History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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Bowler’s book and the plagiarism problem

August 11th, 2013 · 2 Comments

Weikart takes up Bowler’s Darwin Deleted and discusses the problems with the book (which I haven’t read yet)
The ID folks at Discovery have been misled by Flannery’s book on Darwin which did not grasp the way in which Darwin plagiarized Wallace. Roy Davies carefully summarized and further developed the research here.
So Bowler’s basic thesis is a howler indeed: Darwin was in theory irrelevant to the development of selectionist evolution. Wallace had the whole theory in his grasp, and it ended up with Darwin. So Bowler’s question is answered: the theory had already appeared in Wallace just before Darwin received the famous Ternate letter. If Wallace had instead sent his paper to the Annals (the magazine he frequently published to) we would today speak of Wallace-ism. Another question must then be, what if Wallace had never lived? That is hard to answer, and the fact remains: since natural selection theory is not a real theory of evolution, it would have been better if it had never been produced. But the argument is telling that Wallace really discovered a form of microevolution, and this enabled everyone to actually visualize how ‘evolutionary change’ (if not really evolution) might occur.
So Wallace’s transient passage through microevolution helped to orient biologists toward a real research project. But, to repeat, since Wallace’s theory (Darwin being irrelevant) was not a real theory, the fact remains that we have to this day no true theory of evolution. So Bowler is out in left field. Will he remain there forever?
As we have noted here before, without Wallace and Darwin, scientists already had a true theory of evolution, in the work of Lamarck. So in a way Wallace and Darwin are technically a regression. But Wallace, with his microevolution produced a true key of another kind. Although a true theory, in principle, in practice Lamarck’s ‘theory’ is still too inchoate to be quite viable. But he had the masterkey: evolution is operating on two (or more) levels. The distinction of micro and macroevolution is useful here, but these terms have been misdefined so many times they are hot to handle. I use them in WHEE where I think the usage, for the first time, is (about) right: evolution on two levels in Lamarck means 1. the drive toward complexity, and 2. the process of adaptation of the forms so emergent. How this happens is not clear, and Lamarck’s vague statement, confused further by his theory of adaptation, has made scientists unwilling to countenance his insight.
But let it be said in bold letters: Wallace and Darwin are a regression from a true theory of evolution, the kind Lamarck glimpsed. The problem with Lamarck is the near metaphysical confusions of the idea of a ‘drive toward complexity’. The latter is the true key, but there is no way to make a science of that yet.
Poor Bowler: misled his whole life by a theory which many in the science world have long known to be untrue, if not a fraud. If Darwin had never lived we would be a lot better off, probably.
Meanwhile the first true theory of evolution is still in the wings, and may never appear, because it requires a science of teleology,for starters, and nonsuch is likely.
Meanhile Flannery at Discotute needs to be confronted by the ID gang, locked in a small room with bread and water, to produce a second edition of his book, after a careful read of Roy Davies’ The Darwin Conspiracy (appearing here in daily installments).

The ideas and terminology of Darwinism are so pervasive these days that it seems impossible to avoid them, let alone imagine a world without them. But in this remarkable rethinking of scientific history, Peter J. Bowler does just that. He asks: What if Charles Darwin had not returned from the voyage of the Beagle and thus did not write On the Origin of Species? Would someone else, such as Alfred Russel Wallace, have published the selection theory and initiated a similar transformation? Or would the absence of Darwin’s book have led to a different sequence of events, in which biology developed along a track that did not precipitate a great debate about the impact of evolutionism? Would there have been anything equivalent to social Darwinism, and if so would the alternatives have been less pernicious and misappropriated?

In Darwin Deleted, Bowler argues that no one else, not even Wallace, was in a position to duplicate Darwin’s complete theory of evolution by natural selection. Evolutionary biology would almost certainly have emerged, but through alternative theories, which were frequently promoted by scientists, religious thinkers, and moralists who feared the implications of natural selection. Because non-Darwinian elements of evolutionism flourished for a time in the real world, it is possible to plausibly imagine how they might have developed, particularly if the theory of natural selection had not emerged until decades after the acceptance of the basic idea of evolution. Bowler’s unique approach enables him to clearly explain the non-Darwinian tradition—and in doing so, he reveals how the reception of Darwinism was historically contingent. By taking Darwin out of the equation, Bowler is able to fully elucidate the ideas of other scientists, such as Richard Owen and Thomas Huxley, whose work has often been misunderstood because of their distinctive responses to Darwin.
Darwin Deleted boldly offers a new vision of scientific history. It is one where the sequence of discovery and development would have been very different and would have led to an alt


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