Student Question

What exactly does Darwin's theory state and how it is different from Punctuated Equilibrium?

If Darwin's theory states that evolution occurs in a slow, continuous process. What does that mean, does it mean that one generation of specie dies and then the next generation takes over. What is punctuated equilibrium (I still can’t process this theory, what is the proof based on)? Does it mean the opposite of Darwin’s theory? Is there any significant difference between the two theories? I can't understand how each works. Examples and explanations would be appreciated.

Expert Answers

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Darwin believed that evolution was a slow, gradual continuous process of change.  This could mean that evolutionary changes could occur over thousands or hundreds of thousands of years.  It is so gradual that one cannot detect these changes in a lifetime, or even over several generations.  Punctuated Equilibrium is not the opposite of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.  It is really more of a variation of the Theory of Evolution.  The big difference is the time it takes for evolutionary changes to occur.  Darwin thought that evolution was slow and gradual.  If so, then these gradual changes should show up in the fossil record.  They do not, and this did bother Darwin.  He simply thought that the fossil record was incomplete. Punctuated Equilibrium was an idea that was proposed by Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge in 1972.  It was a critique of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.  Whereas Darwin believed that evolution was a slow process that continued on without any sudden changes, Eldredge and Gould believed that evolution happened in “fits and starts”—that is, that evolutionary changes sometimes moved quickly, and at other times it didn’t move at all or moved extremely slowly.  When evolutionary changes came slowly or not at all, there was “equilibrium”.  These periods of “equilibrium” were “punctuated” with times of very fast changes or developments; therefore, evolution was not a slow, continuous process.

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