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Book dispels myths of evolution theory

26 June 2013

Dr van Wyhe with his book while in a prau (Malay boat) on the Wallace Line. The line discovered by Wallace divides the Asian and Australian animals in the Malay archipelago
Was Charles Darwin the true discoverer of the theory of evolution? Or did the relatively unknown Alfred Russel Wallace conceive the revolutionary idea? These and other intriguing questions are answered in a new book by NUS historian Dr John van Wyhe, a leading expert in the study of both naturalists.

Dispelling the Darkness: Voyage in the Malay Archipelago and the discovery of evolution by Wallace and Darwin dispels the myths surrounding the theory and challenges many long-standing beliefs. The compilation of in-depth and extensive research by Dr van Wyhe traces the work of the two scientists on how they independently arrived at the major discovery of evolution by natural selection.

While the more famous Darwin travelled to South America for his scientific expedition, Wallace did his research during his eight-year travel in the Malay Archipelago. By sifting through widely scattered documents, Dr van Wyhe shows that it was on the island of Ternate near New Guinea that Wallace had his eureka moment.

Wallace mailed a written draft of his discovery to Darwin. Controversy about postal delivery dates gave rise to conspiracies about the relationship between the two. Did Darwin avail himself to some of Wallace’s work, and were their theories really similar?

Dr van Wyhe solved the mystery by painstakingly tracking the route of the fateful letter from Asia to England in the 1850s.

“Although the theory of evolution story has been told thousands of times in books and documentaries, several long-standing mysteries and many myths and legends have distorted our picture of the most important revolution in the history of science. This book aims to shed light on Wallace’s less well-known voyage and reveal the true story of how evolution was unveiled to the world,” he said.

Published by World Scientific Publishing, Dispelling the Darkness is available at major bookstores and as an e-book. It has received good reviews and accolades from scholars and historians around the world for its great insights.

Dr van Wyhe, currently with the NUS Departments of History and Biological Sciences, is a Fellow at NUS’ Tembusu College. He is the author or editor of Charles Darwin’s Notebooks from the Voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin’s Shorter Publications, Darwin in Cambridge, Alfred Russel Wallace: Letters from the Malay Archipelago and the illustrated biography Darwin. He is also the Director of Darwin Online and Wallace Online, websites providing comprehensive information and resources of the two scientists.