Commentary of Mike Sutton’s Book Nullius in Verba (Darwin’s greatest secret)
The cover of this book shows a caricature of Charles Darwin seated on top of a big red book. The caricature was published in Vanity Fair in 1871, but the book below Darwin has been added recently by the artist. Close examination reveals Patrick Matthew’s name written with gold letters in the spine of the red book. Nullius in Verba (Darwin’s greatest secret) presents definitive proof that Darwin copied his theory from Matthew. Is this result important today? Yes, no doubt of it. And then… why?
It is very important to have proof that Darwin copied his theory because it is a demonstration that, at the time of writing the Origin of Species, Darwin had not an original theory on that subject, and he copied it from others. The references to other authors’ work were so poor and badly given in the first edition that, from the third edition on, he had to write an additional preliminary chapter that he entitled ironically Historical Sketch. In this section, Darwin mentioned some (though not all) – his sources of inspiration, such as Matthew and Lamarck. Some of them were mentioned in a very peculiar way, as we will soon see in this review.
Let’s begin by answering a couple of questions: 1) Who is the author of this book? And 2) Who was Patrick Matthew?
Mike Sutton is a well-known criminologist from the Nottingham Trent University, in Nottingham, England. He is the author of numerous articles in criminology, with particular interest in high-tech crime and crime science, one of which has merited the British Journal of Criminology annual prize in 1999, as well as several articles on debunking myths and the history of science.
I have known Dr Sutton for several years since our first encounter in on Twitter, and I follow him with interest on this social media. I read his article published in the journal Filozoficzne Aspekty Genezy on the priority of Matthew over Darwin on the concept of natural selection (Sutton, 2015), and also read with interest, and I have translated to Spanish his open letter to the Royal Society on this subject. Sutton’s book, ‘Nullius’, corresponds to a new edited section (volume 1) of a larger previously published digital book that brings the definitive answer to the important question of lack of originality in Darwin’s Origin of Species. However, before commenting on that point, I will answer the second question: who was Patrick Matthew?
Patrick Matthew (1790-1874) was a Scottish naturalist. His description in the English version of Wikipedia (April, 18 2018) says:
‘…was a Scottish grain merchant, fruit farmer, forester, and landowner, who contributed to the understanding of horticulture, silviculture, and agriculture in general, with a focus on maintaining the British navy and feeding new colonies. He published the basic concept of natural selection as a mechanism in evolutionary adaptation and speciation (i.e. resulting from positive natural selection, in contrast to its already, widely known, negative role in removal of individuals in the Struggle for Survival), but failed to develop or publicise his ideas.’
And the key to this book is here well described and summarized in two points: 1) Matthew published the basic concept of natural selection as a mechanism in evolutionary adaptation and speciation, but nevertheless: 2) failed to develop or publicise his ideas.
If Sutton’s book, ‘Nullius’, demonstrates that Matthew did not fail to publish his ideas, then it becomes clear that the priority in establishing natural selection belongs to Matthew and not to Darwin.
What Wikipedia says today (April 18th, 2018) about Matthew, is very similar to what Charles Darwin wrote in the Historical Sketch to the Origin of Species from the third edition (1861):
‘In 1831 Mr. Patrick Matthew published his work on «Naval Timber and Arboriculture», in which he gives precisely the same view on the origin of species as that (presently to be alluded to) propounded by Mr. Wallace and myself in the «Linnean Journal», and as that enlarged in the present volume. Unfortunately the view was given by Mr. Matthew very briefly in scattered passages in an appendix to a work on a different subject, so that it remained unnoticed until Mr. Matthew himself drew attention to it in the «Gardeners’ Chronicle», on April 7, 1860. The differences of Mr. Matthew’s views from mine are not of much importance: he seems to consider that the world was nearly depopulated at successive periods, and then restocked; and he gives as an alternative, that new forms may be generated «without the presence of any mold or germ of former aggregates.» I am not sure that I understand some passages; but it seems that he attributes much influence to the direct action of the conditions of life. He clearly saw, however, the full force of the principle of natural selection.’
The similarity of this long paragraph with the ideas expressed in Wikipedia show again that Wikipedia is Darwinist dominated. Darwin states that his views are the same as those of Matthew (The differences of Mr. Matthew’s views from mine are not of much importance; He clearly saw, however, the full force of the principle of natural selection.) But (and this is a very important point) Darwin also excused himself by writing:
‘Unfortunately the view was given by Mr. Matthew very briefly in scattered passages in an appendix to a work on a different subject, so that it remained unnoticed until Mr. Matthew himself drew attention to it in the «Gardeners’ Chronicle», on April 7, 1860.’
And here Darwin instead of Unfortunately should have said Fortunately, because if this were not so, then the discovery of the theory will belong, without any doubt, to Matthew. But the following doubts still remain:
1) Is it correct to say that the view was given by ‘Mr. Matthew very briefly in scattered passages’?
2) Is it correct to say that the view was given in an appendix to a work on a different subject?
And most important:
3) Is it correct to say that the view that it remained unnoticed until Mr. Matthew himself drew attention to it in the «Gardeners’ Chronicle», on April 7, 1860 ?
The definitive answer to all three questions is not easy and may come from different sources. For example it may come from authors whose work is difficult to find now, like W.J. Dempster, whose book entitled ‘The Illustrious Hunter and the Darwins’ (Book Guild Publishing, Sussex, 2005) contains 43 pages dedicated to Matthew, showing that the view given by Mr. Matthew was not given very briefly nor in scattered passages. Dr Sutton work comes now in strong support of Dempster’s. The answer to these questions may come also from a collection of erudite works in history that will show undoubtedly that Naval Timber and Arboriculture, the subject expressed in title of Matthew’s book was extremely important in 1831, and that the book must have had a broad audience as it is shown by the two editorials that were published on it in London and Edinburgh. The social and historical questions surrounding the publication of this book as well as other books on evolution before Darwin are also well described by Sutton. Finally, the answer to all three questions above may come directly from a letter of Charles Darwin who, in 1865, admitting that Wells may have the priority on natural selection, wrote to Hooker:
‘So poor old Patrick Matthew if not the first , and he cannot ought not any longer put on his title pages the discoverer of the principle of Natural Selection.’
(Nullius in verba. P. 82)
An expression that we could easily modify now to:
So poor old Charles Darwin if not the first, and he cannot ought not any longer put on his title pages the discoverer of the principle of Natural Selection
Because today, contrary to what Darwin stated in the Historical Sketch, there is no doubt that the priority of the discovery of Natural Selection belongs to Matthew. Being habituated to the irony and the contradiction in Darwin’s writing, and being so difficult the access to the information and the erudition required to make clear the priority of the concept of natural selection in the middle of such complex historical period, Sutton’s book. ‘Nullius’ provides a definitive source to solve our doubts.
The work is divided in an introduction and eight additional chapters. The introduction presents the technique used to identify authors quoting Matthew before Darwin. The IDD method (see Sutton and Griffiths, 2018) consists of systematic searches through millions of books digitised in the Internet and has allowed Sutton to reveal that 24 people quoted Matthew before 1858. Three of them were very close to Darwin: Loudon, Chambers and Selby, while Darwin admitted the influence of Chambers and Blyth. Thus, Darwin wrote a falsehood in his Historical Sketch and Matthew’s views were well known by authors of his proximity. Chapter 2 explains the correspondence between Darwin and Matthew, from which Matthew’s priority becomes clear. Chapter 3 describes in detail which scientists undoubtedly read Matthew’s book, including editors and naturalists, many of which were very close to the circle of Charles Darwin. Here we learn interesting information, for example concerning Strickland, the naturalist that owned the 8th Fuller finch and was latter leading the team which drew up the first formal codification on the rules of scientific priority for the British Association for the Advancement of Science, a team to which Charles Darwin also belonged … Yes, this is an important detail that has to be taken into account in the case for the dispute of priority in the idea of natural selection: Darwin himself was a member of the team in charge of the codification on the rules of scientific priority for the BAAS. May this have helped to give him priority up to now? Who knows? This chapter contains also interesting information to the question of what was precisely the work done by Charles Darwin with the Galapagos finches, and the answer is short: None.
Chapter 4 is dedicated to Robert Chambers and his work ‘Vestiges of Creation’. Of particular interest among the naturalists that knew and quoted Matthew’s book is Robert Chambers. He was the author of the book entitled ‘Vestiges of Creation’ that was published anonymously in 1844, a book whose ultimate conclusion was that everything, including humans, was evolving. Darwin mentioned this book in the Historical Sketch and Wallace indicated that both Wells and Chambers propounded the idea of natural selection. And Chambers has much earlier cited Matthew (Sutton, 2017; pp 71 and 74).
Chapter 5, entitled Earlier Investigations, explores the previous work demonstrating that Charles Darwin copied main ideas from previously published work of others (Matthews, Blyth, Chambers…). It does not include Lamarck, the author from whom Darwin took more material for the Origin; it does not include Richard Owen, another candidate to the priority of the concept of natural selection; and it does not include Pierre Trémaux, whose book Darwin most probably read, and from which he took important concepts opposed to gradualism (Wilkins and Nelson, 2008).
Chapter 6 is dedicated to Discussion and Conclusions, 7th is a complete list of references, 8th an appendix containing some of Matthew’s texts related to natural selection.
In summary, any rules that may be applied to establish the scientific priority of the concept of natural selection, will result in according to Matthew the priority over Darwin and Wallace. Then: why this was not recognised from the beginning? For many reasons, political and historical all of them. Not scientific. Scientific priority belongs to Matthew.
But this is not the end of the history. Once it becomes recognized that Darwin did not present an original theory, the contents of the theory may be more open to question. This concerns the real nature of natural selection (What is natural selection? Is it a theory? Is it a process? Is it a natural law? Is it a fact or a set of facts? Is it measurable?), as well as its importance in species formation and the realization that Natural Selection is the result of several mistakes and, in definitive, playing with words (Cervantes and Pérez Galicia, 2015 and 2017).
Professional naturalists in the XIX century were clear about the book entitled On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection or the Survival of the Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. The earlier critics were the better and Samuel Haughton said:
‘This speculation of Mess. Darwin and Wallace would not be worthy of note were it not for the weight of authority of the names under whose auspices it has been brought forward. If it means what it says, it is a truism; if it means anything more, it is contrary to fact.’
And Pierre Flourens (Cervantes, 2013) detected four among the major mistakes in Darwin’s book:
1) Abuse of Language
2) Ignorance of the main questions of Natural History
3) Lack of originality. Darwin copied from Lamarck. And..
4) Closeness to a dangerous theory: Eugenics.
Sutton’s book shows that at the time of writing his book Darwin did not have his own original theory to present. It will take time to understand the confusion around evolution, but it will be impossible outside a historical frame.
Cervantes, E. 2013. Manual para detectar la impostura científica: Examen del libro de Darwin por Flourens. Digital CSIC, 225 pp. https://digital.csic.es/handle/10261/….
Cervantes, E, Pérez Galicia, G. 2015. ¿Está usted de broma Mr Darwin? La Retórica en el corazón del darwinismo. Amazon (OIACDI), 306 pp.
Cervantes, E, Pérez Galicia, G. 2017. La nave de los locos. El Origen de las Especies a la luz de la Nueva Retórica. Amazon (OIACDI), 198 pp.
Darwin, Charles. 1861. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. 3th ed. John Murray. London.
Sutton, M. 2017. Nullius in Verba (Darwin’s greatest secret). Amazon.
Sutton, M. 2015. On Knowledge Contamination: New Data Challenges Claims of Darwin’s and Wallace’s Independent Conceptions of Matthew’s Prior-Published Hypothesis. Filozoficzne Aspekty Genezy 12, 167-205.
Sutton, M and Griffiths, M.D. 2018. Using Date Specific Searches onGoogle Books to Disconfirm Prior Origination Knowledge Claims for Particular Terms, Words, and Names. in Soc. Sci.2018,7 (4), 66
Wilkins John S., Nelson Gareth J. 2008. Trémaux on species: A theory of allopatric speciation (and punctuated equilibrium) before Wagner. http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/3806/…