So then, Jerry Coyne now comes to explain, in the famous phrase, the origin of species. How is it that wherever we look we see distinct species, and not a long blur of intermediate types and missing links between each of the species?
In addressing this question, he sets out laboriously to prove something that nobody denies, which is that there are distinct types of animals, that there are variations within kinds, and that there are often wide spaces between them. He notes that the natives of the Arfak Mountains in New Guinea recognized 136 different types of local birds, while Western zoologists had come up with 137 species. This “should convince us, that the discontinuities of nature are not arbitrary, but an objective fact” (p. 169). Well, okay, but was anyone arguing the point?
Coyne argues that such species usually arise because of some kind of geographical separation — mountain ranges, islands, two sides of a river — which allows for certain traits to be reinforced and for others to fade into the background. Later in the chapter, he also notes how certain distinct species can arise through a fun and interesting process called polyploidy, where the chromosomes of a particular species are doubled.
But for the most part, he is simply pointing to how physical factors can cause certain populations to be isolated from others, and there, mingling among themselves, to do naturally what dog breeders have been doing for a long time. Speaking of species, in this Coyne is arguing against a species of creationism that doesn’t exist. The most ardent fundamentalist creationist acknowledges cheerfully that all the races of men descended from Noah and Mrs. Noah, and that there is (self-evidently) variation within kinds.
So allow me to say this again. Coyne clearly does not know who he is talking to, and consequently does not know what he is talking about.
“It also counts as evidence against creationism. After all, there’s no obvious reason why a creator would produce similar species of birds, or lizards on continents but not on isolated islands. (By ‘similar,’ I mean so similar that evolutionists would regard them as close relatives. Most creationists do not accept species as ‘relatives’ since that presupposes evolution” (p. 185).
On the contrary, if we are talking about evolutionary taxonomy — what evolutionists call “species” — all creationists acknowledge that numerous species are related to each other.
Our dispute is not over whether bigger beaks can come from smaller beaks, or furrier beasts from less furry beasts, or shorter tails from longer tails, or light skin from darker skin. In 1937, evolutionist Theodosius Dobzhansky coined the terms microevolution and macroevolution in order to reluctantly note that we had to try to account for macro changes (which we couldn’t see happening) on the basis of micro changes (which we could). Some evolutionists, like Dobzhansky, see the problem, some, like Coyne, are blissfully unaware, and others, like me and my fellow non-evolutionists, believe that what is called macroevolution cannot successfully be accounted for by piling up microevolutionary changes.
So the creationist is not someone who denies what is called microevolution. The creationist is one who denies that microevolution is a set of “baby steps” sufficient to account for the transformation to another kind of animal entirely. If such a transformation were simply a long, arduous trek, then baby steps will get you there eventually. But is the transformation from no skeleton to an exoskeleton, or no skeleton to endoskeleton, the equivalent of a long walk, where each step is just like the previous one, or is more like a “back to the drawing board” kind of thing?
I am not a scientist, as Coyne is, but I am a polemicist, and since Coyne decided to engage in some polemical science, he has to that extent come onto my turf. And I can say that, as a simple matter of craft competence, he is in way over his head, and needs to go back to counting his Drosophilia. He does not understand the tenets of the position he is seeking to refute. If creationists were a kind of beetle, Coyne ought not to write a book calling us spiders.
I should note on other thing. Coyne makes a nice little blunder when he tries to wave his hands over a problem caused by the passing of the years.
“How fast would speciation need to be to explain the present diversity of life? It’s been estimated that there are 10 million species on earth today. Let’s raise that to 100 million to take into account undiscovered species. It turns out that if you started with a single species 3.5 billion years ago, you could get 100 million species living today even if each ancestral species split into two descendants only once every 200 million years. As we’ve seen, real speciation happens a lot faster than that . . .” (p. 179).
Remind me sometime to tell you the story of the man who drowned in a river that was on average only six inches deep. How could such a thing have possibly happened?
Let us clear our throats and look at these numbers a little quizzically. Coyne has earlier said that the number of species on earth could have been as high as 4 billion (p. 22), not 100 million (p. 179), and he has earlier acknowledged that the vast majority of the speciation occurred in the last 600 million years (p. 28), not in the last 3.5 billion (p. 179). In other words, between pages 22-28 and page 179, there is a whole lot of fudging going on, which is to say, we are not trying to get 100 million species into 3.5 billion years. It is more like we are trying to get 4 billion species into 600 million years, which is quite a different problem of division. Wouldn’t you say?