Dissent with Modification: Young-Earth Creationists Deny and Accept Macroevolutionary Theory

How can a population of organisms reproduce and over some period of time diversify into hundreds of species each of which has its own menagerie of unique characteristics? This is a fundamental biological question for which many different mechanisms have been proposed as solutions over the past 200 years.  Young-earth apologists say they have replaced Darwin with a better model of the origin of species. For example, Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter includes exhibits which promote the idea that thousands of species can trace their origins in a small number of common ancestors preserved on Noah’s Ark 4500 years ago.  Most Christians and the general public are likely not familiar with how radical this proposition of hyperevolutionism is.

I’ve critiqued this form of hyper-evolutionism before but today I would like to direct you to a peer-reviewed paper that has just been published that also addresses the complex and confusing world of young-earth’s views of macoevoltuionary theory:  Dissent with modification: how postcreationism’s claim of hyperrapid speciation opposes yet embraces evolutionary theory. You might recognize a couple of the authors.

This article’s origins

Followers of this blog know that I’ve written many critiques of YEC views of speciation and their seeming ever-increasingly inclusiveness of common ancestry.  Many of these can be found in my archive of “YEC hyper-evolution critiques”. Over the past year I have been working concurrently on several manuscripts that utilize ideas from these posts.

One of the articles in that archive was not written by me. Rather it was written by David MacMillan III and I published it as a guest blog post.  That article, Dodging Darwin: How Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter is Slowly Embracing Evolution contains a particularly clear analysis of how YECs are embracing many of the tenets of evolutionary biology, sometimes unwittingly.

I asked David if he would like to join me in writing something for a journal that would feature the ideas and figures from that article.  The manuscript that grew from starting point incorporated a maco/micro-evolution distinction theme that you will see published this week.

The importance of peer-review

One reason to persist through the potentially long peer-review process is that once published the work is more easily cited by academics and thus has a longer shelf-life and potential for an enduring legacy than do blog posts, letters to the editor, invited talks and so forth not to mention vapor-like life of a material posted on Facebook and other social media platforms.

Peer-review publications are important. I’ve written nearly a million words for this blog. It is considerably easier to write for the blog and my words reach a larger and broader audience than do my 50+ peer-reviewed journal articles.  The former may be accessed thousand to tens of thousands of times over a few years while the latter may only garner a few hundred reads however it has the chance to be relevant and viewed decades or even centuries later.

But the most important reason to pursue publishing in a peer-reviewed journals is the process of peer-review itself.  It’s great to be able to say what I want on a blog but when multiple reviewers are fact-checking and putting your ideas under the microscope.  Add two additional authors with new eyes and new perspectives on the topic and the process raises the odds that the final product will be more accurate and stand the test of time.  In the case of our published paper, we received considerable feedback from each of our reviewers. One reviewer was particularly helpful—reviewer #2.

Among scientists reviewer #2 is often the object of many jokes and often much scorn.  It is said that it is reviewer #2 that is the toughest and according to lore the most clueless reviewer. I don’t know if actual scientific evidence backs this up but certainly in our case, reviewer #2 had the most to say and led to significant revisions of the manuscript. However, I can say unequivocally that reviewer #2 comments were invaluable and made the manuscript far better. The reviewer correctly identified weaknesses and inaccuracies as well as pointing us to additional threads of discussion that resulted in significant restructuring of the manuscript.  We are very thankful to both reviewers for their work.  It was a reminder to me that having well-trained eyes who are willing to spend the time to review with an eye toward making the work better is what can make the peer-review system work well.

Thanks to my co-authors

A word about my co-authors without whom this manuscript would have never come to fruition. I mentioned that the published article would have suffered if not for the attention of the reviews but it would never have been submitted without my two co-authors so I thank them for their help and patience with me over the past year.

Each of them brought different experiences to the table as we explored how young-earth creationists have appropriated parts of macroevolutionary theory to explain how the present world could be so diverse if it experienced a massive biodiversity bottleneck just 4500 years ago on Noah’s Ark.

David MacMillan III has a unique perspective on young-earth creationism. He grew up in central Kentucky and was active in young-earth creationist apologetics, writing articles for Answers in Genesis and contributing financially to the Creation Museum. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of North Alabama in 2012 and began speaking out critically about science denial. He has written numerous articles on how to better understand the spread of science denial and creationism. Having been so involved with young-earth creationism growing up he has many keen insights into the mindset of young-earth creationism.

David currently writes on science, policy, and faith for Medium and is one subject of a recently released documentary about creationism and the Ark Encounter, We Believe In Dinosaurs. He lives in Washington, DC, where he is enrolled as a law student at the Catholic University of America College of Law.

Dr. Thomas Beatman is my most recent doctoral student and received his PhD from our Integrated Bioscience program in 2019.  He is currently biocurator for Echinobase (an echinoderm genetics database) at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh PA).   His dissertation involved projects aimed at science education and specifically using games for learning.  While Thomas was in my lab we spent many hours discussing all sort of aspect of creationism but mostly how—or if—to talk about young-earth creationism in the classroom. He attended a Ken Ham conference with me and always provides me with an intellectually engaging outside perspective on the creation and evolution cultural wars.  One of his dissertation projects involved the development of a lab with game-like elements for a general biology lab whose aim was to teach students about population growth.  That project was also inspired by our discussions of creationism and how to overcome common misconceptions in science.

5 thoughts on “Dissent with Modification: Young-Earth Creationists Deny and Accept Macroevolutionary Theory

  1. The “Orchard model” Is invoked by name, with five separate index entries, in the Discovery Institute’s mendaciously titled “Explore Evolution”,which sets out to “explore” the mainstream science in such a way that it will not be believed.

    One small point that always amuses me; bara in baramin does not mean “creation”, or even “created”, past participle or adjective, but “created”, third male person singular past tense. Also, “min” does not occur in the Genesis creation account, except in the compound form “lemineihu”, according-to-its-kind. If the expression “bara min” had occurred in biblical Hebrew (it didn’t), it would have probably meant “he-created a-kind-of”.

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  2. The Evo Ed & Outreach paper is a great addition to the topic (the reference list in it gives a snapshot of their literature) and Jackson Wheat & I will allude to it in Vol 2 of “The Rocks Were There” (you and MacMillian were cited in the baramonology chapter of Vol 1 naturally.

    An important thing to remember is that there is literally no counterpart of baraminology among old earth creationists or intelligent design, and that’s because they lack that bottleneck imperative of the Flood, where all the fossil forms have to be crammed into rapid diversification from the initial creation, and then a further spurt of hyperspeciation from those same kinds post-Flood to generate extant diversity.

    That will never work, of course, but only YECers are compelled by their constrained time frame dogma to deal with it.

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    1. Just got around to finishing this. Was familiar with most of it from your blog posts, but the fact that some creationists consider that proto-whales may have been on the ark or that sea lions may have descended from bears is jarring! Truly, how much more of a leap is it to “macro”evolution?

      Sometimes I wonder if Creationists mostly take issue with the sort of big “key innovation” events proposed by evol biology, like fish coming onto land, dinosaurs giving rise to birds, etc. Are those just too big of a leap to mentally accept?

      Or maybe it’s just whatever it takes to preserve the Genesis narrative…

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  3. Why not quick speciation/ How does anyone know it can’t happen? how do they know how speciation happened? Look at the divertsity in people . yet this must of happened within two centuries of the flood. there are modern examples, like the cichlid fishes of africa, where speciation must of been quick and very quick. Indeed each offspring could be ready to speciate in those days due to a wealth of options for speciation.


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