Punctuated Equalibrium


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Punctuated Equalibrium

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Set 12, 2009, 12:11am

The theory of punctuated equilibrium was originally proposed by Darwin’s Bulldog, Ernest Mayr, in 1954, but was not popularized until the theory was modified by Niles Eldredge and Stephen Gould and presented at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in 1971.

Punctuated equilibrium contradicts Darwin’s theory. Darwin wrote, “If numerous species, belonging to the same genera or families, have really started into life at once, the fact would be fatal to the theory of evolution through natural selection.”

Identification of a mechanism for evolution, even punctuated evolution, by known natural laws continues to elude discovery after more than a century of unparalleled scientific investigation. Even the Genome Project spelled the final demise of evolution’s Central Dogma. The theory of evolution is more in crisis now than at in other time since the publication of The Origin of Species.

Set 12, 2009, 11:46am

Is this a serious contention, or an attempt to stimulate conversation by being provocative?

That reads as far more controversial than the matter actually is. Darwin happens to have initiated the long discussion of evolution and natural selection. He came up with many useful ideas and perceptive observations. He lived an ordinary human lifespan, and thus was not alive to see his work elaborated by future scientists and thinkers.

So what if later findings turn out to contradict certain statements of Darwin? These are historical footnotes of interest only to those specifically interested in Darwin in particular, not evolution broadly.

You could just as well critique Einstein, to use only one example, for formulating a Theory of Relativity that did not adequately anticipate quantum mechanics. So what? He made major contributions, and subsequent physics and technology elaborated his ideas and vastly expanded the understanding of physics. It's not a knock on Einstein that he came before that. It's a tribute to his genius.

The issues you cite serve to highlight how far biology has come since Darwin. Rather than critiquing Darwinian Theory, these examples address Biology itself. It is biology that has been elaborated, expanded and more deeply understood as time has gone by. Biological understanding is on a much more firm footing now than ever before. Darwin is a historical figure who helped get that process started.

Set 12, 2009, 12:01pm


Heh, 30-paragraph worth of nonsense squeezed into three! Good job, Plastic Man!

Darwin’s Bulldog, Ernest Mayr

No, no, no. "Darwin's bulldog", that was T. H. Huxley. Mayr, "the Darwin of the 20th century", would probably have preferred to be "Darwin's finch".

Set 13, 2009, 5:39am

>1 richardwmnelson:

Darwin's Rottweiler says punctuated equilibrium is bunk, so I think you are running a bit behind the times. When I read Gould's description of it in Wonderful Life it didn't make sense, and that put me off Gould's work.

Set 13, 2009, 10:11am

>1 richardwmnelson: None of what you've written makes a lick of sense to me. Seems pretty much
wrong and ill reasoned. Not sure what your point is. Evolution is not a theory
in crisis, faith in invisible space fairies is.

Set 13, 2009, 10:20am

#5 - Yes, but see he typed out 'Central Dogma' with initial capitol letters. Doesn't that add weight to his statements?

Jan 12, 2010, 9:48pm

What rubbish!

This comment appears to be the usual antiscientific and mendacious misquoting and false attribution of creationist ideas to leading evolutionary biologists in an attmept to replace genuine scientific understanding with religious fable and dogma.

Please at least have the intellectual honesty to read what Stephen Jay Gould has to say in his 2002 masterworkm The Structure of Evolutionary Theory about punctuated equilibrium. This is a ~1400 page defense and extension of Darwinian evolutionary theory that is minutely argued. Darwin's ideas are not dead or wrong, they have only been strengthened and extended through our understanding of genetics, development and complexity theory that has developed in the 20th and 21st Centuries. If you can't stomach the whole book, at least have the honesty to check out the book from a llibrary and follow the index entries on punctuated equilibrium. Admittedly, Gould's ego, and his interests in baseball and architecture and other irrelevant topics add too many words. Unfortunately he died before the work could be edited. Nevertheless, Gould's book is a comprehensive and completely authoritative analysis of Darwin's original works and the 20th Century extensions as we learned more about how living things work in nature.

Jun 12, 2010, 5:06pm

Stephen Gould - I've read many of his books and think highly of the majority of his work. However, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory is impressive only in size (number of pages). It is in desperate need of editing and, as it stands, is an excruciating journey, a stream-of-consciousness rambling thru a vast landscape. I doubt there are many people equipped with sufficient patience (or background knowledge) to make sense of any of it... let alone read the entire volumn. It does, on its side, make a nice "book-end" for my bookshelf on evolution (117 volumes, last count).

If you want to suggest a place to get a handle on punctuated equilibrium, I would point to Eldredge's book The Pattern of Evolution - which not only covers the topic thoroughly but also places it in the proper context... underscoring the role of physical-earth (environmental) changes as being the driving force underlying PE.