Saturday, September 10, 2011

Stephen Jay Gould (September 10, 1941)

For years we subscribed to Natural History so that we could read Stephen Jay Gould's column about new discoveries in evolution and effective ways to struggle against the monkeys who wanted to teach and legislate creationism (or whatever they called it that year). His books and writings educated us and many others about developments in this science, and also about the challenges of coping with anti-scientific thought as it was emerging in America. Since Gould died in 2002, the situation has only grown worse -- the anti-science and anti-intellectual tone of national politics is deplorable, as documented by the current New York Times column by Paul Krugman, "Republicans Against Science" and in many other places.

Gould's scientific and personal values and accomplishments didn't depend on his own religious background -- though indeed it was secular and Jewish. Gould was proud that his Jewish ancestors had escaped tyranny to come to the United States, and conscious of a variety of ironies. For example, in his book The Mismeasure of Man he attacked IQ tests – his attack seems to have been “illuminated by the knowledge that the most popular early use of I.Q. tests had been to think up ways to keep out people like Gould's Jewish immigrant grandparents.”

A collection of obituaries for Gould indicate that he was a purely secular Jew. And a hero!

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