Wednesday, October 26, 2005

More on Gould

Recall that in yesterday's post I discussed claims, made by someone named Stuart Pivar and posted at Denyse O'Leary's pro-ID blog, that Stephen Jay Gould rejected the idea that natural selection could craft complex adaptations. There was the further claim that Gould believed that natural selection was a weak force in evolution and that consequently he would not have signed the “Steves List” maintained by the NCSE.

I debunked that claim in the most direct way I could think of: By finding several quotes in Gould's writing where he unambiguously rejected the claims being attributed to him.

Well, now William Dembski has gotten into the act with this post, under the provactive title “Stephen Jay Gould - Master of Equivocation.&rdquo (Yes, I do see the irony in William Dembski having the nerve to accuse others of equivocation.) After a paragraph in which he introduces the subject, Dembski writes:

In particular, O’Leary cites a friend of Stephen Jay’s, Stuart Pivar, who is urging the NCSE to remove from its Project Steve statement an overemphasis on the role of natural selection in biological evolution. Pivar writes: “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.’”

Compare this to Stephen Jay Gould’s claim in his 1999 Rocks of Ages (pp. 56-57): “My colleagues in evolutionary theory are presently engaged in a healthy debate about whether a limited amount of Lamarckian evolution may be occurring for restricted phenomena in bacteria. Yet the fascination and intensity of this question does not change the well-documented conclusion that Darwinian processes dominate in the general run of evolutionary matters.” Does it need to be added that natural selection is the central mechanism in any Darwinian process?

Having read this far and ignoring the title, I was all set to praise Dembski for stating the obvious. He described the charge levelled at Gould, and then produced a quote in which Gould explicitly rejects the view being attributed to him. Well done!

Sadly, then I read the comments. The first comment says, “So, you disagree with O’Leary and Pivar, then?”

Yes, obviously Dembski does. But then Dembski replied with, “I’m saying Gould played the staunch Darwinian when it suited him.”

What? How is that conclusion justified by anything Dembski wrote previously? For that matter, how does anything Dembski wrote show that Gould equivocated on this point?

I had temporarily forgotten, you see, that this was William Dembski's blog. That means all its posts come straight from Neptune. That means he feels free to hurl what ever smears he wants without having to justify them with anything. The fact is that Gould was clear, consistent, and unambiguous on this point through several decades of published writing.

We will return to Dembski's commenters in a moment, but first let's pause to take a look at Red State Rabble's take on the subject. See also this post.

In reply to Pat Hayes' (RSR's author) sage words on this matter, RSR was actually favored with a response from Ms. O'Leary:

Well, Pat, Gould's friend is making the noise. Right? Wrong? Either way, it's a story. But my money's on the friend. I don't make this up. I couldn't. Incidentally, the peppered moth example you cited is just the sort of minor change that Pivar said Gould WOULD allow to natural selection, but he denied that it could do the huge things that, for example, Dawkins would credit it with.

Indeed, it is a story. But the story is that Gould's friend is making statements that are easily shown to be false. But O'Leary can't be troubled to actually let any facts enter in to her reporting. Right? Wrong? Not for her decide, though her money is on the friend.

Let's review. Pivar attributed to Gould the view that natural selection is a minor force in evolution, and can not account for complex adaptations. Gould explicitly rejected this idea over and over again in his writing. It was easily shown that Pivar was wrong merely by picking up almost any of Gould's books and looking for references to natural selection in the index. O'Leary did not bother to do this. Instead, she repeated the claims, pretended there's some genuine mystery about Gould's views on the matter, and now is putting her money on the friend.

Everything clear?

Why do scientists get so angry with ID proponents? Because they are, vritually without exception, entirely devoid of conscience.

O'Leary added more spice to the brew with this comment to Dembski's post:

For the record, I am not personally disputing it. My source Pivar is disputing it.

Pivar told me - and gave me permission to publish it - that Gould did not admit what he really thought because he did not want to acknowledge how weak the evidence for Darwinism is, in from [sic] of creatinists and ID people.

Is Pivar right? Wrong? He knew the guy, so I can’t discount it. I figured, run it up the flagpole and see who salutes.

My preferred outcome would be a conference examining structuralism vs. Darwinism vs. ID.

You will search O'Leary's post in vain for any ghost of skepticism about what Pivar is telling her. And we know she has put her money on him.

And now we have Pivar claiming that Gould, who had one consistent message through more than thirty years of writing on this subject, was actualy lying through his teeth because he was worried about creationist response. So when Gould stated over and over again that natural selection was a major force in evolution and was responsible for complex adaptations, that was all a subterfuge. When he allowed himself to be filmed for high-profile documentaries happily discussing the conventional scenario of how vertebrate eyes evolved gradually via natural selection, that was all just a cover for his real beliefs.

For heaven's sake, the very idea that Gould would shy away from making provocative charges out of fear of what a handful of creationists would do is just too ridiculous to be contemplated.

What's really going on here is simple. Pivar is a pathetic little charlatan who was lucky enough to be friends with one of the twentieth century's greatest scientists. He is now betraying that friendship out of a cynical desire to call attention to himself. He found a useful idiot in Denyse O'Leary to parrot his obviously false charges. And since people like O'Leary and Dembski have precisely zero shame, they are perfectly happy to ignore the evidence presnted here and at other blogs that shows how laughably false Pivar's claims really are.

Any questions?


At 1:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suppose we can expect stories of Gould's "deathbed" renunciation of evolution to start floating across pulpits and through Sunday School classes any day now. After all, every good Christian knows how Darwin himself did the same at the end of his life ...

At 3:06 PM, Anonymous PaulC said...

Exactly, it's just a twist on the deathbed conversion myth.

You can always find a good friend with intimate knowledge of what some deceased notable really thought contrary to every written record. I'd be surprised if the creationists haven't already begun a posthumous Steve project. They could get any list of signatures they wanted, provided the signatories were dead and their good friends were willing to act as proxies.

At 5:01 PM, Blogger Lord Runolfr said...

This is like the secret confessions of Hitler that he was actually some kind of satanist or atheist, when all of his public statements and writings (particularly Mein Kampf) demonstrate that he was a devout Catholic (if a crazy, megalomaniacal one).

At 9:29 PM, Blogger Bill said...

Considering that Discovery Institute director, Mark Ryland, noted on a CSPAN recorded panel discussion two prominent "ID" supporters: Aristotle and Plato,

Now, Steve Gould.

It appears that the Discovery Institute can list as among it's supporters the real dead in addition to the brain dead.

What's next? A petiton of "Dead Steves who Support ID?"

At 6:08 AM, Anonymous sarkozy said...

Has anyone tried to comment on Dembski's site? I tried to register but no email was sent.

This makes me wonder how other people comment on his bilge.

Does Dembski fabricate the comments as he seems to do with all those emails from unspecified friends in the field of biology?

In any case, one cannot simply comment on what he's saying (as can be done on this site) and this reveals much about his willingness to defend his claims.

At 6:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

According to an OSS psychological report on Hitler written before the end of WWII (it actually predicts his suicide), he had a messaih complex.

A striking example is when he compares himself to Jesus whipping the money changers out of God's house, and the money changers to jews. Since when did Jesus whip anybody?

I wonder how many ID advocates suffer from some kind of messiah complex. They certainly suffer from a Galileo complex; "Everyone says I'm wrong so I must be right! Just like Galileo!"

At 5:05 PM, Blogger T.H. Huxley said...

UncommonDissent--the forum Dembski can't delete.

At 3:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice, thanks Huxley

At 3:30 AM, Blogger Brian Mulligan said...

I think that he may be right about Gould. I have not read much of Gould's books, but did start "The Mismeasure of Man", before I had even heard of "Evolutionary Psychology". I don't think I finished the book, because I got the impression very early on that he had an underlying political motive in writing the book. He seemed to have a particular result that he wanted to get, and was using whatever arguments he could put his hands on to prove the point. I was brought up in a rational religious family and spotted this approach early in the book, so I don't think I finished it. Later I stumbled across the theory of evolutionary psychology and was not surprised to find that Gould was a major opponent. So my impression was that Gould did have someting in common with the "Intelligent Design" supporters.


Post a Comment

<< Home