The true founder of the theory of evolution
Most people have heard of Charles Darwin because his name is mentioned in most if not all science books, but why is there no book about Alfred Russel Wallace? This is because Wallace was forgotten in time to be the real founder of the theory of evolution.
Alfred Russel Wallace’s success was at the same time his most painful defeat. This man’s name will only be remembered by the scientific world for the scandal he created for the credibility behind the theory of evolution, but the story is a bit more complicated.
The height of this scandal was reached in July 1858 by a lie. Wallace and Darwin entrusted us with their research, and we believe it is in the interest of science to publish some of it. Darwin and Wallace knew each other well and decided to publish their own articles on the theory of evolution at the same time, but Darwin published his first. Other than initially stated, Alfred Russel Wallace’s intention to publish was concealed. It was a scam that would haunt the scientist for a long time.
Wallace had dropped out of school at the age of 14. As the eighth child of a poor family, he had to struggle to earn a living. He could not enroll in a university. But he is self-taught, accumulating important scientific knowledge on his own. Like contemporary explorers like himself, Wallace dreamed of leaving the world and exploring the unknown part of this planet. He traveled to various tropical regions of the world, although he did not have much financial power or popularity in the scientific world.
Moreover, the freethinker’s first voyage ended in tragedy. By the age of 25, Wallace was exploring the Amazon jungle, collecting various plants and animals including parrots, monkeys and insects. The ship he had taken to return to the West had faced a strong storm and had sunk. He tried to save some of the animals, but most of them had drowned in their own cages.
However, the scientific spirit did not break him, watching the sky and meteors pass him by as he floated on a lifeboat in the middle of the Atlantic. In 1854, Wallace undertook his second voyage, which took him to Indonesia, from where he acquired for analysis no less than 125,000 cockroaches, birds and other mammals. All this for one purpose: to discover the origin of the species.
A special role was played here by geologist Charles Lyell, who later deprived Wallace of well-deserved fame. In his book, Principles of geology, Lyell criticized Lamarck’s theses, which postulated changes within species and proposed the idea that inheritance of acquired characters can lead to variation within species. There were enough reasons for Wallace to care more about the subject.
Thus, in 1855, he took a stand and declared himself against Lamarckism, although Lyell disagreed with this due to his overconfidence in the Bible. Wallace recognized the connection between the geological transformations of the earth, their geographical distribution and the variation of species. But the essay that addressed the issue was a bit chaotic and not so convincing.
Matters were clarified with the personal experience of 1858 when Wallace contracted a high fever in Indonesia and wondered why some survive and others die. The answer that came to mind clarified the idea of evolution: “the one who adapts best survives”. And the more he thought, the more he was convinced that he had discovered the law that governs all species.
He sent his manuscript with Lyell’s theory, using Darwin as an intermediary. As Lyell was one of the most prominent figures in the field, he wanted someone to follow in his footsteps and beat the existing literature, with relevant arguments. But Darwin does not immediately hand over the manuscript, because in turn he has written a thick book that develops much the same ideas, which he keeps in the drawer. At least that’s what Darwin mentioned…
What should be done? Darwin advises his close friends, Lyell and Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker. Only two weeks later teach the trials at the Linnean Society. Darwin published his book and the theory quickly circulated in the world of science. But Wallace, who was still in foreign lands, received no news of Darwin’s publication of his theory.
What remains somewhat uncertain is whether Darwin had somehow used the ideas of his competitor (Wallace). Zoologist Matthias Glaubrecht of the Berlin Museum of Natural Sciences think that the principle of divergence invoked by Darwin in The Origin of Species would have been taken from Wallace’s essays. However, Ulrich Kutscheraan evolutionary biologist at the University of Kassel says it’s unlikely.
Wallace was too tense because of the situation. His main book, The Malaysian Archipelago, written in 1869, was dedicated to Darwin, his idol. Moreover, after the death of the researcher in 1882, he had always claimed that he was the father of the principle of natural selection because he had developed a more complete theory than Darwin. Some argue that Wallace had an intuition, but Darwin had gathered much more analytical material 20 years earlier. Without Darwin’s hard work, Wallace’s just suspicions would never have prevailed in the world of science.
Or maybe he just didn’t want to take on the great scholars of the day. Perhaps the stranger had forgiven his idol. In the end, Wallace didn’t have a fancy degree to prove his scientific abilities. But that would not excuse inappropriate behavior on either side. If the situation were contemporary, there would certainly be a big scandal.
By the time of his death, Wallace had achieved worldwide fame and won important accolades. An obituary wrote that with his death the great generation of scientists had ended. He had finally secured a place among the big names. Only the theory of evolution will enter a cone of shadow, and with it and the researcher. Since then, Wallace’s work had been forgotten, especially his research on the theory of evolution.
20 years later, the scientific community recognizes the merits of Darwin’s theory. Evolution becomes the watchword, and with it comes the light and glorious memory of Darwin, who has gradually become the most famous naturalist researcher in history. The other name stays in the same shadow cone.
On Darwin’s advice, Wallace remained aloof from the scientific community for a long time. He was more concerned with the practical aspects, with exploration, with highlighting the dissemination of species, thus establishing zoogeography. The publication of the materials of both, handled as it was, led to its oblivion.
In some respects Wallace had surpassed Darwin. He always spoke out against Lamarckism, against the inheritance of acquired characteristics, whereas Darwin was a Lamarckist. Over the past two decades, interest in the forgotten researcher has grown, as he is now recognized in specialist circles as an evolutionary, free-thinking, systematic biologist, co-founder of the principle of natural selection and neo-Darwinian theory. , parent of zoogeography and astrobiology, but also promoter of ecology.
Wallace is an excellent example for all contemporary scientists. The passion for knowledge, self-learning, perseverance and fascination for discovery are decisive characteristics for making a significant contribution to the world of science. If we have come to an in-depth knowledge of how nature works, it is also thanks to this special man, who remained too long in anonymity.