Chuck D Wasn’t The Only Genius Around

The history of science is littered with brilliant ideas that changed the way we see the universe… heliocentrism, the germ theory of disease, general relativity. The theory that blood circulates through the body and the heart is what pumps it. There was a time when we didn’t know what blood or hearts were for. We didn’t even know they were connected. Seriously!

But there’s something really special about Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.

Never before or since has such an astounding quantity of phenomena been explained by such a simple idea. When it arrived it was controversial; in hindsight the vigour of its opponents seems only to highlight the profundity of its revelation. Every living thing on Earth was suddenly connected by a common inheritance and bound together in a common theoretical framework.

It changed the world.

A hundred and thirty odd years after his death everybody knows the name of Charles Darwin. And fair enough too, he did have one of the most amazing ideas in history. What most of us don’t know is that he wasn’t the only person to have had this particular idea.

A naturalist called Alfred Russel Wallace who, like Darwin, had travelled widely, pretty much concocted the theory of evolution by natural selection on his own. And the reason you probably haven’t heard of him is that he had the superhuman grace to let Darwin run with it.


Wallace might’ve reasonably claimed that he’d not been given sufficient credit… but he didn’t. For me, there is no more admirable character in the history of science.


To be fair, Darwin had been working on it for a long while before Wallace contacted him. Still, that’s some gentlemanly fucking conduct right there.

To commemorate the day of Alfred Russel Wallace’s passing last week, the BBC cut together a short montage along with some narration by the legendary David Attenborough, who I’ve quoted above. I’d embed it here if I could, but here’s a link instead. It’s well worth a watch. There’s something strangely heartwarming about sparing a thought for the forgotten other genius of one of the greatest scientific revolutions in history.