Steven J. Gould

(1) Fate and Destiny Are Not Ideas in Evolutionary History

Stephen Jay Gould September 10, 1941 – May 20, 2002) 

Was an American paleontologist,evolutionary biologist and historian of science. He was also one of the most influential and widely read writers ofpopular science of his generation. Gould spent most of his career teaching at Harvard University and working at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. In the later years of his life, Gould also taught biology and evolution at New York University.

Gould's most significant contribution to evolutionary biology was the theory of punctuated equilibrium, which he developed with Niles Eldredge in 1972. The theory proposes that most evolution is marked by long periods of evolutionary stability, which is punctuated by rare instances of branching evolution. The theory was contrasted against phyletic gradualism, the popular idea that evolutionary change is marked by a pattern of smooth and continuous change in the fossil record.

Most of Gould's empirical research was based on the land snail genera Poecilozonites and Cerion. He also contributed to evolutionary developmental biology, and has received wide praise for his book Ontogeny and Phylogeny. In evolutionary theory he opposed strict selectionism, sociobiology as applied to humans, andevolutionary psychology. He campaigned against creationism and proposed that science and religion should be considered two distinct fields (or "magisteria") whose authorities do not overlap.

Gould was known by the general public mainly from his 300 popular essays in the magazine Natural History,and his books written for a non-specialist audience. In April 2000, the US Library of Congress named him a "Living Legend".


Stephen Jay Gould was born and raised in the community of Bayside, a neighborhood of the northeastern section of Queens in New York City. His father, Leonard, was a court stenographer, and his mother, Eleanor, was an artist whose parents were Jewish immigrants living and working in the city's Garment District. When Gould was five years old, his father took him to the Hall of Dinosaurs in the American Museum of Natural History, where he first encountered Tyrannosaurus rex. "I had no idea there were such things—I was awestruck," Gould once recalled. It was in that moment that he decided to become a paleontologist.

Raised in a secular Jewish home, Gould did not formally practice religion and preferred to be called an agnostic. Though he "had been brought up by a Marxist father", he stated that his father's politics were "very different" from his own. In describing his own political views, he has said they "tend to the left of center". According to Gould the most influential political books he read were C. Wright MillsThe Power Elite and the political writings of Noam Chomsky.

While attending Antioch College in the early 1960s, Gould was active in the civil rights movement and often campaigned for social justice. When he attended the University of Leedsas a visiting undergraduate, he organized weekly demonstrations outside a Bradford dance hall which refused to admit Blacks. Gould continued these demonstrations until the policy was revoked. Throughout his career and writings, he spoke out against cultural oppression in all its forms, especially what he saw as the pseudoscience used in the service of racism and sexism.

Interspersed throughout his scientific essays for Natural History magazine, Gould frequently referred to his nonscientific interests and pastimes. As a boy he collected baseball cardsand remained a New York Yankees fan throughout his life. As an adult he was fond of science fiction movies, but often lamented their mediocrity (not just in their presentation of science, but in their storytelling as well). His other interests included singing in the Boston Cecilia, and he was a great aficionado of Gilbert and Sullivan operas. He collectedrare antiquarian books and textbooks. He often traveled to Europe, and spoke French, German, Russian, and Italian. He admired Renaissance architecture. When discussing theJudeo-Christian tradition, he usually referred to it simply as "Moses". He sometimes alluded ruefully to his tendency to put on weight.

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