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…on speciation

Ben Stein says …

And aside from modification within species, I don’t think anyone has ever been able to prove one species that evolved by Darwinian means. It’s incomprehensible to me how Darwinism could explain something as complex as the organic cell, and it’s incomprehensible to me how Darwinism could explain how life began. And they don’t even try. – interview with Christianity Today, April 15, 2008

Despite the fact that no one has ever been able to prove the creation of a single distinct species by Darwinist means, Darwinism dominates the academy and the media. – “Darwinism: The imperialism of biology?” article posted by Baptist Press on April 4, 2008

And I was just overwhelmed by the fact, at least as I am told, that Darwinists have never observed natural species being originated. – interview with CNS News, January 17, 2008

and Cris Waller answers

Well, Ben, you were told wrong. Even though it’s difficult to observe species evolving, because it normally happens on a timescale much larger than what humans would notice, it has been observed not just once, but many times.

A recent example of observation of evolution by “Darwinian means” is the incredibly quick evolution of Italian wall lizards on the isle of Pod Mrcaru, as detailed by National Geographic. In 1971, researchers introduced five pairs of lizards to the island. Thirty-seven years later, there are over 5000 lizards on the island, all descended, according to DNA testing, from the original ten lizards. In this amazingly short time period, the originally insectivorous lizards evolved adaptations to a vegetarian diet, stronger jaws, and a different social structure. They are well on their way to becoming a different species entirely.

Some other examples:

  • The apple maggot fly originally parasitized native hawthorns. When other members of the rose family, such as apples, were introduced to the Americas, some flies parasitized them. These flies now have different genes and breeding cycles from the original flies and are well on their way to becoming a separate species.
  • Geographically-isolated populations of the ensatina salamander of California have been shown by DNA analysis to be splitting into several different species of salamanders.

So yes, speciation has been observed. Sorry, Ben, just because it’s incomprehensible to you doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. Time to stop being overwhelmed, Ben, and start learning some real science. Maybe you should start using some of those eyedrops you peddled to open your eyes a bit wider so that you can see the world as it really is.

and Kevin Miklasz adds

We normally regard animals that look very different as different species, for example lions and tigers. The creation of a new species is often perceived as turning a cat into a dog. Disregarding Nickelodeon television, a catdog is extremely hard to find.

The reason for the difficulty is simple: this isn’t how new species form. A species means something very specific to a biologist: reproductive isolation, or the inability of two groups to interbreed. A new species is “created” when one group of interbreeding animals splits into two separate interbreeding groups. Once these animals are reproductively isolated, they evolve features and adaptations separately, since new features introduced into group A will spread by heredity throughout group A but not group B. A buildup of such features creates two groups of animals that look very different, the familiar situation.

So to the question. Do we observe new species forming through reproductive isolation, the “Darwinist means”? For most familiar animals, this process happens over thousands of years, so that observing the process from start to completion is very difficult. But some organisms evolve very quickly due to short lifespans, such as fruit flies. When two groups of fruit flies were grown in different conditions for 45 generations, the groups became reproductively isolated (see Steve Palumbi, The Evolution Explosion, New York: W. W. Norton, 2001, pp. 22–23). What was one species is now two, the total number has increased and a new species has been created. Contrary to Ben Stein, we have observed the formation of new species through Darwinist means.