Kia ora: this month at our Wellington meeting, Rochelle Forrester, a Humanist Society member, will present some of the material that she is developing for a book that she has been researching and that is now nearing completion.

June monthly meeting: Monday 2 June:The effect that the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology and the properties of the particles, elements, and compounds that make up our environment have had on human history.
Rochelle writes: “It is proposed that the cause of much historical change is the gradual accumulation of knowledge of the environment. People use materials in their environment to meet their needs. Increased knowledge enables human needs to be met more efficiently. Human needs specifically direct human research, thus directing human historical development. Our environment has a particular structure, and we have a particular place in it, hence knowledge of the human environment is acquired in a particular order. Simple knowledge is acquired first. Complex knowledge is acquired later. The order of discovery determines the course of history. Knowledge of new and efficient means of meeting human needs determines new technology, resulting in new social and ideological systems. The path of human history is determined by the structure of the human environment. Examining this structure will reveal the order in which discoveries had to be made. Since a certain level of knowledge results in a particular society, it is possible to ascertain the types of society that were inevitable in human history. While it is not possible to make predictions about the future course of human history, it is possible to explain and understand why human history has followed a particular path and why it had to follow that path.”
Venue: Turnbull House, Wellington. We meet from 7.30 pm until 9.00 pm.

Any thoughts and musings you may wish to convey are very welcome. Send to Kent at [email protected] .

· Matariki and the Winter Solstice gathering June 21 2008: For several years Te Papa Museum has held a Matariki Festival during June. On Saturday 21 June at Soundings Theatre Level 2, 4.00 pm – 5.00 pm (Free Entry) there is to be a multimedia performance by Louise Potiki Byrant. This performance brings together dance, film, installation and video design to honour Aoraki (Mt Cook). Louise is a Maori artist whose work is gaining much recognition. Maori TV featured a programme about her on Kete Aronui Tuesday 27 May. More information can be found at, and then look for the Matariki Festival.

Interested in attending? Meet Saturday 21 June Soundings Theatre 3.45 pm. After the one-hour performance, we will go the Reading Food Court for refreshments and maybe continue on depending on group wishes.

Call Gaylene (04) 232 4497 for further information or to express your interest.

· Human Rights Film Festival: this festival has finished in Wellington but now continues in Auckland, Christchurch, and Dunedin. We wish to thank the Eileen Bone Trust for contributing toward this annual festival.

· Science Express @ Te Papa: On the first Thursday of every month 6.30 pm- 8.00 pm at Espresso Cafe Level 4 Free Entry. Te Papa hosts a science discussion on current and controversial topics. Their June topic is Energy Solutions to halt Global warming, or is it too late? The Espresso venue is very comfortable; maybe we will come across you there. For people with an interest in art Te Papa hosts Art after Dark on the third Thursday of the month.

· The Great Global Warming Swindle: The October 2007 newsletter included a review by Robert Bender, a Victorian Humanist and environmental activist, of this BBC Channel 4 programme, to be screened by Prime TV on Sunday 1 June at 8.40 pm followed by a discussion panel with experts and commentators from all sides of the global warming debate. There is a short article about this programme in the May 31/June 6 2008 NZ Listener.

· News of Humanist members: Congratulations to founding Wellington member Frank Dungey on his 80th birthday on Monday – but Frank warns humanity, “In view of my parents longevity, I may be around for some time yet”!

We are sorry to learn that Wellington member Tony Walton has a serious illness and our thoughts are with him.

· Radio Access: Listen in the Wellington, NZ, area at 11 am to 783 kHz, Sunday, 1 June, 29 June and every fourth Sunday after this. Otherwise, go to to listen or to download as a pod cast after the original broadcast.

· New Zealand Humanist News (E-mail): To receive this e-mail Humanist News bulletin with international and local news items, short articles, and other items of interest to Humanists, please let us know your email address.

· Books for sale: The Secular Trend in New Zealand by Jim Dakin $10.00 plus $4.50 postage & packaging. Focuses on the writings of Jim Dakin who supported the growth of a secular New Zealand.

The Purple Economy by Max Wallace $35.00 plus $4.50 postage & packaging. An argument that democracies should be republics characterised by constitutional separations of church and state.

Gaylene Middleton
Email: iain-middleton(at)


From the New York limes, 8 January 2008. Thanks to Fred Whitehead and Nigel Sinnott for alerting us to this)

8 January was the birthday of Alfred Russel Wallace. 2008 is the 150th anniversary of one of the most important events in the history of biology. In 1858, Wallace wrote to Charles Darwin from the Moluccan Islands, in what is now Indonesia, where he was collecting birds, beetles, butterflies and anything else he could catch. The letter contained a manuscript in which Wallace outlined the idea of evolution by natural selection.

To celebrate this event and what it led to I decided to visit Wallace’s portrait in London’s National Portrait Gallery, a Who was Who in paintings, photographs, statues and busts. I hurried past an anemic young prince in doublet and hose, and shot through the large gallery of Empire where Queen Victoria is presenting a Bible to a kneeling (and anonymous) African, to arrive in the smaller gallery of Victorian science and technology.

I looked around, and felt a moment of awe. There’s Darwin as an old man, looking luminous; the painter has done a good job on his eyes, they seem to have profound depth. Charles Lyell, whose Principles of Geology influenced both Darwin and Wallace, is sitting thoughtfully. The ambitious and ruthless Richard Owen, coiner of the word dinosaur and founder of the Natural History Museum, is there, a pickled nautilus in a jar beside him, the brown-and-white shell of the unfortunate animal in his hand. Here’s Owen’s enemy, Thomas Henry Huxley, one of the great early proponents of evolution natural selection, holding a skull.

Where Was Wallace?

A white marble bust, complete with prodigious whiskers (this was an age of big facial hair), stares at us. It’s Herbert Spencer, autodidact, social philosopher and, incidentally, originator of that horrible misleading phrase, “survival of the fittest.” (Why misleading? Because it appears to create a tautology: Who survive? The fittest. Who are the fittest? Those that survive.) There’s a photograph of Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton, inventor weather maps, of statistical methods in biology and, infamously, of eugenics. And there are some engineers, physicists and chemists. But no Wallace.

I went back downstairs and asked a woman at reception. She looked him up for me. “Yes, we have a portrait and a plaster medallion.” “I’d like to see them. Where are they?” She looked at her screen, then back at me. “In storage,” she said. In storage? Alfred Russel Wallace is in storage? Then bring him out and hang him!

These days, Wallace is most famous for his role in galvanizing Darwin. By 1858, Darwin (who was 14 years older than Wallace) had spent 20 years working on the idea of evolution by natural selection. He’d been thinking, collecting data, doing experiments. But so far, he had published nothing on the matter. When Wallace’s letter arrived, Darwin panicked. He was about to be scooped, just as Lyell had warned him he would be.

What happened next is an oft-told tale. Darwin wrote several distraught letters to Lyell and to his friend and confidant, the botanist Joseph Hooker. Within the fortnight, Lyell and Hooker attended a meeting of the Linnean Society in London, at which they announced the discovery of evolution by natural selection. To show that Darwin and Wallace had arrived at the idea of natural selection independently, they presented excerpts of two pieces by Darwin — an essay written in 1844 but not published, and a letter written in 1857 to the American botanist Asa Gray, which contained an outline of the principle of natural selection — and Wallace’s manuscript.

Neither Darwin nor Wallace was there: Darwin was at home in Kent, mourning the death of one of his children from scarlet fever, and Wallace was now in New Guinea, hunting birds of paradise. The meeting seems to have had little immediate impact on the scientific community: in his summary at the end of the year, the president of the society remarked that the year “has not, indeed, been marked by any of those striking discoveries which at once revolutionize, so to speak, the department of science on which they bear.” But Darwin had had a fire lit under him, and less than 18 months after the Linnean Society meeting, Origin of Species was published, and the science of biology changed forever.

At the time, there were, broadly speaking, two currents of thought. There were those who believed each species had been created independently and that they were fixed entities that did not change. And there were those who thought evolution was possible, but didn’t know how it happened: they had no mechanism. Natural selection provided a mechanism.

The idea is simple. Far more organisms are born than can survive. Among small song birds such as blue fits (Cyanistes caeruleus), for example, each female can lay as many as ten eggs in a clutch, each year. Yet the blue fit population doesn’t grow gigantically every year; on the contrary, it stays more or less the same. Every year, then, most blue fits die. They become food for squirrels, or cats, or maggots. Any bird that has attributes that help it to survive — sensitive hearing, a beak well suited to breaking into seeds, a knack for catching spiders and caterpillars — will have an edge over its less endowed fellows, and will be more likely to leave offspring. If those attributes have a genetic component, the offspring may (depending on how the genetic dice roll) inherit them. Over time, different populations of the same species will face different pressures and begin to diverge.

Wallace Spoke Of ‘Darwinism’

But to think of Wallace as a mere catalyst for Darwin, as “the other” guy, is to do him a gross injustice (though he himself contributed to this tendency, by always giving Darwin credit for having discovered natural selection, and referring to evolution by natural selection as “Darwinism”). Like so many of the Victorians, Wallace was a prolific writer. He published 21 books and hundreds of articles, often on subjects outside biology (such as why women should have the vote), and he was an important scientist and naturalist in his own right. For instance, besides discovering natural selection, he laid the foundations of biogeography — why you find particular plants and animals here, but not there. In the islands of Indonesia, for example, Wallace noticed that fauna and flora on one side of the deep Lombok Strait were mostly Asian, whereas those on the other side were related to Australian organisms. He reasoned correctly that this was a result of the difficulty organisms had in crossing the Strait; the discontinuity is now known as the Wallace Line.

He also made major contributions to a variety of other fields, from anthropology to the study of glaciers, and in a campaign against smallpox vaccination, which was then both compulsory and crude, he carried out one of the first large-scale statistical studies of medical evidence. In it, he remarks that “. . .there is much evidence to show that doctors are bad statisticians, and have a special faculty for misstating figures,” and called for proper controlled trials of the vaccine’s efficacy.

All of which is the more impressive given his upbringing and background. Born in 1823 to down-at-heel parents, he began to work for a living at the age of 14. From that point on, he was self-educated, and he worked as a surveyor, a watch-maker, a teacher and again as a surveyor before, at the age of 25, heading off aboard the “Mischief’ to collect biological specimens in the Amazon. He had no official support for the trip: inspired by the adventures of other collectors, including Darwin, he and a friend just set off, intending to earn money by selling their specimens in Britain. On his return voyage about four years later, the ship caught fire, and the bulk of his collections were lost. Undeterred, he soon set off again, this time for his adventures in Southeast Asia.

Yet Wallace makes a troublesome hero. In later years, he developed beliefs that are — for a scientist — embarrassing. He regularly attended séances, and became a believer in spirits. He was a religious skeptic, but unlike Darwin, he was unable to accept that humans were a product of the same organic forces that produced all the other beings on the planet. He insisted evolution by natural selection could not have resulted in the human moral faculty; instead, he invoked the action of a mysterious “intelligence.”

Of all the facets of his character, though, one stands out most clearly: a profound humanity. He was biting in his criticisms of colonialism — “The white men in our colonies are too frequently the savages” — and when he came back to Britain, he championed a number of hopeless social causes, such as land nationalization, in the hopes of creating a more equitable and just society. He also worried about the planet, and how we (don’t) look after it. Here’s something he wrote in 1863:

If this (scientific investigation of tropical ecosystems) is not done, future ages will certainly look back upon us as a people so immersed in the pursuit of wealth as to be blind to higher considerations. They will charge us with having culpably allowed the destruction of some of those records of Creation which we had it in our power to preserve; and while professing to regard every living thing as the direct handiwork and best evidence of a Creator, yet, with a strange inconsistency, seeing many of them perish irrecoverably from the face of the earth, uncared for and unknown. ¨


Accounts of Darwin receiving Wallace’s letter, the ensuing panic, and the meeting of the Linnean Society, can be found in any biography of Darwin or Wallace; however, my main source was: Loewenberg, B. J. 1959. Darwin, Wallace, and the Theory of Natural Selection including the Linnèan Society Papers. Arlington Books.

The quotation from the president of the Linnean Society can be found on page 42 of: Browne, J. 2003. Charles Darwin. Volume II: The Power of Place. Pimlico.

The texts of the papers presented to the Linnean Society papers can be read here:

For other details about Wallace’s life, I drew on: Raby, P. 2001. Alfred Russel Wallace: A Life. Chatto and Windus.

Berry, A. (ed). 2002. Infinite Tropics: an Alfred Russel Wallace Anthology. Verso.

Wallace attacked smallpox vaccination in a pamphlet called Vaccination a Delusion; Its Penal Enforcement a Crime: Proved by the Official Evidence in the Reports of the Royal Commission (1898). The passage I am quoting appears in the first paragraph of the section “Vaccination and the Medical Profession.” The full text can be read here: .

Much of his other writing is available here:

The quotation about Europeans being savages comes from How to civilize savages 1865. “Reader” 5:671a-672a. It can be read online by searching the wku website for How to Civilize Savages (S 113:1865/1900).

The “uncared for and unknown” quotation comes from the final paragraph of On the physical geography of the Malay Archipelago. 1863. “Journal of the Royal Geographical Society” 33: 217-34. 1863. It can be read online by searching the wku website for “On the Physical Geography of the Malay Archipelago (S78: 1863)”

This article reprinted from Ethical Record, February 2008

Rosslyn Ives – MISSING LINK:

Alfred Russel Wallace,

Charles Darwin’s neglected double

One hundred and fifty years ago, on 1 July 1858, at a meeting of the Linnean Society in London, three items were read to the gathered members. One was an unpublished sketch by Charles Darwin of his ideas on natural selection, written in 1844; the second a letter Darwin had written to a Harvard biologist in 1857 describing aspects of his theory; the third was Alfred Wallace’s paper. ‘On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type’, which Wallace had sent to Darwin a few months earlier. These readings were arranged by Darwin’s scientific friends and supporters, Joseph Hooker and geologist Charles Lyell, as a means of protecting Darwin’s priority’ claim on the scientific idea of natural selection.

In a long review essay, with the above title, on five recent biographies of Wallace, Jonathan Rosen in The New Yorker, 12 February 2007, gives a good account of why it is Darwin alone rather than Darwin and Wallace that most people associate with the great idea of biological evolution. Here are Rosen’s opening paragraphs.

When he was twenty-four years old, Alfred Russel Wallace, the greatest field biologist of the nineteenth century, had his head examined by a phrenologist who determined that, while his ‘organ of wonder’ was very big, his ‘organ of veneration,’ representing his respect for authority, was noticeably small. Wallace was so struck with the accuracy of this report that, sixty years later, he mentioned it in his autobiography. It was wonder that drew him to nature, and an instinctive disregard for authority that made it easy to challenge an entire civilization’s religious convictions, as he did when, in 1858, he dashed off a paper proposing a theory of evolution by means of natural selection. Unlike Charles Darwin, who spent twenty years keeping a similar conclusion to himself in private dread, Wallace didn’t give a damn what people thought. This utter independence from public opinion is one of several reasons that he has all but vanished from popular consciousness.

Another is simple bad luck. Wallace grew up poor and was always an outsider in the gentleman’s club that constituted the scientific world of his day. When, in his youth, he sailed to the Amazon to seek his scientific fortune, his ship caught fire and sank on the way home, taking with it thousands of specimens, a number of live monkeys, and his dream of an easy life. Wallace never found steady work and was instead forced to make a living by his pen — risky for a scientist with a restless imagination in a cautious age — supplementing his income by working as a lowly test examiner. Most unluckily of all, Wallace, having completed his explosive paper on evolution, chose to send it to Darwin himself, who then kicked into high gear and brought out On the Origin of Species the following year.

Still another reason for Wallace’s obscurity has something to do with that phrenologist. Wallace cracked one of the greatest scientific mysteries of all time but continued to believe throughout his long life that a stranger had read the riddle of his character by feeling the humps on his head. Phrenology was one of several commitments — like his campaign against vaccination and his credulous defence of spiritualist mediums — that did not endear him to the scientific establishment, or to posterity.

Wallace was born in 1823 to a once prosperous family that had fallen on hard times. Although his education was patchy, he developed a passion for reading. Being packed off as apprentice to his surveyor brother gave him ample time to be outdoors. His avid reading continued, especially on nature and geology, including the widely discussed, controversial, and anonymous, Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology, Malthus’s ‘Essay on the Principles of Population,’ all influential reading material, read by Darwin as well. After a crash course in flora and fauna Wallace began making local collecting trips, and then ventured overseas, first to the Amazon with its disastrous outcome.

In 1855 while collecting in Sarawak Wallace formulated what became known as ‘the Sarawak Law’, the idea that every species had come into existence coincidental to both space and time with pre-existing closely allied species’. He sent a copy of this paper to Darwin, who wrote in its margin, ‘nothing new’.

In his spare time, Wallace kept pondering the problem of how the great diversity of species had arisen. A few years later, in early 1858, while on the now Indonesian island of Temate, recovering from a malarial fever, Wallace dashed off his paper, ‘On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type,’ and once again sent a copy to Darwin. This time Darwin’s reaction was not so sanguine. He immediately wrote to his friend Lyell expressing how shocked he was, ‘I never saw a more striking coincidence… Even his terms now stand as heads of my chapters.’ He then added despairingly, ‘So all my originality, whatever it may amount to, will be smashed.’ Darwin then turned the matter over to Hooker and Lyell with enough hints to help them resolve things favourably for him, which they did on 1 July 1858.

Wallace, still in the tropics, knew nothing of the meeting; and when he found out, as Rosen writes, ‘he expressed the humble satisfaction of a servant invited to eat at the master’s table.’ This is revealed in a letter Wallace wrote to his mother were he tells her about the I July reading of joint papers at the Linnean Society meeting. Wallace gives this as evidence of how highly Darwin, Hooker, and Lyell thought of his paper. He then concludes, ‘This assures me the acquaintance and assistance of these eminent men on my return home.’

Wallace returned home in 1862, but the rest of his life lacked stability as he eked a living as a writer and test examiner. His success was further put in question by a capacity to defend highly questionable practices like phrenology and spiritualism. Introduced to the latter by his sister Fanny, he was initially sceptical but quickly turned into an enthusiastic defender.

Nonetheless, by the end of his long life, he had received many major honours as a scientist, including membership of the Royal Society, and was a well-known figure of the time. At his death in 1913, he could have been buried in Westminster Abbey, but his family, knowing his wishes, declined in favour of a local graveyard.

Wallace deserves to be better known, and the 150th anniversary of the reading of his and Darwin papers on natural selection is a timely reminder of this neglected scientist. ¨

Rosslyn Ives is editor of Australian Humanist.
This article is reprinted from Australian Humanist No. 90 Winter 08


Taslima Nasrin

The following articles and letters have been reproduced from Indian Skeptic Vol. 20 No. 5 of 15 October 2007.

Attack on Taslima – Narendra Nayak

Dear Sir,

The members and office bearers and of Federation of Indian Rationalist Assertions condemn the attack on Taslima Nasrin and the office bearers of the Center for Enquiry by the Muslim fundamentalists at Hyderabad press club. In particular resorting to violence to shut voices which are not to their ideology has been a hall mark of all fundamentalists any where in the world and the Majlis-e-Ittehadul a Muslimeen is no exception to this. The statement that “who had mustered the guts to invite her to Hyderabad’ is a deplorable statement and does not have any role in a democratic secular country like ours. What does the M.I.M think of themselves? Are they above the laws of the land? Are we in India or some fundamentalist country like Saudi Arabia or Pakistan where the Mullahs dictate law?

It is such people who give grist to the mill of the religious fundamentalists of the other camps to spread the fires of communalism. Taslima should be provided with full protection to air her views. We once again condemn this attack and request the government to see that the law of the land is respected by all those want to be the citizens of this secular, democratic republic.

Woman of courage, Hindu – 11 August 2007

Writers and artists have been targeted many times by the fundamentalist fringe in India but the cowardly attack on Taslima Nasrin is a first on several counts. The exiled Bangladeshi feminist writer was roughed up In the full, glare of cameras during a function held at the Hyderabad Press Club. The goons belonging to the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Musllmeen were led by three party MLAs. Far from. being remorseful, Majlis president Sultan Salahuddin Owalsi said the three legislators and four others who were ‘arrested “deserved a pat on their back for what they have done”; and. noted regretfully that “we should have done more” Other Majlis leaders threatened to kill Ms. Nasrin if she set foot In Hyderabad again. Under ‘the circumstances, there is a widespread feeling that those responsible for the attack — who were charged with rioting, trespass,. and ‘criminal intimidation and released on bail in a few hours after arrest — were let off lightly under the aegis of a soft government. While the Majlis is not a formal ally of the ruling Congress in Andhra’ Pradesh, it has some kind of understanding with it. This was in evidence when the’ Majlis backed the Congress candidate in last year’s Karlmnagar Parliamentary by-election.

The attack could have been prevented had the organizer of the function informed the police in advance about the presence’ of Ms.’ Nasrin, whose writings on women’s issues and religion’ have drawn fire from Muslim fundamentalists ‘in Bangladesh and India. The aggressive posture adopted recently by the Majlis on ‘Muslim’ issues seems related to anxieties over the erosion of its political base in its Hyderabad ‘stronghold.’ Concerted efforts by political rivals particularly, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which has highlighted the utter lack of development in this area — to break the Majlis’ hold over the Old City seem to have rattled its leadership. As for Ms. Nasrin, she has been a target of Islamists ever since -the publication of Lajja, a novel that captures her response to the anti-Hindu riots that broke out in parts of Bangladesh following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in late 1992. Her account of the communal frenzy and the mistreatment of the Hindu minority made her persona non grata in Bangladesh. Her views on religion, sexual freedom, and women’s emancipation have led to death threats from Muslim fundamentalists. The author, who lives in Kolkata and is the recipient of a string of awards — including the Sakharov Prize from the European Parliament — is a’ woman of courage. She has not been cowed down by fanatical fatwas and other threats. The Hyderabad incident will certainly not silence her secular-feminist voice.

ShameLetters to The Editor – Hindu – 11 August 2007

All secular and progressive people should, condemn in one, voice the’ attack on Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin ‘in Hyderabad by a mob led by Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen legislators. India’s secular image stands tarnished at the global level. Taslima is here because we are a secular nation. The three MLAs should be dismissed from the Assembly. We should also guard against attempts by fascist forces to communalise the issue.

B. Ekbai


The attack by the lawmakers is a shame on the values of democracy. As elected MLAs, they are expected to respect and protect the freedom of expression enshrined in the Constitution. The MLAs should be disqualified with immediate effect.

Kishore Kumar Soma


The MLAs have brought Lajja (shame) to the nation. How do they seek to justify the attack on a woman? What precedent are they setting for the Muslim youth? By acting as they did, they have only proved Ms Nasrin – and her views – right.

Rohit Nair,