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Wallace's Reputation Essay

2043 words - 8 pages

Wallace's Reputation
Science, before and during the Victorian era (1819 - 1901), was not as
we know it today. Then, the Church and its religious beliefs, decided
much of scientific progress. Anyone who thought or dwelled on subjects
outside of the constraints set by the church, were accused of being a
heretic an example of which is Copernicus who, in 1543, decreed that
the Earth wasn't the centre of the Universe but was conversely, a
planet that orbited the sun.

There was no one body of people who progressed science until 1831 when
the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BA) was
founded by a number of wealthy gentlemen who had until this time
called themselves 'philosophers'. These men, Oxbridge dons and rich
London friends, worked within the constraints of the Church of England
funding friends and family members in the exploration of the sciences.
Road shows were conducted annually promoting subjects such as:
'chemistry', 'geology and geography', 'zoology and botany'.'1 In 1833,
it was decided that a new title was needed for its members if they
were to be accepted as an intellectual and scientific enterprise. The
Rev. William Whewell coined, from the Latin scienta meaning knowledge,
the phrase 'scientist' as one: 'who studied material nature.'2 (Yeo,
1993, pp.110-111). Some subjects were still deemed unsuitable for
study: 'no full-scale cosmogony, no Big-Bang theory, or 'brief history
of time'; no science of life's origin and evolution; no psychology or
models of the mind.'3 These were seen to be subjects that only the
clergy could study as they were deemed to depend on spiritual causes.
To subject these topics to 'natural law' could mean the end to a
person's career although there were no professional scientists at this

There were people outside of the BA, interested in subjects such as
phrenology, mesmerism and transmutation, they were seen as radicals
and were deemed to: 'spread dangerous knowledge and do-it-yourself
research.'4 Some people were slowly changing the BA's views, one of
whom was Charles Darwin (1809 - 82). Through his work he slowly:
'solved that 'mystery of mysteries', how living species originate.'5
Darwin had his foes, mainly outsiders, but very few professional
rivals. One scientists who did think outside of the BA circle was
Alfred Russel Wallace (1823 - 1913).

Wallace had views, and was much published, on many diverse topics
including: 'religious studies (Hinduism, Christianity), literature
(English poetry), classical studies (Greece and Rome), art history
(architecture, design) and philosophy (mind).'6 Having taught himself
botany and geology whilst working as a surveyor in Wales, Wallace
reflected later in life that this was: 'the turning point' of his
life, 'the tide that carried me...

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