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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Thinkquote of the day: The problem with the fossil record

Of course, if the fossil record does not fit the theory, it is always possible to adjust the theory to fit the record. In science, an enterprising theoretician has several degrees of freedom within which to maneuver before the referee reaches ten and the final bell comes to clang. Steven [sic] Jay Gould, who was trained as a paleontologist, surveyed the fossil evidence early in the 1970s and came to the obvious conclusion that either the theory or the evidence must go. What went, on his scheme of things, was the neo Darwinian orthodoxy by which species change into different species by means of an endless series of infinitesimal changes, continuously, like the flow of syrup. Instead, Gould argued, biological change must have been discontinuous, with vast changes taking place at once. Such was his model of punctuated equilibria. It fits the fossil record far better (if it makes sense, even, to talk of scientific fit here), but the model achieves faithfulness to the facts only by chucking out the chief concepts of the Darwinian theory itself, and while paleontologists have been glad to have had Gould's company, evolutionary theorists have looked over what he has written with the cool, slitted, appraising glance of a butcher eyeing a sheep. (David Berlinski, "The Evidence for Evolution," in Black Mischief: Language, Life, Logic, Luck , Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: Boston MA, Second Edition, 1988, pp.30-302)

In By Design or by Chance?, I address Gould's attempt to dissent from Darwinism based on the fossil evidence and the resulting posthumous attacks on him. There was also a curious incident last fall when a friend of Gould's came forward to say that he had never been a Darwinist. I think the friend was likely right, but denying the creation story of materialism was and is a risky business in the society in which Gould lived.

If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

A summary of tech guru George Gilder's arguments for ID and against Darwinism

A critical look at why March of the Penguins was thought to be an ID film.

A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

A summary of the Catholic Church's entry into the controversy, essentially on the side of ID.

O'Leary's intro to non-Darwinian agnostic philosopher David Stove's "critique of Darwinism.

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

O’Leary’s comments on Francis Beckwith, a Dembski associate, being denied tenure at Baylor.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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