Would Gould Have Signed the Steves List?

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Over at EvolutionBlog, I have posted this follow-up to Andrea’s post below. At issue is the ludicrous charge, posted at Denyse O’Leary’s pro-ID blog, that Stephen Jay Gould had such a low opinion of natural selection that he would not have signed the NCSE’s Steves statement. It wasn’t hard to find quotes from Gould’s writing that should really put this question to rest. For example, from Essay 12 of his book Ever Since Darwin, we find this:

Modern evolutionists cite the same plays and players; only the rules have changed. We are now told, with equal wonder and admiration, that natural selection is the agent of exquisite design. As an intellectual descendant of Darwin, I do not doubt this attribution.

Stephen Jay Gould was one of the most prolific writers in the history of science. If you want to know what Gould thought about evolution, the solution is to go to the library, retrieve one of his books, and read it. But in the shameless, value-free, twilit world of ID hucksters, such initiative is frowned upon.

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Tempo and Mode from Newton's Binomium on October 27, 2005 3:33 PM

The original "Gould on the Beach" story has generated a fair amount of attention from evolutionary blogs. Most of the posts have justly castigated the inanity of Pivar's and O'Leary's comments. Gould was certainly no friend of intelligent design crea... Read More

71 Comments

Give it a few years and we’ll have creationist/ID sites claiming that Gould recanted evolution on his death-bed.

Stuart Pivar quoted on O’Leary’s blog:

“Is this colossal misunderstanding innocent incompetence, or a soviet style paradigm takeover?”

Whenever an intelligent design creationist invokes the Soviet Union, it’s appropriate recall the many similarities between ID proponents and Lysenkoists. From David Joravsky’s history The Lysenko Affair (Harvard University Press, 1970, Chapter 3 titled “Harmless Cranks”):

Lysenko … had the benefit of education, but the peasant style of thought survived the years he spent at the Kiev Agricultural Institute. What he did learn very well—unless it was the gift of his genes—was the art of self-advertisement.

… [T]he young man’s masterful way with journalists, his skill at using newspapers to make scientific discoveries of great practical importance, this was not ephemeral. It would be a constant feature of Lysenko’s entire career …

The reporter of 1927 confessed that he stared at Lysenko’s notebook with ignorant awe. He did not understand the “scientific laws” by which the barefoot scientist had quickly solved his problem, without trial and error. … He made a primitive error in statistical reasoning, and he paid almost no attention to the lessons learned by previous investigators of this problem. …

Lysenko then revealed another of his chief and lasting characteristics: a total, angry refusal to give any thoughtful consideration to criticism.

O’Leary’s now says that Pivar is a chemical engineer—originally she said that he was an art collector. Is this another example supporting the Salem Hypothesis?

Has anyone bothered to see whether this guy “Pivar” exists?

Remember, it’s not easy to tell hoaxes from creationism; nor is there much difference, most of the time.

EVEN IF Steven J. Gould did recant evolution, so what? Since when is science about appeal to authority? O’Leary is barking up the wrong tree.

I have solid evidence that if Issac Newton had lived to hear of Darwin’s theory of natural selection instead of dying in 1727, he would have abandoned creationism and signed on as an evolution supporter. My evidence is that I think he should have done so, and I once ate a fig newton.

I am sorry, Bayesian Bouffant, but your claim is preposterous. In order to be credible, you must prove you spent week-ends at the beach with Newton, or went skinny-dipping with him at least once.

I am sorry, Bayesian Bouffant, but your claim is preposterous. In order to be credible, you must prove you spent week-ends at the beach with Newton, or went skinny-dipping with him at least once.

Au contraire. All I have to prove is that the original fig flavor of Newton is superior to the more recently introduced flavors, a fact which is intuitively obvious, even to babies.

Coincidentally, I recently read Gould’s Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes, which contains several essays on the ‘creation science’ battles of the 1980s, including Gould’s essay, “Evolution as fact and theory”. He remarked at how little had changed between the Scopes trial of 1925 and the then current confrontation. Deja vu all over again.

Posted by Bayesian Bouffant, FCD on October 26, 2005 09:24 AM (e) (s)

Coincidentally, I recently read Gould’s Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes, which contains several essays on the ‘creation science’ battles of the 1980s, including Gould’s essay, “Evolution as fact and theory”. He remarked at how little had changed between the Scopes trial of 1925 and the then current confrontation. Deja vu all over again

That last comment made me giggle. I must try and use it in future.

“Deja vu all over again”.

Coined by “Yogi” Berra I think

I note that the “ID the Future” blog is trying to spin this by claiming that Gould argued all sides of the question in his later years. It’s sad and rather pathetic to see them try to implicate Gould as irrational, rather than accept the fact that he never would have accepted Pivar’s nonsensical statement.

I just read somewhere that Gould recanted evolution on his death-bed.

I certainly believe it, because I once saw Elliott Gould in Hollywood, and he created some great characters (some of them were very intelligent, too).

I would say this is another example of the IDC crowd not being able to distinguish religion and science. Once again they’re looking for the ‘silver bullet’ that will slay Darwinism, and since in religion it’s an accepted debating tactic to attack a belief by attacking its founder or a prominent follower of it, then if you can cobble together a case that somehow a prominent ‘evolutionist’ didn’t really believe evolution, then you can sink evolution this way. Further proof that these people well and truly do not have a clue how science proceeds.

And it’s all the more pathetic that the IDC folks are reduced here to an argument in the form of “this guy I knew said, like, Gould stayed at his beach house, and he, like, totally didn’t believe in natural selection”.

What’s ever more pathetic is that they’ll be exhuming this as ‘evidence’ against evolution for the next ten years.

It’s been over two years since Project Steve was first announced. I find it rather convenient for Pivar’s statements, particularly his suggested rewording, to see the light of day NOW rather than soon after the project’s announcement.

We also see Pivar misreading the project’s statement, where the phrase “a major mechanism” becomes “the primary cause” and “the mechanical process” under Pivar’s perception.

Finally, we should note Pivar is not suggesting that Gould would not sign the statement, based upon its labelling of intelligent design as “pseudoscience.” This may be the most important point, given the nature of O’Leary’s position in the cultural debate.

I note that the “ID the Future” blog is trying to spin this by claiming that Gould argued all sides of the question in his later years. It’s sad and rather pathetic to see them try to implicate Gould as irrational, rather than accept the fact that he never would have accepted Pivar’s nonsensical statement.

Actually, it would seem that Paul agrees with us that Gould was in favor of a major, though certainly not exclusive role of natural selection in evolution (just like the Steves’ statement), and adds yet another unambiguous quote to the list.

As for “arguing both sides of the issue”, as I said in the other PT entry Gould was famously argumentative and often got carried away in his stark description of debate positions. Still, I haven’t seen a single quote from Gould that actually argues the opposite - that selection is not a creative force, and that its role in evolution is null or minimal. Does anyone know of any? Mr. Pivar, are you reading this?

BTW, the Project Steve Steve-o-Meter is now at 649. Steve #649 is not only a Steve, he is also a Bright.

Well, here is an interesting little piece by Pivar, Shopping with Andy [Warhol].

Hmm… Does Denise know her new pal, Stuey, used to hang with that rascal Warhol?

Is the anti-evolution/family values crowd going to hug Stuey to their collective bosom?

Andrea Wrote:

Actually, it would seem that Paul agrees with us…

I guess. But Paul makes no sense. If he entertained feedback on his blog, I might ask him how he can reconcile this:

Paul Nelson Wrote:

Stuart Pivar… says that his old friend Steve would not have signed the NCSE’s Project Steve statement, because he doubted the efficacy of natural selection as a mechanism. That may be – indeed, I’m quite sure Pivar… is right.

With his subsequent documentation that Gould did recognize the importance of natural selection. Paul?

Russell asked:

With his subsequent documentation that Gould did recognize the importance of natural selection. Paul?

Sorry for the murkiness. Pivar and Gould were close friends, and I think it’s entirely possible that Gould privately said very skeptical things about natural selection to Pivar, which he [SJG] would never repeat in public, and might actually contradict in his published writings. My personal experience with Gould taught me that he could be like quicksilver on a topic: here, there, everywhere.

So Pivar can be telling the gospel truth about what Gould told him, in person, and yet that testimony of personal interactions can be (indeed, is) contradicted by Gould’s published statements.

Pivar is one interesting dude. Expect to hear more from him.

Although this whole argument borders on the surreal I don’t think it’s possible to know whether or not Gould would have signed the list; maybe he would have, maybe not. The poor guy is dead, for goodness’ sake. But regarding natural selection and the importance of its role in evolution, I wonder if anybody is in touch with Gould’s wife? She might be interested in knowing how her husband is being misrepresented, and may be able to set the record straight.

When asked to name a supporter of ID who did not believe in the Christian God, Mark Ryland of the Discovery Institute cited Aristotle and Plato!

What is it with the DI that the only supporters of ID they can dig up are dead? Now, Steve Gould?

Will the DI start a petition “Dead People who Support ID?”

(reference for Ryland remark - 3rd segment, very near the end.)

What .…is.… this??

Change the wording? Oh I get it change the meaning… stupid me.

A new divide and conquer strategy ??? Is that from the Bible or “The Art of War”

What is the the problem with these people??

Are they so bent on using science to prove the unprovable god/creator that in the end all they are going to do is destroy god/creator and their own belief??

PSSSST… its in the Bible and every other religious text “Do not Question My Existence.” “Take Joy in My Creation” Means just what it says yes “Literally”. (That includes science(knowledge,revelations) and scientists” don’t take my word for it? Check out what Pope Benedict says and if you look, every other faith as well. -No ticking off from Buddhist’s either please…I get it:)

As Dr Phil says (according to my kids) “I know I’m never going to get a call from the shampoo corporations…get over it”.

Froth,Froth,Froth rant rant

Paul Nelson Wrote:

I think it’s entirely possible that Gould privately said very skeptical things about natural selection to Pivar, which he [SJG] would never repeat in public, and might actually contradict in his published writings.

It’s also entirely possible that invisible pink unicorns are flying out of your **** right now.

So Pivar can be telling the gospel truth about what Gould told him, in person, and yet that testimony of personal interactions can be (indeed, is) contradicted by Gould’s published statements.

Maybe, but I offer what I consider something more plausible: Pivar himself does not accept natural selection, in favor of divine providence or some other formulation. Gould was engaged for years in his argument with Dawkins and Maynard Smith, whom Gould considered too narrowly mechanistic, assigning what Gould considered more responsibility for evolutionary trends than Gould felt the evidence warranted.

So Gould would dwell, as part of his ongoing debate, on the inadequacy of natural selection to account for all observed biological evidence. And Pivar would HEAR, based on his personal rejection of selection altogether, a kindred spirit voicing shared doubts, which Pivar would attribute to shared models. In short, Gould was leaving out the big picture in favor of his specific objections to Smith and Dawkins, and Pivar was filling in the holes based on HIS notion of the big picture, so that it sounded like Gould was saying what Pivar wanted to hear.

My understanding is that the Steve List was in fact named after Gould in the first place. If Pivar thought Gould wouldn’t have signed it, Pivar was very definitely hearing Gould very selectively.

Paul:

As I mentioned in a note on O’Leary’s blog, to suggest that Gould would privately express very different scientific opinions than those he expressed in public is simply ridiculous.

To suggest that he would do so out of fear of professional damage is not only ludicrous, since Gould was pretty much professionally and financially untouchable, but it truly sullies Gould’s professional and scientific integrity.

I understand that unscrupulous anti-evolutionists would want nothing better than tarnish Gould’s reputation, but that someone who claims to have been Gould’s friend would do so in order to push their own personal agenda seems simply unconscionable. I hope O’Leary is misrepresenting Pivar’s position on this.

It must be a publicity stunt in order to boost the sale of the book. As a friend of Andy Warhol Stuart Pivar might have learnt something about that.

yahoo.com as e-mail adress, and a distributor/publisher that … “represents over 400 Small Presses, publishing over 1500 titles…We allow you to focus on writing and marketing-promotion. You are responsible for creating the sale of your title(s) through your marketing efforts.”

But the most telling sign is the description of the book. Not a word about S.J. Gould, and the final conclusion in description.

By this new view of biology, the forms of plants and animals were not selected from random mutations as Darwin believed, but rather that living nature is a perfect platonic universe where all species are related through a common geometric ancestor. An important corollary of this theory is that life elsewhere must be like ours. The large brained vertebrate is a biological inevitability.

(my emphasis)

Even though Paul Nelson finally has a theory about the designer of the book, there is no way that this quote can be in agreement with Gould,

Erik

Re “a common geometric ancestor.”

geometric?? Is that plane or solid geometry?

Henry

In addition, Pivar appears to lack any real understanding of what Gould was saying. Consider this, fairly trivial example: Gould (in an interview)

But it’s not really correct, because the chance part is not natural selection. Natural selection is actually a locally deterministic force.

If you want to say the Darwinian evolution has a component of chance, and a component of local necessity, that’s quite accurate. But the basic argument goes like this: Because natural selection doesn’t make anything, natural selection is an eliminative force. Natural selection can only differentially preserve certain variations in a spectrum of variation within a species. Now some other process produces that variation; ultimately it’s mutation. And mutation is spread around through recombination and sexual organisms.

Pivar interprets this to mean that Natural Selection is unimportant, merely a

“local” phenomenon

Pivar has missed the point completely. Mr. Nelson, I presume that the only reason we should watch Pivar is as an example of the scientifically illiterate appropriating the work of someone who actually knew what he was talking about?

And of course, it still doesn’t help your egregious example of double-think - excused only by speculating about completely undocumented sayings of someone who is conveniently dead.

Aren’t you even slightly worried about your intellectual credibility?

Also from the description of Pivar’s book, via Erik’s link:

Many biologists have long suggested that the origin of organic form lies in the self-assembly of unseen patterns or structures in the egg cell. Until now, no model system with actual form-predictive power has been proposed.

This book presents such a model system. It makes the hypothesis that: The animal and plant body is formed by the expansion of the membrane that encloses the egg cell, shaped by an ingrained, self-organized pattern.

And from Amazon:

This lavishly illustrated text represents the publication of a theory of biological self-organization based on the discovery of a unique geometric configuration with the property to generate the shape of all animal and plant form.

The theory of biological self-organization maintains that body form results from patterns arising in living tissue due to simple mechanical forces rather than by genomic code; the genes are responsible only for individual traits.

Wow. Buy two, and get a free healing energy crystal.

How can you doubt the author of a book like that? On anything? We might as well give up and admit the creos were right all along.

/sarcasm

Flint wrote:

Maybe, but I offer what I consider something more plausible: Pivar himself does not accept natural selection, in favor of divine providence or some other formulation.

Definitely not “divine providence.” Pivar is a structuralist who disagrees root-and-branch with any form of intelligent design theory.

Andrea wrote:

As I mentioned in a note on O’Leary’s blog, to suggest that Gould would privately express very different scientific opinions than those he expressed in public is simply ridiculous.

Not at all. In March 1990, I visited Gould at Harvard (I had a day free while my wife was interviewing there for a fellowship), having been advised to do so by Elliott Sober, Kevin Padian, and others, to whom I had sent a MS critically evaluating Gould’s “panda’s thumb” argument. The MS readers had told me that I was taking Gould’s Natural History articles far too seriously: some of his NH articles, they said, are rhetoric intended to pull down the pants of creationists. But he doesn’t really mean for them to be read as serious science.

So we met, and the first question I asked Gould was just that: is your panda’s thumb article rhetoric [in the tweak-the-creationists sense], as others have suggested, or serious science?

His response? “First of all, there’s nothing wrong with rhetoric.” That’s a yes-it-is, but-then-no-it-isn’t, maybe/maybe not answer. And, over the next half-hour, Gould proceeded to argue almost all sides imaginable of the question – in a fashion intended, I think, to keep any interlocutor off-balance. Gould was renowned, or notorious, for his dialectical subtlety. John Horgan, the Scientific American writer, describes his conversations with Gould as being “lost in a cloud of ink” (or words to that effect).

Try reading The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, and you’ll see what I mean. Not exactly limpid argumentation. I found a passage strongly endorsing the centrality of selection, but I’ll bet in a few minutes, I can find another denigrating it as an overblown mechanism.

[Side note: lots of scientists trim or censor what they say in public, if they worry that it could be misunderstood or misused. One of my Chicago advisors told me about a conversation he had with a famous geneticist, who told him that the evidence supported a very high heritability for human intelligence [as opposed to environmental factors]. ‘But I could never say that in public,’ said the geneticist, ‘because evil people would exploit the information for bad ends.’]

Andrea said:

To suggest that he would do so out of fear of professional damage is not only ludicrous, since Gould was pretty much professionally and financially untouchable, but it truly sullies Gould’s professional and scientific integrity.

Oh baloney. Gould’s reputation is quite secure, and will be unaffected by these trivial blog dust-ups. What will be interesting to see is if Pivar has private documentation or materials (from his friendship with Gould) that support the former’s understanding of Gould’s skepticism about natural selection. Maybe. He’s a shrewd cat and doesn’t give a damn about what anyone says about him, least of all the people who post here.

He speaks of “species selection” and even speculated that selection may take place at the level of the clade…

This is the primary reason Gould is no longer considered an authority on evolutionary theory by most evolutionary biologists (and hasn’t been for many years).

It’s very easy to show that every case Gould cited for selection operating at levels higher than the individual, is just as (or more) easily explained by individual selection instead.

it’s that old Occam’s Razor thing again ;)

It’s not to say Gould wasn’t admired and respected, especially for some very good writing skills and some major theoretical and evidentiary contributions, but many of his hypotheses were based on a lack of data, which we now have.

Hell, reading “The Panda’s Thumb”, of all things, was one of the main reasons i got interested in paleontology, and then ended up studying zoology.

I rank him right up there with Jacques Cousteau as influencing my decision to go into zoology, and I’m sure most would agree that ‘ol Jacques was pretty far from being a serious scientist.

Hell, reading “The Panda’s Thumb”, of all things, was one of the main reasons i got interested in paleontology, and then ended up studying zoology.

Although I had ALWAYS been interested in bugs and snakes and such as a kid, my real interest in things scientific began at age ten, when I found (what I now know was) a fossilized horn coral (from the Devonian) alongside a road near my grandmother’s house. I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen, and the very idea that it had once lived in an ocean a long long time ago, was utterly fascinating to me.

I rank him right up there with Jacques Cousteau as influencing my decision to go into zoology, and I’m sure most would agree that ‘ol Jacques was pretty far from being a serious scientist.

No one will ever accuse Steve Irwin (The Crocodile Hunter) of being a serious scientist either (although he has done some good research on various monitor lizard species). Nevertheless, the next generation of herpetologists will without a doubt be people who watched Steve on TV as a kid.

lol.

can you imagine 20 years from now an equivalent site to this one being named:

“The Crocodile Hunter”

now that would be funny.

Problem: There was this smart biologist who pretty much walked over cranks and crackpots of the IDC kind. He wrote very well and was much beloved and worst of all wrote that obligatory essay on baseball. As expert witness his testimony helped throw out Old Creo and continues to be an endless source of amusement to us. The NeoCreos quake in their boots to when they even hear his name. And the pompous NeoCreo type who is generally busy making an ass of himself is miffed that the great one didn’t bother to even trash him choosing to ignore him entirely.

Now read Paul and Bill you get the idea. There’s only so many times you can sell a bridge.

The perfect irony is they leave a trail of evidence against themselves wherever they go

Also, see Goulds introduction to Carl Zimmers book ‘Evolution’, where Gould quite unequivically states his acceptance of natural selection.

Gould believed the “hopeful monster”. Get over it.

Gould believed the “hopeful monster”. Get over it.

No, Blast. He didn’t.

As I mentioned in a note on O’Leary’s blog, to suggest that Gould would privately express very different scientific opinions than those he expressed in public is simply ridiculous.

Not at all. In March 1990, I visited Gould at Harvard (I had a day free while my wife was interviewing there for a fellowship), having been advised to do so by Elliott Sober, Kevin Padian, and others, to whom I had sent a MS critically evaluating Gould’s “panda’s thumb” argument. The MS readers had told me that I was taking Gould’s Natural History articles far too seriously: some of his NH articles, they said, are rhetoric intended to pull down the pants of creationists. But he doesn’t really mean for them to be read as serious science.

Is Paul Nelson just plain stupid? Not intending something to be read as serious science is not at all the same as expressing very different scientific opinions from those one holds privately.

BTW, that was a rhetorical question. Nelson argues that Pivar’s claim about Gould not signing the Project Steve statement because of privately expressed doubts about natural selection is probably right despite his public statements in support of it, but the Project Steve statement is public.

morbius Wrote:

Is Paul Nelson just plain stupid?

Recall the quote from Saul Bellow that describes Nelson, et al to a T:

A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.

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This page contains a single entry by Jason Rosenhouse published on October 25, 2005 5:57 PM.

On the beach with Stephen Jay was the previous entry in this blog.

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