Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Elliot BenjaminElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 230 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also:


Alfred Russel Wallace
and "Evolution
in Four Minutes"

Setting the Record Straight

Elliot Benjamin

Alfred Russell Wallace
Alfred Russel Wallace

I generally have much respect for the scholarship of David Lane in his numerous Integral World essays. However, in David's recent Integral World video: Evolution in Four Minutes [1], which cleverly and vividly illustrates what I will refer to as the “physical” theory of evolution, inclusive of the description of evolution as having come about from “sightless forces” as a result of a “blind watchmaker” (cf. [1]), he makes a historical error that I find very disturbing, and which has prompted me to write this essay.

David refers to the “co-founders” of evolution as Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, and I was glad to see David include Wallace in this designation. There are stimulating historical arguments which argue that in actuality Wallace—not Darwin—was the true originator of the theory of evolution [2], but that Wallace got overwhelmingly overshadowed by Darwin in what has been described as an unscrupulous “delicate arrangement” that involved Charles Lyell, founder of modern geology (cf. [2]). Even in the opening paragraph of the Wallace entry on wikipedia, it states the following:

He is best known for independently conceiving the theory of evolution through natural selection, which prompted Charles Darwin to publish his own ideas in On the Origin of Species. [3]

However, I am certainly by no means a historian, and I am quite content that David chose to at least refer to Wallace as a cofounder of the theory of evolution. But what concerns me can be seen from this same Wikipedia entry, and I will be filling in the details of this part of the entry through relevant quotes from Wallace's writings and Arnold Brackman's commentaries about his writings (cf. [2]), in the rest of this essay. In the second paragraph the Wikipedia entry states the following:

Wallace was strongly attracted to unconventional ideas. His advocacy of spiritualism and his belief in a non-material origin for the higher mental faculties of humans strained his relationship with some members of the scientific establishment. (cf. [3])

Alfred Russel Wallace was an incredibly diverse and intelligent 19th century naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist, and biologist, who wrote books about evolution, spiritualism, and social/political issues. Wikipedia continues its description of Wallace with the following:

In addition to his scientific work, he was a social activist who was critical of what he considered to be an unjust social and economic system in 19th-century Britain. His interest in natural history resulted in his being one of the first prominent scientists to raise concerns over the environmental impact of human activity. Wallace was a prolific author who wrote on both scientific and social issues.

Wallace's views on “spiritual” evolution—in his own words

I wish that David would have included a written essay with references along with his video (which for the record should have been described as “Evolution in Five Minutes”—4 minutes and 57 seconds is much closer to 5 minutes than 4 minutes). At least then I would be able to see exactly which sources David used to include Wallace in his video. But toward the end of the video, David refers to Darwin and Wallace co-founding a theory of evolution that postulates a universe where:

The incredible complexity we see around us and within the result of forces which are themselves sightless about what they will ultimately produce. We are, in sum, the end result of a blind watchmaker. Darwin and Wallace's great discovery was that rich complications can arise naturally without any intelligent guidance whatsoever. (cf. [1]).

And this is what I feel we need to examine very carefully—in the case of Alfred Russel Wallace. Why? Because I believe it is a matter of paying our respects to this largely unrecognized “co-founder of evolution”; to portray him honestly and accurately and do justice to who he truly was as a person in regard to what he believed about evolution. To get an indication of what Wallace believed regarding the question of “intelligent guidance” and evolution, one can read his book Miracles and Modern Spiritualism [4] as well as the last chapter (Chapter 10) of his seminal work on evolution: Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection [5]; there are also some relevant descriptions in the book A Delicate Arrangement: The Strange Case of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace by Arnold Brackman (cf. [2]).

Here are some illustrative quotes that shed light on what Wallace believed regarding this question:

Unlike Darwin, Wallace was not wholly satisfied with their conception of the descent of man. Wallace was groping toward a theory that natural selection alone could not account for man's unique characteristics among animals, his sense of spiritual need and being, his mental faculties, his ability to calculate, reason abstractly, conceive of infinity, and speculate about a tomorrow. (cf. [2], pp. 247-248).
Wallace argued that while natural selection accounted for man's bodily frame, it could not account for man's emergence as a spiritual being....Wallace felt it “utterly inconceivable” that man's development as a spiritual being resulted from natural selection....he suggested that “a superior intelligence has guided the development of man...and for a special purpose, just as man guides the development of many animal and vegetable forms.” (cf. [2], pp. 280-281)
And in a letter to Darwin, Lyell admitted that “as I feel that progressive development or evolution cannot be entirely explained by natural selection, I rather hail Wallace's suggestion that there may be a Supreme Will and Power which may not abdicate functions of interference, but may abide by the forces of laws of nature. (cf. [2], p. 281).
Wallace's credentials were impeccable. Therefore, his interest in spiritualism had to be considered purely objective, scientific; he was neither a charlatan not the kind to ride a fashionable bandwagon in quest of cheap notoriety or celebrity. He confounded the scientific establishment. (cf. [2], p. 283)
Up to the time when I first became acquainted with the facts of Spiritualism I was a confirmed philosophical skeptic....I was so thorough and confirmed a materialist that I could not at that time find a place in my mind for the conception of spiritual existence, or for any other agencies in the universe than matter and force. Facts, however are stubborn things....the facts beat me. They compelled me to accept them as facts long before I could accept the spiritual explanation of them....some of these intelligences, although usually invisible and intangible to us, can and do act on matter, and do influence our minds,--I am surely following a strictly logical and scientific course in seeing how far this doctrine will enable us to account for some of those residual phenomena which Natural Selection alone will not explain. In the 10th chapter of my Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection I have pointed out what I consider to be some of those residual phenomena and I have suggested that they may be due to the action of some of the various intelligences above referred to....and is in no way inconsistent with a thorough acceptance of the grand doctrine of Evolution, through Natural Selection, although implying (as indeed many of the chief supporters of that doctrine admit) that it is not the all-powerful, all-sufficient, and only cause of the development of organic forms. ([5], pp. vi – viii)
Nothing has been more constantly disbelieved and ridiculed than the alleged appearance of phantasms of the living or of the recently dead, whether seen by one person alone or by several together....But when carefully examined they do not prove to be impostures, but stand out with greater distinctness as veridical and sometimes objective phenomena, as is sufficiently proved by the mass of well-attested and well-sifted evidence published by the Society for Psychical Research. Still more subject to ridicule and contempt are ghosts and haunted houses....In this connection also we have not merely appearances which may be explained away as collective hallucinations, but actual physical phenomena of such a material character as stone-throwing, bell-ringing, movements of furniture, independent writing and drawing, and many other manifestations of force guided by intelligence which is yet not the force or the intelligence of those present....From personal knowledge and careful experiments I can testify that some of these physical phenomena are realities, and I cannot doubt that the fullest investigation will result, as in all the other cases, in their recognition as facts which any comprehensive theory must recognize and explain....Lastly, we come to consider the claim of the intelligences who are connected with most of these varied phenomena to be the spirits of deceased men and women; such claim being supported by tests of various kinds, especially by giving accurate information regarding themselves as to facts totally unknown to the medium or to any person present....almost every one of them, though implying abnormal powers in human beings or the agency of a spirit-world around us, has been strictly paralleled in the present day, and has been subjected to the close scrutiny of the scientific and skeptical with little or no modification of their essential nature....That theory is most scientific which best explains the whole series of phenomena; and I therefore claim that the sprit-hypothesis is the most scientific, since even those who oppose it most strenuously often admit that it does explain all the facts, which cannot be said of any other hypothesis. ([5], pp. xii – xvii)
Just as surely as we can trace the action of natural laws in the development of organic forms, and can clearly conceive that fuller knowledge would enable us to follow step by step the whole process of that development, so surely can we trace the action of some unknown higher law, beyond and independent of all those laws of which we have any knowledge. ([4], p. 147)
The inference I would draw from this class of phenomena is, that a superior intelligence has guided the development of man in a definite direction, and for a special purpose, just as man guides the development of many animal and vegetable forms....At the same time I must confess, that this theory has the disadvantage of requiring the intervention of some distinct individual intelligence, to aid in the production of what we can hardly avoid considering as the ultimate aim and outcome of all organized existence—intellectual, ever-advancing spiritual man. It therefore implies, that the great laws which govern the material universe were insufficient for his production, unless we consider (as we may fairly do) that the controlling action of such higher intelligences is a necessary part of those laws, just as the action of all surrounding organisms is one of the agencies in organic development. But even if my particular view should not be the true one, the difficulties I have put forward remain, and I think prove, that some more general and more fundamental law underlies that of natural selection. The law of unconscious intelligence pervading all organic nature, put forth by Dr. Laycock and adopted by Mr. Murphy, is such a law; but to my mind it has the double disadvantage of being both unintelligible and incapable of any kind of proof. It is more probably, that the true law lies too deep for us to discover it; but here seems to me, to be ample indication that such a law does exist, and is probably connected with the absolute origin of life and organization. (cf. [4], p. 158).
The passage from the physics of the brain to the corresponding facts of consciousness is unthinkable. Granted that a definite thought, and a definite molecular action in the brain occur simultaneously, we do not possess the intellectual organ, nor apparently any rudiment of the organ, which would enable us to pass by a process of reasoning from the one phenomenon to the other. They appear together, but we do not know why. Were our minds and senses so expanded, strengthened and illumined as to enable us to see and feel the very molecules of the brain; were we capable of following all their motions, all their groupings, all their electric discharges, if such there be, and were we intimately acquainted with the corresponding states of thought and feeling, we should be as far as ever from the solution of the problem. How are these physical processes connected with the facts of consciousness? The chasm between the two classes of phenomena would still remain intellectually impassable. (cf. [4], p. 159).
If a material element, or a combination of a thousand material elements in a molecule, are alike unconscious, it is impossible for us to believe, that the mere addition of one, two, or a thousand other material elements to form a more complex molecule, could in any way tend to produce a self-conscious existence. The things are radically distinct....There is no escape from this dilemma,--either all matter is conscious, or consciousness is something distinct from matter, and in the latter case, its presence in material forms is a proof of the existence of conscious beings, outside of, and independent of, what we term matter....we cannot conceive a gradual transition from absolute unconsciousness to consciousness, from an unsentient organism to a sentient being. The merest rudiment of sensation or self-consciousness is infinitely removed from absolutely non-sentient or unconscious matter. We can conceive of no physical addition to, or modification of, an unconscious mass which should create consciousness; no step in the series of changes organized matter may undergo, which should bring in sensation where there was no sensation or power of sensation at the preceding step. It is because the things are utterly incomparable and incommensurable that we can only conceive of sensation coming to matter from without. (cf. [4], pp. 160, 164)
The foregoing considerations lead us to the very important conclusion, that matter is essentially force, and nothing but force; that matter, as popularly understood, does not exist, and is, in fact, philosophically does not seem an improbable conclusion that all force may be will-force; and thus, that the whole universe, is not merely dependent on, but actually is, the WILL of higher intelligences or of one Supreme Intelligence....God of the Granite and the Rose! Soul of the Sparrow and the Bee! The mighty tide of Being flows Through countless channels, Lord, from thee. It leaps to life in grass and flowers, Through every grade of being runs, While from Creation's radiant towers Its glory flames in Stars and Suns. (cf. [4], pp. 160-162). The view we have now arrived at seems to me more grand and sublime, as well as far simpler, than any other. It exhibits the universe, as a universe of intelligence and will-power; and by enabling us to rid ourselves the impossibility of thinking of mind, but as connected with our old notions of matter, opens up infinite possibilities of existence, connected with infinitely varied manifestations of force, totally distinct from, yet as real as, what we term matter. The grand law of continuity which we see pervading our universe, would lead us to infer infinite gradations of existence, and to people all space with intelligence and will-power; and, if so, we have no difficulty in believing that for so noble a purpose as the progressive development of higher and higher intelligences, those primal and general will-forces, which have sufficed for the production of the lower animals, should have been guided into new channels and made to converge in definite directions. And if, as seems to me probable, this had been done, I cannot admit that it in any degree affects the truth or generality of Mr. Darwin's great discovery. It merely shows, that the laws of organic development have been occasionally used for a special end, just as man uses them for his special ends; and, I do not see that the law of natural selection can be said to be disproved, if it can be shown that man does not owe his entire physical and mental development to its unaided action. (cf. [4], p. 162).
In referring to the origin of man, and its possible determining causes, I have used the words some other power—some intelligent power—a superior intelligence –a controlling intelligence, and only in reference to the origin of universal forces and laws have I spoken of the will or power of one Supreme Intelligence....In using such terms I wish to show plainly, that I contemplated the possibility that the development of the essentially human portions of man's structure and intellect may have been determined by the directing influence of some higher intelligent beings, acting through natural and universal laws. (cf. [4], p. 163).


In this essay I have purposely refrained from including any of my own views on the question of physical vs. physical/spiritual evolution, as my purpose has single-mindedly been to set the record straight in regard to Alfred Russel Wallace's beliefs regarding the inclusion of a non-physical explanation of evolution that emphasizes some form of “intelligence” that has guided the formation of the universe and of human beings. I believe from the above descriptions by Wallace that it is very clear that he would certainly fit into Carter Phipps' list of evolutionaries who believe or believed in Intelligent Design [6].

In fact Steve McIntosh referred to Wallace in his book Evolution's Purpose as recognizing “the inadequacy of natural selection as a sufficient explanation for the emergence of humanity” ([7], pp. 15-16). It has also not been my intention to show any disrespect to David Lane, and I certainly hope that David takes my essay in the constructive spirit in which it is meant. But David's inclusion of Alfred Russel Wallace in regard to his above description that includes the phrase “without any intelligent guidance whatsoever” is completely mistaken, and I believe that the above descriptions using Wallace's own words have demonstrated this.


[1] David Lane (2013), Explaining Evolution in Four Minutes. Retrieved from

[2] Arnold C. Brackman (1980), A Delicate Arrangement: The Strange Case of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. New York: Times Books.

[3[ See

[4] Alfred Russel Wallace (1870, 2010), Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection. Memphis, TN: General Books.

[5] Alfred Russel Wallace (1874, 1895, 2011), Miracles and Modern Spiritualism. Lexington, KY: Forgotten Books.

[6] See Frank Visser (2012), The Evolution Religion: Making Sense of Evolution: Review of Carter Phipps' Evolutionaries (2012). Retrieved from; and Carter Phipps (2012), Evolutionaries: Unlocking the Spiritual and Cultural Potential of Science's Greatest Idea (New York: Harper Collins).

[7] See Steve McIntosh (2012), Evolution's Purpose: An Integral Interpretation of the Scientific Story of Our Origins. New York: Select Books; and Frank Visser (2012), Platonic Evolution: Review of Steve McIntosh's Evolution's Purpose (2012). Retrieved from McIntosh included in Evolution's Purpose the following quote from Wallace:

Natural selection could only have endowed savage man with a brain a few degrees superior to that of an ape, whereas he actually possesses one very little inferior to that of a philosopher. (p. 16)

McIntosh also included the following book by Wallace in his references: The World of Life: A Manifestation of Creative Power, Directive Mind and Ultimate Purpose. London: Moffat, Yard & Co., 1911.

Comment Form is loading comments...