Sunday, October 18, 2009

Against Stephen J. Gould

A debate has been raging for several years now. This discussion involves the idea of science versus the Bible, which one is right? Is science, with the idea that the world is billions of years old and that man had the same ancestors as monkeys right, or is the Bible, with the idea that man was created by G-d and the world is only 6,000 years old, right? First, before this topic is dealt with, the question must be asked, do these two ideas, in fact, contradict one another? Surely, only someone with enough understanding of both sides can even entertain the thought of trying to answer this complicated question. The author, Stephen Jay Gould, believed that he could understand and answer this question. He believed he could tell the world the ideas behind both sides, but could he succeed by properly representing both sides of this argument?

Until recently, Stephen Jay Gould, some would say, was one of the most brilliant people out there. His books were sold in the millions and several people revered him for his academia. He won several awards for his books including the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Award. As a professor at Harvard, he increased his popularity tenfold with a more select crowd. All of these details show us how knowledgeable and revered Dr. Gould was before his passing. Even with all of this acclaim, the question still arises, was he the right person to solve this debate of the Bible versus science?

In Stephen Jay Gould’s essay “Genesis and Geology” he starts off by appearing to represent two sides of this classic debate. Gould brings in W. E. Gladstone, a Greek scholar and a former prime minister, to represent the Bible’s point of view and uses Thomas Henry Huxley, an adamant agnostic, to represent the view of science. Within this argument Gladstone explains that the Bible's order of creation can in fact be the same as science’s order of creation. For example, Gladstone does not argue that the Bible is saying that the world was created in six days, but rather explains that the six days mentioned in Genesis are really a longer period of time. He is quoted in “Bully for Brontosaurus” as saying, “The ‘days’ of creation are metaphors for periods of undetermined length separating the major acts of coherent sequences (404).” This shows how Gladstone’s argument is trying to explain the Bible’s point of view in conjunction with science’s point of view that the world is really much older than 6,000 years.

Thomas Huxley did not appreciate this at all. Gould states a counterargument that Huxley made, “First, while the broadest brush of the Genesis sequence might be correct—plants first and people last—many of the details are wrong by the testimony of geological evidence from the fossil record (404).” Huxley is coming to tell us that even though you can make the general ideas of the Bible congruent with scientific ideas, you will still be unable to make the whole Bible agree to scientific ideas. This was the main debate between Huxley and Gladstone.

In “Bully for Brontosaurus” this debate between Gladstone and Huxley is not seen as an argument where both sides, Bible and science, are given equal credibility as Gould would first have you believe. Gould tries to make the reader think that he is going to represent two sides of a debate, but in truth the reader only ends up hearing how wrong the Bible was in its explanation of creation. Gould even says about Gladstone’s argument, “But Gladstone came to grief on his major claim—the veracity of the Genesis sequence…So he took refuge in the oldest ploy of debate. He made an end run around his disproved argument and changed terms of discussion (410).” By telling us this fact Gould is showing us how he picked a debate where the person’s explanation of the Bible’s point of view was inaccurate. How then could Gould have given both points of view, scientific and Biblical, if the person representing the Bible’s point of view was not in fact the view of the Bible? Why wouldn’t Gould have chosen a different representative of the Bible’s point of view that is clear and accurate? This leads one to believe that Gould was not trying to represent both sides of the argument, but rather only one side, agnostic.

Gould also presents Huxley, the representative of science’s point of view, in a highly favorable light. He explicitly puts down anyone who believes in the Bible’s way of creation while giving Huxley credibility. He states “It doesn’t matter a damn because Huxley was right…Gladstone and most modern purveyors of his argument have missed the essence of the kind of MYTH(I am emphasizing) that Genesis 1 represents(412).” Gould is very haughty here and he does not care for both sides of this argument as he had you believe in the beginning of this essay. In the beginning of this essay Gould gives off the impression that he will represent both sides fairly, but we see he is not trying to do that in the end.

Keeping in mind that Gould himself was an Atheist, it comes as no shock that he is trying to show the Bible in a negative light. Gould explicitly shows us how he does not believe in the truth of the Bible by saying, “Would such a correspondence mean that G-d dictated the Torah word for word, of course not (415).” This is clearly an attack on anyone who holds that the Bible is from G-d. All of the people who explain how the Bible’s explanation of creation can coexist with science’s explanation of creation believe that G-d wrote the Bible, or else they would not feel a need to reconcile these two points of view. By stating that the Bible is not from G-d, Gould is showing that he is not trying to reconcile the ideas brought in Genesis and science, but rather he is trying to verify one idea, that the bible is false.

This essay of Genesis vs. Geology definitely does not portray both sides of the debate the author is bringing. It is clearly one sided. In no way does Stephen Jay Gould even entertain the thought of the Bible’s ideas even remotely coexisting with science’s ideas. If Stephen Jay Gould would have brought other arguments, like discussions among his contemporary counterparts that clearly believe in the Bible’s veracity and prove it in their own essays through scientific ideas, then I would say he is trying to show the two sides of this discussion. Sadly, Gould did not try to represent both sides and leaves his readers with only one side of this debate.

As a person that believes in the veracity of the bible I can say that reading this essay has opened my eyes in some ways. First, the only way to have real understanding of this debate is to hear both sides from two people who are on opposite sides of this debate, not just one atheist. The reader needs to hear the Bible’s aspect from a person knowledgeable in the Bible’s reasoning, and hear the scientific approach from a scientist that is knowledgeable in the scientific approach. However, someone who is not familiar to this debate and perceives both sides from only one aspect will not truly understand the debate. I believe that there should be a counterargument written against Stephen Jay Gould’s argument and it should explain the truth behind the Bible’s point of view.

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