I was disappointed to see that your centre spread entitled “Charles Darwin: the Reluctant Revolutionary” (November 2009 edition) was a relatively biased presentation of Darwin and the relevance of his revolutionary ideas. Your readers may not be aware that Stephen Jay Gould is specifically a paleontologist, whose preference for a view of evolution as “punctuated equilibrium” has been amply rebutted, especially by Richard Dawkins. As a paleontologist, Gould studies the fossil record. Revelatory though it may be, the fossil record is only one source of information that evolutionary biologists draw on to try to construct as complete as possible an explanation of the history of life on Earth. Fossilisation is a rare event on Earth, as it has to have precise conditions to take place. It is by its very nature incomplete and erratic. The best science we have available to us today disagrees with Gould’s conception of the workings of evolution.
By giving undue attention to the “dialectical science” of Stephen Jay Gould, the author appeared to be consciously trying to align her science with her political allegiances. That’s poor science and also poor politics. A scientific explanation either has the weight of evidence on its side or it doesn’t, regardless of your particular political views.
It was also odd to read the way the author smuggled Marx and Engels into the discussion at the article’s conclusion. An exciting intellectual movement is underway in fields such as evolutionary psychology, cognitive neuroscience and Darwinian philosophy. These “new sciences of human nature”, as Steven Pinker has called them, do not follow the theoretical framework of Marx and Engels and they have given us important new insights into some deep questions facing humanity. We should listen to and learn from the best of the scholars in these fields. If their findings should come into conflict with articles of faith held by Marxists and other leftists, we should resist the temptation to dismiss them as merely “bourgeois scientists” (as if that insult alone were enough to rebut an argument).