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November 18, 2009


>>(from article) "...the Grants felt comfortable in designating the new lineage as an incipient species."

I am deeply encouraged that the Grants felt comfortable. I will rest well knowing they overcame any initial hesitation and were able to get past any reservations. 36 years studying '

Maybe a sociologist could get a government grant to verify whether or not "long-term-finch-observations" contribute to "long-term-marriage-commitments." The Grant's may be on to something that could improve the divorce rate, how men and women find ways to get along in a relationship, and actually benefit society.

Here is a part I don't understand:
"These tunes set the sons apart, as did their unusual size. Though they found mates, it may only have taken a couple generations for the new lineage to ignore — or be ignored by — local finches, and breed only with each other."

What brought about this discrimination and which species did the discriminating? Was it discrimination on the basis of song? How do we know that the new species is any more discriminating than the others were originally?

It appears as Melinda implies, that we started with finches and we ended with finches. This seems unremarkable to me. What am I missing?

A new SPECIES? When science cannot even define the term species, the term has little meaning.

Hmmm...a new species of finch. We'll call them...ready for this?....finches!! It's a completely different species, entirely. Nothing whatsoever to do with existing species of finch...or something like that.

Sometimes, it can be so frustrating to listen to how closed-minded creationists are and how we "taint" or "misinterpret" very plain evidence and yet they claim that a slightly variant offspring of a known species constitutes an entirely new species while at the same time admitting that they're still of the same "kind."

Can't you superstitious primitives understand the irrefutable extrapolation from this that PROVES macro evolution is a fact???

A bird is a bird, a Finch is a Finch. It's not gonna change. When that Finch fly's down to the ground, grows legs and starts barking or starts ordering stuff off the internet then I'll take it a little more seriously... Until then, Darwin's precious little bird is still a precious little bird.

Define "finch".


Why do you constantly call evolution "Darwinism"? Do you call physics "Newtonism" or chemistry "Priestlyism" or microbiology "Pasteurism" or geology "Lyellism" or...

It's just evolution. Call it what it is.

M Burke,

You can learn a relatively current and sound overview of what "species" means here:
The most useful definition is "groups of actually or potentially interbreeding natural populations, which are reproductively isolated from other such groups."

This was not really in question even in Darwin's time. Darwin was concerned with how, if species were so obviously connected by commonalities and adapted to their niches, they came to be. His book, "On the Origin of Species" provides insight into his conclusions, which have proven vastly useful to the realm of biology. You can read the full text here:

Oh, and can someone define "kind" for me?

"Can't you superstitious primitives understand the irrefutable extrapolation from this that PROVES macro evolution is a fact???"
"Evolution happening on a large scale, e.g. at or above the level of species"

And what do we have with these finches? Well it would appear to be speciation, evolutionary change at the species level. Seems like macroevolution to me.

Anyway, whatever you want to call it, can anybody here tell me when they last saw some micro 'design' or micro 'creation'? Let me know when you do.

Hmm, it appears that none of those who dismissed the significance of the Grant's research actually wants to discuss the topic.


Define "define."

And then of course...whose definition are we going to use?

And what/whose criteria are we going to use to select one?

But first, we must, of course, define criteria...but dangit, now we have to go back and define "define" again."

For God's sake (or for the sake of naturalism, or for the sake of physicalism, determinism...or just for sake's sake)...please,

...get off the merry-go-round.


I'm just asking a simple question. What is a "finch"? Much has been made of the fact that the possible speciation event has "just produced another finch". Well, ok, what does that mean? What is the range of organisms that is covered by the word "finch"? Are finches a single genus? A single family? We don't need to define define here, I'm trying to get a concrete answer to a simple question. If evolution has "just produced another finch", why isn't this significant?

Oh, and the reason why we need a definition of "kind" is really simple. It's said that evolution can not produce new "kinds". But how can we evaluate or test this claim if we don't know what we're looking for, that is, if we don't know what a "kind" is? How can you tell that a given event can't happen unless you know what you're looking for? So, it's not about any merry-go-rounds and it's not about defining "define". The reality is that we can't examine this topic scientifically unless we know what we're discussing. I'm sorry, but you have to define your terms.

Hi WW,

What brought about this discrimination[?}

Something about the song of the sons of that first male was different. The locals didn't like as much as the local song - still he managed to find a mate.

and which species did the discriminating?

Both. The descendants of that first male inbred: They tended to find each other more attractive than they found the locals - and vice versa. After some generations the immigrant mating call only worked among immigrants.

It appears as Melinda implies, that we started with finches and we ended with finches. This seems unremarkable to me. What am I missing?

Just as the first English spoken in the Colonies sounded very much like the English spoken in England these new finches are much like their relatives. But the differences in the two versions of English are obvious today even though we've been sharing linquistic innovations across the Atlantic the whole time by travelling back and forth. (Now, we have tv, radio, web too.) Still, in some cases it's hard for us to understand one another.

Same thing with the new finch except there's no way for innovations (mutations) in it to spread to the other finches because they don't interbreed anymore.

If the US and England became isolated from each other the languages would eventually diverge to the point where speakers of one would not understand speakers of the other at all.

If these new finches don't become extinct first they may eventually look about as much like finches as finches look like the dinosaurs from whom they descended. Eventually = ~100 million years/generations.



From Wikipedia: "The true finches are passerine birds in the family Fringillidae. They are predominantly seed-eating songbirds." A family is one taxon above genus, so the term "finch" applies to a number of species belonging to (possibly) multiple genus. Much has been made of the fact that the new species of finch is "just" another finch because of a misunderstanding of the theory of evolution: the oft-repeated trope of "Why doesn't a frog give birth to a monkey?" It would be very rare (near impossible) for evolution to produce such a mammoth group of changes at one go, but that's not how evolution works. Evolution usually works by a number of gradual successive changes that eventually result in speciation, the point at which the two groups can no longer interbreed. At that point, further changes in the two gene pools will drive the two resulting species further apart (and cause further speciation events down the road).

It's significant that we have observed a speciation event in the wild because the timeframes involved are typically very long. The absolute minimum timescale to observe speciation taking place is two generations, and because we're dealing with chance events between generations, it usually takes many many more generations, nevermind the fact that for the cumulative changes to reach the point at which the two populations can no longer interbreed causes it to take many many more to boot.

Thank you, David. You see, boys and girls, "finch" wasn't so hard to define after all.

See boys and girls, a "finch" is still a bird....

Yes, a finch is a bird. And your point would be?

The term "bird" can be applied to 10,000 living species (and many more extinct species) within a class (Class Aves). You agree that evolution can produce new bird species from old bird species. If you're ok with the idea that evolution can produce new "bird" species, then you must be ok with the idea that evolution can produce new genera, families and orders in a given class.

All of these new genera, families and orders would still be "birds", so I don't think that I'm saying anything that you would not agree with, right? The new birds are still birds. A bird is a bird.


A finch to a non-bird in a few decades.

Do you think that is what is implied by evolution?


I guess I still don't really understand what is being claimed in the linked article. It says: "The birds might even return to the fold of their parent species, and merge with them through interbreeding."

It seems like several things are at work. Songs have changed and mate selection behaviour has changed. Have each of these changes been linked to actually genetic changes in the finches?

Can not a range of behaviours exist between populations of the same kind of creature without any substantial biological changes being necessary?


I don't know if the behaviors in this specific case have been linked to specific genetic changes. But I'm pretty sure that there are other cases in which different mating songs have been linked to genetic differences. I'd have to look it up to be sure, but I seem to recall a similar case involving lacewings (insects).

Minor changes in finches beak size's and things of that matter I will buy Ron, is that what you are asking?

Evolution within a species I can see.

"Evolution within a species I can see."

But, Prince, I thought that you accepted that evolution could produce a new bird species from an old bird species. When you said, "Darwin's precious little bird is still a precious little bird", you didn't say, "it's still the same species". You said, "it's still a bird".

I'm confused. Have you changed your mind? Why can't one bird species give rise to another bird species? What's to stop this from happening?

Any chance you could give me a defintion for "kind"?

You're right, I did say "Darwin's precious little bird is still a precious little bird"... Old or new species, whatever the case the bird is still a bird.


The Grants are convinced they've identified a distinct group of birds that are breeding only within that group. This makes the group, by one definition of the word, a new species.

That's pretty much it. And it's not a big deal unless you wait a while. They might be wiped out. Or, they might hybridize with and be absorbed into another species of finch. Or, given enough time, they might diverge enough to make that really really unlikely. Maybe someday they'll wind up being the only finches left there.

It makes sense that a lot of speciation events would look like this: The first generations are different enough from the parent group to make interbreeding unlikely but not impossible.


David Estlund-

To simplify matters, let us suppose that the base state includes one species of finch.

So, we once had one species of finch, where individual members of that species might vary widely from one to another. Members of this species could freely breed with each other. What's changed is that we now have a group of finches that are infertile with respect to the rest of the species.

Is there some new structure with a new functionality in the new finches that sets them apart from the rest of the finches? Or do we just say that the finches are a different species because they are infertile with respect to the rest of the finches?

On an unrelated side note. Are you the same David Estlund that once taught at UC Irvine and then moved to Brown? If so, I'm a former student (from UCI), and greetings. If not, greetings anyway.

>>What's changed is that we now have a group of finches that are infertile with respect to the rest of the species.

It didn't sound to me like they were claiming this. They only said they weren't interbreeding, not that they couldn't. In fact, they noted that they might go back to interbreeding with the others and so disappear.


Right. I didn't think they were making a claim of greater or different functionality in the new finches either. So the difference is simply that the new finches are infertile with respect to the old ones.

That's a real difference, but I don't think that all of us knuckle-dragging, Bible-thumping hicks need to raise the white flag to Darwin just yet.

>>So the difference is simply that the new finches are infertile with respect to the old ones.

No, that's what I'm saying. The article didn't say they were infertile with respect to the old ones. They're not interbreeding because of the different mating songs, but it didn't sound like they couldn't interbreed--i.e., that they had diverged physically enough to be infertile with respect to one another. I could have misunderstood, though.

Why are "Bible-thumpers" apparently so disturbed by the prospect of speciation that they might see a speciation event as cause to "raise the white flag"? That is, why the apparent relief that this possible speciation event has not yet produced two populations that are totally inable to interbreed under any conditions?


Ok, so old bird species can produce new bird species. We agree, yes?

Now, why can't the same process also produce new genera, families, etc.? And why can't old hominid species produce new hominid species?

Inable = unable.

Oh. My bad Amy. But that just makes the speciation case weaker.

By that reasoning, then, Trekkies are of a different species than other people. They don't breed with non-Trekies (well, a male Trekkie can breed with a female Ringer to produce a Trenger and if it goes the other way you get a Rinkie ;-) But the mating song of Trekkies is so different from that of non-Trekkies that they don't breed. Could they breed and produce fertile offspring? Probably. But they just don't.

Is it possible that Sci-fi/Fanstasy convention goers represent a separate genus?


Just to clarify, do you think that natural processes can produce new species?

If those processes have been intelligently designed to do so, I suppose that it is possible. I remain skeptical about whether it has ever actually happened apart from deliberate interference.


And if we watched a speciation event, how could we tell if the process was "intelligently designed" or whether or not there was deliberate interference? For example, are the events described by the Grants the product of interference or design?

Wisdomlover: What is the difference between interference and design in this case? Why is either relevant, let alone a requirement? If speciation only happens with "deliberae interference," then you've got about two million unique "interference events" required to bring about all the currently known, documented, living species on earth, let alone the tens or hundreds of millions of extinct species. I'd like to see evidence of one of these events.


When you said 'a "finch" is still a bird' it seemed to imply that someone had suggested we'd be able to witness - within a human lifetime - a non-bird descend from a bird.

Do you think anyone suggested that? Do you think anyone implied - by calling this a new species - that something like that had happened?

Also, to me, it sounds like you're saying the truth of evolution hung on whether could witness such a thing.

Do you think it does?

You say you can see evolution within a species but not from one species to a new one. You have a theory of evolution of your own.

In your theory, what is it that stops evolution at that species barrier. In your theory, what things are prevented from happening in the dna? How are they prevented?


Joe and David E.-

I take it that the evidence of interference or of design is in the complexity of what happens. There are thousands or perhaps millions of untranslated Egyptian hieroglyphs. What is the evidence that they are deliberately carved by people rather than random marks in the rock? How about cave paintings? What is the evidence that they're not random marks on the cave wall rather than painted there by humans?

Presumably the evidence is that those items are massively complex. Far too complex to have happened by chance. But as complex as they are, their complexity is a moon-cast shadow of the complexity involved in the DNA re-writing needed to get from one species to another.


Just how complex is the DNA re-writing needed to get from one species to another?

How many changes are needed? Of what kind? How often do such changes take place? How much time do we have?


I believe species can evolve within the same species. Birds can evolve to adapt to their surroundings weather it be beak size, color etc... I'm not arguing that at all. I don't believe a bird can evolve into anything other than a bird though. Joe, does that answer your question or did I mis understand what you were asking?

If you don't believe that new species can evolve from old species, then you should stick with that. If a bird can evolute into another bird, then bird evolvution can produce a new species, genus, family or order. Saying that "a bird doesn't evolve into anything other than a bird" leaves the door wide open for a tremendous amount of change, including the creation of new species, genera, families and orders. And I'm assuming that you don't want to do that.

So, if you believe that it is impossible for new species to evolve from existing species, then stop right there, and there will be less confusion. Just say that there hasn't been a single new species on Earth since God created all the species at the start.

By the way, how do you know that evolution is limited to within species? What prevents the evolution of a new speices?


Oh, dear, are we back to comparing DNA to hieroglyphs and cave paintings? Sigh.


How do you that "their complexity is a moon-cast shadow of the complexity involved in the DNA re-writing needed to get from one species to another"?

Just say that there hasn't been a single new species on Earth since God created all the species at the start.

We can stop there if you would like. I think you are trying to argue a different point than I am. I think you are trying to get to technical with it. You see what my point is and you're trying to twist it with a broad Scientific approach. I have a feeling it doesn't matter what I say or agree with, you will tweak it to continue the argument. Right?

"I have a feeling it doesn't matter what I say or agree with, you will tweak it to continue the argument. Right?"

Actually, I was honestly just to understand exactly what you were saying. Didn't want to go off on a tangent attacking straw men. Unfortunately, "being technical" comes with the territory when one is discussing scientific topics. It's important to know exactly what we're talking about.

If you wish to stop here, that's your choice, but I am curious about two things.

How do you know that evolution is limited to within species? What prevents the evolution of a new species?

If no new species have been created since life began, why are there zero fossils of any of the millions of modern species in the lower layers of the fossil record? Why are there only extinct species in these layers? How do you explain the taxonomic sorting seen in the fossil record?

How do you know that evolution is limited to within species? I just don't think any species can evolve into something other than whats in it's own family. I can't see a bird evolving into a dog, and so on...

What prevents the evolution of a new species? I'm not sure what you are asking here?

What aspect of how the natural world works prevents the evolution of a new species? What prevents DNA from changing to the point that we have a new species?

(By the way, you've slipped back into talking about higher taxonomic groups like "family".)

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