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Alfred Russel Wallace and the Road to Natural Selection, 1844–1858

Abstract

Conventional wisdom has had it that the naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace and his colleague Henry Walter Bates journeyed to the Amazon in 1848 with two intentions in mind: to collect natural history specimens, and to consider evidential materials that might reveal the causal basis of organic evolution. This understanding has been questioned recently by the historian John van Wyhe, who points out that with regard to the second matter, at least, there appears to be no evidence of a “smoking gun” variety proving it so. In the present essay the circumstances of Wallace’s interest in the matter are reviewed, and van Wyhe is taken to task with alternate explanations for the facts he introduces in his argument. The conclusion is that Wallace almost certainly did have the second objective in mind when he left for both the Amazon, and the Far East. Keywords: Alfred Russel Wallace, Henry Walter Bates, evolution, natural selection.

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Smith, C.H. Alfred Russel Wallace and the Road to Natural Selection, 1844–1858. J Hist Biol 48, 279–300 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10739-014-9397-9

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10739-014-9397-9

Keywords

  • Alfred Russel Wallace
  • Henry Walter Bates
  • Evolution
  • Natural selection