Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Family Secrets

Children sometimes reveal sensitive family secrets, to the consternation of their parents. Seasoned professional scientists also sometimes reveal information to the public which may be regarded as “inside knowledge,” tantamount to a family secret. Stephen J. Gould (1941-2002) surprised the scientific world with frequent, candid admissions of an unexpected mystery in evolutionary theory. Gould was a prolific popular science writer and commentator. He was a fascinating figure with broad knowledge, including sports and music. But he is best known for his views on biological evolution and revealing to the public a profound evolutionary anomaly.

Several decades ago Gould, with colleague Niles Eldredge, disclosed that the fossil record of earth life reveals exceedingly long periods of changelessness (stasis), followed by the sudden appearance of new species, with no intervening transitional forms. Gradualism does not characterize the fossil record. Darwin had also noticed this pattern and feared his theory would be undermined without gradualism. Today’s evolutionists are forced to hypothesize creatively regarding this phenomenon. Gould and Eldredge termed it “punctuated equilibrium.” Some evolutionists have described PE as “not a well developed theory.” Divergent explanatory theories abound.

Gould was an evolutionist who subscribed to Darwinian views of changes in life forms resulting from mutation, natural selection, and plenty of time. Nevertheless, he chose to highlight PE. This “fits and starts” phenomenon has significant implications as we judge the degree of certainty ascribed to the evolutionary process. It is vital that truth seekers acquire a clear vision of what the record of the rocks demonstrates. To that end, following are a few quotes from Stephen J. Gould:

Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking much the same as when they disappear.

In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and “fully formed.”

The Burgess Shale teaches us that, for the history of basic anatomical designs, almost everything happened in the geological moment just before, and almost nothing in more than 500 million years since.

Every paleontologist knows that most species don’t change. That’s bothersome…brings terrible distress…They may get a little bigger or bumpier. But they remain the same species and that’s not due to imperfection and gaps but stasis.

The absence of fossil evidence for intermediary stages between major transitions in organic design, indeed our inability, even in our imagination, to construct functional intermediates in many cases, has been a persistent and nagging problem for gradualistic accounts of evolution.

All paleontologists know that the fossil record contains precious little in the way of intermediate forms; transitions between the major groups are characteristically abrupt.

The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils. Yet Darwin was so wedded to gradualism that he wagered his entire theory on a denial of this literal record.

Darwin’s argument still persists as the favored escape of most paleontologists from the embarrassment of a record that seems to show so little of evolution.

Stephen J. Gould never abandoned his faith in Darwinian evolution even though the consistent pattern of stasis followed by sudden change is repeatedly manifest as a defining signature in the fossil record. Many evolutionists have stated their preference for a gradualistic scenario, but must devote their energies to producing imaginative hypotheses to account for the surprising anomaly. Faced with the plausibility of recognizing creation events as a causally adequate explanation they are ruled instead by their unwavering commitment to naturalism.