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The Quote Mine Project

Or, Lies, Damned Lies and Quote Mines

"Large Gaps"

by the newsgroup
Copyright © 2003

Quote #38

"We have so many gaps in the evolutionary history of life, gaps in such key areas as the origin of the multi-cellular organisms, the origin of the vertebrates, not to mention the origins of most invertebrate groups." (McGowan, C., In the Beginning... A Scientist Shows Why the Creationists are Wrong, Prometheus Books, 1984, p. 95)

"Soft parts, such as skin impressions of dinosaurs, and soft-bodied animals like jellyfish are sometimes preserved, and in some localities may be common, but they give us only brief glimpses of evolutionary histories. Obviously we have no record of the origin of life, and little or no evolutionary history of the soft-bodied organisms. It is hardly surprising, then, that we have so many gaps in the evolutionary history of life, gaps in such key areas as the origin of the multicellular organisms, the origin of vertebrates, not to mention the origins of most invertebrate groups. The creationists, of course, just love to draw attention to these gaps, which they score as points against evolution. We saw in Chapter 6, though, that their case is without foundation, because they have ignored vital evidence from the living world."

- Tom (TomS) Scharle

Quote #39

"There are all sorts of gaps: absence of gradationally intermediate 'transitional' forms between species, but also between larger groups - between, say, families of carnivores, or the orders of mammals. In fact, the higher up the Linnaean hierarchy you look, the fewer transitional forms there seem to be." (Eldredge, Niles, The Monkey Business: A Scientist Looks at Creationism, 1982, p. 65)

We have another false capital letter.

The overall context is the "tempo and mode" of evolution and Simpson's pre-punctuated equilibria views of quantum evolution. It is in a section called "The Synthesis and the Fossil Record." The paragraph with the quote reads:

It is the gaps in the fossil record which, perhaps more than any other facet of the natural world, are dearly beloved by creationists. As we shall see when we take up the creationist position, there are all sorts of gaps: absence of graduationally intermediate "transitional" forms between species, but also between larger groups -- between say, families of carnivores, or the orders of mammals. In fact, the higher up the Linnaean hierarchy you look, the fewer transitional forms there [p. 65 | pg 66 ] seem to be. For example, Peripatus a lobe-legged, wormlike creature that haunts rotting logs in the Southern-Hemisphere, appears intermediate in many respects between tow of the major phyla on earth today -- the segmented worms and the arthropods. But few other phyla have such intermediates with other phyla, and when we scan the fossil record for them we find some, but basically little, help. Extinction has surely weeded out of the intermediate species, but on the other hand, the fossil record is not exactly teeming with their remains.

Skipping a paragraph:

Simpson thought that most of the fossil record amply supported Darwin's view. There was plenty of evidence, he felt, to show that ninety percent of evolution involved the gradual transition from one species to the [p. 66 | p. 67] next through time. When there were gaps between closely related species and genera [what creations often call "microevolution"] -- in other words when new species appeared abruptly in the fossil record with no smoothly intergradational intermediates between them and their ancestors -- he was content to blame it on the vagaries of preservation inherent in the fossil record.... [Eldredge goes on to disagree with that.]

Later on in that rather long paragraph:

. . . Simpson pointed out, the transitions between major groups would typically take millions of years, and we should expect to find some fossil evidence of transitional forms. Not finding them very often, he deduced, implied that evolution sometimes went on rather quickly -- in brief, intense spurts. The presence of some intermediates (such as Archaeopteryx, the proto-bird) falsified Schindewolf's saltational notations. But the relative scarcity of such intermediates bespoke a major mode of evolution producing truly rapid change -- a mode Simpson called "quantum evolution."

Skipping to the very end of the section on page 69:

. . . Hence, today's controversy -- whch [sic] should chill, rather than gladden, creationists' hearts. And at the center of today's evolutionary wranglings, we have the by-now familiar "force": natural selection.

Eldredge deals with gaps again in the section "Oh, Those Gaps!" (pp. 120-128) in the chapter "Creationists Attack: II." In it he makes it very clear that there are transitions in the fossil record and gives several examples.

- Mike Hopkins

Quote #40

"It is as though they [fossils] were just planted there, without any evolutionary history. Needless to say this appearance of sudden planting has delighted creationists. ...Both schools of thought (Punctuationists and Gradualists) despise so-called scientific creationists equally, and both agree that the major gaps are real, that they are true imperfections in the fossil record. The only alternative explanation of the sudden appearance of so many complex animal types in the Cambrian era is divine creation and (we) both reject this alternative." (Dawkins, Richard, The Blind Watchmaker, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1996, pp. 229-230)

While it can be gleaned from this quote, it needs to be pointed out specifically that this is a discussion of Dawkins' disagreements with Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge over Punctuated Equilibrium and Dawkins is here discussing the fact that Gould and Eldredge would agree with him that the "sudden appearance" of animals in the Cambrian Explosion is really the result of the imperfections of the fossil record.

The part in the ellipsis is an explanation for this, as follows:

"Evolutionists of all stripes believe, however, that this really does represent a very large gap in the fossil record, a gap that is simply due to the fact that, for some reason, very few fossils have lasted from periods before about 600 million years ago. One good reason might be that many of these animals had only soft parts to their bodies: no shells or bones to fossilize. If you are a creationist you may think that this is special pleading. My point here is that, when we are talking about gaps of this magnitude, there is no difference whatever in the interpretations of 'punctuationists' and 'gradualists'."

- J. (catshark) Pieret

Quote #41

"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." (Gould, Stephen J., The Panda's Thumb, 1980, p. 189)

[Following right after]

"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, and I invoke two recently supported cases of discontinuous change in my defense.

[Snip discussion of boid snakes, pocket gophers, kangaroo rats and pocket mice]

"If we must accept many cases of discontinuous transition in macroevolution, does Darwinism collapse to survive only as a theory of minor adaptive change within species? . . .

[Snip discussion of non-Darwinian theories of discontinuous change in species.]

"But all theories of discontinuous change are not anti-Darwinian, as Huxley pointed out nearly 120 years ago. Suppose that a discontinuous change in adult form arises from a small genetic alteration. Problems of discordance with other members of the species do not arise, and the large, favorable variant can spread through a population in Darwinian fashion. Suppose also that this large change does not produce a perfected form all at once, but rather serves as a "key" adaptation to shift its possessor toward a new mode of life. Continued success in this new mode may require a large set of collateral alterations, morphological and behavioral; these may arise by a more traditional, gradual route once the key adaptation forces a profound shift in selective pressures.

A more correct citation would be:

Gould, Stephen J. 1980. "The Return of Hopeful Monsters" in The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. (paperback), p. 189.

- J. (catshark) Pieret

Quote #42

"One of the most surprising negative results of paleontological research in the last century is that such transitional forms seem to be inordinately scarce. In Darwin's time this could perhaps be ascribed with some justification to the incompleteness of the paleontological record and to lack of knowledge, but with the enormous number of fossil species which have been discovered since then, other causes must be found for the almost complete absence of transitional forms." (Brouwer, A., "General Paleontology," [1959], Transl. Kaye R.H., Oliver & Boyd: Edinburgh & London, 1967, pp. 162-163)

Next sentences:

"Two factors, both of which have certainly been influential, may be considered responsible for the scarcity of such links at critical moments in the evolution of the higher units. If the evolution of these higher categories is studied against the background of physical time, it will be seen that at the critical period where transition to a news group takes place, the tempo of evolution is quicker. The earliest whales are known from the Middle Eocene. Even then these marine animals had the same general structure as all the later whales. It is true that since the Eocene the whale has undergone a definite evolution of which the lengthening of the cranium is one of the characteristic phenomena, but no major changes have been effected.

..[skipping quite a bit, to page 164]

"This is one of the reasons why this interesting stage, which the paleontologist would like to know about in as much detail as is possible, is fairly poorly represented in fossil material. It is not the only reason, however, and perhaps not the most important one.

"More theoretical investigations, in particular those of S. Wright, have made it clear that rapid evolution leading to new types has generally occurred in a limited geographical area."

- Tom (TomS) Scharle

Quote #43

"There is no need 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 fossil record nevertheless continues to be composed mainly of gaps." (Neville, George, T., "Fossils in Evolutionary Perspective," Science Progress, vol. 48 January 1960, pp. 1-3)

This is actually by T. Neville George, and is 30 pages long. The reference to pages 1 to 3 made me suspicious... unless there was an illustration on page 2. There's not, and the quote omits two pages of text without mention the fact. Starting at the bottom of page 1, which is part of the first section entitled "The Record and Time Scale":

There is no need 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 Formaminifera that remain undescribed in the cabinets of the oil companies probably is of the order of thousands; and while most other organic groups are not so fully collected the ratio of added finds to palaeontologists studying them is constantly expanding. But what remains to be discovered is likely to be of less and less 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 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.

George now goes on to summarize several other topics, and then, concluding this section, he writes:

Together, the discovery of new fossil forms, the filling out of the details of bioserial change, the interpretation of biofacies, the adoption of new techniques both in fossil morphology and in fossil manipulation, and the establishment of a progressively refined timescale contribute to a present-day palaeontology offering the strongest support, the demonstrative "proof," of the fact and the process of evolution in terms wholly concordant with the essence of Darwinian theory.

Some citations are then given, and we're now at the bottom of page 3, where we start the second section entitled "The Oldest Fossils", where we immediately come across the last sentence of quoted text:

The fossil record nevertheless continues to be composed mainly of gaps. Its broad lines of evolutionary change are well enough known, and in some groups it is possible to fill in the intermediate stages fairly completely; but as yet only very rarely is a segment of a true lineage recognisable, and almost never a lineage that convincingly displays all the graduations of cladogenic divergence. Newell (1959a) thinks that perhaps only one per cent or less of the fossil species that have been preserved have as yet been described. His figures are highly speculative, but they are of an acceptable order; and it requires no great field expertise to appreciate the magnitude of the gaps intrinsic in the record as a result of the process of fossilization.

So we see that when George is claiming that "In some ways it [the fossil record] has become almost unmanageably rich..." he's referring to particular groups of creatures, something the Quote Miner neglects to mention, or even hint at. By this point there should be no doubt that George advocates evolution.

- Jon (Augray) Barber

Quote #44

"The record jumps, and all the evidence shows that the record is real: the gaps we see reflect real events in life's history not the artifact of a poor fossil record. The fossil record flatly fails to substantiate this expectation of finely graded change." (Eldredge, N. and Tattersall, I., The Myths of Human Evolution Columbia University Press, 1982, p. 57)

This quote doesn't appear on page 57, but on page 59. Out of curiosity, I Googled a phrase in the passage, and came up with several hits, some with the right page number, and a few that claimed that the passage appeared on page 57:

Right page number (59):

Wrong page number (57):

It may even be possible to construct a phylogeny for this quote, since there are variations in punctuation between the different webpages, as well as an interesting situation that I'll outline below, but I'll leave that to more interested parties. And this page number gaffe demonstrates once again that McCoy didn't look up these quotes himself (lest there be any doubt).

But on with the quote:

One striking aspect of these extinction/rebound episodes in life's history is the extraordinary rapidity with which they occur. The Cretaceous extinction about 65 million years ago, which took away the last of the dinosaurs, and perhaps as much as 90 percent of all the other forms of Cretaceous life, took place within the span of a million years. Now, a million years is certainly a long period of time by some standards, but it is an eyeblink in geologic history. Events occurring within less than a million years' time can create patterns of abrupt change in the fossil record: in many places around the world, fossils can be traced up into the highest layers of Cretaceous rocks when, all of a sudden, they just disappear. And the rocks immediately above preserve representatives of the initial repopulation, life's rebound after the collapse. The record jumps, and all the evidence shows that the record is real: the gaps we see reflect real events in life's history - not the artifact of a poor fossil record.

From this more complete quote we can see that Eldredge and Tattersall aren't discussing the lack of transtional fossils, but extinction events. And after all, there's no reason to expect transitional creatures that were never born because their "ancestors to be" went extinct.

But what about the final sentence in the initially posted quotation?

The fossil record flatly fails to substantiate this expectation of finely graded change.

Where does it come from? It's on page 163!

We have already argued that that the fossil record flatly fails to substantiate this expectation of finely graded change. So too, says Teggart, does the historical sequence of human events.

A gap of over a hundred pages between sentences is inexcusable, and not indicating the gap with ellipses is even worse. Interestingly, two webpages, Large Gaps in the Fossil Record and National Discontinuities and the Fossil Record have both quotes one after another, and cite their proper respective pages. Did a quote miner (possibly Macroevolution) string them together accidentally? Did they do it on purpose?

The level of integrity and scholarship is mind boggling.

- Jon (Augray) Barber

Quote #45

"Gaps between families and taxa of even higher rank could not be so easily explained as the mere artifacts of a poor fossil record." (Eldredge, Niles, Macro-Evolutionary Dynamics: Species, Niches, and Adaptive Peaks, 1989, p. 22)

It is describing G G Simpson's 1944 account of evolution as a variable speed process, and the full quote is:

"Simpson suggested -- as had Dobzhansky (1941) briefly before him; indeed, the theme goes back to Darwin -- that the gaps perceived between low-level taxonomic groups such as species and genera almost always reflect the artifact of such geologically-induced gaps. But, he went on, gaps between families and taxa of even higher rank could not be so easily explained as the mere artifacts of a poor fossil record.

On the next page, after discussing some of Simpson's examples (whales and bats), Eldredge says:

"It seemed obvious to Simpson that some special combination of evolutionary factors is implicated in the origin of taxa of higher categorical rank. And that special set of factors combine to produce evolutionary change at very high rates indeed. Theory led Simpson to conclude that the gaps between higher taxa must reflect unusually high rates of evolutionary change."

- John Wilkins

This is the third time in this document that this poor quote has come up. As in the other two times, this is Eldredge's description of Simpson's view, not his own.

- Mike Dunford

Quote #46

"The fossil record is much less incomplete than is generally accepted." (Paul, C.R.C, "The Adequacy of the Fossil Record," 1982, p. 75)

This took a while to track down. Why? Because the correct citation is:

Paul, C.R.C. 1982. The Adequacy of the Fossil Record. In "Problems of Phylogenetic Reconstruction", edited by K. A. Joysey & A. E. Friday, pp. 75-117. London: Academic Press.

The quoted text is from the abstract of the paper, and isn't taken out of context per se. However, while the quote may be in context, the citation, by eliminating the full title of the source, "Problems of Phylogenetic Reconstruction," is itself out of context by disguising the fact that the article is dealing with technical issues surrounding the reconstruction of specific evolutionary trees.

But on what basis does Paul rate the completeness or incompleteness of the fossil record? After all, how can one know that one has found all possible fossils? Paul does so based upon the assumption that evolution has occurred, and in the introduction he states that the paper is largely concerned with how useful the fossil record is in the reconstruction of the evolutionary history of life. At no point does he question that evolution is a fact or that the fossil record, whatever its present state, is evidence for it.

- Jon (Augray) Barber

It should be remembered that this quote is intended by the quote-miner to counter the argument advanced by scientists that the major reasons for the "gaps" in the fossil record, so beloved of creationists, are the episodic and chancy nature of the process of fossilization and the difficulty of finding fossil 'needles' in a 'haystack' the size of the Earth's crust that is, in any case, being constantly churned by tectonic forces. The incompleteness of the record was known to scientists well before Darwin's publication of the Origin of Species. The quote-miner is trying to cast doubt on this and, therefore, argue that the gaps are "real" and the result of either 1) special creation of species over time (in the case of old-Earth or progressive creationists) or 2) the Noachian flood's destruction of existing unrelated species (young-Earth creationists).

Naturally, the question is, insofar as the quote is concerned, what does Professor Paul mean by his relative statement "much less incomplete"? For further evidence available on the web as to his position and the context of the quote, there is a letter by Professor Paul (excerpted below under the editor's heading) that appeared in Nature in 1998:


The value of fossil data

Is the incompleteness of the fossil record any reason to exclude the information that it contains? Professor Chris Paul argues that stratigraphic data is being treated inconsistently compared to other forms of data.

All contributors to this debate agree that the fossil record is incomplete. Disagreements concern whether, or at what level of completeness, data from the fossil record can contribute to phylogenetic reconstruction. The fossil record is indeed incomplete, preserved fossils represent a biased sample, the discovery of fossils is not random and those found reveal only partial information about the original organisms . . .

These facts are perfectly true, but if they are applied to living organisms a surprisingly similar situation exists. Data from the fossil record are frequently ignored because they are known to be incomplete. The implication is that complete data are essential, as Charles Marshall explicitly states. Why then are incomplete data on morphology or nucleic acid sequences from living species no barrier at all to phylogenetic reconstruction? . . .

Science advances by testing hypotheses. The fossil record may be incomplete but it provides a valid independent test of phylogenetic hypotheses derived from character analysis. Surely even a poor test is better than no test at all?

Chris Paul
Department of Earth Sciences, University of Liverpool, UK

The value of fossil data

See other letters in this running exchange at:

Professor Paul clearly is arguing only that the fossil record is relatively more complete (in the sense of having useful information) than many scientists assume. In context, his position is only that "a poor test is better than no test at all", even though all scientists "agree that the fossil record is incomplete".

Once again, this quote is nothing but a snippet from a technical discussion among scientists, concerning an issue unrelated to the overall validity of evolution, dredged up for no other reason than to sow confusion.

- J. (catshark) Pieret

Quote #47

"Links are missing just where we most fervently desire them, and it is all too probable that many 'links' will continue to be missing." (Jepsen, L. Glenn; Mayr, Ernst; Simpson George Gaylord. Genetics, Paleontology, and Evolution, New York, Athenaeum, 1963, p. 114)

"Reasons for the rarity of annectant forms may, as Simpson points out, be readily adduced. The time concerned was short; the size of the population concerned was probably small. The chances of obtaining a complete graded series (if one existed) are hence vastly less than in the case of more normal phyletic. 'Links' are missing just where we most fervently desire them, and it is all too probable that many 'links' will continue to be missing."

- Tom (TomS) Scharle

Quote #48

"For over a hundred years paleontologists have recognized the large number of gaps in the fossil record. Creationists make it seem like gaps are a deep, dark secret of paleontology..." (Cracraft, in Awbrey & Thwaites, ["]Evolutionists Confront Creationists", 1984)

One wonders what is after the word "paleontology". Lets find out:

Without undertaking the detail morphological comparisons that are necessary to evaluate ancestor-descendent hypotheses, creationists dogmatically assert that these transitional forms do not exist, that there are gaps in the fossil record. From this they make the disingenuous conclusion that the fossil record supports creation and not evolution. If evolution were true, they imply, there could not be gaps in the fossil record. Now either the creationists are deliberately distorting science in an attempt to persuade a public not familiar with scientific arguments, or they are simply ignorant of the findings of modern paleontology. For over a hundred years paleontologists have recognized the large number of gaps in the fossil record. Creationists make it seem like gaps are a deep dark secret of paleontology, when just the opposite is the case. I have already noted one of the reasons for the gaps--the low probability of species being fossilized and then discovered. Correlated with this is the growing realization that most species probably arise very rapidly geologically speaking; morphology sometimes does not take as much time to transform as paleontologists once thought. Therefore, if morphological transformations take place over short periods of time (in a geological sense), then the probability of preserving that time interval in the sedimentary record is greatly diminished.

In summary, creationists have characterized the evolutionary process as being slow, gradual, and uniform, whereas virtually all modern evolutionary biologists recognize the fact that rates of evolution can be highly variable. Some evolutionary events are apparently extremely rapid so that frequent gaps in the fossil record are to be expected. Nevertheless, numerous examples of morphologically intermediate taxa--transitional forms--have been described from the fossil record, and that record indisputably falsifies the creationist view of the history of life.

So we see that the gaps in the fossil record aren't a deep dark secret. That while there are gaps, there aren't as many as the creationists believe, and are in some cases to be expected.

- Jon (Augray) Barber

Quote #49

"In any case, no real evolutionist, whether gradualist or punctuationist, uses the fossil record as evidence in favour of the theory of evolution as opposed to special creation." (Ridley, Mark, "Who doubts evolution?" "New Scientist", vol. 90, 25 June 1981, p. 831)

This is an interesting article, and it is quite surprising that any "creationist" would want to call attention to it. By the way, it is on pages 830-832 of that issue.

"Someone is getting it wrong, and it isn't Darwin; it is the creationists and the media." (page 830)

"In any case, no real evolutionist, whether gradualist or punctuationist, uses the fossil record as evidence in favor of evolution as opposed to special creation. The does not mean that the theory of evolution is unproven."

"So what is the evidence that species have evolved? There have traditionally been three kinds of evidence, and it is these, not the "fossil evidence", that the critics should be thinking about. The three arguments are from the observed evolution of species, from biogeography, and from the hierarchical structure of taxonomy." (page 831)

"These three are the clearest arguments for the mutability of species. Other defences of the theory of evolution could be made, not the least of which is the absence of a coherent alternative. Darwin's theory is also uniquely able to account for both the presence of design, and the absence of design (vestigial organs), in nature." (page 832)

- Tom (TomS) Scharle

Quote #50

"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 gradualist accounts of evolution." (Gould, Stephen J., 'Is a new and general theory of evolution emerging?' Paleobiology, vol 6(1), January 1980, p. 127)

This is a rather unspectacularly predictable mined quote, as everyone who has had a few hours exposure to Gould's writings on evolution can instantly see that he's arguing against gradualism and probably in favor of punctuated equilibrium, a theory that he co-originated with Eldredge in 1972. Contrary to possible first impressions of the uninformed, Gould is presenting a problem FOR gradualist evolution, and countering WITH solutions to this apparent "problem" later in the paragraph.

And, in typical quote-mining style, this sentence has been taken out of its natural ecosystem. In this section of the paper, Gould is outlining the challenge to gradualist models of macroevolution in three loosely united themes. He is not challenging evolution itself nor is he discounting the vast wealth of fossil data that already exists.

Therefore, someone unfamiliar with Gould who would read the quote alone, above, who does not understand Gould's argument in the paper nor his scientific history will not realize he's just questioning gradualism as a theory of evolutionary change, and not realize he's simultaneously proposing a better idea of evolutionary change to fit the observed data.

As far as the paper goes, the quote above is actually from point #2 in his argument, and you'll have to see the full context to see where it's been selectively snipped. Here's the full context, starting with his point #2 but not encompassing the entire section #2 (which goes on in the same vein a while longer).

" 2. The saltational initiation of major transitions: The absence of fossil evidence for intermediary states 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. St. George Mivart (1871), Darwin's most cogent critic, referred to it as the dilemma of "the incipient stages of useful structures" -- of what possible benefit to a reptile is two percent of a wing? The dilemma has two potential solutions. The first, preferred by Darwinians because it preserves both gradualism and adaptation, is the principle of preadaptation: the intermediate stages functioned in another way but were, by good fortune in retrospect, pre-adapted to a new role they could play only after greater elaboration. Thus, if feathers first functioned "for" insulation and later "for" the trapping of insect prey (Ostrom 1979) a proto-wing might be built without any reference to flight.

I do not doubt the supreme importance of preadaptation, but the other alternative, treated with caution, reluctance, disdain or even fear by the modern synthesis, now deserves a rehearing in the light of renewed interest in development: perhaps, in many cases, the intermediates never existed. I do not refer to the saltational origin of entire new designs, complete in all their complex and integrated features -- a fantasy that would be truly anti-Darwinian in denying any creativity to selection and relegating it to the role of eliminating new models. Instead, I envisage a potential saltational origin for the essential features of key adaptations. Why may we not imagine that gill arch bones of an ancestral agnathan moved forward in one step to surround the mouth and form proto-jaws? Such a change would scarcely establish the Bauplan of the gnathostomes. So much more must be altered in the reconstruction of agnathan design -- the building of a true shoulder girdle with bony, paired appendages, to say the least. But the discontinuous origin of a proto-jaw might set up new regimes of development and selection that would quickly lead to other, coordinated modifications." (Gould, Stephen J., 'Is a new and general theory of evolution emerging?' Paleobiology, vol 6(1), January 1980, pp. 126-127)

Gould then goes on to show that Darwin conflated gradualism with natural selection, and then talks more in point #2 about future work in the field of evolutionary development that yields testable hypothesis for small changes in developmental pathways (corresponding to small evolutionary changes) yielding large changes in adult body plans. Gould states that this is the kind of approach that will give forth real information rather than adaptive stories or hypothetical intermediates. Gould was probably not exactly a 'visionary' for proposing this in print, but evolutionary developmental biology seems to be giving plenty of support to the theory of evolution these days.

- Deanne (Lilith) Taylor

Quote #51

"The curious thing is that there is a consistency about the fossil gaps; the fossils are missing in all the important places." (Hitching, Francis, The Neck of the Giraffe or Where Darwin Went Wrong, Penguin Books, 1982, p.19)

Whatever Hitching is, he is by no stretch of the imagination a "famous evolutionist."

- Sverker Johansson

Hitching isn't an evolutionist.

From Francis Hitching: Commonly quoted by creationists :

Research on Hitching turned up the following: Hitching is basically a sensational TV script writer and has no scientific credentials. In The Neck of the Giraffe he claimed to be a member of the Royal Archaeological Institute, but an inquiry to that institute said he was not. He implied in the "Acknowledgements" of The Neck of the Giraffe that paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould had helped in the writing of the book, but upon inquiry Gould said he did not know him and had no information about him. Hitching also implied that his book had been endorsed by Richard Dawkins, but upon inquiry Dawkins stated: "I know nothing at all about Francis Hitching. If you are uncovering the fact that he is a charlatan, good for you. His book, The Neck of the Giraffe, is one of the silliest and most ignorant I have read for years."

- Mark VandeWettering

[Commenting on the above]

Actually, he is, or at least he considers himself to be. From pages 12

and 13:

Evolution and Darwinism are often taken to mean the same thing. But they don't. Evolution of life over a very long period of time is a fact, if we are to believe evidence gathered during the last two centuries from geology, paleontology (the study of fossils), molecular biology and many other scientific disciplines. Despite the many believers in Divine creation who dispute this (including about half the adult population of the United States, according to some opinion polls), the probability that evolution has occurred approaches certainty in scientific terms.

We can be as sure about this as we are sure that ancient civilizations once existed on Earth but no longer function. The archaeological record tells us about these relatively recent times, and the fossil record about earlier ones. If you walk along the trails leading down to the depths of a great fissure such as the Grand Canyon, you can see some of the stages of evolution illustrated by the fossils in front of your eyes. The Earth is old, belongs to an even older universe, and life forms have been upon it for about three quarters of its existence.

But this doesn't mean the he's a competent evolutionist. For instance, he seems blissfully unaware of the evidence for the reptile-to-mammal transition, and some of the errors he makes in "The Neck of the Giraffe" are downright boneheaded. My favorite is this one from pages 159-160 of the Pan edition:

"...because Earth is not perfectly cylindrical (it is fatter at the equator), it is potentially very unstable as it spins."

As Wilkins once pointed out to me, the last person to claim that the Earth is a cylinder was Anaximander in 550 BC. Over the years I've also tracked down a few examples of his incompetent plagiarism that I'd like to consolidate into an article someday.

- Jon (Augray) Barber

For some odd reason, creationists never seem to want to quote any of the things that Hitching says about them:

[See] my website: Out of Context: Hitching and the Creationists.

- Lenny Flank

Quote #52

"If life had evolved into its wondrous profusion of creatures little by little, Dr. Eldredge argues, then one would expect to find fossils of transitional creatures which were a bit like what went before them and a bit like what came after. But no one has yet found any evidence of such transitional creatures. This oddity has been attributed to gaps in the fossil record which gradualists expected to fill when rock strata of the proper age had been found. In the last decade, however, geologists have found rock layers of all divisions of the last 500 million years and no transitional forms were contained in them." (The Guardian Weekly, 26 Nov 1978, vol 119, no 22, p. 1)

The complete paragraph:

The evidence against the standard view is contained in a lack of evidence. If life had evolved into its wondrous profusion of creatures little by little, Dr. Eldredge argues, then one would expect to find fossils of transitional creatures which were a bit like what went before them and a bit like what came after. But no one has yet found any evidence of such transitional creatures. This oddity has been attributed to gaps in the fossil record which gradualists expected to fill when rock strata of the proper age had been found. In the last decade, however, geologists have found rock layers of all divisions of the last 500 million years and no transitional forms were contained in them. If it is not the fossil record which is incomplete then it must be the theory. The alternative theory is called (regrettably) "punctuated equilibrium" or "punctuationalism." According to this, the diversity of life has come about as a result of sporadic adaptations by small, well-defined groups confronted by a new environment, interspersed with long periods of little or no change.

Once again, Punctuated Equilibrium is being discussed, and it is Gradualism, and not evolution, which is being critiqued. But one has to wonder why the quote-miner didn't include the last sentence of the article as well:

What is extraordinary is that in the 120 years since Darwin appeared to have cracked the problem with elegant neatness in "The Origin of Species," the principle has withstood all attacks on it - and yet still evolves loose ends.

- Jon (Augray) Barber

Quote #53

"Given that evolution, according to Darwin, was in a continual state of motion ... it followed logically that the fossil record should be rife with examples of transitional forms leading from the less to more evolved. ...Instead of filling the gaps in the fossil record with so-called missing links, most paleontologists found themselves facing a situation in which there were only gaps in the fossil record, with no evidence of transformational intermediates between documented fossil species." (Schwartz, Jeffrey H., Sudden Origins, 1999, p. 89)

One highly significant piece of context has been egregiously omitted from this quotation. I give a fuller version of the quotation below.

"Given that evolution, according to Darwin, was in a continual state of motion, with ongoing but slow and gradual change accruing over long periods of time, it followed logically that the fossil record should be rife with examples of transitional forms leading from the less to the more evolved. Not only had Darwin put these thoughts into words but he had also illustrated them in a diagram that consisted of hypothesized ancestors giving rise over time to hypothesized lineages of descendant organisms. In various places in this diagram, Darwin indicated the extinctions of hypothetical lineages as well as the origins of a multiplicity of species from the same ancestor. In words and in illustration -- the only illustration in On the Origin of Species -- Darwin breathed new life into the discipline of paleontology, which was the only field of study that could provide the scientific world with an actual picture of his view of evolution.

Fueled in no small way by the role that paleontology could assume -- reconstructing and also demonstrating the course of evolution -- the world's leading museums of natural history focused on fossil collecting. When these institutions were first founded, they were envisioned as the forums for displaying, in often overfilled and poorly labeled cabinets, unorganized geologic and biological collections of plain old specimens. Now, armed with the possibility of being able to exhibit not just an array of fossils but the drama of evolution itself, museums vied with one another to secure the best fossil localities and discover increasingly older representatives of the lineages of now-extinct animals. In the American West, fossil hunting took on the stereotype of the ruthless Old West. Fossil localities were kept secret and guarded by men with rifles. Armed guards also accompanied the trainloads of plaster-protected and crated fossils that often traveled by night in order to avoid detection. Sometimes, however, these attempts at secrecy did not work, and gangs from rival museums would successfully raid and loot the paleontological spoils of the competition.

But when the dust settled, and the fossils were assessed in terms of whether they validated Darwin's evolutionary predictions, a clear picture of slow, gradual evolution, with smooth transitions and transformations from fossils of one period to another, was not forthcoming. Instead of filling in the gaps in the fossil record with so-called missing links, most paleontologists found themselves facing a situation in which there were only gaps in the fossil record, with no evidence of transformational evolutionary intermediates between documented fossil species. Without fossil intermediates to back up Darwinian predictions of how evolution works, the turn of the century saw [P. 90] both paleontology (an evolutionary discipline) and gradual change via natural selection (an evolutionary model) fall on hard times. Even the paleontologists' special plea---that the gaps in the fossil record were the consequences of poor preservation, the loss of fossils through erosion or other destructive processes---did not work."


1. The egregious omission of context is evident from the sentence immediately following, but omitted from, the original quotation.

The most natural interpretation of the quotation, as originally given, is that in the second sentence Schwartz was referring to the contemporary status of palaeontology. However, in the section of Sudden Origins from which the quotation was taken, Schwartz was giving a historical account of the fate of Darwin's theory, and of palaeontological activities, in the years immediately following the publication of On the Origin of Species. It is clear from the missing context that in the last sentence of the cited quotation Schwartz was referring to the status of palaeontology towards the end of the 19th century.

Since I have not yet read Schwartz's book, I should add the disclaimer that, for all I know, his opinion about the state of palaeontology at the time he was writing (c. 1999, when his book was published) may well be much the same as it is about its state towards the end of the 19th century. Nevertheless, the cited quotation provides no evidence whatsoever that this is the case, since, as already noted, Schwartz was there referring only to the situation as it stood at the earlier period.

2. As the complete version of the quotation shows, the omitted text indicated by the second ellipsis in the original version comprises three full sentences at the end of the paragraph where it starts, the entire following paragraph, and one sentence at the beginning of the next. If the proper context, as indicated above, had been otherwise provided, the omission of this text would not seem to me, by itself, to have substantially changed the meaning of the quoted text.

Nevertheless, the quotation, as given, suggests a much closer connection between its first and second sentences than there actually is between them in Schwartz's original text.

3. In the second sentence of the original quotation, the word "evolutionary" has been omitted from between "transformational" and "intermediates". Presumably this was an inadvertent copying error, since it does not appear to me to favour any particular interpretation of the original text over any other.

- David Wilson

Quote #54

"Despite the bright promise that paleontology provides 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. The gaps must therefore be a contingent feature of the record." (Kitts, David B., "Paleontology and Evolutionary Theory," Evolution, vol. 28, 1974, p. 467)

Aside from the presence of a dash between "promise" and "that" in the original text, the quote is accurate. But does Kitts believe that these gaps disprove evolution? On page 468 we find this:

The claim has been repeatedly made that the fossil record provides a basis for the falsification of synthetic theory [Neo-Darwinism] and Simpson has demonstrated that this is not the case.

Kitts outlines several different hypotheses as to why the fossil record appears the way it does, among them Punctuated Equilibrium, but at no point does he abandon evolution as an explanation for what is seen.

- Jon (Augray) Barber

[Note: To continue the policy of using generous standards to decide if a quote is "in context," I am including this as one that is. - J. (catshark) Pieret]

Quote #55

"A persistent problem in evolutionary biology has been the absence of intermediate forms in the fossil record. Long term gradual transformations of single lineages are rare and generally involve simple size increase or trivial phenotypic effects. Typically, the record consists of successive ancestor-descendant lineages, morphologically invariant through time and unconnected by intermediates." (Williamson, P.G., Palaeontological Documentation of Speciation in Cenozoic Molluscs from Turkana Basin, 1982, p. 163)

This is actually from the journal Nature 293:437-443 and occurs on page 440. Possibly the original quote-miner got it from a later collection of papers. The quote is at the start of the concluding section of the paper, where Willianson discusses the implications of his research (and in fact the section is called "Implications"). Williamson certainly believes that evolution has occurred, because earlier in the paper he writes:

The 19 species lineages in the section represent 18 genera and 12 families, thus ancestor-descendant relationships between species lineages and their derivative taxa are unambiguous.

And later on we find:

The profound differences in shell geometry of these divergent forms are at least as great as those characteristic of different extant Bellamya species. However, the presence of the intermediate forms at the Seregei tuff level and the absence of other potentially ancestral forms of Bellamya in late Cenozoic of north-east Africa indicate that all three divergent morphs of Bellamya in this section are derived from B. unicolor, although the details of this derivation are only documented at the Seregei tuff level.

The quoted section introduces the idea of Puncuated Equilibrium, and Williamson feels that his research conforms to that idea. He sampled roughly 3,300 individuals, and in the final paragraphs writes:

The documented restriction of significant evolutionary change to speciation events indicates that the underlying unit of macro-evolutionary change is the species. The fact the evolutionary change at the species level is shown to be punctuated and achieved by 'revolutionary' periods of extreme developmental instability strongly supports the notion that specialization is a quantitatively different phenomenon from gradual, intraspecific microevolutionary change.

- Jon (Augray) Barber

Quote #56

"...I fully agree with your comments on the lack of direct illustration of evolutionary transitions in my book. If I knew of any, fossil or living, I would certainly have included them. You suggest that an artist should be used to visualize such transformations, but where would he get the information from? I could not, honestly, provide it, and if I were to leave it to artistic license, would that not mislead the reader? Yet Gould and the American Museum people are hard to contradict when they say there are no transitional fossils. As a paleontologist myself, I am much occupied with the philosophical problems of identifying ancestral forms in the fossil record. You say that I should at least 'show a photo of the fossil from which each type of organism was derived.' I will lay it on the line, there is not one such fossil for which one could make a watertight argument. The reason is that statements about ancestry and descent are not applicable in the fossil record." (Patterson, Colin, British Museum of Natural History, London, letter 10 April 1979, in Sunderland L.D., "Darwin's Enigma: Fossils and Other Problems," 1984, Master Book Publishers: El Cajon CA, Fourth Edition, 1988, p. 89)

This one has the honor of having its own Article in the Archives, Patterson Misquoted: A Tale of Two 'Cites'

- J. (catshark) Pieret


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