Punctuated Equilibrium

One of the most egregious examples of the creation-evolution debate being divorced from the evidence was the punctuated equilibrium hypothesis proposed by noted evolutionists Stephen Jay Gould and Nils Eldredge in 1972.  Recognizing that traditional  Darwinian evolutionary mechanisms were failing to explain variation, Gould and Eldredge proposed that instead of slow, gradual changes, evolution changed organisms rapidly with long periods of stasis between changes. However, with Gould’s death in 2002, and even a bit before then, punctuated equilibrium was sort of fading from the forefront of evolutionary dogma.  However, I’ve recently read a paper which drew on punctuated equilibrium as an explanation for evolution.  It appears this idea is making a comeback, at least in some circles of science. This article will address this idea and why it is even less scientific than gradual Darwinian mechanisms.

Stephen Jay Gould recognized the lack of transitional forms in the fossil record.

“The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our text-books 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:….In exposing its cultural and methodological roots, I wish in no way to impugn the potential validity of gradualism (for all general views have similar roots). I wish only to point out that it was never -seen- in the rocks.”

His essay in Natural History expressed that he was not attempting to overthrow evolution or the prior Darwinian mechanism. Instead, he was proposing a new mechanism since the old one was not observed.   Evolutionists, including Gould himself, have attempted to explain away this quote but his intent was clear.

Having recognized that Darwinian mechanisms failed to account for the existence of life and the variation that life exhibited, Gould and Elredge proposed a new mechanism they called punctuated equilibrium.  The idea was that organisms evolved rapidly, followed by millions of years in stasis. Thus it was not expected that intermediates would be found in sequence.

The idea was that by some natural process, populations could be split. One of the isolated populations would then undergo rapid evolution, changing a specific trait or traits.  When the two populations came back into contact with one another, they are no longer even the same kind and are unable to interbreed.  The old species are out-competed and goes extinct. Thus the fossils left in the forming strata are from the new organism. Since the two populations were not sharing an area during the evolution of the new kind of organism, it is not expected that there would be a clear link in sequential strata.  Since the evolution occurred rapidly, it is not expected that the changes would be found in the fossil record. This essentially removes the burden of proof from the fossil record. No longer are missing transitional forms a problem for evolution.  They can simply be ignored as if they didn’t even exist.

I call punctuated equilibrium the “ultimate evolutionary rescuing device”. I give full credit to Gould and Eldredge for recognizing that there were problems with the evolutionary theory and having enough courage to admit it needed to be changed publically. However, instead of rejecting the dogma, they decided to postulate a different form of evolution, a form even less empirical than the prior form.

Darwinian gradualism could be tested.  Gould even quoted Darwin staking his whole theory on the existence of missing links.

The geological record is extremely imperfect and this fact will to a large extent explain why we do not find interminable varieties, connecting together all the extinct and existing forms of life by the finest graduated steps, He who rejects these views on the nature of the geological record, will rightly reject my whole theory.

Gould quoted Darwin as saying in his article in Natural History.  Darwin pointed out that if there are no “graduated steps” between organisms, then his whole theory falls apart. Gould recognized that there were no “graduated steps”. Rather than rejecting the theory, however, he proposed an idea which could not be tested.  His argument essentially, boiled down to its base, was that evolution happened too fast to be recorded in the fossil record.  Thus there were no missing links needed.  By extension then, evolution cannot be observed in the fossil record. This removes it from any shred of empirical form. This is not science, it is the height of speculation.

Punctuated equilibrium reeks of desperation. It recognizes a significant problem in evolutionary dogma and provides a rescuing device which is even less empirical than what it was replacing. Punctuated equilibrium cannot be observed, tested, or falsified and even removes a potential test for validity in missing links.  It is completely speculative and should be rejected by any serious scientist as unscientific dogma.


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