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What if…Darwin had been lost overboard?

Prospect’s counter-factual column

By Peter Bowler   August 2013

What if Charles Darwin had been lost overboard on the voyage of the Beagle? If there had been no Darwin to write his Origin of the Species, would the theory of evolution by natural selection have been proposed and debated in the 1860s? The conventional answer is that Alfred Russel Wallace would have stepped into the breach and the development of science would have proceeded unchecked. Wallace is routinely hailed as the co-discoverer of natural selection because his short paper of 1858 prompted Darwin to begin work on the Origin. Natural selection was “in the air” waiting to emerge, either…

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