Stephen J. Gould, Where Are You?


How I wish Stephen J. Gould would rise again—as that other brilliant Jewish innovator allegedly did 2,000 years ago—and deliver us, once and for all, from some of the latter’s less bright present-day followers.

I’m talking, of course, about the creationist fools who continue to make a mockery of themselves almost a century after the Scopes trial.

Exhibiting as much intelligence as the Australopithecines whose place among our ancestors their ilk vigorously denies, an association of Christian lawyers called the “Liberal Legal Institute” has muscled the Justice Department into an investigation of Michael L. Dini, a Texas Tech University biology professor.

Dini’s punitive sin? As reported in the New York Times, he refuses to write letters of recommendation to medical or graduate schools for students who do not accept the theory of evolution. When a premedical student of Dr. Dini’s got wind of this, he cried foul because he felt that to accept the theory of evolution would be “to deny [his] faith as a Christian.”

It goes without saying—or, better, it should go without saying—that no biologist should have to write a letter of recommendation for a student who denies, as Dini describes it to the Times, the “central, unifying principle of biology.”

Creationists are laughable—most people with a semi-rational approach to the world and half a brain will agree on that. To engage the particulars of the creationist position is to implicitly grant it a level of credibility and legitimacy that it does not deserve.

That said, we should not become complacent in combating small manifestations of parasitic ignorance like the current business at Texas Tech. The old cliché tells us that where there’s smoke, there’s fire—and where one ignoramus attempts to conflate the tales of his own scripture with the purity of the most fundamental scientific theory of the biological sciences—there’s millions more waiting in the wings.

Gould expended a tremendous amount of time and energy fighting the good fight to ensure that church remained separate from science in American classrooms. His high profile and the great deal of respect he garnered, from loyal supporters and begrudging critics alike, made him a formidable advocate for the likes of Professor Dini. His death has left a void that, I hope, another scientist of similar repute will have the courage to fill.

With any luck, perhaps the next doyen of the pro-science, anti-creationist movement will be another Harvard professor. Nothing, indeed, could be a more apt or vital part of University President Lawrence H. Summers’ professed commitment to the biological sciences, and nothing could better honor professor Gould’s legacy.

As we Harvardians struggle to meet Summers’ expectations and distinguish “a gene from a chromosome,” we would do well to remember that many of our fellow Americans still refuse to distinguish a scientific theory from their own religious doctrine.

—Zachary S. Podolsky ’04 is an editorial editor.