Punctuated equilibrium attempts to explain the “gaps” in the fossil record (e.g., the Cambrian explosion). However, it fails to do so and has several problems.
First, punctuated equilibrium can explain only how existing traits are fixed (or spread) through an entire population, not how those traits arose in the first place. 1 Thus, punctuated equilibrium does not solve the time constraints of evolution, since the evolution itself still has to happen according to standard neo-Darwinian evolution.
Second, since punctuated equilibrium deals with a trait spreading through an existing species, it cannot explain radically different body plans suddenly arising (as in the Cambrian explosion). It can, at best, explain new traits arising quickly in an existing species, not radically different animals, unless it includes the saltation hypothesis, or “mega-mutations” (which even most evolutionists reject).
Third, small populations (which is where punctuated equilibrium says that most of the evolution occurs) actually are worse suited for evolution due to increased noise for natural selection, resulting in genetic drift. Punctuated equilibrium tries to have it both ways: the benefits of larger populations and smaller populations, while ignoring the cost of each.
Evolutionist: Creationists misrepresent punctuated equilibrium 2 by showing a cartoon of a bird hatching from a reptile egg, for instance. This is not what punctuated equilibrium teaches.
Response: First, when Stephen Jay Gould first argued for punctuated equilibrium, he did allow for large-scale “macromutations” (saltation hypothesis). 3 Second, evolutionist Richard Goldschmidt did believe that a bird may have hatched from a reptile egg, 4 though virtually all evolutionists today reject this extreme. Third, whether creationists misrepresent punctuated equilibrium is beside the point, since the conservative view of punctuated equilibrium does not solve the Cambrian explosion anyway.
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Meyer, S. C. (2013). Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life And the Case for Intelligent Design. New York: HarperOne.
Dawkins, R. (1996). Climbing Mount Improbable. New York: Norton.
- Meyer, 2013, p. 146: “As conceived by Gould and other advocates of punctuated equilibrium, allopatric speciation just allows for the possibility of the rapid fixation of preexisting traits, not the generation of new traits. When a parent population splits into two or more daughter populations, each of the daughter populations retains a part, but usually not the whole, of the gene pool of the original population. No new genetic traits are generated by the geographical isolation of one part of a population from another.” ↩
- Dawkins, 1996, p. 106: “Eldrege and Gould are rightly annoyed at the misuse of their ideas by creationists who, in my terminology, think that punctuated equilibruim is about huge, 747-type macro-mutations which, they are right to believe, would require miracles.” ↩
- Meyer, 2013, p. 311: “When Stephen Jay Gould was first wrestling with the question of how new forms of animal life could have arisen so quickly in the fossil record, he considered many possible mechanisms of change. In the famed 1980 paper in which he declared neo-Darwinism “effectively dead,” he didn’t just propose allopatric speciation and species selections as new evolutionary mechanisms. He also granted a rehearing to a long discredited idea. Specifically, he argued that large-scale ‘macromutations’ might generate significant innovations in form relatively quickly.” ↩
- Meyer, 2013, p. 311: “In the 1930s and 1940s, this idea had been associated with University of California at Berkeley geneticist Richard Goldschmidt. Aware of the many discontinuities in the fossil record, Goldschmidt envisioned radical transformations in the form of animals arising in even one generation as the result of such large-scale mutations. He endorsed, for instance, the view of the German paleontologist Otto Schindewolf (1869-1971) that “the first bird hatched from a reptilian egg” and, thus, in Goldschmidt’s words, “that the many missing links in the paleontological record are sought for in vain because they have never existed.” If a bird hatched directly from a reptilian egg as the result of heritable, large-scale mutations, then such a sudden leap or “saltation” would obviously leave no fossil intermediates behind.” ↩