Gould, Stephen Jay


Stephen Jay Gould (1941–2002) was a Harvard‐based American palaeontologist (‘paleobiologist’) and popular science writer who was known for his theory of ‘punctuated equilibrium’, evolution by jumps, as well as his fights against creationism and human sociobiology. He saw evolutionary theory as hierarchical and believed that at the top levels there was a process he called ‘species selection’, something that palaeontologists uniquely are able to discern and understand. Although his work was much appreciated by the general public, he could irritate his fellow scientists. No one, however, denied the deep moral passions that drove his thinking and writing.

Keywords: Darwinism; evolution; paleobiology; popular science; punctuated equilibrium; spandrel; adaptationism; progress; sociobiology; Burgess Shale; Magisterium; baseball; hierarchy; species selection

Figure 1.

Comparison of life as envisioned by punctuated equilibrium (a) and phyletic gradualism (b) © Prof. Michael Ruse.

Figure 2.

Artificial and genuine clades compared. (top) computer generated clades and (bottom) real branchiopod clades. Reproduced from Gould et al. (). © The Paleontological Society.

Figure 3.

Human progress. Gould said of this that it is ‘a noxious, culturally embedded, untestable, nonoperational, intractable idea that must be replaced if we wish to understand the patterns of history’ (Gould , p. 319). © Prof. Michael Ruse.

Figure 4.

A spandrels (from the Villa Farnesina). Photograph by Emily Ruse. © Prof. Michael Ruse.

Figure 5.

Hallucigenia, one of the more striking of the denizens of the Burgess Shale. No one was quite sure which side was up. © Prof. Michael Ruse.



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Further Reading

Lewin R (1980) Evolutionary theory under fire. Science 210: 883–887.

Ruse M (1989) Is the theory of punctuated equilibria a new paradigm? Journal of Social and Biological Structures 12: 195–212.

Ruse M and Travis J (eds) (2009) Evolution: The First Four Billion Years. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Sterelny K (2003) Dawkins vs Gould: Survival of the Fittest. London: Icon Books.

Turner D (2011) Palaeontology: A Philosophical Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Ruse, Michael(Apr 2014) Gould, Stephen Jay. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0025067]