Variety—The Spice of Life

With more than 1.25 million kinds of animals in the world, variation is an obvious fact But variety has sharply defined limits.

Frank L. Marsh is professor of biology, emeritus, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

One of the delightful things about the world of plants and animals is its remarkable variation in form and structure. Not only do many different basic patterns or types exist but there is also some variation within each type. Those who name plants and animals tell us that today there are more than 250,000 "kinds" of plants and nearly 1.25 million "kinds" of animals in the world. Hitch cock lists 64 species of bluegrass and 160 species of panic grass in the United States. Gray lists 17 species of common thistle, 37 species of spurge, and 51 species of violet. Sargent catalogs 24 species of willow, 54 species of oak, and 153 species of hawthorn or red haw. Hall and Kelson list for the United States 66 sub species of deer mouse, 66 subspecies of the northern pocket gopher, and 214 subspecies of the southern pocket gopher. Walker lists 13 species of true cattle in the world. More than 30 races of the song sparrow have been listed for the United States.1 Griffith Taylor named 160 distinct breeds of man on the earth. 2 Is there anyone who wishes to attempt to tell us the number of varieties of horses, cats, dogs, corn, beans, potatoes, roses, or of any other domesticated animal or plant? Surely the God who gave us this animate nature must be a great lover of variety!

Today nearly everyone agrees that the presence of variants within basic types of organisms is an axiomatic biological principle. The fact that this variation within basic types has occurred and does occur is of great importance to those who study the origin of organisms. It has not always been so.

It is difficult for us to comprehend that only slightly more than a century ago the doctrine of special creation was accepted and taught in the science departments of all European universities. Sir William Cecil Dampier states: "The emphasis laid by the Protestant Reformation on the verbal inspiration of the Bible led to a more literal interpretation, and by the eighteenth century an acceptance of the details of the story of organic creation, as given in the first chapter of Genesis, became necessary to orthodoxy. In the nineteenth it was apparently believed by almost the whole Christian world." 3

When Charles Darwin attended Cam bridge University (1828-1831) he accepted without criticism the scholastic interpretation of the phrase "after his kind" in Genesis 1. The schoolmen insisted this statement meant that individuals of succeeding generations could not vary in appearance from the original organism. However, in his voyage around the world (1831-1836) Darwin, a keen observer, saw that the same basic type ("species" to him) of plant or animal did vary to differing degrees in appearance from country to country. This discovery disturbed him because he thought his observations were disproving assertions of Genesis. In fact, he was only dis proving an extremely conservative scholastic interpretation of the phrase "after his kind" found in that book.

In making his choice between the unchanging kinds described by the school men and what he saw in nature, Darwin chose the latter. At the time his On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection was published (1859) he had no body of laboratory proof to support his theory, so he fell back on speculative arguments to show, on the basis of certain facts and assumptions, how evolution might have occurred. Scientists in general laid aside their wholesome caution and enthusiastically accepted his ideas. Indeed, they have not ceased since to speculate extravagantly in the realm of origins. Darwinism won the support of the majority because it assumed and described an attractive, fundamental force of improvement, development and progress in nature.

However, in the century since Dar win's Origin appeared, the facts and interpretations upon which he relied have ceased to be all-convincing. Since his day long-continued investigations on heredity and variation have indicated his explanations must be modified. Today we know that variation is indeed an observational fact throughout the natural world, but as we become more intimately acquainted with the living world, we discover another fact as striking as the diversity itself. This is the discontinuity of the variation. Living things in their multitudinous varieties cannot be arranged in a continuous, unbroken series from the simplest structure to the most complex, nor can one variant be traced through a continuous series of intermediate stages to a markedly different variant. Instead, we observe that the variation is discontinuous. Rather than a progressive series of variant individuals, we find separate clusters of differing forms. This fact makes it easily possible to distinguish among our domesticated plants and animals. For ex ample, we know the horses from the cows, the cats from the dogs, and roses from the camellias, the corn from the wheat, the maples from the oaks, and apes from men.

Darwin had no explanation for this very important natural fact of discontinuity. He observed variation occurring within basic types (microevolution) and assumed a process of unlimited change in nature that could produce new basic types. Thus, upon a few natural facts and much speculation he built his hypothesis of organic evolution.

In the century since Darwin a great body of knowledge about variation has been discovered. Scientists now are able to answer the question How far can variation go? Geneticists, studying all known changes that occur in the hereditary material of the cells (changes that produce variation in the adults),4 have discovered 'that this change in appearance never has been known to go further than to produce new varieties within basic types of organisms that already are in existence.

The origin of pestiferous and poisonous plant variants has often troubled the Christian scientist. Remarkably, in 1899, Ellen White commented on the source of these remarkable organisms: "All tares are sown by the evil one. Every noxious herb is of his sowing, and by his ingenious methods of amalgamation [hybridization] he has corrupted the earth with tares." 5 Today the fact is quite well known among plant scientists that the offspring (the hybrid) of normal, nonpoisonous parents may contain poisonous substances in their tissues. An illustration of the increasing awareness in this area appeared recently: "Two scientists at ANS [Academy of Natural Sciences], however, say that careless hybridization of guayule [a shrubby bush of northern Mexico and adjacent Texas from which rubber can be obtained] with any of the plant's relatives is likely to introduce plant toxins that cause a severe skin rash in humans. . . . 'The problem ... is that people have been looking only at the rubber these plants can produce, not at their potentially toxic side effects when hybridized.'" 6

If scientists could successfully cross two different basic types, the result would surely be a new basic type. How ever, all laboratory evidence unmistakably declares that if two organisms have sufficient morphological differences to constitute two distinct basic types, they can not hybridize. In other words, in every verified instance in which hybrids have been produced, the two partners have been sufficiently alike morphologically to belong to the same basic type. There is no exception to this principle in natural sexual reproduction.

After many years of practical experience and laboratory study by scientists, the conclusion is that not one method of accomplishing variation has ever produced any basically new organisms. New variants indeed do appear within existing basic types, but no new basic types have resulted. By present-day definition, microevolution (variation within a basic group) has occurred; but no empirical evidence exists that macroevolution (formation of new basic types) has ever occurred. Indeed, the evidence is against it.

Thus, in answer to the question How far can variation go? laboratory study has shown that there is a fixity within living organisms, a natural law or principle of limitation, that decrees that no new basic types can be formed. This law of limitation in variation invalidates the very hypothesis of organic evolution, or macroevolution. Because of the lack of evidence for unlimited change—the molecules-to-man theory—how much better it is to stand by the opening words of Genesis, "In the beginning God . . ."!


1 George J. Wallace, An Introduction to Ornithology (New York: Macmillan, 1955), p. 29.

2 Griffith Taylor, Environment and Race (London: Oxford University Press, 1926), p. 29.

3 Sir William Cecil Dampier, A History of Science (New York: Macmillan, 1944), p. 334.

4 Frank L. Marsh, Variation and Fixity in Nature (Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1976), pp. 49-79. See also his article "Variation and Fixity in Nature. A New Biological Principle" in Creation Research Society Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 2 (September, 1978), pp. 115-118.

5 Selected Messages (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association), book 2, p. 288.

6 Science, vol. 205, no. 4406 (Aug. 10, 1979), p. 564.

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Frank L. Marsh is professor of biology, emeritus, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

February 1981

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