Feature Article - March 2002
by Do-While Jones

The Species Problem

According to the theory of evolution, the differences in offspring from a common ancestor will increase over time, until the two lines of descent are so different that they become separate species. That sounds pretty reasonable, if you don’t know anything about genetics. Modern scientists know something about genetics. That’s why the traditional ideas about species pose a problem for the theory of evolution. The general public seems to be largely unaware that there is a serious “species problem” in the biological community.

The journal Nature published a review of Sudden Origins: Fossils, Genes, and the Emergence of Species by Jeffrey H. Schwartz (1999, John Wiley & Sons). In this review, Eörs Szathmáry of the Collegium Budapest, Hungary, said,

The origin of species has long fascinated biologists. Although Darwin's major work bears it as a title, it does not provide a solution to the problem. Does Jeffrey Schwartz give one? I am afraid that, in general, he does not, but the book is still interesting. 1 [emphasis supplied]

Although Nature is one of the most respected scientific journals in the world, it is not widely read by the general public. (This may be because the annual subscription is $159.) Because Nature has such a limited audience, the authors of the papers published there can be frank about the serious problems with the theory of evolution, without worrying too much about the general public learning the dirty little secrets of biology. But we read them and disclose them to you every month. There are three important points in this one paragraph that evolutionists don’t want you to know.

The first thing to notice is that Darwin’s Origin of Species did NOT solve the problem of the origin of species. This book review did not spark a series of angry letters to Nature from scientists who believe that Darwin DID solve the problem. Professional scientists know Darwin didn’t solve the problem, despite what certain groups would like the general public to believe.

The second thing you can learn from this paragraph is that nobody else has solved the species problem. If anybody had, Schwartz would not have tried to solve it. Or, Szathmáry would have criticized Schwartz for trying to solve a problem that has already been solved. But the origin of species is still a mystery, so evolutionary scientists are still looking for an answer.

The third thing to notice is that, according to Szathmáry, Schwartz didn’t solve the problem either. Szathmáry goes on to say,

Schwartz shares a distrust of selection with some contemporary biologists. This is, I think, why he chose to ignore, for example, Peter Sheldon's work on the gradualism apparent in the evolution of the pygidial ribs of trilobites. When he discusses the celebrated computer study by Dan Nilsson and Susanne Pelger on the evolution of the optical structure of a fish eye, he mistakenly suggests that the intermediates are not selective improvements on the previous forms. It is revealing that he dismisses this scenario by saying : "Do we actually need to invoke such an elaborate thought experiment in order to understand the origin of the vertebrate eye, or any eye, for that matter? I think not. And the reasons lie in knowing that there are homeobox genes for eye formation and that when one of them, the Rx gene in particular, is activated in the right place and at the right time, an individual has an eye."

This is utterly misleading. Schwartz ignores the fact that homeobox genes are selector genes. They can do nothing if the genes regulated by them are not there. … It is totally wrong to imply that an eye could be produced by a macromutation when no eye was ever present in the lineage before. 2 [emphasis supplied]

Notice, he did not say, “Schwartz shares a distrust of selection with creationists.” He said, “Schwartz shares a distrust of selection with some contemporary biologists.” He knows there are evolutionary biologists who distrust selection. Presumably, these evolutionary biologists are not distrustful of selection because of their fanatical Christian beliefs. They distrust selection for good, scientific reasons. Despite what you might read in the popular press, or hear in school, natural selection is not universally accepted by professional biologists, and is not rejected for purely religious reasons.

It is revealing that Schwartz dismisses a celebrated computer study on the evolution of a fish eye. Presumably, he does this on scientific, not religious, grounds. Computers are capable of realistically simulating things that have never happened. If you don’t believe that, go see The Fellowship of the Ring. Just because a computer can simulate a process very convincingly, that doesn’t mean it actually happened.

Szathmáry recognizes that selector genes can’t select genes that aren’t there. That isn’t a very difficult concept to grasp.

Furthermore, pay careful attention to the last sentence in the quote. In simple English, he is saying that eye genes can’t be produced by random macromutations. The eye genes have to be inherited from an ancestor that has eyes. This leads to the obvious question, “From whom did the first creature with eyes inherit its eyes?”

In the scientific community there is no consensus as to how speciation occurs. Few, if any, modern scientists still hold the Darwinian belief that species acquire characteristics from exercise, nutrition, and the environment, and that these acquired characteristics are inherited. Some modern scientists still hold the neo-Darwinian belief that random mutations can produce new genetic information which can be filtered by natural selection to create a species with new characteristics, but that number seems to be dwindling. As Szathmáry so clearly says, there is distrust of selection, and recognition that macromutation can’t produce new information. There really is no good explanation for how speciation occurs. That’s one part of the problem.

The Definition Problem

The other part of the problem is that there isn’t a foolproof way to tell if two living creatures are the same species or not.

The commonly used definition says that if two critters can mate and produce fertile offspring, they are the same species. This definition isn’t perfect. A perfect definition would be transitive in the mathematical sense. In other words, if Critter A is the same species as Critter B, and Critter B is the same species as Critter C, then Critter A is the same species as Critter C.

Sometimes evolutionists argue that there are some instances of “circular discontinuity” in populations of mice and certain birds, where the geographically closest populations can interbreed, but the most widely separated populations can’t. They claim this shows speciation in progress, but it really just shows that the definition of species is imperfect.

The Key Test

You can usually tell if two keys are the same by trying them in a lock. If they both open the lock, they must be the same kind of key.

I had a 1988 Honda Civic that came with a “valet key.” The valet key looked just like the regular key. The valet key opened the doors and started the ignition, but wouldn’t open the trunk. The regular key worked in all the locks.

If we used the door lock as a test to see if the keys were the same species, both keys would pass the test. The trunk lock, on the other hand, would indicate that the two keys are different. Trying a key in a lock is an imperfect test.

Reproduction requires that the egg and the sperm (the key and the lock) fit together well. Perhaps the different populations of mice living around the great lakes are different species, but are so similar that some of the different species can interbreed. Maybe they are all the same species, but the variations are sufficiently different that they cannot interbreed. The common test can’t distinguish between the two situations.

All dogs are the same species, but there are breeds of dogs that are very different in size. Theoretically, at least, one can breed a tiny dog, like a Chihuahua, with a large dog, like a Great Dane. In practice, the difference in physical size may make that impossible. If the mother is the tiny dog, there might not be room in her womb for the puppies. If the father is the tiny dog, he might not be able to penetrate far enough to impregnate the mother. Perhaps small physical differences in mice and birds prevent individuals from different populations of the same species from breeding.

Evolutionary Groups

Jody Hey’s recent book on the subject of the species problem 3 prompted Kerry Shaw to wonder if the species concept is valuable at all. 4

… Ernst Mayr's Biological Species Concept (BSC), [is] the reigning champion since the modern synthesis. Despite the persistence of the BSC and the enormous fan club that supports it, there remains a "species problem" in contemporary evolutionary biology: a set of questions pertaining to the nature of species, species boundaries, and species identification. 5

In Genes, Categories, and Species, he [Jody Hey, a geneticist at Rutgers University] offers a new perspective on why the species problem persists. 6

The trouble is, Hey claims, that named species often do not, and probably will never, accurately match "real evolutionary groups."

The author asserts that the real evolutionary groups that we might wish to give species names defy the kind of categorization our penchant demands, and herein we find the second half of the persistence of the species problem. We routinely expect our named categories to match evolutionary entities, but because of the nature of the evolutionary process, Hey claims, they do not. 7 [emphasis supplied]

Traditionally, living things have been categorized in a hierarchy. Similar species are grouped into a genus. Similar genera are grouped into a family. Families are combined into orders, which are combined into classes, which are combined into a phylum, which is a major division in a biological kingdom.

Linnaeus, who first proposed this system, did not believe in evolution. He merely categorized similar things to make them easier to study. Later, when the scientific community was largely misled by the theory of evolution, many scientists believed that the classification system should reflect the evolutionary history of biological development. In other words, “evolutionary groups” should match “named categories.” Part of the persistent, and well known (in professional scientific circles) “species problem”, is that they don’t match.

The species problem isn’t well known by the general public because it isn’t mentioned in public school high school biology classes. The presentation of facts like these are opposed by groups like the National Center for Science Education, whose goal is to censor scientific information so as not to confuse the students with the facts.

Hey recognizes that the predictions of the theory of evolution don’t match the empirical data. The “real evolutionary groups” just don’t match our traditional hierarchy.

DNA Doesn’t Help

The traditional evolutionary “tree of life” was based on similarity of physical characteristics. Things that look the most alike are (according to evolutionists) the most closely related to a common ancestor. The criteria used for determining “most alike” are subjective and arbitrary. So, evolutionists turned to DNA analysis to see which critters are most closely related. They got absolutely no help there.

The view that data should take primacy in putting the species problem to rest may be a welcome, or even obvious, point. However, if the answer were easily gleaned from nature we probably wouldn't have a species problem. Making matters worse, it certainly appears that the species problem has intensified in recent years as molecular research reveals "species" that experience some level of ongoing gene flow with other "species." 8

The assumption in the last sentence (that there is gene flow between species) is based on the evolutionary idea that all genes have evolved from a common ancestor. Therefore, the existence of similar genes must be the result of cross-species breeding.

Let’s use a fictitious example to illustrate what they are saying. Suppose a lizard has a gene that isn’t found in any fishes (which are allegedly the ancestors of reptiles). If that gene is also found in insects, the only evolutionary explanation is that an insect must have had sexual relations with a reptile at some time in the past to cause some gene flow between species.

Of course we are exaggerating to make the point obvious. Evolutionists don’t believe reptiles ever mated with insects, but some (including Shaw) do believe that different species must cross breed often to produce “ongoing gene flow.” Scientists like Shaw believe this because they are aware of molecular research on “closely related” creatures in which some evolutionary cousins have genes that none of the aunts and uncles have. Therefore, there must have been some illicit sex to obtain that gene. Different species must be able to cross breed, if evolution is the true explanation for the origin of the genes. (But, if they can breed, then they aren't really different species, by the common definition.)

Of course, the other explanation is that species don’t have a common ancestor. They were all designed by a common designer, who used different arrangements of similar (and sometimes, identical) components to create different kinds of critters. This is in perfect agreement with molecular observations.

Creationists are often labeled as “anti-science” by their critics. But creationists aren’t against science. Science is in complete harmony with what they believe. Creation science doesn’t have a problem with any of the recent discoveries in molecular biology. It keeps confirming what creation scientists have believed for years.

On the other hand, evolutionists are always trying to explain away new scientific discoveries. DNA evidence is inconsistent with the traditional evolutionary “tree of life.” Fossils are frequently found that are much older than previously believed. Evolutionary history is constantly being revised to try to fit the new discoveries. Students are largely kept in the dark about these discoveries because certain groups don’t want the general public to know that science is against evolution.

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Footnotes:

1 Szathmáry , Nature 399, 24 June 1999, “When the means do not justify the end”, page 745 (Ev)
2 ibid.
3 Hey, Genes, Categories, and Species The Evolutionary and Cognitive Causes of the Species Problem, 2001, Oxford University Press (Ev)
4 Shaw, Science, Vol. 295, 15 February 2002, “Do We Need Species Concepts?”, page 1238 (Ev)
5 ibid.
6 ibid.
7 ibid.
8 ibid.