Stephen Jay Gould

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Stephen Jay Gould

Stephen Jay Gould (1941 – 2002) was an American paleontologist, author, and professor at Harvard University. Stephen Gould was one of the originators of the theory of punctuated equilibrium within the theory of evolution, a position that has led to confrontations with other evolutionists. He was known for his regular columns in Natural History magazine, collected in dozens of books. Gould also wrote The Mismeasure of Man, Wonderful Life and The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. Along with his evolutionary theories, he is perhaps best known as a historian of science.

Although there is a certain degree of public confusion as far as the whether or not Gould was an atheist or agnostic, his late widow Dr. Gould-Rhonda R. Shearer wrote: "For the record, my late husband, Stephen Jay Gould, told me many times that he was an agnostic and not an 'atheist'. Eleanor, Steve's late mother, was an atheist."[1][2] Due to Gould's view of evolution being in sharp contradiction with those of ultra-Darwinists such as W.Hamilton and E.Wilson, science writer R.Wright dismissively labeled Gould as "the accidental creationist".[3]

The Mismeasure of Man

Gould's most popular work, by far, was his 1981 book The Mismeasure of Man. It is an attack on the idea that intelligence is a single, physically real and objectively measurable phenomenon, and argues that attempts to measure intelligence as such are fundamentally unscientific, racist, and contrary to liberal ideals. The book was widely praised by many academics on the left as making an important statement against racism, but criticized as politically-driven junk science by experts in the field.[Citation Needed]

Non-Overlapping Magisteria

He is also well known for his concept of non-overlapping magisteria, which suggested that science and religion occupy two entirely separate "magisteria". He claimed that in each of these fields either religion or science reigned supreme and that the other should not, indeed could not, set foot therein.[4] This distinction was Gould's approach to making an accommodation between religion and science and allow them to live and grow side by side. In his view, proponents of religion can believe whatever they want as long as they concede that their beliefs have no relevance to the objective measurements of science.

The Stephen Jay Gould vs. intelligent design proponent Philip E. Johnson at Harvard University

See also: Creation vs. evolution debates

Intelligent design proponent Phillip E. Johnson debated the evolutionary paleontologist and agnostic Stephen Gould at Harvard University before a select audience of elite American intellectuals in a closed door event not open to the public. The debate was considered a draw. At the end of the debate, Johnson hugged Gould and he noticed in the embrace that Gould was nervously shaking.[5] Both theists and atheists frequently accuse agnostics of being cowardly, due to their wishy-washy rejection of God.[6] Studs Terkel, a self-described agnostic, jokingly referred to the frequent charge of agnostics being called cowardly, "You happen to be talking to an agnostic. You know what an agnostic is? A cowardly atheist".[7]


Gould was fond of citing Sigmund Freud, with this being one of his favorites:

Sigmund Freud often remarked that great revolutions in the history of science have but one common, and ironic, feature: they knock human arrogance off one pedestal after another of our previous conviction about our own self-importance. In Freud's three examples, Copernicus moved our home from center to periphery, Darwin then relegated us to "descent from an animal world"; and, finally (in one of the least modest statements of intellectual history), Freud himself discovered the unconscious and exploded the myth of a fully rational mind.[8]


  3. E.J. Larson (2006). Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory. New York: Modern Library, 284. ISBN 0-8129-6849-2. 
  4. SJG Archive - Non-Overlapping Magisteria
  5. Meyer on Phillip Johnson’s Courage, ID the Future website, the account of the debate begins at the 4 minute 45 second portion of the audio recording
  6. Studs Terkel, a self-described agnostic, jokingly referred to the frequent charge of agnostics being called cowardly, "You happen to be talking to an agnostic. You know what an agnostic is? A cowardly atheist".[1]
  7. Interview:Studs Terkel, PBS

External links