Many creationists argue that evolution has never actually been witnessed taking place by humans, and this is something that they're just plain wrong about. There is one thing that has never been observed, however, and that's a creationist making a good argument. I've never seen it happen before and this one is certainly no exception.
Human observers have seen a wide range of evolutionary changes take place. These include the breeding of animals; evolved resistance to herbicides, pesticides, and antibiotics; and clear examples of descent with modification in response to environmental pressures that have been observed both in the wild and the laboratory, in organisms ranging from bacteria to plants to fish to birds.
Creationists will sometimes also claim that speciation has never been seen, which is also incorrect. Even if they were right when they said these things, however, evolution is a process that takes long periods of time, and even if we couldn't personally watch evolution happen in real time, there are still many other forms of evidence demonstrating evolutionary change.
Here, I provide many examples of evolution taking place before the eyes of human observers. I also dissect creationist arguments made in this area and explain the many things they get wrong. I point out that creationists make faulty attempts to minimize the observed evolutionary changes; they shift the goalposts whenever convenient for them; they're confused about the scientific language; and oftentimes, they have impossibly high standards for what we should be able to see take place in real time—standards that they don't at all apply towards their own religious beliefs.
Henry Morris makes this argument in an article entitled "The Scientific Case Against Evolution," written on The Institute For Creation Research (Yeah, I'm sure their "research" is just fucking groundbreaking.):
". . . the lack of a case for evolution is clear from the fact that no one has ever seen it happen. If it were a real process, evolution should still be occurring."
Let's begin by assuming, for the sake of argument, that he's correct: Nobody has ever observed evolutionary changes taking place in real time before their very eyes. Even if he was right about this, this wouldn't disprove evolution, because you don't need to personally observe an event in order to be able to rationally deduce that it took place.
By analogy, imagine that there's a fire investigator trying to figure out what caused a building to burn down. He finds traces of gasoline all over the building debris; he also finds an empty, bright red, discarded gas can right next to the building with a note taped to it that says "I burned down your building because I hate you." There's also a detailed, step-by-step plan next to it with "How to burn down this building" written at the top.
This would be a pretty open-and-shut case of deliberate arson. Who would be foolish enough to challenge a fire investigator in this situation by saying things like: "Well, you didn't personally witness somebody splashing gasoline all over the place and lighting a match, so we can't say with confidence what caused the building to burn down." Could you imagine somebody smugly saying this and thinking they've said something clever? They'd be like: "Sir, let's have the paramedics take a look at you. Clearly you've inhaled a bit too much smoke and carbon monoxide, because you are delusional right now!"
Even if you didn't witness something taking place, you can still collect evidence to determine what was the cause of the event—and so it is with evolution. We might not have personally witnessed the evolutionary history of life on earth—because last time I checked, we don't have a lifespan of over 3 billion years. Anyone who's read their Bible knows that humans can only live for a maximum of a thousand years. But 3 billion years? Please, don't be ridiculous.
So yes, while we haven't personally watched the evolutionary history of life on earth play out, there is still abundant evidence supporting this history. You can look at the rich fossil record over time; you can compare the anatomy and DNA of various organisms; you can look at the biogeographical distribution of life on earth; and you can look at things like vestigial structures shared by many closely-related species.
When you look at these independent lines of evidence, what you find is that they all agree with each other and point to the exact same conclusion. So even without direct observations of any evolutionary changes, we could still prove that evolution has taken place in the past.
The thing is, creationists are simply wrong when they say that evolution has never been observed by humans. On the contrary, there are many such documented examples.
For starters, we have the examples where humans didn't just observe the evolution, but they actively facilitated and brought about the evolutionary changes. I'm talking, of course, about artificial selection. The spawn of Satan himself, Charles Darwin, in The Origin of Species, gave the example of pigeon breeding, where a wide range of pigeon forms were brought about by intentionally breeding to accentuate certain characteristics.
Dog breeding is another clear example of artificial selection. Every dog breed you see today has been descended from wolves, and most of them have been bred specifically for certain behavioral or physical characteristics.
Yes, human activity is responsible for bringing about these changes, but artificial selection is proof of the more general concept that if only certain organisms with specific traits end up reproducing, changes can be passed down over time and can accumulate to the point that the descendants are very different from the ancestors.
This happens in the wild, as well—except instead of humans deciding on who will reproduce, the surrounding environment is the de facto decider: Organisms with genetic mutations that make them more capable of acquiring food, evading predators, and attracting the opposite sex will reproduce more frequently, and they will thus pass down their unique genes over time—as well as the accompanying attributes that give them their survivalistic and reproductive advantages.
Contrary to what creationists claim, this process has been directly observed by humans again and again, both in the laboratory and in the wild. One example is described in Campbell Biology:
"Consider the medium ground finch (Geospiza fortis), a seed-eating bird that inhabits the Galapagos Islands. In 1977, the G. fortis population on the island of Daphne Major was decimated by a long period of drought: Of some 1,200 birds, only 180 survived.
Researchers Peter and Rosemary Grant observed that during the drought, small, soft seeds were in short supply. The finches mostly fed on large, hard seeds that were more plentiful. Birds with larger, deeper beaks were better able to crack and eat these larger seeds, and they survived at a higher rate than finches with smaller beaks. Since beak depth is an inherited trait in these birds, the average beak depth in the next generation of G. fortis was greater than it had been in the pre-drought population."
Source: p. 469. Campbell Biology, Ninth Edition. Jane B. Reece et al. 2011.
Bergstrom & Dugatkin give an example of guppy evolution in their cleverly-named textbook Evolution:
"In many of the streams of the northern mountains of Trinidad and Tobago, guppy populations can be found both upstream and downstream of a series of waterfalls. . . . At upstream sites, the small fish (Rivulus hartii) is the only predator that guppies face. If females can produce offspring that start off relatively large and can quickly grow past a certain size threshold, such offspring will be safe from predation by R. hartii.
. . . At high predation sites, guppy predators are much larger; they can eat a guppy no matter how large it gets. At such sites, natural selection should favor producing much smaller fry. That is, because a predator can eat a guppy fry no matter how big it is, then natural selection should now favor females that produce as many fry as possible, rather than producing larger but fewer fry, because such females will have higher reproductive success.
. . . David Reznick, John Endler, and their colleagues experimentally manipulated predation stress in wild guppy populations by transplanting a group of 100 male and 100 female guppies from a high-predation, downstream site into a low-predation, upstream site, and they cordoned off the transplanted guppies so they could track the populations over time.
. . . When Reznick and his team sampled the descendants of the transplanted populations 5 and 12 years after the original transplant, they found that the descendant population had evolved in the predicted direction, with females producing larger but fewer offspring than their ancestors from a high-predation site."
Source: p. 74–75, Evolution, by Carl T. Bergstrom & Lee Alan Dugatkin. 2012.
Pfft, yeah right! I'm sure some evolutionist just swapped out the fish when nobody was looking!
The evolution of soapberry bugs has also been directly observed and documented by humans. As Manuel Molles Jr. writes in Ecology: Concepts and Applications,
"The soapberry bug, Jadera haematoloma, feeds on seeds produced by plants of the family Sapindaceae. Soapberry bugs use their slender beaks to pierce the walls of the fruits of their host plants. To allow the bug to feed on the seeds within the fruit, the beak must be long enough to reach from the exterior of the fruit to the seeds. The distance from the outside of the fruit wall to the seeds varies widely among potential host species. Thus, beak length should be under strong selection for appropriate length.
. . . During the second half of the twentieth century, three additional species of the plant family Sapindaceae were introduced to the Southern United States. . . . Carroll and Boyd were particularly interested in determining whether the beak length had changed in the soapberry bugs that shifted from native to introduced host plants. . . . Figure 4.12 shows the relationship between soapberry beak length and the radius of fruits of their host plants. As you can see, there is a close correlation between fruit radius and beak length."
Source: p. 89–90. Ecology: Concepts and Applications, Sixth Edition, by Manuel C. Molles Jr. 2013.
And here we see this figure from the book which shows precisely that: The deeper the seeds, the longer the beak.
They go on to demonstrate that these changes are genetic in nature:
". . . are the differences in beak length due to genetic differences among populations of soapberry bugs or are they the result of phenotypic plasticity? Fortunately, Carroll reared juvenile bugs from the various populations on alternative host plants so we can answer this question.
As it turns out, the differences in beak length observed in the field among bugs feeding on the various native and introduced host plants were retained in bugs that developed on alternative hosts. Here we have evidence for a genetic basis for interpopulational differences among soapberry bugs. Consequently, we can conclude that the differences in beak length documented by Carroll and Boyd were likely the result of natural selection for increased or decreased beak length."
Source: p. 89–90. Ecology: Concepts and Applications, Sixth Edition, by Manuel C. Molles Jr. 2013.
Richard Dawkins, in his book The Greatest Show on Earth, gives an example of a radical evolutionary change being observed very precisely in the laboratory. Summarizing research performed by Richard Lenski et al, he describes how a population of E. coli bacteria evolved an entirely new metabolic pathway that allowed them to utilize a new chemical as a source of energy and nutrition:
"In 1988, Lenski took one such population [of E. coli] and infected twelve identical flasks, all of which contained the same nutrient broth, including glucose as the vital food source.
. . . Every day, for each of the twelve tribes, a new virgin flask was infected with liquid from the previous day's flask. A small sample, exactly one-hundredth of the volume of the old flask, was drawn out and squirted into the new flask, which contained a fresh supply of glucose-rich broth. The population of bacteria in the flask then started to skyrocket; but it always leveled off by the next day as the supply of food gave out and starvation set in.
. . . Lenski and his team have continued this daily routine for more than twenty years so far. This means about 7,000 'flask generations' and 45,000 bacterial generations. . . . Shortly after generation 33,000 something utterly remarkable happened. One out of the twelve lineages, called Ara–3, suddenly went berserk. [Population density] shot up sixfold.
. . . glucose was not the only nutrient in the broth. Another one was citrate . . . but E. coli normally can't use it. . . if only a mutant could 'discover' how to deal with citrate, a bonanza would open up for it. This is exactly what happened with Ara–3. This tribe . . . suddenly acquired the ability to eat citrate as well as glucose, rather than only glucose. The amount of available food in each successive flask in the lineage therefore shot up. And so did the plateau at which the population in each successive flask daily stabilized."
Source: p. 118–128. The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution, by Richard Dawkins. 2009.
So hey, the next time you get some E. coli on your lettuce and you're dying in the hospital, you can at least share some fun facts about the bacteria with the nurses.
I'm in the hospital like: "...Here's the real kicker: Shortly after generation 33,000..."
The nurses are like: "Anton, please get some rest. You're very weak."
I'm like: "I'm very weak... You're very boring is more like it!"
And then I flatline, and they're like "Should we even try to save this asshole?"
The final examples we'll look at for now involve the evolution of resistance to herbicides, insecticides, and antibiotics. As Molles Jr. continues in Ecology:
"The application of . . . massive quantities of herbicide over . . . a large area has the potential to create strong selection pressures on weed populations for the evolution of resistance.
. . . [researchers] focused on Johnsongrass, Sorghum halepense, a serious weed in soybean fields that can reduce soybean yields by over 90%. Farmers began growing glyphosate-resistant soybeans in Salta Province in the year 2000. Following a few years of effective weed control with glyphosate, farmers began to report inconsistent control of [the weed] Johnsongrass across the province.
. . . [the researchers] concluded that the ineffectiveness of glyphosate at controlling Johnsongrass . . . was a consequence of 'evolved heritable resistance' to the herbicide. Johnsongrass is not the only important weed species to evolve resistance to glyphosate. As of 2007, new cases of herbicide-resistant weeds were being documented at a rate of approximately one per year."
Source: p. 96–97. Ecology: Concepts and Applications, Sixth Edition, by Manuel C. Molles Jr. 2013.
Now, I know what you’re thinking here: Johnsongrass? What kind of a boring-ass, unoriginal plant name is that? You know the guy that discovered this was some dickhead named Johnson who was like: “Gee, what should I name this new plant I discovered? Oh, I know: How about Johnsongrass?”
Campbell Biology gives an example of evolved insecticide resistance being observed by humans in real time:
". . . the fruit fly D. melanogaster has an allele that confers resistance to several insecticides, including DDT. This allele has a frequency of 0% in laboratory strains of D. melanogaster established from flies collected in the wild in the early 1930s, prior to DDT use. However, in strains established from flies collected after 1960 (following 20 or more years of DDT use), the allele frequency is 37%. . . . the rise in frequency of this allele most likely occurred because DDT is a powerful poison that is a strong selective force in exposed fly populations."
Source: p. 476. Campbell Biology, Ninth Edition. Jane B. Reece et al. 2011.
Finally, Campbell Biology also describes the richly documented history of evolved antibiotic resistance—which oftentimes takes place only in a matter of years, because the reproductive rates of bacteria are so rapid:
"Consider the evolution of drug resistance in the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. The story begins in 1943, when penicillin became the first widely used antibiotic. . . . by 1945, more than 20% of the S. aureus strains seen in hospitals were already resistant to penicillin. These bacteria had an enzyme, penicillinase, that could destroy penicillin. Researchers responded by developing antibiotics that were not destroyed by penicillinase, but some S. aureus populations developed resistance to each new drug within a few years.
In 1959, doctors began using the powerful antibiotic methicillin, but within two years, methicillin-resistant strains of S. aureus appeared. How did these resistant strains emerge? Methicillin works by deactivating a protein that bacteria use to synthesize their cell walls.
. . . some individuals were able to synthesize their cell walls using a different protein that was not affected by methicillin. These individuals survived the methicillin treatments and reproduced at higher rates than did other individuals. Over time, these resistant individuals became increasingly common, leading to the spread of MRSA."
Source: p. 461. Campbell Biology, Ninth Edition. Jane B. Reece et al. 2011.
By the way, you guys notice anything strange about the image I've used on the screen here? Bonus points to the person who can figure it out. This image was captured using a scanning electron microscope, which uses electrons to gather images; it doesn't collect any light at all, so why the lens flare on the left side of the image? They're trying to make it look like this image was collected using a standard camera lens. Some guy literally took the image and inserted a lens flare into it, like: "Yeaaah, looks pretty nice! Whattaya think about that?" Hilarious.
I'm just imagining the irony of a creationist dying from MRSA, and going to his grave not believing in the very thing that killed him: evolution. If having literally thousands of people die as a result of evolutionary changes each year isn't proof enough to you that it's taking place, I don't know what to fuckin' tell you!
Your doctor's like: "Sir, I'm sorry to inform you that you have MRSA."
You're like: "MRSA? I don't even believe in that. MRSA is a Darwinist hoax."
He's like: "What? No: This is a very serious illness and you need medical attention immediately."
You're like: "Nice try, liberal. I'm just gonna go home and say a few prayers and I will be fine."
So as we can see, contrary to what creationists will tell you, there have been many documented examples where human observers—in real time—have witnessed the evolution of a wide variety of organisms, including birds, fish, insects, bacteria, and plants.
The types of changes have been wide-ranging in nature, as well, whether we're talking about the number and size of offspring, the size of body parts used in forgaing, the ability to withstand chemical attack, and the ability to metabolize an entirely new source of energy.
Many creationists, however, remain unsatisfied by such examples. For example, Ken Ham says the following in a lecture for Answers In Genesis:
"You'll notice that there are those with big beaks, or little beaks, or small beaks—this is used in public school textbooks and university textbooks as the classic evidence for evolution. Darwin's finches. Who remembers being taught that at school or university? Yes, quite a number of hands there. Darwin's finches. By the way, what were they? Finches. What are they? Finches. What will they be? Finches. Is that evolution? No, that's just what? Finches. See? You're catching on."
Yes, these birds are still birds. That's a very astute observation you've made there.
(Imagine what a party pooper Ken Ham must be on bird-watching tours! One of us has the binoculars and she's like: "Oh, wow! It's a mountain bluebird!" Another person's like: "Holy shit! That's a black-billed magpie over there!"
The tour guide's like: "Ken, you've been awfully quiet. See anything good?", and Ken's like: "Oh, yeah, it's great: I see... just a bunch of birds out here. You people are being ridiculous and I want to go home. Besides, I need to figure out what I'm going to lie about in my lecture tomorrow.")
Ken Ham is using a faulty definition of evolution here. According to him, this is the definition: One animal transforming into a radically different and unrecognizable type of animal.
Here is the actual definition of evolution, according to the textbook Evolution:
"Evolution: . . . the process of descent with modification that is responsible for the origin, maintenance, and diversity of life."
Source: p. G-3, Evolution, by Carl T. Bergstrom & Lee Alan Dugatkin. 2012.
So basically, descent with modification—which is precisely what all of those examples demonstrated.
"Oh yeah? Well those finches are... still pretty similar to how they were before their beak sizes changed!"
Ok? Was there or was there not descent with modification? There was—which means that there was evolution.
There is an alternative definition of evolution when you look at the subject from a population genetics perspective. As they also write in Evolution:
". . . biological evolution occurs when genotype frequencies change over time."
Source: p. 206, Evolution, by Carl T. Bergstrom & Lee Alan Dugatkin. 2012.
Again, for many of the examples that I cited, not only were morphological changes observed, but the genetic changes responsible for these morphological changes were also identified.
Please find me the non-religious biology textbook that includes a definition of evolution similar to the one used by Ken Ham here. You're not going to find any, and there's an obvious reason for this: It's a Luciferian conspiracy!
Notice what the creationist is doing here: They just make up their own definition of evolution to raise the standard of required evidence and make it seem as if people aren't providing examples of the thing that they actually are providing examples of. Ray Comfort does the same thing when he asks a woman to give an example of evolution being observed:
Woman being interviewed: "Well, for example, Darwin in his study on evolution of the birds on the island that he went onto there."
Ray Comfort: "Their beaks changed?"
Woman: "Their beaks..."
Ray Comfort: "But they're still birds! There's no change of kinds! That's within a kind!"
Woman: "It's evolution on the beaks."
Ray Comfort: "That's called an adaptation. That's not Darwinian evolution. There's no change of kinds. There's no different animal involved."
And then Ray pulls out his banana, if ya know what I mean.
Do you see what they're doing here? This is a classic shifting of the goalposts: I show you the thing that you ask me to show you, and then you're like, "Well, actually, I wanted you to show me this additional, much more extreme thing—which you didn't do—so I win!"
It'd be like if I said: "When was the last time you got a pay-raise at work?"
And you live in America so you're like: "What's a pay-raise?" No, you say: "Well, two months ago my boss was impressed with my performance, so he increased my hourly wage from $14 to $15 an hour."
I respond by saying: "That doesn't count as a pay-raise, because according to my definition, pay-raises only actually take place when a person's wage or salary increases by 15,000%."
True, by my definition, that doesn't count as a pay-raise—but according to any reasonable, widely-accepted definition of a pay-raise, it does count as a pay-raise. It is my redefining of this term that is the problem here—not your answer to my question.
So when people are asked to given an example of evolution being observed and they bring up the Galapagos finches, the creationist pretends as if they're receiving a silly answer when, in reality, they are the ones that have a silly criteria and a silly set of expectations.
Now don't get me wrong: It's perfectly acceptable to ask for evidence of very large evolutionary changes taking place. But just be specific when you ask the question and make clear that that's what you're actually asking for. Don't pretend like I'm the moron here because I'm not using your fabricated definition of evolution.
And if you're expecting people to provide you with examples of extremely dramatic, transformational examples of evolution that we've witnessed in real time, you're just setting an impossibly high standard because massive changes like this take—at the very least—hundreds, thousands, even millions of years.
It's like saying: "Show me an example of a person that ran a marathon in 2 minutes."
There aren't any examples because people just don't run that fast. But just because something can't be done in such a small period of time doesn't mean that it can't be done over longer stretches of time. Give a person enough time, and they can run across the entire fucking continent. Give evolution enough time, and the changes can be astonishing.
Calvin Smith, writing for Creation.com, is equally unimpressed by such small-scale evolutionary changes. By the way, Calvin Smith has to be the most generic, Christian-man name I've ever heard:
"Peppered Moths turning into Peppered Moths is not exactly proof that molecules turned into moths, mammoths and men over millions of years!"
". . . molecules turned into moths, mammoths and men over millions of years," what a beautiful alliteration that is! This man is a modern day Shakespeare. Who knew that shitty arguments could be written in such elegant prose?
When he mentions peppered moths, he's referring to the classic evolution example of moth coloration changing from white to black, which allowed them to better blend in with their environment as soot from industrial pollution turned their surroundings a darker color.
All that's happening here is "peppered moths turning into peppered moths!" Dude, you're intentionally missing the point when you put it that way. It's not just "moths turning into . . . moths"; it's moths undergoing genetic changes that turn them into a different-looking moth that's better equipped to survive and reproduce in its environment. In other words, its an example of evolution—even if it's just a minor example.
He points out that this one piece of evidence by itself doesn't validate the entire evolutionary tree. Yeah, and who ever said that it did? This is just one of many pieces of evidence used to support ideas about evolution.
I'd like to know what dumb-ass pamphlets these people are getting their arguments from, because Chris Ashcraft makes almost an identical point when he says the following, referring to the evolution of Galapagos finches:
"There are some problems with this. And specifically, is this really evolution on the grand scale? This is what we're kind of wanting to analyze. Because, they're all finches! So they have a little bit different sized beak. Is this really enough evidence to support this grand theory that they're proposing to us, that all life on earth has descended from one common ancestor a long time ago?"
"Is this really evolution on the grand scale?"
No, it's not—and again, who is saying that it is? Yes, these are modest evolutionary changes—and modest changes are all that you can observe in real time. For the more dramatic changes, we have to turn to other forms of evidence than being physically present to see the changes take place.
Do you see the weird little tapdance the creationist does here? They start out by specifically asking us to provide examples where humans have seen the evolutionary changes take place right in front of them. When people oblige them and show them examples of this, they say, "Well, that doesn't prove deep evolutionary history!"
You're right: It doesn't prove deep, evolutionary history—and that's because you didn't ask me to prove deep, evolutionary history; you specifically asked for examples of human-observed evolution! Once again, we see that the creationist is shifting the goalposts and changing the parameters of the conversation once people meet their demands.
And just like Calvin Smith did with the peppered moths, Chris Ashcraft is minimizing the observed evolutionary changes here: "So they have a little bit different sized beak." Slightly bigger, slightly smaller, what does it matter at the end of the day?
Here is why it matters: They don't just have differently-sized beaks for no particular reason; this isn't just some arbitrary and meaningless difference between the finches; the beak sizes changed over time in response to precise selective conditions unique to their environments. It is a proof of concept of evolution.
If small changes can occur over small periods of time, it logically follows that large changes can occur over large periods of time. This is one of the key things that creationists can't wrap their heads around: They'll sometimes say things like: "Well, yeah, of course minor adaptations take place; that's a no-brainer—but gigantic, evolutionary changes? No way!"
Phrased another way, they'll often say that yes, microevolution takes place, but not macroevolution. Here is what they fail to understand: Whether we're talking about micro- or macro-evolution, it's the exact same evolutionary process. Microevolution simply describes small changes that take place over short periods of time, whereas macroevolution describes very large changes that take much larger periods of time.
I don't even think it makes sense to frame it in such binary terms, because it's not like there are either very small evolutionary changes or incomprehensibly huge ones; there's an entire spectrum of evolutionary change that takes place, all the way from the most utterly inconsequential to the modest to the substantial to the most fantastic and unbelievable.
I like to compare the creationist position on macroevolution to plate tectonics. Imagine that a person was to say to you: "Well, yeah, of course I believe in microtectonics: Obviously tectonic plates move a few millimeters each year, because we can measure this. But do I believe in macrotectonics? The idea that these plates have moved hundreds of miles and collided into each other to form mountains? Absolutely not—because I don't believe in ridiculous nonsense. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to reading about Noah's Ark."
It would be absurd to hear somebody say this because we're talking about the exact same process here; all that's different is the time-scale. Yes, during your short, human lifetime, you're simply not going to be able to pull out a lawn chair and watch two tectonic plates collide into each other right in front of you and form a mountain over a period of 15 minutes. Such huge geological changes take millions of years—as do huge evolutionary changes. But small changes accumulated over long periods of time lead to huge changes.
I should also point out that creationists are simply confused about the language that they're using when they talk about this issue. Here's a good example from that Henry Morris article:
". . . The scientific method traditionally has required experimental observation and replication. The fact that macroevolution (as distinct from microevolution) has never been observed would seem to exclude it from the domain of true science."
Creationists seem to think that the term "scientific observations" literally means observing the entire process itself from start to finish. This is not at all the case. When a geologist collects data on which layers of rock are present at a particular location, they are collecting scientific observations—and they didn't need to personally watch all of these rock layers get deposited over tens of millions of years in order for their data to be classified as observations.
The astronomer points his instruments to the sky to collect observations; he doesn't need to sit there and watch the entire 10 billion year evolution of a galaxy to be able to reach conclusions about what happens in outer space. When we say that a scientist is collecting observations, all this means is that they're simply collecting data and evidence—and this is something that the working biologist and paleontologist does on a daily basis.
As I noted earlier, the creationist tends to have impossibly absurd expectations for how evolution should work. Here's another great example of this, from an article on AnswersInGenesis.org modestly titled: "Evolution? Impossible!":
"Here’s the clincher: when we use operational science—the kind involving observable, repeatable, testable results—we have never observed, repeated, or been able to test animal kind A turning into animal kind B—at all. Sure, there’s some genetic 'do-si-do' going on through mutations and gene drift, but there’s no way fish are going to sprout hair and opposable thumbs. Just in case you think by 'no way' we mean there’s still a chance, there’s not—none, zilch, nada, not going to happen. What if we add billions of years and cool artistic renderings? Still no."
The author of this article seems to think that for evolution to be valid, you should basically be able to watch fish give birth in the aquarium to fry that have a full head of hair and whose fins have transformed into hands with fingers and opposable thumbs.
I'm reminded of a meme that I once came across making fun of creationists. You guys remember that scene from the movie Ace Ventura where he's hiding inside of a fake, robotic rhino to spy on some guy? He gets locked inside and ends up having to climb out of the anus to escape, making it look like the rhino is giving birth to a human. I saw a meme one time that shows a picture of this captioned "How creationists think evolution works."
It may seem like a ludicrous exaggeration, but this really isn't that far off. You read the creationist drivel written on websites like AnswersInGenesis and they say things like: "Well, if evolution was true, I'd be able to see—with my own eyes—fish give birth to offspring with full heads of hair and opposable thumbs!"
What a laughable misunderstanding of evolution. Anybody who actually has studied the subject will tell you that the changes tend to happen gradually; you're certainly not gonna go from a fin to a fully-functional hand in a few generations—and to expect this to happen is basically to expect the impossible.
He says: "What if we add billions of years and cool artistic renderings? Still no."
Look, I'm sure when you open up a biology textbook—which you've probably never done before—all you're capable of paying attention to are the pretty pictures, but nobody is saying you should believe on the basis of the "cool artistic renderings"; believe because of the multiple, independent lines of convincing evidence.
Here's a more realistic formula for you: Add billions of years, plus genetic variation that leads to differential survival and reproduction, and then you will have dramatic changes taking place.
And even if there was a fish species that quickly developed hair and opposable thumbs, you know what Ken Ham would probably say? "Ehh, it's still just a fish."
The fish is like: "Excuse me? Still 'just a fish?'"
And Ken's like: "Jesus Christ, you can talk, too?"
And the fish says: "Yeah, actually I can. I can also do this with my newly evolved hands", then he flips him off and swims away.
By the way, can we all just take a minute to laugh at Ken Ham for being a young-earth creationist who's wearing glasses? This guy believes that humans are the perfect creation of God, yet for some reason this God created him with terrible eyesight? For all we know Ken Ham actually has seen evolution take place before his very eyes; he just didn't know what the fuck he was looking at because it was such a blurry mess!
Notice also the different standards that creationists apply to their own beliefs and scientific viewpoints. When it comes to creationism, they're like "Well, this holy book says it happened 6,000 years ago—so that's good enough for me." When it comes to evolution, they're like "Nevermind all of these different lines of evidence we have; I need to be able to personally see it happening before I believe."
And when you show them examples of it happening, they're like: "No, you misunderstood: I don't just want to be able to see it with my own eyes; I want to be able to see the sort of extreme changes that take millions of years happening before my own eyes!"
Uh, ok: Did you see creation happen before your own eyes? Did you personally witness the resurrection of Jesus and the collecting of animals on Noah's ark? When it comes to their religious beliefs, their happy to adopt them on faith; they're happy to believe despite the most embarrassing lack of evidence. When it comes to evolution, however, they disbelieve despite the fact that there's so much evidence that you could spend 100 lifetimes studying it and you'd barely scratch the surface. It sometimes seems like no evidence is enough for creationists: You show them 1,000 pieces of evidence and they demand 1,001.
These different standards are a pretty clear indication that creationists don't draw the conclusions that the evidence points to; instead, they start out deciding what their conclusions are and do everything in their power to build a worldview and set of arguments around these preconceived conclusions.
The final thing we'll address in this video is the related argument that speciation has never been observed. As Jonathan Wells writes on IconsOfEvolution.com,
“Only primary speciation—the splitting of one species into two by natural selection—would be capable of producing the branching-tree pattern of Darwinian evolution. But no one has ever observed primary speciation.“
My same points from earlier would apply: Even if nobody had directly observed speciation taking place, we could still reasonably infer that this has happened in the past from other forms of evidence. But remember, we're dealing strictly in this video with the narrow question of directly observed speciation.
As exciting as it would be, I'm not gonna overcomplicate things by talking about the many different proposed definitions of a species. Instead, I'm just gonna jump right into it by pointing out that Christie Wilcox of Scientific American gives an example of plant speciation that took place in the 1950s:
"In the early 1900s, three species of . . . wildflowers - the western salsify (T. dubius), the meadow salsify (T. pratensis), and the oyster plant (T. porrifolius) - were introduced to the United States from Europe. As their populations expanded, the species interacted, often producing sterile hybrids. But by the 1950s, scientists realized that there were two new variations of [salsifies] growing. While they looked like hybrids, they weren't sterile. They were perfectly capable of reproducing with their own kind but not with any of the original three species - the classic definition of a new species.
How did this happen? It turns out that the parental plants made mistakes when they created their gametes (analogous to our sperm and eggs). Instead of making gametes with only one copy of each chromosome, they created ones with two or more, a state called polyploidy. . . . Because of the difference in chromosome number, the tetraploid couldn't mate with either of its parent species, but it wasn't prevented from reproducing with fellow accidents."
You hear that plant? You're just an accident.
He's like "…I'm a plant: I can't understand human language..."
There's also several examples of incipient speciation, where the two populations might not yet be different enough to justify calling them separate species, although they're well on their way to that point.
TalkOrigins gives such an example in fruit fly populations:
"Kilias, et al. (1980) exposed D. melanogaster populations to different temperature and humidity regimes for several years. They performed mating tests to check for reproductive isolation. They found some sterility in crosses among populations raised under different conditions. They also showed some positive assortative mating. These things were not observed in populations which were separated but raised under the same conditions. They concluded that sexual isolation was produced as a byproduct of selection."
"Sexual isolation," you say? Now you're speakin' my language, TalkOrigins! (Excuse me: I'm gonna go take a break from writing and cry for a few minutes.)
We read about another insect example in Evolution:
"Because of their economic importance, apple trees have been closely monitored, and so we know that Rhagoletis pomonella [the apple maggot fly] only began using the apple tree as a host about 140 years ago—before that period it was only found on hawthorn trees.
. . . apple trees produce fruit 3 to 4 weeks earlier than hawthorn trees. Researchers hypothesized that the difference in the host trees' fruiting times causes the maggot flies in apples and hawthorn fruit to emerge at different times, which reduces the gene flow between the two populations. This in turn produces significant genetic differences between the hawthorn and apple races of the apple maggot.
. . . Indeed, host specificity reduces gene flow between the apple and hawthorn races to 4–6% each generation . . . suggesting that sympatric races of R. pomonella are indeed diverging, and potentially on the path to becoming separate species."
Source: p. 473, Evolution, by Carl T. Bergstrom & Lee Alan Dugatkin. 2012.
Now you might be saying: "Oh, wow: On the path to becoming separate species. I'm so fucking impressed!", but look, whether you like it or not, the evolutionary changes that lead to speciation generally take a long period of time to accumulate.
Let's just take a look at a random phylogeny to illustrate this point. Here we see an equid phylogeny, depicting relationships and the evolutionary timeline of members of the horse family, taken from a 2014 PNAS publication by Jónsson et al. And when I say et al, I mean et all: Look at all these fucking people! There's like a hundred researchers that worked on this paper!
I wonder what the division of labor was like? They're like: "Alright, each one of us contributes a single sentence, and... we'll call it good!"
As we can see from the phylogeny, speciation events aren't the kind of thing that are just happening willy nilly every few decades or even centuries; these are evolutionary changes that often take hundreds of thousands of years to materialize. And these are pretty modest changes taking place, as well; just look at some of the closely related equids and see how similar they look.
This is what I mean when I say that creationists are setting extremely unrealistic expectations: Changes that often take hundreds of thousands of years, they want to see take place in mere decades. In fact, they take it even further than this. Remember Ken Ham being unimpressed by finch evolution, because apparently he wanted to see finches turn into a completely different type of animal?
So Ken Ham wants to see—in real time—something like a bird transforming into a lizard. If very mild equid speciation takes hundreds of thousands of years, imagine the eons that it would require for a bird to turn into a completely different type of creature? We're talking about tens of millions of years, easily, and this is the kind of thing that Ken Ham expects human observers to be able to witness taking place in real time? If you're sitting in your laboratory right now expecting something like this to happen, trust me when I say that it's going to be a very long wait.
I should point out that speciation doesn't always take such long periods of time. Sometimes it can happen quite rapidly—in the case of gene duplication events, for example, which actually happen fairly often in plants.
Weirdly enough, this is another form of evolution that some creationists reject. I came across a Reddit post where some guy—almost certainly a creationist—challenged members of the evolution subreddit to provide human-observed examples of speciation that don't include gene duplication–based speciation. He's like "Show me an example of speciation that...doesn't...involve these examples of speciation..." Why the weird restrictions on your demands? Is it because without them, people would be able to show you what you're asking them to show you? This guy is shifting the goalposts before the game has even begun!
As we've seen, creationists get a lot wrong when they talk about human-observed evolutionary changes. Contrary to what they claim, many instances of evolution have been seen by human observers, whether we're talking about bacteria, plants, insects, birds, or fish. The types of changes have also been wide-ranging. We're seen evolutionary modifications to offspring size at birth, body parts used for feeding, and even metabolic pathways used to process nutrients.
Speciation, both complete and incipient, has also been observed in real time by humans. But even if creationists were right about these things, the many other forms of evidence would be more than enough to substantiate evolution.
When presented with examples of exactly what they're asking for, the creationist will try to minimize the observed evolutionary changes and shift the goalposts, demanding far more than they originally asked for—and far more than can possibly take place on the timescale of a few human generations. Most of the evolutionary changes we've seen are fairly modest, but on a long enough, geological timescale, the evidence makes absolutely clear that very dramatic changes to life on earth can and do take place.