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Postmodern Science - Neo-Darwinism to Punctuated Evolution

QUESTION: Postmodern Science – Neo-Darwinism to Punctuated Evolution


Regarding the origin of life, some Postmodernists tend toward neo-Darwinism. For example, Richard Rorty endorses Daniel Dennett’s book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, a book supporting the neo-Darwinian view and harshly criticizing Gould and Eldridge’s theory of punctuated evolution. Postmodern political scientist Walter Truett Anderson’s The Next Enlightenment: Integrating East and West in a New Vision of Human Evolution approvingly cites neo-Darwinist Richard Dawkins a number of times as representing a scientific rationalist approach to truth.

Postmodernists are drawn to evolution for at least two reasons: (1) they deny that humans are the necessary aim of evolution and (2) they believe chance is the primary catalyst of evolution. According to Michel Foucault, Hayden White, Paul deMan, and Thomas Kuhn, the notion that human beings are the telos or ultimate end of evolution is anthropocentric (it assumes humanity is special). Neo-Darwinist Daniel Dennett concurs. In Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Dennett writes of “the most common misunderstanding of Darwinism: the idea that Darwin showed that evolution by natural selection is a procedure for producing Us.”1

Three reasons are generally given for holding this view. First, modern science has shattered the early religious myths of Adam and Eve, so we can no longer believe that God created humanity for some special purpose. Second, scientists already are at work evolving the next generation of humans by integrating people and computer technology, thus rendering human existence simply one small step in the total evolutionary progression. Third, considering all the species that have ever lived, homo sapiens is considered an insignificant species. Stephen Gould, for example, argues that “bacteria are—and always have been—the dominant form of life on Earth.”2 Therefore, Gould maintains that we are arrogant in thinking that we are a special species or that evolution somehow had humanity in mind, since there are so few of “Us” and so many of “them.”3

Postmodern Science – God vs. Chance
In addition to this anti-teleological stance, Tony Jackson explains why the idea of chance appeals to Postmodernists. He writes about the role Stephen Gould has played in this regard. “To complete our discussion of Darwinian theory, Gould’s inclusion of chance makes him the most Postmodern of contemporary Darwinists. It has led him to put forth a theory of change, called punctuated equilibrium, that stresses abruptness and discontinuity rather than the more conventional gradualist story, and thus he is the Darwinian equivalent of, again, Thomas Kuhn and Michel Foucault. Kuhn, like Gould, holds that the actual historical record does not support a gradualist ‘development-by-accumulation’ story.”4

Kuhn, Gould, and others insist that a gradualist history of the past is merely arbitrary. The actual fossil record does not confirm one species gradually turning into another species. On the contrary, species seem to appear in the fossil record suddenly, with little evidence of gradual transitions from one to another. Therefore, some Postmodernists opt to embrace the theory of punctuated equilibrium (or punctuated evolution) developed by Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould. (This theory is described in detail in the biology section on Marxist/Leninism.)


Rendered with permission from the book,Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews(Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.

1 Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (New York, NY: Touchstone, 1996), 56, italics and capitalization in original.

2 See Google (search engine), Stephen Jay Gould Archive, “Planet of the Bacteria.”

3 Gould’s assertion runs counter to Darwin’s claim that humanity “stands at the very summit of the organic scale.” See Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (New York, NY: Collier, 1902), 797, quoted in Tony E. Jackson, “Charles and the hopeful monster: postmodern evolutionary theory in ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman,’” in Twentieth Century Literature (Summer 1997), available online at

4 Jackson, “Charles and the hopeful monster.”

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