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Alfred Russel Wallace’s Case for an “Overruling Intelligence”

Wallace notebooks
Photo: Wallace's notebooks, at the Linnean Society, London, by John Cummings / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0).

2023 marks the bicentennial of the birth of Alfred Russel Wallace, co-founder with Charles Darwin of the theory of evolution by natural selection. Unlike Darwin, Wallace thought that biology, chemistry, and cosmology proclaimed clear evidence of intelligent design. With this classic episode of ID the Future, we celebrate the life and achievements of one of the godfathers of intelligent design. 

Host Michael Keas continues his conversation with historian Michael Flannery about his book Nature’s Prophet: Alfred Russel Wallace and His Evolution from Natural Selection to Natural Theology. When Wallace broke with Darwin in 1869, it was over the nature of human beings. Flannery explains how Wallace became convinced of an “overruling intelligence” in nature — a cause sufficient to explain the special attributes of human beings: their facility with mathematics, their propensity toward abstract thought, their love of dance, their appreciation of music, and more. “All of these uniquely human attributes do not have per se any survival advantage in nature,” says Flannery. “So…they can’t be relied upon by Darwin’s own principle of utility to be things which developed via natural selection. They have to come from some other source.” And while some may claim Wallace’s view is just a “gaps” argument, Flannery notes that it’s instead a positive argument calling on a cause sufficient to explain the uniqueness of human beings. Download the podcast or listen to it here.

This is Part 2 of a 3-part conversation. Go here to listen to Part 1.

Dig Deeper

For a full-length treatment of Wallace’s ideas and legacy, read Flannery’s book Nature’s Prophet or his Wallace biography Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life.

Watch this short video explaining why Wallace was largely forgotten by history until recently: