Walking Whales On Board Noah’s Ark: The Inevitable End-point of Creationists’ Post-Flood Hyper-Speciation Belief?

The diversity of life on earth today is staggering. Where did that diversity come from? How is that diversity maintained over time? How long did it take for that diversity to form? These are fundamental questions that biologists are interested in investigating.

Conventional evidence-based biological theories ascribe biological diversity to the diversification of life over long periods of time via numerous observable natural processes, resulting in the proliferation of species that we observe today. Modern Young Life Creationists (YLCs) believe that most of our present day biological diversity is the result of rapid speciation, via processes not yet identified, of a distinct and limited set of “Kinds”—populations of organisms that share no common ancestor and were supernaturally created no more than about 6000 years ago. This concept of rapid diversity formation was introduced most clearly in 1947* by Seventh Day Adventist’ Frank Marsh and had the effect of allowing for a greatly reduced number of organisms needed on Noah’s Ark during a worldwide flood. Prior to this, most anti-evolution creationists ascribed the diversity of living forms to direct fiat creation.

Just how limited was the total diversity within created kinds which represented the initial starting point of biological diversity? That is a question not often addressed in the YLC literature but there is one conclusion they all agree upon: each of the air-breathing land animals “Kinds” survived a global extinction event just 4500 years ago by catching a ride on Noah’s Ark.

YLCs have spent an enormous amount of effort generating estimates of how many air-breathing land animals were on Noah’s Ark. Many critics naively assume that creationists still believe that every species was preserved on the ark and therefore the total numbers of passengers should just require adding up how many species of animals are alive on Earth today and have gone extinct in the past. However, creation scientists believe that the Ark animals were only representatives of the original created “kinds” were preserved through a global flood and used to repopulate and bring biological diversity back to the earth.  

The evolution of cats according to Answers in Genesis. One created cat “kind” evolved into the cats we have today. The original image in full size is found here: http://www.answersingenesis.org/assets/images/articles/am/v5/n2/cat-kind-chart.gif

So, how many species have formed since this flood? That all depends on how a “kind” is defined. It is common to hear Ken Ham and other YLCs speak of hundreds of canine species diversifying from a single ancestral pair of canine progenitors on Noah’s Ark just 4500 years ago. Over a 1000 species of finch from a pair on the Ark? No problem! (see: Invoking super-speed evolution to squeeze 10,000 bird species onto Noah’s Ark) Lions, tigers and your house cat from a common ancestor? Just a matter of genetic sorting, we are told. 

Just how far this evolution of new species from a starting pair of ark kinds can go is not clear but over the years YLCs have gradually expanded their definition of a kind to be more and more inclusive. For example one Answers in Genesis article makes the following statement regarding canines: The diversity certainly increased among the kinds that left the Ark: we find at least 153 post-Flood species in the dog/wolf family alone (the wolf is only one genus of 57), which arose from the first parents on the Ark.  A kind therefore may be akin to a what taxonomists call a “family” but possibly even an “order” (eg. all ungulates, or all carnivores etc..) in some cases.

As time passes, more and more species are claimed to have evolved from fewer common ancestors (possible fewer than 1000 total kinds; see: Ark Encounter Common Ancestors: The Increasing Inclusiveness of Biblical Kinds) to the point where some YLCs have pushed back against this increasing acceptance of more and more descent from common ancestry (e.g. this article from Creation Today suggests that not all canines are evolved from a single ark kind but rather represent several separately created kinds of canines).

The pressing question YLCs are grappling with is how to identify and define clear boundaries between different “kinds” of animals. They speak of discontinuities between kinds such as cats and dogs but in many cases they have had difficulty identifying clear discontinuities between groupings of animals (see: Dodging Darwin: How Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter is Slowly Embracing Evolution). One place that we see this struggle is with mammals that are adapted to living in aquatic environments.

A whale of a problem

One fixed principle that YLCs adhere to is that Noah’s Ark only had to preserve pairs of air-breathing land-dwelling animals. But what about air-breathing mammals that don’t live entirely on land today? What about cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises), pinnipeds (seals, sea lions and walruses), sirenians (manatees and dugongs), and sea otters. How did they survive a global flood? The answer, according to YLC sources, is that all other animals—including whales—had no guarantee of surviving the great deluge and were left to whatever God-given characteristics they had to survive (eg. insects surviving in egg cases, coconuts floating on the water etc.), though no mechanism is offered for such survival, given that, if most of the geologic column were suspended in the water at some point, it would be little more than watery mud.

The Ark Encounter theme attraction in Kentucky provides the typical young-earth response. It suggests that Noah did not have to concern himself with cetacean, seals, or manatees because they were not land-dwelling animals that would not need protection from a Flood. This is reflected in the artwork of the Ark Encounter and their literature. For example below is a picture I took while visiting the Ark Encounter in which Noah’s Ark is depicted as serenely floating on clear ocean water over the highest mountains. The contradictory (eg. violent covering of many dinosaurs but calm flood conditions for most aquatic vertebrates and fragile organisms such as jellyfish) depiction of the Flood conditions notwithstanding (see: The Ark Encounter – Depicting a Real Flood with Unrealisitic Images), notice what is swimming in those waters: a large whale, a plesiosaur (a sea reptile), a mosasaur (a sea reptile), and less clearly a dolphin amongst the fish.

A fairy tale depiction by Answers in Genesis of one of the events during the Flood year.  Photo: Joel Duff on the Ark Encounter, July 15th, 2016.

But Answers in Genesis ignores a big problem: fossils of seals, walruses, dolphins, whales, manatees, and sea otters are never found in rocks most YLCs, including AiG’s own geologist, believe were deposited by a global Flood. Fossils of these animals only appear in the very uppermost portions of the geological column. Those rocks are usually considered by YLCs to have been deposited in local catastrophes in the centuries following the global flood such as during an Ice Age—and most importantly, in the centuries after animals had departed from Noah’s Ark.

If all of these aquatic mammals really did exist prior to the Flood, are we to believe that none of them were buried in that watery catastrophe but then died and were preserved in massive numbers in other circumstances in the centuries following the Flood? Similarly, how did a massive chaotic flood killed all the sea reptiles but no sea mammals? This makes no sense. After all, countless sea reptiles are found fossilized in presumed global flood rocks. If they lived side-by-side with many cetaceans, pinnipeds and sirenians—as the Ark Encounter depicts—how did the former all die in the flood and the latter all survive?

Troy Lacey, writing for Answers in Genesis, provides the biblical argument for whales, and presumably other marine mammals, existing as they are today from the very beginning.

“But what does Scripture tell us? That God created all sea creatures on Day Five of Creation Week. Whales did not evolve from a terrestrial (or semi-aquatic) ancestor, but were created fully functional as marine mammals within their kinds.”

But how does Mr. Lacey know that whales are sea creatures? Sure, they look like sea creatures now but YLCs don’t believe that any animal look the same as when it was created. They believe that most have undergone radical changes reflecting changes in a new environment brought about by Adam’s sin. Notice that the creation account does not use a specific term for whale. Given that there is no fossil evidence that whales existed before the Flood, wouldn’t it be more consistent for the YLC to argue that Noah’ carried a pair of walking animals on the ark that then adapted to a marine environment after the Flood?

The sea creatures that the Genesis account refers to could have been sea reptiles for which the Flood geology record contains abundant evidence. Pinnipeds, sirenians, sea otters etc. all have fossil records that suggest they had ancestors that were more adapted to land than to water. Combined with the lack of evidence they existed prior to the Flood why should YLCs continue to insist that God made seals and whales as they appear today?

I’ve suggested for several years that the new emphasis of YLCs on radical post-flood speciation could erode previous young-earth claims insisting that whales were never land animals, especially if one considers the lack of evidence of whales in Flood fossil record.

My speculation was confirmed while reading Issues in Creation, a YLC journal on baraminology. I came across this fascinating article by Kurt Wise (recently featured as an expert on Paleontology in the film Is Genesis History) in which he discusses the origin of all the mammal “kinds.” In his paper, Mammalian Kinds, how many were on the Ark?, Kurt Wise recognizes the big problem for YLCs that I just pointed about above: based on where he believes the Flood/post-flood geological boundary is, there are NO whale fossils in Flood sediments. All evidence of the existence of whales dates to after the Flood. Wise recognizes this fact and he even recognizes the strength of the fossil evidence that the first whales in the fossil record had legs. This leads him to the following speculation:

“…some of the animals which are aquatic or marine today may not have been aquatic at the time of the Flood. The marine and sea otters, for example, are members of the mustelid (weasel) family and their aquatic character is likely to have been revealed after the Flood. The whales might turn out to be another example… Vestigial legs and hips in modern whales confirm legged ancestors of the whales existed only a short time ago. It is possible that the purely marine cetaceans of the present were derived from semi-aquatic or even terrestrial ancestors on the ark.”

Let’s acknowledge that Wise is allowing himself to follow the evidence here and when he combines the evidence with his commitment to a young earth he is forced to conclude that it is possible Noah took two walking whales on board the Ark.

Answers in Genesis has placed a replica of a “walking whale” fossil called Pakicetus on their Ark Encounter theme park. However, they state that this whale is not a real whale but rather a separately created “kind” of animal that was partially adapted to living in the water like a sea otter or seal. Because it couldn’t have survived a year in the water it must have been preserved on Noah’s Ark but then quickly went extinct after the Flood.

However, the only Pakicetus fossil for which this animal is known is found in rocks that many YLCs, including Kurt Wise, believe formed after the Flood.  So why does Answers in Genesis, The Ark Encounter and Troy Lacey (a Bible student, not a scientist and certainly not a paleontologist like Kurt Wise) believe that Pakicetus is not the walking whale that Noah preserved on his boat? Their decision about what Pakicetus was seems completely arbitrary rather than based on any evidence. After all, they have a tool at their disposal to explain away the evidence that no sea-living whales existed before the Flood. They could just say whales are degenerate walking animals that lost information and devolved into a sea-living creature. A positive spin on the evidence might be that God preserved in the walking whales the genetic information to allow them to adapt to the ocean after the Flood possibly as a compensation for allowing the extinction of sea reptiles that used to inhabit the marine habitat (see: When Marine Reptiles Ruled the Seas). Likewise, they could use the same logic to explain the existence of sea otters, seals and manatees.

Of all the sea mammals, sea otters should present the simplest example for the YLC of a mammal that had a land-loving relative from which it evolved. But even this has been a source of confusion among YLCs (see: Mixed Messages Over the Origin of Sea Otters at Answers in Genesis).

Kurt Wise has taken the hyper-evolution rapid-speciation young-earth model of the origin of biological diversity and pushed it nearly to its logical end. Consistent with his ideas about the possible origin of whales from walking ancestors, he lists seals and sea lions together with bears as having a common ancestor on the ark. This is akin to evolutionary biologists proposing that seals are nothing but marine-adapted bears. They adapted to the sea much as we see polar bears becoming more adapted to a marine habitat today, and still retain features such as vestigial toenails.

The very similar black bear (left) and harbor seal (right) skulls.  Harbor Seal skull (https://www.pugetsound.edu/files/resources/6219_HarborSeal_sideangle1large.JPG) and a Black Bear skull (http://www.headhuntertaxidermy.com/sell_skull/bear_skull_page2/16.JPG).

Will all YLCs eventually embrace the scale and pace of evolution that Kurt Wise does? Probably not, but we have and will continue to see see more and more YLCs proposing that deeper and deeper branches do exist in the tree orchard of life.

Addendum: After writing this article I found an earlier reference to Dr. Wise where he speculates about how much biological change has occurred to the ark kinds and how whales once had legs. On page 219 of his 2002 book Faith, Form and Time he states:

Some of the changes that have occurred among organisms seem to be evidenced in vestigial structures (feathers that had a strong function in the past but now seem to have reduced function or no function at all) and genetic throwbacks (past structures that appear spontaneously in a small percentage of offspring in the present”).  Hip and leg bones that appear in some foetal sperm whales, for example are vestigial structures.  They suggest that modern whales might be descendants of whales in the past that had hind limbs. In a rare number of births, a horse is born with multiple toes.  This is a genetic throwback, suggesting modern horses might be descendants of horses in the pat that had more than the single toe that modern horses had.

The latter reference to horses fits with Todd Wood and few other YLCs that have argued that the evolutionary horse series in which a smaller three-toed horse evolved into the modern equine species we have today is an accurate reflection of the history of equines except that this diversification from a multi-toed small ancestor occurred in just a few hundred years after the Flood rather than over a 10 million year period.


Cover image: Painting of Ambulocetus from Hans Thewissen’s lab.  Ambulocetus was more adapted to living in the water than land but did have real legs.  It has many features in common with today’s whales compared to other land animals.

Editing provided by LC

Comments

  1. At some point, an increasing scope of evolution within kinds is bound to run into conflict with the “macroevolution” claim that new complex features cannot evolve, but only the “microevolution” of pre-programmed variability. That boundary may be fuzzy, but it seems to me that walking whales are pretty clearly past it. As a consequence, a distinction also seems to be shrinking between a “young-earth creationist” idea that “walking whales” could be “pre-programmed” with the ability to “create” blowholes and blubber and an “evolutionary creationist” idea that an originally created lifeform could be “pre-programmed” with the ability to “create” all the kinds of life we see today.

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    • Well said. I see this tension in the YEC literature all the time though it is rarely acknowledged. One paper talks about the otters irreducibly complex features that God must have made from the beginning while another talks about their being part of a family of animals and were able to “adapt” to living in the sea because God have them the ability to express these wonderful new traits. They seem to want to eat their cake and have it too.

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  2. Speaking of cake… there seems to be a lot of cognitive dissonance among YECs, but Wise’s proposal seem to take that modern whales evolved from walking land animals since the Flood seems to takes the cake. On the one hand he faces the evidence for limbs in whales, and yet seems to fully not grasp (or realize the implications of) how numerous and massive the differences between four-legged land animals and whales are, and that to acquire all those adaptations within a few thousand years would require far more extensive and rapid evolution than even any “evolutionist” would allow. In short, what he is proposing seems not only what seems like macro-evolution, but an extreme form of it, and in the process contradicting a lot of what other YECs say about limits to change.
    This is not meant to be an anti-Wise post. In fact, I like Wise, and the fact that he often corrects other YECs on things they misunderstand or misrepresent. And for many years I thought he was too smart and honest to not eventually come around to an OE position, However, apparently I underestimated his powers of rationalization and the fierceness of his commitment to YE. Some of his writings seems to imply that he holds YE mainly for religious reasons, which always puzzled me, since even many Biblical scholars don’t see YE required by the Bible, and he obviously is familiar with a lot of geologic and paleontological evidence that does not bode well for YE. I assume he is also aware that even ICR’s RATE project authors acknowledged that far too much radioactivity is recorded in the geologic record to be compatible with YECism, without inventing multiple ad-hoc miracles (which would make creationism anything but scientific). One would think that all this would prompt Wise to consider that just maybe his YE commitment is misguided. I still have hope that he eventually will. In my youth (long since gone, ha), I myself tried to make YECism work, but like Glenn Morton and others, as I got into the field more and saw a lot of relevant evidence first-hand, it soon became clear that much of that evidence flew directly in the face of YEC claims

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  3. “Wouldn’t it be more consistent for the YLC to argue that Noah’ carried a pair of walking animals on the ark that then adapted to a marine environment after the Flood?” But I think they would regard that as unbiblical because land mammals and sea creatures (whales being such even though they are mammals not fish) were separately created according to Genesis 1 and must therefore be different and completely unrelated ‘kinds’.

    In the case of eg Pakicetus (which I was going to mention before I saw that you did too), most YECs would probably insist that the creatures were land-dwelling or primarily so (but that is controversial) and therefore (after they were represented on the ark unlike totally aquatic lifeforms) they did NOT hyper-speciate or hyper-evolve within ‘kinds’ into any of today’s whale species – but presumably into something else in the land-dwelling wild animal ‘kind’ (something now extinct perhaps): https://answersingenesis.org/aquatic-animals/fossil-evidence-of-whale-evolution/

    However, I note how Kurt Wise considers the fossil evidence and suggests possible post-flood evolution within mammals of some extinct land creature with legs into whales. But you can easily conclude from Genesis 1 that whales and eg Pakicetus were totally separate ‘kinds’ even if they were/are both mammals. As you say “Their [AiG’s] decision about what Pakicetus was seems completely arbitrary rather than based on any evidence”. I think it’s based purely on a ‘plain’ reading of Genesis 1 – in isolation.

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  4. One typo: I think you mean “as yet unidentified” or “not as yet fully identified” in the second paragraph. :)

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  5. Although not the main thrust of the post, your comment of the Flood waters being a “watery mud” is something I had not considered and an excellent point.

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  6. Wise’s piece brings back memories. I was part of the “team” that presented papers (in Cambridge and in Kentucky) that ended up together in that Origins volume. My task was to present on the meanings of “kind” in Genesis. I warned Todd Wood (as editor and leader of the project) that my conclusions would not support baraminology. To his credit, he asked me to do it anyway. I was pretty new to the science side of YECism, so it was an eye opener to hear and read about their position. Wise and I had some fierce exchanges during the editing stages of those papers, but he and Wood treated me well and allowed published my paper anyway.

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  7. So it seems that creationists believe that 99% of species that ever existed evolved, so to speak, many times faster than he speed of light, then almost all of them went extinct a few centuries after the flood, and after that no more evolution took place. No mechanism is proposed for the hyper-evolution, the extinction, or the cessation of evolution.

    Does even Ham spell it out like that? Do they maybe think the ice-aged caused the mass extinction? If god were going to wipe out 99% of animals anyway, why not save himself the trouble and jut do it with the flood?

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    • Hi Joel, I like your article on hyperspeciation at:  https://thenaturalhistorian.com/2017/10/05/walking-whales-on-board-noahs-ark-the-inevitable-end-point-of-creationists-post-flood-hyper-speciation-belief/

      I agree that their hyperevolution notion is not at all consistent with the fossil record. There is also a huge genetic problem they seem to be ignoring or not aware of. That is, it is impossible for pairs of animals representing broad groups like families to have diversified into all the species we see today through genetic “reshuffling” alone, because such pairs could not hold nearly enough alleles to account for all those that exist within populations within families, or even general and species today. Either such alleles were generated through mutation and natural selection (which is macroevolution and “new information” any way you slice it–something they have always denied occurs), or else “kinds” are not nearly as broad as they claim, which brings them back to the problem of insufficient room on the Ark.  Ironically, while some YECs are arguing for rates of post-Flood evolution far faster and more dramatic than any mainstream scientist allows, others like Walter Brown are still claiming that little if any speciation occurs.  For more details on the allele problem, please see my article: http://paleo.cc/ce/ark-gene.htm

      Thanks! Glen Kuban

      From: Naturalis Historia To: gkpaleo@yahoo.com Sent: Sunday, November 12, 2017 7:07 AM Subject: [New comment] Walking Whales On Board Noah’s Ark: The Inevitable End-point of Creationists’ Post-Flood Hyper-Speciation Belief? #yiv1024530873 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv1024530873 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv1024530873 a.yiv1024530873primaryactionlink:link, #yiv1024530873 a.yiv1024530873primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv1024530873 a.yiv1024530873primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv1024530873 a.yiv1024530873primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv1024530873 WordPress.com |

      The Serapion Brotherhood commented: “So it seems that creationists believe that 99% of species that ever existed evolved, so to speak, many times faster than he speed of light, then almost all of them went extinct a few centuries after the flood, and after that no more evolution took place. ” | |

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  1. […] of gills, and terrestrial olfactory features (so many, in fact, that one leading creationist has suggested that whales really did evolve from terrestrial mammals, after they got off the ark of course). Meanwhile, creationists can only shrug in the face of this […]

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