Colin Patterson Revisits His Famous Question about Evolution
Origins & Design 17:1

A Colin Patterson Sampler

1977: "The Contribution of Paleontology to Teleostean Phylogeny," in Major Patterns of Vertebrate Evolution, eds. M.K. Hecht, P.C. Goody, and B.M. Hecht (New York: Plenum Press, 1977), pp. 579-643.

A major, well-illustrated paper in Patterson's specialty, the systematics of fishes, which shows his developing skepticism about the value of evolutionary theory in systematics. Patterson compares the practices of pre-Darwinians, e.g., Agassiz, with post-Darwinians:

Where Agassiz refrained from linking the converging bases of his lineages (Fig. 1) since he believed that their junction 'may only be sought in the creative intelligence,' the theory of evolution allows a modern author to represent a hypothetical ancestral group as having the same reality as any other major taxon. Yet the search for ancestors of the teleosts has hardly been successful, for every other major branch point in Figure 18 is also occupied by hypothetical forms or question-marks: these ancestors have no more reality than the abstract synapomorphy-bearers indicated by the open circles in Figure 17.

1979: Interview with Luther D. Sunderland, June 30,British Museum of Natural History, ERIC Document Reproduction Service microfiche ED 228 056 (available at most public libraries), pp.7-19.

Sunderland, late creationist activist (d. 1987), interviewed several paleontologists while preparing his book Darwin's Enigma. This interview is marked by a fair amount of miscommunication, but also by passages such as the following:

Sunderland: ...How do you see that evolution might explain the origin of fishes?

Patterson: (Pause)

Sunderland: Then you'd rather not say?

Patterson:Ten years ago I'd have been perfectly willing to tell you, but it so happens that I know someone who is working this problem for about 15 years--the starfish end of it--the echinoderms. He believes that this development could be traced from the Cambrian with the echinoderms. I could very easily refer you to his work and say that I agree with him that fish are related to echinoderms, but I do not think it is obvious.

1980: "Cladistics," The Biologist 27: 234-240.

A popular article, drafted as the "transformed cladistics" controversy was growing to its height. "As the theory of cladistics has developed," argued Patterson (p. 239), "it has been realized that more and more of the evolutionary framework is inessential, and may be dropped. The chief symptom of this change is the significance attached to nodes in cladistics. In Hennig's book, as in all early works in cladistics, the nodes are taken to represent ancestral species. This assumption has been found to be unnecessary, even misleading, and may be dropped."

"Phylogenies and Fossils," Systematic Zoology 29: 216-219.

More skepticism about fossils and phylogeny: "To me, one of the most astonishing consequences of the furor over cladistics is the realization that the current account of tetrapod evolution, shown in a thousand diagrams and everywhere acknowledged as the centerpiece of historical biology, is a will-o'-the-wisp. For nowhere can one find a clear statement of how and why the Recent groups are interrelated, and the textbook stories are replete with phantoms--extinct, uncharacterizable groups giving rise one to another" (p. 217).

1981: "Significance of Fossils in Determining Evolutionary Relationships," Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 12: 195-223.

Patterson's classic, critical analysis of the role of fossils in systematics: "...extinct paraphyletic groups [common in neo-Darwinian phylogenies before the cladistic revolution] seem to me to obscure rather than illuminate relationships, for they exist not in nature but in the minds of evolutionists. Such groups lead to a sterile inversion of problems of relationships, which come to depend not on comparative analysis of what is accessible--the Recent biota--but on juggling with what is inaccessible--uncharacterizable abstractions from the fossil record" (p. 219).

1982: "Morphological Characters and Homology," in Problems of Phylogenetic Reconstruction, eds. K.A. Joysey and A.E. Friday, Systematics Association Special Vol. No. 21 (New York: Academic Press), pp. 21-74.

Perhaps the most widely-cited paper on homology of the past two decades, where Patterson discusses five ways of defining homology (classical, evolutionary, phenetic, cladistic, and utilitarian), taking issue with "the evolutionists...for here I do expect disagreement" (p. 62). Patterson's main complaint is with extinct, paraphyletic groups, which typically play the role of "transitional forms" in evolutionary reasoning. "Such groups," Patterson argued, "...are imagined by evolutionists, those most committed to the confirmation of Darwin's views. The power of this mystery, extinct paraphyletic groups as the source of phylogeny, is shown by the fact that we still have no cladogram, or series of nested homologies, for tetrapods, the group in which phylogeny is supposed to be best known" (p. 64).

1983: "How does phylogeny differ from ontogeny?" in Development and Evolution, eds. B.C. Goodwin, N. Holder and C. Wylie (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press), pp. 1-31.

A discussion of the bearing of ontogenetic (developmental) data on phylogeny: "Phylogeny is generalised transformation, but we have no empirical experience of phylogeny; the only transformations of which we have empirical evidence are those of ontogeny" (p. 21).

1988: "Homology in Classical and Molecular Biology," Molecular Biology and Evolution 5: 603-625.

Patterson applies his 1982 analysis of homology (see above) to molecular data. This paper is notable for its claim that, at the molecular level (unlike gross morphology), "there is no detected molecular equivalent of convergence--or of misleading similarity--except in the most trivial sense" (p. 618).

1993: "Congruence Between Molecular and Morphological Phylogenies," Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 24: 153-188.

In a review written with fellow British Museum staffers David Williams and Christopher Humphries, Patterson surveys the congruence -- or lack thereof -- between molecular and morphological phylogenies. He and his co-authors conclude:

As morphologists with high hopes of molecular systematics, we end this survey with our hopes dampened. Congruence between molecular phylogenies is as elusive as it is in morphology and as it is between molecules and morphology....Partly because of morphology's long history, congruence between morphological phylogenies is the exception rather than the rule. With molecular phylogenies, all generated within the last couple of decades, the situation is little better. Many cases of incongruence between molecular phylogenies are documented above; and when a consensus of all trees within 1% of the shortest in a parsimony analysis is published...structure or resolution tends to evaporate (p. 180).

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Copyright © 1996 Paul Nelson. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
File Date: 6.22.96