The Speciation of the Word “Species.”

How the lack of a solid definition for “species” undermines evolution.

            The foundation of Darwinian evolution is constant change over eons of time. Change is the cornerstone of evolution. Evolution by natural selection requires the continual changes in organismal life to not only be possible, but common enough to lead in a net upward direction. From the first cellular life all the way up the branches of the tree of life to diversify into things as fascinating as monarchs, manatees and men, and as wonderful as worms, wombats and women, change must continue in that ascending trend. The diversity of life on Earth is absolutely astonishing. According to Live Science contributor Stephanie Pappas, there may be upwards of one trillion species on the Earth.[1] After centuries of study and exploration, mankind has just barely scratched the surface of such a huge number.

            According to Darwin’s theory, all of these species have diversified within the 3.8 billion years life is estimated to have been around. As the theory is commonly presented, organisms transition from one kind to another over time with slight changes caused by mutations and guided by environmental pressures. These change are deemed the norm, with a nearly limitless amount of physical transformation possible. All you need add is time and the right environment and voilà, a new species appears. But how does one know if a new species has appeared? What does the term “species” even mean exactly?

            As simple and elegant as this seems, the transition of species to species is actually quite difficult. Not only are such transitions unremittingly rare, but the whole process of speciation encounters significant trouble when one analyzes the modern evidence. The phenotypically selected traits prized by artificial selection have not once lead to the creation of a new body plan, and wild organisms show little signs of change outside of a limited range of changes. What holds organisms back? Why do some organisms appear unchanged over the eons while others are claimed to have transformed so drastically? What if this elegant theory of common descent was nothing but a façade? What if it is like the little man behind the curtain in Emerald City, deceiving a nation into granting him authority over it?

I. Defining Species

            Evolutionists claim that natural selection can work its wonders by changing an organism little by little. The first major hurdle is the species level, and many claim that we have clear evidence of it being breeched by evolutionary mechanisms. Such changes are then assumed to add up to larger changes over eons, which would clearly be impossible to study due to the limited time mankind has had to observe. The issue, however, lies in the moving goal post in this argument. Often, it is claimed that a new species has been formed via evolution, yet few seem to realize that we do not yet have a single, unified definition of a species. Most definitions focus closely on the ability of similar organisms to breed and reproduce fertile offspring, while others lean more towards geological isolation, but the emphases varies far more than some realize. One survey of the literature discovered a startling thirty-two definitions for biological species![2] For a term as freely used as “species,” one would think there would be some semblance of agreement on what it actually means in the life sciences.

            Here we have a hidden conundrum in the field of biology: what is a species? Evolutionists shout from the rooftops every time they discover another example of speciation, yet what does speciation even mean when the meaning of “species” lacks a firm foundation? Are the goal posts of what is considered a species changing each time they argue for evolutionary speciation? How can such large claims of evolutionary change be substantiated when we don’t even know what separates organisms at this level? It seems that the evolutionary tree of life is planted in loose sand rather than fertile soil.

II. Speciation and Evolutionary Theory

            To unravel this mystery, one must first understand the evolutionary concepts of how new creatures arise through a process called speciation. According to National Geographic, there are five types of speciation: allopatric, peripatric, parapatric, sympatric, and artificial.[3] Four of these are said to occur naturally, while artificial speciation is done with the guidance of human breeders.

            “Allopatric speciation occurs when a species separates into two separate groups which are isolated from one another.”[4] For example, if a canyon, river, or mountain range comes between two sections of a population, it becomes impossible for them to interbreed, allowing them to diversify in different ways depending on the common environmental stresses of their particular habitats. Over time, these populations diversify to the point that they would not interbreed with their parent community on the other side.

            Peripatric speciation is very much like allopatric in that a section of the population becomes isolated.  “The main difference between allopatric speciation and peripatric speciation is that in peripatric speciation, one group is much smaller than the other.”[5] When left with a smaller population, the direction of change is much more pointed depending on the genes available in the limited gene pool.  Any recessive traits present will become more pronounced in the little population.

            Parapatric speciation is said to occur when a species is spread out over a large geographic area. “Instead of being separated by a physical barrier, the species are separated by differences in the same environment.”[6] While each individual could possibly mate with all the others, they are far more likely to mate with those in their own geographic region or specific habitat niche, giving a form of isolation in geographic pockets.

            The last of the natural speciation types is a bit more controversial, owing to the fact that some scientists doubt its existence in nature. Sympatric speciation is the model that supposes that new characteristics could develop spontaneously in a population without any barriers. Such a drastic leap is difficult to argue. Such spontaneous changes are counter-intuitive to the slow, step-by-step process of evolution by natural selection.

            The last method of speciation is one often used to argue that speciation is possible in the first place. Artificial speciation is that breeding of organisms guided by humans. Darwin himself was an avid breeder of pigeons, producing all sorts of colors, shapes and sizes in his flocks, which helped trigger his interest in the variability of organisms. We also know that we can breed chickens to be fatter, cows to produce better milk, and even plants to produce everything from brussel sprouts to broccoli. It is quite clear that organisms have the capability to change—some to very drastic lengths—but are we truly seeing enough change to conclude that organisms can change past the species—let alone genus—levels? Can life really start as a single cellular organism and change within 4-5 billion years into the trillion organisms we see today? All these modes of speciation seem great in theory and feasible on paper, but can they explain the arrival of every organism that has ever existed? Can we even see such changes occurring today?

III. Examples of Speciation: Finches

            One of the most famous examples are Darwin’s Finches, found on the Galapagos Islands where the young Charles landed during his voyage on the Beagle. As the story goes, each Island had finches of similar stature, but each had a different beak variation, giving them specializations in different food sources. The large beaked finches sought the hard seeds and nuts, while the pointy, narrow beaked finches hunted insects. As the story goes, Darwin noted the similarities and was inspired towards his theory of natural selection.

            Sadly, this story holds little truth. Darwin did not use the finches in his books. In reality, the legend of “Darwin’s finches” was actually contrived a century later. Some textbooks also tell students that a slight increase in the average size of finch beaks, observed after a severe drought in the 1970s, shows how natural selection could produce a new species in only two hundred years. What these textbooks fail to mention is that the change was reversed when the rains returned, and no net evolution occurred.[7]

The real picture of these finches shows a constant oscillation during the wet and dry years, with no net gain on either side of the adaptations. We even note that hybrids between the finch varieties are evolutionarily more fit, showing a likely merging of the different species.[8] True speciation has not occurred with these iconic finches.

            In a recent study, it was claimed that these very finches had yet again produced a new species. In an article published by Audubon, “an Española Cactus-Finch… had crossed miles of ocean to mingle with the local Medium Ground-Finches.”[9] This finch from a different Island with a different sized beak not only got to this other Island, but proceeded to breed with the native female finches. Their offspring were nicknamed the “Big Bird” lineage, and in three generations, the hybrids were breeding exclusively with other hybrids. Evolutionary biologists, of course, herald this, as clear evidence of speciation and evolution at work; yet some problems arise when one digs deeper.

            What makes one species of finch different than another? When a horse and a donkey breed, their offspring, the mule, is infertile. The mule is considered a hybrid between these two separate species due to that infertility. With these finches, the researchers clearly identify the finches on each Island as different species. If we define species—as many do—to refer to the ability of species to produce fertile offspring, where does that take this “new species?” If this Española Cactus-Finch was a different species, formed over time by allopatric speciation, wouldn’t that mean it could no longer breed with the Medium Ground-Finches of this other Island? Not only did they breed successfully, but also their offspring were clearly fertile! If many of the definitions are considered accurate, then their offspring—being fertile—wouldn’t be hybrids of two different species, but instead their parents would be considered the same species!  As we clearly see with the mule, even their definition of hybrid is flawed here, since they identify the offspring of the two finches as hybrids, yet the hybrids clearly could breed. The finish line of speciation has changed multiple times, constantly getting closer to the runners to make the race easier to win. Clearly, if we do not have solid definitions for species or hybrids, the words can mean whatever they want one to mean as long as it supports evolution.

IV. Contradiction of Speciation: Dogs

            In a sneaky contradiction of definitions, scientists will deem two interbreeding finches of similar makeup as separate species, yet when we look much closer to home, the vast array of canine variation is shrugged off as different breeds of the same species. Throughout thousands of generations, dogs have supposedly stemmed from the majestic wolf into every breed of dog we see (though the wolf is easily insulted when relationship is implied to Chihuahuas and the Shih Tzu). The issue here is that we have once again used the term species in whatever way we desire, not a universally applicable one.

            If we once again attempt to define a species as similar organisms that breed and reproduce fertile offspring, then what of the dog breeds that cannot reproduce? No miniature Dachshund could ever carry the offspring of a Great Dane, nor could a small spaniel bring the offspring of a large Labrador to term. Even though the puppies could themselves be viable, it takes artificial interference for them to survive; after all, the puppies would be so large, their mothers couldn’t hold them to term. Why is this not considered a separate species by the conventional definitions?

            What of the drastic physical differences we see so clearly in dogs? How much change to an organism is necessary before it becomes a completely different species? According to a study in The American Naturalist,

The amount of shape variation among domestic dogs far exceeds that in wild species, and it is comparable to the disparity throughout the Carnivora. The greatest shape distances between dog breeds clearly surpass the maximum divergence between species in the Carnivora. [10]

The realization of this is astounding! There is far more diversity in the physical structures of all dog breeds—all of which are classified as the same species—than the entire Order [Order is three levels of classification broader than species] of Carnivora! Dogs have more differences than bears and weasels, cats and raccoons. Every carnivorous mammal we know of, the amount of change between them is smaller than those changes seen in this one species known as the domestic dog. Once again, we see an overly flexible definition for species, this time in man’s best friend.

V. Adaptation within the Genome verses Macroevolution

            Why is this whole argument something to fuss over? Why does the definition of species have to be so important to the origins of life debate? If one surveys the examples of evolution in the literature, one will notice that the clearest examples of evolutionary change are actually small-scale adaptations. Since evolution works in small successive, slight steps, then this act of speciation is critical in the proof of the macroevolutionary steps. If one cannot even prove that these small changes can cause true speciation, then the figurative rug is pulled out from under macroevolution. Evolutionists often claim that macroevolution is far too long a process to observe by us “new on the block” humans, so they must insist that speciation can eventually lead to larger changes.

            What if this speciation concept not only fails to define its terms properly, but also fails to feasibly extrapolate to these major macroevolutionary changes? What if the changes we see in organisms like dogs and finches can simply be explained as adaptations within the organismal genome rather than macroevolutionary change? Such a revelation would undermine the entirety of the evolutionary paradigm!

            As has already been cited earlier, the finch populations in the Galapagos naturally fluctuate. During droughts, the finches tend to gravitate towards larger beaked individuals that can crack open the thick seeds that still remain; however, once the drought ends, we see a clear return from a thick beaked majority back to a “happy medium.” No net evolution had occurred, since the changes were one step forward followed by one step back. Such changes are not viable moves toward macroevolutionary diversification, but instead, are changes that occurred within the existing genome. The finches already had the capacity for beak variation within their genome, making these changes only adaptations within boundaries, not change without boundaries. Yet, even that isn’t the whole picture. What if we said that evolution didn’t bring just changes within the genome, but actually caused degradation? What if many adaptations are losses of information? Biochemist Dr. Michael Behe describes the adaptive mutation in the Galapagos finch populations as ones that are more likely to degrade or disable genes. “For instance, the gene most strongly associated with the difference in blunt-beak verses pointed-beak finches is called ALX1. The only variation in it throughout all finch species is two mutations that both impair function.”[11] With the outward, phenotypic changes that we see come internal genotypic disruptions of existing genes. In other words, to gain these outward benefits, the organism must sacrifice other internal functions. This is clearly not evolution, but devolution.

            Within canine populations, we see an interesting occurrence: when artificially selected, we can produce the incredibly drastic levels of change we have already mentioned, but when left to their own devices, packs of wild dogs tend to blend together into a more standard, long snouted, longer legged dog.

Left to their own devices, dogs will be dogs—and will eventually intermingle enough to level out extreme differences within the species. Natural selection ensues and hybrid vigor results: Witness the similar color and size of mutts in Mexico and other countries where they’re allowed to roam. To protect particular characteristics, though, breed enthusiasts have long guarded a highly controlled process, regulating genetic lines and creating registries that stipulate which animals can be bred to produce more of the same type.[12]

What we see here with dogs is a failure of natural selection. Darwin was an avid pigeon breeder and noticed the variations he could produce with artificial selection, and thus he assumed natural selection could do something similar with enough time. Our conundrum, however, is that such drastic changes are only seen in artificially guided breeding, not in natural ones. Natural selection has not shown us any ability to alter an organism outside a range of adaptations, and it almost definitely brings populations to equilibrium within the bounds of the genome or to degradation via the neutralization or destruction of previously functional genetic code, not to true diversification and advancement.

VI. Evolution’s [not so Great] Achievements

            The claims of evolutionists aren’t limited to finches and dogs. Other examples of supposed evolutionary speciation are prevalent, but few can hold water when compared to the sheer weight of change necessary for macroevolution to occur. Many of these greatly touted examples of evolutionary change might be benefits, but they get there by moving backwards. Rarely do we ever see a forward moving beneficial mutation.

            Mutations, a key ingredient in evolution, are far more likely to destroy genetic information than add to it. For example, Dr. Richard Lenski’s long-term E. coli bacterial evolution project, which has produced over 50,000 generations of bacteria,[13] celebrated the arrival of bacteria that seemingly gained the ability to eat citrate; however, Dr. Behe swoops in for the kill.

… the most widely publicized result from Lenski’s lab was the appearance of strains of E. coli that were able to eat citrate. However, the bacteria already have this ability. It is normally switched off in the presence of oxygen. The fortunate bacteria obtained an alteration that allowed them to access citrate in all conditions.[14]

So evolution to these bacteria didn’t produce a brand new function; instead, they change existing information. This example doesn’t stop there, however. These citrate-munching bacteria developed additional mutations, which were more losses of information. The changes that allowed it to adapt to a new environment resulted from a loss in function, not a gain.

            A similar case study on the bacteria responsible for the Black Death in the 14th century shows eventual loss of complexity, not a gain. Bacteria have the ability to pick up or exchange DNA with other bacteria, and the plague bacteria was once harmful before doing such a pickup. Problem is that in doing so, the bacteria lost abilities and became limited to a parasitic lifestyle.[15]

            One of the best cases of evolutionary advancement has been the mutation of rhodopsin production in certain species of cichlid fish. Rhodopsin is a protein that helps with light absorption in the eye. This mutation gave greater light sensitivity at greater depths and does indeed convey a positive advantage to the fish. Does this beneficial mutation undermine the claim that has been presented in this essay? Not at all! Not only are such beneficial mutations so exceedingly rare, we find that such a change was just the mutation of a single amino acid. When one plots out the hundreds or thousands of coordinated mutations needed simply to form the eye in which this rhodopsin molecule resides, we realize that there is not enough time in which such changes could occur even at faster rates. With the odds of mutation, all beneficial mutations would rapidly be overwhelmed by the exceedingly more common information-degrading mutations. With every one step forward, there would be ten steps back. This is in no way a feasible mechanism for macroevolution.

VII. Conclusion

            Darwinian evolution is inescapably founded upon the long-term macroevolutionary changes that are supposedly proven by speciation events. Over long periods of time, making use of random mutations that cause phenotypic changes, evolutionists claim we can change from one type of organism to another from single cellular organisms to humans; yet this whole concept is build upon a farce. Speciation, the change of one species to another is not just a gray area, but also an undercover attempt to prop up a failing theory. Without a solid definition of what a species is to start with, evolutionists can claim that speciation has occurred any time they desire. With such a misleading and weak definition of species, speciation cannot be confirmed. If speciation cannot be confirmed, then macroevolutionary change crumbles.

            Even if we accept particular cases of beneficial mutations and natural selection, we still cannot use such examples to make a case for macroevolution. We can see, based upon known mutation rates that deleterious mutations are far more common than beneficial, so even in the extremely rare cases of positive changes, such changes will eventually be overwhelmed with the negative. Instead of increasing complexity over time, we observe dilapidation of existing functions, causing more devolution genetically than evolution.

            If we continue to let evolutionists have this much freedom to define a species as they like, they will continue to pull the wool over our eyes with new examples of phenotypical changes. Such external changes do not necessarily show an increase of ability, but more likely is evidence of a negative internal change. If this analysis is accurate, then evolution is already dead. If science can once and for all define what divides organisms at a species level, maybe then they can start to prove speciation events. It is doubtful, however, that such a definition will ever arise. As it currently stands, without a proper definition of species, there can be no proof of speciation.

[1]Pappas, Stephanie. “There Might Be 1 Trillion Species on Earth.” LiveScience. May 05, 2016. Accessed November 27, 2018.

[2] Zachos, Frank E. Species Concepts in Biology Historical Development, Theoretical Foundations and Practical Relevance. Cham CH: Springer, 2016.

[3] National Geographic Society. “Speciation.” National Geographic Society. October 09, 2012. Accessed October 26, 2018.

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Luskin, Casey. “Not Making the Grade: An Evaluation of 22 Recent Biology Textbooks And Their Use of Selected Icons of Evolution.” September 26, 2011, 12.

[8] Ibid

[9] Purbita Saha, Galapagos Finches Are Proving to Be the Poster Birds of Evolution Again. Audubon, December 12, 2017.

[10] Drake, Abby Grace, and Christian Peter Klingenberg. “Large‐Scale Diversification of Skull Shape in Domestic Dogs: Disparity and Modularity.” The American Naturalist 175, no. 3 (2010): 289-301. doi:10.1086/650372.

[11] Behe, Michael J. Darwin Devolves: The New Science about DNA That Challenges Evolution. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2019, quoted in “Michael Behe’s Darwin Devolves Topples Foundational Claim of Evolutionary Theory.” Evolution News. November 23, 2018. Accessed November 20, 2018.

[12] “The Purebred Paradox.“ Animal Studio Repository. Accessed October 25, 2018.

[13] Richard Lenski. E. coli Long-term Experimental Evolution Project Site. Edited by . Vers. . Michigan State University . November 29. Accessed November.

[14] “Michael Behe’s Darwin Devolves Topples Foundational Claim of Evolutionary Theory.” Evolution News. November 23, 2018. Accessed November 20, 2018.

[15] Ibid

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