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Thursday, November 09, 2006 CE

Speciation and Creationist Mythology


Speciation is the formation of a new species. Defined more properly would be: “the evolutionary process by which new biological species arise.” It is a concept key to the understanding of evolution. Unfortunately, we live in times in which there is a great rift between scientists and not-scientists. Concepts that are basic for the science student at the university level are completely unknown for other people.

The first step to understand the concept is to define what a species is. A good general definition of species is “the basic unit of biodiversity”. However, we need to get a little bit more specific. A working definition for the post, at least for the sexually-reproducing species, is “a set of actually or potentially interbreeding populations, which always generate fertile offspring.” Using this last definition makes us easily visualize that, for example, the dog, in spite of all its different morphologies is a species. A Fox Terrier, can breed with a Great Dane and have fertile offspring. On the other hand, a horse and a donkey can breed, but their offspring is not fertile.

One creationist myth is that we have not seen a new species being generated since humans populated the planet. This is not true. Species have been created artificially. For example, domestic sheep were created by hybridization, and no longer produce viable offspring with Ovis orientalis, one species from which they are descended. The best-documented creations of new species in the laboratory were performed in the late 1980s. Scientists bred fruit flies, using a maze with three different choices such as light/dark and wet/dry. Each generation was placed into the maze, and the groups of flies which came out of two of the eight exits were set apart to breed with each other in their respective groups. After thirty-five generations, the two groups and their offspring would not interbreed. Evolution can happen in front of our eyes.

The second step to understand the concept is to understand the mechanisms by which this happens. I am not going to go deep into this, however, I will explain the simplest theory which is the allopatric speciation.. During allopatric speciation, a population splits into two geographically isolated allopatric populations (due to geographical change or emigration). The isolated populations then go through genotypic and/or phenotypic divergence, through mutations, as they become subjected to different selective pressures. When the populations come back into contact, they have evolved such that they are reproductively isolated and are no longer capable of interbreeding. This is what happened in the experiment mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Creationism implies that the species we see are the species that were created 6000 years ago by a divine being. This can be seen in websites such as Answer in Genesis. Intelligent design, a refined form of creationism, argues that a superior intelligence engineered the morphology of the current species and not different selective pressures through to random mutations in the genetic code. Unfortunately for the ID supporters, that would not be able to be proven since someone superior would have to have designed the designer, then the designer of the designer and so on until we reach the level of the supernatural designer, not provable, since it is outside nature. On the other hand, proper scientists have shown that new species can be formed and that the key for this is differential selective pressure combined with geographical isolation for a given period of time, which can be short like in the example of the fruit fly or longer like in the example of domestic sheep.
Further reading:

21 Comments:

Blogger Diane S. said...

Being the token Theist among your readership, I felt I had to respond. There are those among the radical Christian Fundamentalists (and radical fundamentalism is never a good thing in my book) who would agree that creationism is the belief that God created the world, complete, in 6 days 6,000 years ago and hasn't been in the invention business much since.

This is obviously nonsense. Even bearing in mind that man's wisdom is God's foolishness.

Now, imagine you were God (not that I suspect any of us are fielding any offers). After you create the universe in what is symbolically represented in 6 days, do you kick back, and decide you've exhausted your creative potential? Or do you keep creating? Bear in mind tha you are GOD, a being of infinite creative potential. Don't you think you'd get a wee bit bored? Don't you suspect you'd keep tinkering with creation?

I happen to believe that God works in logical, systematic ways. This belief allows me to embrace both my religion and the theory evolution, both God and the Big Bang. I believe the Universe is expanding because God keeps having new thoughts. I believe that there are endless variations possible on the themes of life which God has created. I believe, as the Catholics say, in all things seen and unseen.

My point? There are actually a lot of Christians who agree with me, so it's not quite fair to give creatist the tight definition you present. That definition is appropriate only to the radical fundamentalist.

Fascinating article. Especially about the flies. I wasn't aware that we had prompted evolution of a species within laboratory conditions.

One final question, since Mules cannot reproduce, are they not a species? And if not, what is the proper term for a mule?

Oh! And one final observation. I used to live in the woods, where the deer and antelope played, in every sense of the word, and with each other (deer with antelope, antelope with deer). There is a lot of unauthorized breeding going on out there. How much of it results in offspring, I can't say, but wanderlust seems to abound in the beasts of the wild woods.

2:42 PM  
Blogger farmgirl said...

I still don't understand why it is so frightening and/or difficult for fundamentalists to accept the possibility that both are right: that God created a wonderful Universe that has planets and human and animal life on them that evolved and continues to evolve.

Their slavish devotion to a book that is continuously argued over, revised, and interpreted in a thousand ways really perplexes me. There is no consensus on what the stupid thing says anyway. Why get so worked up? The only answer I have been able to come up with so far is that these folks are simply filled with fears (of many kinds) and crave any sort of "leadership" that will dictate to them what the rules are. This conveniently relieves them of the necessity of thinking, or perhaps living with any uncertainty. It comes down to insecurity. In fact, personally I have a sneaking suspicion that most conspicuously religious people, and especially those evangelical fundamentalists we are speaking of, may indeed have less faith in God than anyone!

Thanks Marco, you always bring out the wordy-ness in me :)

I believe the Universe is expanding because God keeps having new thoughts.

That's wonderful, I like that!

Sarah (formerly Puma, now Farm Girl, who must clap loudly, "hear! hear!" at the prospect of "lots of unauthorized breeding going on out there")

*waves to Diane*

4:20 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

Diane S and Farmgirl:

I proud to have believers like you as readers of my site. As I said before to Farmgirl, I wish all believers of the world would have a similar point of view to the one that both of you are showing me. However, I am afraid that the hardcore fundamentalist will also discriminate you, like they do with atheists. As Diane said, many creationists are not fundamentalist. Many of the non-fundamentalist creationists embrace Intelligend Design. I have no problem with that so as they keep it as a belief. The problem comes when they want it to be science and taught in schools. Farmgirl pointed out clearly that fundamentalists base their lives on fear. I cannot agrre more than that. And, as I sad in my previous post about freedom, fear is an intense emotion that prevents people from being free.

5:34 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

The problem that 6-day creationists have is that they don't realize that they assume species to be immutable, then conclude that species are immutable because they cannot imagine how a new species arises (because they think they're immutable).

Speciation is no great mystery. The wiki resource is a good one, thought I tend to tred lightly on wikipedia. However, the problem is also one of semantics. Dawkins points out, in his book A Devil's Chaplain, that a "species" is an artificial category anyway. Yes, there are different species (there are animals that cannot mate and produce fertile offspring), but all of life on earth shares the same basic genome and every creation is an intermediate form. Depending on which part of the genome one looks at, you are only a certain percentage of human.

It's like music: Beethoven never said, "Well, I think I'll invent a new trend now. Enough with the Classical era, bring on the Romantic period." Certainly there is such a thing as Baroque, Classical, and Romantic forms, because music changed and transformed itself, but each contains elements of the other--and all share a basic structure and set of rules.

6:33 PM  
Blogger JanieBelle said...

Hi Doc!

Farmgirl said something above that I'd like to address for a moment.

"The only answer I have been able to come up with so far is that these folks are simply filled with fears (of many kinds) and crave any sort of "leadership" that will dictate to them what the rules are. This conveniently relieves them of the necessity of thinking, or perhaps living with any uncertainty. It comes down to insecurity. In fact, personally I have a sneaking suspicion that most conspicuously religious people, and especially those evangelical fundamentalists we are speaking of, may indeed have less faith in God than anyone!"

I think I'd like to make a different observation about the first part of that. Not a disagreement, more like a different shade of the same color.

I don't think that the folks in question are craving leadership over themselves. I think that if we look at their actions, we can see that what they truly crave is THEIR leadership over everybody else. What it really comes down to is power. Power over everyone else. I agree that they probably have less faith in God than anyone, though. Deep down, they don't really believe that they will go to Heaven when they die, and they are afraid of that. So, what do they do? They do everything they can to force everyone else to believe, in the vain hope that if they can forcibly convert the entire world, the faith of everyone else will assuage their secret mortal terror.

But you are right, Farmgirl. It comes down to fear. Fear of death, fear of non-existence.

Plus it's pretty cool to be the HMFIC. Ya' get to pick out the curtains.

:)

6:32 AM  
Blogger KA said...

Dr. Marco:
Hey Doc, what's up?
I did a piece on this recently (pardon my spamatoza):
http://biblioblography.blogspot.com/2006/10/road-not-taken-of-speciation.html

Diane:
One final question, since Mules cannot reproduce, are they not a species?
No, they are not.
"To be members of the same species, individuals must be able to mate and produce viable offspring."
It's termed an infertile hybrid.

11:00 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

Kristine:

Thanks for your comment. With respect to the definition of species, I used a working definition for the post. Understanding the concept is far more complex as you said. It is like diagnosing lupus erythematosus, there are criteria that have to be used for statistical purposes, however, the clinical diagnosis is not as simple.

I think Wikipedia is great for the people that want to have some knowledge of something they are not specialized in. I would never use it to get knowledge about f acute renal failure, for example. I am not a biologist, I am just a physician, that is why I use the Wikipedia.

7:23 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

Janiebelle

I agree, it is fear, spiced with selfishness. What if they convince themselves that the best way to have an afterlife is to make sure their memory is well taken care of by the ones who remain alive? Or if they leave a legacy? Why do we have to keep living forever?, Isn't that selfish?

7:28 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

KA and Diane

Diane, I forgot to write the answer to the question of the mules, but KA did a better job than the one i would have done. Clear, to the point. I read KA's post. The link to your post comes perfect in mine, go ahead and feel free to place links to your articles whenever you feel.

7:35 PM  
Blogger farmgirl said...

Plus it's pretty cool to be the HMFIC. Ya' get to pick out the curtains.

:)"


lol JanieBelle!

I agree with you completely. I posted about this recently on the message boards at msnbc (nickname Rebootd) right after the election, pretty much saying the same thing. It is all about control, and I have to say, especially the control over women and human sexuality, with which the fundamentalists are positively obsessed.

11:41 AM  
Blogger Truth Seeker said...

Marco,

Evolution does not disprove the Bible. It disproves how people and organizations interpret the Bible.

Consider this... According to Einstein (some people call him a real scientist) time is relative. He proved (some say using real science) that as you approach the speed of light time slows down for you relative to objects moving slower. The closer you get to the speed of light the more time slows down (it is not linear and I believe a hyperbolic curve best represents the phenom visually though I'm not a real scientist and their ways are beyond my comprehension). Now if God is moving at the speed of light isn't it possible that six of his days were billions of our years...

Q

6:02 PM  
Blogger Truth Seeker said...

Marco,

I read thru many of the comments (I didn't realize that my old nemesis Sarah is now known as Farmgirl... she is wiley and her ways are mysterious...) and I realized that you are hand picking your science. You tend to focus on biology, anthropology, etc. at the expense of physics.

Have you read the Dancing Wu Li Masters (it may be Master Wu Li Dancers I always get them backwards)? It is a history of physics. It explains the experiments that Plank, Einstein, Newton, etc. used to prove their various theories.

I mention this because today's physicsts believe there are 3 possible explanations for some of the results they get from their current day experiments:
1.) everything in the universe is connected in a way we are unable to detect - it seems this is not very popular among physists that think things like ESP are bullcrap
2.) the universe is constantly manifesting infinite new universes every moment - theory of many worlds
3.) the universe was consciously created - this sounds just a little like intelligent design...

So, have you read it?

Q

9:20 AM  
Blogger farmgirl said...

*waves to Q*

long time no see! Up to your usual tricks I see :)

I have a question for Q, and it's meant sincerely: why do so many religious fundamentalists think that religious thought should be taught as a science? Why do they insist on including religious ideas with a science curriculum in schools? Why not just teach religion in its own right? And if they like the idea of teaching religion in its own right (I'm talking public schools) then why are they only willing to teach their own religion and not all of the major ones? In other words, what makes a so-called religious person (I call them fundamentalists although there is probably a better word) so fearful of allowing ideas to freely float?

- Tricky Girl

5:01 PM  
Blogger Truth Seeker said...

Farmgirl,

I don't know why fundamentalists want it taught in public school. I don't think it should be taught in public school. I do know that most people fear the unknown. I suspect that much of the motivation is not fear but instead hatred.

Q

5:47 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

Q:

Evolution is just a theory that attempts to decribe an aspect of nature. It has passed the test of time and is the accepted hypothesis based on the single genetic code for all living beings in the planet and the fossil record. Evolution was never intended to disprove the Bible or the Koran, nor to disprove its interpreters.

I do not imagine a deity moving close to the speed of light, because then it would not be a deity. Deities are supernatural, able to do whatever they want. Einstein was real scientist. I do not know if your parenthesis represent a doubt. The slow passage of time at higher speeds has been proven by measuring the rates of decay of radioactive matter flying in airplanes.

I have not read the book you mentioned. Physics is a little bit more complicated stuff. I understand some biology, but my physics is pretty elementary. Ther eis one thing that physicists agree on: A supernatural being cannot be proven within nature.

7:58 PM  
Blogger Truth Seeker said...

Marco,

One of the things I like about you is that you choose your words carefully.

I agree about the purpose of evolution. I like to keep it simple and say "things change". To me evolution is the scientific proof of that. A biologist named DeArchy Thompson wrote that a combination of "function" plus "external forces" result in the structure of living things.

While evolution was never intended to prove or disprove the Bible, many people use it that way. Interestingly enough, many scientists like Copernicus were attempting to prove various interpretations of the Bible only to inadvertantly disprove.

I think we are saying the same thing about deities. If they want to, they can go the speed of light. For the people like me that believe in things that can't be proven or disproven (like an all powerful all good God) but also believe in science it allows an explanation for God creating the world in 6 days (6 days to God traveling at or near the speed of light, billions of years to us).

The comments in parentheses were supposed to be sarcastic. Since I'm often labled a neo-con and then notified that the only possible rationale for being a neocon is that I'm an uneducated, stupid, ignorant, mean-spirited, dumb-ass, red-neck hick I sometimes share my hurt feelings thru sarcasim. Red-necks have feelings too... okay maybe we don't...

A supernatural being cannot be proven within nature because the definition of supernatural is: "beyond nature".

What the physicsts are trying to understand is where did nature come from...

Q

11:11 AM  
Blogger Diane S. said...

Marco,

Thanks for hosting a truly interesting discussion.

It's been a pleasure to follow this thread.

8:30 PM  
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