Discovery Institute Rediscovers Alfred Wallace

Is there anyone — in this world or any other — who pays serious attention to the work of David Klinghoffer? He’s a “senior fellow” (i.e., flaming, full-blown creationist), among the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids, a/k/a the cdesign proponentsists).

We won’t bother to repeat our description of Klinghoffer’s creationist oeuvre here, but you can check it out in this recent post. Suffice it to say that Klinghoffer is very experienced at whipping out his “Darwin = Hitler–Marx-Stalin-Mao-Mengele-Manson-etc.” rhetorical device and waiving it around at any provocation. But he’s giving that a rest today.

At the Discoveroid blog we find the latest post by Klinghoffer: New Biography Reveals Evolution’s Co-Discoverer as Early Intelligent Design Advocate. Although the Discoveroids have announced a new policy of allowing comments on their blog, that feature isn’t enabled (at least not yet) for this article. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

In a sparkling, concise and controversial new biography of the co-discoverer of evolutionary theory, historian Michael A. Flannery tells a largely unknown story that has been embarrassing Darwinians in the know for almost a century and a half.

Flannery tells an unknown story that will embarrass us? Oh goodie! Klinghoffer doesn’t bother to tell us (perhaps it’s too embarrassing), but Flannery is — like Klinghoffer — a Discoveroid “fellow,” as can be seen here, so what we have is one Discoveroid “fellow” praising the “sparkling” work of another. Let’s read on:

In Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life, published by Discovery Institute Press, Flannery shows how Wallace ultimately came to reject the sufficiency of his own theory of natural selection to explain what he called in the title of his final work and magnum opus, The World of Life (1910).

Another interesting datum should be emphasized. Flannery’s book is published by the Discoveroids’ own captive publisher. You can be certain, therefore, that Klinghoffer’s review is entirely objective. Here’s the Amazon listing for Flannery’s book. We continue with Klinghoffer’s post:

In considering the evidence from biology, from the world of life, Wallace perceived that the world must also be permeated by life and intelligence not perceptible directly to our senses but whose existence may be inferred from biological phenomena — human consciousness above all, but also the intricate functioning of the living cell and the hemoglobin molecule, bird wings and feathers, butterfly coloration and insect metamorphosis, and much more. Beyond the “self-acting agency” of undirected evolution, he argued, there must be some “Creative Power,” a “directive Mind,” and an “ultimate Purpose.”

Aha — we can see the Discoveroids’ reason for their interest in Wallace. But are we embarrassed, or did Wallace embarrass himself late in life? The book Flannery mentions was published in 1910. Wallace died in 1913 at the age of 90. If his views in that book are being accurately described (which we haven’t verified) how is this different from any other old fellow whose rational faculties diminish near the end — if that really happened to Wallace?

Besides, if evolution is good science supported by all available evidence, what would even a sincere and coherent recantation by Wallace mean? It wouldn’t change the facts. Recall that Galileo literally recanted his belief in the solar system, but it’s still there. Maybe, just maybe, by the time we’re done here it’ll be the Discoveroids who will end up embarrassed. One more excerpt from Klinghoffer:

Anticipating modern intelligent design theory, Wallace was not speaking here about God in any traditional sense. Yet he wrote, “To afford any rational explanation of [life’s] phenomena, we require to postulate the continuous action and guidance of higher intelligences; and further, that these have probably been working towards a single end, the development of intellectual, moral, and spiritual beings.” He often referred to these “intelligences” as “angels.”

What are we to make of this? Was Wallace really someone who anticipated the Discoveroids’ “theory” of intelligent design? We suggest that the reality may be a bit more complicated.

We never read Wallace’s final book. Everyone knows that Wallace independently arrived at the idea of evolution by natural selection, but Darwin gets all the attention around here. Doesn’t Wallace have any fans? Yes, actually he does. Pat Buchanan claims that Wallace was the victim of Darwin’s intellectual theft (see: Pat Buchanan Presents Every Creationist Fallacy!)

Back in mid-2008 we discussed an article by Casey in which he was gushing over Wallace. Our post is Did Alfred Russel Wallace believe in Intelligent Design? That’s worth revisiting, because we quoted quite a bit from Wallace’s actual writing. He was clearly committed to the theory of evolution — which he discovered on his own. Darwin always acknowledged this, and Wallace always praised Darwin’s work and never disputed Darwin’s priority. Here’s one example from our earlier post — a quote from a review Wallace wrote in 1869 about Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology, which review is found here:

Darwin, on the other hand, is at all events clear and intelligible. He calls in the aid of no ‘tendencies’ or ‘principles,’ which he does not clearly explain, and he supports every position by an appeal to the facts of nature. More than this, he appeals to all the facts, and applies his theory to the explanation of the most varied and the most complicated phenomena; and he is ready to give up his whole system if one fact can be found absolutely irreconcileable with it.

That was Wallace in his own words. He doesn’t sound like anyone who would fit comfortably into the Discoveroids’ “think tank.” In that same review, Wallace also wrote:

It would certainly appear in the highest degree improbable, that the whole animal kingdom from the lowest zoophytes up to the horse, the dog, and the ape, should have been developed by the simple action of natural laws, and that the animal man, so absolutely identical with them in all the main features and many of the details of his organization, should have been formed in some quite other unknown way.

Nothing to complain about there. But then Wallace jumps the tracks, and this is the sort of thing about which he and Darwin never agreed:

Neither natural selection nor the more general theory of evolution can give any account whatever of the origin of sensational or conscious life.

In our earlier post we give examples of what we call Wallace’s “wild side,” such as attending seances and imagining that he communicated with spirits. That irrational disposition may have overwhelmed him late in life to the point where he’d fit in with the Discoveroids, but in his prime he was totally convinced of the validity of evolution. However, it’s can’t be denied that Wallace thought man had some characteristics that weren’t explained by his and Darwin’s theory. Does that make him an early advocate of intelligent design? Or was he someone who — despite his scientific accomplishments — couldn’t completely accept the implications of evolution?

We think it’s incorrect of the Discoveroids to claim Wallace as one of their own, but they need all the support they can find, wherever they can find it. Wallace, however, is no Discoveroid. His position seems somewhat like the Vatican’s (see: Pope John Paul II’s statement in 1979, and also The Vatican and Evolution). Their position is that evolution is solid science — but humans have an extra spiritual feature, the soul. Nevertheless, they accept evolution. We know that the Discoveroids aren’t fans of the Vatican, and vice versa, a fact we’ve documented a few times before. See: Discovery Institute vs. The Vatican and Fox News.

So what’s the Discoveroids’ purpose in bringing attention to Wallace? Are they claiming that Wallace — were he alive today — would be a devoted Discoveroid? Based on what we’ve read by him, Wallace wouldn’t have anything to do with them; but it’s always safe to make claims about what the dead would do if only they weren’t dead. (It’s safe, in that the dead can’t defend themselves, but it’s also silly.)

We suspect the Discoveroids don’t know where they’re going with Wallace, which isn’t surprising. And we’re left wondering what it is about Wallace that’s supposed to be so embarrassing for us. Anyway, it’s always fun to read another piece by Klinghoffer.

Update: See Discoveroids Adopt Alfred Wallace as Godfather.

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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7 responses to “Discovery Institute Rediscovers Alfred Wallace

  1. The principle here seems to be that the idea is only as good as the human who thought about it. Wallace makes a discovery; Wallace changes his mind. Therefore, Wallace’s discovery is invalid. This is ad hominem reasoning.

    What the Discovery Institute needs to accept is that scientific arguments have to be made on the facts, not on the personalities. Good luck with that, I suppose.

  2. In the absence of any significant modern scientist to write about in support of design, the DI has to mine the past for anyone with a reputation to bolster their view. Never mind that the historical scientist doesn’t fit well with ID, the revisionist masters will fix that.

    Of course, being Klinghoffer, we get the comment “However, from the middle twentieth century on, scientific fields as diverse as genetics, biochemistry, paleontology, taxonomy, and cosmology yielded their secrets and the pillars holding up the materialist worldview began to loosen from their moorings. What’s coming into focus now is a very different view of nature. “ Tell a big lie often enough….

  3. Let’s see, Wallace accepted none of the physiologiical “evidences” that the IDiots trumpet for ID, yet he accepted a kind of “spirit” for explaining “mind,” so he’s supposedly in their camp. No identifiable evidence (only presuppositions) connect them, but Wallace at some point agreed on one of their religious points, so they adopt him as theirs. ID is not, of course, about religion, only about science and evidence.

    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle agreed with Wallace’s junk “science” as much as the DI does. And that matters just as much as Wallace’s nonsense does.

  4. Wallace was a believer in spiritualism, which is considered by evangelicals as akin to devil-worship. Wonder how THAT goes over with the DI?

  5. For a start it’s Klinghoffer so you know it’s a lie from stem to stern. No need to read anything further.

    Second, that Wallace was a spiritualist is well known, documented and not new. Big deal. Lots of people back then were spiritualists, lots are today judging from the number of Psychics, Palm Readers and Discovery Institute fellows are still employed. It’s hard to imagine what New and Exciting things about Wallace our librarian Flannery discovered in his 150-page “tome.”

    Flannery is a librarian. I wonder why Klinghoffer didn’t describe him as librarian Flannery? Sure, Flannery has a night degree in history from Cal. State Uni. Dominguez Hills, but he also prefaces his work that his writing reflects his own opinion and not that of the Univ. of Alabama Birmingham, much like the disclaimer that’s on Behe’s door.

    So, what we have here is another creationist essay, written by a creationist, published by creationists and reviewed by a creationist. Not very creative if you ask me.

  6. SC: “We suspect the Discoveroids don’t know where they’re going with Wallace, which isn’t surprising.”

    Sure they do. When you don’t have an alternate “theory” throwing mud is the only option. Some mud will “stick” regardless of how wrong it is, and even if it contradicts other “mud” that has stuck. That’s because most audiences, including those who are capable of knowing better, will not bother to check for accuracy or consistency, and is unaware of the lengths the DI will go to quote mine.

  7. The DI is wrong about most everything they claim, therefore claiming that Wallace was a supported of ID can hardly make them any more wrong.

    Although the Discoveroids have announced a new policy of allowing comments on their blog …

    Really? This might be fun.