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Francis Galton  Stephen Jay Gould  Pierre Grasse  

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Stephen Jay Gould  (1941 – 2002)  Professor of Zoology and Geology at Harvard University  Web  Amazon  GBS  QMP  AV

In fact, the catastrophists were much more empirically minded than Lyell. The geologic record does seem to record catastrophes: rocks are fractured and contorted; whole faunas are wiped out (see my column of October, 1974). To circumvent this literal appearance, Lyell imposed his imagination upon the evidence. The geologic record, he argued, is extremely imperfect and we must interpolate into it what we can reasonably infer but cannot see. The catastrophists were the hardnosed empiricists of their day, not the blinded theological apologists.    Natural History February  1975  pp.16-17

All paleontologists know that the fossil record contains precious little in the way of intermediate forms; transitions between major groups are characteristically abrupt. Gradualists usually extract themselves from this dilemma by invoking the extreme imperfection of the fossil record--if only one step in a thousand survives as a fossil, geology will not record continuous change. Although I reject this argument (for reasons discussed in "The Episodic Nature of Evolutionary Change"), let us grant the traditional escape and ask a different question. Even though we have no direct evidence for smooth transitions, can we invent a reasonable sequence of intermediate forms--that is, viable, functioning organisms--between ancestors and descendants in major structural transitions? Of what possible use are the imperfect incipient stages of useful structures? What good is half a jaw or half a wing? The concept of preadaptation provides the conventional answer by permitting us to argue that incipient stages performed different functions. The half jaw worked perfectly well as a series of gill-supporting bones; the half wing may have trapped prey or controlled body temperature. I regard preadaptation as an important, even an indispensable, concept. But a plausible story is not necessarily true. I do not doubt that preadaptation can save gradualism in some cases, but does it permit us to invent a tale of continuity in most or all cases? I submit, although it may only reflect my lack of imagination, that the answer is no.     "The Return of Hopeful Monsters"  Natural History  June  1977  p.24

Haeckel was the chief apostle of evolution in Germany. Nordenskiold (1929) argues that he was even more influential than Darwin in convincing the world of the truth of evolution. Yet influential as Haeckel was among scientists, his general impact was even greater... His major popular work Weltratsel ("The Riddle of the Universe"; 1899), was among the most spectacular successes in the history of printing. It sold 100,000 copies in its first year, went through ten editions by 1919, was translated into twenty-five languages, and had sold almost half a million copies in Germany alone by 1933.    Ontogeny and Phylogeny  1977  p.77

Gradualism, the idea that all change must be smooth, slow, and steady, was never read from the rocks. It was primarily a prejudice of nineteenth-century liberalism facing a world in revolution. But it continues to color our supposedly objective reading of life’s history.    Natural History  February 1978  p.24

Darwin applied a consistency philosophy of materialism to his interpretation of nature. Matter is the ground of all existence; mind, spirit, and God as well, are just words that express the wondrous results of neuronal complexity.     Ever Since Darwin  1979  p.13

[Darwins's notebooks] include many statements showing that he espoused but feared to expose something he perceived as far more heretical than evolution itself: philosophical materialism -- the postulate that matter is the stuff of all existence and that all mental and spiritual phenomena are its by-products. No notion could be more upsetting to the deepest traditions of Western thought than the statement that mind -- however complex and powerful -- is simply a product of brain.     Ever Since Darwin  1979  p.24

The notebooks prove that, Darwin was interested in philosophy and aware of its implications. He knew that the primary feature distinguishing his theory from all other evolutionary doctrines was its uncompromising philosophical materialism.    Ever Since Darwin  1979  p.24

In the notebooks Darwin resolutely applied his materialistic theory of evolution to all phenomena of life, including what he termed "the citadel itself" -- the human mind. And if mind has no real existence beyond the brain, can God be anything more than an illusion invented by an illusion?    Ever Since Darwin  1979  p.25

Facts do not "speak for themselves"; they are read in the light of theory. Creative thought, in science as much as in the arts, is the motor of changing opinion. Science is a quintessentially human activity, not a mechanized, robotlike accumulation of objective information, leading by laws of logic to inescapable interpretation.    Ever Since Darwin  1979  pp.161-162

Science is not a heartless pursuit of objective information. It is a creative human activity, its geniuses acting more as artists than information processors. Changes in theory are not simply the derivative results of the new discoveries but the work of creative imagination influenced by contemporary social and political forces.    Ever Since Darwin  1979  p.201

Before Darwin, we thought that a benevolent God had created us.     Ever Since Darwin  1979  p.267

Many historians have commented that the most curiously revealing statement in Darwin's autobiography comes close to being an unconscious lie-his claim that he "worked on true Baconian principles, and without any theory collected facts on a wholesale scale." For Darwin did no such thing. "The promise of paleobiology as a nomothetic, evolutionary discipline"  Paleobiology  January 1980  p.97

The absence of fossil evidence for intermediary stages between major transitions in organic design, indeed our inability, even in our imagination, to construct functional intermediates in many cases, has been a persistent and nagging problem for gradualistic accounts of evolution.     “Is a new and general theory of evolution emerging?”  Paleobiology  January 1980  p.127

Yet the geologic record seemed to provide as much evidence for cataclysmic as for gradual change. Therefore, in defending gradualism as a nearly universal tempo, Darwin had to use Lyell's most characteristic method of argument -- he had to reject literal appearance and common sense for an underlying "reality." (Contrary to popular myths, Darwin and Lyell were not the heroes of true science, defending objectivity against the theological fantasies of such "catastrophists" as Cuvier and Buckland. Catastrophists were as committed to science as any gradualist; in fact, they adopted the more "objective" view that one should believe what one sees and not interpolate missing bits of a gradual record into a literal tale of rapid change.) In short, Darwin argued that the geologic record was exceedingly imperfect -- a book with few remaining pages, few lines on each page, and few words on each line. We do not see slow evolutionary change in the fossil record because we study only one step in thousands. Change seems to be abrupt because the intermediate steps are missing.

The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. 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...

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 directly. In exposing its cultural and methodological roots, I wish in no way to impugn the potential validity of gradualism all general views have similar roots). I wish only to point out hat 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 almost never see the very process we profess to study.    The Panda's Thumb  1980  pp.180-2

The history of most fossil species includes two features particularly inconsistent with gradualism: 1. Stasis. Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking much the same as when they disappear; morphological change is usually limited and directionless. 2. Sudden appearance. In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and "fully formed."    The Panda's Thumb  1980  p.182

Goldschmidt did not invent the words micro- and macroevolution, but he did popularize them. By microevolution, he referred to changes within local populations and geographic variation -- in short, to all evolutionary events occurring within species. Macroevolution designates the origin of species and higher taxa.    The Material Basis of Evolution  1982  p.xx

In evaluating these and other arguments by scientists, it is important that people be wary of the claim that science stands apart from other human institutions because its methodology leads to objective knowledge. People need to realize that scientists are human beings like everybody else and that their pronouncements may arise from their social prejudices, as any of our pronouncements might. The public should avoid being snowed by the scientist's line: "Don't think about this for yourself, because it's all too complicated."

I wish scientists scrutinized more rigidly the sources of justification for their beliefs. If they did, they might realize that some of their findings do not derive from a direct investigation of nature but are rooted in assumptions growing out of experience and beliefs.    U.S. News & World Report  March 1 1982  p.62

The Scopes trial is surrounded by misconceptions, and their exposure provides as good a way as any for recounting the basic story. In the heroic version, Jobn Scopes was persecuted, Darrow rose to Scope's defense and smote the antediluvian Bryan, and the antievolution movement then dwindled or ground to at least a temporary halt. All three parts of this story are false.    Hens Teeth and Horse's Toes  1983  p.270

The Nobel prizes focus on quantitive nonhistorical, deductively oriented fields with their methodology of perturbation by experiment and establishment of repeatable chains of relatively simple cause and effect. An entire set of disciplines, different through equal in scope and status, but often subjected to ridicule because they do not follow this pathway of "hard" science is thereby ignored: the historical sciences, treating immensely complex and nonrepeatable events (and therefore eschewing prediction while seeking explanation for what has happened) and using the methods of observation and comparison.

Darwin invoked his standard argument to resolve this uncomfortable problem: the fossil record is so imperfect that we do not have evidence for most events of life's history. But even Darwin acknowledged that his favorite ploy was wearing a bit thin in this case. His argument could easily account for a missing stage in a single linage, but could the agencies of imperfection really obliterate absolutely all evidence for positively every creature during most of life's history? Darwin admitted: "The case as present must remain inexplicable; and may be truly urged as a valid argument against the views here entertained." (1859, p.308)

Darwin has been vindicated by a rich Precambrian record, all discovered in the past thirty years. Yet the peculiar character of this evidence has not matched Darwin's prediction of a continuous rise in complexity toward Cambrian life, and the problem of the Cambrian explosion has remained as stubborn as ever -- if not more so, since our confusion now rests on knowledge, rather than ignorance about the nature of Precambrian life.    Wonderful Life  (1991) p.57

I regard the two as of equal dignity and limited contact. "The two should not conflict," because science treats factual reality, while religion struggles with human morality. I do not view moral argument as a whit less important than factual investigation.    "Impeaching a Self-Appointed Judge"  Scientific American  July 1992

But our ways of learning about the world are strongly influenced by the social preconceptions and biased modes of thinking that each scientist must apply to any problem. The stereotype of a fully rational and objective 'scientific method,' with individual scientists as logical (and interchangeable) robots, is self-serving mythology.    "In the Mind of the Beholder"  Natural History  February 1994  p.14  

Life began three and a half billion years ago, necessarily about as simple as it could be, because life arose spontaneously from the organic compounds in the primeval oceans.    The News Hour with Jim Lehrer Interview  November 26, 1996   

The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best -- and therefore never scrutinize or question. Ask anyone to name the most familiar of all evolutionary series and you will almost surely receive, as an answer: horses, of course...Modern horses are not only depleted relative to horses of the past; on a larger scale, all major lineages of the Perissodactyla (the larger mammalian group that includes horses) are pitiful remnants of former copious success. Modern horses, in other words, are failures within a failure -- about the worst possible exemplars of evolutionary progress, whatever such a term might mean.    Full House  (1996)  p. 57-71

We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a ‘higher’ answer - but none exists.    2000 Years of Disbelief  1996

The opposite truth has been affirmed by innumerable cases of measurable evolution at this minimal scale-but, to be visible at all over so short a span, evolution must be far too rapid (and transient) to serve as the basis for major transformations in geological time. Hence, the “paradox of the visibly irrelevant”--or, if you can see it at all, it’s too fast to matter in the long run.    "The Paradox of the Visibly Irrelevant”  Natural History  December 1997  p.14

I am not one of those rarefied academics who cringes at every journalistic story about science for fear that the work reported might thereby become tainted with popularity. And, in a purely “political” sense, I certainly won’t object -- if major newspapers choose to feature any result of my profession as a lead story especially, if I may be self-serving for a moment, when one of the tales reports my own work! Nonetheless, this degree of public attention for workaday results in my field (however elegantly done) does fill me with wry amusement – if only for the general reason that most of us feel a tickle in the funny bone when we note a gross imbalance between public notoriety and the true novelty or importance of an event, as when Hollywood spinmeisters manage to depict their client’s ninth marriage as the earth’s first example of true love triumphant and permanent.

So thanks, fellas. I’m really glad you reported some ordinary, but particularly well done, studies of small-scale evolution as front-page news.    “The Paradox of the Visibly Irrelevant”  Natural History  December 1997  p.18

These shortest-term studies are elegant and important, but they cannot represent the general mode for building patterns in the history of life. The reason strikes most people as deeply paradoxical, even funny-but the argument truly cannot be gainsaid. Evolutionary rates of a moment, as measured for guppies and lizards, are vastly too rapid to represent the general modes of change that build life’s history through geological ages.    “The Paradox of the Visibly Irrelevant”  Natural History  December 1997  p.63 

These measured changes over years and decades are too fast by several orders of magnitude to build the history of life by simple cumulation. Reznick’s guppy rates range from 3,700 to 45,000 darwins (a standard metric for evolution, expressed as change in units of standard deviation-a measure of variation around the mean value of a trait in a population-per million years). By contrast, rates for major trends in the fossil record generally range from 0.1 to 1.0 darwins . Reznick himself states that “the estimated rates [for guppies] are...four to seven orders of magnitude greater than those observed in the fossil record” (that is, ten thousand to ten million times faster!).

Moreover, and with complete generality-the “paradox of the visibly irrelevant” in my title we may say that any change measurable at all over the few years of an ordinary scientific study must be occurring far too rapidly to represent ordinary rates of evolution in the fossil record. The culprit of this paradox, as so often, is the vastness of time (a concept that we can appreciate “in our heads” but seem quite unable to get into the guts of our intuition). The key principle, however ironic, requires such a visceral understanding of earthly time: if evolution is fast enough to be discerned by our instruments in just a few years- that is, substantial enough to stand out as a genuine and directional effect above the random fluctuations of nature’s stable variation and our inevitable errors of measurement-then such evolution is far too fast to serve as an atom of steady incrementation in a paleontological trend. Thus, if we can measure it at all (in a few years), it is too powerful to be the stuff of life’s history.

If large-scale evolution proceeded by stacking Trinidad guppy rates end to end, any evolutionary trend would be completed in a geological moment, not over the many million years actually observed. “Our face from fish to man,” to cite the title of a famous old account of evolution for popular audiences, would run its course within a single geological formation, not over more than 400 million years, as our fossil record demonstrates.    “The Paradox of the Visibly Irrelevant”  Natural History  December 1997  p.64

But transient blips an fillips are no less important than major trends in the total “scheme of things.” Both represent evolution operating at a standard and appropriate measure for a particular scale and time -- Trinidadian blips for the smallest and most local moment, faces from fish to human for the largest and most global frame. One scale doesn’t translate into another.    “The Paradox of the Visibly Irrelevant”  Natural History  December 1997 p.64

You may ignore Maine while studying the sand grain and be properly oblivious of the grain while perusing the single-page map of Maine

But you can love and learn from both scales at the same time. Evolution does not lie patent in a clear pond on Trinidad any more than the universe (pace Mr. Blake) lies revealed in a grain of sand. But how poor would be our understanding – how bland and restricted our sight – if we could not learn to appreciate the rococo details that fill our immediate fields of vision, while forming geology’s irrelevant and invisible jigglings.    “The Paradox of the Visibly Irrelevant”  Natural History  December 1997 p.66

Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world, and to develop theories that coordinate and explain these facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates on the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings and values -- subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate, but can never resolve.    Rocks of Ages  1999  p.4

Poor Doubting Thomas, at his crucial and eponymous moment, he acted in the most admirable way for one style of inquiry -- but in the wrong magisterium. He espoused the key principle of science while operating within the different magisterium of faith.    Rocks of Ages  1999  p.16

The natural world cannot contradict scripture (for God, as author of both, cannot speak against himself.) So -- and now we come to the key point -- if some contradiction seems to emerge between a well-validated scientific result and a conventional reading of scripture, then we had better reconsider our exegesis, for the natural world does not lie, but words can convey many meanings, some allegorical or metaphorical. (If science clearly indicates an ancient world, then the "days" of creation must represent periods longer than twenty-four hours.) In this crucial sense, the magisteria become separate, and science holds sway over the factual character of the natural world.    Rocks of Ages  1999  p.21-2

Annie's cruel death catalyzed all the doubts that Charles's reading of Newman, and his deeper scrutiny of religion had engendered. He had permanently lost all belief in a caring God, and would never again seek solace in religion. He carefully avoided any direct statement in both his public and private writings, so we do not know his inner resolutions. I suspect that he accepted Huxley's dictum about agnosticism as the only intellectually valid position, while privately embracing a strong (and, as he well knew, quite unprovable) suspicion of atheism, galvanized by Annie's senseless death.    Rocks of Ages  1999  p.34-5

Theology once occupied this realm of factual inquiry as well. We can hardly expect anyone to withdraw from so much territory without a struggle -- no matter how just and true the claim may be that such an apparent retreat can only strengthen the discipline.    Rocks of Ages  1999  p.64 

If Pius is arguing that we cannot entertain a theory about derivation of all modern humans from an ancestral population rather than through an ancestral individual (a potential fact) because such an idea would question the doctrine of original sin (a theological construct), then I would declare him out of line for letting the magisterium of religion dictate a conclusion with the magisterium of science.    Rocks of Ages  1999  p.78

The first commandment for all versions of NOMA might be summarized my stating: "Thou shalt not mix the magisteria by claiming that God directly ordains important events in the history of nature by special interference knowable only through revelation and not accessible to science." In common parlance, we refer to such special interference as "miracle" -- operationally defined as a unique and temporary suspension of natural law to reorder the facts of nature by divine fiat.    Rocks of Ages  1999  p.84-5

I do get discouraged when some of my colleagues tout their private atheism (their right, of course, and in many ways my own suspicion as well) as a panacea for human progress against a caricature of 'religion,' erected as a straw man for rhetorical purposes... If these colleagues wish to fight superstition, irrationalism, philistinism, ignorance, dogma, and a host of other insults to the human intellect... then God bless them -- but don't call this enemy 'religion.'     Rocks of Ages  1999  p.209-210

I do not know when the technical and popular prose of science became separated, although I accept the inevitability of such a division as knowledge became increasingly more precise, detailed, and specialized. We have now reached the point where most technical literature not only falls outside the possibility of public comprehension but also (as we would all admit in honest moments) outside our own competence in scientific disciplines far removed from our personal expertise. I trust that we all regard this situation as saddening, even though we accept its necessity.    “Take Another Look”  Science  October 29, 1999  p.899  

I believe that Owen had, for more than a decade before the Origin appeared, accepted a limited form of evolution -- within archetypes, and along channels preordained by archetypal constraints. He never accepted global transmutation, for his brand of limited evolution could not generate the archetypes themselves...Owen despised the extent and character of Darwin's evolutionism, but not the idea of evolution itself.    The Structure of Evolutionary Theory  2002  p.328

Anatomy may fluctuate over time, but the last remnants of a species usually look pretty much like the first representatives.    The Structure of Evolutionary Theory  2002  p.749

The Cambrian explosion was the most remarkable and puzzling event in the history of life.    The Richness of Life  2007  p.217

Francis Galton  Stephen Jay Gould  Pierre Grasse  

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