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For Telling the Truth About Alfred Russel Wallace, Historian Michael Flannery Is Slandered as a "Denialist"

Our good friend the science historian Michael Flannery has a characteristically eloquent and informative essay on Alfred Russel Wallace up now at the Public Domain Review (an intriguing venue in itself). Professor Flannery traces the origins of Wallace’s break with Darwin. The seeds were there from the start. Flannery concludes:

Wallace now comes to us as a heretic’s heretic. Discussions about evolution become battlegrounds where the faithful contend with the "new atheists" over the nature of Nature. But as Wallace’s life reveals, it is not about evolution or common descent or even natural selection, but about the explanatory power of blind natural laws. The problems of the human mind, of sentience, of the origin of life remain as intractable as ever. Darwin now wears the crown of convention and orthodoxy burdened by these persistent anomalies, so we would do well to remember on this centennial of Wallace’s passing (November 7th 1913) that the co-discoverer of natural selection remains Darwin’s heretical heir apparent.

Flannery’s prominent antagonist in the battle over Wallace’s legacy, entomologist George Beccaloni of the Alfred Russel Wallace Correspondence Project, chimes in in the comments space with a series of slanders and irrelevancies. First he tries name-calling, smearing Flannery with a recommendation to readers that they check out an odious website casting Flannery as a "denialist crackpot who makes stuff up in the name of Jesus. Delusional moron." Beccaloni then turns to jousting at a straw man. He portrays Flannery as if the latter were saying that because Wallace rejected orthodox Darwinism in favor of proto-intelligent design, that in itself serves as evidence for the theory of ID.

But of course that’s absurd. Beccaloni scolds:

Scientists don’t simply believe everything another scientist, however famous and well respected, might say! Ideas are only of interest to Science if they are testable and if they withstand subsequent scientific investigation.

Who in the world said otherwise? Certainly not Mike Flannery. Proponents of ID don’t accept arguments from authority — "Because So-and-so said X, Y, Z, it must be true." They consider the evidence without preconceptions. All Mike Flannery has been trying to do — tirelessly — with regard to Wallace is set the historical record straight.

Beccaloni moves on to this:

Say Wallace had discovered that the earth revolved around the sun, rather than the sun around the earth, and had made a convincing case for this which other scientists tested and accepted, but then, when he was a very old man, he adopted the ancient Egyptian belief that the sun was rolled across the sky by a giant dung beetle — an idea which scientists rejected. I would argue that he should be amply credited for his earlier profound discovery, and that his later fallacious belief should simply be ignored.

There’s no evidence that Beccaloni has grasped or wrestled with the argument for ID. Yet he compares it to saying that a beetle moves the sun through the sky. On that basis, he explicitly calls for a whitewash of Wallace’s advocacy: "his later fallacious belief should simply be ignored." Beccaloni actually insists that concealing the truth, ignoring the break with Darwin over Wallace’s proto-ID view, is the responsible thing to do!

There you have it. Michael Flannery, as a historian, wants to correct an erroneous and widespread impression that Wallace remained faithful in his Darwinism. Beccaloni endorses keeping the truth concealed and calls Flannery a "denialist" (and worse) for disagreeing. Telling the truth = being a science denier. Folks, you can’t make this stuff up!

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.



Darwin's Heretic (Alfred Wallace)history