Gould defines punctuated equilibrium as follows:
Punctuated equilibrium is neither a creationist idea nor even a non-Darwinian evolutionary theory about sudden change that produces a new species all at once in a single generation. Punctuated equilibrium accepts the conventional idea that new species form over hundreds or thousands of generations and through an extensive series of intermediate stages. But geological time is so long that even a few thousand years may appear as a mere "moment" relative to the several million years of existence for most species. Thus, rates of evolution vary enormously and new species may appear to arise "suddenly" in geological time, even though the time involved would seem long, and the change very slow, when compared to a human lifetime.
Isn't the fossil record full of gaps?
Though significant gaps existed in the fossil record in the 19th century, many have been filled in. In addition, the consistent pattern of ancient to modern species found in the fossil record is strong evidence for evolution. The plants and animals living today are not like the plants and animals of the remote past. For example, dinosaurs were extinct long before humans walked the earth. We know this because no human remains have ever been found in rocks dated to the dinosaur era.
Some changes in populations might occur too rapidly to leave many transitional fossils. Also, many organisms were very unlikely to leave fossils, either because of their habitats or because they had no body parts that could easily be fossilized. However, in many cases, such as between primitive fish and amphibians, amphibians and reptiles, reptiles and mammals, and reptiles and birds, there are excellent transitional fossils.
Can evolution account for new species?
One argument sometimes made by supporters of "creation science" is that natural selection can produce minor changes within species, such as changes in color or beak size, but cannot generate new species from pre-existing species. However, evolutionary biologists have documented many cases in which new species have appeared in recent years (some of these cases are discussed in Chapter 2). Among most plants and animals, speciation is an extended process, and a single human observer can witness only a part of this process. Yet these observations of evolution at work provide powerful confirmation that evolution forms new species.
If humans evolved from apes, why are there still apes?
Humans did not evolve from modern apes, but humans and modern apes shared a common ancestor, a species that no longer exists. Because we shared a recent common ancestor with chimpanzees and gorillas, we have many anatomical, genetic, biochemical, and even behavioral similarities with the African great apes. We are less similar to the Asian apes—orangutans and gibbons—and even less similar to monkeys, because we shared common ancestors with these groups in the more distant past.
Evolution is a branching or splitting process in which populations split off from one another and gradually become different. As the two groups become isolated from each other, they stop sharing genes, and eventually genetic differences increase until members of the groups can no longer interbreed. At this point, they have become separate species. Through time, these two species might give rise to new species, and so on through millennia.
Doesn't the sudden appearance of all the "modern groups" of animals during the Cambrian explosion prove creationism?
During the Cambrian explosion, primitive representatives of the major phyla of invertebrate animals appeared—hard-shelled organisms like mollusks and arthropods. More modern representatives of these invertebrates appeared gradually through the Cambrian and the Ordovician periods. "Modern groups" like terrestrial vertebrates and flowering plants were not present. It is not true that "all the modern groups of animals" appeared during this period.
Also, Cambrian fossils did not appear spontaneously. They had ancestors in the Precambrian period, but because these Precambrian forms were soft-bodied, they left fewer fossils. A characteristic of the Cambrian fossils is the evolution of hard