Speedy Speciation

The DpSU for Wednesday (as I said, I’m doing it a little out of order) was called Study Shows Bird Species Change Fast.


You are probably aware of the old ‘microevolution vs macroevolution’ false dichotomy that the creationists trot out from time to time – the idea is that they will accept small, observed amounts of evolution if they really have to, but then continue to deny larger amounts. That is one part of this article – the final three paragraphs read as follows:

Lead author of the seedeater study and graduate biology student Leonardo Campagna said in a Queen’s University press release, “One of Darwin’s accomplishments was to show that species could change, that they were not the unaltered, immutable products of creation.”

But nowhere does the Bible say that species cannot change! Instead, it seems that they would have to change—within the limits of their own interbreeding kind—in order to fulfill God’s command in Genesis 1 for His living creatures to fill the earth and its many changing environments.

Darwin insisted that animals slowly change between kinds. In contrast, seedeater birds have shown that they rapidly changed within their kind. Despite Campagna’s touting of Darwin’s “accomplishments,” these birds display programmed variation, not evolution.

The first and second paragraphs offer an interesting commentary on biblical literalism – for a group that believes that the bible is the immutable word of God, they sure change their mind a lot. The point is that it was once believed that species could not changed, and unless I am very much mistaken the bible was used as a justification for that. But in the face of all the evidence they have changed their minds.

The…wrongness of the first two sentences of the third paragraph above is pretty strong. To begin, the idea of a ‘kind’ is completely arbitrary. If speciation can take place, and one species can change into another, then why can’t they just continue until the barrier of ‘kind’ has been broken.

As an example, you could quite easily lay out known early bird fossils in an order that the jump between them would be so small that creationists would say that the resulting species was still the same ‘kind’ as the previous…all the way from clear dinosaurs to clear birds.

Also, due to the creationist dogma that Humans Are Not Apes, we are not considered to be part of the Ape Kind. The various intermediate fossils between the two groups must be shunted into one or the other. But if the gaps between ‘kinds’ are so obvious – and they should really be even more so in this instance – why can’t they agree on which fossil goes on which side?

You get the picture. The statement “these birds display programmed variation, not evolution” is one of these extraordinary claims without any evidence provided at all that are so common from creationists.

The other claim comes from these three paragraphs:

The study authors tried to explain why so many physical differences could be expressed without the expected underlying genetic differences. They suggested that the birds changed so fast and so recently that the genes have not yet had time to catch up.

But that’s like saying that a batch of cupcakes acquired sprinkles before its recipe had a chance to “catch up” with the cupcakes and specify sprinkles! Whether in the obvious written recipe or the less obvious recipe modifications in the mind of the baker, the end product is a result of prior planning.

These authors’ unscientific explanation seems to ignore the fact that trait differences are generated from within the organism. No external force in nature reaches into a bird’s egg, passes through the shell and yolk, and adds new feather colors or new brain cell connection patterns that would enable new bird songs.

The trouble is that it seems that B.T. has misread the paper – Rapid phenotypic evolution during incipient speciation in a continental avian radiation, available free in it’s entirety. Mr Thomas is saying that the phenotype had arisen before the genes that caused it, but the paper does not seem to support that. From the abstract:

We find marked phenotypic variation despite lack of mitochondrial DNA monophyly and few differences in other putatively neutral nuclear markers. This finding is consistent with the group having undergone a recent radiation beginning in the Pleistocene, leaving genetic signatures of incomplete lineage sorting, introgressive hybridization and demographic expansions. We argue that this apparent uncoupling between neutral DNA homogeneity and phenotypic diversity is expected for a recent group within the framework of coalescent theory. Finally, we discuss how the ecology of open habitats in South America during the Pleistocene could have helped promote this unique and ongoing radiation.

They’re not saying that they haven’t found the code for the sprinkles, merely not a lot of change in the irrelevant stuff

The idea seems to be that ‘coalescent theory’ can predict both how much variation there should be through pure genetic drift over a period of time, and also when natural selection is involved, or alternatively if you already know how much variation there is you can work backwards to time. What they’ve found is plenty of this variation in selected expressed traits such as songs and plumage, but not so much for genetic material not affected by selection. This told them that the radiation had been quite recent.

To fill in the gap between the quoted sections of B.T.’s article we have this comment:

DNA research has overwhelmingly confirmed that hard-to-mark DNA sequences alter traits by specifying the amounts and timing of cell types and proteins deployed during embryonic and later development. Unlike the unobserved and imaginary forces invoked by evolution, observed cellular processes more reasonably account for the rapidly changing trait variations found in seedeater birds. This is supported by 2009 genetics studies of the rapid diversification of the “white-eyes” bird family.

Why can’t evolution work with those? “[U]nobserved and imaginary forces invoked by evolution” – that is plain denialism right there.

  • There was no DpSU on Friday
  • Instead, on the front page of the ICR’s website is Creation and the Virgin Birth, previously mentioned
  • The final day for the competition has finished, I’ll probably do the post for that on Monday or some time after that
  • I also intend to do a wrap up for the whole competition, but that may wait until January when we will know if it succeed in increasing the commenting on the blog in the long term.
  • I’m obviously behind on the last two weeks of other IEE stuff, but that can wait.
  • Merry Christmas


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