Skip to comments.Gould Strikes Back At Creationists
Posted on 04/09/2002 11:31:41 AM PDT by JediGirl
Stephen Jay Gould, one of the great evolutionary biologists of our time, will publish his "magnum opus", this month, in which he lambasts creationists for deliberately distorting his theories to undermine the teaching of Darwinism in schools.
Professor Gould accuses creationists of having exploited the sometimes bitter dispute between him and his fellow Darwinists to promulgate the myth that the theory of evolution is riven with doubts and is, therefore, just as valid as biblical explanations for life on Earth.
The distinguished professor of zoology at Harvard University, whose 1,400-page book, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, has been 10 years in the writing, was intimately involved with the fight against creationist teaching during the 1970s and 1980s in the American Deep South.
The arguments have resurfaced in Britain after the news that a school in Gateshead has been teaching creationism alongside evolution, arguing both are equal valid viewpoints.
Creationists still use Professor Gould's theory of "punctuated equilibrium" which argues for the sudden appearance of new species to support their view that Darwinism is being challenged by some of the leading thinkers in biology.
Although Professor Gould never disputed the central tenet of Darwinism, natural selection, his explanation for how new species might rapidly arise is often presented by creationists as a direct challenge to the scientific orthodoxy at the heart of Darwinism.
Evangelical creationists in particular have argued the universally accepted gaps in the fossil record and the frequent absence of intermediate forms between fossilised species are evidence that evolution cannot fully account for the diversity of life on Earth.
They have used Professor Gould's theory which proposes long periods of stable "equilibrium" punctuated by sudden changes that are not captured as fossils as proof that Darwinist "gradualism" was wrong and it should therefore be taught, at the very minimum, alongside creationism in schools.
Stephen Layfield, a science teacher at Emmanuel College in Gateshead, which is at the centre of the row, used the lack of intermediate fossils between ancestral species and their descendants to question Darwinist evolution.
Professor Gould says creationists have unwittingly misinterpreted or deliberately misquoted his work in a manner that would otherwise be laughable, were it not for the impact it can have on the teaching of science in schools.
"Such inane and basically harmless perorations may boil the blood but creationist attempts to use punctuated equilibrium in their campaigns for suppressing the teaching of evolution raise genuine worries," Professor Gould said.
Fundamentalist teaching reached its height in the United States in the early 1920s and culminated in the famous Scopes "monkey" trial in Tennessee in 1925 when John Scopes, a biology teacher, was arrested for teaching evolution in contravention of state law.
A second creationist surge occurred in the US during the 1970s, which led to the "equal time" laws for the teaching of creationism and evolution in the state schools of Arkansas and Louisiana. The rule was overturned in two court cases in 1982 and 1987.
At the same time, Professor Gould's theory of punctuated equilibrium was being debated among scientists. With the fellow Darwinist, Niles Eldredge, who cited the unchanging nature of Trilobite fossils in support of the idea, Professor Gould presented the theory at a scientific conference in 1971. A seminal scientific paper followed a year later.
"But I had no premonition about the hubbub that punctuated equilibrium would generate," Professor Gould said. Some "absurdly-hyped popular accounts" proclaimed the death of Darwinism, with punctuated equilibrium as the primary assassin, he says.
"Our theory became the public symbol and stalking horse for all debate within evolutionary theory. Moreover, since popular impression now falsely linked the supposed 'trouble' within evolutionary theory to the rise of creationism, some intemperate colleagues began to blame Eldredge and me for the growing strength of creationism.
"Thus, we stood falsely accused by some colleagues both for dishonestly exaggerating our theory to proclaim the death of Darwin (presumably for our own cynical quest for fame), and for unwittingly fostering the scourge of creationism as well," he said.
Not every scientist, however, would agree that Professor Gould was innocent in the dispute, which was exploited by evangelical creationists.
What was essentially an arcane argument between consenting academics soon became a public schism between Gould and his Darwinist rivals, whose position was best articulated by the Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins.
At its most simplistic, the idea of punctuated equilibrium was presented as an alternative to the "gradualism" of traditional Darwinism. Rather than species evolving gradually, mutation by mutation, over a long period of time, Professor Gould argued they arose within a period of tens of thousands rather than tens of millions of years a blink of the eye in geological terms.
Professor Dawkins savaged the Gould-Eldredge idea, arguing gaps in the fossil record could be explained by evolutionary change occurring in a different place from where most fossils were found. In any case, Dawkins said, we would need an extraordinarily rich fossil record to track evolutionary change.
Gould and Eldredge could have made that point themselves, he said. "But no, instead they chose, especially in their later writings, in which they were eagerly followed by journalists, to sell their ideas as being radically opposed to Darwin's and opposed to the neo-Darwinian synthesis," Dawkins writes in his 1986 book The Blind Watchmaker.
"They did this by emphasising the 'gradualism' of the Darwinian view of evolution as opposed to the sudden 'jerky', sporadic 'punctuationism' of their own ... The fact is that, in the fullest and most serious sense, Eldredge and Gould are really just as gradualist as Darwin or any of his followers," Professor Dawkins wrote.
The subtleties of the dispute were, however, lost on commentators outside the rarefied field of evolutionary theory.
It was certainly lost on many creationists who just revelled in the vitriolic spat between the leading Darwinists. (The dispute was so vitriolic it became personal in his book, Gould relegates his critics to a section titled "The Wages of Jealousy".)
Richard Fortey, the Collier Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Bristol University, says Professors Gould and Dawkins are closer than many people realise.
With some of Britain's leading scientists and theologians writing to the Prime Minister to voice their concerns about the teaching of creationism, the issue has come to the fore.
"It's absurd we are now facing this creationist threat," Professor Fortey said. "It's a debate that belongs to the 1840s. Evolution is not just a theory, it's as much of a fact as the existence of the solar system."
Arrogance, while annoying, does not nullify Gould's work or theories.
"Whatever happened to Occam's Razor?" is what the creationists are asking. And twenty-some years later, the best Gould and Dawkins can do is shout in unison: "Shut up!"
Any evidence for this claim?
So it is true...
They did clone George Will
You're in trouble now ! Consider the history of Thomas Paine...
I thought the number was more like 200,000 years ago. They figured this by numbers of generations. The funny part is that the Creationist believe that the early humans lived for hundreds of years in our current calander system. So if the creationist believe in any kind of science, then the 200,000 figure would get moved back to a couple of million years based on the long live spans of early generations.
The lack of a complete, end-to-end fossil record doesn't disprove Gould's theories. Fossil creation is rare enough. To expect transitional stages to be found for a particular species highlights a lack of comprehension of the scale of the times involved
Rather than search for things that refute that which you don't believe, shouldn't you find proof for the things you do believe?
The saying that sums this up is:
The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence
Human beings are quite capable of holding two, mutually-exclusive, beliefs at the same time, and believing in both whole-heartedly.
Not quite. The changes would happen over several hundreds or thousands of years rather than hundreds of thousands or millions. There is no jump between species within a single generation mentioned anywhere in the theory.
So when do you raise shields at charge phasers?
Punctuated equilibrium is basically an attempt to down-play the lack of evidence in the fossils for phylogeny. It derives from a more "literal" reading of the fossil record.
So is punctuated equilibrium testable? Gould says that a series of fossils showing gradual development of an adaptation would refute punctuated equilibrium. This is a "no lose" situation that Gould has created here: if the fossils show systematic gaps, then the punctuated equilibrium model of evolution is "proven", but if the fossils show gradualism, then the standard neo-Darwinian model of evolution is proven. In other words, evolution itself is no longer falsifiable! Punctuated equilibrium and neo-Darwinism are both now part of the evolutionists' grab-bag of conflicting theories as Gould now views punctuated equilibrium as an addition to evolutionary theory rather than an alternative.
In short: How to best explain away the gaps in the fossil record, without throwing doubt on the basic premise of evolution? The answer: "punctuated equilibrium." The whole exercise is intellectually dishonest, because it creates a loophole for a theory (evolution) in crisis without seriously questioning or testing the theory itself.
Gould is an engaging writer. However, he is also very prone to bending facts to suit his predestined conclusion, as I quickly realized while reading his Mismeasure of Man.
He is, quite simply, an avid partisan, and he makes good money at it. As such, his conclusions are not to be trusted at face value.
I don't limit this skepticism to Gould, BTW, he just happens to be the person we're talking about.
For doctor gould to presume to know of a certainty that evolution was not the means the Almighty used to create humanity and all living things is hubris on a grand scale.
In point of fact, for anyone to claim certainty as to the motive force behind creation, that individual must reach certitude in the absence of proof.
Belief in the absence of proof is religious faith, thus doctor gould is not practicing science, but religion, a faith based belief system in the nonexistence of God.