Gould: Evolution as Fact and Theory

There are no identifiable species – actual biological ancestors – at internal nodes. Internal nodes are abstractions, based on the character distributions at the terminals. No abstraction was ever the ancestor to anything.

Using sister-group relationships solves the problem of having to show actual ancestry (something fossils can never do), at the cost of destroying entirely what we normally understand to be ancestor-descendant relationships.

Yes, I meant “collateral ancestor,” thank you for the correction.


That’s what I said. But this is not a weakness of cladistics; it’s a strength, because it restricts our claims to what can actually be shown. Yes, we can’t identify ancestor-descendant relationships among species. And yet the cladograms show that such relationships do exist. Species are related by common descent, and that implies ancestors, even if we can’t point to them. That’s how science works, you know: by inference from data.

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Only on the assumption of common ancestry.

I would phrase it differently. We have no way of determining the ancestors or descendants of any fossil. If you dug up a human skeleton you wouldn’t be able to determine who its ancestors or descendants were by just its morphology. Does this mean the human specimen had no ancestors or descendants? Obviously not.

That’s why they are described as transitional fossils.

Or, as Darwin put it:


Like all YECs you confuse assumptions with conclusions. Must we discuss the implications of nested hierarchy? Must we argue about whether that hierarchy actually exists?


Nested hierarchies antedate Darwin and the theory of common descent by many decades. The workers who used them (e.g., Linneaus, Cuvier) did not infer, from the presence of a hierarchy, common ancestry.

You do, making assumptions about what an intelligent designer would be likely to do.

I take a nominalist view of nested hierarchies. They represent information retrieval systems. My nominalist interpretation is supported by many thousands of anomalous character distributions, typically dumped into a bin labelled “not phylogenetically informative.”

No more replies from me in this thread: Peaceful Science is a time-consuming habit I only indulge when I forget that I have a day job to do. :wink:


Darwin did.

Can you name a single reason why an intelligent designer would be forced to use the same pattern of differences and similarities that evolution would produce? Moreover, humans regularly violate a nested hierarchy when we are designing organisms. I have done it myself.

Why would an information retrieval system need to be a nested hierarchy? This makes no sense.


True. But so what? They had no explanation for nested hierarchy. (“God wanted it that way” is of course not an explanation for anything.)

Good for you. But that isn’t an explanation either. You seem, in your own vague way, to be denying that this nested hierarchy is a real phenomenon but merely a matter of convenience. The data show you are wrong.

Aaand I see you have flounced.


I can! He would be forced to do this if he predetermined he would create everything by a process of common descent.

Why do this way? Well, why not? He had to do it somehow, and this is how he did it.

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But @pnelson is denying common descent, so that’s off the table for him.

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This would also need to include lineage specific mutations for the vast majority of mutations.

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Yup. And that is exactly what we expect in any sort of providentially governed version of evolution.

@Mercer, you are right that this is off he table for @pnelson. Pity. It’s a stronger response.


Since this thread is about Gould’s essay, here is another quote cogent to the most recent posts:

Sorry to infuriate you – but you are getting it wrong.


I think Gould was wrong about that. A theory is a well-supported explanation for a set of facts. Common descent is a well-supported explanation for nested hierarchy, biogeographic patterns, etc. It’s a theory. It’s a fact too, because a fact is nothing more than a theory with overwhelming support.


You make a great point that there are no bigger groups but these are species themselves. stick to that good point. they don’t anymore say transitional forms but instead transitional FEATURES. they were forced to drop the finished form idea based on the lack of fossils. So plan B was AHA just features that over time add up to new forms.
its all just a retreat from the fossil record saying NO there are no transitions as there should be.
SO Gould just concluded evolution happened too quick to be caught in the fossil record and only after great reproductive success did the fossil record catch the new evolved species.
what he actuallt did was prove darwins prediction of the fossil record showing the progress of creatures as they evolved to not be there. this is why today PE is still a embarrassment.

In evolution literature they reject transitional forms but instead say transitional features.
there is no transitional new forms ever found in the fossil record. they hope instead to find species with new features. this is what they do today to justify a claim they find intermediates at higher levels.
However as nelson said these higher levels are still species.
i read Goulds paper on this and he had to fight with other evolutionists that the fossil record was not showing evidence for evolution. PE is a desperate grasp to save the day.
however evoltionists today do want to pretend PE was just a dream. they realized better then gould it was a disater for evolutionism.

what was wrong was my post getting flagged. there was no reason for this.
i can’t learn why it was WRONG if there is no explanation from the flag wavers.
I never flagg anyone but if someone is flagged, someone kind, should say why if its not clear.
otherwise suspicion kicks in that flagging is being used to just stop unwelcome opposition.
Say it ain’t so? why was my stuff different then others??? Hmmmm.

Thanks for this quotation, Aquaticus. It’s exactly the point I was trying to make to Chris Falter. Darwin admits that it is possible for a rational, informed person to doubt whether a particular mechanism (in his case, natural selection) should be given tremendous weight, while still drawing the inference of common descent for reasons that don’t come from the proposed mechanism. Chris recently suggested that the two things were bound tightly together, in a package deal, but here Darwin says that this is not strictly necessary. I pointed this out to him, referencing Darwin, and your passage gives me another reference to make the same point.

Unless the transitional forms between larger groups are species - species which have some charactistics of each of two larger groups.

There are no lines on my ruler between the millimetre marks, but they are abundant between the centimetre marks.