I ended my previous article, Ken Ham’s Darwinism, with the following observation: Ken Ham has fully embraced Post-Flood Rapid Evolution as a mechanism of creating the amazing variation we see today. As he slides further down the slippery slope into the rabbit hole of radical accelerated evolution he has now become, ironically, more accepting of naturalistic speciation – Darwinian evolution – than some Old Earth advocates such as Hugh Ross.
The claim that Ken Ham is embracing the essential tenets of Darwinian evolution seems a rather preposterous one given he and his organization, Answers in Genesis, are the most vocal and best known critiques of evolutionary theory. Below I make my case that AiG, while maintaining its credentials as the premier (apologies to the ID crowd and others) anti-evolution mouthpiece, is, in fact, promoting Darwinian evolution, albeit a radical, untenable and unobserved accelerated version of the Darwinian model.
Neo-creationism and accelerated speciation (Darwinian evolution)
Following their publication of an article endorsing accelerated evolution within “kinds” after Noah’s flood, AiG published an article (The Evolution of…. Chocolate?) about the origins of the cacao tree whose fruits we use to produce chocolate. In that article, immediately after claiming that the cacao plant “kind” could not be a product of evolution – using their special definition of the term above – the authors go on to make this very revealing statement (highlights are mine):
“Rapid diversification is what we would expect from plant species early on in the post-Flood world. Genetic drift, natural selection, mutation, and others would have all been viable mechanisms driving speciation in a new world going through radical climate changes and ongoing geological upheavals. Once humans found out the potential of the cacao tree and domesticated the plant to produce cocoa, they began the process of artificially selecting the plants with the best traits (and once commercialization took over, this practice became standardized). This process over the past few centuries has led to a loss of genetic diversity. Natural selection is not a mechanism that resulted in the origin and evolution of the cacao tree; instead it is a God-given mechanism that helped the tree speciate, survive, and thrive in the ecological and geographical niche it was in. Artificial selection may have improved productivity, but it cost the plant genetic diversity, which has made it more susceptible to diseases.”
This is a remarkable description of evolution without calling it evolution! The authors are clearly claiming several natural mechanisms are available which can explain the origin of species. That those mechanisms are “God-given” makes this statement little different than what any theistic evolutionists or evolutionary creationists (BioLogos.org) might write. Notice though, that embedded in this quote is a disclaimer that natural selection could not result in the “origin and evolution” of the first cacao tree. The use of the word “evolution” clearly demonstrates that they are using a definition for this word that does not include the origin of “species.”
I am fully aware that Ken Ham and his writing staff have spent considerable digital and physical ink attempting to produce their own definitions of terms such as “evolution,” “historical science,” and “microevolution.” In doing so they have created their own dictionary of origins terms. As a result, those that have learned the conventional meanings of these works will incur no small amount of confusion when attempting to interpret YEC literature. Below I have produced a graphic to illustrate some commonly used evolutionary terminology found in YEC literature.
Ken Ham certainly doesn’t think he accepts Darwinian evolution but he and his audience have special definitions of these terms. Variously described as macroevolution or molecules-to-man evolution, here is one example of a description “evolution” from Answers in Genesis:
Molecules-to-man evolution is a belief about the past. It assumes, without observing it, that natural processes and lots of time are sufficient to explain the origin and diversification of life.
Calling a spade a spade
Let’s take a more direct approach. Rather than allowing Ken Ham to define terms to his own advantage, we can look at how the scientific community understands and defines Darwinian evolution. It will become apparent that although the apologists at Answers in Genesis would hotly deny any adherence to the principles of Darwinism, they are in fact fully Darwinist in the simplest possible sense.
A generic definition of Darwinism may be found on Wikipedia as follows:
“Darwinism is a theory of biological evolution developed by the English naturalist Charles Darwin and others, stating that all species of organisms arise and develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase the individual’s ability to compete, survive, and reproduce.”
Breaking this down, we see several key elements. “Darwinism” states that:
(b) arise and adapt
(c) by accumulating heritable variations
(d) which increase the individual creatures’ ability to survive in their natural environment
Is this a good representation of what Charles Darwin actually proposed? We need look no further than the title of his book: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Here we see those same basic elements — new species arise as variations favorable for survival are selected within a natural environment.
The critical word to focus on here is “species.” Darwinism isn’t so much about the origin of genera or families or any other taxonomic categories; it’s a description of how natural selection, genetic drift, and mutations cause new species to arise from parent species. We use taxonomic categories like genera and families to group different species together, but the prime object and concern of Darwin’s theory was the formation of new species.
In his book, Darwin argued from various lines of evidence that nature, through changing or diverging environments, was able to select favorable variations and thus bring about the emergence of new species. He called this “natural selection”. Any acknowledgement that natural selection can achieve speciation makes you a Darwinist.
You may look at that Wikipedia definition above and think the phrase “all species of organisms arise” is a reference to common descent: the progression from molecules-to-man. Now, Darwin did suggest that the process of gradual speciation he observed in nature could be responsible for all living species sharing a single common ancestor. But this suggestion is an addition to the basic theory of Darwinism. Darwinism, in its simplest form, answers the question “Where did this species come from?” with “It came from a previously existing species.”
So when Answers in Genesis says the animals we’re familiar with today were not the original species created by God but are the result of speciation from an earlier ancestor via natural mechanisms, this is pure Darwinism.
Now look again at a recent statement published on the AiG website about Darwin Day:
There is no known mechanism that can change one kind of animal into a totally different kind. Yes, different species can form within a kind—but that is not biological evolution.
As we have seen this author is absolutely wrong. Species formation is exactly what biological evolution is about. A spade is a spade no matter how much a person may wish to redefine the term.
That there is not a single common ancestor to all living things in Ken Ham’s creation model does not negate the fact that Darwinian evolution has occurred. Rather it simply means that Ken Ham and YECs in general do not “believe” that the mechanisms that Darwin introduced to explain the diversity of species are sufficient to explain the origin of all life from a single common ancestor.
Neo-creationist accelerated biological evolution
Answers in Genesis’ neo-creationism (the new creationism) is doing nothing more than appealing to Darwinian evolution, albeit at super-speed, as a way to explain the origin of the species we see today and at the same time shrink the number of animals God needed to put on the Ark. Take canine species for example. Neo-creationists propose a single common ancestral pair of all modern species, which ironically they have identified from the fossil record, was preserved on Noah’s ark. That pair of ancestors departed the Ark and promptly split into two species. How? Natural selection, mutation and genetic drift – the hallmark mechanisms of evolution. Soon each of those species split into new species, again by processes we observe in the present and applied to the past.
Each of the descendants of the first species split went on to form species each evolving under different environmental conditions resulting in natural selection pushing in different directions on new mutations which the original species did not share. In the case of canines this process resulted in the formation of multiple subfamilies of canines including the foxes vs the dogs. Eventually one of those dog species split into two species which we call wolves and coyotes. Later some wolves were domesticated by humans and artificial selection greatly accelerated even over the accelerated rates Answers in Genesis already proposes for “natural” species. This process has produced dozens of breeds of domesticated dogs.
All of what I have described above is Darwinian evolution. This is evolution by means of natural mechanisms.
As we have seen creationists will claim that the formation of 30 or more species of dogs from a common ancestor is not biological evolution. Instead they will claim that these species were formed by the sorting of established genetic variation, albeit by natural mechanisms such as natural selection. They will deny that natural selection has the ability to produce new information which would be needed to continue the process allowing species to diverge to the point that they would no longer be recognized as being the same general kind of organism.
There are many problems with this response most of which I have addressed elsewhere and that others more capable than myself have written about in detail. I will point out that it doesn’t matter if information is lost or gained in the process of forming a new species, if species are formed via natural selection, mutations and genetic drift then evolution, as understood by the vast majority of the scientific community, has happened. Furthermore, these responses are completely at odds with modern genetics. Genetic sorting of a fixed set of original information from a common ancestor preserved on the ark to form hundreds of species requires information gain in the form of new character formation and radical genomic transformation and therefore is not solely degenerative.
Answers in Genesis is employing Darwinian evolution to explain the majority of the diversity of species we see around us today. Two cat-like animals 4350 years ago gave rise 80 or more species of cats of different sizes, colors, behaviors and environmental tolerances. The only interpretation here is that creationists are saying that most species formed via Darwinian evolution.
Yet, they are doing so with a twist. They are accelerating the rate of evolution beyond what any Darwinian evolutionist would ever dream possible. In this sense are they really anti-Darwinian? It is all so confusing but what seems abundantly clear is young earth creationists are increasingly willing to appeal to natural mechanisms – even some that don’t really exist – to explain the origin of species. In fact, YECs are more likely to seek naturalistic explanations for the observed patterns of diversity than are Intelligent Designists or Progressive Creationists who appeal to supernatural actions in the formation of species through time.
As you read the YEC literature and the inevitable responses to this post it may help to remember the immortal words of Inigo Montoya “you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Note: This article includes many helpful textual revisions from David MacMillan following publication.