Epic Horse Exhaust

OK, it took me a while to get to it but I am, as promised, responding to creationist Arthur Biele’s lengthy comments left in response to my criticisms of his writings on horse evolution. For those interested I suggest you go back and read Mr. Biele’s article and my original critique first. Those that do I think will find that his response didn’t really answer any of my original criticisms. Instead what he did was dump a new load of barely coherent nonsense on me.

A warning though, this goes on for quite a bit (it sure felt like it while I wrote it), which is of course due to the well known fact that accurately and substantially responding to horseshit takes considerably more time and effort than it does to spewing it.

Biele: With regard to Eohippus, If you knew anything about the actual fossil record, Eohippus finds are many and that category has been a dumping ground for certain archaic partial skulls that defy any specific classification, nor are they known to be ancestors of any known ‘evolved’ descendants, and they are mostly from Europe.

While apparently attempting to impugn my knowledge of the “the actual fossil record” Mr. Biele clearly demonstrates his own ignorance of the subject at hand. Let’s break this down in order:

1) It is the generic name Hyracotherium, not Eohippus as Biele writes, that has historically been a “dumping ground” for a collection of fairly similar early fossil perissodactyls. For example fossils originally labeled as Eohippus was one of the fossil types that has been, until recently, lumped into Hyracotherium. However a number of paleontologists have begun to work on doing a better job of sorting out the relationships of these various fossils and one of the suggested revisions is that the generic name Eohippus should be resurrected for some of the N. American “Hyracotherium” fossils and that name Hyracotherium should only refer to some of the European fossils (including, obviously, the type specimen described by Richard Owen in 1841.

I addressed this subject in my previous post (which Biele is ostensibly responding to here):

Me: First Eohippus was, until recently, considered a junior synonym to Hyracotherium. In other words fossils once called “Eohippus” were considered to rightfully be classified under the name Hyracotherium by naming priority. Most books and museum displays on horse evolution will have Hyracotherium not Eohippus as the most basal equid. This has changed recently as some paleontologists have suggested that the genus Eohippus should be resurrected (more on this later). …Yes it is absolutely true that David Froehlich and some other paleontologists (Hooker 1994) argue that some of the fossils lumped together in the genus Hyracotherium should be removed from the base of the equid Family tree and placed in other branches of the Order perissodactyla.

I also commented on this in another article on horse fossils which I posted prior to Mr. Biele’s comments:

Me: While current thinking among most paleontologists is that the historically recognized genus Hyracotherium is paraphyletic (that fossils that should have been classified as separate genera have been lumped together), and that only some of these (Eohippus) are in fact in the horse Family (the others belonging to other related Families of the same Order, perissodactyla) (Rose & Archibald 2005)…

2) It should be made clear that “the actual fossil record”—the collective physical remains of past life on earth trapped in various sediments—is not the same as the taxonomic debate about how we choose to classify those remains once we’ve dug them out. Biele seems to conflate the two. It’s just a nit but I wanted to make the point.

3) Mr. Biele’s implies that the fossil record of Hyracotherium consists of partial skulls found mostly in Europe; he is mistaken on both counts. There are numerous complete fossil skeletons and masses of partial material that were classified as Hyracotherium and these are mostly from North America not Europe (where Hyracotherium fossils were relatively rare and more fragmentary). (Prothero 2009)

4) As for his assertion that Hyracotherium is not ancestral to “any known” later animals, well, that’s all that it is, a bald assertion. Clearly we cannot know with certainty whether any of the fossils we have are directly ancestral to later animals (living or extinct) but we can determine relative similarities of different fossils types and we can determine whether there is any temporal or geographic pattern to the distribution of these fossil types and in this case there are both similarities amongst fossils and a pattern to their distribution in the fossil record. These facts need explaining and descent with modification does this.

Biele: Three toed horses are still born today, even from one toed parents. The respective gene or genes forming the number of toes is still available for horse offspring. If it should disappear, then genetic information is simply lost. That would be devolution, and not evolution as Darwin imagined.

Evolution is not necessarily about organisms having more of something or being bigger than their ancestors. It is about adapting to whatever environment a population of organisms finds itself in. That could mean having less of something or being smaller than your ancestors. That could mean adapting fins into legs, or reducing toes and thereby becoming a more efficient runner. Either way this is evolution “as Darwin imagined” it, though we are not limited to what Darwin could ‘imagine’.

In the case of the single toed feet of horses, they are what biologists call more derived than the basal tetrapod foot, which has five toes. Humans for example are basal with regards to our hands and feet bearing the typical tetrapod compliment of five digits each (very early tetrapods had more toes but that is another story), whereas horses are derived in having modified both fore and hind feet down to a single digit (digit #3) which is homologous to our middle finger/toe.

The fact that living horses with their well adapted single toes still carry the genes to develop multi-toed feet is excellent evidence that they are derived from ancestors that had multi-toed feet just like the horses we find in fossil record.

Biele: Pliohippus was remarkably similar to Equus and some have claimed Pliohippus to have traits more ‘advanced’ than Equus. Though I certainly can not find any scientific literature that clearly defines what ‘advanced’ means in biological terms.

The term “advanced” as it was used in biology simply means: different from the ancestral condition. It is generally replaced in the modern literature with the terms ‘derived’ or ‘apomorphic‘. Likewise the term “primitive” in the older literature meant: “more like the ancestral condition” and is replaced by the terms ‘basal’ or ‘plesiomorphic‘ (see my use of the terms above).

One reason for the change in nomenclature is that the terms primitive and advanced could have value connotations that could lead to faulty conclusions. For example, people often equate the term ‘advanced’ with superiority and ‘primitive’ with inferiority. This is not the case in biology however and so scientists have steered away from these terms to avoid such misunderstandings; misunderstandings of the sort that are probably behind Mr. Biele’s bringing up the supposed ‘advanced’ traits of Pliohippus.

As for Pliohippus having some traits which were more ‘advanced’ than Equus, this is only problematic if you 1) think that evolution implies things always getting bigger, faster, stronger etc. and 2) that a reference to ‘advanced’ traits in some fossil means bigger, faster, stronger. Neither is correct. Our hands serve us quite well despite their ‘primitiveness’ (5 digits) and while the ‘advanced’ hooves (1 digit) of equids are excellent for use in galloping around, they don’t exactly allow horses a precision grip.

It’s all relative.

Biele: With respect to natural selection, I too agree with Dr. Raup, as quoted by you, that: “I think it is safe to say that we know for sure that natural selection, as a process, does work. There is a mountain of experimental and observational evidence, much of it predating genetics, which shows that natural selection as a biological process works. (p. 25)

It took me a while to figure out what Biele was referring to here because I did not quote Raup in my criticisms (to which, again, he is supposedly responding). However I did place a link to another article where I had addressed creationist quote-mining of Raup and it is there where this quote appears. The paper is about Darwin’s mechanism of natural selection and whether this mechanism is reflected in pattern of the fossil record, not whether there is a lack of evidence for common descent (see my article).

Here is more from Raup to put the above quote in context [Note: bear in mind that this article is now 30 years out of date!] (Biele’s quote in blue):

Now let me take a step back from the problem and very generally discuss natural selection and what we know about it. I think it is safe to say that we know for sure that natural selection, as a process, does work. There is a mountain of experimental and observational evidence, much of it predating genetics, which shows that natural selection as a biological process works. Darwin’s strongest for selection actually came from the experience of plant and animal breeders who were employing artificial selection to produce evolution by breeding. And selection, be it natural or artificial, can clearly lead to better adapted types through a series of generations and through gradual transformation of a population.

So natural selection as a process is okay. We are also pretty sure that it goes on in nature although good examples are surprisingly rare. The best evidence comes from the many cases where it can be shown that biological structures have been optimized –that is, structures that represent optimal engineering solutions to the problems that an animal has of feeding or escaping predators or generally functioning in its environment. The superb designs of flying reptiles and the trilobite eyes are examples. The presence of these optimal structures does not of course prove that they developed through natural selection but it does provide strong circumstantial argument.

Now with regard to the fossil record, we certainly see change. If any of us were to be put down in the Cretaceous landscape we would immediately recognize the difference. Some of the plants and animals would be familiar but most would have changed and some of the types would be totally different from those living today. The average duration of a species on the earth is less than 10 million years. And the record of really abundant life goes back at least 600 million years, so there has been complete turnover in the biological world many times. This record of change pretty clearly demonstrates that evolution has occurred if we define evolution simply as change; but it does not tell us how this change too place, and that is really the question. If we allow that natural selection works, as we almost have to do, the fossil record doesn’t tell us whether it was responsible for 90 percent of the change we see or 9 percent, or .9 percent. (Raup 1979, pp. 25-26)

Raup then went on to discuss natural selection versus other possible explanatory mechanisms and how they might relate to the fossil record. He also discussed the effects of historical contingency as it relates to extinction pointing out that sometimes species may become extinct due more to “bad luck” than bad genes (this by the way was the basis for his 1991 book Extinction – Bad Genes or Bad Luck?). He concluded this article stating:

The ideas I have discussed here are rather new and have not been completely tested. No matter how they come out, however, they are having a ventilating effect on thinking in evolution and the conventional dogma is being challenged. If the ideas turn out to be valid, it will mean that Darwin was correct in what he said but that he was explaining only a part of the total evolutionary picture. The part he missed was the simple element of chance! (Raup 1979, p. 29)

This is not particularly damning.

Biele: Of course this is true. What is not true is Darwin’s claim that natural selection is a mechanism that brought about all known life forms from some initial self reproducing progenote. All natural selection can do is select EXISTING genetic information. Natural Selection NEVER creates new beneficial genetic information. The only known source for new genetic information is random mutations to existing genetic information.

Nice, SHOUTED attacks on a straw man.

No evolutionary biologist that I am aware of (not even Darwin) argued that natural selection was the only mechanism or process involved in the evolution of life. And why is it that creationists seem to think they are exposing some long hidden truth when they write things like “All natural selection can do is select EXISTING genetic information” and “Natural Selection NEVER creates new beneficial genetic information”? This is something that one can glean from any basic biology textbook or from reading any number of web sites. It is evolution 101 and no one is claiming otherwise, in fact I said exactly this in the post Biele is supposed to be responding to!

As for the source of genetic variation, while it is true that mutation is the ultimate source it is not the whole story. There are three main sources of genetic variation in populations that natural selection can act upon: mutation, gene flow (from other populations), and recombination (via sexual reproduction).

Biele: In fact, the very fact that mutations can only create new genetic information from existing undermines the whole of evolution theory. For where could the existing information for life possibly come from. The only answer to this is a Supreme ever living intelligent Creator, because the only known alternative to a Creator for the origin of life is abiogenesis, but abiogenesis has been totally by the science fPhysics. Physics is my specialty, and physicists understand the problem with evolution. The best they can say about evolution is that science awaits the discovery of a yet unknown ordering principle in the universe that can account for the possibility of abiogenesism as well as the evolution of the first living cell to the great diversity of life as we know it.

This is getting pretty far afield from the subject the fossil record of horses or even evolutionary theory. What he’s after here is abiogenesis (the origin of life from non-life) and by invoking miracles (AKA “God did it”) Mr. Biele has wandered off the scientific reservation entirely. He is merely presenting us with another tired god of the gaps argument.

Mr. Biele is not omniscient, he cannot know what may or may not be discovered about abiogenesis in the future. The fact that it is currently an unanswered question does not mean that it never will be or that he or anyone is justified in trying to fill the gap with untestable speculations based on ancient creation myths.

He is of course free to believe whatever he likes, just as long as he doesn’t try to pass it off on the rest of us as science. The current scientific answer to the question of how life originated from non-life is: we don’t know. If we never make progress in answering this question then the scientific answer will remain: we don’t know.

And once again it has to be repeated, the origin of life (abiogenesis), while it is related to the evolution of life, is nevertheless a separate question. Our current lack of a complete accounting of the process by which life originated has absolutely zero effect on evolutionary theory; Zero, zilch, nada.

Oh, and judging from what he has written so far, I am not overly filled with confidence in Mr. Biele’s supposed physics inspired “understanding” of evolution.

Biele: “Marsh’s ‘Horse Evolution’ is still presented as fact to students today! A fossil exhibition was staged at the American Museum of Natural History.

I hate to break it to you Mr. Biele but there is still an exhibit on the evolution of the horse at the American Museum, it’s just updated from Marsh’s version so as not to give the false impression that the evolution of the horse was a linear affair (something the older displays tended to do). Here is a link to a video (RealPlayer) on the AMNH website where paleontologist Mike Novacek talks about the exhibit. Then there is the following is from the AMNH web site on horses:

Evolution of species: The abundance of horse fossils makes this a well-studied group of animals, and one that serves as a solid example of evolution. The horse family, known as Equidae, first emerged in North America 55 million years ago and has changed over time. The general trend went from smaller to larger species. Yet this evolution did not proceed in a steady, linear sequence. Rather, new species diverged from common ancestors like branches on a tree. Nearly all of these diverse horses went extinct. Today the family Equidae, which also includes asses and zebras, has only seven species.

Ah, now we get to the inevitable creationist quote-mining, you’ve got to love it!

Biele: “The exhibit is now hidden from public view as an outdated embarrassment. Almost a century later, paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson re-examined horse evolution and concluded that generations of students had been misled.” Encyclopedia of Evolution – Richard Milner 1995

Ah yes, Richard Milner, a nice guy. Now let’s look at the quote Biele gives in context (Biele’s quote in blue):

Marsh’s classic unilineal (straight-lined) development of the horse became enshrined in every biology textbook and in a famous exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. It showed a sequence of mounted skeletons, each one larger and with a more well-developed hoof that the last. (The exhibit is now hidden from public view as an outdated embarrassment.)

Almost a century later, paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson re-examined horse evolution and concluded that generations of students had been misled. In his book Horses (1951), he showed that there was no simple, gradual unilineal development at all.

There were three complex radiations in the course of horse evolution, as they shifted from browsers on forest leaves to grazers on grassy plains. Sixteen different genera developed, of which 15 became extinct. Several lineages had developed in each adaptive zone, producing complex branches rather than a single line. Some grazers had well-developed hooves; others retained their toes. Rates of development were not gradual but “jerky.” Teeth, toes and body size varied in different lineages, independently of each other.

It was an easy mistake to make, since only one genus of horse is left today, Equus. Marsh arranged his fossils to “lead up” to the one surviving species, blithely ignoring many inconsistencies and any contradictory evidence. Ironically, his famous reconstruction of horse evolution was copied by anthropologists. They too, thought they saw a straight-lined lineage “leading-up” to the sole surviving species of a once-varied group: Homo sapiens. (Milner 1990, p. 222)

So there is nothing in what Milner was saying that casts doubt on the evidence for horse evolution in the fossil record, quite the contrary. He is just giving a historical lesson on how our understanding of how horse evolution (and evolution in general) took place has changed.

Biele: The modern evolutionists acknowledge that the fossil horses compose a non linear ‘bushy’ assemblage from which there is is no clear evolutionary path.

So what, there are too many intermediate fossils now? What a predicament. The fossil record of horses is “bushy” but that doesn’t mean that it is a random collection of fossils with no discernable pattern (see illustration below).


McFadden & Hulbert (1988) p.468

Biele: Each type of horse appears suddenly in the fossil record, remains unchanged for millions of years, then extinction.

Allow me rephrase this more accurately:

Different species of the Family Equidae appear in the fossil record in a clear temporal sequence, remain relatively unchanged during their respective tenures until they eventually become extinct. Sometimes after a species appears in the fossil record it is joined by similar more derived species, which may continue to exist after the first species becomes extinct, and occasionally species are simply replaced in the fossil record by similar more derived species.

Biele: The Equus alone remains today, and in itself, Equus is an extremely diversified group of horses that include the small Shetland Pony and the Zebra.

While the Family Equidae was relatively diverse in the past with as many as 30 different genera known from the fossil record, only someone with little knowledge of zoology could describe a single living genus (Equus) made up of 7 or 8 species as “extremely diversified”.  To give you some idea of what I mean, compare this to the Family Cervidae (deer, moose, elk, etc.) which is made up of about 17 genera with around 44 species, or Bovidae (cows, buffalo, wildebeest, gazelles, etc.) with about 50 genera made up of around 140 species.

Biele: Gaylord Simpson once claimed: “The line from Eohippus to Hypohippus exemplifies a fairly continuous phyletic evolution.” G.G. Simpson, Horses, 1951, pg 215.

Gould Replies: “The enormous increase in fossil evidence since Simpson’s time has allowed paleontologists …. to falsify this view. In other words, bushiness now pervades the entire phylogeny of horses.” S. J. Gould, Full House 1997, pg 67-69.

OK, wow, while digging into the background material on these two quotes I uncovered some things about what Stephen Gould wrote here that I think I will have to perhaps address in another post. For now I will just note that the quote as Biele gives it is bit of a ‘Frankenquote’ artificially stitched together from different pages without sufficient notation (though Biele did give a range of pages that includes all three parts). The first part, the quote from Simpson (on page 67) clearly comes via Gould and not directly from Simpson, as Mr. Biele indicates, as Biele leaves out a couple words from the original and simply stitches the two parts Gould gives without ellipses. The two remaining parts come from the next two pages. Here is the context with the Simpson quote in bold and the rest that Biele quoted in blue:

Rearguard defenders of the ladder might reply that I have been discussing only the last (and admittedly bushy) third of equine evolution. What about the first 40 million years, shown as tolerably linear even on MacFadden’s arborescent picture (Figure 10)? This earlier period has been the chief domain for friends of linearity. Even G. G. Simpson, who began the transition to bushy thinking in his wonderful 1951 book, Horses, and who drew the first famous arborescent diagram of equine phylogeny (a less bushy ancestor of MacFadden’s version, reproduced here), defended the basic linearity of this earlier record. “The line from eohippus to hypohippus,” he wrote (1951, page 215), “exemplifies a fairly continuous phyletic evolution. Simpson especially emphasized the supposedly gradual and continuous transformation from Mesohippus to Miohippus near the top of this sequence (see Figure 10 for all names and times):

The more progressive horses of the middle Oligocene…are placed by convention in a separate genus, Miohippus. In fact Mesohippus and Miohippus intergrade so perfectly and the differences between them are so slight and variable that even experts find it difficult, at times nearly impossible, to distinguish them clearly.

The enormous increase in fossil evidence since Simpson’s time has allowed paleontologists Don Prothero and Neil Shubin (1989) to falsify this view, and to introduce extensive bushiness into this last stronghold of the ladder, as predicted by the theory of punctuated equilibrium (see Eldredge and Gould, 1972; Gould and Eldredge, 1993). Prothero and Shubin made four major discoveries in this early segment of equine history that Simpson had designated as the strongest case for a gradual sequence of linear transformationthe transition from Mesohippus to Miohippus.

First, the two genera can be sharply distinguished by features of the footbones, previously undiscovered. Mesohippus does not grade insensibly into Miohippus. (Previous claims had been based on teeth, the best preserved parts of mammalian skeletons. The genera cannot be distinguished on dental evidence –the major criterion available to Simpson.)

Second, Mesohippus does not evolve to Miohippus by insensible degrees of gradual transition. Rather, Miohippus arises by branching from a Mesohippus stock that continues to survive long afterward. The two genera overlap in time by at least 4 million years.

Third, each genus is itself a bush of several related species, not a rung on a ladder. These species often lived and interacted in the same area at the same time. One set of strata in Wyoming, for example, has yielded three species of Mesohippus and two of Miohippus, all contemporaries.

Fourth, the species of these bushes tend to arise with geological suddenness, and then to persist with little change for long periods. Evolutionary change occurs at the branch points themselves, and trends are not continuous marches up ladders, but concatenations of increments achieved at nodes of branching on evolutionary bushes. Prothero and Shubin write,

This is contrary to the widely held myth about horse species as gradualistically varying parts of a continuum, with no real distinctions between species. Throughout the history of horses, the species are well-marked and static over millions of years. At high resolution, the gradualistic picture of horse evolution becomes a complex bush of overlapping, closely related species.

In other words, bushiness now pervades the entire phylogeny of horses. (Gould 1996, pp. 67-69)

Once Gould’s quote is read in context we can see that there is nothing he is saying that casts doubt on the evidence for equine evolution. Instead it is just an example of Gould correctly pointing out that evolution typically leads to a branching pattern rather than a chain-like linear pattern in the fossil record and stressing what he sees as evidence for his punctuationalist view of evolution in the fossil record of horses. Of course creationists like Mr. Biele don’t seem capable of distinguishing the difference between a scientist putting emphasis on a particular aspect of evolutionary theory and a repudiation of the theory. Hence people like Gould are favorite targets for their quote mining.

As I said though there are several issues I have with what Gould is saying here, including the fact that I think he was doing a little quote-mining himself (from Simpson), but that will have to wait for another post.

Biele: Well, what about this Bushiness. A good example of this Bushiness is the dog family. All dogs today descend from Wolves of just a thousand years ago, including the Great Dane and the little Chihuaua. Yet all variety of dogs can interbreed and bare offspring.

The phenotypic diversity amongst dogs Mr. Biele is describing is all within the subspecies, Canis lupus familiaris, as opposed to the dog Family Canidae which includes foxes and other things. Also dogs were domesticated from wolves more than ten thousand years ago, not merely one thousand years ago, though most extant breed were probably bred within the last few thousand years.

Dogs are amazingly malleable in their response to artificial selection but this doesn’t mean all living things are equally plastic nor does it mean that all similar natural diversity among living things is intraspecies (within species) diversity as with domestic dogs.

Biele: All species of whales can interbreed also.

I call horseshit. Citation please, Mr. Biele. There is certainly evidence of hybridization among some cetacean species (within the extant Suborders) but I am unaware of any evidence supporting the universal interfertility of cetaceans.

Biele: The variations are brought about either by natural selection or from intelligent selection.

Ye gods! Now you are contradicting yourself Mr. Biele. You (from a few paragraphs ago):

Biele: All natural selection can do is select EXISTING genetic information. Natural Selection NEVER creates new beneficial genetic information. The only known source for new genetic information is random mutations to existing genetic information.

Variations in phenotype are due to underlying variations in genotype which are brought about by mutation, gene flow and recombination. Natural selection ‘selects’ from that variation, it does not create it!

Biele: In either case, no net evolution has occurred, only diversification.

I’m sorry Mr. Biele but you don’t get to define things to suit yourself. Evolution is descent with modification (as Darwin called it) or if you prefer (put in modern genetic terms) “changes in gene frequency in a population from one generation to the next“. So if the frequency of various genes changes within a population over several generations then evolution has occurred. Sometimes this leads to changes within a species (microevolution) and at others it leads to the evolution of new species (macroevolution).

Biele: When a few Cichlids were introduced into Lake Victoria, through natural Selection they diversified into many species, each occupying a different ecological niche in the lake. Yet, be it dogs or cichlids, the diversification resulted solely from ‘natural or (in the case of many dog types) intelligent selection’ allowing existing traits in each genome to be expressed, and yet, zero evolution occurred as no new genetic information was introduced into the known genetic codes of each genome.

You have it backwards. Natural selection does not work by allowing genetic traits to be expressed. Selection, whether natural or artificial, selects from traits once they are expressed by the embryological development process. And the “no new genetic information” canard has been refuted ad nauseam.

Biele: “Throughout the history of horses, the species are well-marked and static over millions of years.” S. Gould, Full House, p. 69.

Again this is part of Gould’s punctuationalist thinking. Yes, species often change little once they evolve unless they speciate giving rise to one or more new species; as in a zebra-like equid giving rise to a donkey like-equid. The punctuationalist model is that most evolutionary change (again only relatively small species to species changes) take place concurrently with speciation events.

Biele: I wish to acknowledge my appreciation for the sincere efforts of the owner of this blog in presenting his/her? views in defense of evolution.

“His/her views”? Here we see that Mr. Biele is such a gadfly that he doesn’t even take the time to look at who he’s copy/pasting to. Here’s an idea Mr. Biele, take a moment from copy/pasting the same material over and over on different internet forums and click on the “About me” tab at the top of my blog page. I think you’ll find my beard to be a clue to my gender. Hell when I first set out to respond to Mr. Biele’s nonsense I Googled him right off the bat.

Thus ends my response to Mr. Biele’s the first ridiculously long comment copy/pasted on my blog. Now on to part two:

Biele: According to the theory of evolution, every species has emerged from a predecessor. One species that existed previously turned into something else over time, and all species have come into being in this way.

According to the Darwins theory on how evolution occurs, this transformation proceeds gradually over millions of years.

Yes, Darwin was somewhat mistaken about this. Speciation can occur much more rapidly than he probably thought.

Biele: Very long lineages of descent with very gradual modification, producing innumerable generations of intermediate species, each diverting lineage undergoing the transformations of accumulating new organs and body plans that ancestors did not have, but very gradually over long periods of time.

If this were true, there had to be billions of such creatures that made up these evolutionary trends. More importantly, the remains of these creatures should be present in the fossil record, documenting the millions of the predicted gradual trends of morphological evolutionary transformations, also known as ‘phylogenies’.

Billions of such creatures surly did exist, but you grossly overstate the likelihood of their being fossilized. To begin with fossilization is a fairly rare phenomenon but even if something does fossilize it then has to survive countless ages, with their attendant countless chances of being eroded away or destroyed by other geological processes, and after all that it has to erode out of the rock at just the right moment for a passing paleontologist to happen to look down and see it.

Given all this it is rather amazing that we have the wonderful fossil collections that we do.

For example an amazing set of fossil footprints belonging to an early tetrapod was recently discovered in Poland that predates the oldest known body fossils of tetrapods by 18 million years. This means that thousands of generations of tetrapods were living and dying during 18 million years of Earth history that we have so far not found evidence of. Then of course there are whole groups of animals that we know must have lived on Earth since before the Cambrian period for which there is no known fossil record at all.

Biele: This is the one solid real science prediction of evolution, that we would be able to see it in the fossil record if such broad-scale evolution is true.

And we do. The fossil record of the horse family is a perfect example of this and again even many young earth creationists admit this (Cavanaugh et al. 2003, p. 145). And it gets even better if we look at perissodactyls (odd-toed ungulates) the group to which the horse family belongs (along with rhinos, tapirs and some extinct types).

Biele: The fossil record embarrassed Charles Darwin.

Now I am not granting what you say as a given but even if it was, so what? Things change. We know more than Darwin. He started the science of evolutionary biology but he didn’t finish it.

Biele: It was suppose to provide and establish these innumerable phylogenies, but few could be found in his day, and these few were questionable.

There was less in the way of small scale (species level) intermediates than what Darwin (with his mistaken understanding of how long evolution took and how old the earth was) thought there should be. However the broad outlines of the evolution of life on earth were well documented by the pre-Darwin creationists, who had already established faunal succession in the fossil record as an absolute fact of geology decades before Darwin wrote the Origin of Species. As for the details of particular animal groups, those fossil lineages have been slowly but steadily filled in ever since and show no signs of stopping.

Biele: A contemporary of Darwin, a paleontologist, questioned Darwin’s Theory by pointing that if Darwin’s Theory be true, why do each successive layer of fossil beds merely have the same unchanged fossils of each type of animal or plant that are found at the different layers.

We are going to need a quote and citation for this Mr. Biele. I want to know who this supposed paleontologist was because if someone did say this then they were not very competent. Again, as I documented in the post to which Mr. Biele is purportedly responding, faunal succession in the fossil record was a long established fact, by creationist scientists (who also recognized the existence of intermediate fossil forms), when Darwin first published on evolution.

Biele: Darwin was well aware of this, and in his book, Charles Darwin attempts to explain this ‘unpleasant’ fact away by appealing to the imperfection of the fossil record in his day. Darwin gambled the validity of his theory on his prediction that future generations of paleontologists will discover the phylogenies. For the next 100 and so years after Darwin, Paleontologists (and others) traveled the world hoping to make a name for themselves by finding these phylogenies that Darwin’s Theory predicts, must exist.

And they have succeeded beyond Darwin’s wildest dreams, the ignorant denial of creationists (like the next sentence) notwithstanding.

Biele: They were never found in the geological record. They do not exist. Not even one.

Biele: Testimonies to this fact include:

Testimonials are not scientific evidence even if they come from scientists. Yet another thing that creationists like Mr. Biele really need to learn is that science isn’t done by quoting authorities and if they wish to make an argument they need to do so with reference to the facts not to opinions (again, even those of scientists). If, for example, they wish to claim that this or that fossil is not an intermediate form, then they need to demonstrate by references to the anatomy of the fossil in question (and its supposed relatives) not by quoting some supposed authority giving an opinion that the fossil isn’t intermediate. Of course this would require that they actually learn something about the fossils in question.

However since they really don’t care and are not curious about such things and are instead solely motivated by theological concerns, they would rather just copy and paste opinions of whoever they think might be perceived as an authority on the subject (it doesn’t matter if the actually are). This no doubt saves lots of time and the effort of thinking much.

Biele: Botanist and evolutionist Dr. Heribert Nilsson (From a 1953 Science Journal, as quoted in Arthur C Constance book: `The Earth Before Man’, part 2, Doorway Publications, Ontario Canada, 1984):

“My attempts to demonstrate evolution by an experiment carried on for more than 40 years have completely failed. At least, I should hardly be accused of having started from a preconceived anti-Evolutionary standpoint. … It may be firmly maintained that it is not even possible to make even a caricature of an Evolution out of paleo-biological facts. The fossil material is now so complete that it has been possible to construct new classes, and the lack of transitional series cannot be explained as being due to the scarcity of material. The deficiencies are real, they never will be filled.”

I addressed Nilsson in the post to which Mr. Biele is allegedly responding but once again he is quoting him, though this time via an old earth creationist author (Custance not “Constance”). And indeed it is every bit as persuasive this time around given that it was written 56 years ago by a botanist (as opposed to, say, a paleontologist) who thought that the earth was periodically hit by massive global catastrophes (due to near misses by the moon and other planetary bodies zipping around the solar system) which reduced all life on the planet to an organic mush which then spontaneously reconstituted itself into new variations on the previous living types (a scenario for which there in no evidence).

Make perfect sense, if you’re really, really, high on some sort of controlled substance. The man was a crank. Guess what that makes anyone who would quote him as an authority.

Biele: Confirming this view in 1960, Evolutionary paleontologist Neville George stated: “There is no reason to apologize any longer for the poverty of the Fossil record. In some ways it has become almost unmanageably rich.”

Context can be a heartless bitch, if you are a creationist quote miner (quoted portion in blue):

There is no reason to apologize any longer for the poverty of the Fossil record. In some ways it has become almost unmanageably rich, and discovery is out-pacing integration: the growing number of species of Foraminifera that remain undescribed in the cabinets of the oil companies probably is of the order of thousands; and while most other groups are not so fully collected the ratio of added finds to paleontologists studying them is constantly expanding. But what remains to be discovered is likely to be less and less of radical importance in revealing major novelties, more and more of detailed infilling of fossil series whose outlines are known. The main phyla, in so far as they are represented by fossils, now have a long and full history that is made three-dimensional by a repeatedly cladal phylogeny. The gaps are being closed not only by the finding of major annectant forms, the “missing links” that Darwin so deplored, like the fish-amphibian ichthyostegids, the amphibian-reptile seymouriamorphs, and the reptile-mammal ictidosaurs, but also by new discoveries of phyletic affiliations, as in graptolite structure. The establishment of true lines of evolution, critically analysed in light of neontological population studies and the biometrical systematics, collates speciation with origin of species, and confers ancestor-descendant relationship on a pre-Darwinian faunal (and floral) échelle des étres [‘chain of being’ – T.B.].  (George 1960, pp.1-2)

So how exactly is this George quote supposed to confirm the view of Nilsson again?

Biele: Evolutionary paleontologist David Kitts, Ph.D. Zoology, Head Curator of the Department of Geology of the Stoval Museum, `Paleontology and Evolutionary Theory’, Evolution, Vol. 28, Sept. 1974, p 467. Writes: “Despite the bright promise that paleontology provides as a means of `seeing’ Evolution, It has presented some nasty difficulties for evolutionists, the most notorious of which is the presence of `gaps’ in the fossil record. Evolution requires intermediate forms between species and paleontology does not provide them.”

Kitts’ somewhat (in my opinion) pedantic paper is basically about whether it is possible to determine the mechanism(s) driving evolution by looking at the fossil record. For example he notes that while the Synthetic theory of evolution can account for the pattern of the fossil record (Kitts 1974, p.468) he argues, naively I think, that other evolutionary ideas, such as those of Schindewolf or Goldschmidt and perhaps even Lamarck, can do so just as well.

However, contrary to what Mr. Biele implies with his quote, Kitts admits, grudgingly perhaps, that:

The claim has been repeatedly made that the fossil record provides a basis for the falsification of synthetic theory and [George Gaylord] Simpson has demonstrated that this is not the case. (Kitts 1974, p.468, emphasis in original)

He then goes on to claim that Simpson has however not, at least to Kitts satisfaction, made the case for preferring the Synthetic theory over other evolutionary theories.

Biele: Evolutionists Dr. Edmund J. Ambrose, Emeritus Professor of Cell Biology at the University of London, writes: “At the present stage of geological research, we have to admit that there is nothing in the geological record that runs contrary to the view of conservative creationists, that God created each species separately, presumably from the dust of the earth.”

Mr. Biele didn’t bother to give a reference for this quote and unlike many of the others he gave I had not seen it before, so it was fortunate that it was already in the Talk Origins Archive Quote Mine index. So here it is with some context (Biele quote in blue):

We need to remember that the only evidence about the way events occurred in the past is found in the geological records. However sophisticated advances in molecular genetics and molecular engineering may become eventually, the fact that a genetic change or even a new species might be generated eventually in the laboratory does not tell us how new species arose in the past history of the earth. They merely provide possible mechanisms. At the present stage of geological research, we have to admit that there is nothing in the geological records that runs contrary to the view of conservative creationists, that God created each species separately, presumably from the dust of the earth. My own view is that this does not strengthen the creationists’ arguments. (Ambrose 1982, emphasis mine)

Ambrose was (is?) a cell biologist, not a paleontologist, and based on this quote (from the same book) given on the TO Archive, was most likely a theistic evolutionist or perhaps some sort of progressive creationist:

Surely it is not unreasonable to suppose that the Creator utilised existing life forms to generate new forms. I have already suggested that the Creator would operate within the framework of the universe He had created in forming the physical world. May this not be the same for the biological world? (Ambrose 1982)

The rest of Mr. Biele’s comment is a mixture of poorly referenced quote mines and revisionist hallucinatory history that in order for me to respond will take some effort to sort out.

Biele: Right after the pounding of Neo-Darwinian Theory of Evolution presented by mathematicians at the 1966 Wistar Symposium that was held in Philadelphia and was titled, ‘Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Theory of Evolution’.

The 1966 Wistar Symposium has taken on legendary status amongst antievolutionists whose fantasies about what took place have little basis in reality. Here is a contemporary review of the official record of the Symposium:

It is marvelously interesting to read. The impression is of a courtly intellectual minuet with karate chops and savate kicks instead of bows and curtsies. The failure to communicate anything beyond the ordinary intellectual commonplaces is almost complete. Nonetheless, it seems clear that the mathematicians were sunk with all hands aboard. Indeed, Dr. Mayr titled his paper “Evolutionary Challenges to the Mathematical Interpretation of Evolution” and he surely made his case. On the other side, Professor Schutzenberger gave a paper on “Algorithms’ and the Neo-Darwinian Theory of Evolution” which seems profound and basic. It is also impossible to understand. He infuriated the biologists with his “How come a system, which is not the type of system imbedded in the usual space-time topology, has the property that small changes within this typographic typology are meaningful?” He kept raising his question until the end of the symposium and is probably still raising it in some other conference somewhere. The Wistar Institute ought to give a prize to anyone who can understand his point—even without answering his question. Maybe there is a moral in all this for we model-builders! (Miller 1968, p. B-638-639, emphasis mine)

After reading the official record myself (which I’d be willing to bet Mr. Biele has not done) my appraisal mirrors that of Nick Matzke:

If one actually reads the conference transcript, one realizes that what really happened was that approximately two befuddled math/computer science people, Murray Eden and Marcel-Paul Schützenberger (who was later a longtime friend/collaborator of David Berlinski, by the way), were schooled in basic population genetics & evolutionary theory by the likes of Ernst Mayr and Sewall Wright. It makes hilarious reading, along the lines of “we biologists worked out this math 40 years ago, why haven’t you read up on it” and “I can’t get my particular evolution simulation to work on my 1960s-era computer, therefore something is wrong with evolutionary theory!” The central misunderstandings from the mathematician side involved, as always, the same old dumb “but it’s impossible/extremely improbable for these sequences to come together all at once by random chance!” argument, which ignores (as always) the elemental point that evolutionary theory is the exact opposite of all-at-once-by-chance assembly. (Matzke 2008 on Pandas Thumb)

One part of the transcript I found particularly amusing was durring one of the discussion sections where Schützenberger started in on how he wasn’t happy that he couldn’t get his computers to model evolution to his satisfaction, provoking the following exasperated response from biologist C.H. Waddington: “We are not interested in your computers!” (Moorhead and Kaplan 1967, p. 77)

Here are a couple other helpful links on the Wistar Symposium:

Biele: A young Stephen Gould and Niles Eldredge published: “Under the influence of phyletic gradualism, the rarity of transitional series remains our persistent bugbear. … it has stood as the bulwark of anti-evolutionist arguments: “For evolution to be true, there had to be thousands, millions of transitional forms making an unbroken chain.” (Anon., 1967- from a Jehovah’s Witnesses pamphlet).

This quote from Eldredge and Gould is from their 1972 paper “Punctuated equilibria: An alternative to phyletic gradualism” which makes it 6 years after the Wistar Symposium though by the way Mr. Biele presents it, it looks like he is giving an anonymous 1967 Jehovah’s Witness as the source. In fact this reference is given in the text by Eldredge and Gould, though it took some digging to figure this out. Here is the quote with the ellipsis removed:

Under the influence of phyletic gradualism, the rarity of transitional series remains our persistent bugbear. From the reputable claims of a Cuvier or an Agassiz to the jibes of modern cranks and fundamentalists, it has stood as the bulwark of anti-evolutionist arguments: “For evolution to be true, there had to be thousands, millions of transitional forms making an unbroken chain. (Eldredge & Gould 1972, emphasis mine)

The key to understanding this quote (aside from reading it in context of the paper it comes from and the other writings of Eldredge and Gould) is the first sentence which refers to “the influence of phyletic gradualism” and its supposed requirement that the fossil record “…should consist of a long sequence of continuous, insensibly graded intermediate forms linking ancestor and descendant.”

Eldredge and Gould are not saying that the “modern cranks and fundamentalists” are correct in their rejection of evolution due to a supposed lack of intermediate fossil forms, but were instead arguing that once the standard Synthetic view of speciation was taken into account when looking at the fine grained pattern of the fossil record, the apparent lack of species level transitions was to be expected (rather than explained away), and thus it is only an old and inaccurate view of how evolution progressed (which they attributed to Darwin) that might have given any comfort to antievolutionist.

Gould made this point explicitly in a number of later writings:

Darwin’s argument still persists as the favored escape of most paleontologists from the embarrassment of a record that seems to show so little of evolution. 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.

Paleontologists have paid an exorbitant price for Darwin’s argument. 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.

For several years, Niles Eldredge of the American Museum of Natural History and I have been advocating a resolution of this uncomfortable paradox. We believe that Huxley was right in his warning. The modern theory of evolution—little more than a contemporary restatement of basic Darwinism—does not require gradual change. In fact, the operation of Darwinian processes should yield exactly what we see in the fossil record. (Gould 1977, p.14, emphasis mine)

I count myself among the evolutionists who argue for a jerky or episodic, rather than a smoothly gradual, change of pace. In 1972, my colleague Niles Eldredge and I developed the theory of punctuated equilibrium.  We argued that two outstanding facts of the fossil record—geologically “sudden” origin of new species and failure to change thereafter (stasis)—reflect the predictions of evolutionary theory, not the imperfections of the fossil record.  In most theories, small isolated populations are the source of new species, and the process of speciation takes thousands or tens of thousands of years.  This amount of time, so long when measured against our lives, is a geological microsecond. It represents much less than one percent of the average lifespan for a fossil invertebrate species—more than 10 million years. Large, widespread, and well-established species, on the other hand, are not expected to change very much. We believe that the inertia of large populations explains the stasis of most fossil species over millions of years.

We proposed the theory of punctuated equilibrium largely to provide a different explanation for pervasive trends in the fossil record.  Trends, we argued, cannot be attributed to gradual transformation within lineages, but must arise from the differential success of certain kinds of species. A trend, we argued, is more like climbing a flight of stairs (punctuations and stasis) than rolling up an inclined plane.

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. (Gould 1983, 259-260)

Personally I am of the school that Eldredge and Gould set up a bit of a straw man in “phyletic gradualism”, but that discussion is for another time. For an excellent overview of punctuated equilibrium and the straw man to which I refer see Wesley Elsberry’s Talk Origins FAQ on the subject.

But what does Eldredge and Gould’s original paper on punctuated equilibrium have to do with the Wistar Symposium? Mr. Biele does not explain how a symposium at which the main focus of discussion was natural selection and how it relates to population genetics somehow led 5 years later to a paper about how allopatric/peripatric speciation explains the fine grained pattern of the fossil record. As far as I am aware the Wistar Symposium did not cause the slightest ripple in evolutionary biology nor have I seen any evidence that it in anyway inspired Eldredge and Gould to formulate their punctuated equilibrium hypothesis. This seems to be yet another of Mr. Biele’s fantasies. He is of course free to present evidence to the contrary.

Biele: Thus, not only in Darwin’s day, but throughout the Twentieth century the creationists were rightly rejecting Darwin’s theory on this basis, as Gould and Eldredge pointed out.

This is of course contradicted by what Eldredge and Gould have actually said and the actual facts of the fossil record.

Biele: By the 1970’s there came a big rumble against the two Darwinian Theories of evolution emanating from the Field of Paleontology, led by the Evolutionary Paleontologists: Stephen Gould, Niles Eldredge, Steven Stanley, and Colin Patterson. Gould and Eldredge believed they were saving The General Theory of Evolution, by casting out Darwin Theory, and the Neo-Darwinian Theory called ‘The Modern Synthesis’. Gould and Eldredge believed that their new theory for the mechanism of evolution (Punctuated Equilibrium) would replace the false Darwinian Paradigm and thereby preserve the Academic credibility of the General Theory of Evolution (i.e. Common Ancestry).

I’m not sure what Mr. Biele means by “the two Darwinian Theories” of evolution. I could guess but won’t bother. And of course given the fact that Eldredge, Gould and Stanley (Patterson doesn’t seem to belong in this discussion) based their ideas of punctuated equilibrium explicitly on allopatric speciation (part of the Modern Synthesis), Mr. Biele’s claim that they were casting it out make no sense whatsoever. Gould particularly made some rather hyperbolic statements (which will be addressed shortly) about the Modern Synthesis but not in context of punk eek.

Biele: P.E. basically states that evolution occurs in small populations and in too short a time period, and therefore is not recorded in the fossil record.

No it is the Modern Synthesis that says that evolution of new species generally occurs in small subsections of larger populations in a relatively short period of time (geologically speaking). It was Eldredge and Gould’s contention that this mode of speciation should lead to a pattern in the fossil record wherein few species level intermediate forms would likely be preserved. Evolution on a larger scale, of the sort creationists deny, is amply recorded in the fossil record.

Biele: This did not at all sit well with the evolutionary biologists (e.g. Dobzhansky, Mayr, Maynard Smith, Dawkins etc.)

What did not sit well with some other evolutionary biologists was some of the hyperbolic rhetoric that punctuationalists (especially Gould) used to try and depict their ideas as being particularly revolutionary. Richard Dawkins wrote a whole chapter (chap. 9 which I recommend) in his book The Blind Watchmaker (1987) which discusses punctuated equilibrium. Here in condensed form are his objections to punctuated equilibrium, or rather the hyperbole surrounding it:

The ‘gaps’ that Eldredge and Gould and the other punctuationalists are talking about, then, have nothing to do with true saltation, and they are much smaller gaps than the ones that excite creationists. Moreover, Eldredge and Gould originally introduced their theory, not as radically and revolutionarily antipathetic to ordinary ‘conventional’ Darwinism—which is how it later came to be sold—but as something that followed from long-accepted conventional Darwinism, properly understood. …The point that Eldredge and Gould were making, then, could have been modestly presented as a helpful rescuing of Darwin and his successors from what had seemed to them an awkward difficulty. Indeed that is, at least in part, how it was presented—initially…Eldredge and Gould could have made this their main message: Don’t worry Darwin, even if the fossil record were perfect you shouldn’t expect to see a finely graduated progression if you only dig in one place, for the simple reason that most of the evolutionary change took place somewhere else!…But no, instead they chose, especially in their later writings in which they were eagerly followed by journalists, to sell their ideas as being radically opposed to Darwin’s and opposed to the neo-Darwinian synthesis. They did this by emphasizing the ‘gradualism’ of the Darwinian view of evolution as opposed to the sudden, jerky, sporadic ‘punctuationism’ of their own. They even, especially Gould, saw analogies between themselves and the old schools of ‘catastrophism’ and ‘saltationism’. …The theory of punctuated equilibrium is a minor gloss on Darwinism, one which Darwin himself might well have approved if the issue had been discussed in his time. As a minor gloss, it does not deserve a particularly large measure of publicity. The reason is has in fact received such publicity, and why I have felt obliged to devote a whole chapter of this book to it, is simply that the theory has been sold—oversold by some journalists—as if it were radically opposed to the views of Darwin and his successors. …What needs to be said now, loud and clear, is the truth: that the theory of punctuated equilibrium lies firmly within the neo-Darwinian synthesis. It always did. It will take time to undo the damage wrought by the overblown rhetoric, but it will be undone. The theory of punctuated equilibrium will come to be seen in proportion, as an interesting but minor wrinkle on the surface of neo-Darwinian theory. It certainly provides no basis whatever for Gould to claim that the synthetic theory (another name for neo-Darwinism) ‘is effectively dead’. It is as if the discovery that the Earth is not a perfect sphere but a slightly flattened spheroid were given banner treatment: Copernicus Wrong. Flat Earth Theory Vindicated. (Dawkins 1987, pp. 236-252)

Furthermore many biologists confused some of Gould’s other more unconventional ideas (for example his defense of Goldschmidt’s hopeful monster concept) with punctuated equilibrium:

All the great pre-synthesis leaders of paleontology—Cope, Marsh, Dollo, Abel, Osborn and Matthew—concerned themselves primarily with evolutionary laws, evolutionary trends, and the evolution of adaptation. All this would lead to better adaptation but not to greater diversity. How new diversity originated was either explained in terms of essentialistic saltations or in was not mentioned at all. The latter was truer even for Simpson (1944; 1953), whose evolutionary (that is, vertically) species definition made it difficult for him to analyze the problem of the branching of phyletic lines.

Curiously, the answer had been available since the synthesis (Mayr, 1942; 1954) but was ignored by the paleontologists until used by Eldredge and Gould (1972) in their model of so-called punctuated equilibria. They pointed out that when one looks at the geological record, one finds that most fossils belong to widespread, populous species that show little change in the time dimension until they become extinct. A certain proportion of lineages undergoes a process of vertical phyletic evolution (Gingerich, 1976) in which the species of one time level evolve into descendant subspecies or species at the next time level. Far more frequently the extant species are supplemented by—or the extinct species are replaced by—new species that suddenly turn up in the fossil record. In classical literature this sudden introduction of new species was usually ascribed to instantaneous saltations. Eldredge and Gould, however, accepted Mayr’s interpretation that such new species had originated somewhere in an isolate (peripheral or not) and were able to spread far and wide if they were successful. This interpretation of the “introduction of new species” (as Lyell had called it 150 years earlier) agrees well with the fossil record (Boucot, 1978; Stanley, 1979). That such an origin of new types is not pure speculation is documented by the origin of new minor types in peripheral isolates in the living fauna.

In one respect Gould and Eldredge differ fundamentally from Mayr. They maintain that punctuated equilibria are produced by discontinuities of such size that they correspond to Goldschmidt’s hopeful monsters: “Macroevolution proceeds by the rare success of these hopeful monsters, not by continual small changes within populations” (Gould, 1977:30). What Goldschmidt had postulated, and this seems to be endorsed by Gould, is the production of new species or higher taxa by a single step through a single individual. Mayr, by contrast, considers evolution in founder populations a populational process, which is gradual evolution on the human time scale (Bock, 1979). It appears to be saltational only when measured on the geological time scale. (Mayr 1982, pp. 617-618, emphasis mine)

[Note: Gould’s 1977 article (which I quoted earlier and will touch on again below) that Mayr cites here with regards to punctuated equilibriums supposed connection to macromutations is “Return of the Hopeful Monster” in which Gould does indeed argue in favor of macromutation as a possible source of larger scale changes between species, but nowhere in this article does he refer to punctuated equilibrium.]

The tale of punctuated equilibria is an odd one. In factual basis, commonly reported by paleontologists, is that lineages often change very little for millions of years, and then change rather rapidly. When the idea was fist put forward by Gould and Niles Eldredge, it was presented as just what one would expect to see if the orthodox view, that species often arise by rapid evolution in small peripheral populations, is indeed accurate. If only they had left the argument there! Their paper would then have been seen as a useful extension of the picture given in Tempo and Mode in Evolution by George Gaylord Simpson, which was the Darwinian orthodoxy when I was a student. Sometimes, however Gould appears to be saying that the changes, when they occurred, were not the result of natural selection, but some other process—genetic revolutions, “hopeful monsters” (large mutational changes), or what you will. Since “sudden” in the fossil record means thousands of generations, there is no reason whatsoever for supposing any such thing. (Maynard Smith 1995, p.47, emphasis mine)

These quotes show that both John Maynard Smith and Ernst Mayr had no problem with punctuated equilibrium per se (hell, Mayr in some places pretty much says it was his theory all along) but did object to what they perceived as an attempt on Gould’s part to tie it to other ideas involving macromutations.

Gould explicitly denied that he was trying to marry punctuated equilibrium to macromutations, but to be fair to people like Maynard Smith and Mayr, even his denials sent mixed messages:

Punctuated equilibria is not a theory of macromutation; indeed, it is not a theory of any genetic process. (Though its geological geometry, if vindicated, exerts some constraint upon genetic modes. Gradual and sequential substitution of genes will not be a good model for the origin of higher taxa if stasis is prevalent.) It is a theory about larger-scale patterns: the geometry of speciation in geological time. As with ecologically rapid modes of speciation, punctuated equilibrium welcomes macromutation as a possible source for the initiation of species – the faster the better.  But punctuated equilibrium clearly does not require or imply macromutation, for we formulated it as the expected geological consequence of straightforward Mayrian allopatry.

I do feel that certain forms of macromutational theory are legitimate, and I have supported them, though not in the context of punctuated equilibrium (I do have other interests after all). I doubt that macromutation initiates species with a high relative frequency, but even rare occurrences may produce important evolutionary results because big biological rearrangements are themselves so uncommon. (Gould 1982, p. 138, emphasis mine)

Biele: Perhaps unwittingly, in one of his earlier books, Ernst Mayr laid the groundwork for G&E’s Theory of Punctuated Equilibria.

“Unwittingly” only in the sense that he wasn’t a clairvoyant, able to see the future, to know that Eldredge and Gould would coin a new term for a slight variation on his ideas.

Biele: Mayr went against the Modern Synthesis in proposing that rapid speciation occurred in geographical isolated areas and that this may account for the abrupt appearance of species and the lack of evidence of transition found in the fossil record.

Mayr “went against the Modern Synthesis”?! This is some serious unintentional comedy on Mr. Biele’s part given that Mayr was one of the architects of the Synthesis!

Biele: However, according to Paleontologist Steven Stanley: “little attention was paid to the punctuational elements of his work until the 1970’s. This paradox was partly the result of the diffuse, but ever present, counter pressure supplied by the field of genetics, in which Mayr was not a specialist. This gradualistic march of the geneticist had gathered too much momentum to be diverted by peripheral activities.” (Steven Stanley, “The New Evolutionary Timetable”, 1981, p.78).

Mr. Biele should try actually reading the context of his quotes (Biele’s quoted portion in blue):

Mayr’s punctuational arguments flowed directly from his studies of the manner in which species multiply. Distinctive species of birds on islands, for example, seemed to demand a theory for rapid origination. Mayr was the chief architect of the view that most species evolve from geographically isolated populations. Although Mayr reasserted his punctuational views in the widely heralded book Animals Species and Evolution (1963) and became recognized as one of the leading evolutionists of the century, little attention was paid to the punctuational elements of his work until the 1970’s. This paradox was partly the result of the diffuse, but ever present, counter pressure supplied by the field of genetics, in which Mayr was not a specialist. This gradualistic march of the geneticist had gathered too much momentum to be diverted by peripheral activities.

In the early 1970s, two paleontologists, Niles Eldredge of the American Museum of Natural History and Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard University, urged that Mayr’s views be given credence. They first applied the terms “punctuational” and “gradualistic” to the alternative views of evolution. Their writings drew considerable attention to this basic question of alternative views. Unfortunately, an exaggerated polarization developed. Some workers assumed that the punctuational view virtually denied evolution within established species; conversely, they assumed that the gradualistic view saw speciation as almost never being rapidly divergent. Because it then seemed evident that the truth lay on the middle ground, the controversy seemed meaningless or misleading. (Stanley 1981, pp.77-78)

So Stanley is confirming what anyone who actually understand punctuated equilibrium and its history knows, that the hard core of the theory originated with Ernst Mayr, one of the co-architects of the Synthesis, and that exaggerations on both sides of the debate over the theory led to a lot of “misleading” controversy; a “controversy” that was lapped up by creationists and then regurgitated as an excuse to cast doubt on evolution as a whole.

Biele: Now, back to Darwin’s prediction:

Gould (Natural History, May 1977) writes of Darwin’s gradualism: “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. Yet Darwin was so wedded to gradualism that he wagered his entire theory on a denial of this literal record: “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 geologic records, will rightly reject my whole theory.”

This is from Gould’s 1977 article “Return of the Hopeful Monster”, which has come up here twice already. Once again let’s put Mr. Biele’s quote in context (Biele’s quoted portion in blue):

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:

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.

Darwin’s argument still persists as the favored escape of most paleontologists from the embarrassment of a record that seems to show so little of evolution. 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.

Paleontologists have paid an exorbitant price for Darwin’s argument. 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.

For several years, Niles Eldredge of the American Museum of Natural History and I have been advocating a resolution of this uncomfortable paradox. We believe that Huxley was right in his warning. The modern theory of evolution—little more than a contemporary restatement of basic Darwinism—does not require gradual change. In fact, the operation of Darwinian processes should yield exactly what we see in the fossil record. (Gould, 1977, emphasis mine)

So Mr. Biele quotes the part that seems to support his antievolutionist position but fails to quote the part where Gould concludes exactly the opposed a couple of paragraphs later. In fact in the version of this article he later included in one of his essay collections (The Panda’s Thumb, 1980) Gould added the following immediately after the section quoted above to make his point even more emphatically: “It is gradualism that we must reject, not Darwinism.” (Gould, 1983, p. 182)

Biele: “We have all heard the traditional response so often that it has become imprinted as a catechism that brooks no analysis: the fossil record is extremely imperfect. … This traditional approach to morphological breaks merely underscores what Feyerabend meant … in comparing theories to party lines, for it renders the picture of phyletic gradualism virtually unfalsifiable.” (G&E, 1972).

This is from Eldredge and Gould’s original paper on PE and simply addresses their caricature of “phyletic gradualism”, not evolution itself, and so what?

Biele: Gould & Eldredge, explaining PE’s departure from the Modern Synthesis: “To Darwin… speciation entailed the same expectation as phyletic evolution: a long and insensibly graded chain of intermediate forms. Our present texts have not abandoned this view, although modern biology has.” (G&E, 1972).

More from the original PE paper; “To Darwin”, not the Modern Synthesis, which is part of “modern biology”, so again, what is your point Mr. Biele?

Biele: By 1981 The Biologists and powers that be in Academia were very upset with the ‘Punctuationists’ and forced them to tone down their theory and rhetoric, particularly because it is a theory not based on observing evolution in action, but rather, it was based on the inability to see evolution in action in the geological fossil record.

And now entering stage left is the Malevolent Order of Black-Hooded Evolutionist Conspirators TM.

Et tempo et forte imperium!

But even without the wild unsupported conspiracy theory, this statement that PE is based on lack of fossils evidence rather than observations of living things doesn’t pass the laugh test for anyone familiar with the facts such as has already been noted above in the context of the quote from Steven Stanley. Once again:  “Mayr’s punctuational arguments flowed directly from his studies of the manner in which species multiply. Distinctive species of birds on islands, for example, seemed to demand a theory for rapid origination.” (Stanley 1981, p.77)

Here Stanley (and elsewhere both Eldredge and Gould) gave credit to Mayr (and Mayr accepted it) for formulating the core of PE and notes that Mayr’s ideas were based his observations of living populations of birds, not fossils or a lack of them.

Biele: They were forced to say their theory of PE was complementary to the Modern Synthesis (even though at one point Gould and Eldredge already called the Modern Synthesis ‘dead’). They were also coerced into putting out attacks on creationary scientists, who used the punctuationists admissions as confirmation of what they had been saying all along.

Is “creationary” even a word? This conspiracy nonsense is just silly. Gould was a prolific author of (bestselling) books and articles: “…22 books, 101 book reviews, 479 scientific papers, and 300 Natural History essays…” (Shermer 2002, p.492), and was a tenured professor at Harvard University, who had no problem saying whatever he wanted to say (as he often did) regardless of how much disagreement there might be from other scientists.

As for the supposed death of the Synthesis, it as Gould, not Eldredge, who made comments along those lines and I’ll let Ernst Mayr respond to that (I’m getting tired of writing at this point):

Third, vigorous objection was raised to the claim that punctuationism would require a revision of Darwin’s “evolutionary synthesis.” “I have been reluctant to admit it, but if Mayr’s (1963:586) characterization of the synthetic theory is accurate, then that theory as a general proposition is effectively dead” (Gould, 1980:120). The gist of my statement to which Gould refers was that, contrary to Goldschmidt and Schindewolf, nothing happens in macroevolution that does not happen in populations. What Gould actually attacks, and rightly so, is the completely reductionist characterization of evolution by the mathematical population geneticists. To equate these reductionist views with the theories of the evolutionary synthesis is unjustified, however, as I pointed out in a critical review of similar statements published by M. W. Ho and P. T. Saunders (Mayr, 1984b). A rejection of the axiom of most population geneticists, “Evolution is a change of gene frequencies,” is not a rejection of the evolutionary synthesis. The theory of the synthesis is much broader and constitutes in many respects a return to a more genuine Darwinism. The events that take place during peripatric speciation, no matter how rapid they may be, are completely consistent with Darwinism. (Mayr 1992, p.28)

Biele: Under the category: “What you read in a peer reviewed science publication is not necessarily so.”

I reference Gould-Eldredge 1993 paper reviewing the status of Punctuated Equilibria (Punctuated Equilibrium Comes of Age, Nature, 366:223) which labeled Punctuated Equilibria as “a useful extension” and “complement” of the Darwin’s basic model.

However, more recently, Gould stated that some gradualism may exist in the fossil record, but that “…it is really not important in the overall pattern of things.”, that Punctuated Equilibrium is the dominant frequency in the fossil record. Gould spiritedly defended Punctuated Equilibria vs. neo-Darwinism declaring, “you can’t explain [speciation] at the level of adaptive struggle of the individuals in Darwinian, conventional Darwinian, terms. ”When asked about switching from PE as an “alternate” to neo-Darwinsim in his 1972 paper to “complement” in his 1993 paper, Gould exclaimed that “I didn’t write that.” He stated that the editor of “Nature” inserted “complement” into the papers headline without checking with him or Eldredge. Gould fumed, “I’m mad at him about that.” (Stephen Jay Gould’s View of Life: Shit Happens”, Chapter 5, “The End of Science”, John Horgan, 1996).

While that seems to be an example of an interesting, if minor, disagreement with an editor (whose side I’d like to hear), it is hardly evidence that Eldredge and Gould were systematically hampered in saying what they wanted to say, especially in context of their entire record. It is also contradicted by other accounts such as the following from Gould’s childhood friend Richard Milner:

…In 1990 I was hired as a senior editor by Natural History magazine. A few years later, I was assigned to see Steve’s column through to press each month. One did not really edit Stephen Jay Gould. You made a hundred suggestions for possible changes, he accepted three, and that was the end of it. Mostly my job was to check for errors (there were mighty few), to help find suitable pictures, and to frame the essay with suitable quotes and captions. (Milner 2002, p.33)

Gould and Milner in Jr. High

Biele: If a famous and great scientist like Gould is coerced to toe the evolutionary myths that he does not believe, what chance do much lesser scientists have in expressing any anti-evolutionary science facts and still have a job in their field. A friend a mine, a creationist and a respected biologist informed those whom he wored for of biological disoveries he made that contradicted evolutionary theory and was only allowed to publish them in their peer reviewed science journal without any reference that the finds were in contradiction to evolutionary theory. He said the public would never learn of them, but a few biologists reading the article may understand and pick it up the contradictions.

One wonders what color the sky is in Mr. Biele’s fantasy world.

Anyway, Mr. Biele if you read this and wish to respond (respond not post a fresh pile of nonsense) I must insist that you pick one or two items and keep it short (or alternately post them on your own blog or web page). No more lengthy tomes. If you choose to disregard my wishes and attempt to post another long screed like these, I will either delete them outright or perhaps edit them down to one or two things to respond to.

[Note Mr. Biele has posted very similar screeds (some of it verbatim) around the net, see here and here.]


Ambrose, Edmund J (1982) The Nature and Origin of the Biological World, John Wiley & Sons

Ayala, Francisco J. (1992) “Wistar’s Views”, Journal of Molecular Evolution 35:467—471

Cavanaugh et al. (2003) “Fossil Equidae: A Monobaraminic, Stratomorphic Series” in: Ivey, R.L., editor, Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Creationism. Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, pp. 143-153

George, T. Neville (1960) “Fossils in Evolutionary Perspective”, Science Progress, 48(7):1-30

Gould, Stephen Jay (1977) “Evolution’s Erratic Pace” in Natural History 86(5):12-16.

Gould, Stephen Jay (1980) “The Episodic Nature of Evolutionary Change” in The Panda’s Thumb, pp. 179-185, W. W. Norton & Company, New York

Gould, Stephen Jay (1982) “Punctuated Equilibrium – A Different Way of Seeing”, New Scientist (April 15, 1982) pp. 137-141

Gould, Stephen Jay (1983) Hen’s Teeth and Horses Toes (chapter 19: “Evolution as Fact and Theory”), pp.253-262)

Gould, Stephen Jay (1996) Full House: The spread of excellence from Plato to Darwin, Harmony Books

MacFadden, Bruce J. (1992) Fossil horses: systematics, paleobiology, and evolution of the family Equidae, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

MacFadden, Bruce J. & Hulbert, Richard C. (1988) “Explosive specieation at the base of the adaptive radiation of Miocene grazing horses”, Nature 336(6198):466-468

Ernst Mayr, “Speciational Evolution or Punctuated Equilibria“, in Albert Somit and Steven Peterson’s The Dynamics of Evolution, New York: Cornell University Press, 1992, pp. 21-48.

Miller, David W. (1968) “Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution by Paul S. Moorhead; Martin M. Kaplan” – Review, Management Science Vol. 14, No. 10, Application Series (Jun., 1968), pp. B638-B639

Milner, Richard (1990) The Encyclopedia of Evolution – Humankinds Search for Its Origins, Henry Holt and Company, NY

Milner, Richard (2002) “Farewell Fossilface: A Memoir of Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002), Skeptic 9(4):30-35

Prothero, Donald (2009) Personal communication.

Raup, David (1979) “Conflicts between Darwin and Paleontology”, Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin 50(1):22-29

Shermer, Michael (2002) “This View of Science: Stephen Jay Gould as Historian of Science and Scientific Historian, Popular Scientist and Scientific Popularizer“, Social Studies of Science 32(4):489-525

Stanley, Steven M. (1981) The New Evolutionary Timetable, Bacic books, New York


10 thoughts on “Epic Horse Exhaust

  1. Since you refuse me a full response to your article, I will not prepare a full response to your distortions of not only what Iwrote, but also of the PE’s views that theory is not at all complementary to Darwinisn evolution, but was meant to replace it. In the plaeontologists views, evidence for Darwin’s gradualistic theory of evolution is refuted by the fossil record. The PE theory was a means to save The General Theory of Evolution by proposing a new means by which evolution occurs. Of course that theory of evolution also has its’ critical faults too.

    I was preparing a reply in my mind as I read each of your arguments and noting the many sophistical defenses you used in your long awaited reply. A long reply deserves an equal response, And it would have taken me a few days due to my busy schedule. But as you told me what amounts to be ‘take a hike’, that your site is reserved for your own views and accolades, I will honor your wishes. I indeed do plan to actually ‘take a hike’ as it would be good for my health.

    My Best Wishes for your well-being and happiness.


    Arthur Biele


  2. Pingback: One more time with Biele « Playing Chess with Pigeons

  3. From the mouth of Eohippus —-As somebody who took a course (a small graduate seminar) on evolutionary biology with Gould (1984) I would like to inform Mr. Biele that he is completely mistaken in his views about what Gould thought.
    Also, please note that nobody “discovers” phylogenies, especially not in the fossil record. Phylogenies are human constructs relating taxa in an evolutionary hierarchy — information from the fossil record is obviously included if available, and new information can result in a change in the phylogeny. Science is, after all, a human construct, otherwise it would be done by machines (or not at all).


  4. Pingback: Hyracotherium misinformation at scientificamerican.com « Playing Chess with Pigeons

  5. Pingback: Open mouth, insert hoof « Playing Chess with Pigeons

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