University of Chicago Biology Professor Dr. Jerry Coyne Fails History

Industry: Science

Interview with historian and Alfred Russell Wallace scholar challenges evolutionary biologist, Dr. Jerry Coyne.

California (PRUnderground) February 23rd, 2012

Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Professor Michael Flannery, author of, Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life. During the interview Flannery discusses Wallace’s contributions to the theory of evolution:

Alex Tsakiris: During the last episode of Skeptiko we were talking to Dr. Jerry Coyne and he had a number of things to say concerning the history of the theory of evolution and the relationship between Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. In particular, Jerry was emphatic in claiming Alfred Russel Wallace never connected biogeography to evolution: “Wallace did not use biogeography as evidence of evolution. I mean, never!”

That’s not how I remember this history, so I decided to check with Wallace biographer Professor Michael Flannery.

Professor Flannery: Well, he seems to really be unfamiliar with Wallace’s body of writing on that topic. The famous paleontologist and geologist, Henry Fairfield Osborn, he’s sort of an icon in the field, referred to Wallace’s Sarawak Law Paper as “A very strong argument for the Theory of Descent and a bold declaration from a strong and fearless Evolutionist.”

And actually if you’d like sort of an icing on the cake reference, Ian McCalman, who has written a pretty good book recently called Darwin’s Armada, refers to Wallace’s Sarawak Law paper as, “The first ever British scientific paper to claim that animals had descended from a common ancestor and then produced closely similar variations which have evolved into distinct species.”

Alex Tsakiris: All this might seem like a lot of minor detail that no one cares about, but this little bit of history is actually quite important in the culture war debate over the theory of evolution. Why does an otherwise smart guy like Dr. Jerry Coyne say these things which are so obviously incorrect? What’s the real agenda here?

Professor Flannery: Well, my guess is that he is either just unfamiliar with Wallace’s work, although that’s kind of hard to believe… I actually think that it just doesn’t serve his purpose. When you look at his book, Why Evolution is True, one of the things he’s writing against is Intelligent Design. To bring Wallace into the picture becomes problematic for him because Wallace himself came to view evolution as being guided.

The Skeptiko interview with Michael Flannery (audio and transcript) is available at:

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