Stephen Jay Gould (September 10, 1941 — May 20, 2002) was an American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science. He was also one of the most influential and widely read writers of popular science of his generation. (Wikipedia) He and Niles Eldredge developed the theory of punctuated equilibrium, a theory that states that phenotypic evolution occurs relatively rapidly, between longer periods of evolutionary stability.
According to Gould, Charles Darwin (12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882) was wedded to gradualism, the idea that evolution occurs uniformly through steady but gradual transformation of whole lineages. Borrowing from Wikipedia again, “Authors such as Richard Dawkins argues that constant-rate gradualism is not present in academic literature, and serves as a straw-man for punctuated equilibrium advocates.” (Such as Gould.)
The most important point here, is science develops over time. Scientists do have incorrect theories that change (and improve), and they do disagree with one another. Truth in science is not declared by any particular scientist, it is discovered by the scientific process. Scientists disagree and propose alternative theories, and they try to disprove these theories, including their own. (As I explained in What is Science? in my (incomplete) series on the previous creationism seminar, one of the foundations of science is attempting to falsify (disprove) your theory. The more you fail to do so, the more you can trust it.)
If “creation science” want any respect, creationists should be trying to disprove their own theories using evidence, and they should disprove evolution using evidence, not just appealing to “authority”, especially not appealing to the “authority” of misquotes.
Getting back to Gould, he spends a lot of time arguing for punctuated equilibrium, and arguing against gradualism. Gradualism would suggest a continuous fossil record, while punctuated equilibrium would explain why transitional forms are relatively rare. In the process of doing so, he wrote a lot about the rarity of transitional forms, providing creationist quote-miners with a gold mine. From Gould’s article, Evolution as Fact and Theory:
Since we proposed punctuated equilibria to explain trends, it is infuriating to be quoted again and again by creationists—whether through design or stupidity, I do not know—as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms. Transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level, but they are abundant between larger groups.
Here is an example of a quote mine, very similar to one used in the slides in Dr Batten’s seminar (his slides probably didn’t have as much info, but the first sentence was key to what he wanted to communicate):
The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persist as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils ….We fancy ourselves as the only true students of life’s history, yet to preserve our favored account of evolution by natural selection we view our data as so bad that we never see the very process we profess to study.” – Stephen J. Gould – “Evolution’s Erratic Pace,” Natural History, vol. 86 (May 1987), p. 14.
Notice he is talking here about our favored account of evolution, referring to gradualism. In the creationism seminar, this quote was mined and taken out of context in order to undermine evolution as a whole. For a thorough treatment of this quote mine, explaining the context, see Quote #3.2 on the Quote Mine Project. To borrow “John (catshark) Pieret”‘s words from that page:
Gould, in this article and many more over the next twenty years, consistently and extensively explained his position and the evidence for evolution, including transitional forms found in the fossil record. The constant abuse of the body of Gould’s life’s work in the face of this is not merely dishonest, it is despicable.
Now, to Batten’s talk, using Auke’s transcription with minor corrections (Dr Colin Patterson, Archaeopteryx):
Batten: … if you go back a bit further you find a common ancestor with us, and <..> back further, you find a common ancestor with bananas, and all the way back to microbes that made themselves uh on the Earth. And so the fossils are supposed to show this process, but in fact they don’t.
As Stephen Jay Gould, a famous evolutionist, said, that, uh, the fact that the fossils don’t show evolution, is a trade secret of palaeontology, the study of fossils. If you go uh to the British Museum of Natural History, there is a palaeontologist there, by the name of Dr Colin Patterson, and he he wrote a book about evolution, but in that book he didn’t have any examples, like pictures or illustrations, of transitional fossils, of something becoming something else, and he was asked about that, and he replied and said
“I fully agree with your comments on the lack of direct illustration of evolutionary transitions in my book, if I knew of any, fossil or living, I would certainly have included them. Yet Gould and the American museum people are hard to contradict when they say there are no transitional fossils. I will lay it on the line: there is not one such fossil for which one could make a water-tight argument.”
Another misquote? Who knows. An in-depth treatment of an attempt to investigate this quote can be found at Patterson Misquoted.
Batten:Well there are a handful that get an airing at University, to convince students that evolution is true. But the big picture is that they are missing. And the ones that have an airing now, in 20 years time, will fall of their perch and will be replaced by some other conjectural transitional fossil.
No substance in that paragraph, nothing to respond to. Just unsubstantiated sweeping claims. Or lies, even.
Batten:Let me show you what happens. This is actually a dinosaur family tree from the Chicago Field Field Museum of Natural History, and we have the dinosaur family tree there. And uh we have all these different types of dinosaurs, uh sauropods, and uh tyrannosaurs and so on, and birds, birds are in there, what are they doing there? Well, of course the latest hypothesis is that dinosaurs evolved into birds, and birds are just a feathered dinosaur. The only problem with that is that archaeopteryx, which is a real bird, according to evolutionary dating, actually precedes by a long shot any of its supposed ancestors that are being portrayed in the museums and in popular treatments around the world.
Now I don’t know much about the Urvogel Archaeopteryx and its dating, does anyone care to contribute on this claim? Of course, with creationists’ misquoting tactics and terrible scholarship, and their refusal to own up to past mistakes, I do not blindly trust anything they say. I’d need citations… Wikipedia does have some information and explanations on the “controversy” about its phylogenetic position.
With regards to dinosaur ancestry of birds, I recently came across an article that sequenced Tyrannosaurus Rex proteins, indicating that its closest living relative currently in our databases, is the chicken. (Crocodiles and alligators have not yet been sequenced.) Popular media can be misleading, ignoring that important detail in the title: Who are you calling chicken? T. rex’s closest living relative found on the farm.
Mysteries in science are abundant. Some uncertainty about a particular specimen is not a disproof of evolution. There are many ways that evolution could be falsified though: find a contradiction in the fossil record, find a Pegasus, find a reptile with nipples, a mammal with feathers, something like that.
Creationists believe God created different “kinds”, and that some speciation could occur within kinds, but that the “kinds” are not otherwise related. A bird is a bird and a dinosaur a dinosaur, with no link between them? Ditto for fish and amphibians, reptiles and mammals, reptiles and birds, land mammals and whales? If creationism requires there to be no links between “kinds”, and if creationists were practising real science, finding transitional fossils would falsify their theory. That would explain why they keep on ignoring the transitional forms that do exist, denying the evidence: do they lack the humility needed to admit when they are wrong?
From the Panda’s Thumb blog, Transitional fossils in 18 minutes. Lots of material there, feel free to make use of the pause button and Google:
“And of course, the trees of life constructed from the fossil record are the same as those constructed from genetics, anatomy, embryology, molecular biology, and any other scientific discipline.”
Now I ask: my beef here is with CMI. Shofar hosts CMI, but for now, I choose to believe they do so out of ignorance. Is there any chance that Shofar would distance themselves from CMI, or shall I just go ahead and lump them together? I can add all my Creationism posts to the Shofar category…