Trees of Life

What is a species? Even Charles Darwin, author of On the Origin of Species, was none too sure. In the book, Darwin wrote

No one definition has satisfied all naturalists; yet every naturalist knows vaguely what he means when he speaks of a species. Generally the term includes the unknown element of a distinct act of creation.

But later, in The Descent of Man, when addressing “The question whether mankind consists of one or several species,” Darwin wrote

it is a hopeless endeavour to decide this point on sound grounds, until some definition of the term “species” is generally accepted; and the definition must not include an element that cannot possibly be ascertained, such as an act of creation.

Wikipedia notes the difficulty of defining “species” and identifying particular species and says

Over two dozen distinct definitions of “species” are in use amongst biologists.

Most textbooks follow Ernst Mayr’s definition of a species as “groups of actually or potentially interbreeding natural populations, which are reproductively isolated from other such groups”.

Now this serves as a good working definition in many cases, but it clearly won’t do for asexually reproducing organisms (which, in fact, is most organisms).

Fast forward to the modern evolutionary synthesis (neo-Darwinism) and we find that the definition of species has something to do with ancestry or lineage. Evolutionists these days believe that all life is descended from a small, single-cell organism called LUCA, an acronym for last universal common ancestor. Evolutionists like to draw a highly simplified family tree or tree of life that looks like this.

The root of the tree at the bottom of the diagram is LUCA. The tips of the branches at the top of the diagram are the species that exist today. Extinct species are the tips of branches below the top of the diagram. Speciation, the formation of new species, is represented by the branch points.

An obvious and attractive definition of species would be those organisms between two adjacent branch points (or branch point and branch tip) of the tree. And it’s the right definition (or so say I). But … there seems to be a problem.

Darwin was right when he said, “the definition [of species] must not include … an act of creation.” Not because an act of creation “cannot possibly be ascertained,” but because a definition of species must not include any creationist presuppositions. But neither must a definition of species include any evolutionist presuppositions! Therefore, the definition must not depend on the reality of the evolutionists’ tree of life.

(I’m conducting my own investigation into the origin of species. I remain agnostic, at least for now. Thus, I cannot accept any definition of species that begs the question in favour of either creationism or evolutionism.)

The problem with my definition is only apparent. Creationists, you see, have their own trees (plural) of life. Imagine the evolutionists’ tree of life more or less severely pruned, then throw away the tree. What you’re left with is a bunch of miniature trees that look a bit like this.

Here, the roots at the bottoms of the trees are the original created kinds (each “after his kind”) as described in Genesis 1. (In the case of land-dwelling creatures, the roots at the bottoms of the trees might as well be the mating pairs that boarded Noah’s Ark. Strictly speaking, Noah’s Ark represents a population bottleneck for each species that boarded.) Creationists these days are quite happy to accept microevolution, or speciation within kinds. Biblical kinds are usually identified with biological Families, and less usually with Genera or Species. This makes the logistics of getting the animals on the hypothesised ark a whole lot easier. No need to have mating pairs of tigers, lions, cheetahs, ocelots, Smilodon, etc. No, just a mating pair of cats, from which all members of Felidae are descended. (Heard of ligers and tigions? No, neither had I. They exist.)

Speaking of arks, in the news is wealthy Creationist Dutchman Johan Huibers who built a full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark and this week opened it to the public. Check it out!

9 thoughts on “Trees of Life”

  1. I have not had a chance to study this post fully yet… It looks good.
    The Father of Botany Carl Von Linnaeus invented the system of classifing Living organisms, and he was a creationist whom said the species do not change. (of course there is variation within kinds… yet no evolution)
    Eg Mankind came from Adam and Eve, yet through ‘selective breeding’ (isolated Gene pools) we have the variations of Neigroid, caucasoid, and Mongoloid, and from these all the variations of mankind decend. Pygmy to Nordic Giant… The Kind remains the same… Man-kind… No evolution. Ie There is no link between Ape and Man. We share similar Biology, yet are distinct kinds.

  2. Tim, thanks for your comment.

    There were taxonomists before Linnaeus, but nonetheless he is rightly regarded as “the father of modern taxonomy.” His taxonomy was strictly based on phenotypes. Modern taxonomy relies heavily on genotypes (phylogenetics). But taxonomy should be based on lineages.

    E.g., what makes a tiger a tiger is not that it looks like a tiger, or that it has tiger DNA. What makes a tiger a tiger is that its parents were tigers.

  3. There is a problem with evolutionary methodology that I noticed when looking for proposed common ancestors.

    The evolutionary tree is made up entirely of leaves there is no trunk, no branches not even twigs.

  4. There are no branches Reed because there are no links.
    And Richard, what is today touted as Micro-Evolution is *Not Evolution at all!*
    It is disgusting that variation within a species has been allowed to be called Evolution!
    Its part of the Giant scam.
    There are no genetic modifications within ‘micro-evolution’… no new genes.
    As Mendel proved with his tall and short peas. These traits were manifestations of ratios of dominant and recessive genes. TT tt Tt. and The resultant ‘variations’ were perportionally calculable. THERE IS NO EVOLUTION IN THIS.
    Mendels Laws is the Law of Replication… It garantees species remain within their kinds. Micro Evolution is a dirty bastard propaganda fopr chumps!

  5. What Reed is saying is The best tree an evolutionist can come up with is in fact a collection of separate micro-evolutionary (sic) trees…. Identical to the Creationists Kinds.
    (Micro evolution is not a fact of evolution Richard… but a fact of Biblical kinds.)

  6. Lets say a breeder takes a Tall dog with short hair, and crosses it with a small dog with Long hair.
    The resulting traits inherited by the offspring will be according to the combination of the two gene sets. Even if the offspring appear completely different from both parents.
    There is no Evolution. There are no new genes, and so the different traits in the offspring are not ‘new’/ ‘evolutionary’ but simply manifestations of already pre-existant genes. Evolution needs a mechanism which writes new DNA, which is why Evolutionists need whack ideas like ‘Good mutations’… which scientifically speacking are myths. Even Darwin rejected Mutation as a mode of Evolution. Thus when we look at genetics and how species like Mammals reproduce we find them locking into their kinds. Did you know that a single set of Humans can theoretically produce billions of children whom will each have a unique combination of the their Parents genes? That how broard the range of variation is between two people! And all of those billions of offspring will be absolutely *Human/ mankind*! They will not be ‘less’ or ‘more’ human than their parents, and the will not be ‘morphing’ into different ‘kinds’ of animals… Evolution is a pathetic joke!

  7. What Reed is saying is The best tree an evolutionist can come up with is in fact a collection of separate micro-evolutionary (sic) trees…. Identical to the Creationists Kinds.

    Tim, that’s what I’m saying too. Reed my post! 😉

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