Stephen J. Gould (1941-2002)

By Wayne Jackson

The photographs that adorn a man’s office speak volumes about him. In the office of the late Stephen J. Gould, former professor of paleontology at Harvard University, peering down upon that prolific desk, is the photograph of Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924), the revolutionary who founded the Communist dictatorship in Russia — a materialistic, godless system.

Lenin once described his dictator-regime as “power, based strictly upon force, and unrestricted by any laws.” It is not difficult to see how similar this ideology is to the dog-eat-dog, survival-of-the-fittest dogma of Charles Darwin. In Lenin and Darwin, Gould, who recently died of cancer, found twin heroes.

Gould’s father was an atheist, and the tone for the boy’s educational temperament was set early. The respected scientist (at least with the popular media) once said that he knew, from about the age of five years, that he would devote his life to “writing nature’s history.” Unfortunately, he had it all wrong.

According to a recent article by Lowell Ponte, a former roving editor for Reader’s Digest, “the theory of evolution became [Gould’s] substitute for religion.” Robert Wright, in his book, The Moral Animal, describes this as the sort of “faith” that “no longer entertains the possibility of encountering some fact that would call the whole theory into question.” That is a strange philosophy for one who called himself a “scientist” — a term which presupposes someone in a quest for knowledge, whatever its source.

According to published biographical data, Gould’s field of specialty was a certain species of snail that inhabits the Bahamas; the vocal professor, however, frequently pontificated on a variety of subjects, undaunted by the fact that he was wholly ignorant of some the areas into which he plunged.

Though Gould became the most well-known apostle of evolutionary doctrine in America, in reality, he was, to some of his Darwinian kinsmen, a real “thorn in the flesh.”

In 1972, Gould, along with his colleague Niles Eldredge, propounded a theory (which actually was not new) called “punctuated equilibrium.” This concept, which had been argued by Richard Goldschmidt of the University of California, forty years earlier, was intended to explain the “gaps” in the fossil record, which Darwin had described as “the most obvious and serious objection” against the theory of evolution (The Origin of Species, 6th London Edition, p. 313). Gould charged that paleontologists had kept this troubling reality “a trade secret,” and there ought to be an explanation for it.

Rejecting, of course, the doctrine of divine creation, which affirms supernatural “beginnings” after distinct “kind” patterns, together with the subsequent fossil assortment effected by the biblical Flood, Gould/Eldredge proffered the re-cycled concept of “jump-start” evolution.

The idea was that one species might dramatically change into another species — virtually overnight — as a result of some cataclysmic environmental event, e.g., a bombardment of asteroids. Gould argued that “gradualism” (the standard evolutionary belief that change is smooth, slow, and steady), simply is not substantiated in the “record of the rocks” (see Natural History, February, 1978, p. 24). Rather, the Harvard professor postulated the existence of what he called “hopeful monsters,” the sudden-like appearance of new creatures. One children’s book, of a few years earlier, had even suggested that a dinosaur laid an egg, out of which came a baby bird — the first one in the whole world! (Ivan Ipcar, The Wonderful Egg, Garden City: NY: Doubleday, 1958).

Small wonder, then, that many evolutionary biologists would characterize Gould’s ideas as “so confused as to be hardly worth bothering with” — as British biologist John Maynard Smith put it. And so, while many evolutionists privately disdained him, they frequently would not say so openly — because Gould was “at least on our side against the Creationists” (Smith as quoted by Ponte, Front Page Magazine.com, May 22, 2002).

Gould was never able to fathom the inconsistency in his position — that human beings are merely the result of “a fortuitous cosmic afterthought,” in an accidental, amoral Universe — with his view that people need to work for a “just and decent society.” If nothing exists but “matter,” there is no logical concept of “justness” — and “decency” is whatever a man wishes it to be.

But Professor Gould was not terribly bothered by niceties like “consistency.” Though he classified himself as an agnostic (sufficient evidence does not exist to warrant belief in God), he practiced with the choir of the All Saints Church in Brookline, Massachusetts each Monday evening. While his “head” rebuffed God, his “heart” longed for religious fraternization.

Gould was wrong about many things; but there was one thing about which he was right on target. As quoted by Ponte, he once said: “we’re not always as smart as we think.” What this militant anti-creationist did not realize, however, is this: we get a lot smarter after we die (Rom. 14:11-12).

Ponte observed that Gould was once asked about what he would do if, after his death, he found himself in the presence of God and the apostles of Christ. Quoting the noted atheist lawyer Clarence Darrow (of the Scopes Trial fame), the Harvard celebrity quipped that he would bow before the Judge’s bench and concede: “Gentlemen, I was wrong.”

The problem with that is this. The “Judge” (2 Cor. 5:10) has already decreed that after the “unprepared” lay their bodies down to sleep in earth’s dust, no redemptive apologies will be honored (see Mt. 25:1-13).

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.