In a National Public Radio story on Alfred Russel Wallace, Anthony Kuhn correctly notes Wallace’s many important contributions to biogeography and nature conservancy (“He Helped Discover Evolution, and Then Became Extinct“). Says Kuhn: “Wallace foretold today’s situation, in which Sulawesi’s [formerly Celebes, an island in Indonesia] unique animals face extinction. He wrote that we have it within our power to save these creatures, and not let them, as he put it, ‘perish irrecoverably from the face of the earth, uncared for and unknown.'”
Kuhn is right. Wallace’s Geographical Distribution of Animals (1876), widely hailed as the seminal work in biogeography, became the authoritative text in the field for the next eighty years. His Tropical Nature and Other Essays (1878), with its concern for the ecological impacts of rampant deforestation on the soil and climate, can be considered a prophetic voice in the tradition of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.
It’s too bad then that Kuhn and others cannot tell what Paul Harvey used to call “the rest of the story.” Wallace was indeed prescient in many things — nature conservancy, women’s rights, dangers of eugenics, folly of ethnocentrism, and intelligent design. As the centennial anniversary of Wallace’s death rolls along (he died on November 7, 1913), we’ll get further heaping doses of Wallace’s many significant contributions to modern biology. This is good, legitimate reporting because his contributions are real.
But we will also get little to no mention of his teleological views as outlined in many articles and two books, Man’s Place in Nature (1903) and The World of Life (1910). We shouldn’t be surprised, David Klinghoffer predicted as much.
So let’s be clear, Wallace was many things — the co-discoverer of natural selection, father of modern biogeography, champion of women’s rights, conservationist concerned for ecosystems, bioethicist appalled by eugenics, AND proponent of ID. ID is a science stopper? I don’t think so. It didn’t stop Wallace.
Professor Flannery is the author of Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life (Discovery Institute Press) and other books.