The Name Game
By Paul McDorman
In this Article
A simplified definition for "species" in the glossary of an old biology textbook says: Species: (Latin: kind, sort); A group of organisms that actually (or potentially) interbreed and are reproductively isolated from all other such groups. Sounds pretty clear-cut, but today there is no consensus on the definition of "species" among scientists. For example, the Black Capped Chickadee and Carolina Chickadee have different songs and live in largely different areas of the United States, and they look almost identical. However, they can and do interbreed where their geographical areas overlap. Ornithologists, nonetheless, have given them different species names (Parus atricapillus and Parus carolinensis respectively). In this case, the fact that they can interbreed was not the defining factor.
To Split or not to Split
Taxonomists (People who classify plants and animals) themselves seem to come in two species: the - "lumpers" and "splitters". The "splitters" have a propensity to make a new species out of any plant or animal that shows a slight variation in some trait; while "lumpers" tend to group things together. Sometimes there is a clash when the splitters and lumpers can't agree to split species or lump them together. For years the several different varieties of Northern Oriole have been alternatively lumped and split. Presently the "lumpers" have the upper hand; but who knows what tomorrow will bring?.
Species and Kind
The general public's understanding of the term "species" seems to reflect the confusion that scientists have in using that name. In order to sort out these problems, people need to learn how scientists use the term, as well as their purpose in doing so. And, to bring light to the whole problem, people also need to know about the biblical term, "kind", (Hebrew: min). By doing so it would help resolve much of the confusion that people have in their understanding of Creation and the Flood. For example, how many times have we heard skeptics say that the Noah's ark story could not be true because there could not possibly be enough room to put 1.24 million "species" of animals on the boat that the Bible describes (We won't address their misunderstanding that over 90% of these "species" consist of plants, insects, bacteria, worms, fish, and other kinds of living organisms that would not have been brought aboard the ark). Also, we often hear evolutionists remark that evolution is an obvious fact because we can observe many examples of new "species" evolving today. They may point to new varieties of plants, insects, fish birds, and other animals that have come into existence in the last 100 years or so. Both of the above misleading statements are widely used and they have both come about because of the misunderstanding of what a "species" is and how the Bible defines groups of animals. The tragic end result is that this one word has kept some people from believing the word of God. Creationist, biologist, and paleontologist, Kurt Wise, points out that today we have over 7000 species of swans, geese, and ducks. But yet, every one of them can interbreed. From a biblical perspective, this fact would qualify them as being one "kind" of animal. This is because Genesis 1 repeatedly says that God created the different animals after their "kind", indicating a reproductive barrier that can't be crossed.
How Subspecies are Made
We can assume that God did not create all of the millions of subspecies, or varieties, of animals and plants. Instead, they came about naturally (or artificially by man's intervention) from the vast storehouse of genetic information that had been put into each original kind of plant or animal during the Creation week. Much of this genetic information is "recessive" which means that it is not expressed outwardly, but it has the potential of being expressed in future generations given the right conditions. For example, a trait for being tall may be passed on to a child in a gene of a parent, even though both parents are short. Or, as we sometimes see in pets, a male and female dog can be the same solid color, but they may have pups that are spotted and even a different color. All of this is explained because the genes for these traits were there all of the time in one or both of the parents. But, they were not expressed because they were recessive in each of the parents. When these different varieties of animals and plants become isolated from others of their kind by water, mountains, climate or other natural barriers such as the much touted "Darwin's finches" on the different Galapagos Islands, then the differences can in time become the dominant trait and the norm for that particular geographic area. It is here that taxonomists will step in and assign new species names to those animals and plants even though they can still interbreed! A common example of this was the wolf and the dog. Although both will mate with each other, the gray wolf was given the name Canis lupis, while all domestic dogs were grouped together and given the name Canis familiaris. The variations that are produced artificially by man (as in the different types of dogs) are called "varieties" or "breeds" and are not usually thought of as evolution.
Subspecies not Evolution
However, if nature produces the variation, it is usually described by scientists as "evolution". This is how the variation between the wolf, coyote, hyena, dingo, and hyena is viewed. This inconsistency is unjustified however, since nothing new evolved inasmuch as the genetic information for these varieties was already present in the parent population As everyone is aware, dog breeders for centuries have produced so-called "purebred" dogs that can be quite striking in their differences. For example, what scientist from 2000 years in the future, would correctly identify a fossil of a Chihuahua and a Great Dane as being the same species?
Why the Variation?
Some people ask why God would allow for so much variation in living things. Most variation that we see in plants and animals are small and seemingly trivial. But often these small variations work together for that species survival. God did not make animals and plants so rigid that they would die out entirely if the climate were to change lightly. There needs to be some flexibility that would allow some of the varieties of the different kinds of plants and animals to be hardy enough to survive moderate to severe changes in the environment. For example, an extra cold winter may cause some animals to die because they did not have a thick coat of fur. But the natural variation that God gave to His creatures would cause others of the same species to have thick coats of fur, thereby guaranteeing the survival of the species during a harsh winter. Two big changes to the environment and climate took place after the Fall in the Garden of Eden, and after the Flood. The genetic variation that was present in the genes no doubt played a significant role in the survival of many species. Another possibility for the reason for built-in genetic variability is to ensure a food source for all animals under most environmental conditions. There is some evidence for a pattern of increased genetic variability in plants and animals that are at the lower level in the food chain. For example, most plants and insects seem to have a tremendous amount of genetic variability than do the "higher" animals. This turns out to be beneficial to those animals which depend on plants and other animals for sustenance.
Variation not Unlimited
Another misconception that people seem to have concerning genetic variation is that it is open-ended. However, variation can not continue indefinitely in one direction even if given limitless time. For example, there is a limit as to how small a dog can be "miniaturized", or how much milk a cow can be made to produce. Additionally, as selective breeding experiments show, genetic variation can proceed only so far before important genetic information is "bred out" of the organism and the creature becomes susceptible to disease and environmental changes. For example, purebred dogs are generally less hardy than "mutts", and sheep that have been bred for wool, would soon die out if man was not around to protect them from predators and other natural hazards.
Sometimes however, we are still surprised at the large amount of variation that can take place in a created kind. Some striking examples of this are the llama and the camel, the lion and the tiger, and cows and buffalos. All these pairs and many more can breed and produce viable offspring. (For other examples see www.bryancore.org/hdb or www.greenapple.com/~jorp/amzanim/indexa.htm).
Sometimes genetic information is lost and can never be regained by mating with its own subspecies. It would have to first "get back" some of the genetic information by breeding with another subspecies. Thus, one could never get a Irish wolfhound back from trying to breed two Chihuahuas together. The genes for the traits for a wolfhound would have been lost in that breed. But, by breeding a Chihuahua with other types of dogs, one could theoretically eventually get a wolfhound back again. Sometimes some genetic information has been totally lost from a species. For example, the huge rack of the extinct Irish Elk could probably never be recovered again by artificially breeding different varieties of elk or deer that are living today. The tremendous size of the now defunct giant ground sloth would also no doubt be an impossibility to bring back today. Other interesting possibilities, however, may or may not be recoverable. The passenger pigeon, the mammoth, and the belodon (crocodile) are some of the animals that could possibly make a comeback if the genetic information in living variations could be successfully manipulated by man. Today, the extinction of a species is a real concern for those plants and animals that can truly be called a species. However, the misuse of the word "species" is prevalent in the environmental movement where we hear its proponents claim that thousands of species of animals are going extinct every year. While mankind is certainly required to take care of God's creation, such an overstatement may be unwarranted in light of a correct understanding of what a species is and isn't. When one realizes that many of the "endangered" species that are being talked about are "varieties" and not created kinds, then the problem is not as urgent as it first appears. Nevertheless, since man is not at the point yet of knowing what kind of genetic information is being passed on or lost in "speciation", it would behoove us to act on the conservative side rather than to be unconcerned with the issue of extinction.
Sometimes, different varieties of a species can not produce offspring (or viable offspring) because there has been a mutation that has caused a loss of information in the genes of one of them. So even though a group of different subspecies might have originally been one created "kind", they are now reproductively isolated by their genes. One example of this is the horse and donkey which almost always produces a sterile mule. Another example might be the different species of orangutan that live in Sumatra and Java and are now unable to interbreed. However, this can not be considered "evolution" since there is a loss of genetic information rather than a gain of information. The subject of created kinds and the variation that is possible is certainly more vast and complicated than can be covered in this short article. This science of baraminology is currently being studied by many creation scientists in order to learn more about the living things that God created. The reader is also encouraged to learn more so that the truth, "God created", can be proclaimed to the world.
When someone "discovers" a new "species", he or she has the privilege of naming it by using certain established international guidelines. These rules also require that a taxonomist validate a new name by presenting it and certain basic information about the new species in a publication that will be available in public institutions. As can be seen in the following names, some people seem to try to go out of their way to lighten up what one would assume to be a dignified and sober task.
- Mozartella beethoveni Girault (wasp)
- Abra cadabra Eames (bivalve)
- Ba humbugi Solem (snail)
- Gluteus minimus Davis (fossil)
- Heerz tooya Marsh (wasp)
- La cucaracha Blesynski (pyralid)
- Omyomymar Schauff (mymarid wasp)
- Oops Agassiz (arachnid)
- Vini vidivici (parrot)
- Ytu brutus Spangler (beetle)
- Heerzz lukenatcha (fly)
- Iyaiyai (fly)
- Petula Clark (tineid)
- Polemistus chewbacca Menke (wasp)
- Stupidogobius Aurich (fish)
- Arfia Van Valen (fossil hyaenodont resembling a dog)
- Trombicula doremi Brennan (chigger)
- Trombicula fasola Beck (chigger)
- Apopyllus now Platnick (spider)
- Serendipitae (fly)
- Tabanus rhizonshine Philip (horse fly)
- Tabanus nippontucki Philip (horse fly)
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