Thoughts on Baraminology

A month ago or so I read an interesting article that got me thinking about the young earth creationists (YEC) view of the extent of the biblical term “kind.”  I wrote up some comments which you can see below. Apparently there has been a creation study group that has actively been asking the question what a “kind” is for almost 10 years now. That group is asking just how much variation occurs in kinds and how much that have been allowed to change since creation.  Essentially they are asking: just how much evolution really can happen even within a young earth context.   I had always known that YECs really allowed for quite a bit of evolution but under repackaged names like sorts of genetic information in kinds or God-designed adaptive ability.   Well, now that I’ve gotten a hold of this more obscure, but authored by prominent YEC individuals, set of literature some of my suspicions have been verified and I’ve even been more surprised by just what is being suggested.

The code word for YEC evolution is “baraminology.”  Baraminology is the study of Biblical kinds (baramin). This subset of YECs are seeking to find the limits of genetic variation within a kind with the assumption that God created a kind with the ability to then adapt to changing environments rather than staying static.  This assumption is based partly on the idea that God pre-programmed organisms to be able to adapt to new conditions that would exist after the fall.  It also provides an explanation, which is mentioned frequenting the literature as a real boon for this view, that God only created a few kinds and thus Adam was able to name all the kinds within a few hours on one day rather than having to name every “species.”

In general what they are espousing is that God created a few kinds which then diversified into many what we would call “species” after the fall.  What I have not found directly discussed but is strongly inferred is that Noah only had to save one representative pair of the “kind” rather than a pair of every species.  This would allow for many many fewer animals on the ark.  After the flood there were new and radically different environments (ice age, deserts, high alpine areas, tropics, etc…) into which the animals of the ark migrated to. As they migrated very strong selection resulted in very rapid adaptive radiations (they don’t use these terms because they are evolutionary but they saying exactly the same thing except they just speed things up many orders of magnitude). As a result most of the species we have today came from just a few individuals that left the ark or survived the flood as seeds or swam.  Even many of the fossils we have today are the result of organisms that “evolved” after the flood and then were trapped in post-flood catastrophes (maybe even that big meteorite in the Yucatan).

Here is the other big assumption about kinds:  they are able or potentially did interbreed. They believe there is biblical warrant for believing that all creatures that can produce even limited offspring (if they can produce a viable embryo even if it doesn’t make it to maturity that is good enough).   So a baraminology study is all about finding about what can interbreed. If they can then they must be in the baramin and thus have a common ancestor.

Here are some examples to give you an idea of what we are talking about here.  In most of these cases there are known hybrids among the groups which is partly why they are all lumped together.

1)      All canines came from one original kind “species”.  So all foxes, African wild dogs, coyotes, wolves, and domestic dogs came from just two dogs that came off of the Ark.  Ken Ham accepts this and there isa description of this in the Creation Museum.

2)      All cats (leopards, tigers, lions, domestic cats, etc…) all came from two cats that came off of the ark.

3)      There is debate about whales, but it seems that many of these writers believer that all cetaceans are related by common ancestor. This includes blue whales, bow whales, killer whales, belugas, porpoises and dolphins.  Some even include all the fossils whales that have legs and partial arms and even suggest that all these other cetaceans really did come from a partially legged, shallow water mammal just as the evolutions say. They differ in saying that this is what God created rather than that creature coming from a land mammal but God did give this legged thing the variation it needed and the ability to be adaptively selected to new environs after the flood to become the whales he intended.

4)      What about plants?  It is even more radical here.  The Poaceae (grasses) are all considered to be one baramin. That is more than 10,000 recognized species that they are lumping into one baramin and suggesting they may have started as just one variety that split into 10,000.  Corn, rye, wheat, sugarcane all are the result of natural and artificial selection that began immediately after the fall.   All of these can be forced to produce some sort of hybrid which is the reason these are lumped together.

The YEC creation orchard

So they would agree with me when I tell my class that the 95% of species that are only found on Hawaii evolved from some other plant that migrated there from somewhere else.  They would just say it happened really really fast rather than over 2-5 million years.

None of this they call evolution. They call it microevoluton or just genetic sorting.  But how did these change, well really they changed by all those processes that evolutionists talk about but they just cut off the extent to which evolution can create really new features.  However, what is interesting is that several authors clearly state that there was obviously not enough genetic variation in the two dogs that got off the Ark to create foxes, wolves, and African wild dogs and thus some new versions of genes must have formed along the way and these formed by new mutations.  The admission that new genetic information is being created over time and then used to form new species would just shock the lay Christian because the standard YEC literature always stresses that evolution can not create new information and that mutation are always bad. These authors try to use other terms and are very careful to try to find reasons why God would provide “mutator genes” in the original creation that actually serve to purposely add new mutation that can be selected on to get around saying that the environment produces new variation but ultimately they are admitting that evolution works great to explain species variation and the origin of most species in families.

Below I go into a couple specific examples of papers and copy out specific language and interpret what I think they are trying to say.

In the latest issue of the Answers Research Journal I found the following article:

“Karyotype Variability within the cattle Monobaramin.”  Jean K. Lightner (Independent Scholar).

The author attempts to explain how all the members of the cattle monobaramin (ie. A creationist’ monophyletic group)  can have disparate chromosome numbers and evidences of multiple translocated portions of chromosomes.  The authors struggle to balance the perceived need for a “perfect” genome in the original created kind with the effects of the fall on the genome itself and the extent to which the original creation was prepared to produce all the variation we see today from only a single original species kind.  The article is fascinating and reveals just how contorted the logic of creationist becomes when constrained by these questionable assumptions about created order and results of the fall.  Below I quote passages from this article and include comments (NH):

“However, I have argued that species within the genus Bubalus should be included within the cattle monobaramin based on a study which yielded hybrid embryos which developed to the advanced blastocyst stage (Kochhar et al. 2002).  I suggested that this stage indicates development past the maternal phase and requires the coordinated expression of both maternal and paternal morphogenetic genes (Lightner 2007a).”

NH:  The author believes there was one created cattle kind that gave rise to domestic cattle, water buffalos and other similar ruminants.  Her argument for the inclusion of water buffalos (Bubalus) as having the same origin as other cattle is that hybrid embryos can be formed.  Obviously the assumption here is that life begins at the first cell and if there can be union of cells that survive even if only to a later embryonic stage then there must be sufficient identity between the organisms that they must be related by common ancestry (created kind).  I wonder if she has bothered to apply his reasoning to the literature and see where that would take her in terms of what other groups of organisms she would have to accept as having a common origin based on embryonic hybridization.

“Given that in the beginning God commanded the creatures He created to reproduce and fill the earth, it would seem that variation that poses a significant barrier to reproduction within a monobaramin has developed subsequent to Creation, and may very likely be post-Curse.  It could be argued that some variation, such as rob (1;29), was actually created because it does not always significantly impair reproduction and perhaps it never would in a perfect pre-Fall world. However,we see de novo tranlocations today.  Additionally, many similar inferred translocations discussed would impede reproduction between certain members within a monobaramim.”

NH:  Summarizing:  God created an original kind that must have been able to reproduce very efficiently in the pre-fall world. After the fall, we see translocations (rearrangements in the chromosomes that include even entire chromosomes being attacked to one another or split in half) that impede reproduction and thus they must be part of the fall effect. But look below, some translocations are not part of the fall but are Gods plan.

“Since translocations have been identified in animals of normal phenotype, it is highly doubtful that chromosomal fusions are merely accidental occurrences that can be attributed to purely chance events.  In addition to the breaks in the chromosomes (which may be somewhat random), these rearrangements require important mechanisms that repair breaks, silence a centromere, and apparently adjust the amount of constitutive heterochromatin over time in a way that maintains viability.”

NH:  This author seems to be schizophrenically attempting to define random and designed processes. In the next section she seems to want to say that natural selection doesn’t happen but then proceeds to describe how it does happen. Very strange!   Start in the first sentence.  A normal animal has been shown to have large translocations but by some sort of unspecified definition it is still normal and therefore is like God’s good creation and therefore this translocation could not happen by mere accident and can’t be due to “purely chance events.”   Since breaks have to be fixed and accommodated in the genome in a supposedly complex fashion this is further proof of design although the breaks can apparently be “somewhat random.” ??? What does it mean that the breaks may be random but the fusions are no mere accident?  This is really peer reviewed??

“ Furthermore, these translocations can become fixed in different populations.  This implies that there is some purpose and benefit to them. Although they may come at a cost (usually reduced fertility in heterozygotes), chromosomal translocations may provide a degree of plasticity that is necessary for animals to adapt in a sin-cursed world.  Perhaps certain harsh environments or marginal diets trigger chromosomal fragility which may result in translocations.  These may allow for certain new gene associations that are beneficial to the animal.  Other animals not carrying these traits may not do as well and perhaps choose to move elsewhere.  The few animals carrying the rearrangement may be better able to exploit a particular environment.  Thus essentially the founder effect helps the translocation to become established within the population. Therefore, it appears plausible that chromosomal rearrangements are the result of designed mechanisms that provide a source of variability that allows animals to adapt in our fallen world.” 

NH:  Here is where it gets really contorted.  These translocations (read as “mutations”) can become fixed in populations.  Fixed means that after a mutation occurs at some point that mutation may find its way into the entire population and now become the new genetic condition. (eg. The gaur has 58 chromosomes and the bison has 60 so if they both came from the same kind – read common ancestor! – then an individual in that common ancestor must have had a mutation that resulted in either condition and then that mutation spread through a whole population resulting in the formation of the division between the species).  Second sentence:  If a translocation (mutation) gets fixed in a population by definition it is beneficial/purposeful.  However (third sentence) there may be some small cost which was not part of the original plan of creation but necessary in the sin-cursed world. Then the environment (read as “nature”) may cause these mutations which may result in some new beneficial features.  How are these new beneficial features chosen to survive?   Well, those animals that weren’t blessed with the new beneficial mutations may not do as well (read as “are less fit”) and may choose to move elsewhere.  Funny, rather than say they may not survive, the author simply refers to animals simply choose to move to another location where there genes are better adapted to that new environment.  There is such a reluctance here to suggest that there could be negative consequences of having gene combinations that were actually part of the original “normal animal” and thus could die as a result of their genetic condition.

So these chromosome re-arrangements (mutations) are designed to be a source of variation but those variations are somehow fixed based on the interaction with the environment (natural selection).  It sounds like she is just talking about mutations and natural selection but attempting to make it sound as if there is a design element that somehow makes it different from a standard evolutionary explanation.

The peer review in this supposed “research journal” is not surprisingly very relaxed.  Terms are poorly defined and the articles consist of large amounts of speculation or assertion that is left unreferenced in many cases.  The most shocking speculation comes in a footnote at the very end of the article in which the statement is made:

“The Bible does make it clear that man does not share a common ancestor with other animals, but it does not provide information on the original karyotype in man or created kinds.  The possibility exists that all mammals may have been created with essentially identical karyotypes (i.e., the same chromosome number and banding patterns). 

I was floored by this suggestion given the great variation in chromosome number today. The author seems to be suggesting that massive chromosome number and structural changes have occurred to animal groups over a short period of time.  This is pure speculation but I believe that part of the reason for this suggestion is that the author may feel that it could take some pressure off of explaining the chromosome similarities between man and chimps.  The argument seems to be that rather than common ancestry it is yet more evidence that all animals are part of the same design.

References:

Lightner, Jean, K. 2008.  Karyotype variability within the cattle monobaramin.  Answers Research Journal 1: 77-88.

Wood, Todd C. 2002.  A baraminology tutorial with examples from the grasses (Poaceae).  Technical Journal 16(1): 15-25.

Wise, K. P., 1990.  Baraminology: a young-earth creation biosystematic method; in: Walsh, R. E. and Brooks, C. L. (Eds.), Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Creationism.  Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, pp. 345-358.

Wise, K. P. 1992.  Practical baraminology, CEN Technical Journal 6(2): 122-137.

Robinson, D. A. and Cavanaugh, D. P. 1998.  Evidence for a holobaraminica origin of the cats. CRSQ 35(1): 2-14. 1998.

Robinson, D. A. and Cavanaugh, D. P. 1998.  A quantitative approach to baraminology with examples from Catarrhine primates, CRSQ 34(4): 196-208.

Robinson, D. A. (Ed.), Baraminology ’99, Barminology Study Group, 1999.

Helder, M. (Ed.), Discontinuity: Understanding Biology in the Light of Creation, Baraminology Study Group, 2001.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for this fascinating post. When I was YEC I ran into some of these arguments (though never with the terminology here). It seems there is an extreme amount of speculation happening within YEC circles in order to try to maintain consistency.

    • Thanks for the comment. The last 10 years has seen a real change in the way that YECs approach speciation. Just this week, CMI (creation.com) had an article about 1000+ finches species all being part of the same barim and thus were all from the same original created finch. Although finches are similar this still encompasses an incredible amount of variation in characteristics. Basically they are arguing for evolution by natural selection on steroids. I am going to write about characteristics of organisms before the fall versus after in the YEC mind and there we will see how dramatic their view of how organisms have changed. Just a quick example of the logic that leads to their beliefs. Deserts are not “good” and so deserts did not exist before the fall of man and so were not a habitat type of the original creation. So any creature that is adapted to extreme desert conditions would not have needed those characteristics before the fall and thus they have “evolved” them presumably from genes that God game them knowing they were going to need them later. So in the YEC literature camels of the original creation looked nothing like they do today because they would have had no need for long eye-lashes to protect them from the sand, to humps to store extra water, no thick hooves, not thick layers of skin, etc… I’m not sure then what they looked like but any character perceived as having a adaptive function for a “bad” environment is presumed to have been unnecessary before the fall. This logic leads to some really weird places if you really think about it for a while.

  2. geochristian says:

    My term for baraminology is “hyperevolution” (as opposed to microevolution or macroevolution). Hyperevolution is evolution at a pace that would make the most ardent punctuated equilibrium advocate blush.

    • It is hard to overstate just has fast baraminology is asking organisms to speciate. I like hyperevolution, that does capture the speed. I’ve also heard it referred to as “evolution on steroids” which I’ve used as well. I thought maybe I picked that up from you, I can’t remember where I saw it first. The more I read some recent YEC papers on barmaminology the more astounded I am that they try to forces what is probably the majority of the species diversity into evolution within a few hundred years. But then, if that could happen its not much of a stretch to think that the Grand Canyon was formed in a few months..

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  1. [...] Earth Creationists “believe in evolution” in the abstract too. What? It’s true. Consider the research YECs do in journals of their own publication. Not only that, but even the “Answers in Genesis [...]

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