Alfred Russel Wallace

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Alfred Russel Wallace, OM, FRS (Born::January 8, 1823Died::November 7, 1913) was a contemporary of Charles Darwin and is known as the founder of the studies of ecology and biogeography. He derived a theory of evolution and natural selection independently of Darwin. Wallace was knighted and is with Darwin one of the two officially credited co-discoverers of evolution.

Semi-Creationist beliefs

Unlike Darwin, Wallace believed a Creator guided the process of evolution, playing a key role throughout history in the inbreathing of spirit in mankind and bestowing mental faculties to humans. The following interview with Wallace in 1903 contains a very thorough revelation of Wallace's religious beliefs:

"My whole argument tends in that direction [a Designer], though my object in writing 'Man's Place in the Universe' was purely scientific, not religious. Darwin believed that the mental, moral, and spiritual nature of man were alike developed from the lower animals, automatically, by the same processes that evolved his physical structure. I maintain, on the other hand, that there are indications of man having received something that he could not have derived from the lower animals. I do not think it is possible to form any idea beyond this, that when man's body was prepared to receive it, there occurred an inbreathing of spirit--call it what you will. I believe this influx took place at three stages in evolution--the change (1) from the inorganic to the organic, (2) from the plant to the animal, (3) from the animal to the soul of man. Evolution seems to me to fail to account for these tremendous transitions... To suppose that this one particular type of universe extends over all space is, I consider, to have a low idea of the Creator and His power. That would mean monotony, instead of infinite variety, which is the keynote of things as they are known to us. There may be a million universes, but they may all be different--certainly, I should say, not all matter. We are all agreed that ether is the fundamental, matter being its product; and it is possible that ether may have other products which are not perceptible by us. 'Then, as a scientist, you have no difficulty in believing in the existence of consciousness apart from material organism?' None whatever. At the same time, I have a difficulty in conceiving--though there is no reason why it should not exist--pure mind, pure spirit, apart from any substantial envelope or substratum. St. Paul speaks of a 'spiritual body'; that is a body possessed by disembodied spirits. To them it is real enough, but to us it is not corporeal."

-Sir Alfred Russell Wallace[1]

Wallace called his advocacy for a Creator his "little heresy" because of the opposition it drew from the scientific community. His friend Darwin even contacted Wallace, expressing regret that Wallace's new emphasis on the supernatural might doom the theory of evolution.
"In 1866, Wallace, never one to keep his opinions to himself, produced a pamphlet, 'The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural,' which he sent to his eminent colleagues. In 1869, he published a review of a new edition of Lyell’s 'Principles.' In it, Wallace explained the mechanism of evolution and defended the laws of natural selection that accounted for it, but he also expressed the opinion that 'there yet seems to be evidence of a Power which has guided the action of those laws in definite directions and for special ends.' This was one of the first public expressions of a mystical turn that Wallace called his 'little heresy.' Darwin, warned in advance, had written anxiously to Wallace, 'I hope you have not murdered too completely your own and my child.' Wallace never did abandon natural selection, but later generations came to find him an unfit parent. He did not conform to the pattern of the modern scientist, who, on seeing the evolutionary light, was supposed to shed any illusion about the supernatural. Wallace attempted to reconcile the two, and his reputation suffered accordingly."

-Jonathan Rosen, The New Yorker, "Missing Link: Alfred Russel Wallace, Charles Darwin's Neglected Double." 2007.[2]

As Ron Grossman, a longtime Chicago Tribune reporter and ex-history professor, pointed out in 2009, Wallace is something of a 'missing link' between early evolutionary theory and today's Intelligent Design movement:
"As virtually every schoolchild learns, evolution means one life form evolves out of a previous one. That concept rankles religious fundamentalists because it doesn't leave room for the hand of God -- except in Wallace's version of the story... Subsequently, Wallace tweaked his theory of evolution. He still held that environment was key to change through survival. The antelope with stronger legs escapes predators to beget again another day. But he added that on three occasions in history, the natural process was interrupted by what he called "the unseen universe of Spirit." First, when life was created out of inorganic matter; second, when consciousness came to animals; and finally, when higher mental faculties were bestowed on humans. Creationists are always carping about supposed missing links in evolution. Wallace's theory is a kind of missing link between Darwin's ideas and the creationists' religious convictions. Mostly, nature carries the ball, but once in a while God throws a touchdown pass."[3]
According to the Discovery Institute, Wallace's views received an unusual source of approval in Charles Lyell, the founder of Uniformitarianism (the concept geological processes and evolutionary rates are constant and gradual).
"'13) What did Wallace’s scientific colleagues think of intelligent evolution?'

Most rejected it. But Charles Lyell, the great geologist to whom both Darwin and Wallace owed so much of their theories, never gave Darwin the approval he so desperately sought. When Darwin complained to Lyell of Wallace’s defection, Lyell replied, "I rather hail Wallace’s suggestion that there may be a Supreme Will and Power which may not abdicate its functions of interference, but may guide the forces and laws of Nature."[4]

Beliefs on spiritualism

Darwin in his later years gave more credence to spiritualism and psychic mediums.

"He [Wallace] began investigating the philosophy and manifestations of spiritualism, most likely (in my opinion) in an effort to complete what he had started in 1858. The result was a wholly new evolutionary synthesis, one in which a material process (natural selection) was understood to rule at the biological level, while a spiritual one (as described through spiritualism) operated at the level of consciousness."

-Alfred Dawson.[5]

These beliefs dropped Wallace's standing in the scientific community, particularly after he insisted on a discussion of the subject at a meeting of scientists.
"In his later years, Wallace became increasingly kooky. He defended spiritualist mediums who conducted seances. He was adept at phrenology, a theory that personality types could be discovered by reading the bumps on someone's head. Darwin remained a loyal friend and tried to get a government pension for Wallace. But his reputation among naturalists sank, especially after he insisted on a discussion of spiritualism at a convention of scientists."[3]

Excluded from scientific community

Wallace's advocacy of a Creator, what Wallace called his "little heresy," coupled with his support for spiritualism, dropped Wallace's standing in the scientific community.

"Wallace has lost caste considerably, not only by his adhesion to Spiritualism, but by the fact of his having deliberately and against the whole voice of the committee of his section of the British Association, brought about a discussion of on Spiritualism at one of its sectional meetings. That he is said to have done so in an underhanded manner, and I well remember the indignation it gave rise to in the B.A. Council."

-Joseph Hooker

When Wallace's investments went south, Darwin came to his friend's aid, advocating for him, and managed to get a pension for him despite initial opposition from Joseph Hooker and others.[6][7]
"Wallace dedicated his book The Malay Archipelago - said to be a favourite of Joseph Conrad's - to Darwin in 1869 and, when Wallace hit hard times (investments made from the sale of his specimens took a dramatic tumble), Darwin lobbied for him to be awarded a government pension. Wallace was a pallbearer at Darwin's funeral."

-Ahuja Anjana, The Times[8]


The scientific community today prefers to avoid the subject of Wallace, because of his unusual religious views for a scientist. As such, his name often goes unmentioned in discussions of evolution despite the major role he played.

"G. K. Chesterton once remarked that Wallace was one of the world’s great men because he led a revolution and then a counter-revolution. Having done as much as anyone to overturn traditional religious assumptions, Wallace proceeded to horrify his fellow-evolutionists by concluding that natural selection could not in itself explain the uniqueness of man. He never renounced his evolutionary theory, but instead made it the cornerstone of a theistic explanation of the universe. No wonder a later scientific generation, newly professionalized, ignored him in favor of his more austere and single-minded colleagues... The generations that came after Wallace, extending into our own, have never known quite what to make of him. He remains today too theistic for the Darwinians and too Darwinian for advocates of intelligent design, with whom it is hard to imagine him having much patience... Wallace, whose theory played such a crucial part in severing the relationship between science and religion, then devoted himself to the attempt to link them again. In the century since his death, in 1913, the gulf between science and religion has only widened, and later generations of scientists, reaching for useful models, have overlooked him."[2]
In February, 2006, a marvelous insect collection of Wallace's was discovered, many of which may even be brand new species to science.[9]
"So thorough was Wallace’s enthusiastic collecting that many of the items in this chest alone promise to be species new to science. One, in fact, was just described by another biologist earlier this year as a new genus, Grimaldi notes."[10]


  1. Wallace, Alfred R. (1903, December 10).A Visit to Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace (S741: 1903). In The Christian Commonwealth.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Rosen, Jonathan (2007, February 12). "Missing Link: Alfred Russel Wallace, Charles Darwin's Neglected Double." The New Yorker.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Grossman, Ron (2009, February 10). "The Man Everybody Ignored." Chicago Tribune.
  4. Flannery, Michael A. "Wallace FAQs." Discovery Institute. Center for Science and Culture.
  5. Dawson, Alfred. "Alfred Russel Wallace: A Capsule Biography." University of Kentucky.
  6. McCalman, Iain (2009). "Darwin's Armada: Four Voyages and the Battle for the Theory of Evolution." pp. 363-364. W.W. Norton & Company.
  7. Slotten, Wallace A. (2004). "The Heretic in Darwin's Court." pp. 357-358. Columbia University Press.
  8. Anjana, Ahuja (2009, February 12). "A Forgotten Hero: Darwin's Co-Discoverer." The Times.
  9. Natural History Museum (2006, February 10). "Lost Wallace treasures found in attic."
  10. Harmon, Katherine (2009, November 24). "Naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace’s collection unveiled for the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s Origin of Species." Scientific American.