Are Differences more than Skin Deep? Ken Ham’s Confusing Message about Biological Variation  

It is said that beauty is only skin deep and that you can’t judge a book by its cover.  These sayings seek to communicate our understanding that the exterior of an object often presents a false picture of the true nature of what is inside.

If we were to ask how might we measure the difference between two species of animals there are multiple methods by which we might make that assessment.  The simplest approach would be to just observe exterior visible traits such as skin color, hair type and height. But do such traits accurately represent the true differences between species?   In many cases they don’t even if we might not immediately understand why.

A tweet (below) by the president of Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham, provides us with an illustration of how easy it is to mistakenly judge an animal solely by its cover.

Ken Ham states that the “differences between the Great Dane & Yorkshire Terrier are much greater” than those of the wolf and coyote which all biologists agree are different species.   Ken Ham seems to think the “difference” between canines can be judged by simply looking at pictures of canines with our eyes.  Could Ken Ham be right that these recently domesticated breeds have “greater differences” than two species that have been evolving for over a million years (he erroneously states evolutionists say this has happened over thousands of years)?

If all we could do was judge a canine by its cover we might come to that conclusion but biologists have far better ways to measure relationships of organisms including measurements of physiological and life-history traits, protein and DNA sequences and even behavioral characteristics. For the canines that Ken Ham references these other traits clearly show that domesticated dog breeds are remarkably similar to one another while a coyote and a wolf show vastly more differences.  For example, reading the DNA sequence of the mtDNA genome (Testing YEC hyper-evolution from common ancestors with mtDNA) we find that a Great Dane and Yorkshire Terrier differ by only 0.2% of their genome while the sequences of the wolf and coyote genome differ at 4% of their DNA code.

Ken Ham’s tweet spreads a common misconception about biological diversity but he should know better than to apply only visual appearance as his only measure of differences. After all, he wrote a book about human races called “One Race, One Blood.”  In it he argued that although some humans appear quite different externally we are all very similar inside.  In effect our differences are not what they may seem at first sight. He summarizes his book in a chapter of “The Answers Book, 2” this way: 

“But some people think there must be different races of people because there appear to be major differences between various groups, such as skin color and eye shape.  

The truth, though, is that these so-called “racial characteristics” are only minor variations among people groups. If one were to take any two people anywhere in the world, scientists have found that the basic genetic differences between these two people would typically be around 0.2 percent—even if they came from the same people group. But these so-called “racial” characteristics that people think are major differences (skin color, eye shape, etc.) “account for only 0.012 percent of human biological variation.”


Ken Ham is quite correct here.  The adage that our differences are only skin deep is true.  Human beings are remarkably similar. Ken Ham should know then that his comparison of domestic dog breeds to species of canines is deceptive.  He should be aware that using his own measure of differences for humans—i.e. genetic difference—dog breeds are as similar, if not more so, to each other than people characterized in separate racial groups.  Yes, two dog breeds are genetically more similar to each other than you are to most other people on earth.

The irony of Ken Ham tweet is that he clearly knows that external appearances can be a poor indicator of the genetic relationships and shared common ancestry of a group of individuals.  If he understood what he has just said here about people and applied it to his canine example he would realize—or maybe he does, but doesn’t care—that he is sending mixed messages.

Let’s illustrate this with a more dramatic example. Consider the animals in the picture below.  Would Ken Ham be tempted to believe that sugar gliders and flying squirrels are more similar to one another than a flying squirrel and an American red squirrel?  The former are classified in very different groups—marsupial vs placental mammals—while the latter pair are both types of squirrels but at first sight appear to be much more different from one another. I expect he would know enough about these organisms to realize which two really have greater differences. However, he should also know enough about canines—at least his employees who are paid to know this stuff should have told him—to know better than make the statement he makes in his tweet. 

Two of these animals are classified as the same “kind” of organisms by evolutionists and creationists alike, while the third (sugar gliders) are classified in a fundamentally different group of mammals, the marsupials. The squirrels are related to other rodents while sugar gliders have more in common with marsupials though they are often confused with squirrels when simply observed by simply external traits and gliding behavior.

Ham’s canine tweet suffers from multiple errors

Ken Ham’s tweet has managed to be wrong at nearly every level including even when he reports what evolutionists have concluded.  Coyotes and wolves are not thousands of years old but rather biologists have estimated that the divergence of wolves and coyotes took place 1 to 2 million years ago though the actual time to diverge from a common ancestor may have been only tens or hundreds of thousands of years. So he greatly underestimates how divergence time of these species and the total time—millions of years—they have had to accumulate genetic differences and hence why they exhibit far greater genetic divergence than do domesticated dogs. But he also underestimates the time of divergence for the Great Dane and Yorkshire Terrier.  Great Danes are thought to have existed as a breed for up to 4000 years going all the way back to ancient Egypt. Yorkshire Terriers as a specific breed are much younger having an origin less than 200 years ago. However, we would have to go back at least 4000 years to find a shared common ancestor of these two breeds thus they have accumulated their differences over that period of time.

Ken Ham also appears to believe that evolutionary theory necessitates that if two species have been around for a long time that they must become more different visually over time.  Yes, all species are becoming genetically more divergent from others other time but the external features of a species may remain remarkably consistent over time as a result of natural selection.  For example, I have worked with plant species that to most people would appear to be as similar as two individual wolves but they are genetically more different than a dog is from an elephant.

As we said before, despite more than 4000 years of accumulation of genetic differences between these two dog breeds they have genomes that are more similar to each other genetically than yours and mine—unless you are a family member reading this:-).  

So why then do Great Dane and Yorkshire Terriers appear to be so different if genetically they are so similar?  

The fact that dog breeds can look so different despite having been created much more recently is due in great part to the fact that rather than natural selection crafting their characteristics over thousands and thousands of generations, dog breeds were determined by years of intentional selective breeding which had a specific goal of sorting specific characteristics into groups of individuals.  No biologists would predict that natural selection would create the dog breeds we see today. Dog breeds are not adapted via natural selection to live in any environment other than with man on whom they now depend. Wolves and coyotes live in similar complex ecosystems and thus express similar traits needed to survive in those environments. A wolf with short legs and a snout that can’t contain its tongue is not going to survive well in an alpine forest but it may do just fine in your home on a special diet provided by you.  

Purposeful error or misunderstanding of science?

Based on his writing about human diversity it appears Ken Ham should be aware that his argument that there are greater differences among domestic dogs than canine species is utterly vacuous.  Is he simply using his audiences understandable misconceptions about genetic diversity to make further his point or does he really believe that domestic dogs are more different from each other than coyotes and wolves? This wouldn’t be the first time that his statements have contradicted each other but it could be that he just doesn’t understand the science of either humans or canines.  I’m not sure what is the cause of these errors but if it is the latter I would hope that he holds his staff responsible for not providing him with correct information. 

** A recent article by David MacMillan introduced me to this tweet by Ken Ham. David is a freelance writer, paralegal, and law student in Washington, DC and features in the upcoming independent documentary We Believe In Dinosaurs which examines how YECs use dinosaurs in their ministry.


  1. Not only will artificial selection increase the rate of divergence, but it will concentrate that increase in mutations that make a difference. Thus it will have no direct effect on the rate of divergence due to neutral SNP mutations, but as I understand it has very effectively selected for changes in the genes that control development.

    I wonder if something similar occurs when a species undergoes accelerated natural selection, for example by invading a new habitat, or by changes affecting its existing niche.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. An even more disturbing example of AIG’s misleading claims on this issue appears in the Oct 2018 issue of their Answers newsletter (now called “Answers Insider”), which featured a cartoon (linked below) falsely implying that evolution and “man’s word” implies that apes and humans are more similar to each other than different races of humans are to each other.


    • Wow, that blows away my example. I had not seen that. That is so wrong in so many ways.

      Liked by 1 person

      • This ties into AIG’s claim that all races and languages originated from the tower of Babel precisely 2242 years ago.
        At the same time, they say that all humans are “one race,” since we all descended from Adam and Eve. However, by that logic, every other “Biblical kind” should remain one race, which dramatically contradicts their claims that after the Flood Biblical “kinds” rapidly evolved into not just new races, but many new species, genera and perhaps even families. Of course, races are fluent and lack distinct boundaries, and are largely products of natural selection, as different populations adapted to different environments.
        At any rate, I find the AIG cartoon highly offensive. Not only does it promote the false idea that evolutionists believe humans and modern apes are more alike than different human races, but it seems to imply that acceptance of evolution implies racism. Some YECs including Henry Morris and Ken Ham have outright claimed this. Ham has written: “Darwinian evolution was (and still is1) inherently a racist philosophy, teaching that different groups or “races” of people evolved at different times and rates, so some groups are more like their apelike ancestors than others.” (New Answers Book 1, 2007). In his 1974 book Troubled Waters of Evolution, H M Morris wrote: “As the 19th century scientists were converted to evolution, they were thus also convinced of racism. They were certain that the white race was superior to other races…” Ironically, Morris himself made what appear to be racist comments in some of his writings, such the following from his book The Beginning of the World (2nd ed, 1991): “Often the Hamites, especially the Negroes, have become actual personal servants or even slaves to the others. Possessed of a genetic character concerned mainly with mundane matters, they have eventually been displaced by the intellectual and philosophical acumen of the Japhethites and the religious zeal of the Semites.” Likewise, although usually not so overtly racist, or even stressing equality of races, other writings by AIG, ICR, and other YECs imply that the races originated from Noah’s sons after the flood, and/or from the dispersal of language groups at the Tower of Babel, For example, the AIG article linked at the top of this post states, “As these groups spread out and became isolated, certain features (e.g. skin shade, eye shape) became dominant in certain groups.” However, in 2005 (the year before he died), Henry M Morris appears to contradict (subtly retract?) his earlier comments, and argues that the Bible does not attribute the origin of races to either Noah’s sons or The Tower of Babel, noting that races are just familiar differences due to genetic variations in Adam and Eve, and that there is just one “human race.”. Of course, consistency has never been YECs’ strong suit.

        Liked by 1 person

        • “Often the Hamites, especially the Negroes, have become actual personal servants or even slaves to the others. Possessed of a genetic character concerned mainly with mundane matters, they have eventually been displaced by the intellectual and philosophical acumen of the Japhethites and the religious zeal of the Semites.”


          That reads like something from the 1940s, not something from the 1990s.


          • David,
            I think Morris did originally write that in one of his early books decades earlier, and perhaps was inadvertently reproduced in the later book or the 2nd printing of it. I agree, it does not sound like anything someone would write in the 1990’s. I’ll double check. For more discussion of Morris’s comments about race, including more of the passage I quoted, see:
            The author concludes that Morris was probably not really a racist, but the quoted comments certainly seem to suggest that at least at one time, he saw human races as having inherent differences in intellect, work ethics, and other non-physical traits, even while (ironically) claiming that “evolutionists” were racists.


            • I read that bit yesterday, and I must say I differ with his conclusion. Even read in full context, the inexcusably racist detail on “the Hamites” makes Morris unavoidably racist. Not terribly surprising, given that modern YECs are still quite racist but a touch more subtle about it.


          • According to the following article, Henry M Morris’ racist comments apparently survived at least until the 1997 version of his book The Beginning of the World.
            In all fairness, I have not seen such blatantly racist comments from other YECs. However, as noted before, they’ve made many other unscientific and inconsistent comments on the issue of race.


            • I think the date 1997 was a typo by Libby Anne. Amazon gives 1991, but I’m pretty sure it’s a reissue. A google search shows it coming up in lots of what call themselves Christian bookstres, but it is mysteriously absent from the list of his books on his Wikipedia page. Someone ought to correct that!


              • The 1997 date might be a typo, but even if they appeared in a 1991 book by Morris, even if carried over from earlier editions or writings, seem pretty disturbing. The whole question of H Morris’ views on race is intriguing, because in The Genesis Flood (1961) he and coauthor J Whitcomb dispute the view that human races originated from differences in Noah’s Son’s, and in other books by Morris that I have, he either says little about the origin of races, or says the Bible is largely silent on it. This seems curious in view of his remarks about Hamites and such in the 1991 book. At any rate, I’ve ordered 1991 The Beginning of the World to confirm what Morris says there.


            • He made similar comments in The Genesis Record, which was in the in print edition when I read it in 2002


              • Matthew C, I have found the book lurking on my bookshelves! It is, as I suspected, a reprint of 1977, so if we are being fair to Henry Morris we cannot say that he held such racist views any later than that. However, the most recent re-printing noted by Amazon was 2005, it is still in print, and being sold by ICR as well as Amazon and other booksellers. So it is fair to hold ICR responsible, together with the present holders of the copyright, for continuing to propagate these views.

                Chapter 11, “Origins of races and nations”, has lots of stuff that amounts to “I’m not a racist, but”, before getting into the racist material, which explicitly includes all non-whites among the hamites. Why Hamites should show so more diversity than Semites and Japhetics is not explained, so I assume that we just have to take it on faith.

                Usually I just laugh at creationism. But given the state of the US today, that seems dangerously naive.


                • Paul, I’m less inclined to let H Morris off the hook. After all, he allowed the book to be reprinted multiple times by his own publishing house, without any corrections or revisions. And he did not just suggest Hamites have more diversity, but that they have a genetic tendency toward the “mundane” rather than intellectual matters. In any case, I’m glad we agree that ICR can at least be held responsible for leaving the troubling comments intact during for so long.
                  As far as just laughing at creationists goes… I agree that their assertions and antics are laughable at times. However, other times I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I think we do need to take them seriously. After all, they are heavily influencing millions of people to believe that YECism is Biblically required and scientifically supported, even thought it is neither. That’s why I’ve spent much of my life investigating and refuting their unfounded claims (especially on the Paluxy tracks and other alleged out-of-place fossils and objects), and why I appreciate people like Joel and others who also do their best to keep them on their toes and counter their pseudoscientific efforts.
                  This seems to be especially worthwhile since YECs seem to be pulling out all stops lately, with lots of slick and colorful web promotions, mailings, videos, museum projects, etc. Sadly, a lot of it seems especially targeted to children. Interestingly, this coincides with recent polls showing YECism on the decline in America. Perhaps as a reflection of this trend and their suffering from it (even though they try to paint the opposite picture), almost every day I get emails from ICR and/or AIG begging for money to support their “critical mission.”


    • That’s an article in itself.


    • Ashley Haworth-roberts says:

      That cartoon shows that creationists wilfully ignore context (as if the use by them of the word ‘very’ both times when referring to what evolution might claim means exactly and precisely the same thing eg in a genetic sense). That’s what people do when they are trying to refute something but a struggling to do so – produce propaganda and factoids in lieu of facts, analysis and evidence. It contains a grain of truth – but it misleads (or reinforces what the readers already believe/want to believe/think they should believe).


  3. Going with Acts 17:26, I can say that exactly 7/8ths of the human genome today is from the four women on the Ark. God wouldn’t let human sin mess up a good plan. You have to suppose that any “local girls” from a tribe helping Noah with the Ark wouldn’t take a chance on marrying a son of Noah, only to have to leave the Ark again after the Flood never happened.


  4. Gerhold, I don’t follow you. Acts 17:26 refers to Adam, no? What do you mean “after the flood never happened?” If the Ark story is taken literally, why wouldn’t 100% of the human genome come from the women and their mates on the Ark?


  5. I received Morris’s book The Beginning of the World from Amazon the other day, and want to clear up some questions about it’s publication date and comments by it’s author (Henry M Morris). The title page of my copy shows the following: Copyright 1991, Master Books. First Printing, 1977; Second Printing, 1978; Third Printing; 1981; Fourth Printing, 1991. Master Books is a publishing arm of ICR. To me, his comments about race in this book seem quite confusing, disturbing, and hypocritical.
    In his opening remarks to Chapter 11, entitled “The Origin of Races and Nations” Morris remarks (pp. 141 & 142), “The origin of races and nations is still a mystery to most scientists, determined as they are to explain man and his culture in terms of an evolutionary framework. There are numerous contradictory theories on these matters among anthropologists and ethnologists, but the only fully reliable record of the origin or races, nations, and languages is found here in Genesis 9 through 11. He continues, “It is significant that the Bible never mentions race at all; neither the word nor the concept is found in Scripture. A race in evolutionary terminology is a sub-species evolving into a new species, but in reality, there is no such thing. That is, as far as mankind is concerned, there is only one race–the human race. The various divisions are those of nations, tribes, and languages, not races. Nevertheless, there have been three major groups of nations in the world, originally established by the three sons of Noah [Shem, Ham, and Japheth].”
    The first curious thing I noticed about the above is that right after stating that only the Bible explains the origin of races, he denies that they exist, or that the Bible says anything about them–only about nations, languages, and tribes. He also conflates the biologic concept of race with the informal term “human race.” Even more curious is that a few pages later, he proceeds to contradict himself further by making stereotypical generalizations about “Negroes” (which are not a national, tribe, or language). On p. 148 he states, “Often the Hamites, especially the Negros, have become actual personal servants or even slaves to the others. Possessed of a genetic character concerned mainly with mundane matters, they have eventually been displaced by the intellectual and philosophical acumen of the Japhethites and the religious zeal of the Semites.” Morris continues, “The Japhethites have been ‘enlarged,’ taking over lands originally settled by Hamites, and developing the Hamitic technology into science and philosophy. Japhethites have provided the intellectual aspects to humanity’s life, Hamites the physical and Semites the spiritual.
    In his later writings Morris continued to claim (as do many other YECs) that evolutionists are inherently racist while YECs believe in only one race, despite his comments above, which as far as I know, neither he nor others at ICR ever specifically retracted. Meanwhile, other YECs continue to make similarly conflicted comments on race, often implying that different nations and/or races originated from Noah’s sons and/or divisions and dispersals at the Tower of Bable, while at the same time stating that there is only one “human race”.


  6. Morris’s contradictions about race also occur in The Genesis Flood (first published in 1961 and reprinted with few changes ever since). On p. 47 he writes, “If these Biblical arguments are cogent, then it is necessary to derive al races of the world from Noah’s sons, from a Biblical standpoint.” A little later he argues in support of W. Howell’s idea that Australian “Negros” originated from Asia, summarizing “In view of this vast dispersion of races from Asia…” He also writes, “But an an even more line of interesting evidence than that of racial diversification and migration is to be found in universal flood traditions.” (p. 48). Yes, very Interesting… coming from a man who elsewhere states that races don’t exist and that the Bible has nothing to say on the matter.


  7. Robert Byers says:

    I don’t see the problem here with Hams idea. his point is that “dogish’ types are closely related and so as much as domestic dogs which we know were created by artificial selection.
    I don’t agree humans are one species. or rather our bodyplans have changed since babel and so in effect we are as different species as wolves are from foxes. the mechanism for change has affected the segregated populations of mankind and made different bodyplans.


    • All humans share an ancestry some 100,000 years ago (a YEC would say, some 4,500 years ago!). Not enough time to form separate species; ther are no sharp bounndaries between races; and humans of every variety cross-fertilise with inthusiasm. So in no sense whatsoever are humans more than one species.

      The last common ancestor of wolves and foxes was a few million years ago, I think


      • Yep, probably 8 million or more and the genetic differences between foxes and wolves reflects that divergence and yet YECs think that making a fox and wolf from a common ancestor is trivial.


        • Robert Byers says:

          NH. Well is it trivial to have made humans with different bodyplans? whatever the mechanism it has done the trick. They are not really so much more then artificial breeds today.
          anyways i would agree bears, seals, foxes, marsupial foxes, are from some single kind.


          • Robert, “Marsupial fox”? Are you sure you are not thinking of a marsupial/”Tasmanian” wolf? In any case, if you think different races or “body plans” among humans are more different genetically than marsupial animals are from placental animals, or (as you imply in your last post), that there are different species of humans in the same way there are different cat species, you definitely need to do more reading about biology and genetics. Can you cite even one biologist (YEC or mainstream), who agrees with your view? And exactly what are these supposedly distinct “body plans” you keep talking about? Within every race, ethnic group, and geographic region there are wide ranges of variability for almost every physical character, which overlap those of other areas and groups. Your say that no “threshold” has to be crossed to designate a new species. On the contrary. As noted before, all humans can freely interbreed and leave fertile offspring, clearly demonstrating that we are all members of the same species.


      • Robert Byers says:

        Paul B. the matter of biological connections is the point in contention. Foxes/wolves are seen by YEC as simple diversity soon after the flood. like people.
        if species is real in nature then humans are divided by species. the great observation is the different bodyplans. its real and genetic. Whatever the mechanism the mechanism has taken place. the mechanism doesn’t need to cross some threshold of how much it divided a original population into separate populations. the deed is done. humans are species just like “cats” have species within them.


        • No, Robert. Humans have different varieties just like domestic cats have different varieties. Not like cats as a whole. According to timetree, Lions and tigers diverged around six million years ago, not very different from when humans and chimps diverged, and their matings are generally unsuccessful. No one (except you perhaps) would call a Siamese and a Persian different species, whether we are talking about cats or people.

          If you insist on calling Australian aboriginals, Welshmen, and Inuit “different species”, you are using the word “species” differently from everybody else.

          I’ll leave it there.


    • Robert B, I think you may be misunderstanding both Ham and Joel. Not to put words in anyone’s mouth, but as I understand, Ham is suggesting that different dog breeds show more variation than wolves, coyotes, foxes, etc. But as Joel points out, this is not the case if one looks below the surface (to the genetics), and takes into account the artificial breeding of dogs. Your belief that humans are more than one species is demonstrably false, and seems ironic in view of some YEC statements that even different races do not exist. Biologically, all modern humans clearly are one species, since we can all interbreed and produce fertile offspring (often considered the main criteria for defining a species).
      Any different “body plans” among populations in different areas (such as average height, BMI, etc) are superficial and variable, in comparison to the more significant and numerous commonalities (genetic and otherwise). That said, the fossil evidence indicates that in the past, other members of our genus (Homo) such as Homo erectus and Homo habilis were different enough to be considered different species, while others like Neanderthals were similar enough to sometimes interbreed, so that scientists debate whether they should be considered different species or subspecies.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Byers says:

        Glen. i’m sure Ham understands artificial breeding did not change greatly dogs genes. yet a wee bit.
        They do show more variation in real time looks. So its a case of how its not a big deal to have diversity in a kind however wild.

        if species is real, then humans must be different species. Why do we have diffeent bodyplans? Its not superficial. evolutionists would see it as from selection for good reasons in nature. ,how did it change from a original single look>? It did. So the mechanism is real. Evolutionists say it was from evolution. are you saying they vare wrong> If the mechanism has taken place and created a new population then its done. it doesn’t recognize pasing some reproductive trhreshold. need. thats giving it a purpose too much. its irrelevant to the mechanism. the new population/bodyplan has arrivede. A new species, the origin of species, has arrived.
        Its not relevant how it still looks like the parent population.
        Humans must be separtated into species like other biology.


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