ON THE ORIGIN OF STASIS
BY MEANS OF NATURAL PROCESSES
"I am well aware that scarcely a single point is discussed
in this volume on which facts cannot be adduced, often apparently leading
to conclusions directly opposite to those at which I have arrived. A fair
result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on
both sides of each question, and this cannot possibly be done here."
The Origin of Species
Charles Darwin was well aware that scientists could come to directly
opposite conclusions from those set forth in his Origin of Species. Although
his theory could account for minor evolutionary change and the diversity
of finches, Darwin knew that he had to virtually ignore the natural history
of life on earth in order to maintain any hope of accounting for the origin
of the phyla and the major disparity between arthropods and anthropologists.
Darwinian theory is in conflict with the most prominent features
of earth's natural history. First of all, geology does not provide the transitional
forms Darwin's theory demands. In 1859, the conflict with paleontology was
the most serious objection to the theory and over the years the gap between
data and theory has only grown wider; today scientists acknowledge fewer
transitional forms than Darwin thought existed. Species typically arise
suddenly and "fully formed."
The second conflict between Darwinism and natural history is the
phenomenon of stasis. Geology reveals the stability of forms rather than
their gradual transformation into substantially different body plans. The
stability of the higher taxa in particular suggests the existence of natural
processes which prevent major evolutionary change from occurring on a gradual
Finally, the pervasive pattern of geologic succession is systematically
backwards from that predicted by the theory. Darwinian theory predicts that
the gradual accumulation of minor evolutionary change and the increasing
diversity of the lower taxa should ultimately produce the profound differences
among the major body plans and the disparity of the higher taxa. Diversity
should precede disparity. Geologic succession reveals the opposite: disparity
precedes diversity. The major themes or body plans appear suddenly in the
history of life only to be followed by variations on these pre-existing
themes. The natural history of life on earth is systematically top to bottom,
not bottom to top as Darwinian theory predicts.
Had Darwin developed a theory to explain the empirical data of natural
history, he should have come to directly opposite conclusions. He should
have developed a theory to explain why species do not gradually transform
into substantially different body plans on a gradual step-by-step basis.
The phenomenon of stasis and the stability of the major body plans is based
upon an abundance of data and our theories describing the natural world
should explain that data. The empirical evidence suggests the need to develop
a theory which is based upon natural history rather than one which must
explain away its key features. Although neo-Darwinian theory helps to explain
minor evolutionary change, a theory of "macrostasis" needs to
be developed which explains the stability of the major body plans.
We must first understand the ordinary rules of stability and the
pervasive patterns of natural history before we can speculate on the origin
of the major body plans. We must also understand that, ultimately, questions
of origins are metaphysical. The questions of microevolution and macrostasis,
however, are clearly empirical.