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Nature’s Prophet

Alfred Russel Wallace and His Evolution from Natural Selection to Natural TheologyMichael Flannery

A spiritualist, libertarian socialist, women’s rights advocate, and critic of Victorian social convention, Alfred Russel Wallace was in every sense a rebel who challenged the emergent scientific certainties of Victorian England by arguing for a natural world imbued with purpose and spiritual significance. Nature’s Prophet:Alfred Russel Wallace and His Evolution from Natural Selection to Natural Theology is a critical reassessment of Wallace’s path to natural theology and counters the dismissive narrative that Wallace’s theistic and sociopolitical positions are not to be taken seriously in the history and philosophy of science.

Author Michael A. Flannery provides a cogent and lucid account of a crucial — and often under appreciated — element of Wallace’s evolutionary worldview. As co-discoverer, with Charles Darwin, of the theory of natural selection, Wallace willingly took a backseat to the well-bred, better known scientist. Whereas Darwin held fast to his first published scientific explanations for the development of life on earth, Wallace continued to modify his thinking, refining his argument toward a more controversial metaphysical view which placed him within the highly charged intersection of biology and religion.

Despite considerable research into the naturalist’s life and work, Wallace’s own evolution from natural selection to natural theology has been largely unexplored; yet, as Flannery persuasively shows, it is readily demonstrated in his writings from 1843 until his death in 1913. Nature’s Prophet provides a detailed investigation of Wallace’s ideas, showing how, although he independently discovered the mechanism of natural selection, he at the same time came to hold a very different view of evolution from Darwin.

Ultimately, Flannery shows, Wallace’s reconsideration of the argument for design yields a more nuanced version of creative and purposeful theistic evolution and represents one of the most innovative contributions of its kind in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, profoundly influencing a later generation of scientists and intellectuals.

Reviews

This book is elegantly constructed and astoundingly well researched.  [ … ] If you are a person who is interested in the reconciliation between science and theology, you will find this work as a most interesting and useful contribution.

Metascience

This is a nicely written book with style. Well researched, too. You could do worse than start into Wallace studies here.

The Quarterly Review of Biology

Nature’s Prophet is an astute study of Wallace’s path to natural theology and provides a cogent account of a crucial — and often underappreciated or dismissed — element of Wallace’s profound evolutionary worldview.

Martin Fichman, author of An Elusive Victorian: The Evolution of Alfred Russel Wallace and Evolutionary Theory and Victorian Culture

This eminently readable book offers a powerful and sympathetic account of Wallace’s thought that helps to demolish the idea that there were “two Wallaces”, one a hard scientist and the other a gentle fool.  In so doing, it makes a novel contribution to a growing body of literature that challenges the dominance of the neo-Darwinian modern synthesis on multiple grounds.

Kathleen Bolling Lowrey, Associate Professor, Anthropology, University of Alberta

Alfred Russel Wallace has always stood in the shadow of Darwin. He deserves more credit than he is usually given, and Michael Flannery’s careful intellectual history, addressing with unprecedented evenhandedness both his contribution to the discovery of evolution by natural selection and his many controversial ideas, will go a long way to enhancing Wallace’s reputation. Regarded today and in his own time as something of a maverick, Wallace emerges in Flannery’s study as a gifted thinker who poses a creditable alternative to Darwin’s vision.

Gary Ferngren, professor of history, Oregon State University, editor of Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction and coauthor of Essential Readings in Medicine and Religion

… Flannery has provided not only a significant and much needed reexamination of Wallace, but also a fresh and helpful perspective for understanding the theory of natural selection and the extraordinary period in which it arose.

Fides et Historía

This thoughtful and clearly-written study of Wallace is refreshing and timely. Flannery sheds a sympathetic light on Wallace’s work, and at the same time provides new insights into Charles Darwin’s thinking and behaviour. Most importantly, he shows how the evolutionary ideas of Wallace have an enduring relevance to debates about evolution today. I strongly recommend this book.

Rupert Sheldrake, author of A New Science of Life: The Hypothesis of Morphic Resonance and Science Set Free: 10 Paths to New Discovery

Michael Flannery’s Nature’s Prophet is today one of the leading authorities on Alfred Russell Wallace. The book is a scholarly tour de force providing a detailed, comprehensive and sympathetic account of his scientific achievements and the development of his teleological world view over the span of his long life time.

Michael Denton, medical geneticist and author of Nature’s Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe and Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis

Media

Michael Flannery

Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Michael A. Flannery is professor emeritus of UAB Libraries, University of Alabama at Birmingham. He holds degrees in library science from the University of Kentucky and history from California State University, Dominguez Hills. He has written and taught extensively on the history of medicine and science. His most recent research interest has been on the co-discoverer of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913). He has edited Alfred Russel Wallace’s Theory of Intelligent Evolution: How Wallace’s World of Life Challenged Darwinism (Erasmus Press, 2008) and authored Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life (Discovery Institute Press, 2011). His research and work on Wallace continues.