Quote of the Day - 12 July 2005

Yes, I actually am going to try to get a quote up every day. I’m also going to try to keep them at least moderately relevant to this blog’s topic. Some will be short and sweet, and some will be accompanied by commentary. Today’s is one of the commentary ones.

It has now been shown, though most briefly and imperfectly, how the law that “Every species has come into existence coincident both in time and space with a pre-existing closely allied species,” connects together and renders intelligible a vast number of independent and hitherto unexplained facts. The natural system of arrangement of organic beings, their geographical distribution, their geological sequence, the phaenomena of representative and substituted groups in all their modifications, and the most singular peculiarites of anatomical structure, are all explained and illustrated by it, in perfect accordance with the vast mass of facts which the researches of modern naturalists have brought together, and, it is believed, not materially opposed to any of them. It also claims a superiority over previous hypotheses, on the ground that it not merely explains, but necessitates what exists. Granted the law, and many of the most important facts in Nature could not have been otherwise, but are almost as necessary deductions from it, as are the elliptic orbits of the planets from the law of gravitation. –Alfred Russel Wallace ON THE LAW WHICH HAS REGULATED THE INTRODUCTION OF NEW SPECIES (1855)

Commentary on the flipside.

The interesting thing about this quote is that it really contains a very compelling argument for evolution, three years ahead of schedule. The only thing Wallace is missing here is a mechanism. Well, that and an explicit statement that supports common descent, but he comes very close to that earlier in the paper.

Wallace’s 1855 paper, and it’s influence (or lack thereof) on Darwin, Lyell, and other noted naturalists is discussed in depth in David Quammen’s book The Song of the Dodo, a book that is well worth reading.