Book Review by M.L. Ramprakash
Held on 26th February and 5th March 2021
Michael A. Flannery, Professor Emeritus, UAB Libraries, University of Alabama, specialising in medical history and bioethics, in this book attempts to revive interest in the great work of Alfred Russel Wallace, The World of life, first published in 1910.
The author brings out the stark contrast in the world-views of the two great pioneers of modern Evolutionary theory, Charles Darwin and Wallace.
The interesting feature of the comparative study of the theories of Darwin and Wallace is that both the scientist of eminence independently carried out for years minute and meticulous observations of life in the pristine tropical and subtropical world, both gathered a mass of data and brought home loads of specimen, both advanced the hypothesis of gradual evolution of life from the simple to more complex forms, but their reasoning and conclusions diverged in two opposite directions, because of their differing world-views.
Darwin schooled in materialistic, non-teleological and mechanistic methods to which Huxley and Haeckel uncompromisingly adhered, interpreted natural phenomena to be outcome of random physical matter in motion, having neither design nor any purpose.
Wallace, on the other hand, not only advanced a counter theory that orderly processes and laws of nature are visible manifestations of hidden organizing, directing, intelligence with a purpose; but he also mustered a mass of evidence from the world of life which could not be the result of unintelligent mechanical process but unmistakably pointed to the hidden working of Intelligent Evolution.
Darwin’s theory is mechanistic and non-teleological.
Wallace’s theory is intelligent, teleological synthesis.
Wallace ingeniously illustrates the two contrasting opposite views with a “physiological allegory” (page 102) as a strong argument against unintelligent, non-teleological processes of nature as untenable.
Comparative study of the works of the two great scientists is of significant importance in shaping the two contrasting socio-political culture and civilizational ideal–one tending to stark materialism with all its negative fall out, and the other to higher evolution of humanism, environmental ethics and world peace.
Book Review in two parts
The author devotes considerable pages of the book in reviewing the works of Darwin and Wallace in a historical perspective.
In order to appreciate the value and significance of Wallace’s work it is imperative to first recall the history of the development of non-teleological mechanistic model of the modern scientific method, strongly defended by Huxley and Haeckel, and how it shaped Darwin’s thinking and outlook, which formed his ideological basis for his magnum opus, The Origin of Species.
In the first part of the Book Review the history of Darwin’s early education and schooling in Positivistic philosophy of Comte, David Hume and Francis Bacon which shaped his outlook is recounted, together with recalling a few basic concepts of Natural Selection interpreted in terms of non-teleological method of modern science.
In the second part the teleological synthesis of Wallace’s theory of Intelligent Evolution he propounded in his work The World of Life, is detailed, and the social, political and Environmental consequences to which the holistic outlook naturally gives rise is discussed, in contrast to the undesirable consequences to which Darwin’s non-teleological mechanistic model logically leads.