Speciation: more evidence ignored by intelligent design

Darwin's finches: historical example of speciation

In promoting his book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, Jonathan Wells makes this statement:

the most fundamental problem of evolution, the origin of species, remains unsolved. Despite centuries of artificial breeding and decades of laboratory experiments, no one has ever observed speciation through variation and selection.

I believe the act of catching speciation in the act is nearly impossible, but to say that no one has ever observed speciation is just being willfully ignorant. I say that it is nearly impossible because of the timescales that are evolutionarily relevant. Remember that our lives, and scientific thought for that matter, is only a blink of an eye in evolutionary time. Therefore, one would not expect to be able to see speciation except in the most rare occurrence.

Another problem with the idea of speciation is that the term and idea of species is somewhat nebulous. A common definition of species is a population of organisms that can interbreed resulting in offspring that are also able to interbreed. This definition has a couple problems. What if only 1% of one population can interbreed with another population? Are those distinct species? What if two populations never mate in the wild due to completely different mating practices, but do mate when pressured to by isolation (e.g. in a lab).  Are they different species?

These problems defining species and the extremely long time for speciation events to usually occur allow ID/creation proponents, like Jonathon Wells, to say it has never been observed.  They are looking for an example where a population of creatures produces a completely new creature over a short period.  This strawman argument will convince the uninformed, but should not deter reasonable individuals.

Here I am going to list a few examples of speciation that we would expect from our understanding of evolution.  I want to limit this discussion to historically observed speciation events, the type that Wells believes do not exist. The list of known speciation events is enormous and can’t be easily covered in such a short space (see African ciclids, Darwin’s finches, cave salamanders, etc.).

  1. Apple maggot fruit fly, R. pomonella. The ancestor of this species of fly mates near hawthorn trees and lays its eggs inside the fruit. However, with the introduction of domestic apples to North America, these flies began using apples instead of the thorn apples. Now, there are two distinct populations of flies. These populations have distinct genetic differences and have varying times until maturity.
  2. Madeira island house mice. 500 years ago, house mice were introduced to the small island of Madeira off the coast of Africa. Six populations of mice were found containing chromosomal abnormalities that precludes their interbreeding.
  3. Radish and a cabbage hybrid. Russian biologist Georgii Karpechenko bred a radish and a cabbage to produce fertile offspring that had a completely new morphology. Unfortunately this new form was the leaves of the radish and the roots of the cabbage.

These three examples already disprove Wells’ contention.  However, these examples are just the beginning of observed instances of speciation.  For further reading, please see here and here.

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13 Responses

  1. Well no offense, but this is a pointless article. The examples that you and other evolutionists so proudly tout are examples of adaptation, micro-evolution, selective breeding, or test-tube products.

    Christians are aware of natural adaptation. We’re just a little skeptical of theories that say “here is a brand new species of fruit fly, ergo, man came from some primordial amino acids in a swamp”.

    And don’t get me started on BBT. The whole evolution story has more plot holes than that insipid attack on Christian beliefs, The Da Vinci Code.

    • have a look at the fossil records that are found in Australia around the devonian. they tell you heaps about how species have changed over the past.

      heaps of evidence to say that evolution is real

    • “ergo, man came from some primordial amino acids in a swamp… “. You’re talking about a-bio genesis, which is a whole other theory. Evolution is the theory of how life changes over time, not its origin.

  2. Rachel,
    Thanks for reading, but I did take offense to your comment. It is hard not to when it is called pointless. Speaking of which, you did not really provide any arguments against the points raised in my post. I pointed to examples where speciation occurred within a short period of time. What do you think happens when you take the processes of “adaptation, micro-evolution” and extend them over billions of years? You will get something that looks like what we find in the fossil record. You will get something like the phylogenetic trees that we see in organisms DNA. You can say that you don’t believe it until you are blue in the face, but that won’t change reality.

    I notice that you lump all Christians in with your belief of the pseudoscience of intelligent design. I think more knowledgeable and learned Christians will disagree with you.

    Please, enlighten me on BBT…

    • I think Rachel’s point is that although there was an adaptation to an environment in the cases that you laid out, you have to extrapolate those and many other adaptations, very very far past what is observable. This is what is necessary to to believe in adaptations that cross higher taxonomic ranks. This is what I see as the main objection to the viability of the theory of evolution and I believe this is a legitimate objection. The fact that fruit flies could ever develop gills or any foreign biological structure does seem far fetched given the lack of empirical evidence supporting this.

  3. Is there an example of a speciation event occurring where the Biological Species Concept applies and a post mating isolating mechanism
    is identified?

    What I’m looking for is a strong example of an observed speciation event for an assignment on the evidence for evolution I’m writing.

    For instance, you couldn’t mate a chihuahua with a great Dane but they are both dogs. So because of the mechanical reasons it would be a pre mating isolating mechanism which prevents reproduction.

  4. Daniel,
    I believe that the house mouse example I gave above is exactly what you are looking for.

    However, Talk origins has a nice collection of some examples:


    Many of the examples come from plants who often double their genome randomly. These new species can not reproduce with the parent species because an odd number of chromosomes. I do want to point out how difficult it really is to observe speciation. It is like watching the formation of a mountain or canyon.

    • Hi bort901,

      The author of that article admits that “The literature on observed speciations events is not well organized. I found only a few papers that had an observation of a speciation event as the author’s main point (e.g. Weinberg, et al. 1992). In addition, I found only one review that was specifically on this topic (Callaghan 1987). This review cited only four examples of speciation events.”

      One of the reasons for this is because of the obvious practicalities of observing speciation. That is, that it takes a long time to occur. But even if there were multiple credible sources that show that speciation can occur the theory still extrapolates speciation over higher taxonomic ranks in order to support the theory of evolution. The fact that adaptations to an environment occur isn’t deniable. The theory that given time, this can cause worms to eventually become human isn’t very well founded however.

  5. In it interesting that you use the African cichlid fish as evidence of evolution. The article you cite reads: “But biologists now face a race against time to plumb their secrets: an estimated 50% of cichlids vanished in the 1980s and appear to be disappearing ten times faster than they can be described.” More important, however, is that this is simply variation. What is the evidence that this rapidly “evolving” fish will develop lungs or legs, ever? Variation among cichlids does not seem to prove that they will someday develop into amphibians. What am I missing here?

  6. [...] and feelings instead of observations. I can be known for my discoveries of fairies, and unicorns. http://nondiscovery.wordpress.com/20…ligent-design/ Someone obviously doesn't do their research. "There are two novels that can change a [...]

  7. I believe that we have a serious issue in being able to actually define a species in the first place. Cladistics in Sauropods (for example) would be completely different from Conifers. What constitutes a species is not only arguable, but actually differs between Classes, Phylum’s, Orders and Suborders… Sexuality is not a constant (especially in botany) and often varies in the Animal Kingdom.

    I agree with the observable science of micro-evolution, and am a firm supporter of Natural Selection. I’m a paleontologist, and I have NOT seen any CONVINCING evidence for ANY transitional species in the Fossil record. In other words, evolution on a macro level is Not observed in science. It is, however, still a theory often taught as fact.
    We know there is plenty of genetic room for adaptation in DNA, but there is still no evidence for a creature becoming (turning into) another type of creature.

    This is especially true via mutation, where as some mutations are beneficial, most are not. Information is NOT added to the DNA by mutation, the organism actually looses (though it is not a permanent loss) information by a mutation copied in RNA transfer. This is a perfect example of what we observe with canine. What suggests that these dogs are actually different species? Just because they can’t all interbreed? A terrible definition of “species” notwithstanding, dogs are still dogs. Even though Bears share many convergences with canines, they are still bears. However, there is plenty evidence of convergences across different types of creatures; similarities that may have adapted across numerous “species” and/or families, has No trace evidence of a dolphin evolving into a whale, or a dog into a dolphin for that matter. Therefore, there is something to be said about the use of the words “according to their kinds” in the Bible. As a species IS more difficult to universally define there may be something to this broad taxonomy don’t you agree?

    To Luke, on the contrary, I have seen “species” that are virtually unchanged in the fossil record. Some, more recently, have actually been found to be extant and show hardly any observable difference at all. The Coelacanth is a pretty good example and you can find its remains all over the Devonian. Coelacanthiforms do have some minor differences between “species,” what is currently accepted as the definition of a species. Cumulative observations on coelacanthiform morphology are minor. This is just one example.

    The same could be said for many other Families in the fossil record. Tyrannosauridae, Diplodocidae, etc. All have slight variations that do not always suggest a different “species.” New evidence for Apatosaurus and Diplodocus suggests that the different morphologies are actually related to gender vs. species. In all actuality, we only have about 50-60 different types of dinosaurs; even if there exist many variations of the type “species.”

    Hybridization is a whole other topic, but can be viewed as relevant here as well. Plant “species” are even more difficult to define due to the almost limitless possibilities for reproduction.

    Using BSC (The Biological Species Concept),the Phenetic (or Morphological) Species Concept, or Phylogenetic Species Concepts have not proven to be universal in standard.
    I think, that it will be some time, before we will discover any solid method for describing a “species” universally in nature.

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