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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Update: More on Stephen Jay Gould as non-Darwinist

Well, Stuart Pivar stands by his insistence that Steve Gould did not really believe that Darwinian natural selection was a creative or even a very important force in the history of life - whatever he may have been persuaded to assent to, in order to fight off the ID types and/or creationists.

Meanwhile, I have also run into another Gould friend who reports substantially the same thing.

I think a conference is certainly needed to explore this whole area honestly and without prejudice.
============== original story ==============

Stuart Pivar, a friend of the late Stephen Jay Gould, recently asked NCSE to change the wording of the statement for the Steve list - downplaying the role of natural selection in evolution, and spazzed out a lot of Darwinists. Pivar’s book advocating structuralism (biophysics) is to be reviewed in a science journal.

============== original story ==============

According to Pivar, the angry and sometimes obscene messages I have received as this story develops should not be a surprise. To the people who ask

What are you saying, that the great Stephen Jay Gould had something to fear about what he said?

his response is

Damn right. Every single word he said he felt he was under tremendous censorship by his colleagues, by everybody, so long as he doesn't go against the Darwinian synthesis. That was the point that shut him up constantly to the point where Ontogeny and Phylogeny became an embarrassment to him.

Not because he didn't believe what he had written, I gather. Based on the experience of the ID guys - with which I have considerable acquaintance - I certainly cannot discount Pivar's version.

Pivar also told me something else that gave me pause for thought. He says that he sent a copy of his book advocating a structuralist/biophysics theory of the origin of life to an important American science journalist, for review in a magazine.

According to Pivar, he was asked to contribute US$5000 to the magazine, during the course of the negotiations around the review.

I know a bit about the fortunes of specialty magazines and cannot simply discount Pivar's oral account of this affair ...

For what it is worth, the reason I don't think Pivar is lying is that he stands to lose so much by his testimony. Why should Pivar make so many enemies who may respond by giving his own brainchild unfavorable reviews - unless he feels convicted to tell the truth, even to his hurt?

That said, if Pivar's claims are correct, Gould essentially made the proverbial deal with Mr. Pitchfork: He was, on Pivar's view, willing to allow his own judgement about the history of life to be misrepresented by the Darwinist majority, simply to avoid giving credence to the ID guys or the creationists.

As for claims about bullying, frankly, I am not sure whether some Darwinists would know whether they were bullying people or not. Awkwardly, their very denials must be accepted at a heavy discount.

It is worth remembering that people who do not themselves require intellectual freedom may not know what intellectual freedom would be like. For example, it would mean that it is OKAY to think, as Pivar does, that Darwin set biology back by 150 years. Like, don't bother calling the thought police because that is no longer a crime.

So as far as I am concerned, this story is still developing. I am happy to talk to anyone who really knows Gould's private views, on or off the record.

Fat genes? Faithless genes? Faithful genes?:Who believes in genetic determinism?

I have been away from blogging for a while because I was determined to finish a demanding section of my current book in progress.

Blog reader Andy Groves kindly asks, regarding my statement "This should be startling news to those who think that genes determine everything.", "Can you name even one scientist who thinks that?"

Hmmm, well, having guffawed my way through the obesity gene, the infidelity gene , and the God gene (yes!), all in the space of a week, I have discovered that there is a huge market out there for the belief that

the fault, dear readers, is not in ourselves,
but in our genes, that we are underlings.

This is, of course, a takeoff on - and a reversal of - Cassius's comment to Brutus in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar :

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings. (1.2.135)

The role now played by genes in absolving people of responsibility for their behaviour was played in early modern times by astrology.

Most people, including many scientists, viewed astrology as a science in those days. Although later disconfirmed, the idea that the planets (the wandering stars) influence affairs on Earth, just as the moon influences the ocean, seemed quite reasonable. Thus, in this passage, Cassius is advancing a radical idea to Brutus: It is not in our stars. We can act to change our fate.

Today, Cassius might want to say, just as radically in some quarters, that it is not in our genes.

(How radical an idea? Well, he persuades Brutus to head up a conspiracy to assassinate Julius Caesar, and thus plunges Rome into civil war. )

While I'm here anyway, when ID theorist Mike Behe was testifying recently in the Dover school wars, he happened to mention this early science passion for astrology. A columnist who is clearly not educated beyond his station in life took Behe's comments to mean that he himself credits astrology. About that, Behe writes me to say,

... I had in mind astrology in the historical period when it was viewed as a real attempt to explain the world. Of course as you well know ideas which are now known to be completely false (like, say, phlogiston theory) were once real scientific attempts to explain the world. I was trying to look at the broad history of science, but in the trial the other side was of course just looking for an opportunity to make me and ID look foolish.

Yes, Mike, but there is always someone out there who can make you look a fool for knowing more than he does.

(Note: Dr. Groves may well want to say that the fat, faithless, or faithful genes are weak hypotheses. But they all have their supporters, both in the sciences and elsewhere. And their supporters push them as far as they can. Science writer John Horgan has some rather blunt things to say about that trend, with which I quite agree.)
If you like this blog, check out my award-winning book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.
Are you looking for the following stories?

Stuart Pivar, a friend of the late Stephen Jay Gould, recently asked NCSE to change the wording of the statement for the Steve list - downplaying the role of natural selection in evolution, and spazzed out a lot of Darwinists. Pivar’s book advocating structuralism (biophysics) is to be reviewed in a science journal.

"Academic Freedom Watch : Here's the real, ugly story behind the claim that 'intelligent design isn't science'?".

Roseville, California, lawyer Larry Caldwell is suing over the use of tax money by Darwin lobby groups to promote religious views that accept Darwinian evolution (as opposed to ones that don’t). I’m pegging this one as the next big story. It will be interesting to see the line that the “separation of church and state” people take.
How to freak out your bio prof? What happened when a student bypassed the usual route of getting frogs drunk and dropping them down the chancellor’s robes, and tried questioning Darwinism instead.

Joseph, Cardinal Schonborn is not backing down from his contention that Darwinism is incompatible with Catholic faith, and Pope Benedict XVI probably thinks that’s just fine. Major US media have been trying to reach rewrite for months, with no success.

Museum tour guides to be trained to "respond" to those who question Darwinism. Read this item for an example of what at least one museum hopes to have them say.
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