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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Updated: Pivar to NCSE: Change the wording of the Steve statement

Stuart Pivar has asked Glenn Branch at NCSE to remove "or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurence" from the wording of the "Steve" declaration:

Dear Glenn Branch,

Please consider my suggestion that the Steve List statement of purpose delete the words, "or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurence"
A main point in Goulds message to us regarding how evolution works is that natural selection is not responsible for form, playing only a minor, eliminative role in the selection among a choice of forms produced by other means. You might consider installing the words "or that natural structural processes and heterochony are the major mechanisms in its occurence"

Steve believed natural selection to be an implausible explanation for design, and that those who believe it are Darwin Fundamentalists like Dawkins, Steve's nemesis.

Stuart Pivar

please visit www.stephenjgould.org for Goulds own words on the subject.

I was copied on this communication, and will post any official replies I receive.

Update note, if you just got here: A friend of the late Stephen Jay Gould insists that Gould would not have signed (Darwin lobby) National Center for Science Education's "Steve" statement against creationism - not because he supported creationism but because he disputed the importance of natural selection. Background stories:the J site, advancing the claim; Pivar's comments to me, and NCSE's reply.

A number of people have provided Gould quotes supporting a major role for natural selection, for example:

Natural selection, an immensely powerful idea with radical philosophical implications, is surely a major cause of evolution, as validated in theory and demonstrated by countless experiments. But is natural selection as ubiquitous and effectively exclusive as the ultras propose? (From "Darwinian fundamentalism" (1977) )

But then Pivar replies with
... substantial changes introduced during the last half of the twentieth century, have built a structure so expanded beyond the original core, and so enlarged by new principles of macroevolutionary explanation, that the full exposition, while remaining within the domain of Darwinian logic, must be construed as basically different from the canonical theory of natural selection, rather than simply extended. (page 3) The Structure of Evolutionary Theory , 2002.

Actually, I wasn't surprised to find Gould quotes on both sides of the fence, with the ones on the non-Darwnist side much more guarded. While researching By Design or by Chance?, I'd heard vaguely that Gould was sympathetic to something like structuralism. My focus then was on his well-known opposition to ultra-Darwinism.

I asked Pivar, why was Gould not more forthcoming about structuralism, if he really supported it? He told me that Gould's first book gives a non-selectionist account of evolution, his mid-career books do not discuss it much, and the last book, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory "says it over and over encoded in hyper-professionalese, too dense for the layman."

Well, few will dispute the "too dense" part; I recall a colleague of Gould's complaining about that in a review.

So why didn't Gould say more? According to Pivar,

he was a victim of the anti-antidarwinist forces engaged in genetics which depends on natural selection. Steve could not shoot his mouth off with the public hearing that there is no explanation for design. you could not and still cannot speak against natural selection in the academic situation without censorship, having nothing to do with intelligent design, having to do with the Darwinian synthesis which keeps the research infrastructure funded. no natural selection, no developmental genetics.

So Gould, for all his pugnacity, could not risk stirring up the Darwinists because it might weaken a joint effort against intelligent design theory? Pivar again:

There was an agreement not to discuss the weaknesses of evolution theory publically.

The reluctance to debate creationists has as much to do with the weakness of the argument science has to offer, as with the ostensible reason of the conferring status to creationism. I heard that the ancient pythagorans decided to keep secret the discovery of a fifth regular polygonal solid for fear of undermining the public sense of order.

Yes, I suppose the Pythagoreans thought the vulgar mob would riot on hearing the news. To judge from their recorded comments, many Darwinists likewise think that doubting Darwin compels us to establish a theocracy. Actually, we vulgars are a bit more resilient than that. We have lived through many paradigm changes.

Well, but then Darwinist bullying is famous. Lynn Margulis refers to the neo-Darwinian bullies in Shermer's acount of the World Evolution summit in June 2005. Indeed, it is painful to read,

There were no direct challenges to Margulis in the discussion period that followed, so I once again queried a number of the experts in this area after the lecture. The overall impression I received was that Margulis goes too far in her rejection of neo-Darwinism, but because she was right about the role of symbiogenesis in the origin of the first eukaryote cells, they are taking a wait-and-see approach. One scientist added that since Margulis was to receive an honorary doctorate that afternoon, it seemed inappropriate to challenge her in this venue.

The long knives stay in their sheaths, for now? Nice. If not, maybe structuralist Rick Sternberg can explain what happens next.

As I discuss in By Design or by Chance? Gould's ashes had only barely settled in the urn before the attack on his reputation began:
Gould was much less popular with his colleagues. He was often derided by other Darwinists. For example, leading evolutionary psychologists John Tooby and Leda Cosmides charged: "We suggest that the best way to grasp the nature of Gould’s writings is to recognize them as one of the most formidable bodies of fiction to be produced in recent American letters."

Similarly, John Maynard Smith, a leading evolutionary biologist, said of Gould: "The evolutionary biologists with whom I have discussed his work tend to see him as a man whose ideas are so confused 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."

Gould’s critics lost no time in their efforts to minimize his legacy after his death. Indeed, evolutionary psychologist David P. Barash, reviewing Gould’s major professional work, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, described him as a "literate bio-terrorist" whose work was not for "anyone with anything else to do with his or her life."

(... and much more, p. 110 ff)

I have heard vague rumors that there will be a conference soon examining structuralist theory. It should feature a serious examination of Gould's uncensored views, rather than a useless quote war. Many still live who knew Gould in his last years. I bet there is a book in this for an enterprising young scholar.

(Note: Regrettably, I have had to close the comments box for this post temporarily. Someone has taken to leaving obscene posts. I will research ways of getting the person banned so that I can open the comments box again as soon as possible.)

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