Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Evolution, Fact and Theory

Why Creationists don't understand what a Theory means. Rodney Starck's article Fact, Fable and Darwin in Meridian and in The American Enterprise in Sep 2004 issue of One America was an interesting polemic that concluded:
" I believe that one day there will be a plausible theory of the origin of species. But, if and when that occurs, there will be nothing in any such theory that makes it impossible to propose that the principles involved were not part of God's great design any more than such a theory will demonstrate the existence of God. But, while we wait, why not lift the requirement that high school texts enshrine Darwin's failed attempt as an eternal truth? "
He did not once discuss the currant status of Evolutionary Research and the Modern Synthesis, merely briefly mentioning S. J. Gould and Eldridge in their concern about the place of stasis in the geological record (and here he misquoted, seriously misleading the reader). They have both proposed what is called "Punctual Equilibria". This breakthrough in the field of palaeontology had brought together the many fields of Evolutionary Research in Geology and Biology right down to immunology and microbiology. So why leave them out in the discussion, and why insist Darwin has failed, when anyone that deals with the theory seems to disagree? From the essay in Hens Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., p. 258-260 see Evolution as Fact and Theory Gould explains the misunderstandings (politely) of the debate from the author himself, something Stark should have read as part of his preparation for his confused essay. The quote that Stark used is supplied in this paragraph:
"The history of most fossil species includes two features particularly inconsistent with gradualism, Stephen Jay Gould has acknowledged."
This has been taken out of context and is an example of what has been called "quote mining". This is where Gould introduces Punctuated Equilibrium:
“The modern theory of evolution does not require gradual change. It in fact, the operation of Darwinian processes should yield exactly what we see in the fossil record. It is gradualism that we must reject, not Darwinism. […] Eldridge and I believe that speciation is responsible for almost all evolutionary change. Moreover, the way in which it occurs virtually guarantees that sudden appearance and stasis shall dominate the fossil record. All major theories of speciation maintain that splitting takes place rapidly in very small populations. The theory of geographic, or allopatric, speciation is preferred by most evolutionists for most situations (allopatric means ‘in another place’). A new species can arise when a small segment of the ancestral population is isolated at the periphery of the ancestral range. Large, stable central populations exert a strong homogenizing influence. New and favorable mutations are diluted by the sheer bulk of the population through which they must spread. They may build slowly in frequency, but changing environments usually cancel their selective value long before they reach fixation. Thus, phyletic transformation in large populations should be very rare—as the fossil record proclaims. But small, peripherally isolated groups are cut off from their parental stock. They live as tiny populations in geographic corners of the ancestral range. Selective pressures are usually intense because peripheries mark the edge of ecological tolerance for ancestral forms. Favorable variations spread quickly. Small peripheral isolates are a laboratory of evolutionary change.
“What should the fossil record include if most evolution occurs by speciation in peripheral isolates? Species should be static through their range because our fossils are the remains of large central populations. In any local area inhabited by ancestors, a descendant species should appear suddenly by migration from the peripheral region in which it evolved. In the peripheral region itself, we might find direct evidence of speciation, but such good fortune would be rare indeed because the event occurs so rapidly in such a small population. Thus, the fossil record is a faithful rendering of what evolutionary theory predicts, not a pitiful vestige of a once bountiful tale.” — "The Episodic Nature of Evolutionary Change," The Panda's Thumb, New York: W. W. Norton, 1980, pp. 182-184.
This more clearly explains what Gould was going on about than what Stark would have you believe. So we can fails to understand the idea of gradualism as part of the theory, and that punctuated equilibria has replaced that now antiquated idea inherited from an earlier debate in what was then the new science of geology. Stark furthers the misunderstanding by not himself knowing what the nature of a theory is and how they get modified over time. There are plenty of intermediate fossil species found these days in the fossil record that Darwin did not have access to, yet he was honest enough to advise us of his concerns about the lack of detail found at his time and place. Are the Creationists of this world, which Starck actually is from his essay, rather than what he says, deliberately misleading, or, morelikely, picking and choosing what fits an argumnet from what they read. What they read are Creationist literature, therefore a self perpetuating error within their group. Those of us outsid ethe group, still find it curious, but someones stateing up front they are not part of the group, but then argue exactly as a member, is a bit difficult to understand?

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