ASHEVILLE, N.C. (BP)– Evolutionary biologists have announced the recent discovery in France of a hybrid fern species they claim to be as exciting as discovering a manatee could produce offspring with an elephant or a human with a lemur.
The fern, Cystocarpium roskamianum, appears to be the product of two species of ferns that diverged from each other 60 million years ago, according to evolutionary theory, and have not interbred since, the researchers reported in the journal The American Naturalist.
But this discovery is nothing new, said Casey Luskin, research coordinator for the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.
“It’s been long-known that plants can hybridize, and many plants appear designed to form hybrids,” he told WORLD News Service. “Many of our own cultivated garden plants are the result of hybridization.”
Although the fern is a fascinating discovery, it is not problematic for a creationist, said Fazale Rana, a biochemist at Reasons to Believe. The discovery actually attests to creationism in two ways. First, “it represents a problem for evolutionists because it shows there are things being discovered that fail to affirm the evolutionary paradigm,” Rana said. “You wouldn’t expect that hybridization to take place. It’s the work of a creator used to create a novel organism.”
Second, a species that can adapt to the environment and give rise to a sister species demonstrates God’s design in giving living things the ability to respond to changes in the environment. Rana compares this adaptability to the way a thermostat works, signaling the air conditioner to kick in when the room becomes too warm and the heat when the room becomes too cool. It is a feedback loop in which the thermostat responds to changes in the environment.
Evolutionary biologists assume all life arose from a common ancestor and different species diverged through the processes of natural selection and random adaptation. Once a new species evolves, they say, it gradually develops reproductive incompatibilities that prohibit it from reproducing with the “parent species” from which it diverged, creating the diversity of species.
“The formation of reproductive barriers between populations is of central importance to evolutionary biology,” the scientists said.
The researchers concluded the fern’s discovery implies the diversity of species that exists today may not be wholly accounted for by adaptation, but may also be the product of varied rates of the speciation clock, the rate at which a type of organism develops reproductive incompatibility with other related species. The speciation clock is calculated by fossil records and molecular clock techniques that look at genes and rates of change at the molecular level to deduce the time in history that two species diverged.
But molecular clock techniques are notoriously fraught with difficulties and make dubious assumptions, Luskin said. For example, some molecular clock studies have yielded widely divergent dates for the supposed most recent common ancestors of animals. Some of those calculations would absurdly place the common ancestor as having existed prior to the origin of the universe, Luskin noted in an Evolution News article. The errors exist because “mutation rates aren’t necessarily constant, researchers ignore the possibility of intelligent design, and common ancestry was a dubious assumption to begin with.”
And, biologists’ comparison of the new fern to a manatee mating with an elephant seems highly inappropriate, Luskin said. While hybrids can occasionally occur between very closely related animal species, animal hybrids are exceedingly rare. Genetic differences between living organisms are often far greater than an evolutionary view would suggest.
“Maybe that’s because evolution isn’t what generated their history,” Luskin said.