Mary Midgley has long been a thorn in the side of neo-Darwinism (With eyes wide open, 28 January). I welcome her endorsement of Rupert Sheldrake, who has not only attempted to be a knife in the back of neo-Darwinism, now turning his attention to ‘daggers of the mind’, but also been an inspiration to my thinking for 19 years.
Whilst acknowledging that Darwin was possessive about ‘his’ theory (Survival of the quickest, 24 March), Ian McEwan claims that he was ‘an honourable man’. McEwan must surely know about the long-standing controversy surrounding the exact date on which Darwin received Wallace’s 1858 letter. Though Darwin did successfully fool Hooker and Lyell, and hence posterity, into thinking he was honourable, the evidence shows that, in his treatment of predecessors, influences and rivals, he could be very underhand. They include, in order of influence, his grandfather (disownment), Robert Grant (renunciation), Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (undeserved disparagement), Leopold von Buch (denial), Edward Blyth (under-acknowledgement), Patrick Matthew (disavowal) and Wallace (misrepresentation of dates). Darwin’s originality is also questionable, since his 1844 essay, which was used to establish his priority over Wallace, merely cobbled together the ideas of two French scientists (Lamarck and Augustin de Candolle), a German geologist (von Buch) and an amateur English ornithologist (Blyth).
I don’t know about Rebecca Stott (Mutation, mutation, mutation, 2 June), but Richard Fortey conspicuously fails to mention among Darwin’s predecessors the Frenchmen, Maupertuis, Montesquieu, and Buffon, a whole host of German philosophers (including Kant, Herder and Schelling), German scientists (Oken, Treviranus and von Buch, who certainly influenced Darwin), the German all-round genius, Goethe, and last but by no means least, the man who enunciated the principle of evolution by natural selection, Patrick Matthew (who may well have influenced Darwin).
As to Fortey’s notion that Darwin ‘thoroughly acknowledged’ any of his predecessors or influences, that is plain laughable.
Comments: See the essay, “Darwin’s Influences”.
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