Norman D. Newell Dies


The eminent paleontologist Norman D. Newell died on April 18, 2005, at the age of 96, in Leonia, New Jersey. Born in 1909 in Chicago, Newell received his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Kansas and his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. He taught at the University of Wisconsin until 1945, when he joined the staff of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He also taught at Columbia University, where his students included Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould. He was president of the Society for the Study of Evolution in 1949 and president of the Paleontological Society in 1960 and 1961, and in 2004 he was named a Legendary Geoscientist by the American Geological Institute. Newell is often credited as one of the first scientists to call attention to the importance of mass extinctions in the history of life; Eldredge described him as "a voice crying in the wilderness" when he began his work on mass extinctions in the 1950s.

In Creation and Evolution: Myth or Reality (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982; New York: Praeger, 1985), Newell turned his attention to creationism. Through fourteen glittering chapters, he carefully explained the scientific evidence for evolution on behalf of "those whose scientific background is not adequate to withstand the high-pressure methods and the misleading arguments posed by the creationists," emphasizing especially the paleontological evidence, on which he was a leading expert. "The fact that evolution has taken place in the past and is continuing around us still cannot be refuted by any logical arguments," he wrote. "It is the how and why of evolution that are certainly matters for scientific and philosophical discussion." George Gaylord Simpson wrote, "I think I have never read a book, even among my own in the past, with which I agreed more closely," and Stephen Jay Gould commented, "Creationism, that narrowly sectarian dogma now masquerading as a 'science,' is no match for Dr. Newell's analysis."