Nature Selects Nothing, but Survival Rules All
In 1855, while in Borneo, Wallace wrote his first article on the theory of evolution. At first glance, this article does not seem to contain anything new. Nonetheless, in it he presented a first version of what became the principal law of the theory of evolution: Every species has come into existence coincidentally both in time and space with a pre-existing closely allied species.â Wallace was flattered to learn that well-known personalities, like geologist Charles Lyell42 and Charles Darwin, had discussed his article.
In 1558, Wallace sent Darwin his second article, written in Indonesia. This time, Wallace’s great law has taken a definitive form. The idea developed in this text is so simple that it appears almost absurd at first. How is one to pretend to explain so many things with what is a sort of nonlaw?â
On one hand, we have this nature as prolific and dynamic as the lava of an erupting volcano. On the other hand, we have an environment that exists quite contentedly. And that is it! Wallace merely observes that certain products of nature survive, and others do not. If a family survives, it can proliferate at an astonishing pace.43 According to Wallace’s law, there is no force that selects and sorts. It is not even the strongest or the most intelligent who survives. It is the one that reproduces the most easily in a given environment. The one that can reproduce in many regions propagates more easily than one that can survive in only one region. This vision is close to the laws that Hume describes in A Treatise of Human Nature. There is no logic, no criteria for validation, or even rules of the game. To survive and reproduce without knowing why suffices.
Another brilliant idea, which Wallace had already sketched in his previous article, is that everything changes, and certain changes take holdâ and others do not. These changes are always small, as those that differentiate one brother from the other, and nothing more.44 However, if these changes have characteristics that are genetically transmitted, and if they help an organism reproduce over many generations, their impact may modify the chances of the survival of a progeny. It is, therefore, step by step that the species would have modified themselves over millions of years, which explains the variety that exists today.
According to Wallace, there is no necessity for any other law to explain the evolution of the species. Lamarck’s two laws are therefore useless.