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Darwin Diary, Part One

October 19, 2009

Well, I have finally started on Mr. Charles Darwin. I know a number of you said I should read other books about evolution, and I appreciate why you suggested these books. I appreciate that Darwin had holes that have been filled in the subsequent years, but I’m not really reading Darwin to fully educate me on evolution and how it works. The two books I have read by Ken Miller have done an outstanding job in this regard.

I don’t think atheists grasp how much Darwin represents the devil’s work to Christians. I know it makes no sense, but there you go. This is why, in my attempt to educate Christians on science, etc, I had to start with the icon of hate, as it were. I feel like that in order to challenge people’s thinking on this issue, you have to get at the most strongly held thoughts and feelings. People’s feelings on Darwin qualify.

So, without any further justification, my thoughts on the first chapter of Darwin’s Origin of the Species.

What struck me about the first chapter was how much Darwin quoted experts in various scientific fields of the time. Too often, the popular picture is of Darwin as someone who thought all of this on his own. As is the case with all revolutionaries, this is simply not the case. Any figure in history, good or bad, you can find thoughts, movements, etc all coming together in a person. This is true with Darwin, as many of the threads of his theory were all out there. He just bound them together and presented them to the world. I really appreciated his humility in this respect and it sets a good example for scientific humility.

The book started off in a way I didn’t expect, that is, with farm breeding. At first, I was trying to figure out why he started out with this chapter and then I realized, it’s what most people could identify with in 19th centuary England. It was and still is, actually a brilliant starting point. Breeders, farmers, etc, know these basic rules and it’s a brilliant starting point for conversations about evolution. I wonder if those who want evolution taught should consider Darwin’s approach, start with something they know and accept. Ken Miller certainly does that, but I wonder how widely applied it might be. I haven’t read Dawkins new book yet, so it’s possible he does that.

I thought this quote was interesting, “The laws governing inheritance are for the most part unknown”. Obviously, we know them now, it’s genetics. And it’s very interesting to note how Francis Collins argues that genetics are the ultimate proof of evolution. I found it interesting that a key proof of his theory was unknown at the time and he still took the risk of putting it out there. You gotta love that.

I also found it interesting that he didnt know when and how we domesticated animals. Nor, if there was any reason why some could be and some couldn’t. Does anyone know the answer to this question? If so, feel free to write in the comment section.

Finally, I found it interesting that breeder’s do the selecting as an intelligent agent to obtain the best results. This obviously sets up the argument for natural selection and evolution to do the selecting. But, I wonder, could this be taken a step further and say that God engineered evolution to be this way? That is, the reason evolution acts as an intelligent agency is that God designed it to be so? An interesting thought I want to explore more.

Okay, I know these thoughts are sort of stream of consciousness. That’s the way I picture my entries on this. That is, my reading and writing down notes for you all to read.

More later….

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39 Comments leave one →
  1. Patrick Truitt permalink
    October 19, 2009 11:32 am

    The book Guns, Germs and Steel has some information on when and where animals were domesticated and how this affected which societies progressed further than others. I don’t have a copy now, but I remember there being a list of criteria needed for an animal to be domesticated, such as being social (unlike most predators that need a large territory to themselves) and not being skittish about breeding in captivity. In theory, any animal could be “domesticated”, but lacking any of the traits normally required makes in prohibitively expensive (for example, another reason for not domesticating predators is that you have to raise other animals just to feed them…it makes much more sense to just eat the plants or the herbivores themselves.).

  2. Richard Eis permalink
    October 19, 2009 11:45 am

    Changing an animals behaviour towards humans will also have an effect on their bodies. There are therefore limits and penalties on what you can do. Theres also a matter that 99% domestication is good, but still leaves 1% that will rip your arm off.

    Evolution is actually just an example of a complex system with certain properties. If it hadn’t had those properties…it wouldn’t have existed and so we wouldn’t be talking about it.

    Dawkins book starts with domestication. I just finished origin and started on “Greatest show on earth”.

  3. Andrew permalink
    October 19, 2009 11:51 am

    I also found it interesting that he didnt know when and how we domesticated animals. Nor, if there was any reason why some could be and some couldn’t. Does anyone know the answer to this question?

    Dogs are believed to have been the first species domesticated, around 15,000 BC, much earlier than the major agricultural species (sheep, goats, pigs, cows) which were probably around 11,000 – 8000 BC (in about that order).

    Cats were probably not intentionally domesticated at all, but adapted on their own into a niche provided by humans, starting around 7500 BC.

  4. AdamK permalink
    October 19, 2009 1:09 pm

    …could this be taken a step further and say that God engineered evolution to be this way? That is, the reason evolution acts as an intelligent agency is that God designed it to be so?

    Natural selection doesn’t act as an intelligent agency. It’s a blind, mindless emergent function of reproduction with variation. No one had to “design” it, since it falls out logically. At most you might be able to claim god permitted it.

  5. ferret wrangler permalink
    October 19, 2009 2:40 pm

    There is no specific time to pinpoint the domestication of a specific animal – there is no ‘instant’ time where it appeared as the development of individual traits are slowly incorporated. Either the trait is kept within a breeding program and future generations have the desired traits built up to pass along, or those individuals are eliminated by human intervention. Modification becomes excelerated due to reintroducing or eliminating specific traits within a condensed population.

    Evolution works the same way, except that the changes are much slower due to dilute populations of traits available vs. a concentrated population within a gene pool. Also, environmental changes such as weather, food availability, predation populations, all contribute to viability factors.

    Saying “Goddidit” is a wussy cop-out instead of actually examining the hows and whys of reality.

  6. Richard Eis permalink
    October 19, 2009 2:45 pm

    or you could add God somewhere, but it would probably look the same either with or without. So then you get caught by occam’s razor.

    -That is, the reason evolution acts as an intelligent agency is that God designed it to be so? –

    It’s important to realise that evolution is just a noticed pattern of change within a population. You don’t “apply” evolution and that “makes” animals change. Animal populations change and we study that change and call it evolution.
    That might seem a trivial point, but it’s an important distinction and badly worded phrases like “evolution ACTS on a population” even by scientists have allowed creationists to really misunderstand The Theorum.

  7. Andrew permalink
    October 19, 2009 3:15 pm

    It’s worth noting that “evolvability” is in itself a survival trait; a genome that evolves too slowly is liable to become trapped in a vanishing niche if environmental conditions change or it comes under pressure from more effectively evolving organisms (cf. the Red Queen).

    This doesn’t just relate to the rate of mutations, but also the degree of flexibility of individual parts of the genome – a collection of self-organizing flexible parts is more likely to survive over the longer term than having a tightly-defined blueprint for the whole organism.

  8. Matheus permalink
    October 19, 2009 11:06 pm

    @Andrew
    Evolvability pretty much comes from not having very ‘constant’ selection factors, so by not being too optimised, populations don’t lose too much freedom to become something else.
    Now one thing that is much more important for adaptation is generation time. Or more generally, being a R strategist.

  9. October 20, 2009 11:42 am

    Thomas 2026;
    Congratulations on beginning the adventure of reading Darwin’s On the Origins of Species By Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life.
    I read it over twenty years ago and since then have closely watched the development of its supporters and detractors. Over the years I have had many discussions about the book and Darwin’s mechanism of natural selection and despite finding many people passionate about the book have only met two beside myself who have actually read it. (This fact, I believe, partly accounts for its popularity.)
    I follow many articles and discussion groups on the subject of Darwin but have joined none until now. I jump into this because it is new and because I attended Ohio State many years ago. I will stick around until someone shows me where I am wrong (in which case I will say “thanks”) or it gets insulting (the usual case).
    I will not be shy. I think Origins is a wretched book. I think Darwin’s reasoning is specious and suspect (even dishonest). I did not find any one of his very many facts or any combination thereof even remotely supportive of his major thesis (i.e. natural selection leads to speciation). I found his experiments childish and always off the point. His paragraphs often begin somewhere and end elsewhere. Much of his prose is ludicrous and can be read like a comedy routine (examples on request). Most of the things said about the book seem to be from people who never read it (i.e. “accessible”, “easy to read”, “well reasoned”, “brilliant” etc.).
    My bewilderment is why otherwise intelligent people swear by it.
    As you read I would like to get the following two answers: give me one fact from Darwin that shows natural selection is the spur of speciation and see if you can make sense of Darwin’s attempts to define the word “species”, the subject of his book (it is not in his glossary).
    Lastly, I am not an advocate of any creation or origins idea nor am I a religious person or atheist. I think atheism irrational since you can not prove there is no God. One can believe there is no God but that makes him little different than the believers he decries. I am a respectful agnostic and skeptic. Also, I am not speaking against evolution or common descent, only natural selection’s power to make new species.
    I look forward to your comments and thoughts as you read and invite criticisms of my observations.
    Hiramo

  10. AdamK permalink
    October 20, 2009 5:29 pm

    Hiramo, if your study of natural selection begins and ends with Darwin, you know very little about natural selection. Science has advanced by leaps and bounds since Darwin’s time. Please consider that this idea, which you find so unimpressive, has transformed biology. Perhaps you have not understood it within its historic context, or within the context of other mechanisms of speciation, such as mutation, genetic drift and sexual selection.

  11. October 20, 2009 6:15 pm

    AdamK
    Thanks for replying to my post. Reading my second and third paragraph will tell you my study does not begin and end with Darwin. But even if I studied only Darwin shouldn’t I know much about natural selection? He is, after all, the master. My request is simple and if Darwin is correct ought to cause no trouble – give me some empirical facts, as demanded by the scientific method, mentioned by Darwin that show natural selection causes speciation.
    The other mechanisms you mention are interesting but (other than sexual selection) off the subject since, as I understand it, Thomas2026 is discussing Origin of Species which does not mention mutation or genetic drift.

  12. Matheus permalink
    October 20, 2009 6:38 pm

    Ohhh no. Even here we have to deal with creationists 😦

    @Hiramo
    I suggest you start here: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-speciation.html
    There are references to many relevant scientific papers on speciation.

  13. October 20, 2009 7:49 pm

    Matheus
    Had you read my original post you would know I am not a creationist but a skeptic. I am as skeptical of creationism as I am of Darwinism. No creationist admits common descent as I do. I believed the subject of this forum was Origin of Species and would like to keep it confined to this. I only asked Thomas2026 that when during his reading he found the fact or facts I asked for to point it out. Is this unreasonable?
    But as a personal note – I am very aware of talkorigins and have studied their “relevant scientific papers” and ask you personally to give me one fact from biology mentioned therein that supports the notion that natural selection leads to speciation. If you do this I will respectfully concede.

  14. Matheus permalink
    October 20, 2009 8:45 pm

    Natural selection can lead to speciation. But what does usually is drift.
    Drift reduces variation in a population, but when one is split, drift is the factor that causes most of the variation between these two new populations. Most events of speciation that are not related to chromosome fusion/splitting are related to changes in the centromeres caused by drift. I’m not home now, but when I get there I will try to provide some papers on it.

  15. October 20, 2009 9:40 pm

    Matheus
    Thanks but (for the third time) I am here to discuss Origin of Species and Darwin’s theories. I joined this forum to go along with Thomas2026 on his adventure which I thought he started well and take another look at Darwin. My fascination is learning why this poorly written and badly thought out work is the most canonized book since the Bible or learn why I am just not getting it. Is it part of a massive popular delusion or am I the one deluded?
    So far Origin of Species has hardly played in this discussion.
    I do not think natural selection has any part in evolution and am here to be shown the error of my thinking or learn I’m right.

  16. Matheus permalink
    October 20, 2009 10:09 pm

    It is NOT a revered book.
    Everyone here told Jonathan that if he wanted to learn about it, he should seek another book.
    Origin of Species is just interesting for historical purposes. The evidence he gathered is interesting also, but the theory he developed to explain it is just plain wrong.
    And if you think natural selection has no part in evolution, then I’m afraid you really haven’t got any clue yet, and I suggest you start over.

  17. thomas2026 permalink*
    October 20, 2009 10:47 pm

    As Matheus said, I’m more interested in the historical value of this work. I’m well aware of the further development of scientific thought in regards to evolution.

    So, Hiramo, I will be keeping my observations to that basic level and not addressing the scientific ones. I’m not very qualified to do that.

  18. October 21, 2009 12:43 am

    thomas2026
    Hellow! I look forward to your next impressions of Origins of Species. I thought the first well done.

  19. Richard Eis permalink
    October 21, 2009 4:13 am

    I think the fact that Darwin had to spend so much time showing the problem with defining species shows that creatures do somewhat blend into each other. In fact I got the impression that that was rather his point.

    Darwins book is historical, nothing more. His prose is pretty hideous to be honest. But then i’m not a huge fan of the rambling victorian style. It was however an interesting read.

    We know that natural selection can lead to changes within a population. The question for you Hiramo is why there should then be some magic barrier which prevents this drift from continuing past a human definition of species. Something I have tellingly been unable to coax from the “there is variation but not speciation” crowd.

  20. Ray S. permalink
    October 21, 2009 11:06 am

    Hiramo: in the 1600’s English settlers fleeing religious persecution sailed to North America to establish new settlements. This was the same century as the publication of the King James translation of the Christian bible. Do you suppose the settlers spoke English approximately as it was written in the King James bible? How has spoken English changed into the primary dialects we hear today (American & British) over the ensuing 4 centuries? Why is pronunciation of the same words different depending on where (which environment) you learned to speak?

    When you have a grasp on what happened not only to English, but to all languages over time, you’ll have an insight to biological evolution.

  21. October 21, 2009 5:56 pm

    Richard Eis
    I don’t know why a barrier exists that stops species from continuing to vary into new species but every experiment and observation I know of shows it’s there. Perhaps you can point out some I’ve missed.
    Ray S
    Thank you for the history lesson but I think language is a poor analogy to biological evolution. One reason is, biological evolution seems to move from the simple to the complex. Language seems to be doing the opposite. Compare the King James Bible and Darwin’s writings to the simpler prose of Philip Johnson or Richard Dawkins.

  22. Ray S. permalink
    October 21, 2009 6:22 pm

    Hiramo:

    Biological evolution does not move from simple to complex; we still have very simple life forms extant. Language is not moving from complex to simple as you seem to assert (picking a couple of data points is biasing your case). If that were the case, the origin of language would be evidenced by extremely complex forms and not the simple pictographs we see.

    I don’t know of any experiment that shows a barrier to evolution. Perhaps you could cite some scientific papers regarding these. While you’re searching, google the concept of ‘ring species’.

  23. Eric Worringer permalink
    October 21, 2009 7:22 pm

    Hiramo-
    You usually will see Ray S. and I in dispute on this blog. But he’s right man, your logic is full on holes. And language? Come on, we all know that language begins in a simple manner and eventually develops in a more complex way. For example, as our brain grows and develops our vocabulary, speech, and pronunciation. From what i understand of evolution, it was much in the same way, we used simple sounds, noises, and gestures, and as we developed as a species we gained phonetic capabilities.
    And your biased points are pretty incorrect too, the english language has not gotten easier, it has gotten more complex, sure the words in victorian prose are hard to understand, but I am sure a 16-th century Englishman would be absolutely floored by our small cultural nuances in language, even just in separate parts of the united states. As a non-native speaker, you should realize just how complex English has become since when it started, and how hard of a language it is to grasp.

  24. October 21, 2009 7:33 pm

    Ray S.
    Gimme a break.
    All evolutionary models move from single celled to multicelled creatures hence simple to complex. That we still have simple creatures only reinforces the rule of stasis.

    Any student of classical and modern literature can see language getting simpler but even if it were not, its analogy to biology is weak.

    Animal breeders have been experimenting for thousands of years and not bred any new species. Breeders told Darwin and they will tell you, there is a barrier at which variation stops. Experiments on literally millions of generations of fruit flies have bred them to the limits of their monstrosity but not to new species.
    Until an experiment breeds a new species or we see a new species emerge from an animal population, that it can happen is only guessing.

    But for me all of this is off topic. I am here to discuss Darwin and natural selection. If someone wishes to engage this I am here.

  25. Ray S. permalink
    October 21, 2009 9:17 pm

    Hiramo, were you actually here to learn, you could possibly be enlightened, but you dismiss anyone’s attempt to help. You do not understand evolution, but you deign to say things like:

    All evolutionary models move from single celled to multicelled creatures hence simple to complex. That we still have simple creatures only reinforces the rule of stasis.

    Earlier you referred to Darwin in this way:

    But even if I studied only Darwin shouldn’t I know much about natural selection? He is, after all, the master.

    This shows you do not understand how science is done or how scientists think about the history and celebrities of science. When I told Jonathan that he should skip ‘Origins’ and use a more modern text, it was because I thought he wanted to learn about evolution. That’s apparently not his goal with his reading. There are newer and better explanations available that incorporate all we’ve learned since Darwin lived. Insisting on learning this through Darwin’s writings is silly.

    I’ll not try further to convince you, but do have one final rhetorical question: Why should your view that natural selection cannot cause speciation be considered superior to the view of more than 95% of biologists that it can, when those biologists have spent years (often decades) studying biology?

  26. Eric Worringer permalink
    October 21, 2009 9:34 pm

    Ray S.-
    Atheists and Christians united against stupidity! hoorah!

  27. October 21, 2009 10:44 pm

    Ray S.
    This is getting tiresome. I have said many times I am in this forum because I thought it was to be a discussion about Darwin. Instead I have to listen to you say – You do not understand evolution, but you deign to say things like:
    All evolutionary models move from single celled to multicelled creatures hence simple to complex. That we still have simple creatures only reinforces the rule of stasis.
    You repeat these statements as if there is something mistaken about them but you don’t say what. Tell me what.

    You say – This shows you do not understand how science is done.
    Science is done by the scientific method, two elements of which are empirical facts and experimentation. You can prove your point by – and only by – giving some empirical facts or experiment that demonstrate natural selection’s power to make new species. If you do that I will happily concede the argument. If you can not do that and still hold by the creative power of natural selection you are the one who does not understand science.

    You ask – Why should your view that natural selection cannot cause speciation be considered superior to the view of more than 95% of biologists that it can, when those biologists have spent years (often decades) studying biology?

    It ought not be considered superior. I ask only that this forum show me the facts, a very simple thing to do if you have some. Read your posts. You criticize me but have not backed this up by supplying any facts. It makes me think you don’t have any.

    As far as your “…95% of biologists…”, this is a classic fallacious argument in logic called appeal to authority. If history teaches anything it is that authorities can be very wrong. For two thousand years western doctors practiced the medicine of Galen though you won’t find many today who believe bleeding anyone will cure their cancer. Other historical examples of authorities being wrong are easier to find than authorities being right.

    So far you have been lavish with criticism but lacking in facts. I am not interested in your criticism nor will I bother to criticize you. Answer my questions with facts. No other currency is important in science. If you can – I shake your hand. If you can not you ought to reexamine your position.

    I have taken the time to address your questions. Have the courtesy to cut out the criticism and answer mine. If you do this we can continue. If not, I can’t be bothered.

  28. Ray S. permalink
    October 21, 2009 11:37 pm

    United? I suppose we are at least in some limited extent, though I’m not quite ready to throw out the ‘stupid’ label. It’s too difficult to discern all the motivations behind short posts anyway. I was hoping the language thing would give Hiramo a new perspective to examine his thoughts.

    I suspect that we could have some great, interesting discussions were we ever to meet IRL. More than likely, this forum and the topics we’ve visited highlight our differences and ignore our commonalities. Remember, it’s not personal. 😉

  29. Ray S. permalink
    October 22, 2009 12:18 am

    First, the pedantic. Mentioning the 95% is not an appeal to authority. If anything, it is an appeal to popularity. But I didn’t say you were wrong and the consensus is right as much as asking you why you think you know more than those who have studied the field for decades. You didn’t really address this.

    It is of course possible for the consensus to be wrong. but where we have overturned the consensus, we’ve done it through evidence, scientifically. You’ve presented none. All you’ve displayed so far is your personal incredulity (add that one to your logical fallacy list) and poor understanding of basic evolutionary theory. Learn what the consensus is, show us where we’re wrong with evidence, collect your Nobel prize.

    Your understanding of the scientific method is simplistic. Certainly in grade school science we focus on hypotheses that can be readily tested in a lab, but that is not the only way to perform science. Sometimes we have to formulate predictions of what observations we should be able to make if a hypothesis is true. Finding confirming or disconfirming evidence is sometimes all we can do to advance our knowledge. Just such anomalies in the predictions of mercury’s orbit is what lead Einstein to conclude that Newton’s and Kepler’s understanding of planetary motion was incomplete. Relativity is accepted science even though we cannot create alternate solar systems in our labs as your method would seem to require.

    Speaking specifically to evidence, I suggested you learn about ring species. I’ll add to that the general topic of speciation, and of the nylon eating bacteria. All three of these have decent introductory write-ups in wikipedia. The nylon eating bacteria is one example of speciation occurring naturally. The H1N1 flu is another – perhaps you’ve heard of it. In fact all of the flu strains are constantly evolving, which is why we have to develop a new flu vaccine every year.

    And because you seem to prefer lab work over field work, please note we have created new species in the lab. It is difficult to do with more complex organisms since the generations needed and the lifecycle take too much time, but it is easily done with bacteria where you can have a new generation every thirty minutes. One of my friends, a retired microbiologist even had a new bacteria species named after her. She considered it a great honor.

    Finally, i have not criticized you, I have criticized your lack of scientific knowledge and your approach to correcting that lack. You can fix that if you choose to do so.

  30. Matheus permalink
    October 22, 2009 1:15 am

    Now even this blog is getting swamped by creationist nonsense.
    We already tried arguing with him, he does not seem to be here to learn, so I vote we ignore him.

  31. Richard Eis permalink
    October 22, 2009 4:15 am

    Firstly in repsonse to language, the english language structure and it’s use of verbs is far more complicated than it’s predecessors. Like evolution, there will still be simpler, older languages around still (french), also some languages will simplify (txtSpeak anyone?) evolution doesn’t always get more complex all the time. It tends towards complexity in the long run that is all.

    It is we who define what a species is. The reason we know that chihuahuas are the same species as say great danes is because we know their lineage. If we didn’t know that lineage they would probably be considered different species on shape and inability to breed. Speciation is not as relevant to changing forms as you think. It is merely a convenient cataloging system.
    If you do want to see large scale changes I suggest studying the human lineage. Or whales. The fossils pretty much speak for themselves.

  32. October 22, 2009 8:05 pm

    O.K. you guys got me. I thought I was dealing with serious and educated people. The laughs on me. The reason you can not answer my questions (i.e. give me one fact from biology showing natural selection leads to new species) is you’re clueless on the subject. You say I don’t understand science etc. but I’m not the one who can’t answer this simple question.
    I’m a creationist? You must not have read my posts.
    “We have created new species in the lab.” I’d like to know about this. Please name these species so I can look them up. Are they microbial species? Difficult then to establish because, unlike creatures that breed sexually, there is no common definition of a microbial species. This is not troubling news to Richard Eis who says “It is we who define what a species is,” with an arrogant disdain for dictionaries and who tells us that if we didn’t know the lineages of Great Danes and Chihuahuas we might classify them as different species on shape and inability to breed. We would not. Though their size might be a problem they are the same species (canis lupus familiaris) because of their ability to breed.
    Speciation is not relevant to changing forms? Where did I say it was? Leave out the straw. Though it takes little thought to see that speciation is vitally relevant to changing forms. In fact, it is the point of evolutionary theory.
    Einstein, Kepler, Mercury’s orbit, ring species, nylon eating bacteria? Haven’t you the discipline to stay on subject?
    You guys think anyone who doesn’t share your opinions is unintelligent. You’re like the child who believes he must be very smart because he can’t think of anything he doesn’t know.
    For the last time – I joined this forum because I liked thomas2026’s beginning to his study of Darwin’s Origin. I will gladly read his other entries and if anyone would like to discuss them I’ll join in. But I won’t waste any more time with this.

  33. October 22, 2009 10:41 pm

    Found this link that might play with thomas2026’s take on Darwin.

    http://ann163125b.wordpress.com/2009/10/22/cafe-society-charles-darwins-language-problems/

  34. October 23, 2009 12:33 am

    I might as well call Poe right now. The business about language getting simpler and accusing Richard of having disdain for dictionaries is straight out of Conservapedia.

  35. Richard Eis permalink
    October 23, 2009 6:24 am

    -This is not troubling news to Richard Eis who says “It is we who define what a species is,” with an arrogant disdain for dictionaries and who tells us that if we didn’t know the lineages of Great Danes and Chihuahuas we might classify them as different species on shape and inability to breed. We would not. Though their size might be a problem they are the same species (canis lupus familiaris) because of their ability to breed.-

    Firstly i would love to see chihuahuas and great danes breed in the wild. I’m sure my cruel streak would find it a most amusing attempt. I should also point out the difficulty to breed between the giant cats. When it happens (very very rarely) the resultant animal is usually infertile. Should their genes continue along different routes due to no more crossbreeding, they will eventually become completely unable to cross breed. Thus becoming (technically) different species.

    Secondly we define what a species is, then we write it in the dictionary. We created both. When I said “we” I was not refereing to a small group of bloggers but the whole of humanity.

    -Speciation is not relevant to changing forms? Where did I say it was? Leave out the straw. Though it takes little thought to see that speciation is vitally relevant to changing forms.-

    No comment needed. I will make an unnecessary comment though to hammer home your mistake and point out that you have obsessed with speciation and why natural selection isn’t “good enough” since you first appeared on the forum.
    It reminds me of the time i showed archaeopteryx to a creationist. He said that it was clearly a bird because “most” of it’s features were more birdlike than dinosaur. Therefore it was bird and not a “missing link”. If I had shown him something “more” dinosaur like but with some bird features then to him it would be a dinosaur not a missing link. He seriously missed the point.

    If there are forms all the way from one species to another, the word species is then meaningless because there is never a point where one species flips over to being another. It is simply you getting overexcited about a word’s simplistic meaning…armchair biology at it’s finest.

  36. Andrew permalink
    October 23, 2009 9:50 am

    This thread seems to have got way off track.

    Firstly, arguing about evolution using languages as an analogy is pointless; there are too many important differences.

    Secondly, Hiramo seems to have a far too simplistic concept of species. Definitions based on reproductive compatibility that work tolerably well (but not perfectly) for vertebrates, insects, etc., tend to break down completely in other areas.

    But even if we define “species” in terms of “groups of organisms which don’t naturally interbreed” then we can point to examples deliberately induced in the lab (in fruit-fly selection experiments), and examples found in the wild (e.g. the Lake Nabugabo cichlids). There are also cases like the yellow monkey flower, where copper-tolerant and copper-intolerant subpopulations appear to be reproductively incompatible with each other, despite the fact that they aren’t given different species names (yet). See the Observed Instances of Speciation FAQ already mentioned earlier in the thread for discussion and references.

    We also haven’t been doing experiments on “millions of generations” of fruit flies. The minimum lifecycle of D. melanogaster under optimum conditions is 7 days; a million generations would take twenty thousand years, which is a pretty damn short period of time in evolutionary terms, but still about three orders of magnitude longer than any laboratory experiment. Twenty years of work in the lab gets you only about a thousand generations. (To get a million generations of anything in a reasonable time you need something that reproduces on a timescale measured in minutes, which pretty much limits you to experiments on bacteria.)

    Within the short timescales that we can achieve with experiment or artificial breeding, we can only see major changes in characteristics which are already highly variable. Nevertheless, it’s clear that selection can easily divide a population into subpopulations that don’t interbreed, and from then on it’s only a matter of divergence and time before they can’t interbreed.

  37. Ray S. permalink
    October 23, 2009 10:32 am

    Hiramo:

    I did give you some references. I didn’t try to cite primary literature since you’ve expressed a preference for the simplistic writings. Thus I sent you to Wikipedia. Perhaps I over estimated your ability to find the topics I mentioned once there. For that , I apologize.

    Fortunately words never change meaning (evolve!?) and if I were to ask if you were gay, you would no doubt eagerly answer yes as you are indeed the happy sort.

    Perhaps you would get further if you visited a blog actually operated by a biology professor; someone who knows much more than I about evolution. I’m sure someone could recommend something if you asked.

    Eric W.:

    Circle this date on your calendar, for you may never see this in print again:

    You were right.

  38. October 23, 2009 2:22 pm

    Andrew
    Your post is intelligent and respectful so I feel it would be impolite not to respond.
    Thank you for agreeing that language is an inapt analogy. As mass media flattens out language and erases regional dialects and class distinctions it moves to a common simpler denominator. I thought this was common knowledge and was surprised by the reaction.

    It may be my concept of species is simplistic but other than dictionaries and textbooks I don’t know where to go for definitions. Our most common definition (sexual compatibility) is strained by the examples you mentioned and I think eventually we may need two different definitions, one for creatures that reproduce sexually and another for those that don’t.

    For the second time I am directed to http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-speciation.html. I mentioned the first time I was familiar with the site. It discusses “…observed speciation events and several experiments…” that, in the opinion of its author, Joseph Boxhorn, “failed to produce speciation”. So what’s the point?

    You are right in that I was overzealous in my use of “millions” to describe fruit fly generations. This does not effect the point I tried to make.

    You say “it’s clear that selection can easily divide a population into subpopulations that don’t interbreed, and from then on it’s only a matter of divergence and time before they can’t interbreed.” This is possible but as yet unproved. A ring species (that some earlier savant on this forum pointed me to, assuming my ignorance) is a good example of a divided population (though not by selection) and it seems true that when this groups meets up again they don’t recognize each other and therefore do not mate. But they can mate. They still are the same species. That it is only a matter of time before they can’t interbreed may be but is speculation since it has not been observed. All good theories need to make predictions and this is one of the few made by evolution theory. We’ll have to wait and see. (Might be a long wait.)
    You began by saying this thread has gotten way off track. What is the track? I thought it was to be a discussion about Darwin and Origin of Species.

  39. Richard Eis permalink
    October 24, 2009 9:05 am

    -and I think eventually we may need two different definitions, one for creatures that reproduce sexually and another for those that don’t.-

    and fossils. Since we can’t use breeding for identifying species either. This is generally why an obsession with when one species “turns” into another is such a pointless distinction to get excited about. Somethng creationists love to get in a tizzy about.

    -You say “it’s clear that selection can easily divide a population into subpopulations that don’t interbreed, and from then on it’s only a matter of divergence and time before they can’t interbreed.”-

    It’s already mostly happened with the big cats. Some can’t interbreed, others breed but the kids are mostly infertile. Certain one way crosses are still fertile though. So it very much depends on how much “proof” you need and what you are willing to accept as proof…and of course which of our 3 or 4 different definitions of “species” you are using as your criteria.

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