Young life creationists, or baraminologists as they prefer to be called, have experienced a paradigm shift over the past three decades. Initially, young-life creationists (YLCs) made a point of identifying every possible unique characteristic of a species as the result of direct special creation and intelligent design. However, they are now increasingly embracing a model of common ancestry and accelerated evolution as they seek to explain the vast diversity of life on Earth.
This period of hyper-evolution is hypothesized by YLCs to have occurred between the time that pairs (or sevens) of animals departed Noah’s ark some 4350 years ago and a singular short-lived Ice Age just a few hundreds years after that global flood event. During that time at least 95% (probably 99% or more) of all species of land mammals and birds that have lived are proposed to have evolved from just a few common ancestors preserved on the Ark.
I have written on multiple occasions about this transformation of creationism to include massive hyper-speciation. For example: Invoking Super-speed Evolution: How to Squeeze 10,000 Bird Species onto Noah’s Ark; Testing the Creationist’s Hyper-Evolution Orchard: Canines, Felines and Elephants; YEC Biblical Evolution: I have a Book that Says Otherwise.
Recently, Answers in Genesis (AiG) published their most direct confirmation of extensive common ancestry and massive rapid speciation (Reimagining Ark Animals). The necessity to hypothesize recent rapid speciation comes from their study of the dimensions and holding capacity of Noah’s Ark. Today’s modern incarnation of young-earth creationists (YEC) acknowledge that there was not enough room on the ark to hold all of the species that have lived on Earth and they have been seeking a means to minimize the number of animals required to maintain the presumed purpose of the Ark as a preserver of diversity for the post-flood world. By defining the biblical taxonomic word “kind” more broadly than it has in the past, they have been able to reduce the estimated numbers of animals on the ark to just 1000 to 1500 pairs (or sets of seven in some cases) from 8000 to 20,000 thousand pairs less than 20 years ago.
Capacity constraints of Noah’s Ark and interpretation of the Hebrew word “min” form the foundation of the Biblical evolution model that Ken Ham most famously promoted in his debate with Bill Nye (see figure below).
Today there are at least 30,000 recognized species of living amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. If you add the fossil species from presumed post-Flood sediments, and hence post-Flood evolved species, the numbers of land animal species that have lived on Earth since the Flood easily eclipses 100,000. Using the Ark Encounter and AiGs estimate of “ark kinds” they are proposing that only 1% of the diversity of land-animal life was present on the Ark and 99% of the species diversity we observe today and the recent fossil record is the result of post-flood changes (aka evolutionary mechanisms) to those ark survivors.
There are many problems with the content and conclusions of AiG article, Reimagining Ark Kinds, including: 1) the lack of any Biblical record or documentation by any other non-biblical historical records of such radical biological change, 2) the irony of how AiG is using reconstructions of ancient organisms based on the evidence of historical science—a science they usually denigrate—to justify their belief that organisms have evolved into many new species, 3) the irony of a complete lack of any reference to transition fossils for the thousands of new species that YECs say have formed from each Biblical kind, and 4) the fact they openly admit that hundreds of thousands of fossils exist that are not the product of global flood deposits but rather were fossilized after speciating following their departure from the ark. The latter is a an admission that fossilization can readily occur in a non-global-flood context.
Time prevents me from a detailed exploration of each of these points so I will look at just one claim from the AiG article as a sample of the problems found throughout.
The origin of giraffes
In this article the authors suggest that Giraffes form a “family” with the Okapi. Although the Okapi is clearly a different species and is sexually incompatible with giraffes the authors nonetheless tells us that neither of these species we recognize today was on Noah’s ark but rather “their original parents probably didn’t look very similar to either species.” The phrase “original parents” is the YEC equivalent of “common ancestor” in evolutionary parlance.
The authors, neither of whom appear to have degrees in a scientific discipline, of this paper are claiming that giraffes as you know them from Africa were not created on Day 6 and present in the Garden of Eden. Instead, the original giraffe kind was some sort of ungulate-like animal with features in-between a giraffe, an okapi and dozens of other fossil species. Those fossil species and the Okapi suggest the original giraffe kind that God made did not have a long neck but probably only a slightly elongated neck similar to that seen in other ungulate groups. After this common ancestor giraffe-kind departed the ark, selection for new combinations of genes is proposed to have caused the great elongation of the neck in some members of the kind to form what we call giraffes and okapi today.
Does this make sense? Could this happen in just a few hundred years?
While superficially appealing to the young-earth mindset because it solves the problem of how to fit all the present day species of animals on the ark there is nothing to support such wild speculation. This barely qualifies as a hypothesis much less a theory. For Young Life Creationism (YLC) to be true, everything we know about genetics, ecology, evolutionary processes and even much of chemistry, must be completely wrong. The YLC provides no tangible evidence or testable theories of how these tremendous changes might occur. What are the mechanisms? Where is the evidence of this change? Surely there should be eyewitness reports of one species giving rise directly to another since thousands of new species were forming every year for hundreds of years. Why are new species not forming as such incredible rates today?
Let us begin with genetics. I did a quick search and there is a published mitochondrial genome for the Okapi and Giraffe. This genome is small but looking at it gives a general feeling for the genetic divergence among animals.
So how different are an Okapi and a Giraffe? Their mtDNA genomes differ by about 2100 base pairs which means they have only 87% DNA sequence similarity. To give you a reference point of how different that is, you and any chimpanzee differ by 1400 to 1500 base pairs (nucleotides). Hence we are 92% the same with respect to our mtDNA sequences. I have little doubt that if we examine more parts of the giraffe genomes that we would find that there would be far more differences between members of these “giraffe” kinds than there is among many other species that YECs are unlikely to call the same “kind.”
Answer in Genesis is quick to promote genetic differences between humans and apes as evidence that they must be unique species and special creations. So why do they downplay and outright ignore even greater genetic differences in other species all the while claiming they clearly share a common ancestor on Noah’s Ark? I am very confused and you should be too.
I also took a look at the mtDNA genome of the nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus), which is the largest Asian antelope. Antelopes are ungulates like giraffes but are in a different group. In my comparison with the Okapi genome I found them to differ by just under 2200 differences (89% DNA sequence similarity). So the Okapi is about equal distant in terms of its genetic code from a Giraffe and this large antelope. Why doesn’t AiG then just consider all antelopes to be the same “kind” as giraffes and thus all descendants from a common ancestor on the ark? By what criteria do they make their decisions of what constitutes and kind and what does not?
The paradigm shift in Young Life Creationist’s understanding of species
The fact that this AiG article mentions giraffes suggests to me that AiG is vigorously attempting to reorient the creationist understanding of the origins of species diversity. There is a long history of YECs claiming that specific adaptions to their environment are clear evidence of de-novo creation of those species. The argument goes that the features that a particular species has are so specialized that no intermediate characteristics could have allowed the organisms to survive and thus they must have been formed as we see them today. It’s a form of the irreducibly complex argument championed by Michael Behe.
As you can imagine, if AiG is going to define species as descendants of common ancestors on the Ark then these special features of individual species must be adaptions to their current condition rather than products of special creation in the creation week. Sometime YECs will call upon some sort of pre-programming of genomes that God performed at the moment of creation on Day 6 to give them the ability to form these features later. This is imagined to be a sort of latent capacity to live in future environments that God place in their genomes such that under just the right conditions suddenly a long neck, stronger heart and special blood vessels would suddenly appear just in a set of descendants to make a giraffe.
All one needs to do is look at a couple of example of how giraffes were talked about 20 years ago to see how different this brave new world of post-flood hyper-evolution has changed the creationist’ landscape.
Here is one example from 1996:
Other mammals do desire the leaves of trees but none of them will ever become giraffes, and the giraffe most certainly did not come from any other ‘less-than-giraffe’ animal.
In this article giraffes have features that could only be explained as God having produced giraffes as we see them today. Below is another example from a blog post written in 2010 of the same sort of argument that is common in the YEC literature:
Everyone agrees, creationists and evolutionists—a giraffe is a giraffe. It is a distinct species, a discrete entity. No one would say a giraffe is a “missing link” or a “transitional form.” A giraffe is not some creature emerging from some other creature or changing into a “higher” or more complex animal—a giraffe is a giraffe! It can be scientifically examined with results that display the necessity of a single creative act. This long-necked creature had to have been originally formed with all of its complex features fully functional.
The common view is that features are so specialized in species that they could not have come to be through any intermediate. But one species becoming another requires intermediate steps. If the animals on the ark did not look like today’s animals they have changed and they have new specializations that give them the attributes as species that they are today.
I’ll end by repeating what I have written before: there is no biblical evidence of such radical changes to organisms. To say that animals reproduce after “their own kind” is to confirm the ordinary observation that all species, as they have been recognized for millennia, give birth to more of their own species. The bible references horses and donkeys very soon after the Flood with no indication that they are any different than we might understand them today. For more on this please see my article (YEC Biblical Evolution: I have a Book that Says Otherwise) written soon after the Ken Ham/Bill Nye debate in which I talk about Ken Ham’s most public attempt to reorient creationism to accommodate a radical form of Darwinism. I’m not sure what to call this new take on the history of life on earth but I do like a friend’s suggestion: Radical Anteglacial Darwinism or RAD for short. It accounts for the fact that all the diversity of life we see today and in the recent fossil record must be accounted for in the time between the Flood and the creationist singular ice age and the fact that it requires radical amounts of natural selection (the Darwinian mechanism), mutations and genetic drift to accomplish such changes.
Would you recognize many of the animals that boarded Noah’s Ark? Not according to Ken Ham and company. The ark contained only the common ancestors to animals you see today. Giraffes on the ark? No. Lions? No. etc… One cat pair evolved into more than 150 species of cats most of which went extinct just a few hundred years after the Flood. Yes, Ken Ham has fully embraced Post-Flood Rapid Evolution as a mechanism of creating the amazing variation we see today. As he falls further down the slippery slope into the rabbit hole of radical hyper-evolution Ken Ham is, ironically, more accepting of naturalistic speciation (Darwinian evolution) than Old Earth advocates such as Hugh Ross.
Welcome to the RAD new world of YLC.