Gould, Stephen Jay
Stephen Jay Gould 1941-2002-
American nonfiction writer and essayist.
The following entry presents an overview of Gould's career through 2001.
Gould, an educator and evolutionary biologist, is well-known and respected for his nonfiction works in which he explains complex scientific theories in a manner that is accessible to the layman. Trained as a paleontologist and geologist, Gould is noted for his ability to make his esoteric topics entertaining without compromising their integrity. His essay collections include Ever since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History (1977) and The Flamingo's Smile: Reflections in Natural History (1985), and his full-length works include The Mismeasure of Man (1981), Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time (1987), and Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life (1999). Gould has been praised by critics for providing a valuable link between the worlds of science and literature.
Gould was born in New York City, the son of Leonard, a court reporter, and Eleanor, an artist. In 1963 Gould completed his undergraduate studies at Antioch College and earned a Ph.D. at Columbia University in 1967. He started his career as an educator at Antioch College in 1966 as an instructor in geology. In 1967 Gould began teaching at Harvard University, eventually holding positions as a professor of geology, the curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, and the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology. In 1974 Gould began writing a monthly column for Natural History magazine. Gould also served on the advisory boards for the Children's Television Workshop and Nova magazine, and stayed actively involved in court battles regarding the teaching of evolution in public schools. Throughout his career, Gould received a wide variety of awards and accolades, including the American Book Award for The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History (1980), the National Book Critics' Circle Award for The Mismeasure of Man, the Phi Beta Kappa Book Award in science for Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History (1983), a National Book Critics' Circle Award nomination for Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle, and the Rhone-Poulenc Prize for Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (1989). Gould died on May 20, 2002, succumbing to lung cancer.
A majority of Gould's essay collections are comprised of commentary written for his monthly column, “This View of Life,” in Natural History magazine. Gould's signature approach in his essays is to illustrate scientific principles using engaging, often bizarre, examples drawn from nature. Ever since Darwin examines how humans, with their intellectual predispositions, manipulate science for their own ends. Gould contends that those who find biological determinism compelling do so not because of the prevalence of irrefutable evidence but because of an often racist agenda. The work stresses how the use of analogies has helped scientific knowledge advance and has contributed to the development of theories in successive areas of scholarship such as criminal anthropology, eugenics, psychoanalysis, sociology, and biology. The title essay of the collection The Panda's Thumb discusses evolutionary changes and argues that the opposable digit found on pandas is not actually a thumb, but instead is an enlarged wristbone that enables the panda to strip leaves from bamboo shoots. In Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes, Gould presents an evolutionary theory that he developed with paleontologist Niles Eldredge known as “punctuated equilibrium,” which holds that evolution does not occur in steady incremental stages, but rather in rapidly sweeping leaps of change initiated in small segments of a population. Punctuated equilibrium directly challenges the view of stage evolution held by gradualists, and Gould maintains that homo sapiens are no longer in the process of biological evolution. The Flamingo's Smile explores a number of themes such as the origins of appendages, myths about certain creatures, intelligence testing, and science in the service of ideology. In 1987 Gould published An Urchin in the Storm: Essays about Books and Ideas, a collection of Gould's reviews of books about evolution, most of which originally appeared in The New York Review of Books. Bully for Brontosaurus (1991) and Eight Little Piggies (1993) both address a major recurring motif in Gould's work—misunderstood evolutionary history—while displaying his trademark metaphors and extrapolations.
The opening section of Gould's first book-length work, Ontogeny and Phylogeny (1977), addresses a fundamental question in evolutionary biology. In the mid-1800s, Ernst Haeckel posited that “ontogeny,” or an individual's life history, parallels “phylogeny,” or the history of that individual's species. Nineteenth-century embryologists in general believed that an organism's physical development progressed through the same stages that the organism's entire species did during its long evolution. Gould traces how the arguments surrounding the validity of “ontogeny” and “philogeny” have changed since Haeckel's original observations. Mismeasure of Man exhaustively reanalyzes the raw data that researchers have used over the last 150 years to develop the core principles of biological determinism. In so doing, Gould exposes what he sees as two key erroneous findings: the belief that brain size differs according to race and sex, and the belief that intelligence can be quantified through methods such as craniometry or mental testing. In a highly critical assessment of scientific “objectivity” in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Gould systematically debunks myths about the relationship between IQ and heredity, and questions whether intelligence can or should be measured. Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle presents a discussion of “deep time,” or geological time, and seeks to reevaluate the theories of scientists Villian Thomas Burnet, James Hutton, and Charles Lyell. Using an arrow as his metaphor—whereby “time's arrow” corresponds to sequential events and “time's cycle” corresponds to repeating patterns of events—Gould demonstrates how humans tend to perceive time and notes that most humans subscribe to the sequential or linear concept of time. Wonderful Life, a book-length study of Charles Walcott's 1909 Burgess Shale discovery, uses the film It's a Wonderful Life as an extended metaphor for evolution. Gould argues that Walcott miscategorized the hugely diverse animal fossil record found preserved in the shale, wrongly assuming that the creatures must be the predecessors of modern animal life. Because the shale was formed from a sudden landslide, Gould argues that the event supports the idea that random events factor heavily in evolution. Reminiscent of Mismeasure of Man, Wonderful Life further posits that scientists must remain more receptive to creative approaches to data. Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin (1996) places the work of population geneticists against the work of paleontologists, who have studied fossil records and have traced the various stages of human evolution. Gould uses the slump in American baseball batting averages to illustrate how competitive systems can change over time. Gould asserts that baseball players have nearly reached a point where they cannot “improve” anymore and he parallels this development to the record of biological evolution. Rocks of Ages, based on one of Gould's earlier essays, seeks to eradicate the idea that religion and science—along with their tools, methodologies, and belief systems—can or should exist within each other's intellectual territories. Positing the NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria) principle, Gould maintains that the realms of science and religion necessarily and rightly occupy different areas of scholarship.
Gould has been applauded by critics for consistently upholding his high standards of accessibility and scientific integrity throughout his career. Many critics have maintained that a large part of Gould's appeal lies in his ability to elicit in his readers his own enthusiasm for his subjects. He has garnered acclaim not only for his insights and inventive means of communicating intricate, detailed theories, but also for the sheer quality of his prose. However, commentators have noted that Gould often approaches science with his own political and personal biases. Some reviewers have argued that Gould continually downplays religious views of scientific events and does not accurately or adequately present opposing viewpoints. Critics familiar with evolution and the theories of Charles Darwin have commented that Gould's “punctuated equilibrium” theory does not differ significantly from what Darwin himself wrote and observed. Rocks of Ages has met with particular criticism, with some reviewers faulting the work for its loose arguments and weak research. Other critics have complained that Gould's works can be difficult to read because his personality has such an overwhelming presence in his books, arguing that his immodesty can border on conceit. Commentators have also faulted Gould for relying too heavily on his use of extended metaphors. Despite these criticisms, most critics have conceded that Gould's prodigious scientific knowledge and accomplished prose style has made him one of the most important science writers in contemporary literature.
Ever since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History (essays) 1977
Ontogeny and Phylogeny (nonfiction) 1977
The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History (essays) 1980
The Mismeasure of Man (nonfiction) 1981
Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History (essays) 1983
The Flamingo's Smile: Reflections in Natural History (essays) 1985
Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time (nonfiction) 1987
An Urchin in the Storm: Essays about Books and Ideas (essays) 1987
Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (nonfiction) 1989
Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History (essays) 1991
Eight Little Piggies: Reflections in Natural History (essays) 1993
Dinosaur in a Haystack (essays) 1995
Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin (nonfiction) 1996; published in the United Kingdom as Life's Grandeur: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin
Questioning the Millennium: A Rationalist's Guide to a Precisely Arbitrary Countdown (nonfiction) 1997
Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms:...
(The entire section is 196 words.)
SOURCE: Young, J. Z. “The Ape Who Never Grows Up.” New York Review of Books 25, no. 9 (1 June 1978): 12-13.
[In the following review of Ontogeny and Phylogeny, Young offers a summary and analysis of Gould's major arguments.]
It is curious that through the centuries men seem to have been more interested in studying the heavens than things on Earth. Even when they did begin to investigate terrestrial matters it was the inorganic that they studied first. Exact knowledge about living creatures has come last of all among the sciences. So it has come about that Newton and his successors among physicists and chemists have usually been considered to be the only real scientists. Nor can we say that things have changed much recently. The use of high energies to break up atoms and to blow men to the moon is still acclaimed as the most fundamental form of inquiry. Man seems to have an urge to “get to the bottom of things,” to break them up, and he continually expects to find “ultimate” particles of which all are made. It may even be that there is some special property in our brains that makes it seem so obvious that such analysis is the most profound form of knowledge, to which we should all aspire. Or is it the result of cultural and economic influences in the West over recent centuries?
A little thought surely makes one wonder whether this cult of analysis is really as sensible...
(The entire section is 2922 words.)
SOURCE: Gieryn, Thomas F. “The Evolution of Evolution.” Contemporary Sociology 8, no. 1 (January 1979): 22-4.
[In the following review of Ontogeny and Phylogeny and Ever since Darwin, Gieryn argues that both books address the use of analogy in developing scientific theories and that the latter volume is especially useful for “sociologists of science.”]
Could a specialist in West Indian land snails have much to say of interest to sociologists? A decided yes, if he is a generalist in paleontology and evolutionary biology, Professor of Geology at Harvard and member of its departments of biology and history of science and, not incidentally, Stephen Jay Gould.
Ever since Darwin is a collection of essays which first appeared in Natural History, and takes up such questions as why a fly would want to eat its mother from inside, how a clam can mount a fish on its rear end, and why we should not name human races. These and thirty other puzzles are solved with guidance from Darwin's evolving theories of natural selection, which serve as an orienting framework for the book. One classic question of evolutionary biology forms the substance of Ontogeny and Phylogeny: what is the relationship between the life history of an individual (ontogeny) and the evolutionary history of a species (phylogeny)? The first part of the book provides a history of biologists'...
(The entire section is 1643 words.)
SOURCE: Medawar, P. B. “Back to Evolution.” New York Review of Books 28, no. 2 (19 February 1981): 34-6.
[In the following review of The Panda's Thumb, Medawar comments on Gould's examinations of the Piltdown Man and the unusual opposable “thumb” of the panda.]
When I reviewed Stephen Jay Gould's admirable Ever since Darwin a few years ago, I expressed the hope that he would not lay his pen aside for too long. I need not have worried, for Gould is a natural writer: he has something to say and the inclination and skill with which to say it. His present collection [The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History] is a series of essays that would give special pleasure to scientists, but they are sufficiently relaxed to be read with enjoyment by laymen too. A casual reader flipping through his pages may wonder what Mickey Mouse is doing in chapter nine (“A Biological Homage to Mickey Mouse”). Mickey is here to illustrate the characteristics thought by Konrad Lorenz to be responsible for the specially endearing characteristics of babyhood: “a relatively large head, predominance of the brain capsule, large and low-lying eyes, bulging cheek region, short and thick extremities, a springy elastic consistency, and clumsy movements.”
Without dissenting from Lorenz I wonder if this is the whole story. Few animals are more endearing than baby giraffes,...
(The entire section is 3960 words.)
SOURCE: Lewontin, R. C. “The Inferiority Complex.” New York Review of Books 28, no. 6 (22 October 1981): 12-16.
[In the following review of The Mismeasure of Man, Lewontin contextualizes Gould's arguments about faulty data collection, IQ testing, and the flawed thinking behind biological determinism.]
The first meeting of Oliver Twist and young Jack Dawkins, the Artful Dodger, on the road to London was a confrontation between two stereotypes of nineteenth-century literature. The Dodger was a “snub-nosed, flat-browed, common-faced boy … with rather bow legs and little sharp ugly eyes.” Nor was he much on English grammar and pronunciation. “I've got to be in London tonight,” he tells Oliver, “and I know a 'spectable old genelman lives there, wot'll give you lodgings for nothink. …” He was just what we might have expected of a ten-year-old street-wise orphan with no education and no loving family, brought up among the dregs of the Victorian Lumpenproletariat.
Oliver's speech, manner, and posture were very different, “‘I am very hungry and tired,’” he says, “the tears standing in his eyes as he spoke, ‘I have walked a long way. I have been walking these seven days.’” Although he was a “pale, thin child,” there was a “good sturdy spirit in Oliver's breast.” Yet Oliver was born and raised in that most degrading of nineteenth-century...
(The entire section is 4301 words.)
SOURCE: Krauthammer, Charles. “The Ideology of Intelligence.” New Republic 187, no. 3 (11 November 1981): 28-30
[In the following review, Krauthammer praises The Mismeasure of Man, but indicates that Gould, like those scientists whose theories Gould debunks, has his own personal biases.]
The 1964-65 New York World's Fair had a pavilion called Sermons from Science. Being one of those adolescents with an insatiable appetite for things scientific, I wandered in and was treated to fascinating films on such mysterious phenomena as resonance (that which allowed Caruso to shatter glass with his voice) and electromagnetic radiation (that which brought “Father Knows Best” into my home). Little did I know that I had blundered into a scientific sting operation. For, as soon as the lights went up, a shill stepped onto the stage, declaring that resonance and electromagnetic radiation demonstrated (by analogy, I suppose) God's invisible presence in the world. Next a pod of earnest young men appeared, brandishing pamphlets; they proceeded to work the crowd, urging a return to Christ.
That was my first unhappy encounter with the use of science for nonscientific ends. My latest encounter came from reading The Mismeasure of Man, Stephen Jay Gould's excellent case study of science in the service of ideology. Gould has written a witty, ironic, and often original history of a...
(The entire section is 2564 words.)
SOURCE: Manuel, Bruce. “IQ Fallacies, Darwin, and His Legacy.” Christian Science Monitor 74, no. 74 (12 March 1982): B3.
[In the following excerpt, Manuel offers a positive assessment of The Mismeasure of Man.]
One of a book editor's easy tasks is finding out which subject areas spawn the most new books. This is accomplished by carefully observing which shelf of review copies sags the most—public affairs? biography? ancient history?
A harder but more rewarding task is discovering which books to recommend. After reading through several new volumes about Charles Darwin and the attempts of archaeologists and theorists to tie up the loose ends of his controversial theory, it's clear there are some outstanding finds this season.
One of the most important is The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould. In January it won its author, a Harvard biologist, a National Book Critics Circle Award, which follows last year's American Book Award for Gould's previous work, The Panda's Thumb.
In The Mismeasure of Man Gould knocks some props from under biological data that give support to racism and other forms of injustice. One of the most persistent fallacies, he argues, is the idea that evolution has resulted in lower levels of intelligence in nonwhites than whites.
The reader may be in for surprises in this fascinating...
(The entire section is 819 words.)
SOURCE: Graber, David. “A Breathtaking Way of Essaying Chickens and Eggs.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (17 July 1983): 3.
[In the following review, Graber discusses how Gould builds on Darwin's theories in Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes.]
Until only a century ago, communication, even social intercourse, was a commonplace among leading intellectual lights of Western culture. Sharing—for the most part—elements of class, education, and a body of knowledge now banished by the demands of specialization, writers, social thinkers, scientists and artists knew one another well enough to participate in a satisfying exchange of ideas. For several reasons, alas, those days are no more.
The party that has most severely absented itself is science: It is one thing to share with a 19th-century astronomer the telescopic view of Saturn's rings, but quite another to discuss with a contemporary theoretical physicist the first nanosecond in the life of the universe. This is a particular tragedy, not only because the sciences represent such an exciting intellectual landscape, but equally because the products of science wield such pervasive influence.
Stephen Jay Gould remains a glorious exception. His monthly essay in Natural History, entitled “This View of Life,” communicates the excitement of Gould's field of evolutionary biology in superbly witty and literate...
(The entire section is 790 words.)
SOURCE: Sullivan, Daniel. Review of Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes, by Stephen Jay Gould. America 149, no. 4 (6 August 1983): 76-7.
[In the following review, Sullivan examines Gould's major arguments in Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes, noting Gould's focus on creationism and the different approaches to explaining evolution.]
It is a delight to review another book by the prolific science writer and entertaining author, Stephen Jay Gould (cf. my review of The Mismeasure of Man [7/17/82]), who is on the faculty of Harvard University, where he teaches geology, biology and the history of science. This most recent book is the third volume of collected essays, most of which were originally published in Gould's monthly column in Natural History magazine, entitled “This View of Life.” The reader may also be interested in the two earlier volumes, Ever since Darwin (1977) and The Panda's Thumb (1980). The unifying theme of [Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes,] compiled on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Darwin's death in 1882, is once again biological evolution.
He has grouped the 30 essays into seven categories: Sensible Oddities, Personalities, Adaptation and Development, Teilhard and Piltdown, Science and Politics, Extinction and a Zebra Triology. I especially enjoyed the more offbeat essays such as “Big Fish, Little Fish,” “The Guano...
(The entire section is 669 words.)
SOURCE: Dunn, Stephen G., and Anne Lonergan. Review of The Flamingo's Smile, by Stephen Jay Gould. America 154, no. 20 (24 May 1986): 437-39.
[In the following review, Dunn and Lonergan praise The Flamingo's Smile, but fault the work for lacking discussion concerning science's relationship with technology and its “responsibility for the global nightmare.”]
Do you ho-hum every time the boring topic of creation science and its fight with evolution comes up? We did—until we perused the above books, by a theologian, a lawyer, a biologist and a chemist, respectively—and found the deleterious consequences of the conflict cast pretty wide ripples. Religious thinkers and scientists need to do more than yawn; it all affects much more than state statutes.
Langdon Gilkey, professor of theology at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago, was asked to be a witness for the prosecution in the 1981 creationist trial at Little Rock, which ended by striking down a law promoting creationism as science to be taught on an equal basis with evolutionary theory in Arkansas. His readable account of that experience, Creationism on Trial, mixes anecdote, arguments from participants and further theological reflections in Part Two: “Analysis and Reflection: The Implications of Creation Science for Modern Society and Modern Religion.” Gilkey himself, in testimony, argued the...
(The entire section is 1364 words.)
SOURCE: Sulloway, Frank. “The Metaphor and the Rock.” New York Review of Books 34, no. 9 (28 May 1987): 37-40.
[In the following review, Sulloway draws connections between Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle's central metaphors and the text of Gould's earlier works, particularly Ontogeny and Phylogeny and The Mismeasure of Man.]
Ever since the appearance of Ontogeny and Phylogeny a decade ago, Stephen Jay Gould has continued to delight and inform a wide spectrum of readers and, in doing so, to defy C. P. Snow's lament about the “two cultures” of the sciences and the humanities. Gould's monthly column in Natural History magazine, published under the heading “This View of Life,” has led to a series of highly praised volumes of essays—Ever since Darwin (1977), The Panda's Thumb (1980), Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes (1983), and most recently The Flamingo's Smile (1985). In addition, Gould's Mismeasure of Man (1981), which won the National Book Critics' Circle Award, analyzed the questionable character of intelligence testing and emphasized the many personal and cultural biases that have led researchers astray in this field. Given the sheer amount of Gould's publications, which include numerous scientific publications as well, Gould's readers have been kept busy indeed absorbing his prodigious output.
Now, with Time's...
(The entire section is 4408 words.)
SOURCE: D'Evelyn, Thomas. “Finding Patterns of Meaning in the Tick of Time.” Christian Science Monitor 79, no. 161 (15 July 1987): 21.
[In the following review, D'Evelyn examines how Gould uses the metaphor of an arrow in Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle to compose a history of geology that focuses on three central geological thinkers.]
Today, as in the Renaissance, the breakup of systems of thought releases great energy. Time and research have undermined the main modern ideologies of Marxism and Darwinism until some of their proponents consider them not so much scientific theories as research programs, not testworthy in themselves but still capable of inspiring good work.
Scientists have adapted to this situation in various ways. Some have yielded to the revisionist impulse—most notably, perhaps, Stephen Jay Gould. Furthermore, he's turned his position as professor of geology and curator in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard and his columns in Natural Science magazine into a bully pulpit for issues ranging from nuclear winter to natural selection. In the process, he's alienated both fellow scientists and the creationists whom he has opposed in court battles over the teaching of evolution in the schools.
As his new book shows, Gould's metier is really not so much science as a certain kind of discussion about science. A careful reading suggests...
(The entire section is 1020 words.)
SOURCE: “Foxes and Hedgehogs: A Look at Four Books by Celebrated Scientists.” American Scientist 76, no. 5 (September/October 1988): 503-04.
[In the following review, the critic questions the self-reflective nature of An Urchin in the Storm.]
How should a collection of reviews be reviewed? I would rather not second guess Gould by presenting my opinion of the books he has reviewed [in An Urchin in the Storm,] but would rather consider the special set of stylistic attitudes and circumstances that provide unity and interest to this volume, conceding that the ideas and images presented have been constrained by Gould's role as book reviewer so that they are not quite a freestanding sample of his thought. The reviews are rather pegs on which Gould hangs his favorite ideas in poster form.
Problems begin with the dust jacket, which bears the author's name first, the title, and then a drawing of a funnel cloud over a European hedgehog. How does the title connect with the drawing? In Webster's Collegiate the first definition of “urchin” is “hedgehog,” while “mischievous youngster” is the second meaning. “Urchin” does not, however, appear as a meaning for “hedgehog.” Gould conflates meanings and identifies himself in the preface as the urchin-hedgehog in the title. He claims identity with the hedgehog in Isaiah Berlin's famous essay on the aphorism: “The fox...
(The entire section is 1257 words.)
SOURCE: Smith, Wendy. Review of Wonderful Life, by Stephen Jay Gould. Publishers Weekly 236, no. 14 (13 October 1989): 32-3.
[In the following review, Smith examines the commentary in Wonderful Life on the Burgess Shale rock formation, discovered in 1909 by paleontologist Charles Walcott, and his misinterpretation of the fossils within it.]
It seems entirely appropriate that Stephen Jay Gould's office should be located in Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology, a red brick structure in the classic institutional style, built in 1859 by Louis Agassiz, America's premier 19th-century naturalist. Gould has devoted a good portion of his distinguished career to reminding us that science is an historical activity, concerned with explaining past events as well as discovering timeless laws, and that scientists are influenced by the cultural attitudes and prejudices of their age just like everyone else. Agassiz himself, as Gould revealed in an essay in Natural History magazine, was both a great scientist and a visceral racist whose horror of African-Americans led him to classify blacks as a separate and inferior species.
Past and present mingle comfortably in the museum's corridors, where drawers filled with ancient fossils stand opposite a poster proclaiming “It's Not Anti-Harvard to Be Pro-Union,” a reminder of a recent bitter labor dispute in which the university's...
(The entire section is 1944 words.)
SOURCE: Tobin, Allan J. “Evolutions That Never Evolved.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (29 October 1989): 1.
[In the following review, Tobin argues that Wonderful Life is not as accessible as it could be because of Gould's intrusive presence in the text.]
Stephen Jay Gould's new book, Wonderful Life, recounts two fascinating and previously little-known stories, one about evolution and the other about evolutionary science. The first concerns the relationships between present life on our planet and a set of strange and ancient animals. The second, told as a five-act drama, recounts how three British scientists came to understand these relationships. Gould ranks the work of his paleontological colleagues among the greatest creative achievement of our species, comparable, in his view, to the cave paintings of Lascaux or the cathedral windows of Chartres. Gould goes on to reflect on the importance of contingency in evolutionary history and of concept in evolutionary science.
About 530 million years ago, in an area of ocean about the size of a city block, a mudslide asphyxiated tens of thousands of small marine animals. Most of the trapped organisms lived on the bottom of a shallow sea bed, though others swam or floated above. Their rapid burial insulated them from immediate decay, and their remains became preserved (and chemically transformed) in a rock formation called the...
(The entire section is 1338 words.)
SOURCE: Wright, Robert. “The Intelligence Test.” New Republic 202, no. 5 (29 January 1990): 28-36.
[In the following review, Wright asserts that Gould's “punctuated equilibria” theory in Wonderful Life is neither original nor relevant to the discussion of evolution.]
The acclaim for Stephen Jay Gould is just shy of being universal. He was among the first to win a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award. His lectures are renowned among Harvard undergraduates for their wit and erudition. His monthly column in Natural History has a devout following, and when his essays are anthologized (The Panda's Thumb, The Flamingo's Smile, etc.), the reviews are reliably favorable and the sales enduringly brisk. All told, Gould probably commands the largest and most enthusiastic readership of any evolutionist in this century. But within one small audience, the cheers are muted. A number of evolutionary biologists complain—to each other, or to journalists off the record—that Gould has warped the public perception of their field.
Of course, successful popularizers often incur the hostility of their less famous colleagues, and the complaints are fairly predictable: he oversimplifies in order to reach a large audience, he sacrifices precision for literary flourish. But in this case the indictment is a little meatier. For one thing, there is the occasional suggestion...
(The entire section is 5716 words.)
SOURCE: Kohn, Marek. “Homage to QWERTYUIOP.” New Statesman and Society 4, no. 149 (3 May 1991): 33-4.
[In the following review, Kohn offers a positive assessment of Bully for Brontosaurus.]
Stephen Jay Gould is halfway into an essay [in Bully for Brontosaurus,] having kicked off with Handel and proceeded via the panda's thumb, when he shows us a picture of his typewriter; or at any rate, an identical model. It's an upright, manual Smith-Corona from the days when the Sopwith Camel was the last word in aviation technology. This is the machine he uses to write his reflections on evolution.
The substance of that particular essay is how the QWERTY keyboard came to dominate typewriter design. It demonstrates Gould's ability to take up a story that seems closed, and to take up a story that seems closed, and to invest it with an unsuspected richness. It's fairly widely known that the QWERTY arrangement was contrived to slow the typist at a time when the mechanical efficiency of the machines could not match their users' dexterity. But Gould is unsatisfied with this resumé. He returns to original sources, weighs the evidence for the claim, and creates a narrative that springs to life after the familiar ending.
The moral is that QWERTY resembles many of evolution's survivors: not the fittest, but a lucky winner. If any of a hundred “perfectly possible things” had...
(The entire section is 668 words.)
SOURCE: Wells, Martin. “Bully for SJG.” New Scientist 130, no. 1774 (22 June 1991): 47.
[In the following review, Wells compliments Bully for Brontosaurus, noting that the collection's few flaws can be easily overlooked.]
He works to a formula [in Bully for Brontosaurus]. The trick is to spot a biological oddity, an isolated point of interest, and then to work round from that to some topic of global importance. A frog that swallows its eggs and rears tadpoles in its stomach, leading into a discussion of the problem of early stages in the evolution of complex structures. Or the tooth of Hesperopithecus, the American anthropoid that turned out to be a pig, to the delight of Creationists, passes on to a discussion of scientific method.
What Stephen Jay Gould really likes is the interaction between phenomena and the way that people think and write about them. He will set an explanation or a description back into the context of its time.
He tells, for example, how the earliest of horses came to be described as “about the size of a fox terrier,” and how this has stuck in textbook after textbook, long after most gentlemen ceased to ride to hounds. Having indulged us with this snippet, he goes on to write about horses and why the branches of evolutionary trees are so often misidentified as straight lines of evolutionary descent, a tendency to see...
(The entire section is 971 words.)
SOURCE: Lovejoy, Derek. “The Dialectical Paleontologist: Popular Science Writings of Stephen Jay Gould.” Science and Society 55, no. 2 (summer 1991): 197-208.
[In the following essay, Lovejoy discusses Gould's body of work, drawing particular attention to The Mismeasure of Man, Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle, and Wonderful Life.]
- Ever since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History. New York: W. W. Norton, 1977.
- The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History. New York: W. W. Norton, 1982.
- Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History. New York: W. W. Norton, 1983.
- The Flamingo's Smile: Reflections in Natural History. New York: W. W. Norton, 1985.
- An Urchin in the Storm: Essays About Books and Ideas. New York: W. W. Norton, 1987.
- The Mismeasure of Man. New York: W. W. Norton, 1981.
- Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1987; London: Penguin Books, 1988.
- Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History. New York: W. W. Norton, 1989.
I first made my acquaintance with the works of Stephen Jay Gould in...
(The entire section is 4716 words.)
SOURCE: Bethell, Tom. “Good as Gould.” American Spectator 24, no. 8 (August 1991): 9-11.
[In the following essay, Bethell assesses how Gould uses evolutionary theory to support his own political beliefs throughout his body of work.]
Stephen Jay Gould came out from behind a curtain and walked briskly to the podium, briefcase in hand. Good for Gould! He had already taken off his jacket, loosened his banker's tie, and rolled up his sleeves—the better to get down to the business of telling us what's right and what's wrong in evolutionary biology. Stretched out before him in the Memorial Auditorium was this huge shining sea of Stanford undergraduates, who had come to imbibe a little user-friendly political science from the hugely popular Gould. This was the opening session of the university's centennial symposium, “Ethnicity, Equity and Environment: Confronting a Global Dilemma.”
Mustachioed and a wee bit portly, Gould, who teaches biology at Harvard, had given strict instructions to the Stanford organizers that no photographs were to be taken, no videotape record made. Nonetheless, so strong was the urge to make a permanent record that someone a few rows back hoisted a verboten camera. Just in time, Gould spotted the rascal and stopped in mid-sentence. He laid down the indispensable flashlight that directs a speck of light to the screen, where he was showing slides. “I...
(The entire section is 2168 words.)
SOURCE: Osman, Tony. “The Evitability of Man.” Spectator 267, no. 8512 (31 August 1991): 24-5.
[In the following review, Osman examines the parallels that Gould creates between his discussion of evolution and events in his personal life in Bully for Brontosaurus.]
You can think of this collection of essays [Bully for Brontosaurus]—articles reprinted from the magazine Natural History—as a series of conversations with Gould. This is a privilege. He is a distinguished scientist—he was the joint author of a theory that showed how evolution must have occurred; but more to the point for these essays—conversations—he combines this with a broad education outside his own specialty. Gould sings in a choir, knows who Kropotkin was (a turn-of-the-century theorist of anarchism), and recognises that a QWERTY keyboard on a computer and appendicitis in humans are both evidence for, admittedly different, kinds of evolution. As well as talking to us about some of the queries we have concerning his speciality, he shows us what is special about the way that a scientist—a numerate scientist—looks at the world around him.
The most moving example of this is the way he thought about his own cancer. He tells us, in one of these essays, how he was diagnosed as suffering from mesothelioma. His doctor told him that there was not much in the medical literature about this cancer. She...
(The entire section is 1102 words.)
SOURCE: Haegel, Nancy M. “The Questions Scientists Can Answer.” Commonweal 117, no. 16 (27 September 1991): 553-55.
[In the following review, Haegel offers a positive assessment of Bully for Brontosaurus, calling the work a “rich and integrated collection of essays.”]
Bully for Brontosaurus is Stephen Jay Gould's fifth volume of essays collected from his monthly contributions to Natural History magazine. The author himself calls it the best of the five, in part because “I have become a better writer by monthly practice.” This bit of encouragement to those who practice the writer's craft is especially welcome from Gould, the acknowledged master of the popular science essay. For the past twenty years, the Harvard paleontologist and author, most recently of Wonderful Life, has been sharing his knowledge of evolution with the public in a style which has become uniquely his own.
The title essay is classic Gould. It begins with a discussion of stamps from Monaco, looks back to a crucial meeting in 1913 affecting the course of zoological naming, and concludes with commentary on a recent brouhaha about the brontosaurus on a U.S. postage stamp. Early on, Gould asks the reader to “Bear with me,” and, on many occasions, one does have to make that commitment, as he unearths intriguing connections among seemingly unconnected events.
(The entire section is 1073 words.)
SOURCE: Shapiro, Arthur M. “A Humanist at Heart.” New Leader 74, no. 12 (4 November 1991): 24-5.
[In the following review, Shapiro focuses on Gould's views concerning the creation-evolution debate in Bully for Brontosaurus.]
This book [Bully for Brontosaurus] landed on my desk at an interesting moment. Shortly before, I had been asked by a representative of a student Fundamentalist organization if I would publicly debate one of the pitchmen from the Institute for Creation Research. No, I responded, the creation-evolution “debate” is a gross oversimplification; there is no conflict unless one's ideological presuppositions demand one. But I said I would be glad to participate in a genuine discussion of the philosophical issues. Fine, he replied. Nevertheless, in an interview with the campus paper the day prior to the scheduled event, he billed it as a “debate” no fewer than six times.
Of the 35 essays in Bully for Brontosaurus—Stephen Jay Gould's fifth collection of his monthly columns for Natural History magazine—several deal with creationism and the alleged creation-evolution debate. Gould is a practitioner of evolutionary biology, a working paleontologist, and our foremost interpreter of Darwin for the masses. He dedicates one piece to the memory of Federal Judge William Overton, who wrote the perceptive and eloquent anticreationist decision in...
(The entire section is 1540 words.)
SOURCE: Morris, Simon Conway. “Rerunning the Tape.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4628 (13 December 1991): 6.
[In the following review, Morris examines Gould's treatment of the idea of contingency in Bully for Brontosaurus.]
Does Natural History really matter? To judge from the continuing conversion of our cathedrals of science, most notably the Natural History Museum in London, into the marketing triumph of theme-parks, seemingly not. So when Stephen Jay Gould canters into view, lowers his lance and goes full tilt into battle on behalf of evolution and natural history, the respectful bystanders throw their hats in the air and let out a resounding cheer; or do they? There is no doubting Professor Gould's energy, enthusiasm and commitment in bringing biological issues to an enormous public; heir to T. H. Huxley, his books sell in their tens of thousands, and the lecture-halls are packed to hear him. In this collection of essays [Bully for Brontosaurus,] we are set for a whirlwind tour. Never mind the hyperbole and the name-dropping, who else would even try and meld the Gombe chimps, kiwis and the frozen world of Neptune's moon, Triton, into a single paragraph?
In recent years, Gould's principal complaint has been that evolutionary theory, as encapsulated in neo-Darwinism, has become ossified. His views have done much to stir the established orthodoxies, even if, when the dust...
(The entire section is 1143 words.)
SOURCE: Smith, John Maynard. “Taking a Chance on Evolution.” New York Review of Books 39, no. 9 (14 May 1992): 34-6.
[In the following review of Wonderful Life and Bully for Brontosaurus, Smith discusses Gould's concept of contingency and his views about whether or not science is necessarily progressive.]
Although very different in style and content, the last two books by Stephen Jay Gould—Wonderful Life and Bully for Brontosaurus—and Ernst Mayr's Toward a New Philosophy of Biology are ultimately about the same questions. Is evolutionary biology a science? If so, what kind of a science is it? Mayr's book is a collection of essays, published over the past thirty years, and addressed both to biologists and philosophers. His aim is to clarify the concepts that underlie evolutionary biology. His central theme is that these concepts make evolutionary biology an autonomous science, and not merely a subbranch of physics. This claim must not be misunderstood. Like all serious biologists, he believes in the unity of science: in particular, he believes that the laws of physics and chemistry are the same in living and inanimate matter. The claim for autonomy rests on the existence of concepts—for example, natural selection, genetic program, species—that are needed if we are to understand biology. These concepts are consistent with physical laws, but could not be...
(The entire section is 3454 words.)
SOURCE: Gonzales, Moishe. “Postmodern Biology?” Telos 25, no. 92 (summer 1992): 181-86.
[In the following review, Gonzales argues that Wonderful Life acts as an example of how postmodernism may have infiltrated the biology and paleontology disciplines.]
Nothing seems to annoy scientists more than the suggestion that their work is dependent on or influenced by something outside of science. The paradigmatic image of a dogmatic Cardinal Bellarmino coercing Galileo into recanting his discovery of Jupiter's moons has terminally discredited any attempt to judge scientific claims within any allegedly higher extra-scientific tribunal, be it theological, metaphysical or political. Yet scientific research remains an entirely human undertaking and, as such, subject to the vicissitudes of history and other extra-scientific constraints. As R. G. Collingwood concluded, “Natural science as a form of thought exists and always has existed in a context of history, and depends on historical thought for its existence … no one can understand natural science unless he understands history.”1 After all, Newton was not the first unlucky person ever to be hit over the head by over-ripe apples and the excogitation of the concept of gravity was certainly not the mere result of such an unfortunate accident. Clearly, cultural and historical developments such as the rise of capitalism and the...
(The entire section is 2868 words.)
SOURCE: Kohn, Marek. “Pick and Mix.” New Statesman and Society 237, no. 6 (29 January 1993): 49.
[In the following review, Kohn praises Gould's “spirit of intellectual generosity” in Eight Little Piggies.]
Looks like Hallucigenia wasn't such an apparition after all; merely upside down. The weirdest and most memorable of the fauna in the bestiary of the Burgess Shale, the trove of fossils about which Stephen Jay Gould wrote the award-winning Wonderful Life, has now been reinterpreted. It never quite made sense as an organism living anywhere more real than a Dr Who set, but it can be rationalised by a couple of assumptions and rotation through 180 degrees. This removes it from a class of its own, and places it neatly into a caterpillar-like group which stumps around certain damp regions of the southern hemisphere to this day.
Hallucigenia owes much of its celebrity to its name, the “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” of taxonomy. Gould's own favourite name-bearer is Peripatus, which happens to be one of Hallucigenia's newly identified relatives. A shame that the fossil hallucination has vanished, he admits, but that is outweighed by the insight into Peripatus and its ilk.
This is knowledge to “revel” and “rejoice” in: Gould delights in having his error corrected. “The Reversal of Hallucigenia,”...
(The entire section is 723 words.)
SOURCE: Gould, Stephen Jay, and John Horgan. “Escaping in a Cloud of Ink.” Scientific American 273, no. 2 (August 1995): 37-41.
[In the following interview, Gould discusses Marxism, science and truth, relativism, punctuated equilibrium, Darwinism versus creationism, and historical inquiry.]
Stephen Jay Gould hasn't even appeared yet, and already he has me guessing. Although the world-famous author and evolutionary biologist has taught at Harvard University since 1967, he asked me to meet him here in New York City, where he was born and raised and still keeps a home. Minutes earlier a woman in a French maid's uniform admitted me into a museumlike townhouse on Manhattan's Upper East Side. She leaves me to wait for Gould in a jewel box of a library with an original Warhol above the fireplace. The room is lined with old, leather-bound books devoted to such topics as the history of the Dutch Republic.
Even an intellectual as voracious as Gould, I feel certain, would never have cracked these books. He must have placed them here to provide a veneer of intellectuality. Could Gould, scourge of social Darwinism and all forms of genetic determinism, champion of those with low IQ, self-proclaimed baseball lover, be a status-symbol monger? What I find hardest to believe is not that Gould is a hypocrite but that he is a flagrant hypocrite.
Of course, he isn't. Gould makes...
(The entire section is 1975 words.)
SOURCE: Alessio, Carolyn. “Evolutionary Ideas.” Chicago Tribune Books (3 March 1996): 9.
[In the following review, Alessio compliments the essays in Dinosaur in a Haystack.]
True or false: The shells of most snails coil to the left (sinistrally). False, according to Stephen Jay Gould in Dinosaur in a Haystack, the latest volume in his collection of monthly columns from Natural History magazine. Most snails' shells coil dextrally, or to the right, Gould says, despite the tendency of 17th century engravers to illustrate them in reverse. Gould examines this phenomenon in light of evolutionary history and its often unpredictable intersection with convention and circumstance. Engravers may have carved most organisms backwards, he theorizes, but we only notice the result for snails and for a few other asymmetrical creatures. “Such near universality,” Gould says, “might be regarded as a worthwhile convenience.”
The orientation of snails' coils is only one of the naturalistic subjects Gould examines in the 34 essays of Dinosaur in a Haystack. Gould, a paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, museum curator and Harvard professor, has published more than 13 books, seven of them collections of his Natural History columns. As in Gould's previous volumes, the essays in Dinosaur in a Haystack examine evolution in relation to a cornucopia of disciplines...
(The entire section is 834 words.)
SOURCE: Oakeshott, Robert. “The Charm of the Even Queerer.” Spectator 277, no. 8766 (20 July 1996): 31.
[In the following review, Oakeshott offers a positive assessment of Dinosaur in a Haystack.]
When and why was the column—or more accurately the puzzle strip—‘Believe it or Not’ by Ripley, axed by the Sunday Express? From memory, it relied quite heavily on reports of prodigies of one kind and another, though with more two-headed chickens than young Mozarts. At boarding school in the 1940s I became rather an addict and can't believe I am the only one among Spectator readers in that age group.
In the same genre, though at a somewhat more high-brow level, are various anthologies collected by the late Lieutenant Commander R. T. Gould. As others of my age group among Spectator readers will doubtless again recall, this Gould (as opposed to the author of the book under review) was a fairly regular performer on the Brains Trust, also in the 1940s. His anthologies have attention-grabbing titles like Oddities and Enigmas, though I have to say that I was slightly disappointed with the contents of one of them that I lately borrowed from the London Library: slightly but not wholly. For example, for those who don't know it, I recommend his explanation of the Indian Rope Trick: the rope is really ‘jointed wooden rods with a flexible cover.’ But it's...
(The entire section is 871 words.)
SOURCE: Wheeler, David L. “An Eclectic Biologist Argues That Humans Are Not Evolution's Most Important Result; Bacteria Are.” Chronicle of Higher Education 43, no. 2 (6 September 1996): A23.
[In the following review, Wheeler examines Gould's opinions about the limits of natural selection in Full House.]
Stephen Jay Gould's brain could be viewed as the product of a few billion years of evolution, but he is using it these days to argue that progress isn't inherent in the evolutionary process.
Humans, he says, shouldn't be regarded as evolution's most important invention. “I don't deny that the consciousness of one species has had a profound impact on the planet,” he says. “But that doesn't change the fact that it is still one species, one lineage out of millions and billions, and therefore a very curious, unpredictable result that has just happened to have occurred once.
“Run the story a hundred more times and you might get multicellular complexity often,” he says, “but I don't think you would get self-conscious creatures arising very frequently. You might not even get land that has been colonized.”
Dr. Gould, a professor of geology and zoology at Harvard University, combines that argument with many others in his new book, Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin He teaches a popular Harvard undergraduate course...
(The entire section is 2091 words.)
SOURCE: Alexander, R. McNeill. “The Game of Life.” New Scientist 152, no. 2050 (5 October 1996): 46-7.
[In the following review, Alexander focuses on Gould's views about trends in evolution in Full House and the problems associated with interpreting means, averages, and statistics.]
Diagnosed as suffering from abdominal mesothelioma, Stephen Gould went to the library to read about the disease. There he found the statistic that the median time from diagnosis to death was eight months. His case sounded hopeless until he wondered why the median was given, rather than the mean. The reason, he surmised, was that a few long-term survivors were skewing the probability of dying to the right. Plainly, the distribution could not extend far to the left (no one survives for less than zero time after diagnosis), but it might extend to the right over many decades. Happily, Gould's place was on the right tail of a strongly skewed distribution, and one improved by recent advances in treatment.
His new book Full House is about strongly skewed distributions and their implications for the concept of progress, in baseball and evolution. In baseball, a batting average for the season of 0.400 is exceedingly good. The best professional players before 1930 frequently achieved 0.400 averages, but no one has done so since 1941. Gould tells us that we should not conclude that his countrymen are...
(The entire section is 1238 words.)
SOURCE: Jones, Steve. “Up against the Wall.” New York Review of Books 43, no. 16 (17 October 1996): 33-4.
[In the following review, Jones criticizes Dinosaur in a Haystack as informative but irritating and discusses Gould's “spread of excellence” concept in Full House.]
Stephen Jay Gould on a bad day can be the Lincoln Continental of science writing—ponderous, well upholstered, and designed to travel in a straight line. Comfortable, certainly; assured—no one can doubt that—and if you turn on the radio you are certain to get grand opera; but, somehow, well, just too Executive Style, too Harvard Yard, to sell anywhere except in America.
His latest pair of books, though, shows evidence of a dramatic shift in design. Dinosaur in a Haystack, published last winter and the seventh in his series of miscellaneous pieces collected from Natural History magazine, sits firmly among the whitewall tire school of essayists. The new volume, Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin, is a far more radical work. In it, Stephen Jay Gould uses a lifetime obsession with baseball, a close call with cancer, and an enormous knowledge of the history of life to build a case that links sport, disease, statistics, and evolution into a seamless narrative and—although as a fellow science writer I say it through somewhat clenched teeth—he does so...
(The entire section is 3375 words.)
SOURCE: Shermer, Michael. “Evolution Up against a Wall.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (20 October 1996): 10.
[In the following review, Shermer addresses Gould's discussion of the ways various systems change over time in Full House.]
For the past 15 summers, I have either competed in or directed “Race Across America,” a 3,000-mile, nonstop, transcontinental bicycle race. In the race's first decade, the transcontinental record plummeted from 12 days and 3 hours to 7 days and 23 hours, but for the past five years it hasn't budged even though half of the cyclists routinely break earlier records. Why?
Some of the race's pioneers, not surprisingly, believe that they were simply better than today's competitors; current riders blame weather conditions and other variables. Now I know that both sides are wrong, thanks to the work of Harvard paleontologist, evolutionary biologist and trendsetter Stephen Jay Gould, whose new book, Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin, explains how the world develops over time, from the history of life to the history of sports.
Gould advances an interesting theory of biological life by applying it to one of his favorite interests, baseball. No one has batted.400 in baseball since Ted Williams in 1941 (for every 10 times at bat, he had four hits), and this unsolved mystery continues to stimulate books and...
(The entire section is 1035 words.)
SOURCE: Vines, Gail. “Sermons in Stones.” New Statesman 125, no. 4312 (29 November 1996): 48.
[In the following review, Vines discusses possible reasons behind the popularity of Gould's books about evolution and science and offers a mixed assessment of Life's Grandeur.]
The palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould is a publishing phenomenon. The author of more than 200 evolutionary essays collected in eight volumes, he has produced another full-length book [Life's Grandeur,] to follow his bestselling Wonderful Life. Why do people buy his books in such vast numbers? Granted, Gould is a talented writer, but why should so many people want to read about evolution?
Intriguingly, it is one of the few topics that sells science in the high street. Cosmology, consciousness and quantum physics also shift books, while worthy tomes about chemistry and engineering languish on the shelf. Could it be that as we struggle to make sense of Stephen Hawking or Richard Dawkins we are searching for clues to the meaning of life? That's how the publisher Ravi Merchandani explains the sales figures. He reckons that popular science books are read not so much as useful sources of empirical facts but as metaphysics and philosophy.
No wonder science books with an “origin” story fly out of the shops. (If they mention God, so much the better.) And when it comes to moral tales about...
(The entire section is 721 words.)
SOURCE: Bywater, Michael. “Planet of the Bugs.” Spectator 277, no. 8785 (30 November 1996): 48-50.
[In the following review, Bywater examines Gould's arguments about evolution in Life's Grandeur.]
We live in interesting times and I sometimes wonder if we realise just how interesting they are. Perhaps we only see the symptoms. Cultures blur and decline, the hamburger-and-rock ethic governs the world, economies burst, shudder and cling on by their fingertips, porn floods the Internet, statecraft implodes towards the centre, ideologies shatter, politicians twitter helplessly about religion and ethics, the Church of England buys into the logo shibboleth. We conflate the symptoms and claim a diagnosis: lack of respect, lack of morality, lack of purpose, lack of sense.
But these are only symptoms. The disease goes far deeper, and there is no cure. All the technologies of the century are as nothing compared to the tremendous dethronement of mankind which began with the birth of heliocentricity, which was continued through Newton, Darwin, Einstein and Heisenberg, and which has been more or less completed by the geneticists, palaeontologists and geologists of the last 30 years.
Stephen Jay Gould's new book finishes the process, removing the last source of our species' traditional self-respect. Once, we believed that the world was the centre of the universe, made for...
(The entire section is 1293 words.)
SOURCE: Gould, Stephen Jay, and Michael Krasny. “Interview with Stephen Jay Gould.” Mother Jones 22, no. 1 (January/February 1997): 60-3.
[In the following interview, Gould responds to questions about Full House and discusses various topics such as the popularization of science, how his work has been received, and coping with cancer.]
With more than 15 books in print, including Wonderful Life and The Mismeasure of Man, Stephen Jay Gould has been called the dean of popular science writers. A professor of geology and zoology at Harvard University, Gould is best known for his writings on dinosaurs and his talent for explaining evolutionary science in lay terms.
In his latest book, Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin, Gould, in typical contrarian fashion, argues that our assumptions about trends and evolutionary progress are wrong—using eclectic examples, like the disappearance of 400 hitting in baseball, as proof. In an interview with Mother Jones, Gould talks about the limits of Darwinian theory, and reminds us that we do not live in the “age of man,” but, instead, in the “age of bacteria.”
[Krasny]: How do you respond to criticisms that you are a “popularizer” and not a serious scientist?
[Gould]: Anything, even the conceptually most complex material, can be...
(The entire section is 1924 words.)
SOURCE: Barr, Stephen M. “Mismeasure of Man.” Public Interest 127 (spring 1997): 120-23.
[In the following review of Full House, Barr argues that, contrary to Gould's suppositions about complexity and the “success” of a species, “it is quite doubtful that proliferation of species is a sign of success.”]
Stephen Jay Gould's latest book, Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin, is a grab-bag of miscellany—his successful struggle with cancer, the disappearance of the.400 hitter in baseball, Plato's theory of ideas, the history of life on earth. Somehow though he manages to weave all of this together into a grand philosophical synthesis about the meaning of life and the nature of reality.
The root of much evil in the world, according to Gould, lies in the simple statistic called “the average,” or at least in the confusions that it engenders in the popular mind. One average in particular bothers Gould a great deal, because it leads to an understanding of evolution that he thinks mistaken. The fact that the average complexity of organisms on earth has increased over time suggests to many people that natural selection is a mechanism for producing complexity and, therefore, ultimately, for producing us. Even many who accept what Gould regards as the atheistic implications of Darwinism “cling” to the notion that we are the goal of evolution,...
(The entire section is 1536 words.)
SOURCE: Harman, Nicholas. “Any Advance on a Thousand.” Spectator 279, no. 8833 (15 November 1997): 44.
[In the following review, Harman praises Questioning the Millennium, complimenting Gould for addressing the various ways that the passage of time has been calculated.]
It's one of those known facts, isn't it, that millenniums are significant? For instance they make religions go millenarial, a word lots of people use as if they know what it means. But hold on a minute. There has only been one before, and there may never be a human one again. Whenever Christ's reign on earth began, it was not 2,000 years before the year 2000, and even more certainly not on the first day in December because, among many other things, the bishops have messed about with the calendar in the intervening centuries.
Confused? Don't worry. This small book [Questioning the Millennium] will equip you with brilliant millennial put-downs for the next two-and-a-half-years' worth of dinner-party conversations, including the assurance that it does not matter a hoot whether the century closes at the end of '99 or of '00. Gould even explains why there are two Ns in ‘millennium’ (although his publisher's handout got it wrong) and one in ‘millenarial.’ Gould, in other words, is indispensable. He is the champion who, with shining prose and baseball analogies, fights to correct non-scientists'...
(The entire section is 701 words.)
SOURCE: Masters, Alexander. “A Messy Mathematician.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4958 (10 April 1998): 30.
[In the following review, Masters offers a mixed assessment of Questioning the Millennium, asserting that Gould does not explore the issue adequately.]
Stephen Jay Gould's questions [in Questioning the Millennium] are: What does “the millennium” mean, When does a millennium begin, and Why are we so interested in the subject, anyway? “I began to think about this book,” he writes, “during the first week of January, 1950.”
The first essay, “What?,” is the longest. It bothers Gould that we use the same word to mean entirely different things. A millennium is a length of time lasting a thousand years, not the transition at the end of a thousand-year period. And the Millennium, for which we are preparing with such eagerness and razzamatazz, is not a time of impending joy; it is the biblical time of Apocalypse. Gould's attempt to unite this mixed bag of definitions and popular connotations is weak, however: he begins with a stab at psychology, progresses with some pleasant history and doesn't capture his subject until page 70, two-thirds of the way through.
In “When?” he does much better. It was a sixth-century monk named Dionysius Exiguus who began the practice of dividing time at Christ's appearance, but Dionysius made a mistake....
(The entire section is 670 words.)
SOURCE: Page, Ra. “It's the Way They Tell 'Em.” New Statesman 127, no. 4406 (9 October 1998): 47-8.
[In the following review, Page criticizes the content of Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms, but notes that Gould is a “great essayist.”]
The trouble with science is that it's not taught properly. Unlike politics, philosophy or art, which have always been studied as socially entrenched histories of ideas, science is handed down as a string of disembodied facts, laws and dictates usually inaccurate, always incomplete and fatally amputated from the humanity that concocted them. Science students aren't likely to read a single primary text by any of the scientists they study until at least postgraduate level—Einstein is interpreted for them by Eddington, Darwin by Dawkins. The originators themselves seem increasingly anonymous and their ideas unaccountable.
Of the many science “interpreters” vying for attraction, the essayist Stephen Jay Gould is perhaps the most respectful of the original scientific experience. “I do not believe in vicarious experience,” he writes in this [Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms,] his eighth collection of essays, “and will go to great, even absurd, lengths to stand on the very spot, or place a hand on the very wall.” Whether by pairing seemingly unrelated events or by zooming up close on...
(The entire section is 698 words.)
SOURCE: Appleyard, Bryan. “The Royal Road of Science.” Spectator 281, no. 8881 (24 October 1998): 53-4.
[In the following review, Appleyard comments on Gould's smug attitude in Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms and argues that Gould is too forgiving of science as a discipline.]
[Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms: Essays on Natural History] is Gould's eighth volume of essays collected from his monthly series in the magazine Natural History. That series has now established him as one of the great essayists of his time. Clever, accessible, conscientious and humane, he has become science's finest and most persuasive advocate. Even if this volume were a total disaster, Gould's reputation would remain intact.
But, of course, it is not—though, for a while, I feared the worst. The introduction is weak and ponderous. Gould has a tendency to cuteness and whimsy that can lead to a meandering and somewhat smug contemplation of his own thought processes. He is pleased with himself—he has much to be pleased about—but, at his worst, he makes us oppressively aware of the fact.
His worst, however, is rare and his best fills most of the rest of this volume. He is, perhaps, the greatest living and working Aristotelian. He is sceptical of Platonic forms and grand schemes. Indeed, scientifically, he is perhaps most famous for...
(The entire section is 1396 words.)
SOURCE: Cowen, Robert C. “Religion Has No Bone to Pick with Science.” Christian Science Monitor 91, no. 77 (18 March 1999): 19.
[In the following review, Cowen praises Gould's assertion of the importance of religion in conjunction with science in Rocks of Ages.]
Make no bones about it, Stephen Jay Gould has found religion. The popular paleontologist hasn't embraced any particular creed. That would violate his self-proclaimed tendency toward atheism. He has done something more transcendent in [Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life]. He has recognized religion for what it essentially is—a major mode of thought that helps us cope with the bewildering universe in which we live.
Professor Gould sees science as a complementary mode that describes the natural world and how it works. It traces cosmic evolution and dates our arrival. But it can't give us a sense of purpose or define our duty to each other, to our planet, which we now dominate, or to life itself. That, Gould asserts, requires the methods and traditions of religion in its fundamental role, which includes “all moral discourse on principles that might activate the ideal of universal fellowship among people.”
We need both thought modes—what he calls these “rocks of ages”—to live fully today and to meet the challenges of the coming millennium.
(The entire section is 594 words.)
SOURCE: Johnson, Phillip E. “Material Principle.” Commonweal 126, no. 8 (23 April 1999): 29-30.
[In the following review, Johnson focuses on the papal statement that Gould uses in his analysis of religion and science in Rocks of Ages.]
In October 1996 Pope John Paul II sent a statement on biological evolution to the Papal Academy of Sciences. After some general remarks, John Paul observed that Pius XII's encyclical Humani generis in 1950 had described the theory of evolution as “a serious hypothesis,” worthy of in-depth study and not contrary to the Catholic faith—provided that it was not presented as certain, proven doctrine, and that it did not purport to displace entirely the role of revelation in questions of origins. John Paul updated that judgment, saying that since 1950 discoveries have been made in a variety of fields which support the theory, so that now evolution should be regarded as more than merely a hypothesis. “The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory.”
Rocks of Ages is basically a heavily padded version of an essay that Stephen Jay Gould wrote about the pope's statement for his regular column in Natural History magazine. Gould quotes the part of the statement summarized above to support his interpretation that John...
(The entire section is 1084 words.)
SOURCE: Weigel, George. Review of Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, by Stephen Jay Gould. Commentary 107, no. 5 (May 1999): 67-70.
[In the following review, Weigel argues that there are several biases evident throughout Rocks of Ages.]
Stephen Jay Gould, the Harvard/NYU paleontologist whose formidable skills as a popularizer have made him one of the world's most successful science writers, now deploys those same skills in discussing for nonspecialist readers the future relationship between scientists and religious believers. His aim [in Rocks of Ages] is to resolve what he aptly terms “the supposed conflict between science and religion.”
However fevered its history, the quarrel between science and religion, is, Gould argues, “a debate that exists only in people's minds and social practices, not in the logic or proper utility of these … equally vital subjects.” The conflict, in short, is an artificial one, sustained by ignorance and bias in both camps. Resolving it involves recognizing its artificiality—something that, Gould boldly suggests, both Charles Darwin and Thomas Huxley, the 19th-century English biologist and advocate of scientifically grounded agnosticism, were prepared to do.
Gould's proposal is that both science and religion adopt a principle of “respectful noninterference” between their...
(The entire section is 1997 words.)
SOURCE: Goodenough, Ursula. “The Holes in Gould's Semipermeable Membrane between Science and Religion.” American Scientist 87, no. 3 (May/June 1999): 264-68.
[In the following review, Goodenough criticizes Gould's central argument in Rocks of Ages, noting that the “non-overlapping magisteria” (NOMA) principle Gould presents is difficult to accept because he fails to adequately address the “magisterium of religion.”]
Lifelong Stephen Jay Gould readers will find in Rocks of Ages much that is delightfully familiar: graceful language flecked with occasional irreverence, wonderful anecdotes about Darwin and his friends and their times, and the side trips—to the Scopes trial, to the Vatican, to the flat-earth controversy—that slowly circle back to the main thread as engaging commentaries are proffered on the passing scenery. As always, Gould shoots some wonderful baskets, often from way outside the circle.
But it is the main thread that must be considered here, for Gould has most emphatically written a book that has a point and one point alone. That point is given the acronym NOMA, which stands for non-overlapping magisteria, where a magisterium is “a domain where one form of teaching holds the appropriate tools for meaningful discourse and resolution.” The two magisteria that fail to overlap are science and religion, and Gould declares...
(The entire section is 1977 words.)
SOURCE: Pope, Stephen. Review of Rocks of Ages, by Stephen Jay Gould. Christian Century (2 June 1999): 622-27.
[In the following review, Pope argues that Gould's NOMA principle in Rocks of Ages is not “sufficiently complex” and that science and religion are more closely intertwined than Gould asserts.]
We could avoid all sorts of nasty fights, Stephen Jay Gould argues [in Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life,] if we would stop expecting science to provide validating evidence for religious dogmas or biblical events. Nor ought we to turn to religion to resolve questions of a properly scientific nature. He wants no more natural theology, no more “anthropic principle,” no more attempts to find scientific confirmation for religious beliefs, and no more fundamentalist “creation science.” In short, “science gets the age of rocks, and religion the rock of ages; science studies how the heavens go, religion how to go to heaven.”
Gould's thesis is that, at their best, science and religion occupy separate intellectual spheres and have usually pursued a policy of peaceful coexistence summarized in the acronym “NOMA,” or “Non-Overlapping Magisteria.” (By “magisterium” he means only something like a distinctive zone of reflection, discussion and debate.) His position flows from an apparently straightforward claim: that science...
(The entire section is 1322 words.)
SOURCE: Flynn, Tom. “But They Do Overlap.” Free Inquiry 19, no. 4 (fall 1999): 69.
[In the following review, Flynn asserts that Rocks of Ages, which purports to help bridge the divide between science and religion, actually does the opposite.]
“Faith and knowledge are totally different things,” wrote Schopenhauer, “which for their mutual benefit have to be kept strictly separate, so that each goes its own way without paying the slightest attention to the other.” In a sentence, that's the message of biologist-essayist Gould's latest book.
Gould is a deservedly decorated veteran of the evolution wars. Surely his job would be simpler if believers would quit shouting that Darwinism leads to atheism or if sophisticated atheists like Richard Dawkins and Daniel C. Dennett stopped implying the same thing. But his arguments [in Rocks of Ages] lead him into successive quagmires.
Gould's theory of non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) counsels “mutual respect, based on non-overlapping subject matter, between two components of wisdom in a full human life: our drive to understand the factual character of nature (the magisterium of science), and our need to define meaning in our lives and a moral basis for our actions (the magisterium of religion)” (p. 175). Science and religion command separate territories; properly understood, they cannot conflict....
(The entire section is 608 words.)
SOURCE: Ruse, Michael. “Both Sides Now.” Skeptic 8, no. 2 (spring 2000): 81-3.
[In the following review, Ruse contends that although he and Gould agree on many of the points presented in Rocks of Ages, Gould's NOMA concept is “a lot less fair-minded than appears at first sight.”]
Stephen Jay Gould is justly honored not only for his contributions to science but also for his sensitive and humane spirit, something which shines forth from his popular writings, especially his monthly column in Natural History. Nor should we forget his many activities on behalf of tolerance and understanding, not the least is the work he has done to support the harmonious and fruitful mutual existence of science and religion. One of the proudest moments of my life was to stand shoulder to shoulder with Gould in Arkansas in 1981, as we appeared as expert witnesses for the ACLU in its successful attack on a law demanding that children of the state be taught Creationism alongside evolution in their biology classes.
Recently, Gould has tied things together in Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, in which he expounds the principle by which he tries to preserve harmony and dignity between science and religion. Essentially his principle is one of separation: good fences make good neighbors. He thinks that science and religion speak to different dimensions and...
(The entire section is 2178 words.)
SOURCE: Blackford, Russell. “Stephen Jay Gould on Science and Religion.” Quadrant 44, no. 4 (April 2000): 8-14.
[In the following review of Rocks of Ages, Blackford cautions that Gould misinterprets the nature of religion as well as its scope.]
While there is considerable controversy about Stephen Jay Gould's contributions to evolutionary theory, he is an eminent scientist, an important socio-political thinker, and an exemplary prose stylist whose lucid books and essays are a source of pleasure as well as knowledge. Unfortunately, he seems to have reached such authorial prominence and saleability that publishers now allow him to indulge himself on subjects where he is out of his field, or his depth, or both. Gould remains incapable of writing a thoroughly bad book, but he has gone close to doing so with his 1999 effort, Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life.
The book's redeeming features include its detailed and plausible reinterpretation of the Scopes trial and the personalities involved. Though Gould has fought hard against the intellectual menace of creation science, he provides a sympathetic portrait of William Jennings Bryan, the supposed villain in the Scopes case, demonstrating in passing that the high school biology text which John Scopes and Clarence Darrow sought to defend in the mid-1920s contained its share of obnoxious speculation...
(The entire section is 5233 words.)
SOURCE: Coyne, Jerry A. “Is NOMA a No Man's Land?” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5071 (9 June 2000): 29-30.
[In the following review, Coyne discusses what he sees as Gould's many analytical errors in Rocks of Ages, particularly his failure to provide an acceptable definition of religion.]
Like everyone else, scientists have mid-life crises. They are seized by the urge to forsake their daily tasks and embrace one or another of the great metaphysical problems that have engrossed philosophers and theologians throughout the ages. The result is often a big book dealing with the human condition. So common is this tendency that it has acquired a name: philosopause. Accordingly, in his new book, Stephen Jay Gould sets aside his usual topics and turns to one that older scientists can rarely resist: the relationship between science and religion. Sadly, however, Gould has foundered on Rocks of Ages, adding little to the work of those who have already addressed this problem.
Gould begins by observing that both science and religion sometimes overstep their boundaries, with religion in effect making scientifically testable statements about nature, and scientists inferring ethical or social beliefs from nature. An obvious example of the former is American creationism, recently notorious for its successful crusade to downgrade evolution in the Kansas school curriculum. Scientists, on...
(The entire section is 1381 words.)
SOURCE: Malik, Kenan. “Inventing Allies in the Sky.” New Statesman 130, no. 4525 (19 February 2001): 49-50.
[In the following review, Malik criticizes how Gould equates religion with morality in Rocks of Ages.]
By the time you read this, children in the American state of Kansas will, with any luck, be reading The Origin of Species in their classrooms. In August 1999, the Kansas Board of Education, under pressure from creationists, removed evolution (as well as the Big Bang theory) from the school science curriculum. It took a vocal campaign by scientists and others—and the unseating of two antievolution members of the board in local elections—to help nudge the authority back into the modern world.
The Kansas affair is the latest in a long line of attempts by religious fundamentalists in the United States to proscribe the teachings of modern science. For many, it is also the latest example of why science and religion cannot coexist. For more than three decades, the palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould has been a trenchant critic of creationism and a widely admired populariser of evolutionary science. But, perhaps surprisingly, he rejects the idea that science and religion are mortal enemies. “These two great tools of human understanding,” he argues, “[operate in] complementary not contrary fashion in their totally separate realms.” Science involves “inquiry about...
(The entire section is 1568 words.)
Bass, Rick. “Survival of the Luckiest.” Chicago Tribune Books, (22 October 1989): 1.
Bass summarizes Gould's key arguments in Wonderful Life.
Haq, S. Nomanul. “Thou Shalt Not Mix Religion and Science.” Nature 400, no. 6747 (26 August 1999): 830-31.
Haq presents the objections of both scientists and religious theologians to Gould's NOMA theory as discussed in Rocks of Ages.
Osman, Tony. “O Lucky Man.” Spectator 265, no. 8461 (8 September 1990): 31-2.
Osman evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of Wonderful Life.
Owens, Brad. “Beyond Biology.” Christian Science Monitor 71, no. 149 (27 June 1979): 19.
Owens praises Gould's ability to communicate complex scientific ideas in Ever since Darwin.
Ravitch, Diane. “IQ.” Commentary 73, no. 2 (February 1982): 66-70.
Ravitch argues that Gould's views in The Mismeasure of Man—concerning the alleged misuse of mental testing results—are true enough, but they do not solely explain why immigration policies were enacted soon after the turn of the twentieth century, or why people respond to events like the Holocaust in a particular way.
Watson, Richard A. “Three Biologists and Religion.” Quarterly Review...
(The entire section is 234 words.)