Stasis in Fossil Record
There are three major problems with the fossil record.
1. The first is that the fossil record shows species originating
abruptly. This contradicts the predictions of Darwin's hypothesis.
His hypothesis calls for very many intermediate forms gradually
grading from one species to another. But instead the record shows
the opposite - species arise abruptly.
2. Secondly, the geologic record shows that species do not change
significantly through time. For millions of years they remain
constant - with only minor and random change. This also contradicts
the predictions of the hypothesis of Darwin.
3. The "Cambrian explosion" represents a period in which most of
the current phyla [broad groups of life forms] all appeared in a
very short geological span of time. This also seriously
contradicts the hypothesis of Darwin.
The problems with the fossil record are more extreme than it might
seem. The evidence of the fossils is in stunning contradiction to
Darwin's theory. Generally this contradiction is not well known and
so I have attempted in this newsletter to bring out the details.
SPECIES DON'T SIGNICANTLY CHANGE
In pursuit of this subject, I acquired a copy of "The Structure of
Evolutionary Theory" by Steven Jay Gould. It is a 1400 page tome
that, while well written, would not appeal to the general reader.
I wanted to reach a clearly knowledgeable source and Gould is a
well known Darwinist who also admits to some of the problems in
Darwin's view. Most of the quotes from Gould are from that book.
Gould has called "stasis" the "trade secret of paleontology." One
section of the book attracted my interest. In chapter nine that
section is headed "What every Paleontologist knows." I hoped that
chapter would reveal and prove the "secret". And it did. Most of
the quotes here from Gould are from that source. Now more people
can learn the "trade secret of paleontology."
Some reasons according to Gould why there naturally occurs such
The common knowledge of a profession often goes unrecorded in
technical literature for two reasons: one need not preach
commonplaces to the initiated; and one should not attempt to
inform the uninitiated in publications they do not read.
The long-term stasis, following a geologically abrupt origin,
of most fossil morphospecies, has always been recognized by
professional paleontologists ... p 749-750
But another reason, beyond tacitly shared knowledge, soon arose
to drive stasis more actively into textual silence. Darwinian
evolution became the great intellectual novelty of the later
19th century, and paleontology held the archives of life's
history. Darwin proclaimed insensibly gradual transition as the
canonical expectation for evolution's expression in the fossil
record. He knew, of course, that the detailed histories of
species rarely show such a pattern, so he explained the literal
appearance of stasis and abrupt replacement as an artifact of a
woefully imperfect fossil record. Thus, paleontologist could be
good Darwinians and still acknowledge the primary fact of their
profession - but only at the price of sheepishness or
embarrassment. No one can take great comfort when the primary
observation of their discipline becomes an artifact of limited
evidence rather than an expression of nature's ways. Thus,
once gradualism emerged as the expected pattern for documenting
evolution - with an evident implication that the fossil record's
dominant signal of stasis and abrupt replacement can only be a
sign of evidentiary poverty - paleontologist became cowed or
puzzled, and even less likely to showcase their primary datum.
Gould gives a number of quotes to confirm the fact of stasis of
species. He concludes with this:
In what I regard as the most fascinating and revealing comment of
all, Gorge Gaylord Simpson, the greatest and most biologically
astute paleontologist of the 20th century (and a strong opponent
of punctuated equilibrium in his later years), [Gould's own theory]
acknowledged the literal appearance of stasis and geologically
abrupt origin as *the* outstanding general fact of the fossil
record, and as a pattern that would "pose one of the most
important theoretical problems in the whole history of life" if
Darwin's argument for artifactual status failed. Simpson stated
at the 1959 Chicago centennial celebration for the "Origin of
Species" (in Tax, 1960, p149):
It is a feature of the known fossil record that most taxa
appear abruptly. They are not, as a rule, led up to by a
sequence of almost imperceptibly changing forerunners such
as Darwin believed should be usual in evolution A great many
sequences of two or a few temporally intergrading species are
known, but even at this level most species appear without
known intermediate ancestors, and really, perfectly complete
sequence of numerous species are exceedingly rare ... These
peculiarities of the record pose one of the most important
theoretical problems in the whole history of life; is the
sudden appearance ... a phenomenon of evolution or of the
record only, due to sampling bias and other inadequacies?
Such a discordance between theoretical expectation and actual
observation surely falls within the category of troubling
"anomalies" that, in Kuhn's celebrated view of scientific change
(1962), often spur a major reformulation. p 755
Translation: The data so strongly disconfirm the hypothesis that it
may induce a paradigm shift.
Darwin claimed the reason for the discrepancy was an "imperfect" record.
Gould claims this reason "works". But while seeming to excuse Darwin
he admits the contrariness is "stunning."
The "argument from imperfection" ( with its preposition
purposefully chosen by analogy to the "argument from design")
works adequately as a device to save gradualism in the face of an
empirical signal of quite stunning contrariness when read at face
value." (p 758)
But if an "imperfect" record can excuse the sudden appearance of species,
how does one explain the unchanging nature of a species once it appears?
This unchanging nature is called "stasis." After hearing so much
"explaining away" Gould makes the point that stasis is data. Since
those on the spiritual path will have heard of mantras I thought you
might enjoy Gould's emphatic explanation.
But how can imperfection possibly explain away stasis (the
equilibrium of punctuated equilibrium)? Abrupt appearance may
record an absences of information, but *stasis is data*. Eldredge and I became so frustrated by the failure of many
colleagues to grasp this evident point - though a quarter
century of subsequent debate has finally propelled our claim
to general acceptance (while much else about punctuated
equilibrium remains controversial) - that we urged the
incorporation of this little phrase as a mantra or motto. Say
it ten times before breakfast every day for a week, and the
argument will surely seep in by osmosis: "stasis is data:
stasis is data ..."
The fossil record may, after all, be 99 percent imperfect,
but if you can, nonetheless, sample a species at a large number
of horizons well spread over several million years, and if these
samples record no net change, with beginning and end points
substantially the same, and with only mild and errant
fluctuation among the numerous collections in between, then a
conclusion of stasis rests on the *presence* of data, not on
Another admission from Gould (I respect his honesty):
So if stasis could not be explained away as missing information,
how could gradualism face this most prominent signal from the
fossil record? The most negative of all strategies - a quite
unconscious conspiracy of silence - dictated the canonical
response of paleontologists to their observations of stasis.
Paleontologists therefore came to view stasis as just another
failure to document evolution. Stasis existed in overwhelming
abundance, as every paleontologist always knew. But this primary
signal of the fossil record, defined as an absence of data for
evolution, only highlighted our frustration - and certainly did
not represent anything worth publishing. Paleontology therefore
fell into a literally absurd vicious circle. No one ventured
to document or quantify - indeed, hardly anyone even bothered
to mention or publish at all - the most common pattern in the
fossil record: the stasis of most morphospecies throughout
their geological duration.
The trade secret comes out:
All paleontologists recognized the phenomenon, but few
scientists write papers about failure to document a desired
result. As a consequence, most nonpaleontologists never
learned about the predominance of stasis, and simply assumed
that gradualism must prevail, as illustrated by the exceedingly
few cases that became textbook "classics": the coiling of
*Gryphae*, the increasing body size of horses, etc.
(Interestingly, nearly all these "classics" have since been
disproved, thus providing another testimony for the temporary
triumph of hope and expectation over evidence - see Gould,
1972.) Thus, when punctuated equilibrium finally granted
theoretical space and importance to stasis, and this
fundamental phenomenon finally emerged from the closet,
nonpaleontologists were often astounded and incredulous.
Gould is probably not thinking exactly what I am thinking when
he writes these words:
I find this situation particularly frustrating as
paleontology's primary example of an insidious phenomenon in
science that simply has not been recognized for the serious
and distorting results perpetrated under its aegis.
(In his defense, actually Gould refers to problems that result for
science in general when this kind of selection against publishing
occurs in any field of study. But in this case, the results for
humanity are very serious indeed.)
"No Religion Higher Than Truth"
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