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Stasis in Fossil Record

There are three major problems with the fossil record.

1. The first is that the fossil record shows species originating abruptly. This contradicts the predictions of Darwin's hypothesis. His hypothesis calls for very many intermediate forms gradually grading from one species to another. But instead the record shows the opposite - species arise abruptly.

2. Secondly, the geologic record shows that species do not change significantly through time. For millions of years they remain constant - with only minor and random change. This also contradicts the predictions of the hypothesis of Darwin.

3. The "Cambrian explosion" represents a period in which most of the current phyla [broad groups of life forms] all appeared in a very short geological span of time. This also seriously contradicts the hypothesis of Darwin.

The problems with the fossil record are more extreme than it might seem. The evidence of the fossils is in stunning contradiction to Darwin's theory. Generally this contradiction is not well known and so I have attempted to bring out the details.


In pursuit of this subject, I acquired a copy of "The Structure of Evolutionary Theory" by Steven Jay Gould. It is a 1400 page tome that, while well written, would not appeal to the general reader. I wanted to reach a clearly knowledgeable source and Gould is a well known Darwinist who also admits to some of the problems in Darwin's view. Most of the quotes from Gould are from that book.

Gould has called "stasis" the "trade secret of paleontology." One section of the book attracted my interest. In chapter nine that section is headed "What every Paleontologist knows." I hoped that chapter would reveal and prove the "secret". And it did. Most of the quotes here from Gould are from that source. Now more people can learn the "trade secret of paleontology."

Some reasons according to Gould why there naturally occurs such a "secret."

The common knowledge of a profession often goes unrecorded in technical literature for two reasons: one need not preach commonplaces to the initiated; and one should not attempt to inform the uninitiated in publications they do not read. The long-term stasis, following a geologically abrupt origin, of most fossil morphospecies, has always been recognized by professional paleontologists ... p 749-750

But another reason, beyond tacitly shared knowledge, soon arose to drive stasis more actively into textual silence. Darwinian evolution became the great intellectual novelty of the later 19th century, and paleontology held the archives of life's history. Darwin proclaimed insensibly gradual transition as the canonical expectation for evolution's expression in the fossil record. He knew, of course, that the detailed histories of species rarely show such a pattern, so he explained the literal appearance of stasis and abrupt replacement as an artifact of a woefully imperfect fossil record. Thus, paleontologist could be good Darwinians and still acknowledge the primary fact of their profession - but only at the price of sheepishness or embarrassment. No one can take great comfort when the primary observation of their discipline becomes an artifact of limited evidence rather than an expression of nature's ways. Thus, once gradualism emerged as the expected pattern for documenting evolution - with an evident implication that the fossil record's dominant signal of stasis and abrupt replacement can only be a sign of evidentiary poverty - paleontologist became cowed or puzzled, and even less likely to showcase their primary datum. (p 750)

Gould gives a number of quotes to confirm the fact of stasis of species. He concludes with this:

In what I regard as the most fascinating and revealing comment of all, Gorge Gaylord Simpson, the greatest and most biologically astute paleontologist of the 20th century (and a strong opponent of punctuated equilibrium in his later years), [Gould's own theory] acknowledged the literal appearance of stasis and geologically abrupt origin as *the* outstanding general fact of the fossil record, and as a pattern that would "pose one of the most important theoretical problems in the whole history of life" if Darwin's argument for artifactual status failed. Simpson stated at the 1959 Chicago centennial celebration for the "Origin of Species" (in Tax, 1960, p149):

It is a feature of the known fossil record that most taxa appear abruptly. They are not, as a rule, led up to by a sequence of almost imperceptibly changing forerunners such as Darwin believed should be usual in evolution. A great many sequences of two or a few temporally intergrading species are known, but even at this level most species appear without known intermediate ancestors, and really, perfectly complete sequence of numerous species are exceedingly rare ... These peculiarities of the record pose one of the most important theoretical problems in the whole history of life; is the sudden appearance ... a phenomenon of evolution or of the record only, due to sampling bias and other inadequacies?

Such a discordance between theoretical expectation and actual observation surely falls within the category of troubling "anomalies" that, in Kuhn's celebrated view of scientific change (1962), often spur a major reformulation. p 755

Translation: The data so strongly disconfirm the hypothesis that it may induce a paradigm shift.

Darwin claimed the reason for the discrepancy was an "imperfect" record. Gould claims this reason "works". But while seeming to excuse Darwin he admits the contrariness is "stunning."

The "argument from imperfection" ( with its preposition purposefully chosen by analogy to the "argument from design") works adequately as a device to save gradualism in the face of an empirical signal of quite stunning contrariness when read at face value."  (p 758)

But if an "imperfect" record can excuse the sudden appearance of species, how does one explain the unchanging nature of a species once it appears? This unchanging nature is called "stasis."  After hearing so much "explaining away" Gould makes the point that stasis is data.  Since  those on the spiritual path will have heard of mantras I thought you might enjoy Gould's emphatic explanation.

But how can imperfection possibly explain away stasis (the equilibrium of punctuated equilibrium)? Abrupt appearance may record an absences of information, but *stasis is data*. Eldredge and I became so frustrated by the failure of many colleagues to grasp this evident point - though a quarter century of subsequent debate has finally propelled our claim to general acceptance (while much else about punctuated equilibrium remains controversial) - that we urged the incorporation of this little phrase as a mantra or motto. Say it ten times before breakfast every day for a week, and the argument will surely seep in by osmosis: "stasis is data:; stasis is data ..."

The fossil record may, after all, be 99 percent imperfect, but if you can, nonetheless, sample a species at a large number of horizons well spread over several million years, and if these samples record no net change, with beginning and end points substantially the same, and with only mild and errant fluctuation among the numerous collections in between, then a conclusion of stasis rests on the *presence* of data, not on absence!

Another admission from Gould (I respect his honesty):

So if stasis could not be explained away as missing information, how could gradualism face this most prominent signal from the fossil record? The most negative of all strategies - a quite unconscious conspiracy of silence - dictated the canonical response of paleontologists to their observations of stasis.

Paleontologists therefore came to view stasis as just another failure to document evolution. Stasis existed in overwhelming abundance, as every paleontologist always knew. But this primary signal of the fossil record, defined as an absence of data for evolution, only highlighted our frustration - and certainly did not represent anything worth publishing. Paleontology therefore fell into a literally absurd vicious circle. No one ventured to document or quantify - indeed, hardly anyone even bothered to mention or publish at all - the most common pattern in the fossil record: the stasis of most morphospecies throughout their geological duration.

The trade secret comes out:

All paleontologists recognized the phenomenon, but few scientists write papers about failure to document a desired result. As a consequence, most nonpaleontologists never learned about the predominance of stasis, and simply assumed that gradualism must prevail, as illustrated by the exceedingly few cases that became textbook "classics": the coiling of *Gryphae*, the increasing body size of horses, etc. (Interestingly, nearly all these "classics" have since been disproved, thus providing another testimony for the temporary triumph of hope and expectation over evidence - see Gould, 1972.) Thus, when punctuated equilibrium finally granted theoretical space and importance to stasis, and this fundamental phenomenon finally emerged from the closet, nonpaleontologists were often astounded and incredulous. (p 761)

Gould is probably not thinking exactly what I am thinking when he writes these words:

I find this situation particularly frustrating as paleontology's primary example of an insidious phenomenon in science that simply has not been recognized for the serious and distorting results perpetrated under its aegis.

(In his defense, actually Gould refers to problems that result for science in general when this kind of selection against publishing occurs in any field of study. But in this case, the results for humanity are very serious indeed.) In conclusion, we can infer that instead of a tree of evolution, the actual data reveals a field of poles whereby the phyla has very little relationship to each other, having sprung into existence all at the same time. Theosophy speaks of "Ideation", out of the plane of unmanifested reality, manifested reality emerges.

This article was written by Reed Carson - founder of BlavatskyNet and Theosophy Foundation of Georgia.

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