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May 20: Stephen Jay Gould

Lawrence Bush
May 20, 2010

Stephen Jay GouldEvolutionary biologist and paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, one of the most widely read scientists of our time, died on this date in 2002 at the age of 61. Raised in a radical, secular Jewish home in Bayside, Queens, Gould was active in the civil rights movement and wrote widely about pseudoscience and racism. His key contribution to science was the theory of punctuated equilibrium, which viewed evolution as marked by lengthy, stable periods punctuated by sudden change. Gould campaigned against creationism and “intelligent design” and urged that religion and science be considered separate “magisteria.” He was also an outspoken opponent of human sociobiology and participated in public spats with E.O.Wilson and Richard Dawkins. A columnist for Natural History, Gould issued several collections of his essays, including Ever Since Darwin and The Panda’s Thumb, as well as other books that applied his wide-ranging knowledge, enthusiasm, and humanistic passion to a broad raft of topics. During his struggle with cancer, he became a vocal advocate of medical marijuana. Gould voiced a cartoon version of himself on The Simpsons and died two days before the show aired.
“The most important scientific revolutions all include, as their only common feature, the dethronement of human arrogance from one pedestal after another of previous convictions about our centrality in the cosmos.” —Stephen Jay Gould
Watch an interview with Stephen Jay Gould, part of the BBC series Seven Wonders of the World (1995)

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.