Young earth creationists (YECs) are the most vocal skeptics of evolutionary theory, however, they recognize organisms do change over time. But how much? Everyone agrees that organisms have the capacity to adapt to their environments. This adaptive ability can lead to the formation of isolated genetic lineages we identify as species. Evolutionary theory posits that continued adaptation of those species over time may result in greater genetic and morphological discontinuity thus causing us to classify the divergent descendants of common ancestors into ever larger categories such as families, orders and even larger groups.
Modern YECs, allow for divergence of species to a point, after which they claim that natural evolutionary processes are no longer effective in producing new adaptations. I recently wrote about how YECs have greatly expanded the extent to which they believe evolutionary processes can produce biological variation from common ancestors (The Ark Encounter Common Ancestors: The Increasing Inclusiveness of Biblical Kinds). I provided some evidence that since the 1970s YECs have progressively expanded the breadth of common ancestry such that they now consider all members of a taxonomic family or even order to be evolved descendants of a single common ancestor. For example, all extinct and living species of cats are thought to have been derived from a single common ancestor.
Speciation or no speciation?
I have heard many evolutionists claim that YECs don’t believe that new species form. They think that YECs believe that God made every species just the way they are today. They claim that this acceptance of modern YECs of speciation is a new idea that they are now embracing. YECs claim that this is untrue and that they have always believed that new species can form, albeit with some limitations.
So who is right? Both perceptions are correct to some extent. There can be real differences between what the experts and leaders of a movement believe and the average person’s understanding of the same topic. In the case of YECs, I do believe that there has always been an element among them that have believed that natural selection can act to form new species over time and that many species today were not created directly by God. However, the common follower of anti-evolution literature has been unlikely to understand this to be case and evolutionists not familiar with the YECs inner circle have only experienced the anti-evolutionary rejection of all things evolution and thus perceived the creationist position to be that of statism or no change since creation.
Ken Ham says that creationists have always believed in speciation (e.g. Mind Control by Ken Ham) and that they have always believed that a biblical “kind” is a broader category than a species. I believe he is correct but I also believe that he overstates the YEC transparency on the topic of speciation. It has been far from obvious to most fundamentalist Christians that it is acceptable to believe that naturalistic evolutionary process are responsible for the great diversity of species that are alive today.
As evidence for my claim I give you a couple of quotes from a book I picked up at a home-school convention in Illinois way back in 1998. There I met and spoke with the authors, Elizabeth and Robert Ridlon. There book is entitled “Understanding the Origin and Diversity of Life.” Elizabeth taught high school biology for many years but their book is less the result of personal experience as it is a compilation of what they had gleaned from the YEC literature up to that point. I mention this book because I think the author’s view represents the common perceptions of fundamentalist’ Christians in the pew of what it means to deny evolution and even reflects the opinions of close followers of YEC literature.
Here is what they had to say regarding the origin of species:
“As we have said, natural selection is in agreement with both the Bible and science, but natural selection doesn’t give rise to new species. There is no evidence in the fossil record for transitional species. Even if you give the point of an old earth, you would think, if evolution were true, that there might be one example among the millions of fossils that have been found. The truth is, there are none. Pg. 78
Considering the thousands of species alive today and the thousands of fossil species discovered, one would expect to find thousands of examples of transitional fossils to bridge the so-called evolutionary gap from one species to another. Pg 88, “Understanding the Origin and Diversity of Life” 1998 Morris Publishing, Kearney Nebraska
Here in 1998 we have a pair of YECs claiming that although natural selection happens it does not cause species to form. This suggests that those outside of the inner-circle of young earth creationism had a simplistic view of species as having being created directly by God. However, claims like this were in direct contradiction to what many YEC leaders believed at the time.
What is the origin of the hyper-speciation hypothesis that is now being popularized by today’s young earth creationists?
As I said before, Ken Ham is not wrong to say that modern young earth creationists have accepted that speciation happens by natural selection for a long time. But when did YECs start talking about speciation and suggest that it must occur very quickly?
As I pointed out in my previous article (The Ark Encounter Common Ancestors: The Increasing Inclusiveness of Biblical Kinds) at least since the 1970s some YEC leaders were referencing many species being part of a single kind of animal though little attention was paid to how species diversity might come about or how much. But overwhelmingly, the YEC literature was devoid of discussion of speciation and instead was focused on the origin of classes and phyla such as birds, mammals, and amphibians.
I have been searching through the earliest YEC literature of the 20th century. It is very difficult to find anyone that even mentions species, speciation, natural selection, or what it means for an organism to be a member of a biblical “kind.” Early YEC literature is fixated on the age of the Earth and the evils of evolutionism in general.
However, I managed to find one reference from before 1950 that demonstrated that at least some of the founders of modern young earth creationism did accept that species originated by natural selection and thus much of the diversity of species alive today is the result of evolution of groups of species from common ancestors.
It comes in the form of an article published in the Bulletin of Deluge Geology and Related Sciences which was a publication of The Society for the Study of Deluge Geology and Related Sciences. This society was started by a group of Seventh Day Adventists including the real father of modern creationism, George McCready Price, and Harold Clark. This small journal has been preserved in a large volume edited by noted history of science professor, Dr. Ronald Numbers.
I haven’t gotten a physical copy of the original volume yet and the Google Books entry cuts off the page with the author information so I am not sure who the author is but I present this extended quote as evidence that at least one person was aware that YECs had a problem with the capacity of the Ark and modern biological diversity and that a possible solution was that rapid speciation had occurred after animals departed the ark. This is the earliest evidence I have found thus far of what I have been calling the post-flood hyper-evolution model of species diversity that Ken Ham and others are promoting much more visibly today.
Here is the quote from The Bulletin of Deluge Geology and Related Science, Volume IV, Number 1, 1945.
The Threefold Problem for Creationists
The question that naturally arises here is, could mutation and chromosomal change produce so much variation in organisms in the brief span of approximately forty-three to fifty centuries which have elapsed since the Noachian flood? Some creationists have let this supposed obstacle so fill their minds as to cause them to ignore the fact of the present-day mosaic distribution of “species”, “subspecies”, and races. In the light of facts of distribution it is absolutely essential to recognize that variation has occurred as organisms have dispersed over the earth. If it be assumed that modern species are fixed or practically nonvariable, just as they came from the Ark, there would be no way of explaining how they got from Ararat to their present niches without leaving others of their peculiar sort somewhere along their distribution paths. Variation since the Flood, at least to the extent of the production of modern race, “subspecies”, and “species”, must be recognized. The only escape theory would be that of resurrection of forms where they died in the Flood- and few creationists can harmonize such a possibility with the facts recorded in the Scriptures which bear upon this point and with those furnished by geology and paleontology.
Thus the creationist finds himself in the center of a three-way squeeze, ie., (1) the Scriptural position of but forty-three to fifty-odd centuries since the Flood, (2) the fact that variation since the Flood most certainly has occurred, and (3) the present manifest slowness of mutation and chromosomal change in producing appreciation variation. The first two cannot be breached. The last may or may not, depending largely upon the opinion of the one who is discussing the point. For instance, there is a possibility that the rate of these changes was more rapid at one time than now. On this point Dobzhansky says (p. 163), “A finite population left to its own devices must, therefore, suffer a progressive decay of its hereditary variability and sooner or later must reach a complete genetic uniformity.” Wherever the truth may lie here, I would like to express it as my personal opinion that this variation within the kinds since the Flood has taken place in natural ways which are recognized today or which may still be unrecognized. Such an opinion does not rule out any supernatural speeding up of natural processes, but it does preclude the entire brushing aside of natural processes in order that a miracle might here be accomplished. It seems to me that the type of distribution which we find over the earth must have been achieved through the operation of natural processes alone.
In conclusion I will say that this unsurpassed summarization and discussion of processes of change which Dr. Dobzhansky has made from the point of view of genetics, is a first necessity for every student of speciation. Other chapters to which I have not referred, particularly the one on isolating mechanisms, are essential if the student would gain a clearer picture of the mechanisms in nature which have produced the present wealth of variation, and which have, in conjunction with geographical isolation, resulted in the present-day mosaic pattern of distribution of animals and plants over the earth.
Here we see a wonderful example of the basic tenets of modern creationist’ thinking on biological diversity: current biological diversity if the result of natural processes (not supernatural) that include the diversification of species. I think the idea that this is the result of a loss of variation – loss of information in today’s YEC speak – is also here in this quote. But, I think it is safe to say that this author doesn’t have in mind the extent of speciation that today’s YECs do. He is recognizing that species form but probably is thinking of species groups within genera not species becoming so divergent that we place them in families and orders such as felines and bats.
So the idea of rapid speciation is not a new idea, however this is not an idea that anyone cared to talk about and received scant reference for 50 years. Not until the 1990s does explaining biological diversity become an important topic in YEC circles. Today, YEC leaders are in the process of convincing their followers that evolution is evil and can’t happen but speciation not only happens but it happens much faster than evolutionists believe possible. The Ark Encounter and Creation Museum are the front lines in making these claims. It remains to be seen if their followers will embrace this old but seemingly new idea.