When the Creation Museum in Kentucky opens back up on June 8 they will have a new exhibit on great ape origins. There you will be able to learn how all gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees and all species of fossil apes including australopiths share a common ancestor no more than 4500 years ago.
Ken Ham has been promoting the new exhibit the past couple of days including recording interviews with the creators of the exhibit. I was not surprised—though I expect that many visitors to the Creation Museum may be—by the radical nature of their proposed rapid evolution of all apes (except humans) from a pair of common ancestors. This is another example of their willingness to accept aspects of evolutionary biology usually called macroevolution. We have discussed their hyperevolutionary hypotheses many times including our recently published peer-reviewed paper, Dissent with modification: how postcreationism’s claim of hyperrapid speciation opposes yet embraces evolutionary theory, were we illustrate how young-earth advocates have redefined the terms macroevolution and microevolution to advance their own view of the origins of biological diversity.
Looking at the images of the new exhibit shared on the Creation Museum website I was most intrigued by one image that included a timeline of the origins of apes and the “family tree” showing their relationships to each other (below).
Below are a few of my initial thoughts about the information from this portion of their new exhibit.
An imaginary original ape ancestor: Look at their depiction of the “original great apes.” Its an animal that appear to be adapted to walking equally on all four “feet.” If it had a tail it could as easily be the ancestor of cats, dogs, bears or most any other carnivore. Why doesn’t it look like an ape? All apes have a preference for walking on back feet and using front limbs for climbing as depicted in their images of all apes after the global flood. As an aside, if they are going to imagine what an ape looked like, why not imagine them with tails like all other monkeys. After all, there is genetic and developmental evidence in apes that their ancestors had tails. Answers in Genesis could hypothesize that prior to the Flood tails were common but that a genetic defect resulted in the loss of tails.
A lack of any evidence of great apes before the Noah’s Flood: Notice that in their family tree of apes the original created ape on all fours experienced diversification into many lineages of apes before the Flood. All of the lines in this part of the family trees are dotted lines. This indicates that there is no evidence for any of these but rather they speculate that this must have happened just as they have speculated about what the original created common ancestor looked like. Because of where Answers in Genesis believes the Flood/Post-Flood boundary is found in the geological column—usually somewhere about the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary—they can present no fossil evidence of the existence of any apes having existed prior to the Flood (the same is true for humans for which no pre-flood fossils are known). I would also add that there is no Biblical evidence of any ape species in the bible (humans excluded). So they are speculating what the original ape looked like and that the first aped diverged into many types of apes before the Flood none of which we have discovered yet in the fossil record. This is all speculation.
A massive bottleneck of ape diversity at the Flood: If their speculation is correct that the original created ape diverged into many lineages of apes before the Flood in a period of just 1650 years (Creation to Flood), they then go on to insist that less than 4500 years ago every individual in all those speculative lineages was killed except two individuals representing just one of those lineages. It would be from just those two individuals—the ape kind second Adam and Eve—that every fossil and living species of ape that we know of today were derived. That is an impressive amount of morphological and genetic diversity from two individuals even though their display tries as hard as it can to diminish those differences instead highlighting their similarities.
Avoidance of controversial ape or human fossils: I was interested to see where they would place Homo naledi, the recent South African fossil discovery, and other species of Australopithecus that they believe are not related to human beings. Instead these fossils are missing from the display. Maybe this is because other creationists organizations consider these fossils as possible ancestors of human beings rather than of apes.
Avoiding the upright walking stance of some ape: They show all apes as walking on four limbs but this ignores the consensus view of anthropologists about Ardipithecus and species of Australipithecus and Paranthropus that they walked on two legs (bipedal). So the whole group of apes toward the bottom of the display were more likely bipedal versus how the Creation Museum has chosen to depict them. In addition there is abundant evidence that Homo naledi, which Answers in Genesis has repeatedly said is not a relative of human beings, walked on two legs. So the range of locomotion for the ape family is far broader than they make it appear as exemplified by their deceptive depiction of Ardipithicus. It feels as if there are consciously attempting portray all of apes as similar as possible to give the impression that they have similar anatomy and are distinct from human beings.
Still unclear about how a “kind” is identified: I watched Ken Ham’s video about the exhibit and have read the YEC literature about great apes and they still don’t provide a clear scientific or biblical method of distinguishing what species share a common ancestor—a kind of organism that God created—and which ones do not. Sometimes the character of being able to hybridize is used as evidence of common ancestry but many times they lump species together for which no evidence of compatibility exists. At that point the criteria seems to be “they really look similar to me.” For example, in an article (Mammalian Ark Kinds) on AiG’s website which reviews all the mammalian “kinds” Jean Lightner’s only evidence that great apes are a single “kind” is that “Hybrids have been documented between the two species of orangutans.” That is no surprise. She doesn’t mention that hybrids between chimps and gorillas are unknown. She gives no reason that chimps, gorillas and orangutans should be considered the same kind other than implying that because secular scientists have placed them all into the same family they must be closely related. However, those same scientists place humans into that same family but Lightner says that “this seems ludicrous.”
Ignoring genetic diversity? A last observation would be that the display is centered around external morphology and anatomy. They spend time trying to show how color and hair differences are easily changed to produce different types of apes. What is not mentioned–at least that I have seen so far–is the tremendous genetic differences between gorillas, chimps and orangutans. The differences are not trivial. The differences even between two species of chimpanzee dwarf the differences between all human beings even including neanderthals. For two individuals to have spawned such large morphological and genetic differences in the space of a few hundred years (the time from Flood to Ice Age by the Creation Museum’s reckoning) is a pace of evolution that would shock any evolutionary biologists. It has no basis in any evidence collected from the natural world nor does the Bible provide evidence of such radical changes of God’s creation.