Interview with journalist and author, Roy Davies reveals how Charles Darwin lied about the help he received from Alfred Russell Wallace.
Alex Tsakiris: Even among your critics, there is agreement that this is either an incredible coincidence or something more. It’s a coincidence that Darwin has this explosion of ideas, and announces to his colleagues he has had this incredible breakthrough during these two weeks after he might have received the letter from Wallace. It’s also an incredible coincidence, if we’re to believe the status quo traditional story, that Wallace would be this co-discoverer right alongside Darwin. That they would both focus in on this, and this idea would crystallize for both of them exactly at the same time. Especially given the length of time that it takes for this correspondence to go back and forth. It’s either an incredible coincidence or it’s something more. It’s plagiarism, as you have suggested.
Roy Davies: It is just too much to believe. Plus, Darwin’s own history in this area is suspect. For people to claim that this was a coincidence is just – it’s just outlandish. There is no point, and I and other academics say this in my book – there is no point in which Darwin’s research comes before Wallace’s ideas. Wallace’s ideas, from the time that he goes to South America and then eventually on to the Archipelagos he is sending ideas back which Darwin then finds a way of getting into his own research. It never happens the other way around.
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Alex Tsakiris: Today we welcome Roy Davis to Skeptiko. Roy is a former BBC filmmaker and journalist and author of The Darwin Conspiracy: Origins of a Scientific Crime. Roy, welcome to Skeptiko. Thank you so much for joining me.
Roy Davies: Thank you, Alex.
Alex Tsakiris: As I was just mentioning a minute ago, Roy, I have to tell you this book of yours to me is one of the most under-appreciated books I have run across because the implications of your theory, if they are true, and I think they are, are quite dramatic. So let me, as a way of an introduction if you will, let me kind of lay out a very thumbnail sketch of the theory. You claim that Charles Darwin, that God among Gods of science –
Roy Davies: Yes, he is a demi-God.
Alex Tsakiris: While he was toiling away on this theory of evolution he received this gift, this wonderful boost, in the form of a letter from a guy who was also working on the theory of evolution, a guy who is acknowledged as the co-discoverer of the theory of evolution, Alfred Russel Wallace, and you claim that Darwin stole, plagiarized, some of the key elements of his theory – really the springboard to rejuvenate this work he had been doing from Alfred Russel Wallace and then that he lied about it. Is that the gist of your claim?
Roy Davies: Yes.
Alex Tsakiris: Okay, simple enough. So tell us a little about your background and how you got to become interested in this part of history.
Roy Davies: Okay, right, let’s start at the beginning. My primary training was as a journalist, a journalist on a newspaper in South Wales in Britain. And of the most important lessons that I learned at that stage was from a senior reporter who said to me, quite simply, ‘Look, from now on do not accept any story that you are told by less than two people.’ Meaning if one person tells you a story you go out and check it with somebody else who doesn’t know that person and make sure it is the right story. Otherwise we are all going to be in trouble at this newspaper. And that stayed with me as a pretty good line about how to approach stories.
Eventually I left journalism and went back to college. I joined the BBC and after some years I became the managing director or the managing editor of history programs at the BBC. And one day I asked one of my producers to come in and see me. And he said he wanted to make a program about Charles Darwin. A new book had been written, this was 1990, 1991, and the new book had been written about Charles Darwin and he wanted to make a program about it. I didn’t know much about Charles Darwin except the theory of evolution and I wanted to learn as much as he knew. So I said okay, it’s a good story, let’s make it. And he came back later with a very good program which went out on the BBC under my name as editor and his name and that program was called The Devil’s Chaplain. And it went on very well indeed. And a few years later I left the BBC and a woman producer from Wales came up to me and said, ‘You made the Darwin program.’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ And she said, ‘You told the wrong story.’ And that flummoxed me totally and I said, ‘What do you mean I told the wrong story? That’s the story everybody knows.’ And she said. ‘Yes, of course it is. It’s the story everybody has been told and everybody has bought into but it’s not the correct story. In fact, you never mentioned Alfred Russel Wallace.’ And that hit me because I thought, ‘Well who the hell is this guy?’ I had no idea because it didn’t appear in the program.
And so from that moment on I started research into Alfred Russel Wallace and what I found just flabbergasted me and just one thing after another came out of the actual papers and documents of the time which I could not have expected and led me to write the book.
Alex Tsakiris: That’s quite a story, I love that. The journalist whose journalistic sensibilities are challenged by someone who comes up and says, ‘You didn’t get the story right.’ And then you have the integrity to say, ‘Gee, if I didn’t get the story right I have to pursue that.’ So before we talk about what you discovered, the evidence for it, what some of your critics have said – which I think is very important and I love to do that on this show.
Roy Davies: By all means.
Alex Tsakiris: Let’s talk about why this is important because a lot of people would love to make this about religion, baby Jesus, Bible creationism. That’s where a lot of the critics, especially, Roy, folks here in the states. They would like to take it there because it’s an easy argument to win. They can just label you as some kind of creationist, some guy who has some religious agenda, and that that’s what this is all about. So let’s just get that out in front right away.
Roy Davies: My stance personally is that I have no religion. I am totally an irreligious person. I have no belief at all in the afterlife, God, creator, whatever, none. This is simply about two men. This is about two men who more or less at the same time in different parts of the world were trying to do the same things. One, here in Britain, the other one floating around the world in different locations. And for me the connection between these two men who never met in the years that they were trying to prove the same thing, only afterwards did they meet. These two men, the story and the holes between them, with a distance of something like 8,000 miles became such an interesting story that I just couldn’t put it down. So the research took me on and off 12 years and resulted in the book that you have got in front of you there.
Alex Tsakiris: Great, and we might also add that this theory and the way this little battle, competition, plays out, is that Darwinian evolution has become the lens through which science sees the world. And you know, we spend a lot of time on this show on Skeptiko investigating issues around human consciousness because if you want to look at big picture science questions, the who are we, why are we here, kind of questions – you always come back to the question of consciousness. Am I a biological robot? Is there a ‘me’ in there? Is my brain just creating this illusion of me? That question is at the bedrock of every question that science asks and I think Darwinian evolution is really the foundational pillar in this pronouncement, this position that you are just a biological robot and a meaningless part of nature’s machine, kind of world view. So whatever we make of that, whether you buy into that or you don’t buy into it, I think we have to say that’s why this is important, because that’s what Darwinian evolution has become .
Roy Davies: Absolutely.
Alex Tsakiris: What I wanted to do that was say, you know, we have reason to look at this a little deeper and I think ask some bigger questions about why this matters, about why we should probe so deeply into the kind of questions that you raise. Because I think as we dig into the evidence, which is what I would like to do next, I would like to have people continue asking in the back of their mind well why does this matter? Who cares? And the question is why do I live in the world that I live in? And I think hopefully at the end of this road we can come back and re-examine some of those questions after we look at, most importantly, the evidence. We have to find out if you really did discover anything, if this theory of yours makes any sense, and how it stands up to the critics. So let’s start with the letter. What is the letter?
Roy Davies: There were two letters and once upon a time I thought that I might call this program ‘Two Letters for Mr. Darwin’ because basically the whole point of this story revolves about when Alfred Russel Wallace made his discoveries and how much later on Charles Darwin claimed those discoveries as his own. And there were two different letters – one was sent in October 1856 and that was including Wallace’s own ideas about the basic tools, if you like, of evolution. And the second one was sent in March 1858 and that became the famous letter that Darwin claimed he received two weeks later than he did in order that he could then fill up 66 pages of his ongoing thesis, the natural selection manuscript he was then writing.
Alex Tsakiris: His journal, right? His journal entries.
Roy Davies: No, it wasn’t his journal. This was the natural selection manuscript that he was then completing that Liza suggested he do some years before. And in that manuscript he introduced 66 pages of information about the theory of divergence, which Wallace by this time had sent him and cleared up a huge amount of information and selection about this. And Darwin then copied it into his natural selection manuscript and claimed that he had it there for some time. Then he announced that he had a letter from Wallace which in fact of course he had in his own collection for about two weeks and it was that letter that became the famous letter which started the whole Linnaean procedure off in London on the first of July, 1858, and which Wallace and Darwin were given the accolade of being the discoverers of the theory of evolution, but Charles Darwin’s name was put first. Hence, Charles Darwin and Wallace are the discoverers, eventually it became Charles Darwin as the discoverer of evolution and Wallace’s name was forgotten.
Alex Tsakiris: Okay, I want to pour over the details of some of that because they are obviously very important. First, I want to talk about this two-week difference. You alluded to the fact that we can trace a significant amount of new work that Darwin adds to his body of work during that two-week period. Can you tell us why we know that we can trace a lot of Darwin’s writings to that two-week period? How do we know that?
Roy Davies: Okay, basically what he wrote in those 66 pages only came out when origin of species was published in 1859. Before that, at the Linnaean [I think he’s referring to the society] nothing was referred to in terms of these 66 pages of new information. Darwin didn’t present those pages to Hooker or Lyell in his case for claiming the theory of evolution as his own. Lyell and Hooker never knew that had taken place, they just were not informed. And so it was important because Darwin knew at the back of his theory he had these 66 new pages of Wallace’s information taken from, I believe, Wallace’s own outline of his theory, and copied them into his book. So what he was doing, really, was taking stuff that Wallace had sent him and putting it into his own manuscript and claiming it as his own. That was the plagiarism charge, that was the idea that he had stolen Wallace’s idea. Now Wallace of course sent the letter to Darwin completely innocently. He just wanted Darwin’s approval, if you like, over the fact that he had come up with the theory of evolution. And when Darwin got to the letter I think he panicked, started writing it into his manuscript, and a few days later claimed to Hooker that in fact he now had as his dissenter of his theory, as the central part of his theory, Wallace’s idea. But he didn’t say it was Wallace’s idea, he said that it was his own. So divergence became the thing which allowed both Lyell and Hooker to believe that Darwin came up with this theory on his own and now he was going to lose out because Wallace had sent him the letter, which he then produced two weeks later. It was, I think and I think the evidence I have offered proves it, that in fact Darwin at that point reached the lowest ebb that he had reached and a long time before he had started doing this sort of stuff to other people at different times. It wasn’t the first time that he cheated.
Alex Tsakiris: And even your critics, while they might not agree on that last point, that Darwin had a history of fudging with his sources, there is agreement on the fact that this is either an incredible coincidence or something more. It’s a coincidence that Darwin has this explosion of ideas, announces to his colleagues that he has had this incredible breakthrough. During these two weeks that are in question about when he received the letter form Wallace. It’s also an incredible coincidence, if we’re to believe the status quo traditional story, that Wallace would be this co-discoverer right alongside Darwin who was kind of puttering around with these ideas, that they would both focus in and this idea would crystallize for both of them exactly at the same time. Given the length of time that it takes for this correspondence to go back and forth, it’s either an incredible coincidence or it’s something more. It’s plagiarism, as you have suggested. Can we at least boil it down to that? I mean, we do have to agree that there is no other way to explain that.
Roy Davies: I would say that the story of coincidentally – if you would, is just too much to believe. Darwin’s own history in this area is suspect. For people to claim that this was a coincidence is just – it’s just outlandish. There is no point, and I make this point in the book, there is no point of other academics in the book that say this – there is no point in which Darwin’s research comes before Wallace’s ideas. Wallace’s ideas, from the time that he goes to South America and then eventually on to the Malay archipelago he is sending ideas back which Darwin then finds a way of getting into his own research. It never happens the other way around.
Alex Tsakiris: Right, although some of your critics have suggested that it did happen. And one of your critics said that Darwin even writes in his journal and an undated entry, I might add, which is highly suspicious, that Darwin is commenting about Wallace’s paper and he says nothing new – the point being there is nothing new here from Wallace.
Roy Davies: Yes, that’s absolutely true and they were writing about the Sarawak Lawin 1855, September 1855, which Wallace had published in the annals and natural history. And basically what Darwin did was when he read this he claimed in the marginal notes that he was making that there was nothing new here. And to show that there was nothing new he actually put a straight marginal line down against 35 of Wallace’s paragraphs in his own copy of that law indicated that thereby he found each of those paragraphs of interest wasn’t just a question of him writing one thing down and saying there is nothing of interest here and otherwise I mean, why would he write lines, perpendicular lines, in something more than one on each paragraph down throughout that piece of Wallace’s in the annals. It is unlikely and not only unlikely but somebody has got to explain more than that, why would he make the lines? Why would he indicate the paragraphs had some significance? Each one of them, 35 different ones in that piece.
Alex Tsakiris: And I think, as you alluded to just a minute ago, I think the strongest circumstantial evidence is the rush to publication, right? I mean here is a guy who has been dallying around with this stuff for years, hasn’t put it together, and now he gets this letter and there is this rush to get it to publication. And he even brings along Wallace, which as you read it is almost a guilt exercise, you know. But clearly, as you said, Wallace is somewhat naïve in writing the letter to Darwin and saying, ‘Hey, you’re an upper crust kind of guy with all the right connections, maybe you can help me get this published. And he is handing it over to a guy who says, ‘Oh my gosh, here is this stuff.’ And then there is this tremendous rush to get it to publication, is that right?
Roy Davies: Well, the story has been told before about Mozart and Salieri, and it’s almost exactly the same story. Somebody who wants something so desperately and yet somebody else has it, how on earth do you go about getting that for yourself? And Darwin managed to do it. He managed to convince people because he was upper crust and because he and Wallace had exchanged letters before this. And Wallace didn’t know anybody in the upper crust section of British society, and certainly not the scientific society, except his own agent, Samuel Stephens. And it was Stephens who kept on sending him notes saying, ‘Will you stop theorizing please. Everybody here wants you just to collect things and send them back.’ And of course, Wallace’s whole instinct was how on earth does life change in each generation? How do the generations change inside a particular species? And it was he who actually found all this and put it together. And then because he had corresponded with Darwin, first of all he sent Darwin the letter, Darwin replied saying to him, ‘Well, we thought much alike.’ In fact, it was only when Lyell went to see him that they had not thought much alike, and yet Darwin had convinced Wallace that they thought much alike. Wallace had his own suspicions that they hadn’t but then he sends another letter back to Darwin. Then Darwin replies and the last letter of the five of them was the one where Wallace actually says to him, ‘Look, I have come up with the theory of evolution. Would you have a look at it? And if you think it’s good enough would you show it to Charles Lyell?’ And that’s where the story kind of gets bogged down in the whole question of what was in that letter because it doesn’t exist anymore.
Charles Darwin made sure that the letters don’t exist anymore, not only to Wallace but to all the significant characters who might have offered some kind of criticism to what he was doing, particularly people like Asa Gray. None of Gray’s letter to Darwin stayed alive, or are exist at this moment, but Darwin’s letters to Gray are and in those letters he gives the game away. So basically we know for a fact that there is something seriously wrong with this story. I mean, people who love Darwin and are Darwinists keep on saying, ‘But you can’t prove it, you can’t prove it.’ And that’s partly because Darwin destroyed the evidence which might have been able to bring him down. But that isn’t the only evidence we have got. We have got a lot of evidence, mostly that Wallace’s ideas were first of all rubbished by Darwin and then taken and made into his own.
Alex Tsakiris: Right, and we should mention as long as you’re talking about it what letters meant during this time period. Because now we send off an email and we throw it in our trash and we don’t think anything of it. Letters, letters of this kind, to be lost – to be thrown away, is virtually unheard of for a scientist like Darwin, right?
Roy Davies: Indeed. And Darwin keeps all the letters, like from his son going to the university or the Ashmolean Museum or whatever. He keeps those letters, but the significant ones are not there. The letters themselves, you see, and this is the most important part – everything hinges in this story and this is the difficult bit of getting across to people. Everything in the story hinges essentially on two things. One is the mail service between Singapore an home. When it happened, how it happened, which ships took the mail, which ships were meant to take the mail, and which ships actually carried the mail. The second part of it is the whole idea of letters themselves and their significance in the middle of the 19th century. The whole idea of letters coming from an area of the world where the British were in China in trouble with the Chinese uprising against their attempt to sort of keep hold of bits of China, which they shouldn’t have done. The second part was the whole Indian mutiny which had begun in 1857, which had been boiling since 1856. And those two things made the mail from Singapore to home the most important channel of information for anybody to do with governing the British, in India or in China.
Alex Tsakiris: Okay, so let’s put an exclamation point on that. Mail service is the internet, the railroad, the highway system, all wrapped together for the British empire. It’s the way the whole thing runs back then.
Roy Davies: Absolutely.
Alex Tsakiris: And most importantly what you reveal in this book and through your research is that there is really no way that Darwin could have gotten the letter on the day when he said he did. It really doesn’t make any sense. And as a matter of fact, even your critics agree that it would be a highly-unusual set of circumstances for it to arrive on that day. And the reason for that is because, as you just said, the mail at this point in history is a regularly-scheduled event. And when it comes from the other side of the world we can trace down when that happened. Why do you think it is so unlikely that Charles Darwin received that letter on the date that he said he did?
Roy Davies: Okay, there is no likelihood at all. One of my critics is John van Whye, who is now in Singapore who is a Darwin enthusiast. Now, the point that John van Whye is making is that John , because he needs it to happen in the middle of the month, gets the first boat to pick up the mail and take it to Singapore, totally without precedent.
Alex Tsakiris: Well we can jump in there and I can shut that down – I mean, if there is a better example of apologetics I don’t know where it is. If there is a better example of Dr. John van Whye starting with the conclusion that he wants and then working backwards to try and make it fit the circumstances that we know, it’s just absurd. If you could spend a minute, tell us why he is jumping through all these hoops because as I understand it the reason he is jumping through all these hoops is that the regularly-scheduled mail, the mail that gets reported in the newspaper around the world would not put the letter there at the time that Darwin claims that it is there, right?
Roy Davies: Let me come the other way around. The mail coming back from the far east, from Singapore, there were two deliveries a month from Singapore to Britain. There had only been in ’56, one a month. But the British, because of the connection with India and China, were in desperate need of having a more regular service to find out exactly what was happening. They didn’t know what the Army was doing, they didn’t know what was happening in the Indian Revolution and the mutiny. Nobody had any idea until the mail came in. So that made the biggest thing on the headlines in the Times of London every two weeks was the mail has arrived. It was the most amazing piece of news and it always led the papers on that day. Now then, the mail that came from Malay Archipelago, where Wallace was at the time he discovered the theory, always came from the Archipelago to Britain and arrived on the second day or the third day of every month. The second delivery always ended up in the middle of the month. So that middle of the month mail never included mail from the Archipelago. Now, John van Whye insists that the mail from the Archipelago arrived on June the 18th and I am saying that because of what I know of the schedule of boats in the far east at that time, that letter posted on the 9th of March 1958 arrived on June the 2nd in London, on June the 3rd in Darwin’s home. And it was for that reason that for the next two weeks Darwin had the chance to introduce into his natural selection manuscript the 66 pages of new information that he had taken from Wallace’s own theory.
That is why he was able to say to Lyell in his letters, ‘Look, this is appalling. I have worked on this for years and here I get letters from Wallace saying exactly the same things. His ideas could stand as headlines to my chapters.’ Or words to that effect.
Alex Tsakiris: Oh my gosh, that is amazing.
Roy Davies: You know, and that’s what he did. And when John van Whye insists that the mail only came on the 18th it was because he does not understand that the two firms taking and bringing mail from Singapore were two entirely different firms and that one brought it and one took it. So the firm he is talking about actually took the mail from Singapore and delivered to the Archipelago. I am saying that the other firm fetched the mail from the Archipelago from the firm fetched the mail from the Archipelago, from the firm at Surabaya, on Java, delivered it first to Jakarta, which was then Batavia, and then to Singapore. So one firm took it and one firm delivered it. And the firm that delivered it always delivered the mail that ended up on the 2nd of every month in London, unless there was some small discrepancy either way because of tides or weather or whatever.
Alex Tsakiris: And I really like the way, Roy, that you have laid that out from the big picture standpoint. Because people really get a sense that even if you’re going to make this claim that the letter arrived two weeks later you have to acknowledge that this is a rare occurrence. So to add to all the other amazing coincidences you have to add the fact that the letters from that territory never arrived on the 18th. It must have arrived at the beginning of the month.
Roy Davies: It never did. And do you know something? The strange thing is that John Van Wyhe calls me a conspiracy theorist because I don’t agree with him on when the mail arrived. And yet not one academic has yet challenged me to go through the points I make in the book and discuss whether I am right or wrong. I am a conspiracy theorist – what a conspiracy theorist is is somebody who makes up a theory which is not borne out by the facts. This isn’t true about this book. Every fact in that book is checked with references at the back to everybody who has made the statements, and they are not me.
Alex Tsakiris: The irony of course is that’s what this story is really about. It’s all about a conspiracy. And it’s further evidence of what I always say on this show, over and over again – if you’re ever around power and money you realize that everything is a conspiracy. Everything that’s really important.
Roy Davies: I like you, you’re a cynic. You’re a bit like me.
Alex Tsakiris: Well, it’s true. If you’re just playing a small time game that no one cares about and you just have a day-to-day job, life doesn’t seem like a conspiracy. But as you move up into where the real power and the money is, my background is in business and I tell people all the time as I got into bigger and bigger deals it was always a conspiracy. Well, don’t tell this person that, what kind of information can we get that they don’t know? It’s always a conspiracy. So the whole idea of a conspiracy theory is really kind of laughable but as this story plays out it’s a perfect example of – of course Darwin is involved in a conspiracy. And of course that language he’s talking about is conspiratorial. Even at its surface it’s conspiratorial and he is telling his colleagues that I have gotten this letter and it’s going to squash all my work. Well, that’s a conspiracy, right? He is working kind of behind the scenes, we have to get my paper out to the conference before this – all that is a conspiracy. It’s an open conspiracy.
Roy Davies: It is indeed. And do you know something which is very interesting, John Brooks, who I met before he died and who was one of the people who helped me in the first instance to get hold of this idea properly. John Brooks tried very hard to establish exactly when and where the post came from in Indonesia and made a big mistake. He wasn’t helped by a professor in Holland as I was to get the dates right. And so he imagined that the date may have been May the 18th that the letter came and he put that as a possibility. And people jumped on him, especially some people in America. They jumped on him and really ruined his reputation, saying you know, it was absolutely rubbish. That left the field in a difficult place for me but I did know that the second letter like the one we have just been talking about, coming at the beginning of the month, was one thing but what nobody had picked up, which is why I really got interested in the story, is I just wondered why nobody had picked up the fact that Wallace had sent his previous letter to Darwin in October 1856, which should have arrived on January 3rd, 1857. That letter actually arrived 11 days late because of storms. Darwin claimed he didn’t receive that letter for four months and four months later he had put into his own work both the idea of what divergence meant, as a theory which is very important, and Wallace’s second statement which was that a new species and strongly marked varieties. Darwin took that an in the first instance wrote it into his journal, into his manuscript that he was writing. The second thing he sent to Hooker as an idea which had just crossed his mind.
Alex Tsakiris: You know, and that brings us back, if we will, to the implications for this. Because when we look back through the lens of history and look back at this, it is stunning what this has meant for us. It is really about world view. It is about which one wins out. I had an interesting interview a while back with a Wallace biographer named Professor Michael Flannery.
Roy Davies: Oh yes.
Alex Tsakiris: What Flannery helped me see is that what Wallace saw and what Darwin didn’t see is that it’s not about survival. It’s about non-survival. So it is not about an individual surviving or striving to survive, it’s about who doesn’t survive, who is the least fit. You don’t have to be the best, you just can’t fall into the bottom 10%. And the other thing that Darwin was so wrong about and it has implications for the world we live in that are just stunning, but it’s not about individual survival. It’s about the group and whether my group survives and is able to carry these genes forward. It’s about cooperation among the group, which Wallace found all over the place. And part of this goes back to the point that you made about who these people were. I mean, Alfred Russel Wallace, as you alluded to, was a working guy who was collecting samples so that he could send them back and sell them to keep his life going.
Roy Davies: That was his job.
Alex Tsakiris: And he was also a guy who collected thousands and thousands, over $250,000 samples. So he saw a bigger field, a bigger playing field, that you can start to draw these conclusions about what does this world view mean in terms of how its worked its way into our culture. Our culture is about individual survival. It’s about, although Darwin can’t be credited with coining the term, it’s about survival of the fittest. And we use that over and over and over again in every aspect of our endeavors to justify what we do and how we do it. That, to me, is why all of this is so important. Because when we reflect back on what it means about the world we live in it is really kind of stunning.
Roy Davies: Yes, indeed. One of the points you just said – I’m not quite sure about it. You may be right, but Wallace showed us that it was the most subtle, the smallest, the least observable change in one individual in any society which gives him an advantage or her an advantage in the general way of life that allows that particular advantage to be passed on. Eventually a group can be formed from that individual advantage.
Alex Tsakiris: I don’t know and I don’t think that is necessarily inconsistent with what Flannery is saying, but Flannery’s point I think to me was quite profound in that what he said in really digging into Wallace’s writings was that Wallace found that it was competition occurring among groups in a demographic sense that really ultimately made the difference, made the leap forward. And I don’t think that is inconsistent with what you’re saying because an individual change can then benefit the group and then the group can win out. But what he say, and I think this is obvious to all of us just looking at it is that if your individual change doesn’t benefit your group then you are really not going to advance and survive because it is, at the end of the day, about whether your group or your tribe advances. You can’t do it alone.
Roy Davies: I agree. I didn’t understand exactly but right, now that you have explained that I understand. Because the group eventually has to perform as a group against any other group seeking the same kind of food or same kind of place or whatever.
Alex Tsakiris: Exactly. It becomes obvious once we think it through but if we just look at Darwin, Darwin was really saying something different and it’s partly because of the way he was collecting samples and he wasn’t collecting as many samples and he was only collecting them on the Galapagos. What he saw is hey, you know, whoever is the most fit will get the right to breed and their offspring will generate and all that stuff, which is true, but what he didn’t do was pull the lens back a little bit and say, okay, so now I have these hyenas here, this tribe, but if they can’t succeed in the overall environment that they are in then it doesn’t go forward as a group. It can’t be just about that one individual. That one individual change then changes the group but whether or not the genes ultimately go forward is whether or not that group is successful.
Roy Davies: Okay, one thing that worries me a little that you just said is that Darwin’s theory of evolution – and I have to object on that one, I don’t think it is Darwin’s theory of evolution. I think it is Wallace’s theory of evolution.
Alex Tsakiris: Right, right.
Roy Davies: Sorry, I mean I know everyone in the world thinks that it is Darwin’s theory but I actually don’t think it is Darwin’s theory. I think Darwin pinched it from Wallace and didn’t have a theory of his own at all.
Alex Tsakiris: Roy, tell me this. What has it been like for you pursuing this research? Obviously you are a guy who is not afraid from a little bit of confrontation and we’re all benefitting from the fact that you are not shy about that. But what has this been like for you to go through this?
Roy Davies: I have to tell you that I have enjoyed every minute of it. I think the odds are fair, you see. I think me against the rest is fair odds. If it was two of me and the rest that wouldn’t be fair, but because I am who I am. Because I don’t tend to give up on things, no matter what van Whye says or Charles Smith says, you know, people who are – well, I don’t know many other people like the former Oxford professor who also said that I don’t know what I’m talking about. All sorts of people say I don’t know what I’m talking about but not one of them will actually take it on as a frontal attack.
Alex Tsakiris: Isn’t that amazing? I have run across that so many times it’s a lot of talk until it gets down to – okay, let’s square off. And then it’s well that guy, and it’s not even worth my time to debate it.
Roy Davies: Well exactly. And I have actually been in a debate with one of the people who are against what I say, mostly about the shipping and the letters. And the letters start and we talk to each other, talk to each other, talk to each other. I make points, he makes points, I make points, he makes points, and eventually I say something like, ‘Well look, don’t you think that given all my objections to your objections and all the points that I am making which refer to yours, don’t you think that you should actually come out and say that you don’t want to throw the sand in people’s eyes anymore?’ And it stopped, never came back. Simply because the last challenge is the one that says, please, if I am wrong tell me I am wrong because I have got the wrong facts. But don’t tell me I am wrong because you think it might be something else. And because I am so stuck now with this idea of Roy Davies, the conspiracy theorist, whenever anybody gives me the chance to talk about it I will. But having talked about it now for five years and still going nowhere with people who really don’t want to believe and have spurious ideas why they can’t be right, slowly I am coming to the point where maybe there is something else in life without going on about Wallace and Darwin, not they I would ever not talk about Wallace, but really talking about Darwin seems to be counterproductive.
Alex Tsakiris: There is the dilemma right? You reach a point where you have to tire a little bit of the topic and when you see that progress isn’t being made you say, okay, let me move on. And then of course this is what the critics wait for because then of course they will pronounce the idea dead and that you don’t even pursue it anymore.
Roy Davies: Exactly, yes. You have got it. So why do you think I was so pleased that you wanted to talk to me?
Alex Tsakiris: It’s an idea that will live on for as long as people are willing to pursue it in an open, honest, fair-minded way because when they do they can really come to no other conclusion. But as we know and as I have explored so many times on this show, to folks who are married to a particular world view and have a lot of personal investment in believing things are a certain way, well it’s going to be very frustrating because it’s going to be frustrating for you and frustrating for them. They are going to dismiss it out of hand and you are never going to hear from them again.
Roy Davies: Well, I don’t mind. I don’t mind. What is good about the world and good about the internet age and the whole modern ways of communication is that you don’t have to wait for letters for six weeks from India, but you can actually phone somebody from San Diego, find out what they are saying in London, and then tell people in South Africa what is happening. If that is the way the thing goes then I am all for it. And if somebody wants to get in touch with me and say I’m wrong or they can prove that I am wrong or show that I am wrong then quite happily I will answer them.
Alex Tsakiris: Well you know, Roy, that might very nice way to wrap things up. It kind of brings full circle the letter, communications, and communication gaps and how maybe the internet can partially play a role in that solution of tightening those communication gaps. So you mentioned it a little bit in passing, that you are still interested in this work, but there isn’t a lot of work going forward. What other things are you involved with right now? What projects are you working on?
Roy Davies: I am not. This, as I told you, the woman from Wales who said I told the wrong story – this pretty well dominated the next 12 years of my life and the last five years since the book was published I have pretty well given lectures all over the place. Not too much of it, people still believe that Darwin is the king and Wallace was very much sort of an inferior prince, but where I am at the moment is thinking about a screenplay. Although one of my colleagues is suggesting a screenplay about the Wallace-Darwin story but I am not sure that works. That is one way but I trained as a screenwriter a couple of years ago so I am just thinking of something which is such a good idea that people can’t resist it and that’s going to take a long time. It could be ages before you hear from me again.
Alex Tsakiris: Well, I hope it isn’t that long. It’s an idea and a book that as I said right from the beginning is one of the most underappreciated works that I have seen and the implications are just dramatic. The name of the book, again, is The Darwin Conspiracy: The Origins of a Scientific Crime. Our guest has been Roy Davies. Roy, thanks so much for joining me today on Skeptiko.
Roy Davies: Thank you very much Alex.
Alex Tsakiris: Thanks again to Roy Davis for joining me today on Skeptiko. When were off the air, Roy made a very, very generous offer to Skeptiko listeners and I wanted to pass that along to you. Roy told me that even though this book is very, very hard to come by he has a number of copies that he would be willing to give away for free as long as you cover his postage. So if you want to email me I will send you Roy’s email address as a way to get in contact with him and you can take him up on that generous offer.