New at Rosetta Stones: The Story of Wallace’s Woeful Wager

Well, you knew I couldn’t resist doing up a post on that subject, right? Of course! I looked up some of Wallace’s writings on the subject, did some digging round inside Flat Earth and the net regarding his nemeses, and wrote you up a little something. All right, it’s not little, it’s actually a bit long. Not like novella length or anything, but nice and meaty. Settle yourselves in and enjoy the tale!

Image shows Wallace with white hair and beard, wearing wire-rimmed spectacles.
Alfred Russel Wallace in 1908. Image courtesy the Linnean Society of London via Wikimedia Commons. He looks sorta like a Santa disproving of creationist shenanigans, doesn’t he?
New at Rosetta Stones: The Story of Wallace’s Woeful Wager

3 thoughts on “New at Rosetta Stones: The Story of Wallace’s Woeful Wager

  1. rq

    Wow, love your history lesson!
    It’s a good story with a sad moral: some people cannot accept facts that contradict their world-views. Well-written and gripping, too!

  2. 2

    I was intrigued by Wallace’s passing reference to his “ignorance of the fact so well shown by the late Professor de Morgan—that “paradoxers,” as he termed them, can never be convinced…” Which de Morgan, and what was his interest in people who sound like the ones we today call “denialists”?

    Turns out it was the mathematician de Morgan of the eponymous laws that put mathematical induction on a rigorous basis. Apparently he often wrote letters to the Athenaeum critiquing crackpot theories and publications; he collected these as A Budget of Paradoxes which was published after his death. (Thanks to Project Gutenberg you can read it online.)

    In the intro he writes, “A great many individuals, ever since the rise of the mathematical method, have, each for himself, attacked its direct and indirect consequences… I shall call each of these persons a paradoxer, and his system a paradox…. After looking into books of paradoxes for more than thirty years, and holding conversation with many persons who have written them, … there is one point on which my mind is fully made up. The manner in which a paradoxer will show himself, as to sense or nonsense, will not depend upon what he maintains, but upon whether he has or has not made a sufficient knowledge of what has been done by others… There is a line to be drawn which is constantly put aside in the arguments held by paradoxers in favor of their right to instruct the world.”
    I didn’t see where de Morgan actually said that paradoxers can never be convinced, although that seems to be his rueful assumption as he takes on a variety of circle-squarers and others.

  3. 3

    Man! Poor Wallace just couldn’t catch a break, could he? He nearly dies of tropical diseases while working on his theory of evolution, only to have priority given to Darwin, then he gets sucker-punched by this religious nutcase.

Comments are closed.