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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Spiritual Brain: Vindicating Alfred Russel Wallace, the "other" discoverer of natural selection?

Mike Flannery, a Wallace fan and scholar, thinks that Mario Beauregard's and my The Spiritual Brain is a vindication of Alfred Russel Wallace, among other things. Wallace was Darwin’s co-author of the theory of natural selection (survival of the fittest).

But Wallace became estranged from Darwin’s circle, because he saw natural selection only as a mechanism by which one species might slowly transform into another. He did not see it as explaining life, the universe, and all that - and certainly not the origin of the human mind. Anyway, Flannery comments,
The human facility for mathematics, for music, for art, for reasoning, for metaphysics, even for humor, where do these qualities come from? Answer: “the facts, taken in their entirety, compel us to recognize some origin for them wholly distinct from that which has served to account for the animal characteristics – whether bodily or mental – of man.” That “origin” and all the evidence “point clearly to an unseen universe – to a world of spirit, to which the world of matter is altogether subordinate.” Such was the conclusion of the co-discoverer (some would say sole discoverer!) of modern evolutionary theory, Alfred Russel Wallace.

Now Mario Beauregard and Denyse O’Leary in their carefully researched and tightly argued The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case for the Existence of Soul agree, lending a modern scientific perspective in their analysis of the religious, spiritual, and/or mystical experiences recorded by all cultures at all times and studied in detail among Carmelite nuns.

Few remember Wallace because his eminently reasonable conclusion was drowned out by the rank materialism of Charles Darwin. When Darwin insisted that human faculties were derived from the lower animals, Wallace protested that such a conclusion “appears to me not to be supported by adequate evidence.”

Neither is it supported by modern neuroscience say Beauregard and O’Leary. Wallace vindicated! The Darwinists will cry “NO!!!” just as Darwin himself did when he first read Wallace’s 1869 paper objecting to the Down House patriarch’s materialistic absolutism, but nonsense then remains nonsense now. Darwin’s reductionist speculations now appear as old and threadbare as the Victorian scientism from it sprang. “If we are to make significant breakthroughs with regard to our understanding of human mind and consciousness as well as the development of the spiritual potential of humanity,” write Beauregard and O’Leary, “we need a new scientific frame of reference.”

A century and a half of neglect is too long. Has the near-forgotten Wallace finally been heard?


Well, we hope so. If I ever get a chance to visit Wallace's quiet grave, I will place on it a morning glory, like the one from my garden, pictured above.


By the way, Flannery's reference to "(some would say sole discoverer!)" refers to long-standing suspicions that Wallace should properly be credited with first outlining the theory of natural selection, but Darwin's aristocratic associations led to his getting the credit instead. Start here for more on that.

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