Mike Vickers' Blog

March 4, 2019

Stephen Jay Gould – a great loss as a humanist and science writer

Filed under: Journalism, NOMA, Politics, Stephen Jay Gould, World Class, Writing — derryvickers @ 7:29 pm

Cleaning the bookcase out, I came across my collection of Natural History books by Stephen Jay Gould; some 20 in all. The first one I bought was perhaps his first ‘Ever Since Darwin’ at a small book shop in Santa Barbara, a lovely town with glorious Bougainvillea. It was a Sunday and I had a Sunday break from a conference in LA.

So who was Stephen Jay Gould; he died on 22 May 2002

From the obituary in Nature

“Palaeontologist and public face of evolutionary biology

Stephen Jay Gould, the world’s most renowned palaeontologist, died in New York on 20 May [2002]. His death robs the fields of palaeontology and evolution of one of their most provocative thinkers, and millions of readers of an entertaining and astonishingly productive commentator on biology.”

https://www.nature.com/articles/417706a

This describes him to me from his books completely. To me, he was the ultimate Humanist. He believed and publicized Darwin’s evolution and through his books (collections of essays over 20 years) the wonders of evolution are described, not as the progression of evolutary steps to man as the greatest, but as evolution by natural selection at all levels, unlike Dawkins solely through genes and Conway Morris as God directed. He saw evolution as moving forward in jumps, Punctuated Equilibrium, which if I look back in recorded history, is how civilisation has moved forward from Aristotle; he also invented ‘exaptation’, making use of features already there for one purpose to use for something different, he examples birds developed feathers to keep warm before they adapted feathers to fly. He was not popular with his colleagues, who followed Darwin precisely that evolution was gradual over many thousands / millions of years. He had numerous confrontations with Dawkins. He also battled with creationists who pumped out that Whites were superior to Blacks have in bigger brains; Gould successfully refuted this.

But Stephen Jay Gould is dead for almost 18 years and unfortunately, to me, he is gone from the bookshelves, replaced by Dawkins (thought even he is no longer so prevalent).

He was in his lifetime ‘canonised’ by the US Congress as one of America’s living legends.

Unsurprisingly he was not a Christian but he did come forward with NOMA, Non-Overlapping Magisteria

From Wiki
‘Non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) is the view that was advocated by Stephen Jay Gould that science and religion each represent different areas of inquiry, fact vs. values, so there is a difference between the “nets”[1] over which they have “a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority,” and the two domains do not overlap.[2]

I personally have difficulty in getting my head round NOMA but never the less it is one way forward in a very difficult area.

Stephen Jay Gould was, for me, a great and erudite writer and a formidable loss to mankind at this time. He will retain a prominent place on my bookshelf,

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