Feature Article - December 2017
by Do-While Jones

Origin of Something or Other

How can we determine the origin of species when we don’t even know what species are?

The cover and two articles totaling nine pages of a recent issue of Science News are devoted to the problems of defining and recognizing distinct species.

Despite this much space devoted to the species problem, they never addressed the obvious problem, which is, if species are the result of descent with modification, there should not be any problem distinguishing between species.

Classification Methods

Before the discovery of DNA and the invention of tools to analyze DNA, biologists classified living organisms by their physical characteristics. It was assumed that similar critters evolved from a common ancestor, and the only difference was that one inherited a modified feature, and the other didn’t. This method seemed to work pretty well for most plants and animals; but some were problematic. The duck-billed platypus is such a bizarre amalgamation of bird and mammalian features that it defies any rational classification (but they had to classify it, anyway). The platypus is just one of many living things that are hard to classify. There are some lesser-known examples of other animals, and many plants, that befuddle the biologists who are tasked with creating a taxonomy consistent with evolutionary thinking.

When geneticists discovered proteins, genes, and chromosomes, these things confirmed some—but contradicted other—conventionally accepted evolutionary relationships. That started the rivalry between paleontologists (who classified things based on analysis of physical features of fossils and skeletons of living things) and geneticists (who put more stock in proteins, and chromosomes, etc., to indicate relationships) because their evolutionary conclusions were often contradictory.

When DNA was discovered, evolutionists thought they had found the magic bullet that would kill creationism. DNA is so well suited to mathematical analysis that comparison between sequences should be unambiguous and compelling proof of evolutionary history. Evolutionists thought it would be easy to compare DNA sequences to determine which modifications came from the common ancestor. That sure blew up in their faces!

Regular readers of this newsletter are well aware of how many times we have written about the absurd relationships indicated by DNA analysis. (Actually, there are links to 51 other articles we have written on the subject at http://scienceagainstevolution.info/topics-dna.htm right now, and there might be more by the time you read this.)

If species really did arise through descent with modification, it should be very easy to compare DNA sequences to determine exactly what those modifications were—but it isn’t. As we have documented in many of those 51 previous articles, the DNA analysis isn’t consistent with descent with modification. DNA analysis is such strong evidence against Darwinian Evolution that the theory should have been completely repudiated by now. (Sadly, the theory of evolution hasn’t been rejected by people who believe it for religious and political reasons, despite the overwhelming evidence that science is against evolution.)

Tangled Paths

The Science News cover says that “Species are not as distinct as textbooks would have us believe.” Textbooks have been lying to us all these years! Are you really surprised?

Researchers have discovered fish, birds, mice, fruit flies and other animals in the wild carrying DNA from parents of different species. Perhaps the biggest shocker of all was the 2010 discovery that humans had interbred with Neandertals after leaving Africa. Humans still carry genetic souvenirs of the encounters (SN: 6/5/10, p. 5). These discoveries would seem to contradict the biological species concept, which holds that separate species can’t mate and produce fertile offspring. 1

The fact that many species have DNA from other species is shocking only to someone who believes all living things are the result of descent with modification. To a retired engineer like me (who routinely reused proven electronic circuits and computer algorithms from previous unrelated projects in subsequent projects) it isn’t shocking at all.

Dead-end Hybrids

To try to explain how some species acquired DNA from other species, evolutionists turn to hybridization. The problem is that most hybrids don’t survive.

Parent Species A’s genes produce cogs that fit its cellular machinery and Parent Species B’s genes do the same. The hybrid inherits components to assemble fully functional versions of both parents’ machinery. But when hybrids go on to breed with each other, their offspring inherit different combinations of the original parent species’ genes. Sometimes that works out fine: A small proportion of the next generation may inherit all A machinery or all B machinery. Another proportion of offspring may get a mix of A and B cogs, but might be able to cobble together a biological machine that works well enough. A third segment of the offspring won’t be so lucky: They will be stuck trying to fit Species A’s cogs in an otherwise Species B machine (or vice versa), like a square peg in a round hole. Over time, enough offspring can inherit unworkable combinations of pegs and holes that the hybrids die out. 2

The article goes on to explain how difficult it is to keep hybrid lines alive using several specific examples. In these cases, experimentation proved evolutionary suppositions wrong, despite their best efforts.

A massive effort known as the Collaborative Cross yielded 738 hybrid mouse lines by breeding an original eight strains of mice from three different subspecies, Mus musculus domesticus, M. musculus musculus and M. musculus castaneus (SN Online: 2/17/12). Those subspecies (or maybe species — the dividing line is fuzzy) are genetically similar. Because of small differences among the subspecies, researchers expected that a few of the new strains wouldn’t make it, says geneticist Fernando Pardo-Manuel de Villena, also at UNC Chapel Hill. “We expected some extinction, but very, very minor.”

Instead, 95 percent of the 738 hybrid Collaborative Cross lines have gone extinct, Pardo-Manuel de Villena and colleagues reported in the June issue of Genetics. 3

The article goes on to describe how hard they tried to make the hybrid lines survive, and describes the fertility problems they discovered. The problem they ignored is that evolutionists believe hybridization happened in the many species that contain DNA from other species, but their hybridization experiments hardly ever produced a viable subspecies (let alone an entirely new species). If it happens so rarely on purpose, why would anyone believe it happens so often accidentally?

Of course, there have been some successful attempts at hybridization. You, no doubt, know about hybrid corn and tomatoes. The Science News article admits to some other successful hybrids only someone who works in the field would recognize. But, generally speaking, hybrids don’t survive for a variety of genetic reasons.

Few researchers can point to a particular molecular wrench in the works that makes hybrids inviable, Phadnis says. “This is still cutting-edge science and an unsolved problem.4

“Despite a lot of effort, there really isn’t a single system in which you can tell the complete details of any hybrid incompatibility,” Phadnis says. 5

These biologists have discovered several mechanisms which prevent evolution through hybridization, but admit they haven’t yet found all the reasons why hybrids go extinct after a few generations. Reproductive systems are very good at keeping the gene pool pure, preventing evolutionary modifications.

Defining Species

The first Science News article said that speciation must be the result of hybridization (even though they know there are so many things that actually prevent hybrid lines from being viable that they haven’t found them all yet) but only mentions in passing that “the dividing line [between species] is fuzzy.” The second article addresses the definition problem glossed over by the first article.

At first glance, “species” is a basic vocabulary word schoolchildren can ace on a test by reciting something close to: a group of living things that create fertile offspring when mating with each other but not when mating with outsiders. Ask scientists who devote careers to designating those species, however, and there’s no typical answer. Scientists do not agree. 6

The point of the previous article was that two different species can produce viable offspring, but the hybrid species nearly always goes extinct after a generation or two. So, the “fertile offspring” test for distinguishing species is neither definitive nor universally accepted. In fact, there are 32 different ways of defining a species, and not one of them is universally accepted.

“You may be stirring up a hornet’s nest,” warns evolutionary zoologist Frank E. Zachos of Austria’s Natural History Museum Vienna when I ask my “what is a species” question. “People sometimes react very emotionally when it comes to species concepts.” He should know, having cataloged 32 of them in his 2016 overview, Species Concepts in Biology. 7

As often happens, politics can distort science.

Choosing one species concept over another can change how a creature gets classified, which could determine whether conservation laws protect it. 8

Trust Me—I’m a Doctor

The difficulty of trying to define species and the evolutionary relationships between them is evidence that they are trying to fit things that didn’t evolve into an evolutionary framework. Since it doesn’t work, they fall back on their standard excuse for failure.

No matter how badly we want the process of applying a species definition to be clear-cut for all creatures in all cases, “it just isn’t,” de Queiroz says. And that’s exactly what evolutionary biology predicts. Evolution is an ongoing process, with lineages splitting or rejoining at their own pace. Exploring a living, ever-evolving world of life means finding and accepting fuzziness. 9

Why would they say, “That’s exactly what evolutionary biology predicts?” They say it because they know that you have common sense and know it isn’t what evolutionary biology predicted, and they are making a preemptive strike. They want to bluff you (or bully you) into accepting fuzziness as the expected situation.

Nearly every new article on evolution begins by stating that what was previously believed is now known to be wrong. You have probably read countless articles telling you that the new fossil discovery shows something is “older than previously believed” or “turns evolutionary thinking on its head.”

Evolutionists claim that “science is self-correcting,” and claim the fact that they keep correcting themselves is evidence they are getting it right—but it really is evidence they have always been wrong. A reasonable person would not believe scientists are right now because they admit they have always been wrong in the past.

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Footnotes:

1 Tina Hesman Saey, Science News, November 11, 2017, “Hybrids Tell Tales”, p. 17, https://www.sciencenews.org/article/hybrids-reveal-barriers-successful-mating-between-species?mode=magazine&context=194026
2 ibid., p. 18
3 ibid., p.18
4 ibid., p. 20-21
5 ibid., p. 21
6 Susan Milius, Science News, November 11, 2017, “The fuzzy art of defining species”, p. 22, https://www.sciencenews.org/article/defining-species-fuzzy-art?mode=magazine&context=194026
7 ibid., p.22
8 ibid., p. 24
9 ibid., p. 24