lyell insisted that “The whole course of nature may be the material embodiment of a preconcerted arrangement; and if the succession of events be explained by transmutation,” he added, “the perpetual adaptation of the organic world to new conditions leaves the argument in favor of design . . . .” This took hold in Wallace’s mind and shaped much of his future thinking in the matter. Martin Fichman correctly refers to the two men as forming “a philosophic kinship” (An Elusive Victorian, 81-84), and Wallace himself admitted that Lyell was one of the few scientific leaders with whom he felt entirely at ease. Not surprisingly, the break with Darwin over teleology — in the April 1869 issue of the Quarterly Review in which Wallace called upon an “Overruling Intelligence” to explain the mental properties of human beings — brought Lyell’s approval. When Darwin complained to Lyell about Wallace’s defection, the famed uniformitarian geologist answered, “”I rather hail Wallace’s suggestion that there may be a Supreme Will and Power which may not abdicate its functions of interference, but may guide the forces and laws of Nature” (K. M. Lyell, ed., Life, Letters and Journal of Sir Charles Lyell, v. 2, 1881, 442). Curiously, Bowler writes that “Lyell wanted a natural theory of species production, but he also wanted to believe it was somehow purposeful” (114). This is precisely what Wallace delivered — directed, detectably designed, and purposeful common descent.

Wishful Thinking More Than Facts
So Bowler’s dismissal of Lyell’s interest in Wallace’s natural selection paper seems to be based more upon wishful thinking than facts. Given Wallace’s intellectual and professional bonds with Lyell, it appears perfectly reasonable to envision a scenario in which, without Darwin, Wallace rises to prominence with the assistance of a different Charles — Charles Lyell. This, in fact, changes everything. With a Lyell-Wallace partnership there’s the possibility of a theistic evolutionary model taking hold, and not a kind of awkward conjoining of theism with Darwinism like the liberal theologian Charles Kingsley sought, but a genuinely intelligent evolution. It’s even quite feasible that from 1869 forward Wallace’s elaboration of these aspects of evolution would have accelerated. Almost surely Wallace still would have written his magisterial Geographical Distribution of Animals (1876) and firmly established the field of biogeography, but thereafter his Darwinism (after all, a title unavailable in this counterfactual world) might well have been The World of Life: A Manifestation of Creative Power, Directive Mind and Ultimate Purpose. Thus his grand evolutionary synthesis might have been pushed up twenty years or more.

What about opposition? The most obvious source of opposition would have come from Thomas Henry Huxley, eager to promote a thoroughly non-teleological version of evolution. But without the organizing figure of Darwin, the development of the formidable public relations vehicle for this — the X-Club — seems unlikely. Instead of Bowler’s world of assorted contenders for a variety of adaptive and developmental models of evolution, the real field of contention might easily be reversed to a central core of teleological evolutionists working through various details of mechanisms with materialist/positivist doubters on the outside looking in on the emergence of a very different kind of science. X-Club member Thomas Hirst’s reference to how “the bond that united us was devotion to science,” McCalman perceptively interprets as “science as synecdoche for Darwinism” (354). Without Darwin that bond is severed.

This is an important point and one that shows how erroneous Bowler’s thesis really is. He wants us to believe that it is thoroughly implausible to ascribe so much influence to one man alone. While this is strictly speaking true (many factors come into play in the diverse aspects associated with the history of evolutionary theory and they extend far beyond Darwin), it is also true that without Darwin one has to wonder about the role played by Huxley (without Darwin, a bulldog looking for something or someone to defend) or for that matter the collective efforts of any of the other eight members of the X-Club. Not that they would not have made a mark in their professions, but perhaps very different ones without an organizing purpose. Those who believe that social Darwinism is rightly named and that his theory led to many untoward applications are not proposing a “lone man” thesis at all, but suggesting that Darwin served as the catalyst for a whole cadre of faithful followers ready to apply (rightly or wrongly) his principles to social problems with Pauline fervor.

A Domino Effect
Here too the absence of Darwin has a domino effect extending to the scientific literature. It was Norman Lockyer who started Nature in the fall of 1869. This journal was specifically launched to drive the Darwin bandwagon forward, and it was not just chance or expedience that saw Huxley write the inaugural introduction for Lockyer. As Janet Browne has accurately summarized, “Far more than any other science journal, Nature was conceived, born, and raised to serve polemical purpose” (Charles Darwin: The Power of Place, 248). Would Nature still have been published? Perhaps, but it would not likely have been a voice for the science-as-methodological-naturalism model. Different paradigms elicit different perspectives, different discourse, and ultimate a different marketplace of ideas and the literature that drives it.
Philosophical Breakfast Club2.jpgBowler is probably right in suggesting that a world without Darwin would have seen evolutionary biology develop later and without the revolutionary disruptions and controversies in the laboratories of science or the churches of the faithful. But the science Bowler envisions easing into contemporary society is not the same science without Darwin. It is, in fact, a science marked by historical continuity instead of a science premised upon a philosophical mandate for methodological naturalism. William Paley’s special creation with each species uniquely and perfectly adapted to its habitat would surely be gone as would Bishop Ussher’s 6,000-year-old earth, but science under a Lyell-Wallace paradigm would be the study of uniformity of natural causes not the study of natural causes in a closed system. Science was established as a term on June 24, 1833, ironically enough by the romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and the men who founded it (Richard Jones, Charles Babbage, John Herschel, and William Whewell) all would have understood science in this light. These were members of a very different kind of club from Huxley’s. The “Philosophical Breakfast Club” rejected the materialism implicit (some might say explicit) in the Darwinian revolution.

Peter Bowler’s Counterfactual World
But what would evolution look like under such a scenario? Probably not as Bowler would have us believe. Bowler thinks that Wallace absolutely rejected individual competition in favor of competing groups, thus making a profound difference in how his theory of natural selection actually worked. It was Darwin’s contribution to emphasize the individual and that, according to Bowler, makes the key difference. While it is generally true that Wallace emphasized populations in a demographic context over individual species competition, it can be taken too far. Melinda Fagan has correctly pointed out that Wallace emphasized groups, but this is because his collecting routine demanded quantity. In effect, he had to collect twice; once for his agent Samuel Stevens to sell and once for himself. Wallace collected hundreds of thousands of specimens over his twelve years of exploration and it allowed him to see animals within the larger context of groups and populations. Collecting was Wallace’s livelihood; not so for Darwin, who was under no similar pressure. He could meticulously examine individual variation without the need of keeping a steady stream of specimens flowing to an agent for sale. However, as Fagan notes, it is wrong to see Wallace as solely a group selectionist. “As in Wallace’s other writings from the field,” she adds, “the individual and group levels are linked via the notion of abundance, the number of individuals composing a group. . . . Thus ‘continuance of the species and the keeping up of the average number of individuals’ amount to the same thing” (629). Michael Bulmer agrees, “Wallace’s variations did not differ from each other much more than Darwin’s individual differences” (132). It should also be pointed out that Wallace made some important contributions that Darwin did not. For example, leading evolutionary biologist Ulrich Kutschera has pointed out that our modern concept of species derives from Wallace not Darwin. Also, Kutschera recognizes Wallace’s prescience in rejecting the inheritance of acquired characteristics (unlike Darwin’s pangenesis, which was largely Lamarckian) and his appreciation of the work of August Weismann. Weismann was an important figure leading to the neo-Darwinian synthesis and although he didn’t understand the exact means of inheritance, he correctly elucidated the segregation and transmission of genetic material, making Wallace one of the first to appreciate his critical contributions leading to the demise of old Lamarckian notions of use and disuse.

It is also true that under a Lyell-Wallace paradigm natural selection would have been a more subtractive process — the elimination of unfavorable species — what Wallace referred to as “extinction of the unfit.” This, in fact, is not a wholly erroneous notion. Again referring to Kutschera: “Today we know that natural selection works by the elimination of the un-fit: ‘a lack of fit’ between organism and the environment reduces the lifetime reproductive success of these particular individuals within a population. As a result, certain genotypes will leave fewer offspring than those that ‘fit to the environment’ (i.e., are better adapted)” (355). This subtractive process seems to even work on the molecular level where Michael Behe has reported that “loss-of-function mutations” appear to be “the first rule of adaptive evolution.” Charles H. Smith has even suggested a substantial scaling down of natural selection more in accordance with Wallace’s original formulation (see his “Natural Selection: A Concept in Need of Evolution,” Complexity, 2012, 8-17).
Of course natural selection as “extinction of the unfit” begs the question, how did the diversity of life arise in the first place? But Wallace found a source other than naturalism for the positive construction of life. Writing to Mrs. Fisher (Arabella Buckley) on March 6, 1909, he declared, “Another point I am becoming more and more impressed with is, a teleology of fundamental laws and forces rendering the development of the infinity of life-forms possible (and certain) in place of the old teleology applied to the production of species” (Marchant, Alfred Russel Wallace: Letters and Reminiscences [1916] 337). One year later he would give full expression to this thought with The World of Life.
As just explained, then, many of Bowler’s purported deficiencies in Wallace are actually strengths. Another example is his attempt to show the inferiority of Wallace’s natural selection theory by referring to his rejection of artificial selection and his “religious views”: “Wallace would not have used the analogy between natural and artificial selection, and his religious views prevented him from developing any real sense of the cruelty and indifference of nature” (170). But why not say with greater effect that Wallace’s refusal to use the domestic breeding examples so touted by Darwin as proof of natural selection in action would have robbed the eugenicists of their major conceptual tool? Why not also say that Wallace’s refusal to ascribe “cruelty” to nature was actually more helpful than Darwin’s anthropomorphisms leading to the pathetic fallacy?

Eugenics, Bowler’s Get-Out-Jail-Free Card for Darwin
This first question is of utmost importance and leads me to consider my reply to Bowler’s counterfactual concerning eugenics. Bowler believes social forces were converging with a middle class so increasingly nervous about social degeneracy by the beginning of the 20th century that a eugenics movement would have emerged even without Darwin. Bowler believes that the eugenicists didn’t rely upon natural selection. According to Bowler, “eugenics drew no analogy between society and natural evolution. It supposed that selection must operate artificially, just as it does in the long-established practice of animal breeding that Darwin himself used to explain how selective processes work” (236). Such an interpretation is patently false. Paul Popenoe, leading the way in 1909 for California’s ambitious sterilization program through the Human Betterment Foundation, and University of Pittsburg professor Roswell Hill Johnson made clear acknowledgment of their debt to Darwin and his theory of organic or natural evolution:

The science of eugenics is the natural result of the spread and acceptance of organic evolution, following the publication of Darwin’s work The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, in 1859. It took a generation for his ideas to win the day; but then they revolutionized the intellectual life of the civilized world. Man came to realize that the course of nature is regular; that the observed sequence of events can be described in formulas which are called natural laws; he learned that he could achieve great results in plant and animal breeding by working in harmony with these laws. Then the question logically arose, “Is not man himself subject to those same laws? Can he not use his knowledge of them to improve his own species, as he has been more or less consciously improving the plants and animals that were of most value to him, for many centuries? (Applied Eugenics [1920] 147-148)

Other eugenicists made similar claims. Quoting from Darwin that “Man scans with scrupulous care the character and pedigree of his horses, cattle and dogs before he matches them; but when he comes to his own marriage he rarely, or never, takes any such care,” they reverted to nature by warning that “Imperfect seed in poor soil means a sickly harvest” (Social Purity [1903] 42).

I will not speculate on the German connection of eugenics with its “racial hygiene” program except to say that America’s leading eugenicist, Harry Laughlin, authored what was considered a “Model Sterilization Law” that was tested in Buck v. Bell (1927). When the Nazi regime looked to its social engineering plans, one of the first laws passed by the National Socialists was the “Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring.” This law was largely drawn from Harry Laughlin’s Model Law. Laughlin was awarded an honorary doctorate from Heidelberg University in 1936 for his contributions to “racial hygiene” (Harry Bruinius, Better for All the World, 17, 288-294)

Would eugenics in the form described above have taken place without Darwin? Perhaps, but one searches for a unifying theory that would have given force to anything like a movement. In the Lyell-Wallace scenario I have sketched out, eugenicists would not have had any artificial selection model to go by. In fact, it is absolutely known that Wallace rejected artificial selection and eugenics: “Segregation of the unfit is a mere excuse for establishing a medical tyranny. And we have had enough of this kind of tyranny already . . . the world does not want the eugenist to set it straight. . . . Eugenics is simply the meddlesome interference of an arrogant scientific priestcraft” (Marchant, 467). So had any suggestion along eugenic lines even been suggested in this non-Darwinian world, it would have been actively and earnestly opposed.

While Bowler argues that without Darwin the emergence of Mendelian genetics would have caused the artificial selection model to emerge later, it is also more significantly true that it would have emerged without his Origin of Species and The Descent of Man, the latter making explicit connection between humans and animals. It is this concept of absolute species continuity and even affinity between Homo sapiens and primates that made the artificial selection model so compelling for eugenicists.

Bowler’s discussion of eugenics points up one of his major shortcomings: he treats the history of ideas too simplistically. Eugenics required a certain preparing of the way in terms of turning at least the intelligentsia towards naturalism. Thus, Darwin’s theory was much more than science, it was an entire worldview. Bowler acknowledges Darwin’s broader philosophical impacts only when it suites him; at other times (and more often) he treats Darwin strictly as a set of purely scientific constructs. In fact, Bowler’s whole presentation of Darwin suggests an emphasis upon individual competition, but this too is an oversimplification. Historian Donald K. Pickens places Darwin in proper context:

Although it was the major cause, Charles Darwin’s thought was not the only influence in fostering American naturalism. For example, Hegel, the German philosopher of the dialect, contributed to American naturalism in conjunction with Darwinian evolution. Darwin stressed the biological aspect, while Hegel contributed the metaphysical ideas, but both philosophers gave emphasis to the group over the individual’s welfare. In fact, the welfare of the individual was determined by the larger group, be it named species or state. The nature of this group determined the nature of the individual. American eugenicists drew this hypothesis of group determinism in their racial program (Eugenics and the Progressives, 15).

Pickens righty identifies Darwin not primarily as a scientist but as a philosopher. Understanding how Darwin contributed not just to new scientific ideas but also to philosophical naturalism is essential; the two cannot be separated in any coherent discussion of his purported impact upon the larger culture.

Naturalism, Bowler’s Second Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card for Darwin
Historically speaking the turn towards naturalism had many sources in America. For all intents and purposes, the death of Louis Agassiz in 1873 ended opposition to evolution within the scientific community. Asa Gray’s embrace of a theistic version of Darwin’s theory (one Darwin himself enthusiastically endorsed) helped pave the way for liberal theologians to accept it as thoroughly compatible. The clergy could now be dressed in the fine vestments of science. Francis Abbot, a freethinking humanist actively supported by Darwin, was a major popularizer of Darwinian evolution. David Goodman Croly’s journal Modern Thinker (1870-1873) and his Positivist Primer (1871) introduced Americans to Darwin by way of Comte (seeing the two as kindred spirits), and Chauncey Wright was further impressed with the power of naturalism by reading Origin of Species. Even the influential Henry Ward Beecher introduced his packed pews to Darwinian evolution. It mattered little if some of them bore the mark of Herbert Spencer, for all these men Darwin was the touchstone and the well from which they drank. (For more, see Bert James Lowenberg, The Mississippi Historical Review, 339-368.) Bowler would undoubtedly argue that Spencerian evolution was not quite the same as Darwin’s, but he cannot talk about the broader implications Darwinian evolution only when it is convenient and then shift to distancing Darwin from historical figures (figures that supported Darwin and praised his Origin) by relying upon hair-splitting details of differences in aspects of their respective theories. Such a self-serving approach obscures more than it explains.

Bowler admits Darwin’s broader impact upon society by admitting his role in shifting his generation towards a more naturalistic perspective. But he exonerates Darwin by saying other forces would have had the same or similar effects. “The development of the neurosciences from phrenology onward,” Bowler claims, “would have demolished the concept of the soul by apparently confirming that the brain was the organ of the mind and our mental and moral faculties merely the result of the physical operation of the nerves” (272).

But in the Lyell-Wallace world I have proposed, this certainly wouldn’t have occurred. Bowler is wrong to suggest that phrenology dictated such naturalistic reductionism. Wallace’s address before the London Anthropological Society in March 1864 (published in the Anthropological Review in its May issue), presaging the direction his thoughts on evolution would turn, asserted that at a certain point in the distant past natural selection ceased its operations upon man. Frank Miller Turner suggests that this was directly due to Wallace’s adherence to phrenological psychology. “In his address,” Turner writes, “he employed the terms faculties, propensities, and feelings in a strictly phrenological manner. He never equated the mind with the brain but was careful to refer to the brain as ‘the organ of the mind.’ Moreover, those faculties that Wallace suggested had flourished when the evolution of the brain released man’s body from the influence of natural selection were the very faculties that phrenologists assigned to man but not to animals” (Between Science and Religion, 78). This is important because, as Turner indicates, “phrenology and mesmerism refrained from reducing the mind to an epiphenomenon of matter but instead viewed it as an autonomous entity. Consequently, Wallace could [and did] conceive of the continued evolution of the mind after the body had ceased to modify” (82). This was before his conversion to spiritualism, but it was phrenology that allowed him to retain a place for the soul in man and ultimately permitted spiritualism to find a congenial host in Wallace.
lefanuwhyus.jpgWallace aside, Bowler seems to imply that the naturalistic explanation of the human brain is a settled question arising from certain “proofs” in the neurosciences, but this is by no means the case. Physician James Le Fanu’s Why Us? paints a very different picture. In the 1990s the “Decade of the Brain” proposed that new technologies would unlock the secrets of the human mind, but these sanguine hopes ended in failure — thoughts, emotions, intuitions, qualia, these all remained unaccounted for (see especially pages 9-23). Chris Smith has even called the mind Darwin’s “unsolved problem.” We are, he admits, no closer to understanding phenomenal or sensory consciousness than we were150 years ago. In fact, it could well be argued that Darwinian evolution has actually contributed to confusion on the subject of human psychology and mind by stressing animal/human continuities and encouraging a plethora of poorly designed studies loaded with unwarranted anthropomorphisms concerning animal behavior (see for example DC Penn, KY Holyoak, DJ Povinelli, “Darwin’s Mistake,” and Johan Bolhius and Clive D. L. Wynne, “Can Evolution Explain How Minds Work?”).

So what, in the end, does Bowler’s new book really accomplish? At a minimum his attempt to distance Darwin from eugenics fails. Darwin’s emphasis upon artificial selection as a critical analogy to natural selection was precisely the foundation upon which eugenicists (including their founder Francis Galton) built. In fact, Bowler’s whole Darwinian apologetic, while in some senses ingenious, backfires. Unable to convincingly extricate Wallace from his counterfactual world, his own method actually invites an intriguing alternative scenario with Charles Lyell and Alfred Russel Wallace as key players. A Lyell-Wallace paradigm suggests at least eight conclusions:

  • Evolution would have been modeled within a context of intelligent design.
  • Lamarckianism would likely have died a quicker and more merciful death.
  • Such a model would have produced continuity within scientific development with men like Charles Babbage, John Herschel, William Whewell, and Richard Jones as its intellectual forebearers.
  • The conflict between evolution and religion would be substantially ameliorated.
  • Science itself would have been characterized by a tradition of free and open inquiry, not restricted by a philosophy of methodological naturalism. This would have permitted a whole line of research using a design inference in areas such as protein engineering, molecular biology, steganography, and many other specialties years before and only now coming to light.
  • Evolution itself would have developed better prepared to accept a genetic synthesis and, in fact, might have occurred sooner as Wallace’s support of Weismann and his view of the cell as a designed structure more easily translated into a neo-Wallacean synthesis anticipating genes as information code rather than merely random mechanisms of action. Such an emphasis might have avoided traveling down blind allies such as the unrewarding preoccupation with so-called “junk” DNA (for more see Jonathan Wells, The Myth of Junk DNA).
  • Socially and culturally the likelihood of a eugenics movement in America seems remote and the forced sterilization of more than 65,000 of its citizens would thus be averted.
  • Whatever the development of eugenics in Germany, its absence in America would have forced Nazi legislators to search elsewhere for a model for sterilization laws.

Did Darwin matter? He did, and Bowler’s counterfactual effort allows us to see why. In that sense, we owe him a debt of gratitude.

Professor Flannery is the author of Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life (Discovery Institute Press) and other books.

Image: HMS Beagle, Conrad Martens, Wikipedia.

Michael Flannery

Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Michael A. Flannery is professor emeritus of UAB Libraries, University of Alabama at Birmingham. He holds degrees in library science from the University of Kentucky and history from California State University, Dominguez Hills. He has written and taught extensively on the history of medicine and science. His most recent research interest has been on the co-discoverer of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913). He has edited Alfred Russel Wallace’s Theory of Intelligent Evolution: How Wallace’s World of Life Challenged Darwinism (Erasmus Press, 2008) and authored Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life (Discovery Institute Press, 2011). His research and work on Wallace continues.



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