A Feud Among Evolutionists

Stephen J. Gould of Harvard University was probably the most militant opponent of Christianity in the nation in the late 1990s. But his popular combative rants against creation got him in hot water from his evolutionary companions, a modern-day feud among friends.
By Wayne Jackson | Christian Courier

No narration available

Stephen J. Gould of Harvard University was probably the most militant opponent of Christianity in the nation during the late 1990s. He was rabid in his hostility toward biblical creation.

When the Kansas Board of Education decided to eliminate the teaching of evolution in 1999 as a mandated component of the state’s science curriculum, Gould almost went berserk, challenging his own vocabulary for slurs against those who believe that God created the world and its creatures.

However, the tables soon turned. Gould ended up on the receiving end of a fiery blast—and that from one of his own evolutionary colleagues!

In the December 13 (1999) issue of The New Yorker, popular science writer and fellow Darwinian, Robert Wright, has a scathing piece titled, “The Accidental Creationist: Why Stephen J. Gould is bad for evolution.” Though Wright acknowledges that Gould, whom he dubs as “America’s unofficial evolutionist laureate,” has been a bitter enemy of creationism, he charges that the Harvard professor has “wound up aiding and abetting their cause.”

But the gentleman is just getting warmed up. Note this withering indictment:

It isn’t that [evolutionary biologists] necessarily consider Gould a great scientist; a number of insiders take a quite different view. But they do generally think of him as a valiant warrior against the creationist hordes. The eminent British biologist John Maynard Smith has observed, “Gould occupies a rather curious position, particularly on his side of the Atlantic. Because of the excellence of his essays, he has come to be seen by nonbiologists as the preeminent evolutionary theorist. In contrast, the evolutionary biologists with whom I have discussed his work tend to see him as a man whose ideas are so confused as to be hardly worth bothering with, but as one who should not be publicly criticized because he is at least on our side against the creationists” (emphasis added).

Apparently Robert Wright had about a “snout full” of Gould, so he ignored Smith’s advice about not being critical of “Dr. Evolution” from Harvard.

Gould’s critics within the evolutionary family believe that he gave too much ammunition to the creationists. Wright says that if folks “really pay attention to what he is saying, and accept it, you might start to wonder how evolution could have created anything as intricate as a human being” (emphasis added).

Yes, any intelligent person is obliged to “wonder” about that!

Further, Wright believed that Gould has given evolutionary theory a bad public image — casting it as “an atheistic plot.” Therefore, evolution (as Wright assessed Gould’s view) “can’t possibly reflect a higher purpose, and thus can’t provide the sort of spiritual consolation most people are after.”

By way of contrast, Wright opined that although “modern Darwinism is incompatible with various religious beliefs (such as a literal interpretation of Genesis), it needn’t alienate religious seekers of a liberal-minded variety.”

Let those who claim that Darwin and Moses are compatible, take note of this. Those who attempt to wed Genesis and the evolutionary theory haven’t the respect of anybody — neither genuine creationists, nor evolutionists.

Wright was irate that Gould suggested evolution has occurred without any sort of “higher purpose”:

“The odds of all this [the evolutionary process] happening by luck alone, as Gould would have it, seem to me not that different from the odds that God created all species in a few days.”

Clearly Wright saw the difficulties in a purely naturalistic scheme of evolution, and so he wanted to wave some kind of magic wand of “higher purpose” when necessary. Gould was atheistic to the bone, and herein is the rub. Wright believed that “luck alone” simply can’t explain the existence of earth’s citizenry. Their competing theories really are a confused mess.

Professor Gould hurt the evolutionary cause, according to Wright, when he blabbed to everybody that it is most unlikely that evolution could ever occur again:

“[W]e are, whatever our glories and accomplishments, a momentary cosmic accident that would never arise again if the tree of life could be replanted from seed and regrown under similar conditions.”

To argue otherwise (as Wright does), Gould contended, is to engage in a “delusion” that is the result of “human arrogance” and desperate “hope.” But Wright felt that Gould’s views were tainted by his personal philosophical ideology, which is, incidentally, Marxist.

Wright also severely criticized Gould for his concession that “natural selection” (one of the major foundational “proofs” of evolution) was inadequate to explain the presence of the great variety of living creatures upon the earth. Dr. Gould contended that the absence of so many fossil “links” argues against a gradualistic mode of evolution. He believed that evolution occurred in “fits” and “jerks,” which he called “punctuated equilibrium.”

And while Wright himself concedes that there “are lots of gaps in the fossil record” (largely gaps, in fact), he charged that Gould has distorted the evidence and buttressed the creationists’ claims.

And so, there you have it. The real blood-and-guts battle in the evolutionary community is between their own competing theories of how the impossible became impossible without divine intervention.