Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Paradox of the Visibly Irrelevant #1

I have decided to cease using the term "Quote of the Day" because:

[Graphic: In Memoriam, Stephen Jay Gould, TIME]

1) It makes the title of each post too long; 2) It is not an accurate description when I post multiple quotes (as I usually do); and 3) I may not always be able to post a quote every day. But I will still aim to post at least one quote a day on average.

Here are four quotes (in this two-part post) by the late Stephen Jay Gould, on his "The Paradox of the Visibly Irrelevant" which was the title of an article by him in Natural History (Gould, S.J., "The Paradox of the Visibly Irrelevant," Natural History, December 1997/January 1998, Vol. 106, No. 11, pp.12-18, 60-62, 64,66) and reprinted in Gould's book, "The Lying Stones of Marrakech" (2000).

The first three quotes are from "The Lying Stones of Marrakech" and the fourth is from Gould's magnum opus, "The Structure of Evolutionary Theory" (2002).

Basically Gould was saying (albeit with much beating around the bush) what he had said since the 1980s, that studies of microevolution (small-scale change), e.g. "Darwin's finches of the Galapagos Islands" (p.336. NH, p.14), are irrelevant to macroevolution (large-scale change).

In the first quote, Gould begins by covering his own back from attacks by the Darwinists (e.g. that he is an "accidental creationist") by: 1) a denial that he is saying that "evolution must be too slow to see"; and 2) an attack on creationists who "can then use the fallacy as an argument against evolution at any scale":

"Nonetheless, the claim that evolution must be too slow to see can only rank as an urban legend-though not a completely harmless tale in this case, for our creationist incubi can then use the fallacy as an argument against evolution at any scale, and many folks take them seriously because they just `know' that evolution can never be seen in the immediate here and now. In fact, a precisely opposite situation actually prevails: biologists have documented a veritable glut of cases for rapid and eminently measurable evolution on timescales of years and decades. However, this plethora of documents-while important for itself, and surely valid as a general confirmation for the proposition that organisms evolve-teaches us rather little about rates and patterns of evolution at the geological scales that build the history and taxonomic structure of life. The situation is wonderfully ironic-a point that I have tried to capture in the title of this article. The urban legend holds that evolution is too slow to document in palpable human lifetimes. The opposite truth has affirmed innumerable cases of measurable evolution at this minimal scale-but to be visible at all over so short a span, evolution must be far too rapid (and transient) to serve as the basis for major transformations in geological time. Hence the `paradox of the visibly irrelevant'-or, `if you can see it at all, it's too fast to matter in the long run!'" (Gould, S.J., "The Paradox of the Visibly Irrelevant," in "The Lying Stones of Marrakech: Penultimate Reflections in Natural History," [2000], Vintage: London, 2001, reprint, pp.334-335. NH, pp.12,14).

But while Gould does not say that "evolution must be too slow to see" (because he counts microevolution as "evolution" - which then makes just about any change within a species "evolution," thus making "evolution" unfalsifiable) he does say any "evolution" that is fast enough to see, does not "matter in the long run" (my emphasis)!

So all those claimed items of evidence of visible `evolution in action' in the textbooks, Darwin's finches, Trinidad guppies, Bahamas Anolis lizards (which Gould mentions in the article), and the peppered moths, and African cichlid fish, etc (which he doesn't mention) are all irrelevant "to serve as the basis for major transformations in geological time" which "build the history and taxonomic structure of life."

But this after all is only what the controversy is about-all creationists and IDists have no problem with minor changes)! It is no wonder Darwinists don't want school students to be told more (i.e. the truth) about evolution, which is what the ID movement advocates.

In his main section headed "The paradox of the visibly irrelevant," Gould expands on his claim that "cases of measurable evolution … to be visible at all over so short a span … must be far too rapid (and transient) to serve as the basis for major transformations in geological time." He makes the obvious point that, "These shortest-term studies … cannot represent the general mode for building patterns in the history of life" because they are "vastly too rapid " (by "ten thousand to ten million times faster") "to represent the general modes of change that build life's history through geological ages":

"The paradox of the visibly irrelevant. ... Reductionists assume that documenting evolution at the smallest scale of a few years and generations should provide a general model of explanation for events at all scales and times -- so these cases should become a gold standard for the entire field, hence their status as front-page news. ... Reznick and colleagues end their publication on Trinidadian guppies by writing: `It is part of a growing body of evidence that the rate and patterns of change attainable through natural selection are sufficient to account for the patterns observed in the fossil record.' [Reznick, D.N., et al., "Evaluation of the Rate of Evolution in Natural Populations of Guppies (Poecilia reticulata)," Science, Vol. 275, 28 March 1997, pp.1934-1937] Losos and colleagues say much the same for their lizards: `Macroevolution may just be microevolution writ large -- and, consequently, insight into the former may result from study of the latter.' [Losos, J.B., et al., "Adaptive differentiation following experimental island colonization in Anolis lizards," Nature, Vol. 387, 1 May 1997, pp.70-73] ... But does integration by reduction of all scales to the rates and mechanisms of the smallest really work for evolution ...? I think not .... These shortest-term studies are elegant and important, but they cannot represent the general mode for building patterns in the history of life. The reason strikes most people as deeply paradoxical, even funny -- but the argument truly cannot be gainsaid. Evolutionary rates of a moment, as measured for guppies and lizards, are vastly too rapid to represent the general modes of change that build life's history through geological ages. .... These measured changes over years and decades are too fast by several orders of magnitude to build the history of life by simple cumulation. Reznick's guppy rates range from 3,700 to 45,000 darwins (a standard metric for evolution, expressed as change in units of standard deviation -- a measure of variation around the mean value of a trait in a population -- per million years). By contrast, rates for major trends in the fossil record generally range from 0.1 to 1.0 darwins. Reznick himself states that `the estimated rates [for guppies] are ... four to seven orders of magnitude greater than those observed in the fossil record' (that is, ten thousand to ten million times faster!)." (Gould, Ibid., pp.342-343. NH, pp.61-62, 64. Emphasis original)

More generally, Gould rejects as "reductionist" that "documenting evolution at the smallest scale of a few years and generations should provide a general model of explanation" of evolution "at all scales and times." But this is to reject Darwinism itself, because that is what Darwin did. Darwin said that his observations on the voyage of the Beagle (1831-1836), and "especially" the "species on [the] Galapagos Archipelago" were the "origin … of all my views" (my emphasis):

"In Darwin's Journal the year 1837 contains an entry which runs, `In July opened first notebook on `Transmutation of Species'-Had been greatly struck from about month of previous March on character of S. American fossils--& species on Galapagos Archipelago. These facts origin (especially latter) of all my views.' This notebook is transcribed and printed below and forms the subject of the present study. ... It will be noticed that the passage from the journal quoted above must have been a retrospective entry written at a later date, for if he only began his Notebook in July 1837 he could not then have known what `all his views' were." (de Beer, G.R., ed., "Darwin's Notebooks on Transmutation of Species (1837-1839)," in Appleman, P., ed., "Darwin: A Norton Critical Edition," W.W. Norton & Co: New York NY, First Edition, 1970, pp.70-71)

And Darwinists do the same when they extrapolate from a handful of experiments with bacteria that all mutations in the entire history of life have been random, in the sense of undirected:

"The idea of the spontaneity of mutation is taken as a proven fact by a great many biologists today. And this is the fundamental assumption upon which the whole Darwinian model of nature is based. If it could be shown that some mutations, even a small proportion, are occurring by direction or are adaptive in some sense, then quite literally the whole contingent biology collapses at once. What is very remarkable about this whole issue is that, as is typical of any `unquestioned article of faith,' evidence for the doctrine of the spontaneity of mutation is hardly ever presented. Its truth is nearly always assumed. In nearly all the texts on genetics and evolution published over the past four decades, whenever the author attempts to justify the doctrine of the spontaneity of mutation, he refers back to a series of crucial experiments carried out in the late forties and early fifties on the bacterium E. coli that were associated with the names of Salvador Luria, Max Delbruck, and Joshua Lederberg. But the fact that some mutations in bacteria are spontaneous does not necessarily mean that all mutations in all organisms throughout the entire course of 4 billion years of evolution have all been entirely spontaneous. ... During the course of the past 4 billion years of evolution, countless trillions of changes have occurred in the DNA sequences of living organisms. There is simply no experimental means of demonstrating that they were all spontaneous." (Denton, M.J., "Nature's Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe," Free Press: New York NY, 1998, pp.285-286. Emphasis original)

[Continued in part #2]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
`Evolution Quotes Book'

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