“And then a miracle occurs” — weak links in the chain of argument from punctuation to hierarchy

Biology and Philosophy 3 (1):3-28 (1988)
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Weak links, in the form of inadequacies in both reasoning and supporting evidence, exist at several critical steps in the derivation of an hierarchical concept of evolution from punctuated equilibria. Punctuation itself is predicated on a distorted reading of phyletic change as phyletic gradualism, and of allopatric speciation as the instantaneous formation of unchanging typological taxa. The concept of punctuation is further confounded by the indescriminate employment of the same term to denote both a causal explanation for evolutionary change and an outcome of substantiated evolutionary processes. Even when the intended usage for the term is specified, each denotation of punctuation entails respective drawbacks. As a causal explanation, punctuation clearly belongs to the class of quantum theories with all their attendant impedimenta, including special salsatory non-adaptive mechanisms of evolutionary change. Redefinition of punctuation as a pattern of morphologic change reduces it to one possible outcome of known microevolutioanry processes, thus obviating any need for an hierarchical explanation of macroevolution. While vacillation between usages has preserved the term in the literature, the end result of this obfuscation has been a circle of faulty reasoning in which the pattern of punctuation is invoked as its own proof. Widespread confusion concerning what constitutes an adequate test of punctuation is directly attributable to imprecision in both the original and revised formulations of the concept.The argument for species-level selection is based on the typological and philosphically flawed premise of species as individuals, and further requires the hypothesis of heritable emergent properties, for which empirical evidence is lacking.



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