Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

Mr. Wallace and Reichenbach's Odyle (S276: 1877)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor printed on page eight of the Nature issue of 1 November 1877. To link directly to this page, connect with:

     I am amazed that Dr. Carpenter should think it necessary to make public, with such haste, Prof. Hoffmann's statement that Baron Reichenbach's facts and theories are not accepted by the body of scientific men in Germany. Of course they are not. But how this affects their intrinsic accuracy I fail to see. Less than twenty years ago the scientific men of all Europe utterly disbelieved in the co-existence of man with extinct animals; yet the facts adduced by Freere, Boué, McEnery, Godwin Austen, Vivian, and Boucher de Perthes, are now admitted to have been trustworthy and deserving of the most careful examination. The whole history of scientific discovery from Galvani and Harvey to Jenner and Franklin, teaches us, that every great advance in science has been rejected by the scientific men of the period, with an amount of scepticism and bitterness directly proportioned to the novelty and importance of the new ideas suggested and the extent to which they run counter to received and cherished theories. Rejection is one thing, disproof is another; and I have in vain searched for anything like disproof, or even rational explanation, of Reichenbach's facts: his theory, or "Odyle-doctrine," I have never "attempted to rehabilitate," as Dr. Carpenter, with his usual misconception, says I have done. In my review of Dr. Carpenter's lectures (Quarterly Journal of Science, July, 1877, p. 396), I adduce five tests employed by Reichenbach, and also the independent and simultaneous confirmation of Dr. Charpignon in France; and the only reply I get is: "All men of science disbelieve them." With the facts of history above alluded to in my mind, and believing that human nature is very much the same in the nineteenth century as it was in the eighteenth, I can only say, "so much the worse for the men of science."

     Dr. Carpenter's reference to the believers in a flat earth, as a parallel case, is unfortunate, because the two cases are really of a totally different nature. Those who maintain the earth to be flat do not deny the main facts which we rely on as proving it to be round, but they attempt to give other explanations of them. The dispute is on a question of reason and inference; and every intelligent and fairly educated man is able to decide it for himself. But in Reichenbach's case it is the facts that are rejected without disproof or adequate explanation. The two cases are therefore quite distinct, and Dr. Carpenter's attempted parallel, as well as his setting up of scientific disbelief as a conclusive reply to evidence, is in conformity with his whole treatment of this subject.

     I trust that such of the readers of Nature as may feel any interest in the questions at issue between Dr. Carpenter and myself will read my article above referred to, and not allow themselves to be influenced by Dr. C.'s repeated appeals to authority and to prejudice.

Alfred R. Wallace

*                 *                 *                 *                 *

Return to Home