June 18, 1858 (a Friday)

Map from *The Malay Archipelago* by Wallace, showing the physical geography of the Archipelago and his travels. (The thin black lines indicate where Wallace traveled, and the red lines indicate chains of volcanoes.)

On this date, Charles Darwin received a paper from Alfred Russel Wallace, who was still at the Malay Archipelago. The paper was titled: “On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type.”

Darwin was shocked! Wallace had come up with a theory of natural selection that was very similar to his own. The paper contained concepts like “the struggle for existence,” and “the transmutation of species.” Upon further examination Darwin saw that Wallace had some ideas about natural selection that he did not agree with. For one thing, Wallace tried to mix social morality with natural selection, proposing an upward evolution of human morals which would eventually lead to a socialist utopia (Darwin’s natural selection had no goal). What’s more, Wallace believed that cooperation in groups aided in the progress of mankind (Darwin saw natural selection as being influenced by competition). Finally, Wallace’s natural selection was guided by a higher spiritual power (there was no divine intervention in Darwin’s version).

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3 responses to “June 18, 1858 (a Friday)

  1. Interesting contrast, very succinctly stated. The way you frame it gives me the notion that perhaps Darwin’s unique contribution in Origin of Species was not so much natural selection but his atheism. After all, in order to see the living world as brutally and essentially competitive, you pretty much have to take God out of it altogether. Darwin later saw sociability playing an important role alongside competition, as have evolutionists ever since, but maybe it took a willingness to not assume any deity at all in order for Darwin to get at that first dark vision of an unremitting struggle for survival.

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