Passing of evolutionary theorist puts his work in the spotlight

On Monday, May 20 Stephen Jay Gould, a Harvard professor, a prolific science writer and perhaps the most popular evolutionist in the world died after a long battle with cancer at the age of 60.   Much can be learned from the life and works of this man.  Among other things he wrote over 1000 technical science papers and over 20 books, the latest of which was 1433 pages long entitled, "The Structure of Evolutionary Theory."  He is being described as "paleontology's public intellectual," "a brilliant scholar, whose research helped redefine our notion of who we are and where we came from" and "one of the greatest explainers of science of all time." 

Gould, however, was not without his critics, even in his own field of study.  In 1972 Gould and Niles Eldredge, a former student, pioneered a radically new theory of evolution which they called, "punctuated equilibrium."  Their observations led them to conclude what creationists had been proclaiming for years--that the fossil record did not show evidence of gradual change and that transitional forms are absent.  Gould admitted, "All paleontologists know that the fossil record contains precious little in the way of intermediate forms; transitions between major groups are characteristically abrupt."

Opposing traditional Darwinism, they proposed that the fossil record represents years of stasis, of staying the same.  Thus, the word, "equilibrium."  Then, they suggest, changes occur in small "founder" populations relatively rapidly, that is, in thousands of years not millions of years.  Many evolutionists like Darwinian fundamentalist Richard Dawkins strongly opposed this concept from the beginning.  Even so, disagreements were not amplified to the general public; there's nothing like a common enemy to bring unity and creationism is that enemy.

Gould vigorously opposed creationism from debates to the Supreme Court.  He was known as an atheist/agnostic, or more specifically a Marxist and held no punches when he criticized Christianity.  However, instead of flagrantly promoting atheism he attempted to pacify Christians by strongly promoting a concept he called, "non-overlapping magisteria."  In truth, this is an anti-Christian claim that science and religion do not overlap; science deals with the real world and religion deals only with ethics, values and morals.  Phillip Johnson identified the danger of Gould's conclusions as many accept them.  He described Gould's idea as, "a tissue of half-truths aimed at putting the religious people to sleep, or luring them into a 'dialogue' on terms set by the materialists."  Gould dismissed the Bible as just "moral tales" stating in an interview, "I think the notion that we are all in the bosom of Abraham or are in God's embracing love is-look, it's a tough life and if you can delude yourself into thinking that there's all some warm and fuzzy meaning to it all, it's enormously comforting.  But I do think it's just a story we tell ourselves." 

Ironically, Gould freely allowed his atheism to influence science, but objected vehemently to Christians interpreting science based on their biblical presuppositions.  If they did so, they were to keep it to themselves and his view of reality was the only one allowed out in public. 

Gould was also greatly annoyed by those Christians that he said "hijacked" his theory for their own ends.  However, after years of arguing against evolutionary gradualism, creationists now had to argue against "catastrophic" evolution!  Even so, despite any inadvertent agreement, biblical creationism cannot accommodate the claims of punctuated equilibrium.

Gould based his belief on the conclusion that evolution was true because of his belief that evolution was true.  With little experimental evidence for punctuated equilibrium, the theory survived on the prestige of his name and his irrefutable explanation that evolution occurred in the past too fast for it to be observed in the fossil record.  The beauty of punctuated equilibrium is that it can accommodate any find in paleontology and avoid the tests of real science.

Finally, Gould was reported to have said recently during his illness, "Not yet, Lord, not yet."  Perhaps, and hopefully, he did accept Jesus Christ as his Lord.  Maybe, however, he just turned to his own idea of God for a "warm and fuzzy" comforting feeling.  Regardless, it is distressing to see such an intellect reject God so fiercely in his lifetime.  In addition, it is sad to see such veneration given to a man that spent so much of his life and work opposing biblical Christianity and the God of the creation that he studied.

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ŠTom Carpenter
Originally published in the Rockdale/Newton Citizen