Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Denyse O’Leary’s Latest Absurdity

For those of you who don’t know of her, Denyse O’Leary is sort of the ID movement’s demented, spastic little cheerleader. She’s a Canadian journalist who spends most of her time making profoundly silly claims in support of ID. Her latest bit of loopiness is to claim that Stephen Jay Gould would not have signed the NCSE’s Project Steve statement, named after him, in support of evolution. That statement reads:

Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to “intelligent design,” to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation’s public schools.

O’Leary quotes Stuart Pivar, who claims to have been a good friend of Gould’s, as saying that he is certain that Gould would never have agreed to such a statement. Here’s his, uh, “reasoning”:

Steve Gould (the Ursteve of the famous Steve list of the NCSE) clearly did not believe in natural selection as the primary cause of evolutionary change.

The 600 listed scientists named Steve claim the belief that evolution happened, and that natural selection is the mechanical process which causes it. Stephen Jay Gould would not have signed this list.

But of course, the statement doesn’t say that natural selection is the mechanical process which causes evolution. It says that natural selection is “a major mechanism in its occurrence.” And that it is. No evolutionary biologist denies the role of natural selection, and no evolutionary biologist denies that non-selective mechanisms like genetic drift are also a factor in the history of evolution. Gould not only did not deny that, he emphatically embraced it. No one who is the least bit familiar with Gould’s voluminous writings on the subject could take Pivar or O’Leary seriously here and several of my colleagues have stepped up to show the many places in Gould’s writings where he proves them wrong.

Andrea Bottaro, writing on the Panda’s Thumb, cites Gould’s magnum opus, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, showing that he accepted the primary role of natural selection while maintaining that developmental constraints and contingent factors also had influence on the pathways taken in evolutionary history. Jason Rosenhouse cites yet more evidence from Gould that are squarely against the assertions of his “friend”. and Pat Hayes piles on a bit more. O’Leary went back to talk to Pivar after all of this and his response shows that he truly is off his rocker:

The Steve List is the appropriation of his name in the propagation of a theory which he opposed his entire life long. Every statement SJG ever made rejects natural selection, and none can be found in its support.

That’s more than enough evidence to write off Pivar completely. He is either a bald-faced liar or he is living in a fantasy world. I find it rather easy to find a statement from Gould in support of natural selection as a major mechanism of evolution. In an article in which he denies that natural selection is required for every single adaptation and denies that it is ubiquitous, he nonetheless states unequivocally that it is one of the primary mechanisms of evolution:

Natural selection, an immensely powerful idea with radical philosophical implications, is surely a major cause of evolution, as validated in theory and demonstrated by countless experiments.

Just a bit of research would have shown O’Leary that Pivar is completely off base here, but being the delusional cheerleader for ID that she is, she actually thinks is a “scandal” that promises to grow. The only scandal here is how this woman ever got taken seriously enough to be called a journalist anywhere but the National Enquirer.


  1. #1 Wesley R. Elsberry
    October 25, 2005

    I don’t recall seeing journalism in her background. Her means of achieving the title of “journalist” appears to consist of calling herself one and selling articles. Heck, my job for a couple of years in college was as a staff photographer for the campus paper; I took a journalism course, too. As far as I know, I have better credentials as a journalist than she does. Of course, simply claiming unearned status is the modus operandi of “intelligent design”.

  2. #2 decrepitoldfool
    October 25, 2005

    “journalism” is a today nothing more than a style of writing. Near as I can tell, these days it has little to do with digging up facts and exposing lies.

  3. #3 Gary Hurd
    October 25, 2005

    “demented, spastic little cheerleader”

    Jeeze, I only called her a “creationist pustule” and she went nuts.

    I wrote this some time ago, in “Dembski’s Five Questions: Number One.”

    “And perhaps we should afford the dead the last word here, as they cannot have it by mere dint of living longest. Gould’s review of Phillip Johnson’s Darwin on Trial can be taken as a considered opinion of the totality of Intelligent Design Creationism.

    Gould wrote:

    “Johnson’s grandiose claims, backed by such poor support in fact and argument, recall a variety of phrases from a mutually favorite source: “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind” (Proverbs 11:29, and source for the famous play that dramatized the Scopes trial); “They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7). But Darwin on Trial just isn’t good enough to merit such worrisome retorts. The book is scarcely more than an acrid little puff–and I therefore close with a famous line from Darwin’s soulmate, born on the same day of February 12, 1809. Abraham Lincoln wrote: “‘And this, too, shall pass away.’ How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!” (1992)

  4. #4 Dave S.
    October 26, 2005

    Pat Myers piles on a bit more.

    Ed, I think you mean Pat Hayes.

  5. #5 Ed Brayton
    October 26, 2005

    Ack, yes I meant Pat Hayes. I have no idea why I said Pat Myers. Thanks, Dave.

  6. #6 Dave S.
    October 26, 2005

    Probably you were doing some channeling of the spirit of Paul Myers at the time.

    Anyhoo, she has since responded to the Hayes’ article in Red State Rabble.

    Well, Pat, Gould’s friend is making the noise. Right? Wrong? Either way, it’s a story. But my money’s on the friend. I don’t make this up. I couldn’t. Incidentally, the peppered moth example you cited is just the sort of minor change that Pivar said Gould WOULD allow to natural selection, but he denied that it could do the huge things that, for example, Dawkins would credit it with.

    There you have it. Who are you going to believe in what Gould thinks …. Gould himself or this “friend”? It’s obvious to Denyse “please-oh-please-buy-my-book” O’Leary who you go with.

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