Last time I looked at horses I noted there were differing opinions about the significance of the fossil record or horses and how it should be interpreted. Among creationists, Wood and associates clearly see the horse fossil record differently than Sarfati and Molen. So what are the later not seeing that Wood et al. see that has led them to suggest that all fossil horses came from a single common ancestor and followed the general path of speciation that has been proposed by evolutionists?
It’s all about the where the fossils are found! I have pointed this out over and over: young earth creationists have a Flood problem. There are some deep divisions within young earth creationism (YEC) over what fossils were formed during a global flood and which were formed after the Flood. Those divisions show up here in the considerations of horse fossils. Molen and Sarfati talk circles around the fossil record of horses, not appearing to want to commit to all the fossils being post-flood in origin. Wood rightly recognizes that the fossil record of horses is all contained in rocks that virtually all YECs accept as having a post-flood origin. The logical conclusion that Wood comes to is that if all these fossils represent a collection of variation within a single horse kind then all those species of horses must have been derived from a single pair that was on Noah’s ark. Wood is committed to an interpretation of earth’s history wherein all life with breath was eliminated except a single pair of each kind (of unclean animals at least). So because all fossil species of horses are found on this side of the Flood it follows that they all then “evolved” from that pair. It is becoming a common position in creationism to accept super-accelerated evolution after the flood (eg. all dogs species or all cats are from a single pair) and this is yet another example.
Sarfati clearly believes in rapid diversification but apparently doesn’t’ want to accept the evidence from the fossils record of a progression of character evolution that leads to the modern horse. Rather he wants to have all evolution be some sort of loss of information as if all the genetics and programming to make 100 different species of “horses” was present in the first created horse and all subsequent species that “evolved” from that horse are just the result of sorting variation and genetic switches that cause a loss of information.
But Sarfati has a serious problem and it is one that creationists very rarely acknowledge or attempt to accommodate. We can see the problem more clearly if we lay out the assumptions that most creationists seem to share:
Premise 1: Assuming special creation, God created the original horse kind with tremendous variation such that all the species of horses could have come from that ancestral kind
Premise 2: All the fossils of horse species are found in deposits that creationists say occurred after the Flood
Premise 3: No matter the number of species present prior to the Flood, only a single pair representing the horse “kind” was on the ark.
Unspoken premise 3B: In a single pair of “horses” the amount of variation is much less than that found in the original created kind
Conclusion: All of today’s “horses” and the fossils that look similar to horses are the result of species formed from the two horses on the ark.
I’ve included a premise 3B here that I believe is very important and is the one not often recognized. You can go to nearly any young earth creationist article that mentions biological diversity and find something about how God created all the animals and even plants with great genetic diversity so they would be able to adapt to the sinful world in which we live. But this diversity was created in the original version of each kind. Even if it could be argued that God created 100s of thousands of horses on day 6 of creation account and collectively these horses has massive amounts of variation, as horses reproduced from that starting point of creation to the Flood what would we expect to happen to that genetic variation? Just like today, it would have become sorted out and much of it eliminated from any individual horse leaving any two horses selected to go on the ark with only a small subset of the original variation. As a result, after the Flood the gene pool (all the genetic variants) with which each “kind” had to work with to produce hundreds of new species would have been extremely limited (see figure to the right). This is called the bottleneck effect in population genetics and in this case we have the most extreme form of genetic bottleneck possible: reduction of a species, or even more dramatically a kind, to just two individuals.
There are species alive today that we are quite confident have undergone a severe bottleneck in the past such as cheetahs. Geneticists have proposed that the cheetah population was once only a few hundred individuals or possibly less. As a result they exhibit extraordinarily low amounts of genetic variation today even though their populations are much greater today than they were in the past. A cheetah could hardly be expected to evolve into all the other kinds of cats with virtually no genetic variation upon which natural selection can draw. Without supernatural infusion of genetic variation into each of the two animals on the ark and their offspring, all of the animals stepping off the ark would have had very little genetic variation with which to work. Creationists expect and predict that there was ultra-fast speciation after the flood which in itself would require amazing genetic mechanisms unknown to us today but on top of this they would be starting with material that could not have the variation present that we see in animals today.
Claims of Genetic Sorting of Ancestral Variation
One does not have to look too far to find statement in the creationist literature about rapid diversification from a pair of diverse progenitors. I only had to look at an article published two days ago on creation.com (Creation Ministries International). In an article by Russell Grigg entitled “Galapagos with David Attenborough: Evolution” we find the following statement:
To set the record straight: no one knows how many tortoises reached the different Galápagos islands from South America in the four-and-a-half millennia since the Genesis Flood… But just suppose there was ‘a single founder’ (which would have had to have been a pregnant female), this one would have had all the genetic information for all the tortoises seen today. That is, the “11 types of giant tortoises left in the Galápagos, down from 15 when Darwin arrived.
And then later:
Rather, they all involve sorting and/or loss of existing gene information. Hence they do not support Darwinian (i.e. microbes-to-marine-iguana) evolution.
And then concluding with the following:
Changes of behaviour, as a species learns to adapt to a new habitat, also is not Darwinian evolution. If such adaptation means an animal can no longer breed with its previous fellows, i.e. if speciation occurs, this too is not Darwinian evolution, because this involves a sorting of existing information, not the acquisition of new genetic information. In fact, such adaptation and speciation among the original created kinds is an integral part of the biblical Creation-Fall-Flood-migration worldview.
All of these quote show an emphasis of species creation by sorting of a pre-existing gene pool. But this overly simplified view of evolution fails to consider the reality of genomes, observed genetic variation, and all that is known about population genetics. Has the author considered that the individual founding tortoise of all the species (notice the authors avoids calling them species but used the term “types” instead) would have itself been the product of generations of genetic sorting after the original pair left the ark. As we pointed out before with horses, without supernatural intervention, the tortoise pair on the ark would not have had a lot of genetic variation much less the one individual that made it to the Galapagos Islands. Rather than sorting and loss of genetic information in species formation there would have to have been an increase in genetic information on which selection could act to form species and this could only come from new mutations. The genetics of these animals suggest exactly the opposite of what the author is proposing.
The Non-evolution of the Horse. by Jonathan Sarfation on the CME website.
Baraminology: Creationists re-examine the horse series. by Tony Breeden on his blog “Defending Genesis”
Cavanaugh, D.P., Wood, T. and Wise, K.P., Fossil equidae: a monobaraminic, stratomorphic series; in: Walsh, R.E. (Ed.), Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Creationism, Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, PA, p. 143–149, 2003
The Evolution of the Horse by Mats Molen. Journal of Creation 23(2):59–63 August 2009