Even Evolution's Priests May Doubt
There's a narrative that should be familiar to most of us by now: a man is considered the great hero of the faith, a sign of hope for every true believer as he advances its claims, but secretly he struggles with his doubts about what he's preaching.
This time, there's a twist to the old story: the faith the man espoused publicly was Darwin's theory, and the man was the brilliant Stephen Jay Gould.
In Suzan Mazur's fascinating new book, The Altenberg 16: An Exposé of the Evolution Industry, Richard Milner describes Gould as "a popular articulator of Darwinian evolution to a new generation, while privately, his creative and rebellious mind sought to move beyond it." (emphasis added) A personal friend of Gould's, as well as his editor at Natural History magazine, Milner goes on to explain that "Gould took issue with those who used natural selection carelessly as a mantra, as in the evidence-free 'just-so stories' concocted out of thin air by mentally lazy adaptationists."
So here we have a picture of a man committed to his creed ("The universe is all there is, or ever was, or ever will be") who was nonetheless unhappy with the easy answers of reductionists such as Richard Dawkins.
As David Berlinski noted:
In The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, Gould came very close to expressing the obvious but forbidden thought that while variation and natural selection bulk large in evolutionary theology, they should weigh little in evolutionary theory. If this is so, what then remains of Darwinism as a doctrine? It was a question that Gould declined to ask, perhaps because criticism at the hands of his intellectual inferiors made him sensitive to the distinction between fearlessness and folly.
We are familiar with these tragic figures longing to find the courage and opportunity to rebel against the orthodoxy and leave the faith... but they're usually not scientists.
Correction: This post originally attributed the quotes above to Stuart Pivar.