It has been over 100 years since English naturalist
Charles Darwin first told the world his
revolutionary concept about how livings things
develop. Evolution through natural selection and
adaptation was the basis of his argument as it
remains to this day a debated subject by many.

Across this nation, a “return” to “traditional” values
has also brought the return of age old debated
topics. One issue that truly separates Americans is
the issue of creation versus evolution. Since the
19th century, this divisive topic has been debated
in school boards and state capitols across
America. In many instances religious
fundamentalists won the day by having banned the
instruction or even the mention of “ungodly”
evolutionary thinking in schools. With todays
social and political climate, this question is back
with greater force than ever. This is why this
subject is more important now than ever. In Jay
Goulds book The Pandas Thumb, an overview
of and an argument for Charles Darwins
evolutionary thinking is conducted with flowing
thoughts and ideas. This essay titled “Natural
Selection and the Human Brain: Darwin vs.

Wallace” takes a look directly at two hard fought
battles between evolutionists and creationists.

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Using sexual selection and the origins of human
intellect as his proponents, Gould argues his
opinion in the favor of evolutionary thought. In this
essay titled “Natural Selection and The Human
Brain: Darwin vs. Wallace,” Gould tells about the
contest between Darwin and another prominent
scientist named Alfred Wallace over two
important subjects. These topics, one being sexual
selection and the other about the origins of the
human brain and intellect were debated by men
who generally held the same views on evolution.

However on these two subjects, Wallace chose to
differ as he described it as his “special heresy”
(53). The first of these two areas of debate
between the two men was the question of “sexual
selection.” Darwin theorized that there laid two
types of sexual selection. First a competition
between males for access to females and second
the choice “exercised by females themselves” (51).

In this, Darwin attributed racial differences among
modern human beings to sexual selection “based
upon different criteria of beauty that arose among
various peoples” (51). Wallace, however,
disputed the suggestion of female choice. He
believed that animals were highly evolved and
beautiful works of art, not allowing the suggestion
of male competition to enter his mind. The debate
of sexual selection was but a mere precursor to a
much more famous and important question . . . the
question of the origins of the human mind. Goulds
discussion of the origins of the human mind is one
that he in which he vocalizes his own opinions and
feelings in a much more critical manner. Gould
begins the topic of human origins by briefly
criticizing Wallace for his different views on this
subject. Wallace believed that human intellect and
morality were unique and could not be the product
of natural selection. Wallace suggested that “some
higher power” (53) must have “intervened to
construct this latest and greatest of organic
innovations.” Gould sharply chastises Wallace for
“simple cowardice, for inability to transcend the
constraints of culture and traditional views of
human uniqueness, and for inconsistency in
advocating natural selection so strongly” (53). The
argument that human intelligence was divine along
with the belief that all people of all races have the
same capacity of intellect, but are limited only by
their culture was at the heart of Wallaces
opinions. Gould rebuts Wallace by going into
Darwins “subtler view.” Gould writes that our
brains may have “originated for some set of
necessary skills . . . but these skills do not exhaust
the limits of what such a complex machine can do”
(57). Gould ends by describing Wallaces thinking
as having direct ties with creationist thought. A
school of thought that Gould obviously portrays as
wrong throughout his essay. Throughout The
Pandas Thumb, Gould tells us about the debate
between Darwin and Wallace over sexual
selection and the origins of human intellect.

Throughout his essay Gould gives vivid accounts
of the different views expressed by the two men as
he analyzes the validity of each. He makes a clear
opinion and backs up his claim. In this, Gould
sufficiently argues his points that he makes. As a
writer, Gould tells his opinion through clear and
precise words in a style that anyone could grasp
immediately. To make his point unmistakable,
Gould gives direct and continuous analysis,
commentary, and criticism as he digs deeper into
his subjects. Goulds style of writing is not only
appropriate, but is favorable for this type of
discussion and can be applauded. Rather than
submitting to a scientists ever present tendency to
over explain and over analyze while using
incomprehensible vocabulary, Gould gets the job
done with brief yet fulfilling summaries and
statements. In the end, however, Gould must be
judged by his judgement. His argument is the
ultimate standard bearer and in this there are few
weaknesses. His excellent use of clear language
and style as he analyzes a particular subject is
commendable. Never does Gould stray into
incomprehensible scientific hog wash. Never does
Gould let himself begin to attack mercilessly
without a shred of evidence. But even with
Goulds excellent story telling in his essay, there
remains subtler, yet still present weaknesses in his
argument. While Gould appropriately attacks
Wallace for his creationist stance on human
intellect, he in turn fails through his lack of
creationist related discussions. While he does
argue and does it well, he leaves something to be
desired in his attack on creationist thought. In
addition, Gould doesnt seem to write enough
about Darwins own feelings about the human
intellect, though he states Darwins underlying
opinion, it would had been beneficial for Gould to
have done more in this area. Jay Goulds essay
“Natural selection and the human brain” is one that
strikes the readers mind with interest and curiosity.

Written in a style and format that is “reader
friendly” while sufficiently and consistently arguing
a clear and precise point are the attributes that
make Goulds essay such a delight to read. More
important, however, is the social implications of
this essay. While school boards across the nation
debate the subject of whether evolution should be
taught in the schools, Goulds work stands out
with its overriding validity and
straightforwardness. It is an example of reasonable
argument as evolutions opponents use nothing but
rhetoric and fear to displace scientific analysis.

Through Goulds work, a greater sense of
understanding about how creatures evolved can
be gained through these two excellent examples.

Category: Science