The president who ran on hope and change continues the same unqualified support for Israel that previous presidents did. Since our support for Israel has been specifically identified as a major cause for anti-American sentiment in the Islamic world, wouldn’t it be a good idea to re-examine this position?
September 10th was the late paleontologist and writer Stephen Jay Gould’s birthday. There have been several dedications to Gould on skeptic websites celebrating his promotion of science and evolution in particular. Paleontologist Donald Prothero wrote a tribute to him on Skepticblog.org . Prothero also dedicated his book Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters to Gould and Niles Eldredge. I have also heard neuroscientist and prominent skeptic Steven Novella, express his fondness for Gould. I am an admirer of Prothero’s work. Evolution is one of my all time favorites and I still have my historical geology textbook from college which he wrote. I also consider Novella as one of the best examples of a skeptic and rationalist. But I must confess my confusion on the amount of respect that Gould receives from scientists and skeptics alike.
My impression of Gould has always been that he used science as a medium for his political and ideological agendas. I remember first reading Gould’s books in high school. I was a creationist at the time and i had begun reading my “opponents'” works. I started with Richard Dawkins but was soon reading Gould as well. I remember the biting logic that countered my religious belief from Dawkins and how he challenged my deeply held views with such logic and rigor. On the other hand I remember Gould’s writing being mostly vacuous and convoluted. I often found myself confused as to the point he was trying to make. He seemed to address his works to not only someone who was not a scientist, but someone who was unscientific as well. I shelved Gould for many years and never found a desire to return to his works.
Being a science enthusiast and eventually becoming involved in studying skepticism, I encounter Gould quite frequently. Recently, I have begun re-examining Gould’s works and have come to the conclusion that my instincts when I was young were correct after all.
Gould’s greatest claim to fame is the principle of punctuated equilibrium which he and Niles Eldredge introduced in the 70’s. I had had discussions with others about punctuated equilibrium and it was generally presented to me as a revolutionary idea. However, my first academic experience with it was in my Invertebrate Paleontology course in college. The text (which I still have) mentions it briefly but admits that it was a principle that Darwin had already discussed. The authors quote the following from Origin of the Species,
although each species must have passed through numerous transitional stages, it is probable that the periods, during which each underwent modification, though many and long as measured by years, have been short in comparison with the periods during which each remained in an unchanged condition. 
In The Blind Watchmaker, biologist Richard Dawkins points out that Gould and Eldredge’s “revolution” against gradualism is nothing more than the refutation of a non-existent strawman . Philosopher Daniel Dennett observes that after Gould and Eldredge proclaim a revolution, they are quick to backpedal and argue that their principle was nothing more than a clarification of already understood principles .
Others are less kind to Gould however. The eminent evolutionary biologist John Maynard Smith had the following to say regarding Gould,
Because of the excellence of his essays, he has come to be seen by non-biologists as the preeminent evolutionary theorist. In contrast, the evolutionary biologists with whom I have discussed his work tend to see him as a man whose ideas are so confused as to be hardly worth bothering with, but as one who should not be publicly criticized because he is at least on our side against the creationists. All this would not matter, were it not that he is giving non-biologists a largely false picture of the state of evolutionary theory .
Ernst Mayr notes that Gould and his associates,
quite conspicuously misrepresent the views of [biology’s] leading spokesmen .
In response to Gould’s book The Mismeasure of Man, psychologist Hans Eysenk wrote that,
S. J. Gould’s Mismeasure of Man is a paleontologist’s distorted view of what psychologists think, untutored in even the most elementary facts of the science. Gould is one of a number of politically motivated scientists who have consistently misled the public about what psychologists are doing in the field of intelligence, what they have discovered and what conclusions they have come to. Gould simply refuses to mention unquestionable facts that do not fit into his politically correct version; he shamelessly attacks the reputations of eminent scientists of whom he disapproves, on completely nonfactual grounds, and he misrepresents the views of scientists .
And that the book contained, “more factual errors per page than any other book I have ever read .”
Microbiologist Bernard D. Davis also sees Gould tearing down non-existent straw men in The Mismeasure of Man. Davis wrote that “Gould’s own degree of bias is unusual in a work by a scientist .” Davis attributes this bias to Gould’s fear of genetic determinism and notes that Gould is ignorant that behavioral genetics has moved beyond determinism and into interactionism,
Since Gould would prefer to combat the straw man of naive, “pure” determinism, he fails to note that the science of genetics has altogether replaced this concept with interactionism .
Morton and Bias
Among his various arguments in The Mismeasure of Man, Gould is highly critical of skull measurements by 19th century paleontologist Samuel Morton. Gould condescendingly deride’s Morton and his work when he writes,
Morton, measuring by seed, picks up a threateningly large black skull, fills it lightly and gives it a few desultory shakes. Next, he takes a distressingly small Caucasian skull, shakes hard, and pushes mightily at the foramen magnum with his thumb. It is easily done, without conscious motivation; expectation is a powerful guide to action .
In the paper he published in Science, Gould says,
I have reanalyzed Morton’s data and I find that they are a patchwork of assumption and finagling, controlled, probably unconsciously, by his conventional a priori ranking (his folks on top, slaves on the bottom) .
However, two studies have been conducted reanalyzing Morton’s measurements since Gould’s. In both studies the researches found no such finagling by Morton. In the first study the author, John S. Michael, concludes,
Contrary to Gould’s interpretation, I conclude that Morton’s research was done with integrity .
Michael notes that Morton did make some mistakes in calculations but,
There is no indication that Morton’s miscalculations or omissions had any substantial effect on his overall results.
But not only were Gould’s claims of racist bias unfounded, but Gould himself made a number of mistakes in his study. Among these Michael notes that he used data that was not in Morton’s original work and then claims that it is “corrected” data. Gould also removes several skulls from the original groups that Morton had assigned them. He omits the Hottentots from the African peoples because they were all female but elsewhere he includes an all male subsample of “English” crania in his Modern Caucasian people. He also makes no mention of Morton’s errors that did not support Morton’s assumed racial bias. This, in my opinion, makes Gould’s research highly suspect.
The second study, published in the Public Library of Science, arrives at very similar conclusions as those of Michael. The authors note that,
Our analysis of Gould’s claims reveals that most of Gould’s criticisms are poorly supported or falsified. It is doubtful that Morton equated cranial capacity and intelligence, calling into question his motivation for manipulating capacity averages. Morton did not consider the influence of sex or stature on cranial capacity, but it would have been impossible for him to use those parameters to bias the averages he reported .
our results falsify Gould’s hypothesis that Morton manipulated his data to conform with his a priori views. The data on cranial capacity gathered by Morton are generally reliable, and he reported them fully. Overall, we find that Morton’s initial reputation as the objectivist of his era was well-deserved.
And particularly indicting,
Gould’s own analysis of Morton is likely the stronger example of a bias influencing results
Supporters of Gould will often point to his success as a science popularizer, but here too I think he was unsuccessful. His promotion of science was not the promotion of valid science but confused and biased science that only served to reinforce Gould’s presupposed ideology.
2. Darwin, Charles On the Origin of the Species by Natural Selection Ch. XI, sec. 7
3. Dawkins, Richard The Blind Watchmaker Ch. 9
4. Dennett, Daniel Darwin’s Dangerous Idea Ch. 10, sec. 3
6. Mayr, Ernst (1988) Toward a new philosophy of biology: observations of an evolutionist p. 535
7. Eysenk, Hans (1998) Intelligence — A New Look p. 3
8. ibid p. 10
9. Davis, Bernard D. (Fall 1983) Neo-Lysenkoism, IQ, and the press. National Affairs Issue #73
11. Gould, S.J. (1996) The Mismeasure of Man p. 97
12. Gould S. J (1978) Morton’s ranking of races by cranial capacity: unconscious manipulation of data may be a scientific norm. Science 200: 503–509.
13. Michael, John S. (1988) A New Look at Morton’s Craniological Research. Current Anthropology Vol. 29, No. 2
14. The Mismeasure of Science: Stephen Jay Gould versus Samuel George Morton on Skulls and Bias
I like you. You have balls. I like balls.
Egyptian Terrorist Team America
Once again Ron Paul stands alone on stage speaking the truth regarding America’s interventionist foreign policy. And once again he is jeered by the audience. This is reminiscent of the debate in the 2008 presidential campaign when Paul corrected Rudy Giuliani on 9/11, who in turn demanded a retraction (1). Ron Paul didn’t retract then and he shouldn’t retract now.
It’s pretty interesting that Ron Paul was booed for condemning the interventionist foreign policy of the United States at a Tea Party debate when it was Paul who was the major force behind starting the Tea Party. The first Tea Party gathering was lead by Paul in Boston in 2007 on the anniversary of the original Tea Party (2). One of the major drives of that gathering, as well as Paul’s entire campaign, was the opposition to the War in Iraq.
The foreign policy question epitomizes my major objection with the Tea Party movement. While economically the movement has called for a more responsible approach, the foreign policy espoused from Tea Party leaders and candidates (excluding Paul) resembles the same interventionalism of the neo-conservatives. It appears that in less than five years the movement has been overrun by more neo-conservatives than libertarians.
From the 9/11 Commission report,
He (Osama bin Laden) also stresses grievances against the United States widely shared in the Muslim world. He inveighed against the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, the home of Islam’s holiest sites. He spoke of the suffering of the Iraqi people as a result of sanctions imposed after the Gulf War, and he protested U.S. support of Israel (3).
3. 9/11 Commission Report Section 2.1
A brilliant and somber review of the past decade in the United States. The author hits upon the great tragedy of our “lost decade” when he writes,
The decade since 9/11 is the real lost decade for America. We lost the chance to maintain relative peace and quiet in the years since the Cold War, respond to 9/11 sanely and thoughtfully, and spare trillions of dollars, many thousands of lives, and an immeasurable wealth of our liberties. The full opportunity cost of how the United States under both parties’ leadership has responded to the events 10 years ago is chilling even to ponder. The recession we still suffer could have possibly been avoided if 10 years ago peace were chosen rather than war — a choice very few were willing to defend then, and too few are willing to consider today.
Like the author, I was optimistic towards Bush in 2000 because I was fed up with the interventionism of Clinton/Gore. I voted for Bush for governor of Texas and while I had my misgivings about him on several other policies, I thought he would at least be sane on foreign policy. Like the Bush-ites repeatedly chanted, “everything changed after 9/11,” and we got the greatest increase of tyrannical foreign policy and abuse of civil liberties since the Vietnam War.
The way I see it, the only hope for peace and prosperity for the United States is to begin electing officials who understand the limits of executive and legislative power. So far the Democrats offer no one close to this and there is only Ron Paul among Republicans. He has his flaws like any candidate but abusing power does not seem to be among them.
Dr. Miranda Jones: The glory of creation is in its infinite diversity.
Commander Spock: And the way our differences combine to create meaning and beauty.
Star Trek: The Original Series
A popular argument used by theists is ‘The Argument from Beauty.’ Basically the argument points to a brilliant artist or composer and claims that their genius could not be the result of their own abilities alone. There must have been divine intervention. Richard Dawkins addresses this argument in The God Delusion and notes that,
If there is a logical argument linking the existence of great art to the existence of God, it is not spelled out by its proponents. It is simply assumed to be self-evident, which it most certainly is not. Maybe it is to be seen as yet another version of the argument from design: Schubert’s musical brain is a wonder of improbability, even more so than the vertebrate’s eye (1).
It is undeniable that many great artists and composers have been inspired by their religious devotion. But many of the great artists were also inspired by such things as Greek and Roman mythologies. Does this give more credence to those beliefs? There are many great works that have nothing to do with Christianity or any other currently practiced religion. While artistic opinions are subjective, I contend that William Bouguereau’s Nymphes et Satyre (below left) is as beautiful as any religious painting.
Another fantastic work of art is Nicholas Poussin’s Rape of the Sabine Women (below right) which is based on a pseudo-historical tale whereby Roman men seized the women of Sabine by force to take as wives. Does this great work lose its luster because it has no religious significance?
Furthermore, theists are quick to point to Handel’s Messiah or Mozart’s Requiem Mass as conclusive evidence for divine inspiration, but what of Handel’s Agrippina or Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail, neither of which have religious meaning? Are they any less inspired when their content is historical?
There are numerous examples of great works of art that have no religious meaning at all. The Mona Lisa, The Vitruvian Man are two very popular da Vinci pieces. In addition to his well known sculptures Pietà and David, Michelangelo also sculpted the effigies at the tombs of Giuliano and Lorenzo de Medici (below respectively). These works could hardly be considered any less worthy of praise than his more popular works.
Of course a beautiful work of art does not mean that the message involved is necessarily beautiful. An entire wall of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is devoted to the Last Judgment where sinners are seen begging for mercy and being dragged to hell by demons. Or consider some of the lyrics of Mozart’s Requiem,
While the music may well be sublime the message of eternal damnation and suffering is chilling.
Dawkins accurately points out in the quote above that the adherents of The Argument from Beauty are never clear as to what the actual argument is. Dawkins also surmises that there may also be some measure of jealousy among them. As he puts it,
How dare another human being make such beautiful music/poetry/art, when I can’t? It must be God that did it (2).
I think it’s very possible that Dawkins may be right.
1. Dawkins, Richard The God Delusion. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company (2006 ) p. 111