Speciation: The Achilles Heel of Darwin’s Natural Selection

historyoflife

Those who have followed this blog recently might know of my interest in the fossil history of the Earth. It should not be surprising, then, that I also have a deep interest in Biology as a subject. As a card-carrying science geek for most of my life, my particular area of interest was always Biology. Of all the geeks in AP Biology, I was geekiest among them. My AP Biology teacher once told my mother that if she had a daughter, she would want her to marry me. This should tell you a thing or two about the impression I made.

Anyway, just like any student of the time, we were taught about Darwin and Natural Selection. Also known as “survival of the fittest”, the concept of Natural Selection does a lot to explain the behavior of species in real life. It is especially good at explaining how species adapt to a particular niche, and how certain traits are favored over time if they lead to some kind of survival advantage. However, once a species is adapted to its niche, we no longer see changes. There have been species in the oceans which are virtually unchanged for the past 500 million years, even if improvements could still be made (the Horseshoe crab, for instance). Indeed, these unchanged species are not perfect, but they are perfect for their particular niche. If Natural Selection were constantly driving new species (speciation), then these unchanging species are a big problem for it being the main driver for speciation events.

Do not think that I am calling Natural Selection invalid here. One must only look towards species isolated on islands to see all kinds of strange happenings (flightless birds, for example) as a product of Natural Selection. However, the one thing Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection was supposed to be revolutionary for was as an explanation for speciation events. I think back to my time in AP Biology for this, as the teacher had us do an experiment that was supposed to show how this speciation should come about through Natural Selection. All I remember about the experiment is that it involved trading slips of paper to “select” for favorable traits. In their telling (think to the example of the species isolated on an island), we would see such dramatic differences between the populations over time that eventually we would end up with a totally new species. There is only one problem…this has never been shown to happen…not once, not ever. I was the sole confused student who knew something was wrong. The smartest kid in the class should be the one who “gets it”, but in this case, I was the sole kid who didn’t get it. Immediately, I could see that this experiment did not work. A dog reproducing with another dog will always lead to an offspring of the same species (a dog). Even many generations down the line of isolated populations (Great Dane and Shitszu, for example), we are still left with two dogs. Two dramatically different dogs, perhaps…but still dogs nonetheless. If the two dogs are still sexually compatible, their offspring will always be a dog. In this way (and more), Natural Selection does not explain speciation. In this write-up, I hope to support a different explanation for speciation…one given by Immanuel Velikovsky and the catastrophists.

Natural Selection can indeed cause such dramatic changes that eventually two populations are no longer sexually compatible, but this would not lead to the creation of a NEW species…just two incompatible dogs. The history of life on earth, seen through fossil records, shows that there have been many true speciation events. Brand new forms of life springing forth. None is more well-known than the Cambrian Explosion. The Cambrian Explosion was a dramatic diversification in the forms and complexity of life which happened not long after atmospheric oxygen levels rose to near present-day levels. For billions of years prior to this, there were only simple eukaryotic and prokaryotic-celled life forms. Then, about 550 million years ago, there was a sudden explosion in complex life forms. All present-day forms of life are derived from life forms which came about as part of the Cambrian Explosion. The most interesting thing about the Cambrian Explosion is that its cause is not well understood. Just like Darwin’s Natural Selection being an inadequate explanation for speciation events, we do not have an adequate explanation for the Cambrian Explosion.

So, if Natural Selection does not explain speciation events, then what does? The main driver of the Cambrian Explosion is believed to be increased genetic mutation. That is not to say that we understand WHY this increase in the mutation rate occurred, but it is believed to be the key to the Cambrian Explosion. Indeed, genetic mutations are seen as critical to speciation events. The rate of genetic mutation is typically very slow, and random genetic mutations are very rare. Even rarer is an advantageous random mutation, which is nearly unheard of in the present-day. If a birth results in a mutated offspring, this single offspring is incompatible with all other members of its species. It cannot procreate. Even if this mutated offspring somehow had an advantageous mutation (which is even rarer than any old mutation), then it would still not be able to develop into its own species by virtue of it being a one-of-a-kind. This is the problem, and why random mutations were not seen as the main driver of speciation events. The regular rate of genetic mutation does not lead to speciation events, and Natural Selection does not explain speciation events. What are we left with to ponder?

We must remember that mutations ARE indeed key to speciation events, even if they were somewhat disregarded by scientists due to the regular, random rate of mutation being inadequate (too slow) to explain speciation. A key realization is that random mutations are only inadequate to explain speciation events throughout the history of life on Earth if the rate of random mutation is always constant. What if the mutation rate is NOT constant? Mutations are what could theoretically cause a new species to come about. What is then the idea that we have to consider? Instances of SUDDEN and DRAMATIC increase in the rate of mutation. How could this come about? Any number of ways, I suppose. This is where it gets interesting, and where Velikovsky comes in.

Immanuel Velikovsky was a Russian scholar who lived from 1895 to 1979 who believed that the history of Earth was largely defined by a series of great catastrophes. In the world of fossil study, there is a great disagreement between two concepts: uniformitarianism and catastrophism. Uniformitarianism, also known as gradualism, is the idea that things occur gradually and constantly. As in above where I reminded you that scientists have assumed that the rate of random mutation has always been constant. Under uniformitarianism, every process that is happening right now on Earth has always been happening, and will continue to happen at this uniform rate over geological time (hundreds of millions of years). Catastrophism, on the other hand, is just as it sounds. Changes come about catastrophically and suddenly, with periods of inactivity between. Natural Selection was seen as a key uniformitarian concept to explain speciation. Under this idea, the survival of the fittest over time resulted in new species. We have explained that this is faulty logic. As mentioned, it does not actually hold with what we see in reality. Natural Selection has never once been shown to be the cause of a new species, and remember…under uniformity whatever is happening now has always been happening. If Natural Selection is not creating new species now, then it has never been creating new species. As for catastrophism, one of the key observations noted in Velikovsky’s book “Earth in Upheaval” is that after bombings in London in WW2, unknown plants grew in the bomb craters that had never before been witnessed in London. This may have been a stray observation, but it is a critical one. Under catastrophism, speciation would result from any number of different catastrophic events, but on a planetary scale. These catastrophic events would have caused a dramatic increase in radiation, which would have then dramatically increased the rate of mutation.

You might ask HOW an increased mutation rate would lead to speciation events, and for this I can provide a very clear example. We had previously discussed the rare example of a single offspring with an advantageous mutation not being able to propagate with a compatible partner because it is one-of-a-kind. If instead we saw a sudden and dramatic catastrophic event which raised the mutation rate through increased radiation, then we would see ALL offspring from ALL populations suddenly have similar sets of mutations. Since these mutated offspring are all born at once, then it would just take one compatible pair to reproduce, and bam…a new species would be born. It would be a speciation event. Simple as that. This is a much more compelling explanation for speciation throughout the history of life on Earth. In the case of the Cambrian Explosion, we can envision an increase in radiation coinciding with higher oxygen levels to bring about a dramatic explosion of new, complex life on Earth.

The question becomes what kind of sudden, catastrophic events could suddenly raise the radiation level and mutation rate? Well, I suppose there are all kinds of different examples to pick from there. Velikovsky proposes that Earth has had close calls with other planets in its history (even very recently). This would certainly raise the radiation levels to suddenly boost the rates of mutation. However, there are many other possibilities. A gamma ray burst, for example, would do the trick. Earth’s position in the Milky Way galaxy could also make it pass through an area of heightened radiation. Velikovsky’s idea about close encounters with other planets is certainly possible, but I do not feel that we need to limit the thinking to only this. We could also think of events like a magnetic pole shift as being a possible mechanism for raising radiation levels. When the magnetic poles are firmly in position, much of the life on Earth is protected from intense radiation levels. If the poles were to shift, this could cause high levels of radiation, and speciation events for animal life on Earth. There are innumerable sources of high radiation throughout the universe, and when we are dealing with billions of years, we can imagine there may have been many different explanations for bursts of radiation over this time.

In the end, we are left with Natural Selection as simply a mechanism for the periods between the bursts of radiation. Organisms do select for favorable traits over time to adapt themselves to each niche. The main driver for this is Natural Selection. With that said, Natural Selection has nothing whatsoever to do with speciation events. To explain the speciation events, we must look to the catastrophists, like Velikovksy. Rates of mutation cannot be viewed as constant across billions of years. The sudden periods of heightened radiation would lead to a dramatically higher mutation rate, and therefore lead to new species. The fossil record supports this explanation for speciation, with sudden bursts and completely new and different types of species appearing following each catastrophic event.

PS-I will close with an image of my favorite fossil. All of the fossils in my collection were found by myself, not bought. This is of Silurian age, and is an orthocone (straight-shelled) cephalopod sitting on tabulate coral. Both species now long extinct.

fossil2

21 thoughts on “Speciation: The Achilles Heel of Darwin’s Natural Selection

    1. The key insight I got from Velikovsky is catastrophism. Also, I wrote this because I want to be clear about what I mean when I say that I am not crazy about Darwin. Agreed though…planets in collision can be very controversial. As far as I see it, catastrophism as an explanation for speciation could have taken many different forms. Planets in collision would be one. As would others. My main gripe with Darwin is that he is treated as a full explanation for everything…all Evolution. It is too neat of a package to say Natural Selection explains all of Evolution. Velikovsky/catastrophism has to be part of that puzzle. Velikovsky is not the only catastrophist, but his ideas are some of the most exciting. As far as I am concerned, he absolutely scorches uniformitarianism in Earth in Upheaval.

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    1. Ah, yes, I am seeing that too (Erasmus influence on Charles), but more interesting to me is the company Erasmus Darwin seems to have kept. Friends with Benjamin Franklin, Lunar Society, etc. It seems Erasmus was the most important Darwin. Thanks for pointing us to him!

      PS-Try the “Reply” feature to an individual comment. No need for each comment to be a brand new item. WordPress is a little tricky, and I deleted your other comment, since you weren’t in moderation. A couple things will automatically send you to moderation (pasting two or more links, for example). Don’t take it personally.

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  1. How does catastrophism compare to Goulds punctuated equilibrium in your view?

    I agree with your critique of Natural Selection and how it’s taught as a full explanation. In my limited reading, I began to see that the sleight of hand they perform is to give many examples of so-called Microevolution, and imply or state that, given time, those equal Macroevolution (speciation).

    In discussions with other lay people, It’s very hard to explain how Microevolution is categorically different from Evolution. For clarity it ought not even have “evolution” in the term. But probably the linguistic confusion is by design, because it’s so easy to give examples of Microevolution. Then, most people stop there, accept the overall theory, and think you’re an idiot for not buying the whole thing.

    Really what a trivial basis for the “great man’s” theory… Just a bit of sophistry, packaged with all the imposing weight of long dull books, Darwins big white god beard, and the full weight of the scientific establishment backing it up. Imposing university architecture etc. But it’s just a sales job, covering that nobody knows… Or aren’t telling us if they do. They sell it with such assurance, it’s probably much more about social planning (replace religion with science-as-religion) than any genuine truth seeking. Most people are too guileless to be skeptical, and of course don’t want the trouble of thinking about such things anyway. “Fine, sounds good to me, you guys (scientists) are on the case, I’ll go with you over the religionists.”

    Anyway, it sure does rankle that they pass off their Microevolution as actual Evolution. And most people swallow it. The radiation/ catastrophe theory sounds highly speculative to me, but at least it recognizes a problem, unlike the mainstream.

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    1. I guess nowadays much of the sales job is done through entertaining science programs, documentaries and videos. Plus school and science museums. Where the framework is presented as a given, and scientists are just doing some bookkeeping around the edges.

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    2. Preface this by saying GREAT comment. Wish all readers were as nuanced as you here. I think catastrophism and punctuated equilibrium go perfectly hand in hand. People do not understand that what we see in the fossil record is often quite absurd, random, and sudden. In the idea that catastrophes could lead to heightened mutation which then brings about new species, these new species would not necessarily be formed because of some magical “advantage”, but rather because two mutated offspring were sexually compatible, and then found a niche to occupy. Once they exist in that niche, they are unchanged. It is a punctuated process, and this matches with what we see in the fossil record. Phyletic gradualism just does not fit at all with the fossil record. In reality, we see the sudden appearance of new species, which then usually go completely unchanged for eons. Punctuated equilibrium would fit with my proposed idea very nicely.

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      1. Well thanks Fauxlex, I appreciate your writing too. But yes, the whole problem of speciation… And how these “holotype” like forms… these “species molds”… seem resistant to being broken out of. As you say, even with breeding, i.e. “unnatural selection”, it is as if the Platonic forms that represent the species, resist too much tampering.

        The mainstream almost denies the idea of species, it seems, except as convenient cataloging labels. But their idea of gradualism suggests that all organisms are just at random points on a continuum, with no real barrier to infinite change in any direction.

        Any form of mutation, even special-case mutation, seems it would have a steep hill to climb to overcome this natural kind of species “mold” or sense that each species is Platonic in nature. Where did these “species” categories come from? Why are they so resilient? It’s as if they were artificially injected into the system. Or designed, indeed. Not that I have any final opinion on the matter.

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        1. There is a very good debate on this subject in the video Mark gave below. Whereas I propose brief but intense bursts of radiation could explain new species, there is a great discussion of intelligent design. I do not so much feel that the species themselves are molds, but rather that once a species has found its niche, Natural Selection no longer need have any impact on its form. This is why certain forms are so resilient. I’m amazed by the fact that the Horseshoe Crab dates to the Ordovician. It’s truly mind boggling.

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  2. “If Velikovsky were correct, and if these anomalies in Earth’s geology indicated that large catastrophes had taken place, then the principle of uniformity would indeed be under severe stress. But the Velikovsky’s point was not just to establish reality of catastrophes, but also their relative recency. If the mammoths had been suddenly wiped out around 3000 years ago, that had implications for the timescale in which evolution, particularly Darwinian natural selection, could play out. Velikovsky tried to steer clear of young-Earth and old-Earth controversies such as those that have been rocking the creationist community for decades. “I do not see why to a truly religious mind a small and short lived universe is a better proof of its having been devised by an absolute intelligence,” he opined. “Neither do I see how by removing many unsolved problems in geology to very remote ages we contribute to their solution or elucidate their enigmatic nature.”
    The Pseudoscience Wars, Michael D. Gordin, Page 139

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  3. “The fact is that the way in which science actually works, the process by which existing stock of scientific knowledge is extended or restructured, is not by any means an entirely rational process. A logical structure can be discerned, postdoctoral, in the substance of received scientific knowledge. The existence of a logical structure in scientific knowledge has led to the assumption that the structure was logically built. But the process of doing science, as distinct from the body of scientific knowledge, is created and governed by a different set of principles. Logical inference and the intent of being objective are important among them. But rhetoric, propaganda, appeal to authority, and all the usual arts of human persuasion are also influential and when he acceptance for a scientific theory.”
    Betrayers of the Truth: Fraud and Deceit in the Halls of Science, by William Broad and Nicholas Wade, 1982 (Page 140)

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  4. Sometime when you are bored, look up a fish called the “coelacanth.” Darwinists, at least prior to 1938, thought because of its bone structure that it was representative of the advance of fish to amphibian, that its structure supported both sea and land habitation. Imagine their embarrassment when in ’38 a living coelacanth was caught off the shore of South Africa, a fish, and not an amphibian. There was no adaptation present in any form to anything other than ocean life.

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    1. Wow. I had never seen this before (watching now), but it opens by making literally the exact point of my posting here. Good to know I am not out on a ledge by myself here. Thanks Mark.

      It feels very good to know that this point, which I came to independently, is supported by such minds.

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  5. In textbooks its alluded to that we came from apes I suspect they knew they were taking a big leap and left it there but the full doctrine is man from apes from plants from matter. At least thats whats in the more advanced masonic literature.

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  6. “In China we can criticize Darwin but not the government. In America you can criticize the government, but not Darwin.”
    Jun-Yuan Chen in The Wall Street Journal, August 16, 1999

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  7. https://freemasonry.network/famous-freemasons/famous-scientists-freemasons/top-10-scientists-freemasons/ Faux, you are a brainiac. It reminds me of HS when the gifted were hitting their intellectual stride (maturing physically as well) and just ripping through the courses. Seemingly without effort. Though this is an evaluation of nature thread, your take on how fast mankind went from a literal ‘weed hopper’ craft of the Wright Bros. to JETS by WWII.

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  8. I’m late to the party on this one, but I have to mention the panspermia theory of Hoyle and Wickramasinghe. In a nutshell, life is near ubiquitous throughout the universe and microscopic organisms and viruses are continually raining down on the earth and have been for billions of years. The viruses bring new genetic programs which can trigger macroevolution not easily explained by Darwinian natural selection. I highly encourage inquiring minds to read more by the authors. “Evolution From Space” and “Diseases From Space” are a great place to start, and panspermia.org is an excellent resource as well.

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