2. The Evolution Controversy

 
 
Punctuated 
Equilibrium 

  

Section 2.2.3




 
World History 
And The Eonic Effect

Civilization, Darwinism, And Theories of Evolution
4th Edition
The Book
By  John Landon

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 CHAPTERS:
 

 

 
 

 

2. The Evolution Controversy  
      2.1 The Legacy of Darwinism  
         2.1.1 Debates and Darwin Trials 
         2.1.2 Evolution and Ethics
         2.1.3 The Metaphysics of Evolution
         2.1.4 Is There A Science Of History? 
      2.2 Beyond Natural Selection 
         2.2.1 The Limits of Observation  
         2.2.2 Random Evolution: Climbing Mt. Improbable?
         2.2.3 Punctuated Equilibrium
         2.2.4 Natural Selection and The Oedipus Paradox  
NOTES  
      2.3 Visions of A Ghostseer  
         2.3.1 Wallace's Second Opinion  
         2.3.2 Theism/Atheism: The 'God' Debates  
         2.3.3 Critique of Evolutionary Economy  
         2.3.4 The Evolution of Evolution  
         2.3.5 The Science of Freedom  

Next: 
 3. Descent Of Man Revisited 


        
        

       
  
        

    World History And The Eonic Effect: Fourth Edition

   2.2.3 Punctuated Equilibrium 

 

The Darwin controversy frequently breaks down into a debate over continuous or discontinuous evolution. Proponents of discontinuous evolution tend to be their own worst enemies, and we will tend to avoid the terms ‘continuous/discontinuous’ except as façon de parler. The action of a feedback device is discontinuous, but not grounds for supernatural explanation. The foundation for all claims about evolution lies in the fossil record. But the question of the fossil record is not so simple. One of the most persistent criticisms of Darwin has always been that of the so-called ‘gaps’ in this record. There can be no doubt that the record is incomplete, and that something suspicious lurks in the data Darwinists give for the theory of natural selection. Over and over we see the phenomenon of rapid emergence followed by relative stasis. The record of human evolution itself is ambiguous here. The fossil record isn’t really homogenous, in the sense that random evolution should not show sudden changes in direction. Nonetheless considerable progress has been made here by paleontologists. And many of these supposed gaps have been filled, or, if not filled, given some inkling of a transitional something (e.g. dinosaurs with feathers, or the basilosaurus), so at least to a some degree the record is filling out, although this does not prove anything about the claims for natural selection.[i]

Here critics of Darwin have too often fallen into confusion themselves, because the whole idea of a ‘gap’ in the record suffers from misdefinition, if not incoherence. Fatal theological temptations induce hallucination here in many otherwise sincere minds aware of the problems of the fossil accounts. Although it is certainly true that the fossil record is very sparse, too sparse to maintain Darwinian certainties, it is not likely that one will find ‘gaps’ in the record. Some form of macromutation (i.e. a sudden change in developmental genes), for example, might well produce what looks like a gap. What is a gap? It is highly likely that there is a continuous sequence of organisms showing an unbroken lineage of bodily forms. That is not the same as saying that natural selection alone is at work. But these critics have a point, and a refinement of the ‘gaps’ argument is easy to provide, hence the challenge to Darwin’s theory remains in some form. Taken over all, without claiming gaps in the record, we should suspect that something is speeding up the process of evolution beyond the rate entailed by natural selection. 

Indeed, conventional Darwinians such as S. J. Gould upgraded this argument with the various claims for so-called ‘punctuated equilibrium’, which amounts to seeing that emergence is often very sudden, followed by a period of stasis where the rate of change is small, or nonexistent. Granting that such data is hard to interpret, the basic issue simply won’t go away. These theories suffered from the inability to disassociate themselves from the fallacies of natural selection, as they attempted to have their cake and eat it too, by proposing various ‘levels of selection’. But real evolution  is altogether likely to be something different. And it might well ‘punctuate’, this being followed by some sort of ‘equilibrium’. The issue is bound up in distinctions of microevolution and so-called macroevolution, or speciation. The existence of microevolutionary processes is not in doubt, but the elusive factor of macroevolution  remains unclear. 

Those who propose this issue of ‘gaps’ in the record, then, are onto something, but need to consider that the fossil record is always going to be continuous in some sense. This does not preempt the possibility, not of ‘gaps’, but of some other evolutionary process that creates a real discontinuity in some definable sense on top of that continuity. Think in terms of acceleration, as artificial as physics logic might be applied to evolution. Acceleration is not a ‘gaps’ argument, and its discontinuous action is not in contradiction with continuous motion. To propose discontinuity as antithetical to continuity is logical in the abstract, but in this case leads to the hopeless quagmire of miraculous interventions of one kind or another in the creationist vein. We cannot say in advance what that kind of process it would be that generates this sense of discontinuity, but its existence is something that we must suspect based on the evidence that we have. The discovery of complex genetic components such as the developmental genes suggests one way of resolving the seeming paradox. But that is not enough.

Remarkably, the perfect example of the discontinuity factor, and its elusive basis, lies in the attempt to resolve the mystery of the descent of man. There the (not very adequate) evidence of the so-called Great Explosion stands out as a question about the basic Darwinian claims. Something very sudden occurred in the emergence of man, or so it seems from the evidence. The descent of man is beset with the issue of continuity/discontinuity dead center in its dataset.

Consider again the analogy of acceleration, and beyond that the definition of science in the case of biology. On the one hand, biologists wish to make evolutionary theory compatible with physics, and yet to do so they must fail to do what physicists do: build a science around a type of ‘force’. This question was very clear in the eighteenth century, but the result was the emergence of vitalism, which was not up to the job of explanation. It is this search for the missing process that Darwinists find unacceptable, because there are no candidates for this in the thinking of reductionist science.

Mystery Force or Process X Part of the problem with Darwinian theory is that we are unable to detect the real ‘force’ of evolution, all we see being the processes of natural selection. Science gives us the fundamental forces, then demands that everything be reduced to this. This may the source of the problem, for ‘natural selection’ is taken as the ‘force that isn’t a force’ that does evolution, a role it cannot play. This unknown factor requires a new scale of observational detail. As we move to examine history, with its relatively rich dataset, we should be on the look-out for this ‘mystery force’. The term ‘force’ might turn out to be the wrong one, but by a principle of sufficient reason a ‘something that does evolution’ is what we are after.

Formalism of Evolutionary ‘Force’ The context of punctuated equilibrium gives us an opportunity to write out the correct formal apparatus of evolutionary dynamics, which is absent in the collapsed oversimplification of Darwin, but which is present in Lamarck (despite the infelicities of his work, and his incorrect theory of adaptation). This may or may not have anything to do with ‘punctuated equilibrium’ as defined by S. J. Gould. But the idea is clear from the dictionary senses of the words: a force, process, or ‘punctuation’ on one level acts discontinuously or intermittently or via short action impetus on another continuous level of steady state temporal streaming. Note the a priori resemblance to the distinction of force and equilibrium (or even Newton ’s first and second laws). These two levels are appropriately referred to as macroevolution (generally taken to produce speciation) and microevolution (which is the regime of natural selection). This basic set of concepts is actually quite general, and we will show how it applies to historical situations quite divergent from those of the evolution of organisms! But this is a transformed situation, and the powerful formalism, which is really a generalized metaphor of Newton’s second law, of macro and micro allows us to consider the dynamics of evolutionary directionality.

System Action, Free Action We have already broached the issue of science of history and we will later try to adopt our formalism to the ‘evolution of freedom’, applying the macro to the eonic effect and the micro to the emergence of historical freedom (from the passivity of causal evolution).

There is something peculiar about this one-dimensional limitation in the Darwin scheme where macro and micro are collapsed together, in the sense that any science is going to have a ‘force’ or process argument, indeed the ‘vera causa’ often referred to by Huxley, and this force is going to show itself in terms of its own action, archetypically ‘acceleration ’, and this action will seemingly be short acting (in some ambiguity between ‘machine’ and ‘engine’, perhaps). Such language is heuristic and must be set aside as at best metaphor once we have real data to examine, but the point is that Darwinists constantly remind us of the right way to do science, even as they propose a science with no substance to it. This example of the missing ‘force’ uses the language of physics, but the basic issue must remain. Various candidates from population genetics are sometimes metaphorically pressed into service here, but the void remains.

Continuity and Discontinuity The evolution debate constantly unravels in a confusion over continuity and discontinuity. This is due to the imprecision of terms and/or the desire to fulfill a ‘god of the gaps’ argument, or sneak attack. Physics, which could be attacked on similar grounds, has escaped this fate, in part because the absurdity of a ‘god in the gaps’ argument is clear. But the ‘discontinuity’ of an accelerated motion is real and yet at no point a contradiction to basic physical continuity.

Of course, we have already criticized the physicalism that created reductionist thinking, and there is no reason why biological evolution should conform to a force argument. But there is likely to be an analogue, in a principle of sufficient reason, to a force argument, and here natural selection seems instead to be the analogue to Newton’s First Law. The dynamic factor is entirely absent. This is the oddity of Darwinism. The surrogate substitute of natural selection for a true ‘explanation’ of what drives evolution leaves it with a strange void at its core. The point is that Darwinism is quite anomalous as a ‘science’ in the sense that this process that actually ‘does evolution’ is missing, and the strong suspicion is always there that natural selection, however real in the survival struggles of organisms, is simply the microevolution we see in the absence of ‘real evolution’. Darwinists become adamant here, or change the subject, but the sword of Damocles has always stood over Darwin’s claims for this reason. It is like confusing Newton’s first and second laws. We begin to suspect that the regime of natural selection too often perpetuates continuity, and is really the opposite of ‘evolution’! The geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky remarked, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” There is a corollary to this, “Evolution makes little sense in the light of natural selection.”

Theories of the evidence The Darwin debate constantly scrambles the issues of the ‘fact’ of evolution and the ‘theory’. There is a complication here, which is that we can distinguish a ‘theory of the evidence’ from a ‘theory to explain that evidence’, should that theory of the evidence graduate to stable data. Darwinism has yet to produce a proper theory of the evidence, that is, it has not actually observed in full ‘how evolution  happens’. And this itself might require a theory, e.g. that ‘evolution’ shows a macro pattern. This subtle difference constantly confuses all discussion. In economics, for example, a theory of evidence would be, as a theory, that economies show cyclical behavior. A second theory to explain the first, i.e. explaining cyclical behavior, is quite another task. Note that without a detailed record we would be likely to think in the abstract about economic systems. This example shows the dilemma of Darwinian theory. We have no detailed record of the way evolution actually happened, and tend deal only in abstractions based on Malthusian or other misleading examples. This is clearly the trap into which Darwin and Wallace fell, because they were struck by the teeming behavior of jungle populations with its clear profusion of speciation processes. They thought the full evolution of forms was explained by its surface aspect, the competitive struggle in biogeographical regions. 

Lamarck’s two-factor theory We are starting to see the need for two levels of explanation in the discussion of evolution. It is significant, and forgotten, that Lamarck, his more well known theory of adapatation apart, proposed a double aspect to evolution, progress and deviation. Rightly or wrongly, the idea of evolutionary progress is rejected now, but the more basic point about two levels to evolution remains on the table. We are left wondering how the more ‘scientific’ Darwinism took off with a one-dimensional oversimplification. Because pure random evolution is implausible, at least to some, one tends naturally to find two levels to evolution. If we try to eliminate one level, we always end in difficulty. The problem is the extreme difficulty of observing the higher level, and the confusion over ideologies of evolutionary progress applied to one level. But it is interesting that with a one-level theory Darwinists end up bickering over levels of selection, punctuated equilibria, and are forced to confront stasis and rapid change in alternation with no means to stuff both in the same box. Don’t confuse this with Lamarck’s idiosyncratic and controversial views on adaptation.[ii]

Economic vs. cultural evolution Later we will see the distinction of eonic sequence and econostream in our eonic model. We see the cultural evolution of modern economic thought, visible quite before its climactic Adam Smith, bound up in general ‘idea innovation’ and distinct from the evolution of economies, ancient or modern. We will see that the cultural innovations and economic transformations follow different logics, even as they braid together.

Self-organization A cousin ideology of theory, with the most obvious agenda, is the claim for ‘spontaneous social order’ as a legitimation of conservative agendas: cultural evolution occurs in the same fashion as market optimization. Examining the eonic pattern we can see that the long-range drift of history wouldn’t self-organize anything whatever, but go into decline and empire, or worse.

Many systems theorists are well aware of the limits of Darwin ’s theory and have attempted various theories of ‘self-organization’, which are not without interest as speculation, to move past Darwinian selectionism. No such theory for cultural evolution exists, whatsoever. Sometimes these theories are in fact variants of Darwinian thinking, or based on assumptions of ‘spontaneous’ order, e.g. from a figure such as Hayek, in other cases genuinely post-Darwinian constructs based on variants or extensions to thermodynamical arguments. As we will see these do not work for history, where idea-innovation is not always random, or spontaneous, and where the ‘self-organization strategy with or without a theory’ of a free agent (‘let’s get organized’) is distinct from that claimed for some speculative mechanized process of rising order or complexity. Looking at the eonic data, or more simply the Axial Age, we see the ens explicandum is more than rising order, it is the clustering of individual innovators that is significant.[iii]  

 

    Notes

   Web:  chap2_2_3.htm

 

[i] Stephen J. Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, ( Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002).

[ii] Gould, op. cit., p.186.

[iii] Stuart Kauffman, At Home in the Universe (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 9.

 

 
 


 

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Last modified: 09/21/2010