Evolution – Science Trapped in the Nineteenth Century Part 2

Last time I made the statement about evolution being stuck in the nineteenth century and this did cause some comments about how evolution has changed over the years. However I stand by my original assertion. Yes, there have been minor changes taking in account modern genetics and cell theory. We know much more about how complex cells are and now know the complexity of RNA and DNA but pop the hood on evolution and we have the same engine that was installed over 150 years ago. The basics have not changed natural selection and gradualism, small changes built up over long periods of time.

Now let’s be clear, I have no issues with natural selection. We see that all around us as species unable to adapt to changing environments go extinct. We see this in bacteria as those naturally resistant to antibiotics survive and reproduce while those not resistant die off. The black plague and the Spanish flu pandemic of the early twentieth century show that some humans had a natural resistance to these devastating diseases. But, natural selection can only select what exists. It cannot create and it cannot plan. Every step of the way needs to be beneficial to the organism and provide a survival benefit. Natural selection needs something to select, something that provides the organism a survival benefit.

Today I want to look at what I think is the key to evolution, gradualism. Gradualism just does not fit the observations. I also believe that there is simply not enough time for a gradual change from the first single cell organism to modern humans. But let me get out to the way and let’s see what the late Stephen Jay Gould has to say about gradualism in his book The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. All quotes are from the first edition copyright 2002 and from chapter nine Punctuated Equilibrium and the Validation of Macroevolutionary Theory under the heading Testimonials to Common Knowledge.

Anatomy may fluctuate through time, but the last remnants of a species usually look  pretty much like the first representatives… Paleontologists have always recognized    the   long-term stability of most species; we had become more than a bit ashamed by this strong and literal signal, for the dominant theory or our scientific culture told us to look for the opposite result of gradualism as the primary empirical expression of every   biologist’s favorite subject–evolution itself.” p. 749

For example, in 1903 H.F. Cleland … wrote the following: “In a section such as that of the Hamilton formation at Cayaga Lake… if the statement natura non facit saltum*  is     granted, one should, with some confidence expect to find many – at least some –       evidences of evolution. A careful examination of the fossils of all zones, from the lowest       to the highest, failed to reveal any evolutional changes, with the possible exception of            Ambocoelia praeumbona (a brachiopod). The species are as distinct or as variable in one    portion of the section as in another. Species varied in shape, in size and in surface             markings, but the changes were not progressive. The conclusion must be that… the          evolution of brachiopods, gastropods and pelecypods either does not take place at all or    takes place very seldom, and that it makes little difference how much time elapses so            long as the conditions of environment remain unchanged(quoted in Brett, Ivany, and        Schopf, 1996, p.2).” ( * Nature makes no leaps) p. 750

“Evolutionary theory may be a wonderful intellectual frill, but workaday paleontology, until recently used fossils primarily in the immensely useful activity (in mining, mapping, finding oil, etc.) of dating rocks and determining their stratigraphic sequence. These practical paleontologists dared not be wrong in setting their criteria for designating ages and environments. They had to develop the most precise system that empirical recognition could supply for specifying the age of a stratum; they could not let theory dictate a fancy expectation unsupported by observation. Whom would you hire if you  wanted to build a bridge across your local stream – the mason with a hundred spans to his credit, or the abstract geometer who has never left his ivory tower? When in doubt, trust the practitioner.” p. 751

If most fossil species changed gradually during their geological lifetimes, biostratigraphers would have codified “stage of evolution” as the primary criterion for      dating by fossils… But in fact biostratigraphers treat species as stable entities throughout   their documented ranges–because the vast majority so appear in the empirical record.”   p. 751

“We  made the following remakes in closing our first paper on the application of our  model to biostratigraphy (Eldrege and Gould): (We) wondered why evolutionary      paleontologists have continued to seek, for over a century and almost always in vain, the      “insensibly graded series” that Darwin told us to find. Biostratigraphers have known for       years that morphological stability, particularly in characters that allow us to recognized       species-level taxa, is the rule, not the exception. It is time for evolutionary theory to catch   up with empirical paleontology, to confront the phenomenon of evolutionary non-change,     and to incorporate it into our theory, rather than simply explain it away.” p. 752

“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 observation of stasis… Paleontology 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 cycle. 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.” pp. 759-760

The simple fact is that the fossil record does not support gradualism. Even so called intermediary species are just fossils that someone has decided must be transitional because they have similar features or fall in the right order in the stratum. What is not seen is actual transitional features such as and arm gradually changing into a wing or a fin. For the longest it was thought that the Archaeopteryx was the link between dinosaurs and birds. It fell in the fossil record before modern birds and had many of the same traits as dinosaurs. Then over the past few decades modern bird fossils have been found in China that predate the Archaeopteryx. Another missing link bits the dust. Now it is believed that the Archaeopteryx is a feathered dinosaur which explains why it has so many features in common with theropod dinosaurs.

For over 150 years evolutionists have been telling everyone just give us some more time and the transitional fossils will appear. We still are waiting. At what point do we say enough is enough and change the theory to fit the observations? Biology seems to be the only field that steadfastly refuses to adjust the theory to fit the facts. Just recently there was an article in the Houston Chronicle dated November 29, 2012 about scientists finding an enormous black hole in the in a small disk shaped galaxy smaller than the Milky Way galaxy. This galaxy is a rather small galaxy and according to current theory should not have such a large black hole. So what are the cosmologists and astronomers going to do? If they follow the biologists they wound just ignore the observation and say that eventually we will find something to fit or they can change the theory. To their credit they are looking at changing the theory to fit the observations. How novel.

Evolution may eventually be changed to fit the facts and could be actually proved to be correct. But based on its track record so far not until the theory is changed to fit the facts. Until then we have a theory and we have the observations unfortunately they do not mesh.

As an aside, it has bothered me that such a respected scientist and author as Stephen Jay Gould would be treated as though he had somehow betrayed the cause because he dared question not evolution but gradualism.  If evolution is beyond questioning by scientist then who can question it and how will it evolve?

Have a blessed day,


PS I apologize for the delay between postings on this subject but I wanted to do justice to the subject. This means a lot of side reading such as Gould’s book and for the most part I just do not like to use Wikipedia as my source. At the moment this looks like it will be a nine part series. So bear with me and as always I appreciate your comments, just keep them civil. I have always believed that we need to be open to opposing viewpoints, how else can we learn and strengthen our own arguments.




About dwwork

The name of this blog is taken from 1 Peter 3:13 - “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience. This verse became special to me over ten years ago when I was asked to teach an adult Sunday school class on Christian apologetics. This interest grew over the years to the point that I took some graduate level classes in apologetics. I think the best way to be prepared to give and answer to everyone who asks is to know scripture. It is my hope that through these short devotionals the reader will become more familiar with each verse. I have tried when possible to make them personal hoping in some small way to show that God’s word written over two thousand years ago is still relevant today. In the writing of these short devotionals I have been able to better understand how God’s word impacts my life. It is my hope that you too will come closer to our Lord Jesus and develop a closer relationship with Him. Finally, if the reader finds anything in conflict with scripture please let me know. God’s word is the final authority always overrules anything I might write. David
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9 Responses to Evolution – Science Trapped in the Nineteenth Century Part 2

  1. Allallt says:

    The crux of evolution, something you skipped over near the beginning and I’m not sure why, is mutation. Selection doesn’t just happen from what already exists, mutations happen.

    Francis Collins, leader of the Human Genome Project, outlines the genetic evidence for evolution. I.e. even without the fossil record evolution would be well supported by the evidence.

    I’m not sure what transitional form you think is missing. Between what two species do you expect to see a transitional form, and don’t? The velociraptor had a feathered arm that it used for balance; is that not a proto-wing in your eyes? And if not, what would a proto-wing look like to you?

    This is important to read (http://news.nationalgeographic.co.uk/news/2006/03/0308_060308_evolution.html) notice how it talks about “events”. Events are punctuated. Evolutionary theory has moved on (that said, there are also gradual elements of evolution… but I digress).

    • dwwork says:

      I am getting there, I agree on the importance of mutations to evolution. I am trying not to rush this topic. Hopefully as I continue my posts I can give an answer to the issue you bring up. Thanks again for stopping by and making comments. David

      • Allallt says:

        Sorry, I brought it up because you said “natural selection can only select what exists”. To say this without mentioning mutation is very misleading. Mutation changes what exists.
        Obviously mutations are not the only bit. The most common form of evolution affects allele frequency; it changes existing characteristics within a bell-curve… for example if we suddenly had to live in water people with webbed digits would propagate better and more webbing would be more helpful (to a point).
        Other allele changes (without mutation) can affect hairiness, tendency to bipedalism, intelligence, co-ordination, voice, facial characteristics… so it’s not like natural selection without mutation is impotent. Variation (which is not mutation) is very useful in it’s own right.

        I also pointed you to evolutionary “events” (stepped events, not gradualism), the ‘missing link’ between arms and wings–the velociraptor, and challenged you to tell me exactly what missing link you think is missing (and why the ones we have aren’t sufficient).

        I get you’re trying to go through this slowly, but can you see how, if I was a person who wasn’t sure what the evidence was for evolution, your posts would appear misleading?

      • dwwork says:

        I wanted to take a few minutes to respond to your comments rather than wait until I finished my series on evolution. First, I stand by my comment that natural selection only works on what exists. For a mutation to be selected it first has to happen, I know you were not inferring anything else. Natural selection can neither create nor look forward it can only work with traits that exist. I do not see how this is misleading no matter what ones familiarity with evolution happened to be. By definition natural selection selects and for something to be selected it has to already exist. As to mutations and allele frequency, mutation is the change driver for evolution and I think it deserves more than a passing comment. Alleles once again are traits that already exist which may or may not have any evolutionary value. Hair and eye color are iffy while skin pigmentation helps in vitamin D production.

        As to which “missing links” are missing, all of them are missing. Nowhere in the fossil record do we have a species slowly changing into another species. What we do have, and I think Stephen Gould makes the case for this in his writings about punctuated equilibrium, are distinct fossils that come into the timeline as fully formed species and leave the record recognizable as the same species. The so called links are species that paleontologist have essentially stacked together and told us, look this evolved into this with no explanation as to how the changes took place in the time between the various fossils. Not only that but there is disagreement as to which fossils leads to which. The whole reason Gould came up with the theory of punctuated equilibrium is because the fossil record does not support gradualism. We just do not have one species changing into another.

        As to your statement that “The velociraptor had a feathered arm that it used for balance; is that not a proto-wing in your eyes”, I am not sure what proof you have that the velociraptor used its arms for balance as a proto wing. As far as I know behavior is not fossilized. We can make assumptions as to what the velociraptor did or did not do with its feathered arm but we can never be sure. And calling its arm a proto-wing, you might as well call any arm a proto-wing or a leg, I mean why not. The fact is we do not know what purpose feathers had in dinosaurs. Most likely for warmth, maybe for reproductive show but all that is speculation. One problem is we do not have a three dimensional picture of how the feathers were arranged. Did they cover the entire body or only parts? As to the theory that some dinosaur ran around flapping their arms and eventually those arms evolved into wings, that sounds strangely Lamarckian.

        In regards to punctuated equilibrium, Gould’s theory is far from being accepted. One of its fiercest critics is Richard Dawkins. When I read his comment in The God Delusion about Gould and his theory I could not help but think Dawkins was treating Gould as that crazy cousin that comes around ever so often that you hope will keep their mouth shut around your friends. I would recommend Gould’s book The Structure of Evolutionary Theory.

        As to your reference to Francis Collins and his genetic evidence for evolution, I assume you are referring so called “Junk DNA”. If so your information may be a bit dated. It seems that the junk DNA really has a purpose. That is the problem with thinking that because we do not know what the purpose of something is that is must not have a purpose. See the article about the Encode project, the successor to the Human Genome Project, in the Wall Street Journal here, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390443589304577633560336453228.html You can find similar articles on this research in various papers and magazines as well as online.

        Thanks for the link to the National Geographic article; I remember reading the article in the print edition, sorry old school, what I take away from this is it is a great article showing microevolution, that is changes within a species. For all the changes over the last ten thousand plus years in the human genome we still have humans. There has been no evolution to another species. In fact, it would seem that macroevolution has stopped. As far as I can ascertain there are no new kinds of animals evolving. All we see is traits that a species already has becoming dominant such as antibiotic resistant bacteria. When all is said and done you still have a bacterium not something else. But this will be a separate post.

        Finally, yes there have been some changes to evolutionary theory such as genetics but as to the fundamentals they remain the same. Chance beneficial mutations which give the organism some survival benefits over others of its species get selected and handed down to its offspring. Then over some time period, usually millions of years a new species evolves replacing the old.

        Once again thanks for your comments. I really do appreciate them. I enjoy the exchange; I always believe that it sharpens our own thoughts when we are challenged by someone with a different slant. I just ask for patience as I go through these posts at me own rather slow speed. I realize I have much improvement as a writer and blogger, I have only been doing this for two years and us old guys take a little longer to adapt. Also, sometimes my thoughts race past my limited typing ability but I do eventually get there. My next post will be on a subject that I would welcome your thoughts and comments as it is something I discovered about a year ago. I hope to have it finished over the next few days.

        Have a blessed day,


  2. Allallt says:

    I still feel that omitting any comment at all about mutation was misleading, although it really is a minor issue.
    As for one species becoming another, what about Homo ergaster/Homo erectus? There used to only be the broad classification “Homo erectus”, and that covered quite a wide spectrum of early hominid fossils. The earlier part of that spectrum has recently been re-classified as “Homo ergaster”. The line we have drawn in that spectrum is arbitrary, but in reality there are no obvious species lines as you go forward in time along an evolutionary line. (I make this point over on my blog here: http://allallt.wordpress.com/2012/12/22/evolution-and-the-piltdown-man — but I don’t normally deal with evolution). Taxonomy (the discipline of identifying and naming different species) only works on different contemporary animals. In a spectrum–or evolutionary lineage–is it a discipline of drawing arbitrary lines. This is why Gould says that the fossil record looks like a series of distinct and isolated species: taxonomists have insisted on naming them.
    Junk DNA was was the point I was making. The point is that you can draw a family tree out of the life on earth based on the DNA of currently living animals. It is called the phylogenetic tree.

    Look up the phylogenetic tree on Google (there are plenty of pictures of it). See if you can use that to identify why evolving bacteria only ever gives us bacteria; why evolving primates only ever give us primates; why evolving mammals only ever give us mammals; why evolving plants only ever give us plants. Once a family of animals has begun to specialise it’s evolution only becomes more specific. The point is that our early ancestors were non-specialised, so birthed many family of animals.

    • dwwork says:

      Sorry for the delay in my response, I took time off from blogging to spend my time over the holidays with friends and family. I will respond to your comment in my next few posts on evolution. I plan on one post to cover human evolution. I too think too much was made of a minor difference of opinion on mutations. On that let’s just agree to disagree. I once again thank you fro you comments. I always appreciate a thoughtful and intelligent response to my posts. It is always good when people who disagree can have civil discussions. I find they challenge me and make me think through my own beliefs.

      Have a blessed day, David

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