Friday, November 9, 2012

Punctuated Equilibrium: The theory that the absence of evidence for evolution is evidence for evolution

Punctuated evolution, (i.e. absence of evidence for speciation). Old species disappear, and new species appear,
 without intermediates. 


Five score and thirteen years after Origin of Species, Darwinism faced a crisis.

Darwin predicted that evolution by random heritable variation and natural selection would be gradual. The progressive accumulation of beneficial mutations would eventually result in reproductive isolation, and speciation. The fossil record should be full of intermediates. In fact, Darwin's theory posits that all living things are intermediates, links between ancestral species and future species.

The problem was the evidence. Nearly all fossils showed the same pattern: millions and millions of years of stasis, without evidence for evolution, then sudden disappearance, with replacement by a new species. No intermediates.

By the 1970's, the crisis was acute. How to rescue Darwin's theory from its worst threat-- not creationists, but lack of evidence. How could Darwinism-- gradual evolutionary change by random heritable variation and natural selection-- be squared with the lack of fossil evidence for gradual evolutionary change leading to new species?

Two Darwinists hit upon a solution. A solution of genius.

In 1972, Harvard evolutionary biologists Steven Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge published Punctuated equilibria: the tempo and mode of evolution reconsidered. The theory of punctuated equilibrium posits that species remain relatively fixed-- in stasis-- for millions of years. Then, a catastrophic event causes extinction of the species, and another nearby small population of individuals, who are undergoing rapid evolution, move into the niche abandoned by the extinct species. The small population, having already quickly evolved, flourishes, remaining and fossilizing for millions of years, until it too undergoes a catastrophic extinction, and is replaced by another small rapidly-evolved population, etc., etc.

The salient feature of the fossil record left by this evolutionary musical-chairs is that evolution is never observed. Speciation occurs in tiny populations too small to leave enough fossils to be found. The fossil record records replacement of species that have evolved rapidly, without leaving evidence of their evolution. If punctuated evolution were true, speciation in the fossil record would never be detected, only appearance, stasis, and disappearance of species. If punctuated evolution were true, evidence for speciation in the fossil record would not be found.

Which fit the fossil evidence perfectly.

Genius.

Gould and Eldredge's theory calls to mind the conundrum faced by physicists in the late 19th century, who were confronted by the failure of the Michaelson-Morely experiment to detect the 'ether wind' through which the earth moved. Michaelson and Morely used a complex array of mirrors to attempt to demonstrate a doppler effect on the speed of light, according to the direction in which the light traveled with respect to the revolution of the earth around the sun. When the light was propagated into the ether wind, it was anticipated that it would propagate more slowly; with the wind, more rapidly.

In fact, regardless of the direction of the light, its speed was unchanged. The ether wind didn't seem to exist.

Some scientists, in an effort to salvage the ether wind, proposed that the measuring instruments were contracted and stretched by the wind to the same proportion the light was impeded or boosted. This would explain the absence of evidence for the wind.

Other scientists, wags, pointed out that this explanation rendered the ether wind undetectable. Absence of evidence for the wind would then be evidence for the wind.

Physicists were smart folks without an agenda, except the search for truth, and the ether hypothesis was discarded.

Not so in evolutionary biology. The theory of punctuated equilibrium is able to explain a fossil record-- a record of prolonged stasis interrupted by (geologically) instantaneous disappearance of one species and appearance of another-- as arising by a Darwinian mechanism. Even better, the actual Darwinian evolution could never be observed, because the actual evolution of species via intermediates occurred too quickly in populations too tiny to leave a record.

The evidence for punctuated equilibrium, then, is the absence of evidence.


How could you not love this stuff? 

27 comments:

  1. Michael,

    No. Evolution isn't occurring rapidly in the small geographically isolated populations. it still is taking 50,000 to 100,000 years to occur which is only sudden in a geological sense. By any other measure, it's a very long time.

    Potentially, it is testable. All you would have to know is where the small isolated population was located, geographically and in time, the type of sedimentary rocks which would contain the fossils and where the sedimentary rocks have moved to as a result of tectonic plate movements, and if the fossil containing rocks haven't been buried beneath other rocks or eroded away, then you should be able to find a geological stratum in which the fossils do show a gradual change from the previous to the new species.

    Finding the right rocks is the problem. When Neil Shubin went looking for the tetrapod ancestor on Ellesmere Island in northern Canada, he had to find mudstone of the right age (370 MY) and even then, he had to go there over many Summers.

    Punctuated equilibrium is entirely consist with gradualism. Gould has stated that on many occasions. It certainly isn't consistent with your moronic theory of Thomistic evolution, in which species evolve to reach a goal, inherent to the species concerned.

    Thomistic evolution is completely inconsistent with the fossil record, which shows most species going extinct instead of reaching a 'goal'.

    You've also got the problem that you've got no way of telling when or whether a species has reached its goal. Is the goal of Thomistic evolution of humans for humans to have the thousand or so olfactory receptor genes, half of which are broken and non-functional? Entirely consistent with natural selection, but not consistent with goals, unless you define a goal as having something that doesn't work.

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  2. Well, we can now add 'punctuated equilibrium' to the long and ever-growing lists of subjects that Egnor doesn't understand.

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  3. A simple google search on "observed speciation" will show many instances of, well, observed speciation. We know it happens Mr. Egnor. We've, you know, seen it.

    Boo

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    1. Boo,

      Plants? Insects? Michael probably won't accept speciation unless it involves something like a dog giving birth to a cat, with the 'goal' of obtaining a mouse catcher.

      Delete
  4. Silly Boo, thinking that facts matter to Egnor. They don't. He is the perfect Republican.

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  5. Egnor is an ignorant moron. Gradual evolution has been spectacularly well documented in marine organisms because sediments are deposited in a regular fashion.

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  6. Mike, I don’t understand how you can argue against evolution so often and so vigorously, yet claim you believe it occurred. How does your head not explode?

    -KW

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    1. I'm not arguing that living things don't evolve-- I think they do.

      I'm arguing that Darwinists are assholes.

      Evolution is teleological, not the result of "random" variation.

      Delete
    2. Michael,

      And your evidence that evolution is teleological, with goals? You're an evidence free zone, continuing to make the same unjustified assertions time after time. If that's not the definition of an arsehole, I don't know what is.

      Delete
    3. mregnor: "I'm arguing that Darwinists are assholes."

      I second the motion!

      Delete
    4. You like to go for the low hanging fruit. Why not try to refute the argument bachfiend made above? I’m guessing you can’t.

      You really lack imagination not to see where punctuated equilibrium fits into the grand scheme of evolution (figuratively speaking of course). Try to picture a small population that becomes isolated from the rest of its species, and is forced by circumstance to confront a different environment. These conditions obviously don’t happen all the time, but when they do, it’s an opportunity for the isolated population to evolve rapidly under conditions not shared by the rest of their species. Even you should be able to see that these events will be episodic and random, and that small isolated populations offer an opportunity for rapid evolutionary changes.

      -KW

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    5. bachfiend,

      You believe that intelligence can come from non-intelligence. I wish that this belief were true so I would not have to work so hard to program those stupid computers!

      To quote G. Sewell, Darwinism is "easily the dumbest idea ever taken seriously by science"

      And you, bachfiend, are the epitome of this science. If it has science written on it, you will believe anything.

      I have a bridge in London and a tower in Paris that are up for sale and I can write "science" on them for you. They are 3 million US$ each!

      Delete
    6. bachfiend,

      The 3 million US$ price includes shipping but not handling; that you will have to do yourself!

      Delete
    7. So Pepe and Mr Egnor- you actually think you can overturn one of the dominant theories in science via namecalling and ducking evidence? If you know of a way to test for teleology in evolution, what is it? Why not tell the Discovery Institute of this remarkable test, so they can finally get around to doing some of that ID research they're always insisting they would do, but um... you know... Darwinists are meanies!

      You guys are always insisting you know how to do science better, yet you never get around to actually doing it. And you wonder why you don't get taken seriously?

      Boo

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    8. Pepe,

      Yes I do believe that intelligence does come from non-intelligence. And your eldest son proves it, becoming an atheist despite you being a rabid Christian.

      Sewell is the dumbest mathematician around. He shouldn't be so foolish as to stray into areas in which he's clueless.

      I don't believe everything with the word 'science' on it. I have to be convinced that it's plausible first. Nothing in science is ever proven as fact forever. Everything is provisional and open to refutation if contradictory data appears.

      Delete
    9. CrusadeRex,

      I was wondering when the third halfwit would appear on this thread (starting with Michael).

      You've arrived! How do you know you've 'LMAO' since you couldn't find it with both hands and a diagram?

      Delete
    10. Bachfiend,

      Which of the three do you think is dumbest, Pépé, Egnor, or lil' cwusader? I vote for Pépé, myself.

      Delete
    11. Anonymous,

      Personally, I go for Michael on the grounds that he should know better.

      Delete
    12. Egnor's problem isn't that he's dumb. His problem is that, like modern conservatism generally, he is a tribalist. He divides the world into the Us, who represent all that is good and decent and God-fearing and noble and puppies and rainbows and lollipops, and the Them, who represent darkness and Satan and stupidity and hemorrhoids and want to destroy the world just because they are Evil People Who Like To Be Evil. He doesn't consider evidence because what is being said is far, far less important than who is doing the saying. It's the same with his fans on here. When confronted with evidence that contradicts their beliefs, they ask him to ban the posters.

      The irony, of course, is that they're showing us a great example of how a trait can be evolutionarily advantageous in one environment while disadvantageous in others.

      Boo

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  7. The Darwinian Talibans don't like it when someone shows the incoherence of their Fogma(1).

    Of course Darwinism is true. It's a one size fits all theory!

    (1): Fogma: contraction of foggy dogma.

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    1. There is only one word that can accurately express my feelings when I read the phrase "Darwinian Talibans": lol.

      Delete
  8. Oh! This is what Darwinists mean by speciation:

    Birth of New Species Witnessed by Scientists

    Birds of a feather speciate together!


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    Replies
    1. Yes, that is one of the many examples of speciation that has been witnessed. Talkorigins has a long list of more. Of course a daughter species is similar to its parent species after diverging, species-to-species is a relatively small transition. The larger transitions are abundant in the fossil record, supported by molecular and DNA evidence. So what exactly is the problem?

      Boo

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    2. Boo, you're talking to Pépé, who's about the dumbest commenter here. You might as well be talking to a chipmunk, for all the understanding you're going to achieve at the other end.

      Delete
    3. Abdul Anonymous is angry. Truth hurts!

      Delete
    4. So tell me what the problem is, Pepe.

      Boo

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