e-mail - February 2001

Re: Gould’s Final Column

Subject: Gould Article
Date: Thu, 25 Jan 2001 19:37:59 -0800 (PST)
From: David

I have just read your January Disclosure piece about Stephen Jay Gould's last column. In it you made some bad errors in reasoning and you weren't too good with the science either.

In the first place, you place a lot of weight on what Gould says. In point of fact, just because Steven Jay Gould writes something in a magazine column doesn't mean that all of science and all scientists jump to attention and say, "OK we have our new orders, now let's get with it!" Gould is an important and thoughtful scientist and when he makes a statement it is worth of attention, and I suspect his column will get some. But there are scientists working in the field with Gould who are just as expert and just as thoughtful and they don't necessarily accept all of his ideas.

We don’t put a lot of weight on what Gould says. We think it has less weight than a mushroom. Other people put a lot of weight on what he says. He is one of the best known evolutionists in America. He has written 300 columns in Natural History about evolution. He shapes the general public’s opinion about the theory of evolution. That is why we feel it is important to comment upon what he says.

David’s response is a variation on a common argument--that evolutionists disagree on the details of evolution, but they agree that the theory of evolution is true. Therefore, we should accept evolution in spite of the disagreement.

We have also heard that same argument about astrology. Astrologers often produce remarkably different horoscopes for people born on the same date, but all astrologers agree that astrology is true science. Therefore, we should believe in astrology in spite of disagreements in horoscopes.

It is our position that if evolution and astrology were true sciences then there would be more agreement on details. Diversity of opinion is evidence that it really is just opinion.

In the second place, just because Gould thinks that, given total extinction of life it would never happen and evolve again doesn't mean that it didn't happen in the first place. Gould himself specifically speaks of the "tree of life" several times in the column. In his writing, he is a little too flowery for my taste, but he obviously means to say that he thinks of life as starting from some simple beginnings and developing by evolution into a "tree."

Yes, Gould does believe that life evolved in the first place. Our point, which perhaps we didn’t make well enough in our essay, is that his beliefs are inconsistent. If he believes that it was possible for life to evolve in the first place, then he should be able to believe that it would evolve again after total extinction.

It also is entirely possible that Gould is underestimating the persistence of life. He says in his column that there have been several near extinctions in the past, but somehow life hung on. There is a form of life near hot water vents in the very deepest parts of the ocean that might live on virtually impervious to happenings near the surface. It is difficult, if not impossible to find an lifeless environment or earth, and some of the chemicals of life are detected in intergalactic space.

Actually, we agree pretty much with David on this point. If you define life to include bacteria and strange things that you find around volcanoes or frozen in polar ice caps, there is life everywhere. It would be tough to wipe it all out.

But, regardless of how hard it would be to wipe it all out, the question is, “Would life evolve again if it were completely wiped out?” Gould’s answer was, “No.”

David’s reference to the alleged discovery of sugar in outer space is a topic that we’ve had in our files for some time. We will get to it sooner or later. For now we will just say that sugar is not alive, and that we are skeptical of its discovery anyway.

Gould has stated many times that if the evolutionary clock were reset it is highly unlikely that man would result from the new evolutionary track. But something would, and there would doubtless be a dominant life form.

Yes, Gould has said that many times. And, doubtless there would be a dominant life form. We wonder what the dominant life form is today. Probably it is cockroaches.

For all we know, there was some as yet undetected extinction that left only bacteria in some ocean depths that set us on the evolutionary track leading to the present forms of life. And that there we wouldn't be here if it hadn't been for that extinction.

We don’t really see the relevance of this speculation, so we won’t comment directly on it. We will say, however, that we have been getting more e-mail lately from people who believe in panspermia. They think we evolved from some life that came to Earth from outer space.

You also fall into the creationist habit of referring to life that is better suited to its environment than some other form of life as "superior." To quote: "If it really were true that environmental pressure stimulates evolution of new, superior life forms, then there would be nothing to worry about. More advanced creatures would simply evolve that would be better suited to the environment." Pond scum isn't more "advanced" than say, a bird. But if the earth were entirely composed of stagnant water it would be better suited to the environment. A tapeworm isn't more "advanced" than a person but it is certainly superior when it comes to existence inside an animal's intestine. Get with it! Scientists haven't equated evolution with the creation of "superior" creatures for many, many years. And in fact, the good ones agree that there is no objective measure by which we can gauge which form is life is more "advanced" than another.

This isn’t a “creationist habit.” We are merely repeating what evolutionists say. We have previously argued that terms like “primitive” and “advanced” presume evolution. We have tried to point out that the “primitive” life forms in the Cambrian layer are every bit as complex as “modern” life forms. I think we are in violent agreement that the “higher” forms of life have not evolved more than “lower” forms. We will have more to say about this in a month or two.

If “Scientists haven't equated evolution with the creation of 'superior' creatures for many, many years,” why do we keep reading it in magazine articles and public school biology textbooks? If evolutionists weren’t still saying this, there wouldn’t be any opposition from creationists.

We imagine it must be just as frustrating for David as it is for us when textbooks keep presenting things that scientists no longer believe as proof of evolution. As a result, the general public still believes old, outdated theories of evolution, such as the evolution of the horse. That is why it is necessary for us to occasionally beat a dead horse.

We find it inconsistent that evolutionists disavow so many things presented in schools and popular media (magazines and TV), but object so strongly when we try to inform the general public that these things aren’t true and should not be taught any more.

As is your wont, you have pounced on a fragment of an argument by a prominent scientist and through the use of non-sequitur and other faulty logic, have sewn a coat onto the button you found in the street. A serious student of the subject would follow up in future Natural History issues to see what kind of comment from other scientist follows from Gould's article.

Well, pardon us for not following up on comments that haven’t been written yet.

We haven’t canceled our subscription to Natural History just because Gould doesn’t write for them any more. If there is follow-up, you can be sure that we will try to squeeze it into our newsletter in a timely manner.

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