Quote: Niles Eldredge

Creationists have used a number of quotes from Dr. Eldredge. Here's his "horse" quote:

Dr. Niles Eldredge, a curator at the American Museum in New York, has said: ". . . the most famous example . . . still on exhibit downstairs is the exhibit on horse evolution. . . That has been presented as literal truth in textbook after textbook. . . [T]he people who propose these kinds of stories themselves may be aware of the speculative nature of some of the stuff. But by the time it filters down to the textbooks, we've got science as truth and we've got a problem."
This makes it sound as if Eldredge was saying that horse fossils are somehow not good evidence for evolution. But, that's not what he meant. He thinks that horse fossils are excellent evidence for evolution. There are over two hundred extinct species, and more than a hundred thousand catalogued fossils.

Eldredge was in fact complaining that the exhibits showed horse fossils in a linear sequence - a "ladder of progress", small-and-archaic shading into big-and-modern. This is false to evolutionary theory, which predicts that species can be organized into a tree diagram. It is also wildly false to the horse evidence. See, for example

Life's Little Joke, in Bully For Brontosaurus, Stephen Jay Gould, W.W. Norton 1991
(Gould and Eldredge have co-authored books.) Gould's article says:
Bushiness now pervades the entire phylogeny of horses.
meaning that a "ladder" is a terrible description of horse ancestry. Museums and texts that show a "ladder of progress" should be ashamed. But for some reason the idea is popular among non-scientists. In fact, one publisher put the famous ape-to-man "ladder" image on one of Gould's books, without Gould's permission.

Last modified: 3 December 2000

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