Top critical review
Not My Job
on May 28, 2002
The NPR program "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" has a segment called "Not My Job" where prominent experts are brought in to answer questions about a different field, one they know nothing about. It's usually hilarious.
The late Prof. Gould, by satisfying a request from the Library of Contemporary Thought for a book defending faith, has essentially set himself up as a "Not My Job" contestant. He's a paleobiologist with no great ministerial training, who admits to agnosticism in the Preamble, and who begins by stating, "I present nothing original in stating the basic thesis..."
When writing within his domain he's a powerful voice and a thought-provoking author. However, when taking on big questions about which he is, at best, an interested amateur, his text resorts to carefully-crafted but ultimately empty arguments full of endless diversions, 200-year old quotations of little relevance, and a lot of flowery words. There are more words than there are thoughts, actually, if you take my meaning....
There's a school of philosophy -- I'm not sure what it's called, maybe you do -- which relies on endless internally-referenced arguments to try to establish a truth by sheer weight of argument. Unfortunately, without external evidence, such attempts are doomed to convince only the already-faithful.
Gould's text falls into this dustbin and, I fear, does disservice to both sides.