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Stephen Jay Gould and Anti-Hereditarianism

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JP Rushton

Richard Lynn

L:inda Gottfredson


2000 words

Stephen Jay Gould was one of the biggest opponents of hereditarianism, one of Rushton and Jensens’s biggest opponents. He is the author of The Mismeasure of Man, which is still given to college students to read as a “definitive refutation of The Bell Curve” and an all out attack on factor analysis, IQ testing and the whole hereditarian position at large. A passage from the very end of his book Full House perfectly explains his thought process on this matter:

“The most impressive contrast between natural evolution and cultural evolution lies embedded in the major fact of our history. We have no evidence that the modal form of human bodies or brains has changed at all in the past 100,000 years—a standard phenomenon of stasis for successful and widespread species, and not (as popularly misconceived) an odd exception to an expectation of continuous and progressive change. The Cro-Magnon people who painted the caves of the Lascaux and Altamira some fifteen thousand years ago are us—and one look at the incredible richness and beauty of this work convinces us, in the most immediate and visceral way, that Picasso held no edge in mental sophistication over these ancestors with identical brains. And yet, fifteen thousand years ago no human social grouping had produced anything that would conform with our standard definition of civilization. No society had yet invented agriculture; none had built permanent cities. Everything that we have accomplished in the unmeasurable geological moment of the last ten thousand years—from the origin of agriculture to the Sears building in Chicago, the entire panoply of human civilization for better or for worse—has been built upon the capacities of an unaltered brain. Clearly, cultural change can vastly outstrip the maximal rate of natural Darwinian evolution.” (Gould, 1996: 220)

He wrote Full House as a sequel of sorts to his book Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (currently on the way to my home which I will read in a few days of getting it), where he argues that progress is not the driver to evolution and that complexity does not rule as bacteria rule the planet. He argues that we are not in the “Age of Mammals”, but the “Age of Bacteria”. But how could you argue that there was no change in humanity from our most recent ancestors to today?

Eldredge and Gould pioneered the theory of punctuated equilibria in 1972. The theory states that species lie in a state of stasis (that is, a period of inactivity or equilibrium) and there is little morphological change before there is a rapid burst of change, which perfectly explains why there are few transitional fossils to be found. Punctuated equilibria is the missing piece to Darwin’s theory of evolution. But what does it have to do wth the evolution of Man?

As you can see, Eldredge and Gould’s theory states that all species spend an extremely long time in stasis, and for any phenotypic change to be noticed in the fossil record, the rapid burst in change had to occur.

Quoting Gould on culture and evolution (1996, page 219-20):

But human cultural change is an entirely distinct process operating under radically different principals that do allow for the strong possibility of a driven trend for what we may legitamately call “progress” (at least in a technological sense, whether or not the changes ultimately do us any good in a practical or moral way). In this sense, I deeply regret that common usage refers to the history of our artifacts and social orginizations as “cultural evolution.” Using the same term—evolution—for both natural and cultural history obfuscates far more than it enlightens. Of course, some aspects of the two phenomena must be similar, for all processes of genealogicallt constrained historical change must share some features in common. But the differences far outweigh the similarities in this case. Unfortunately, when we speak of “cultural evolution,” we unwittingly imply that this process shares essential similarity with the phenomenon most widely described by the same name—natural, or Darwinian, change. The common designation of “evolution” then leads to one of the most frequent and portentious errors in our analysis of human life and history—the overly reductionist assumption that the Darwinian natural paradigm will fully encompass our social and technological history as well. I do wish that the term “cultural evolution” would drop from use. Why not speak of something more neutral and descriptive—“cultural change,” for example?

From the two passages I cited above, to his work on punctuated equilibria, I can definitely see how and why he would believe that there has been no relevant human evolution in the past 50,000 years. These two quotes, one from Stephen Jay Gould and the other from evolutionist Ernst Mayr show the “conventional wisdom” about human evolution:

There’a been no biological changes in humans in 40,000 or 50,000 years. Everything we call culture we’ve built with the same body and brain

—Stephen Jay Gould

Something must have happened to weaken the selective pressure drastically. We cannot escape the conclusion that man’s evolution towards manness suddenly came to a halt.

—Ernst Mayr

These quotes are from page 1 of The Ten Thousand Year explosion. Many great thinkers have suggested that human evolution has halted ever since the emergence of behavioral modernity, however, this couldn’t be further from the truth. I fully understand why such great evolutionists like Gould and Mayr believe that human evolution has halted and their arguments make complete sense based on the data (punctuated equilibria for one). But to any knowledgeable race-realist, they know that these claims are bunk and that human evolution has most definitely accelerated within the last 10,000 years (due to agriculture, the advent of farming) that made it possible for a bigger population and, along with it, a higher chance for high IQ alleles and other positive traits to spread throughout the population as it increased fitness in the environment.

HOWEVER, agriculture was good and bad for us. The good increased our population size that made it possible for high IQ alleles to spread throughout the population. The bad was along with an increase in population size, living in one spot with large groups of people upped the chances for disease acquisition, that of which are not found in hunter-gatherer populations (because they’re constantly moving, not staying in one place). According to John Hawks, our brain size has decreased, going from 1500 cc on average to 1350 cc on average, and the cause is, and this is hard to believe with the advent of agriculture (and thus, supposedly better nutrition) worse nutrition due to the advent of agriculture. Another reason I can posit is that due to more group behavior and social cohesion, we could work together with others and that, over time, would shrink our brains since we wouldn’t have to “do all the thinking”, a type of “self-domestication”, if you will.

The denial of any human change over the past 50,000 years is clearly ridiculous, however it is grounded in solid science. But with the advent of The Ten Thousand Year Explosion by Cochran and Harpending, they blasted all of the misconceptions away about no genetic change in humanity over the past 50,000 years. But, to the dismay of those who believe in “progressive evolution”, the same agriculture that was responsible for this boom—this explosion—over the past ten thousand years is also the cause of our decreasing brain size and stature. I’ve documented the change of erectus or habilis into floresiensis, this is proof enough that evolution can “work backward” (whatever that means) and have an organism become “less complex” (going back to left and right walls of complexity, which I just wrote on last night). Floresiensis is the perfect example that an organism can become less complex than a predecessor and the cause, in this context, is due to less energy on the island which led to a decrease in caloric consumption and along with it a decrease in brain size since that was what was best for that environment (due to less caloric energy being available).

While Gould makes a compelling argument in arguing against the explosion of Man in the past 50,000 years, modern data tells us otherwise. This explosion was due, in part, to agriculture which led to more social cohesion (both of those variables are also leading to a decrease in brain size). With the understanding of Eldredge and Gould’s punctuated equilibria theory, you can then see how and why Gould denied the genetic change in anatomically modern humans over the last 50,000 years. He, however, is wrong here.

I fully agree with Gould that cultural change can outstrip Darwinian evolution—he is right there. But, to make the leap and then say that there is no basis for genetic change in AMH (anatomically modern humans) is clearly wrong. I know that Gould was driven by his politics, partly, to deny any change in human nature and genetics in the past 50,000 years. Though, I don’t care about that. I care about looking at one’s perspective through a scientific lens. While Gould is wrong on his views of hereditarianism, he is 100 percent correct on “progressive” evolution and that there is no so-called “drive to complexity”. It’s his views on human evolution as a whole that are wrong. We know that faster evolution gives rise to more racial differences, and, obviously, more “differences” can either be “good” or “bad” depending on the environmental context. In my tirades over the past 6 weeks on the non-progressiveness and non-linearity of evolution, I’ve shown that these differences can either go to the “left wall” or “right wall” of complexity.

To deny the speed of evolution ever since modern behavior, and even the agricultural revolution is wrong. Too much evidence has piled up for that position. I do, after reading a lot of Gould’s work recently, understand how and where he came from with that argument, all though he was clearly wrong. Culture is learned—not biologically inherited. The cultural norms we know well are learned behaviors.

Finally, and what it seems Gould didn’t realize, is that there is gene-culture coevolution. Learned social information is central to our adaptations as humans. New cultural tendencies may force a novel and new evolutionary selection pressure that may incur new phenotypic changes. In this sense, genes and culture simultaneously evolve side-by-side with each other. Again, stressing that there is no “unilateral direction” in which these changes go, they just occur based on new environmental pressures. Thusly, to say that there is any “progress” or any inherent “drive” in evolution makes no sense. Due to which cultures we “inherit” that will drive which changes occur in that population but not another, they’d be different (as we know all genetically isolated humans are), but none would be “better” than another since they have incurred new traits to better survive in that environment; each different culture will further gain a different phenotype due to the differing culture which puts a differing selective pressure on that population.

The notion of no change in humans over the last 50,000 years is wrong. It has been driven by the rise in agriculture (giving us both positive and negative traits) along with each culture that each population adopted due to the differing selection pressures and environments over the course of their evolution genetically isolated from every other human culture. These differing cultural tendencies also gave rise to slightly faster evolution and different and novel environments in comparison to other populations. With these variables working in harmony with each other, these then accelerated human evolution (for better or worse). That same advent of behavioral modernity 50,000 years ago gave rise to the Out of Africa event. Humans then spread across the planet. In time, after being differing “founding populations” for the current races/ethnies today, differing cultures were adopted due to the differing evolutionary pressures. This is the main reason why genetically isolated human populations show such stark differences between them: Because evolution has sped up since the advent of behavioral modernity, agriculture and the adoption of culture by humans that have all contributed to making Man so different compared to the rest of the Animal Kingdom.


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