Now that we better understand what a “species” is and why some line of demarcation must be employed, we can look closely at some classic examples of supposed speciation events.
Remember that scientists really must point to speciation events (either in the fossil record or happening around us even now) as the positive evidence that natural selection actually has the power claimed for it ever since Darwin. As we will see going forward, the fossil record is not on the evolutionists’ side. But we would much prefer to watch genuine evolution in action anyway, and scientists believe that they can point us to some excellent examples!
As we examine each example, remember that we are looking for “speciation” in the sense of the Biological Species Concept (BSC), as the other species concepts are sorely lacking. And remember that even if scientists completely abandon the notion of “speciation events” in terms of the BSC, opting instead to retreat fully to a Mayr-type notion of statistical distribution of traits, that sort of definition of “evolution” will not provide a demonstrable account of what we are all waiting to see/hear: Actual evidence of one “kind” of thing becoming another “kind” of thing. “Speciation” would be the obvious event-locus in a taxonomy where “kind” changes would be expected to occur. So, watch closely for argumentative wiggling and hand-waving, as these supposed “speciation events” come up far short.
We will consider a representative range of supposed “speciation events,” with a new page/tab devoted to each one. Then we will come back to this page to summarize. All of of the following links display in a new page/tab, so you don’t lose your place on this page.
Speciation in General
Last week we talked in some detail about why the Biological Species Concept is the best conception of “species” and “speciation” for those organisms that reproduce sexually. For such organisms, we will go with the scientists themselves in using the BSC as the standard. However, we are also going to look more generally at “evolution” in general, including among organisms (like bacteria) that do not reproduce sexually.
Particularly in cases of asexual reproduction, Mayr’s probabilistic definition of trait-distribution makes the most sense. You cannot, for example, talk about whether or not a “species” of bacteria can “interbreed” with another “species” of bacteria. So, single-celled organisms are differentiated by morphological and genetic traits alone, with no evaluation of inter-species gene flow.
However, this very fact makes “speciation” among bacteria a contentious proposition, and it makes even quite “dramatic” changes in a strain of bacteria much less applicable to the pressing question of how elephants and human beings became so vastly reproductively isolated. Of course, evolutionary scientists repeat the standard line: “Accumulate enough adaptations over a long enough time, and you will get bacteria turning into multi-celled organisms and then complex organisms, and then sexually-reproducing organisms, and so on. And at some point there will be a ‘branch’ between what becomes elephants and what becomes human beings.” So, we must evaluate bacteria “evolution” very closely to see if bacteria “adaptation” is of a sort that in principle could cross large boundaries, even if “accumulated.”
Of note before we dive in is that a trait-distribution definition of “speciation” and “evolution” in general is a very low bar, which can easily be gotten over by even species such as the peppered moth. Again, not even scientists see in the peppered moth an example of speciation. So, when scientists see “speciation everywhere” and “evolution happening all around us,” they are helping themselves to something like Mayr’s definition, which really fails to explicate the process by which elephants and human beings “became” so different. So, as we talk about organisms like bacteria, we are down near Mayr’s definition end of the scale, while when we talk about “ring species,” we are properly up at the BSC definition end of the scale. Mayr’s definition is “easy,” and the BSC definition is “hard.” Yet it certainly is the BSC definition (and science’s attempts to get some organisms over that bar) that is most relevant to the big questions of evolutionary theory.
We will evaluate bacteria “speciation” only briefly for two reasons: 1) the supposed “evolution” of bacteria can quickly be shown as irrelevant to the “evolution” of multi-cellular organisms; 2) despite scientific hand-waving to the contrary, there is nothing dramatic about adaptation at the bacteriological level.
The first point can be illustrated in a scholarly article called: “Speedy speciation in a bacterial microcosm: new species can arise as frequently as adaptations within a species.” Even though this is a scientific article, it is quite readable by the average lay person, and I encourage you to give it a go. Nevertheless, a few points are particularly relevant for our purposes here.
* Bacteria reproduction is very fast. New generations of bacteria, such as Escherichia coli, can emerge as quickly as every 17 minutes under optimum conditions. Contrast that with typically decades between human generations, and you see that bacteria provide a “compressed time scales” in which evolutionary processes can be witnessed.
* The environment of bacteria cultures can be quickly and precisely artificially modified to “zero in” on particular sorts of adaptation, to distinguish between “selection” adaptation and “non-selection” genetic drift, and to distinguish between adaptations within a species and adaptations that produce new species.
* The researchers in the above article concluded that adaptive mutations were about as likely to produce a new species as they were to produce a “better fitness” within a species.
* “Species” is determined entirely by molecular surveys that evaluate genetic markers to determine “relatedness” and “drift.”
* The researchers determined that, unlike it is believed to be the case in traditional speciation in sexual populations, geographic isolation is not a requirement for bacteria speciation.
Again, the study is worth reading, particularly to get an insight into bacteriological research techniques. However, as noted above, there is nothing relevant nor dramatic about bacteria “speciation.” Furthermore, molecular mapping techniques are notoriously unreliable and often completely question-begging, as “common ancestors” in a robust evolutionary sense must be presumed in order to “see” the “relevant” mappings.
1) Bacteria “speciate” and “speciate,” but they remain the same sort of bacteria they were before. Even with intensive experimentation and the time-compression inherent in such research, “evolution” has never been observed to turn one sort of bacteria into another sort. For example, rod-shaped bacteria do not slowly turn into spiral-shaped bacteria, or vice versa. Gram positive bacteria do not turn into gram negative bacteria, or vice versa. And so on. Even the most basic aspects of bacteria morphology remain fixed, despite rapid “speciation” and countless generations. So, the wide range of “species” of bacteria should properly be called “strains” of bacteria, just as the wide range of all cat types (including house cats, lions, tigers, etc.) should all be called “breeds” of cats.
2) Mayr’s definition of “evolution” is satisfied by bacteria experiments, and the term “adaptation” can properly be applied within colonies of bacteria. But even this “micro-evolution” provides no evidence of significant morphological changes within colonies. This point is poignantly made in the above-mentioned research, where the researchers do not talk about morphological changes in the bacteria themselves; they talk about “mat morphology,” which is the size, shape, and location of the entire colony considered as a “mat.”
3) The above-mentioned research noted that the “evolutionary” constraints upon multi-cellular, sexually-reproducing organisms do not appear to constrain bacteriological “evolution.” So it is at best unclear that studying “evolution” and “speciation” in colonies of bacteria has any relevancy to “evolution” and “speciation” among complex, sexual organisms. In short, “evolution” for bacteria is easy, and “evolution” for complex organisms is relatively hard. Nevertheless, see point (1) above.
We can sum up bacteriological “evolution” by saying that the rapid generation rates enable us to observe “adaptation” in ways that we do not with organisms having exponentially slower generation rates. And these “adaptations” appear to correlate with genuine and persistent genetic changes, which make them truly adaptations or so-called “micro-evolution.” However, despite the time-compression in which “evolution” can be extremely rapid (see just above), and despite the rapid and genuine adaptations observed in bacteria colonies, we do not observe significant morphological changes in bacteria themselves. Bacteria themselves are not “evolving” in any observable way beyond Mayr’s bare definition of “evolution,” and the “speciation” that is common among colonies of bacteria does not correlate with the sort of speciation that would ultimately produce “branches” at even the genus or family level of a classical taxonomy. The observed “evolutionary” processes occur within narrow boundaries, and “evolution” beyond those narrow boundaries, counting as minimal “adaptation,” has never been observed.
The evolutionist answer: “Give it long enough, and accumulation of changes will produce big-picture evolution” falls flat, as we see how “long” can be time-compressed in bacteriological research, and as we see that, even on the smallest scale, morphological changes are assessed at the colony rather than individual level. The colony is viewed like “an organism,” because morphological changes are not observed at the individual level. Distinctions between “species” take the form of molecular analysis because these “adaptations” are small-scale enough that they don’t produce morphological changes in individual bacteria. So, just because you see resistance to a particular drug in a particular bacteria population, for example, does not mean that you are seeing “a new kind” of bacteria emerging. If anything, bacteriological research has solidified the claim that “micro-evolution” is necessarily micro and has no demonstrated power to make significant changes, even given vast time-compression.
“Ring speciation” events are a unique and extremely rare sort of putative speciation event. They are also touted by evolutionists as the best example of demonstrable evolution in action we can observe! So, given that they are the best available evidence of speciation, we will devote considerable effort here to showing them for what they really are.
What makes ring speciation events rare is their dependency on a very large geographical feature (like a mountain range) that serves to “branch” a migrating population into two independent groups that (due to the geographical feature) have no contact with each other during the migration.
The population is slowly moving (over generations) to occupy new territory, say from North to South, when it encounters the geographical feature. The feature is such that the organism cannot occupy territory within that feature itself (such as a much drier valley area lacking needed water for an amphibian species). So the migrating population “splits” into two “branches” as it works its way further South, but now also East and West around the feature. The migration process Southward takes many, many generations.
Because the split populations migrate in parallel, each needing to adapt to a different environment as they slowly occupy new territory, they evolve differently. Throughout the parallel evolution and migration, each “branch” has uninterrupted gene flow (breeding) within the “branch,” but not at all within the other “branch.” So each “branch” is reproductively isolated from the other, but enjoys full reproductive fecundity within the “branch.”
Eventually the migration brings the “branches” together again, typically at the opposite end of the feature that “split” the “branches” initially. At this point, the two “branches” share the same range of territory. However, due to their different courses of evolution during their migration, the two “branches” (which started as one species) have now become so genetically dissimilar that they have lost the ability to successfully interbreed.
Each “branch” has uninterrupted gene flow back up to the original single species, so throughout the “branch” it can truly be said that there is one species. However, paradoxically, by the time the two “branches” meet, the two “branches” cannot be counted as a single species because the two branches can no longer interbreed.
Leading researchers have concluded that there are actually very few possible “ring species” candidates; “ring speciation” is considered to be extremely rare. (Irwin, 2001, for example, cites 23 possible candidates, but then winnows the list down dramatically due to various failures of the situation to qualify as genuine “ring speciation.”) However, he asserts (in 2001) that two particular candidates are indeed the cream of the crop, and in 2005 Irwin continues to list one of the two, the greenish warbler, as the best and most dramatic example we have of ring speciation.
So, we will examine these top two contenders, because they are the paradigm examples, and what goes wrong with these examples goes even more wrong in the other examples. At present, leading evolutionary researchers argue that we actually know of no such thing as a genuine “ring speciation” event.
Ring Species–Ensatina Salamanders — This page links to a 3:15-minute YouTube video of a classic “ring species,” particularly the Central California salamander of the genus: Ensatina. Further analysis on the page reveals what is really going on in the argumentation.
Ring Species–Greenish Warbler — This page links to a 4-minute YouTube video of the best example of a “ring species,” the greenish warbler. Further analysis on the page reveals what is really going on in the argumentation.
And that about sums up the demonstrative “force” of the best evidences of speciation we know of in the form of “ring species.” We’ve got some jolly-good-fun speculations leading to inferences upon sketchy, non-conclusive observations, which we can spin and elevate into strong claims about BSC speciation, none of which can actually be demonstrated and none of which show the sort of persistent genetic changes in a population that would make even a subset genuinely genetically isolated from the main body of the “species.” In short, even the best examples of supposed “evolution in action before our eyes” fall flat and do not qualify as either true “ring species” or as examples of speciation at all.
Other Supposed Speciation Events
Beyond the best examples touted by evolutionists as “ring species,” there are a few other classic cases of supposed speciation events. We can briefly summarize some of them here.
A very representative site, from U.C. Davis lists four paradigm examples of speciation events:
* Darwin’s finches
* Cichlid fishes of the East African lakes
* Hawaiian fruit flies
* Canadian Stickleback fishes
Let us immediately dispense with Darwin’s finches, as they correlate with the Peppered Moth example insofar as the various populations are capable of interbreeding (and do). Please read the above-linked article, which states: “Perhaps the best example of natural selection among living organisms is from a study of one of Darwin’s Galapagos finches.” However, look closely at the hand-waving and supposition apparent in the article. Just as is typical of this example, biologists talk in terms of the Ecological Species Concept (ESC) when touting Darwin’s finches, because they know that the Biological Species Concept (BSC) is not applicable here. Much is made of bill size and ecological niches, and speculation regarding an “invader species” is common. However, just as with the wide variety of cat “species,” we are really talking about breeds here rather than species. No “speciation events” can be demonstrated from this example.
The article cited above summarizes the example of the East African cichlids this way: “Perhaps the most spectacularly rapid speciation events are those that produced dozens of species of cichlid fishes in East African lakes” (emphasis in original). The array of adaptations the article mentions seem impressive indeed, and the article makes quite grandiose claims about what these adaptations mean: “Dating the sediments revealed that the lake was DRY only a few thousand years ago, so all the cichlid species have evolved in that short time. This is even faster than the Hawaiian fruit-flies, probably…. Now here is natural selection caught in the act.”
Really? Well, what do these “adaptations” really tell us about speciation in a BSC sense? The article says, “In theory, then, they should be one interbreeding species that circles the lake. Instead, there are dozens of species, some of them restricted to a single bay.” So, the clear implication is the these groups of cichlid fishes do not interbreed. If true, that would signify multiple speciation events in a short period of time… if one primary part of the inference could be sustained: at some point in time there really would have had to be one interbreeding “parent” population from which these various groups are derived. So, two factors are in play here in differentiating between groups of cichlids as genuinely disparate species:
1) Reproductive isolation of the groups (the BSC).
2) Descent from a common parent group.
Let us first consider (1). Rather than to bore you with mass quantities of the same sorts of materials, let me simply point you to a very credible, well-summarized article that demonstrates how scientists don’t even try to employ the BSC in the case of the African cichlids:
What is a species? Many students are taught Mayr’s traditional species concept — which states that species are groups of organisms that do not interbreed with other such groups — a definition that focuses on reproductive isolation. In practice, however, we often use a morphological species concept, in which individuals are categorized by similarities in size, shape and colour. This definition works well, and we have no difficulty in recognizing discrete species of birds in our backyards, even though few of us have ever tested their reproductive compatability. Cichlids species are no different. If we survey the organisms that are present at a particular location, we can usually sort them by colour pattern and/or morphology into discrete groups that we would all agree were unique species.We can also identify behaviours that are specific to particular taxa. For instance, some male cichlids build sandcastle mating bowers that have species-specific shapes.
Notice several key aspects of the above summary. First, Mayr’s definition (including reference to the BSC) is treated as though it is just one of many possible ways to think about speciation. However, it is far more than that, as we have discussed! Regarding sexually-reproducing species, the BSC is the gold standard.
Second, because the BSC simply won’t work for the cichlids, and scientists so much want to count the many groups as disparate species, the BSC is simply “minimized,” as you see above, and the crude, folk, morphological “standard” is put in its place. So, much is made of differences in “size, shape and colour,” with hand-waving in the direction of “This definition works well, and we have no difficulty in recognizing discrete species of birds in our own backyards….”
Fine, but that “works” only because in the “backyard” context, that “folk” version of “speciation” does not have to be scientifically rigorous! It does not have to bear the weight of an entire world view on its shoulders! We can look at a wide variety of cats and dogs and “grant” that they are different “species,” but when rigor matters, we do not grant it; we instead speak accurately and carefully, and we talk about cat breeds rather than cat species! The same is the case with the cichlids. The “folk” version of differentiating species simply won’t bear the weight placed on it in the above summary!
Finally, watch for the quick and blithe question-begging: “… we would all agree were unique species.” No! Actually we would not! As noted above, morphology does not distinguish among cats as unique species, and it does not distinguish among cichlids as unique species.
Now, let’s consider point (2) above: that the many “species” of cichlids all started from a single parent group.
In fact, the entire argument is based upon sediment samples that “suggest” that the lake has at times been dry, which “suggests” that a single parent group has been on-again, off-again “isolated” from its children groups, as the children groups “migrated” around the lake at high-water times and were again isolated during low-water times. But both the inferences drawn from the sediment samples and the implications drawn from those inferences are suspect. In point of fact, there is no direct observational evidence to indicate that there have not always been a circular ring of fishes that are more or less “related” but that had no “start” from any particular “parent stock.”
In short, the BSC does not distinguish among the various cichlid groups, and there is no direct evidence that any “spread” or “descent” has ever occurred. So far from this being a strong example of “rapid speciation,” this is no example of speciation at all!
The same inference types and problems exist in the case of the Canadian Stickleback fishes. Much is made of little, and the BSC does not apply.
Now, let’s turn to the Hawaiian fruit flies.
As in the case of bacteriological research, the huge advantage of fruit fly research is the generational time-compression! Fruit flies have a generational time of about 10 days! So researchers can (and have) observed in fruit flies what would amount to many millions of years of “evolution” in longer-generation species, such as humans or elephants. Literally thousands of generations of fruit flies have been cataloged in rigorous detail, and all sorts of “strains” of fruit flies are available for researchers to zero in on this or that morphology they wish to selectively breed for and emphasize. Most important is that we can talk about “breed for.” Unlike bacteria, fruit flies do reproduce sexually, so the BSC is the perfect species concept to apply to this species!
Again, saving you tons of research that all leads to the same conclusion for our purposes, I will simply point you to the Irwin, 2001 article, which summarizes the possibility of certain fruit fly populations as possible “ring species.”
What distinguishes between the supposed “species”? It is this: “Morphology of genitalia (extremely subtle).” So, the supposed “ring species” is distinguished by “extremely subtle” morphological differences in genitalia! Has the BSC been confirmed among them?
Laboratory experiments indicate that a ‘transitional race’ can sometimes interbreed with several other races that are otherwise reproductively isolated from one another.
So, in other words, “No.”
The various “races” are actually not reproductively isolated. After hundreds of observed generations in the wild and in the laboratory, we observe “mating preferences” and all sorts of morphological differences. But what we have are fruit flies, beginning to end. And both beginning and end points can interbreed. With the significant time-compression (and artificial, human-directed “selection”) that should reveal “evolution in action” if we were going to see it in any species, we do not see it even in fruit flies.
In summary, there are many supposed examples of observable speciation events, yet what we do not observe is actual speciation events! The only things we do observe are scientific speculation and hand-waving, as evolutionary scientists use word salads and species-concept ambiguity as needed to convince themselves (and a gullible public that has not done systematic research on the issues) that “evolution in action” is “happening all around us.” The notion of “adaptation” is writ large, while in actual fact genuine adaptation is a quite rare phenomenon. And from supposed cases of adaptation (that usually are not) dramatic inferences are drawn. These inferences are actually falsified by those cases of time-compressed “evolution” (such as fruit flies) where what we actually observe is that BSC-speciation is not taking place. In point of fact, genuine speciation has never been actually observed.
The Fossil Record
In the absence of observed speciation events among species that are in-principle observables, evolutionary scientists point to their ever-present fall-back examples: the “striking” examples of evolution that have been captured in the fossil record, such as horse evolution, cichlid evolution, and even human evolution.
However, if ever there was an abject failure of the evidence to sustain the evolutionary (neo-Darwinistic) paradigm, it is what we have discovered in over 150 years of research into the fossil record.
Many anti-evolution critiques of the fossil record have been written. But we will not focus our attention of those, as those critiques are (of course) biased, because they have been written by anti-evolutionists. It is far better for our purposes to allow evolutionists to speak for themselves about the failings of the fossil record. And they do so regarding two huge problems in the fossil record:
1) The (even highly interpreted) examples of so-called “transitional forms” are very rare compared to the vast quantities of fossils we have now discovered.
2) The fossil record does not reveal Darwinistic gradualism, with step-wise, “no-leaps evolution” over millions of years; it instead reveals what (the late) Gould and Eldridge (both highly-regarded evolutionary scientists) have famously called “punctuated equilibrium,” with long periods of “stasis” that are “punctuated” by “rapid evolution.”
Regarding (1), an entire college course could be taught just regarding the vast failings of these examples. Let’s take cichlid “evolution” as the classic case, and the same problems exist with all of the supposed examples of step-wise, transitional-forms “evolution” captured in the rocks.
The same problems exist with the “ancient” fossil cichlids as exist with the present-day, East African cichlids (as outlined above). There is exactly zero evidence that the morphologically-different “species” emerged from some “parent” that ended up reproductively isolated from the “children” species. There is exactly zero evidence that the various “species” satisfied the BSC definition of speciation events. Molecular mapping cannot be performed (no DNA to work with) to even throw a bone (no pun intended) at the notion of genetic “relatedness.” All evolutionists have to work with in these “classic example” cases is a pile of morphological differences (just as in the case of present day cichlids or fruit flies), which, as we see, indicates absolutely nothing about evolution’s supposed power to produce new species, much less whole new forms of creatures!
In the case of supposed human evolution, the book Bones of Contention is worth reading, as it carefully details how sparse, inaccurate, and question-beggingly interpreted the whole “spectrum” of hominid fossils actually is. Often entire “species” are invented from a single tooth or bone fragment. Entirely crushed skeletal remains (as in the case of Ardi) are extrapolated out into highly-detailed form and figure representations and treated as “missing links,” when in fact, even if the real creature represented by the extrapolations ever existed in anything like that form, all you would have is an example of some extinct ape-like creature. Even the inference to “hominid” is outrageously sketchy. Yet, evolutionists hail such finds as “proof” of human evolution, and lay evolutionists cite such finds as “slam dunk evidence” that the “creationist scum” must be “idiots” to “refuse to acknowledge.”
In short, the step-wise “transitions” in the fossil record are very, very few and far between, with very few “classic examples” for evolutionists to cling to. They all suffer from the same fundamental problems, which problems are evidenced in similar “species” even among the present-day “examples.” So far from the fossil record providing piles and piles of evidence for slow, step-wise, and no-leaps evolution, the exact opposite evidence exists everywhere throughout the fossil record: “new species” suddenly appear in strata with exactly zero connection to any putative “ancestors.” And the so-called “Cambrian explosion” is a vast problem for evolutionists in its own right. We will simply summarize that the fossil record would count as a full-blown falsification of evolutionary theory were it not for the absolute commitment evolutionists have to the paradigm and the absence of any viable, naturalistic alternative.
Regarding point (2) above, addressed as “punctuated equilibrium” by many evolutionists, we will turn our full attention to that problem in upcoming weeks. Like point (1), point (2) indicates a serious, serious problem for Darwinistic gradualism with its need for many fossilized evidences of transitional forms.
Ultimately, we have no solid evidence that speciation in the BSC sense has ever occurred. While evolutionists wave their hands and talk about “speciation everywhere” around us and “evolution in action,” in actual fact, a careful examination of representative cases of supposed speciation reveals not a single example of genuine BSC speciation. Not even one!
The “culture war” remains a war of ideas, however, and the evolutionists (especially lay evolutionists) are amazingly strident and even abusive in their claims to see “evolution happening all around us,” despite the “intentional and ignorant blindness” of the “stupid, Christian scum.” So, it falls to us to rise to a higher level on our side of the battle, and that means arguing systematically, in charity granting the other side its best case, and maintaining civility in our discourse.
As Michael Denton has argued, evolution is indeed a “theory in crisis,” and crisis breeds both animosity and opportunity. If we can raise the level of argumentation, we can take advantage of the ever-increasing opportunities to show evolutionists exactly what goes wrong with the theory and what the better alternatives are. I believe that we are not going to change what science is (methodological naturalism), but we can certainly succeed in opening the minds of individual scientists (and lay evolutionists) the the “intelligent design all around us.”