Monday, March 30, 2009

Don McLeroy Speaks Out

Don McLeroy wrote an editorial for the Austin American-Statesman that appeared on March 25 and which I missed when it came out. It is clear that he continues to attempt to understand little about evolution. For example, he writes:
Stephen Jay Gould stated: "The great majority of species do not show any appreciable evolutionary change at all. [This is called 'stasis.'] These species appear ... without obvious ancestors in the underlying beds, are stable once established and disappear higher up without leaving any descendants."

"...but stasis is data...

Once we have our observations, we can make a hypothesis. The controversial evolution hypothesis is that all life is descended from a common ancestor by unguided natural processes. How well does this hypothesis explain the data? A new curriculum standard asks Texas students to look into this question. It states: "The student is expected to analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record." It should not raise any objections from those who say evolution has no weaknesses; they claim it is unquestionably true.

And the standard is not religious but does raise a problem for the evolution hypothesis in that stasis is the opposite of evolution, and "stasis is data."

Gould's actual quote is this:
"The paleontological literature, particularly in the 'summing up' articles of dedicated specialists, abounds in testimony for predominant stasis, often viewed as surprising, anomalous, or even a bit embarrassing, because such experts had been trained to expect gradualism, particularly as the reward of diligent study. To choose some examples in just three prominent fossil groups representing the full span of conventional 'complexity' in the invertebrate record, most microorganisms seem to show predominant stasis - despite the excellent documentation of a few 'best cases' of gradualism in Cenozoic planktonic Foraminifera (see pp. 803-810). For example, MacGillavry (1968, p. 70) wrote from long practical experience: "During my work as an oil paleontologist, I had the opportunity to study sections meeting these rigid requirements [of continuous sedimentation and sufficient span of time]. As an ardent student of evolution, moreover, I was continually on the watch for evidence of evolutionary change ... The great majority of species do not show any appreciable evolutionary change at all. These species appear in the section (first occurrence) without obvious ancestors in underlying beds, are stable once established, and disappear higher up without leaving any descendants."
Aside from the fact that McLeroy completely misquotes Gould, stasis in the evolutionary record simply records the fact that the species was optimally adapted to its surroundings and selection was neither directional nor selective with regard to its traits. Stasis is not the opposite of evolution, as McLeroy states. Such a statement betrays a complete lack of understanding of the theory that he so roundly opposes. Statements that we are betraying our students by teaching them evolution ring hollow when the average student probably knows more about it than McLeroy does.

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