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Creation 25(3):27, June 2003

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A new weed species—does it prove Creation wrong?


Two British scientists have just reported their findings of a new species of a type of weed known as a groundsel. The title of their paper1 seems innocuous enough, merely stating that this new weed—Senecio eboracensis—is a hybrid between two other groundsel species. Yet a commentary in The Times of London proudly proclaimed this as a demonstration of ‘evolution in action’. Furthermore, in a not-too-subtle stab at believers in Biblical Creation, the author stated that the weed’s discovery confirms that ‘Darwin was right and the creationists are wrong’!2

stock.xchng herbarium
Photo of a herbarium specimen of the species

But does the formation of a new species (i.e. ‘speciation’) really conflict with Scripture? Not at all, as we have repeatedly shown. Rapid diversification within the Genesis kinds—including speciation—is a specific prediction of the Creation model.3,4 Following the global Flood at the time of Noah, about 4,500 years ago, plants, animals and people spread out into the new world, and adaptation to new habitats and niches would be expected. God’s created capacity for genetic variety, coupled with the stresses and challenges of new and changeable environments in the post-Flood world, is likely to have resulted in many new varieties (and species) of creatures—but this is not evolution of the ‘big-picture’ sort that is required to turn fish into frogs or badgers into biologists.

Interestingly, the Times article stated, “The creation of new species can takes [sic] thousands of years, making it too slow for science to detect.” However, this evolutionary belief does not fit with documented cases of speciation events occurring well within a human lifetime.5

In this particular case, the hybrid weed, dubbed the York Groundsel,6 is apparently unable to breed back to either of its parent species, the Common Groundsel or the Oxford Ragwort.7 This reproductive isolation is not evolution of the sort which would be capable of eventually turning microbes into magnolias and microbiologists. That sort of change requires the generation of new genetic information in the DNA. Rather, a hybrid—or cross between two species—results from the recombination of existing information from both parent species; no new information has been generated. What the Times article also fails to mention is that Dr Richard Abbott (who coauthored the paper about the York Groundsel) has previously reported that the Oxford Ragwort parent species is actually itself a hybrid and ‘not a true species’.8

Darwin was correct to point out that natural selection may produce new varieties of organisms, which might then sometimes even go so far as to generate new species. However, these observations he mistakenly extrapolated to his grand theory to explain the origin of the major kinds/types of plants and animals. To promote this ‘scruffy little weed’ as answering the ‘Creation or evolution?’ question shows a very superficial understanding of what creationists actually believe, and more importantly, what the Bible actually says (Gen. 1:11): And God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his [its] kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.” In the last analysis, groundsels breeding groundsels is not evolution—that’s groundless!

References and notes

  1. Lowe, A.J. and Abbott, R.J., A new British species, Senecio eboracensis (Asteraceae), another hybrid derivative of S. vulgaris L. and S. squalidus L., Watsonia 24(3):375–387, 2001–2002. Watsonia is the journal of the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI), see bsbi.org.uk. Return to text.
  2. Browne, A., Scruffy little weed shows Darwin was right as evolution moves on, Times Online, timesonline.co.uk, March 2003. Return to text.
  3. See for example, CMI’s online page, Q&A: Speciation and Creation for a series of helpful articles on this. Return to text.
  4. Batten, D. (Ed.) et al., The Answers Book. Return to text.
  5. See Catchpoole, D., Wieland, C., Speedy species surprise, Creation 23(2):13–15, 2001. Return to text.
  6. It was first noticed on wasteland in 1979, in the north England town of York, by Richard Abbott, a plant biologist and one of the coauthors of the scientific report. The species name, eboracensis, is derived from Eboracum, the Roman name for York. Return to text.
  7. I.e. Senecio vulgaris and Senecio squalidus respectively. Senecio spp. are collectively known as ragworts. Return to text.
  8. See ulstermuseum.org.uk, which quotes Richard Abbott’s paper: Abbot, R.J., James, J.K., Irwin, J.A., Comes, H.P., Hybrid origin of the Oxford Ragwort, Senecio squalidus L., Watsonia 23:123–138, 2000. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

Thomas M.
This reminds me of the article on page 74 of The Economist (Oct.31-Nov. 6, 2015) that under the header "Evolution" proclaimed a "new species" that supposedly resulted from crossbreeding of coyotes, wolves and dogs. Horizontal microevolution is not big E.
F. G.
"Furthermore... the author stated that the weed’s discovery confirms that 'Darwin was right and the creationists are wrong'!"

Gee, that's an awful lot of weight to put on such a small discovery.

Such grand "evolutionary" claims (of which there have been many) always reek of desperation. It's interesting how those who make such claims inevitably fail to see this.

Wait... could he indirectly be acknowledging that nothing *else* has "confirmed that Darwin was right"? Hmmm...
Dave R.
Maybe the scientific writers of the Times would be a-changing (their minds), were they to realise that their sell on the groundsel had no grounds in reality and that, although their cited conclusion might well go along with the current Evolutionary groundswell of scientific opinion, it is in fact only a bit of a weed, like the latter.
Tony F.
Re Donald H. Wouldn't make any diference if it has. There would be no acknowledgement or reply of any sort. Have been writing to the Times for ages defending Creation according to Genesis with no response from them.
Good article keep up the good work CMI.
Donald H.
Great article. Has a copy been sent to The Times?
Lawrence J.
Groundsel by any other name is still groundsel. It is still a weed. It is still a pest. Where is the added information? It hasn't turned into a different kind! Plant breeders have been doing that for many years e.g. roses. Sometimes they lose something - the perfume - but they are still roses. I think the article writer is just fiddling the books - making up a story.
A. G.
Love this. Thank you :-)
Dean R.
The trap in extrapolation.

The plant is still a plant, a kind is still a kind. The young earth model is not a contradiction.

Unlike the Times, time & again.

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