Gould Talks On Creation, Evolution
By by ASHLEY SIMONSEN, Contributing Writer
There's no war between science and religion, according to Stephen Jay Gould, a famous, occasionally controversial paleontologist who addressed the College in Johnson Chapel yesterday.

"No threat of science can be a threat to theology because the facts of nature cannot identify the spiritual meaning of things," said the visiting lecturer, brought to Amherst by the Croxton Fund, which ensured that all freshmen had the opportunity to attend the lecture.

Although Gould does not deny that the creation versus evolution debate has caused "a few skirmishes" over time, Gould said that the real threat underlying the dilemma among "The Fact of Evolution and the Politics of Creationism" is the threat to America's students. According to Gould, in many communities it takes a great deal of courage to teach evolution against prevailing local sentiment-a courage that a normal high-school teacher should not need simply to do his or her job.

Although the laws in seven states that once banned evolution as part of the biological curriculum were overturned, they "cast an enormous damper on the teaching of evolution," according to Gould, that is still present and still silencing biology teachers today.

Contrary to most Americans' beliefs, Gould said, creationism is not a world-wide movement. America's history of Protestant pluralism gave rise to a number of splinter traditions, a vocal few of which advocate creationist and creation-science perspectives, Gould said. Most other countries where "there's no tradition of Biblical literalism" do not exhibit such movements, according to Gould.

He said that creation science is a political movement rather than a scientific alternative to evolution, and thus cannot challenge the validity of evolution.

"If anything, it's a conflict between people who have a rational understanding, and a small minority who have a different religious take than other religious people in the world," he said. "It really is an issue of our socio-cultural history, not an intellectual debate."

From that history, Gould specifically cited creationists' change in viewpoint following 1968 and 1986 Supreme Court decisions. First, the "fundamentalists" wanted to "ban evolution; and then, when that was clearly cast aside by the '68 Supreme Court decision, they followed a second strategy: to ask for equal time" for their "religious alternative" to be taught in schools. The equal-time initiative caused creationists to coin the term "creation science."

Gould rejected creation science as a scientific alternative, citing three reasons. First, science has to ask empirically answerable questions. Second, it must make testable hypotheses. Finally, Gould said that a scientist must be reasonable. According to Gould, "to be a scientist, you have to be willing to abandon a hypothesis when it is tested and proven wrong."

Gould also rejects Biblical literalism, a view on which creation science relies, as a valid religious perspective because of contradictions in the Bible. To suggest that creation science is valid is to say that the earth "can't be more than six to ten thousand years old," he said.

"You'd have to understand the history of billions of years in a matter of 10,000," Gould said.

That "inconsistency" is not the only one Gould sees in creation science.

"If [mass extinctions are] all one event (Noah's flood), how can the fossils be distributed in a single, invariant order? There, [the creationists] have to come forth with something." Gould said that they "make up wonderful ideas" instead of understanding that science "must be subject to invalidation."

"Invocation of miracles is not a scientific enterprise," Gould said.

"Official creationists are pretty good at debate," Gould said. "But debate is an art form about the winning of arguments. It's not a mechanism for finding the truth." Gould said that creationists, using a classic debater's tactic, "never state anything positive about [their] beliefs," but instead "peck away at those of others." The difference between an evolutionary argument and a creationist argument presents itself, he said, when creationists are forced to make statements about what they believe. Positive hypotheses from creation scientists are, in general, easily falsified with verifiable scientific data, according to Gould.

Gould has written prolifically about Charles Darwin, natural selection and evolution, including "This View of Life," the natural history column he has written for years.

In the question and answer session following the speech, Gould's attack on creationism met opposition by three audience members, one of whom said that he was "arrogant and pompous" and accused him of being anti-Catholic.

"I agree scientifically with Gould, but I feel like he was really looking down on people with other views than his," said Alison White '04. "I'm a Catholic. He seemed very pompous."

But other attendees said that Gould was fair.

"I really respect Stephen Jay Gould, and I can understand that this is a controversial issue, but I don't think he was given the respect he deserved in the debate session that ensued afterward," said Jazmine Arroyo '04.

Not everyone was satisfied with the lecture.

"I was a little disappointed," said Eric Vennemeyer '04. "I'd read one of his articles beforehand, so I was pretty familiar with what he had to say, but I didn't feel like I got a lot of new information."

"He was too pushy with his beliefs, and maybe, unintentionally, he offended a lot of people," said Hannah Whang '04. "It was the 'him show.'"

Issue 02, Submitted 2000-09-13 15:41:35