Baraminology of the Flood

Baraminology and the Flood

Presented for your amusement as a relief from all the very deep philosophy: a fine example of the cargo cult science of young-earth creationist baraminology. That label “cargo cult science” refers to attempts to ape the surface features of science, perhaps in hopes of gaining a similar degree of prestige. Think of Ann Gauger in a white lab coat, standing in front of a green screen.

Our example today comes from Kurt Wise, perhaps the most famous of the scientifically trained creationists — Harvard degree in paleontology with no less an advisor than S. J. Gould. Specifically, this publication:

Wise, Kurt P. 2009. Mammal kinds: How many were on the ark? Pages 129-161 in T. C. Wood and P. A. Garner (eds.), Genesis kinds: Creationism and the origin of species, Issues in creation #5. Wipf & Stock, Eugene, OR.

As we shall see, one of the attributes of cargo cult science is the very careful handling of assumptions; their implications must be considered only in so far as they contribute to the desired conclusion, and any inconvenient consequences must be ignored. Wise actually does better than most, and is willing to let the data take him farther than most, but not so far as to endanger his beliefs.

The central task of baraminology, and the one that has most interested me, is the attempt to identify the created kinds. Wise proposes a novel method for this using the fossil record. But first, some assumptions, which must be granted for the sake of argument.

We must first suppose the literal truth of the entire Genesis story, including a strict timeline. Life, including all the kinds, was created over a week about 6000 years ago. These various kinds contained the potential to develop — one should not say “evolve: — into a great many species very quickly, which they proceeded to do. Around 1500 years later, there was a great Flood that covered the world, killing all terrestrial animals (at least) other than those preserved by Noah on the Ark. And Noah carried a few individuals of one species of each created kind; thus each kind suffered a severe bottleneck in the Flood: not only was each species reduced to a few individuals, but each kind was reduced to a single species.

Directly after the flood, the kinds re-diversified into new species (or quickly went extinct, in many cases). Traditionally in baraminology, the kind has been roughly identified with the family, thus the cat kind is considered to include lions, cheetahs, domestic cats, etc., 30+ living species and a fair number of extinct ones, all from an original pair of cats on the Ark. (Wise is willing to go much further than that, as we will see.)

There are also a number of assumptions about the stratigraphic record. The record can be divided in two: Deposits of the Flood, including the entire Paleozoic and Mesozoic and unspecified portions of the Precambrian, and deposits of the post-Flood, the Cenozoic. The K-T boundary represents the end of the Flood. Within these strictures, Wise accepts the worldwide correlation and sequence of rocks. It just all happened a lot faster than mainstream geologists think. And here’s the timeline, a combination of Wise and other papers in the same volume. Deposition gradually decreases in rate as time goes by, slowing to roughly modern rates around 650 years after the Flood, and the entire Tertiary is compressed into that time.

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-12-06-01-pm

Wise’s final assumption is that the fossil record is very close to complete, at least at the level of mammal kinds.

And here we arrive at a test for kind status. As soon as a kind gets off the Ark and has had time to increase to a reasonable level of population, it should be represented in the fossil record. Wise figures that 30 years or so should be enough time, so that every kind should be represented in the fossil record by the end of the Lower Eocene. Taking a standard classification of mammals, he assigns kind status as the lowest taxonomic level having any representative by the end of the Lower Eocene.

This results in some interesting developments. The approximate level of the kind is not the traditional family but superfamily and suborder. For example, Wise considers Feliformia and Caniformia to be single kinds. The former includes cats, mongooses, civets, and hyenas, while the latter includes dogs, bears, weasels, raccoons, and, most interestingly, seals. By similar reasoning, he also supposes that whales are descended from terrestrial mammals aboard the Ark. This is much more evolution — sorry, diversification — than most creationists are willing to swallow. Wise, to his credit, doesn’t shy away from that.

Now, there is one group excluded from this method. Can you guess which one? Yes, it’s humans. Wise supposes that, given their long post-flood life spans, no human died until long after the Lower Eocene, and thus there could be no human fossils.

The fact remains that, given his assumptions and specifically excluding hominids, his method for determining kinds is perfectly valid. The assumptions are correctly followed where they lead. So where does this become cargo cult science? It’s in the failure to consider other implications of the scenario.

Wise completely ignores the Flood sediments. Under his assumption, every mammal kind (including humans, incidentally, which had a large pre-Flood population) should be represented in the Paleozoic and/or Mesozoic record. But this would imply that there are at most three or four kinds of placental mammals. And that’s being generous; many paleontologists think that no Mesozoic fossils represent placental mammals, which would make them at best a single kind.

Here’s another corollary that Wise does not consider: any species that appears both before and after the K-T boundary must be a separate kind from any other. While this applies to very few mammals, it would be useful for other taxa.

Speaking of other taxa, it’s clear that most kinds — tyrannosaurs, gorgonopsians, stegocephalians, palaeodictyopterans, and so on — became extinct too soon after the Flood to leave any fossil record at all. It isn’t clear why YHWH felt it necessary to put them all on the Ark, only to abandon them immediately after, but I suppose He moves in mysterious ways, etc.

We will not even think about plants, aquatic animals, forams, and such. They aren’t important, and Wise’s line of reasoning depends entirely on the Ark.

One final tidbit: if we accept the K-T boundary as the end of the Flood, and accept further that the Ark grounded on Mt. Ararat (which most creationists do), we have a conundrum, as Mt. Ararat is a Pleistocene volcano, which formed, by the chronology above, several hundred years after the Flood ended.

115 thoughts on “Baraminology of the Flood

  1. colewd:
    John Harshman,

    In the first case the sequences line up and the second they don’t.

    Once again you are misreading a figure. I’m going to speculate that you are thinking of the missing data (clearly specified in the figure legend) in the hippo sequence as “not lining up”. No, they just didn’t manage to get sequence for that bit of the hippo gene. If that isn’t it, I have no idea what you’re talking about.

    So do you see why I constantly accuse you of not understanding?

  2. colewd: It is the same as other papers I have seen. The two species have similar sequences and different sequences. The data is inconclusive as to whether they share a common ancestor.

    What sort of data would you accept as evidence of common ancestry? I thought you had finally agreed that sequence data was that sort of evidence, and in fact that paleognaths did share a common ancestor. Teaching anything to creationists is so hard.

  3. colewd,

    It is the same as other papers I have seen. The two species have similar sequences and different sequences. The data is inconclusive as to whether they share a common ancestor.

    You are effectively saying that common ancestry cannot be reliably inferred unless all sequences are identical (and even then it might be dubious, if it’s inconvenient). That is, even if organisms share (say) 95% similarity, that data is inconclusive on common ancestry.

    Do you think the fact that hippos and whales are both mammals might be a relevant fact vis a vis common ancestry?

    If I may infer a dichotomy implicit in your thinking, if you think whatever uncertainties you perceive on whale phylogeny are a problem for ‘UCD’, you must think that whales share no common ancestry with anything, anywhere. Is that seriously your contention?

  4. SINEs offer a neat test bed of concepts. If differences are inconclusive on common ancestry, then the difference between a species having a SINE at a particular site, and one that lacks it, must be regarded as likewise inconclusive. Looking at the SINE part alone, and ignoring every other bit, sequences ‘don’t line up’. Yet SINEs provide a powerful tool for resolving questions on common ancestry.

    How can that be so?

  5. Mung,

    I have always found it annoying that Skeptical Zone makes me log in before I can ignore commenters, but this time it was fortunate. Thanks for pointing me to Wood’s reply.

  6. I invited Todd Wood to post here, repeating the response he made on his blog, but he didn’t answer. I’m going to quote the salient bits here, and later respond to them. If that’s ethically problematic, somebody tell me.

    From here on out, it’s all Todd Wood:

    OK, call me silly, but I would have thought he would critique the assumptions directly. After all, Wise assumes that a global Flood was a historical event and that the fossil record can be interpreted according to Flood geology. Surely those are nonsensical (or at least unwarranted) assumptions to those who are not young-age creationists, right? And if your assumptions are bad, it doesn’t matter how good your logic is, you’re going to end up with nonsense at the end. Garbage in, garbage out, right?

    Harshman lists five other implications that Wise ignores. Here they are:

    1. Wise ignores Flood sediments. Why don’t mammal fossils appear in the Flood?

    2. Wise ignores the conclusion that “any species that appears both before and after the K-T boundary must be a separate kind from any other.”

    3. Wise also ignores the missing post-Flood fossils: “most kinds … became extinct too soon after the Flood to leave any fossil record at all.”

    4. Wise ignores “plants, aquatic animals, forams, and such.”

    5. Wise’s K/T Flood/post-Flood boundary ignores the fact that Mt. Ararat (where the Ark landed) is a Pleistocene volcano and therefore couldn’t be the final resting place of Noah’s Ark.

    That’s a very strange list. Here are a few thoughts:

    1. Wise ignores the Flood sediments because he’s developing a Post-Flood Continuity Criterion. I suppose if he was writing a paper on Flood geology and the fossil record, he would need to deal with the fossils of the Flood sediments, but that’s not this paper.

    2. Actually, that was the exact conclusion that Wise reached in his 1992 paper “Practical Baraminology” [PDF]. So that’s not something he ignored.

    3. That’s a really interesting point that Kurt and I talk about a lot, especially in the context of dinosaurs (because people love dinosaurs). For the mammals, where did the multituberculates and other Mesozoic mammals go? But again, if you’re using a Post-Flood Continuity Criterion, then why would you need to talk about fossils that don’t appear in the post-Flood? Those are interesting questions, no doubt, but that’s a different paper altogether.

    4. Since this is a paper about mammals, then I’m not sure why we would include plants or other non-mammals. If it makes you feel any better, Roger Sanders is trying to extend Wise’s work by applying the PFCC to plants (ICC abstract).

    5. Yes, that is exactly correct, except Wise never made the claim that Noah’s Ark is on the mountain we now call Mt. Ararat. I have denied the presence of the Ark on Ararat for the very reason that Harshman cites. I found out about the post-Flood volcano “Mt. Ararat” from … you guessed it, Kurt Wise.

    I guess that Harshman thinks Wise’s paper is “cargo cult science” because it’s not the paper Harshman would have written given Wise’s assumptions. That is one of my biggest pet peeves from modern peer review: Instead of getting comments to review the paper that I wrote, I get complaints about the paper that I didn’t write. Deep down, I’m sure Harshman thinks that Wise’s paper is junk because of the creationist assumptions, so let’s cut him some slack and go with that.

  7. John Harshman (actually Todd Wood):
    OK, call me silly, but I would have thought he would critique the assumptions directly.After all, Wise assumes that a global Flood was a historical event and that the fossil record can be interpreted according to Flood geology.Surely those are nonsensical (or at least unwarranted) assumptions to those who are not young-age creationists, right?And if your assumptions are bad, it doesn’t matter how good your logic is, you’re going to end up with nonsense at the end.Garbage in, garbage out, right?

    Quite right. I know Wood meant this facetiously, but it’s true. However, all Wise’s assumptions have been amply critiqued to well-deserved death long ago. That’s why I let them pass and concentrated on a critique within his framework.

    Let me point out, though, that one feature of cargo cult science is an unwillingness to examine — and possibly reject — core assumptions. Wise and Wood are unwilling to put their core assumption, the literal truth of their interpretation of Genesis, to any test.

    1. Wise ignores the Flood sediments because he’s developing a Post-Flood Continuity Criterion.I suppose if he was writing a paper on Flood geology and the fossil record, he would need to deal with the fossils of the Flood sediments, but that’s not this paper.

    Another feature of cargo cult science is an unwillingness to examine the implications of assumptions if they might lead to unwelcome conclusions. A paper that makes the assumption Wise did here needs to deal with those implications, and any good reviewer would have mentioned that. I do not find this objection compelling. And note that Wood, as well as Wise, chooses not to deal with the meat of the objection.

    2. Actually, that was the exact conclusion that Wise reached in his 1992 paper “Practical Baraminology” [PDF linked in the original post on Wood’s blog]. So that’s not something he ignored.

    Glad to know that. I am of course not as well acquainted with the baraminological literature as Wood is. I’ll check out the paper. Does this criterion also lead to problematic conclusions?

    3. That’s a really interesting point that Kurt and I talk about a lot, especially in the context of dinosaurs (because people love dinosaurs).For the mammals, where did the multituberculates and other Mesozoic mammals go?But again, if you’re using a Post-Flood Continuity Criterion, then why would you need to talk about fossils that don’t appear in the post-Flood?Those are interesting questions, no doubt, but that’s a different paper altogether.

    Again, this is a problem with Wise’s central assumption. He attempts to justify other assumptions (notably, the completeness of the Cenozoic mammal fossil record), but not this one. Again, a good reviewer would have mentioned it.

    4. Since this is a paper about mammals, then I’m not sure why we would include plants or other non-mammals. If it makes you feel any better, Roger Sanders is trying to extend Wise’s work by applying the PFCC to plants (ICC abstract).

    Agreed. In fact applying the PFCC to many other groups would be problematic from a biblical perspective. Aquatic “kinds” would not have been saved on the Ark, and the text suggests that plant kinds were not either. (No plants mentioned as being aboard; a dove sent out brings back a green olive branch, suggesting that survival outside the Ark was inexplicably not a problem for plants.) Since the PFCC method depends on the Ark, I can’t see that it’s applicable to anything other than terrestrial animals. How would it be extended to plants?

    5. Yes, that is exactly correct, except Wise never made the claim that Noah’s Ark is on the mountain we now call Mt. Ararat.I have denied the presence of the Ark on Ararat for the very reason that Harshman cites.I found out about the post-Flood volcano “Mt. Ararat” from … you guessed it, Kurt Wise.

    Yes, that wasn’t intended to criticize Wise, just to show that his scenario would be problematic for most creationists.

    I guess that Harshman thinks Wise’s paper is “cargo cult science” because it’s not the paper Harshman would have written given Wise’s assumptions.That is one of my biggest pet peeves from modern peer review: Instead of getting comments to review the paper that I wrote, I get complaints about the paper that I didn’t write.Deep down, I’m sure Harshman thinks that Wise’s paper is junk because of the creationist assumptions, so let’s cut him some slack and go with that.

    Yes, I do think it’s junk because of the creationist assumptions, but it’s also junk because it doesn’t confront the full implications of those assumptions. I agree that complaints about the paper you didn’t write can be annoying, but they are not always unjustified. If your work is seriously flawed or incomplete without addressing problems, the reviewer would be derelict in failing to ask that they be addressed. I’ve had my share of unjustified reviews, but I’ve also had papers dramatically improved by reviewers who forced me to defend my methods and arguments.

    Takehome message: Wise’s paper is cargo cult science for a number of reasons. Certainly one of them is the fabric of anti-scientific assumptions behind his scenario. But the one I have focused on here is the failure to consider the implications of his scenario beyond his immediate purpose, implications that I believe are fatal to the internal consistency of his scenario, even if his assumptions are granted.

    Anyway, thanks for the response, and I hope you will visit this site at some point.

  8. John Harshman [quoting Wood]:Surely those are nonsensical (or at least unwarranted) assumptions to those who are not young-age creationists, right?

    Or to anybody who actually wants to learn what the evidence shows, rather than shoehorning everything into unsupported presuppositions.

    In other words, you wouldn’t want to be tried by a court that presupposed that the evidence shows you to be guilty. Why would you ever pretend to do science if you think you already know what had to have happened?

    Glen Davidson

  9. John Harshman: If that’s ethically problematic, somebody tell me.

    Its ethically problematic to try to argue your case against Wood here, when he is not responding to you here.

    Of course, you ignore people who criticize you, so you won’t know that you are ethically problematic.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.