Charles Darwin Accused Of Theft

It’s unsupported claim time. Roy Davies, an author, has written a book, The Darwin Conspiracy: Origins Of A Scientific Crime, claiming that Charles Darwin stole the work of naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace and presented it as his own. The “theft” supposedly occured when Wallace wrote to Darwin. Conspiracy by snail mail. A UK article explains:

[Davies] crucial evidence, he claims, is in pinpointing the exact dates that letters from Wallace to Darwin explaining his theories arrived at Darwin’s home, proving that the Welsh scientist developed them first.

When Darwin received “the” letter from Wallace, Darwin had already been researching his theories for 20 years. Darwin’s famous sketch from 1937 clearly shows that he understood that evolution was a branching tree and not a straight line. Wallace had extensive experience in the field, but his published work at the time was practically nill. Science requires evidence.

Both men presented their theories to the scientific Linnean Society of London, but Darwin’s manuscript was published the following year, and he has since been universally credited with the theory, while Wallace’s name has largely been forgotten.

Both their papers were presented for them at the Linnean Society. Wallace was in Malaysia at the time and Darwin was cloistered at home. The papers fell flat and no one gave them much notice. The reason was that big claims require even bigger evidence. The papers simply weren’t enough. So, Darwin spent the next year writing his book, On The Origin Of Species. If anything, Wallace’s letter spurred him on to compile his book. Both men independently discovered how evolution works. However, Darwin was the first to explain it properly with mounds and mounds of evidence.

To say that Darwin stole Wallace’s material is pure speculation and contrary to the overall facts. Writers love to create controversy where none exists, because it sells. And dead men can’t defend themselves. No doubt creationists will misuse this new book by Roy Davies for their own sleazy agenda.


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10 responses to “Charles Darwin Accused Of Theft

  1. You might do better and be more accurate if you actually read the book and then discussed its contents rather than dismiss it so perfunctorily.
    Darwin’s branching diagram of 1837 did not depict an understanding of divergence, the driving force of evolution. He was merely attempting to show how various species were connected to each other. Taxonomy by diagram, if you will. He did not understand the presence of divergence, even when writing a note to himself, as late as November 1854 [see Browne; Ospovat; de Beer] and probably not until after Wallace’s Ternate Law turned up at his home on June 3, 1858 [Beddall]. Oh, and by the way, there was no Darwin paper at the Linnean only Lyell, Hooker, an idea sent to Gray which Darwin immediately admitted was ‘grievously hypothetical’ and a dishonest claim to the importance of Malthus on his ideas.
    So, read the book, take a deep breath, suspend your disbelief and consider that Darwin did in fact cheat, steal and lie about Wallace’s influence on his ideas. I promise you, you’ll feel better for it and, dare I suggest, more open to intellectual truth.

  2. thedarwinreport

    “Darwin’s branching diagram of 1837 did not depict an understanding of divergence, the driving force of evolution. He was merely attempting to show how various species were connected to each other.”

    You are incorrect. Prior to 1858, Darwin clearly understood that evolution was not orthogenetic (a straight line), but branching. And the presentation of Wallace’s paper was not enough to convince scientists of evolution. “The Origin Of Species” is a compilation of vasts amounts of research. Wallace failed to offer the same level of evidence, and thus didn’t receive the credit.

    Other writers have accused Darwin of theft, but have offered scant evidence to support their claims. Postal schedules and speculation isn’t what I call truth. Publishers love controversy, and writers dig until they find it. The one thing I do know about reading history is that it’s part fiction.

  3. thedarwinreport

    “Wallace’s Ternate Law turned up at his home on June 3, 1858 [Beddall]”

    The actual date when Wallace’s correspondence arrived at Darwin’s home is not known for sure. Official sources give it as June 18, while others give it as May 18. Beddell splits the difference with June 3. Hardly compelling evidence considering the haphazard nature of 19th mail routes. And the date is key.

    If Roy Davies’ argument is anything like David Quammen’s account of the Darwin / Wallace affair, then his accusation rests on accounts written decades after the fact. What did Darwin say in his autobiography? What did Wallace say? What did this person or that person think at a given time? It’s all rather speculative and flimsy. It’s not a convincing argument at all.

  4. Why don’t you read the book? Darwin did not understand divergence before writing his letter to Gray in September 1857 otherwise Gray would not have dismissed it in his November reply in words which Darwin himself interpreted as ‘grievously hypothetical’. Then, in another attempt to convince Gray he wrote different version of what he believed Divergence to be which was no clearer than the first. Gray’s reply to that letter would have arrived in 1858 but neither reply was mentioned by Darwin to Lyell and Hooker for their presentation at the Linnean. And if you think that Darwin understood Divergence before 1854 then you have to read Browne, 1980; Ospovat, 1979 and De Beer, 1963. But why don’t you save yourself a lot of trouble and just read the book. Or are you afraid of being convinced against your present prejudices?

  5. Dr. G.M. Drawhorn

    Actually Darwin was well aware that Classification should be “natural” -i.e. based upon groups of organisms derived from common stock- by 1843-44.

    His “branching diagram” was all about divergence – and divergence of characters.

    Furthermore, Darwin’s interest in domesticated varieties and their divergence from one another under differential selection would suggest another source of information that Malthus for the process of over-population and culling….leading to morphological diversification.

    Ospovat does not point to Wallace’s paper as the source of Darwin’s shift. And Darwin’s shifting views are more about rates and the impact of”external” environmental factors vis-a-vis the “internal” competition for resources.

    Both are “Natural Selection”…but one would result in more rapid environmental changes…the other in gradualism.

  6. PvM

    Roy Davies ‘argues’

    Why don’t you read the book? Darwin did not understand divergence before writing his letter to Gray in September 1857 otherwise Gray would not have dismissed it in his November reply in words which Darwin himself interpreted as ‘grievously hypothetical’.

    And yet, looking at what Darwin wrote in his letter to Asa Gray (it never hurts to actually read the original source) shows imho that Darwin did grasp the concept of divergence much better than you seem to be willing to accept.

    In fact, much of these ‘arguments’ have been laid to rest by Barbara G. Beddall in “Darwin and divergence: The Wallace connection “. From your book it seems you are attempting to dismiss Beddall’s excellent arguments but I fail to see how even accepting an earlier date of Wallace’s letter, this would make any difference.

  7. salimbag

    The ONLY reason Darwin has priority is that Wallace sent the Ternate paper to Darwin rather than to a journal for publication. If he’d done that, the story would be over.

  8. carl

    I doubt if carefully reading the book will change these kinds of prejudice. In fact I would guess that the case agains The Darwin Conspiracy could be rationalized more effectively by a close reading. This could allow for criticisms that actually address what’s in the book. The only critique that gave me pause, was one that appears to have actually done this. It is a review by a young earth creationist, who seems motivated to show that he is unbiased, by supporting Darwin. Of course Davies’ book in no way attacks evolution, so Mr. Wood feels safe in criticizing it. His arguments are mostly unfounded, but at least they are marginally subtle.

  9. Jerry Drawhorn

    Furthermore Davies asserts that the Asa Gray Letter was written in 1858. In fact it was written in 1857, almost a year before the Linnean meetings. And Darwin and Hooker were had already started the process of editing Darwin’s “Natural Selection” (big book) section on the consequences of divergence before Wallace’s letter could have been received under ANY scenario.

    Darwin had already had a manuensis (copyist) write out the section for Hooker, since the latter could barely read Darwin’s scrawl. Darwin’s notebooks show that this was sent to Hooker when Darwin returned from hydrotherapy in early May.

    Darwin certainly conceived of “divergence” back in the late 1830’s. By the 1850’s he was concerned about how divergence can “stack” specimens and thus create ecologically richer environments…that divergence fosters even more divergence. That was HIS “Principle of Divergence”. Wallace’s was simply at stage one…where Darwin was in the late 1830’s (isolation in different habitat > divergence)…and even in his 1857 Essay that aspect of divergence is not very clear. In fact one could interpret that Wallace simply meant that there was “divergence from the antitype” (i.e. change over time in a single lineage). Wallace never discusses cladistic speciation explicitly in that Essay. One has to infer (using a big dollop of Darwin’s essays) that this applied in distinct environments and that this could produce the phenomenon discussed in his 1855 Sarawak Essay.

  10. KL. Slee

    This piece is absolutely filled with information that can easily and quickly be proven inaccurate. Regardless of the particulars surrounding the route taken and specific date the famous letter from Wallace was received by Darwin, there is a tremendous amount of research to support the fact that Darwin’s “Origin” is little more than a collection of thoughts from other people, including his own grandfather. Indeed, Erasmus Darwin, Buffon, Wallace…these and others had published much of what Darwin is now given credit for, long before the “Origin”. This is not a difficult subject to research and there is even very little room for debate. Scientists, historians, and others who seriously research this matter have proven, time and time again, that Charles Darwin is not responsible for the idea of natural selection, or sexual selection, or even of evolutionary biology. Having been an island biogeographer for over twenty years now and having seen and read the contributions of the many, prior to Darwin…it is difficult to read an article that is so ridiculously inaccurate as this.

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