Cover story articleBaraminology

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Seven of the clean kind

Baraminology (also known as discontinuity systematics, and pronounced with emphasis on the second syllable) is a pseudoscience that attempts to provide a creationist alternative to Linnaean taxonomy and cladistics, based on a Biblically literal, young Earth world view. It seeks to redefine the meaning of the word "kind" as used in Genesis to mean a much wider group (a baramin, an ignorantly constructed portmanteau of the Hebrew words for "creation" and "kind", so literally "created kind"), which has since diversified into the species we know today.

Baraminology was invented to solve a major creationist and literalist problem: how to fit two (or seven) of every kind of animal on Noah's Ark. The 10-million-plus species known today could not have fit, let alone survived, on any plausible boat — and the dimensions of the ark given and accepted by creationists puts a further hard limit on the size and scale of the boat creationists can work with. The use of "baramins" is intended to reduce the number of animals Noah would have to care for.

Many attempts have been made to make this into a science, and attempts to figure out what suitably counts as a "kind" have been published in creationist journals such as the Answers Research Journal. Most of these approaches, however, are subjective at best — and at worst don't even attempt to hide the desperation to shoehorn observations into the literalist Biblical narrative.

Contents

[edit] History of baraminology

Baramins were first proposed in 1941 by Frank Marsh, but lacked sufficient social backing to gain currency. In 1990, when creation "scientists" were becoming more eager — and desperate — to explain how their concepts could possibly be feasible, Kurt Wise and Walter ReMine reintroduced baraminology and tried to work out the criteria for membership in a baramin. Research has since continued apace as a key component of young Earth creationism and its pseudojournals.

[edit] Etymology

Marsh coined the word "baramin" by taking two words out of a Hebrew glossary and tacking them together with no regard for how the Hebrew language works, much as in the long scientific tradition of mangling Greek with Latin.

Min is typically given the meaning "kind" in elementary glossaries. In Modern Hebrew it means both "species" and "sex". The citation form for the Hebrew verb is the "third person singular masculine perfect active", so (for those who don't speak linguist) bara means "he created" (the semitic root B-R-A in this context is reserved in Hebrew for the act of creating. "He conjured" may be a better translation). It is used in the opening words of the Hebrew Bible: B'reshith bara elohim ... means "In beginning God created ...". If one replaces elohim, the subject of that verb, with another noun (min), and tries to make some sort of sense out of it, it would be saying that a "kind", rather than "God" did the creating. (The subject in Ancient Hebrew typically follows the verb.) Those who use the word "baramin" of course would be averse to ascribing the act of creation to something other than God.[1]

It's not quite that awful. Although Ancient Hebrew has the subject following the verb (perfectly irrelevant if the subject isn't there) it also has the object following the verb (and the subject, if present) (e.g. "bereshit bara elohim [et ha-shamayim ve-et ha-aretz]", 'in the beginning god created [the sky and the earth]' — the object is the last part of speech). As such, "bara min", 'created a kind', might plausibly be something you might say in Ancient Hebrew (as well as Modern Hebrew) as a reply to the question "ma 'asa elohim?", 'what did god do?' — the order of parts of speech is not an issue. It should also be noted that Hebrew is very flexible when it comes to syntax. Thus, both "bara min" and "min bara" could imply "min" is the object.

Marsh seems to have been attempting to coin something like "created kind". If that's what he was after, he would have done better to write something like min barubaru is the perfect passive participle, and typically it would follow the noun it modifies.

[edit] Baraminological concepts

ReMine's work in the 1990s specified four labels for groupings of species, which mimic equivalent concepts in cladistics:[2]

Baraminological term Cladistical term
Holobaramin (typically abbreviated as baramin): an entire group believed to be related by common ancestry, not excluding any members of the group. monophyly, clade
Monobaramin: some, but not all, members of the same baramin paraphyly
Apobaramin: one or more holobaramins; must contain the entirety of each holobaramin. polyphyly or paraphyly, depending on relation of members
Polybaramin: any mixed grouping of things that includes members of more than one holobaramin. polyphyly

Later added terms include:

Baraminological term Cladistical term
Archaebaramin: the original created members of a baramin. For instance, Adam and Eve were the archaebaramin of the "human kind". A type of monobaramin. most recent common ancestor
Neobaramin: the set of all currently alive members of a baramin, not excluding any or including any dead members. A type of monobaramin. living population
Palaeobaramin: a monobaramin containing all members alive at a particular time. previous living population

The goal of baraminology is to break polybaramin groups into their component monobaramins and ascertain to which holobaramin each one belongs.

A diagram illustrating the multiple origin of species from kinds, starting at creation. Contrast with the usual Hillis Plot, or tree of life, which depicts common descent.

Rather than common descent, in which all life on earth is descended from a single ancestor, baraminology posits multiple special creation events. This can be seen in the "creationist orchard",[3] a diagram showing multiple trees of life, each with its own separate starting point. Thus, baraminology seeks to show discontinuity rather than continuity.

(Baraminologists do not use the "creationist orchard" much these days, it being entirely too reminiscent of the evolutionary tree of life that has had the stock removed at an arbitrary point — because that's exactly what it is. They now tend to use matrices of characteristics.[4])

Despite this scheme recognizing only one "true" level of taxonomy (the baramin), creationists acknowledge the existence of other groupings and even treat these as real categories: Classes like fish, mammals, and birds. (For example, they assert that Archaeopteryx was "fully bird" rather than calling it "fully Archaeopteryx" as per a purely-baraminological concept.) They just present no explanation for vast cross-class similarities, other than "common design"; And species now are mysterious.

[edit] How to do baraminology

Baraminological research uses some of the techniques of cladistics (much as the terminology mimics that of cladistics) to put species into trees of descent based on common anatomical and DNA features.[5] It is hampered by explicitly rejecting evolution as the science behind what is going on, but some baraminology research approaches excellent evidence for evolution, if only baraminologists could admit this to themselves. (Some all but do.[6]) Evolutionary scientists have even used baraminologists' techniques to show that Archaeopteryx is related to dinosaurs, refuting the idea that they are of separate kinds.[7][8]

Baraminologists use negative evidence to look for discontinuities between trees of life: DNA and morphology differences, unique features in each baraminic group and lack of fossil intermediates.[9] Unfortunately, negative evidence cannot confirm discontinuities, merely show that the common ancestor is not immediate. Of course, that the Bible says that there are different kinds trumps all biological evidence.[9]

[edit] Which baramin is it in?

Creationists have been repeatedly grilled for a clear explanation of how to tell if two creatures are part of the same "kind", but have been unable to formulate a consistent answer. It is evident that the only thing that defines a group as a baramin is whether or not a given creationist claims a group to be one.[10]

Baraminologists often put forward that a baramin is a group composed of creatures that can interbreed, pointing to examples of tiger-lion and horse-zebra offspring to show that separate "species" can interbreed. However, the vast majority of organisms are incapable of hybridization,[11] leaving this definition insufficient to trim down the number of animals Noah would have had to bring. Current baraminological research indicates[12] that the possibility of hybrids definitely means the same baramin, but the lack thereof does not mean different baramins.

The clearest summary of the art of baraminological classification is given by Roger W. Sanders in his 2010 paper on placing plants into baramins:[13]

The cognita are not based on explicit or implicit comparisons of characters or biometric distance measures but on the gestalt of the plants and the classification response it elicits in humans.

Or: "Forget all this 'measurement' stuff and just follow your feelings."

Ultimately, the only consistent definition of a baramin is a set of creatures whose common ancestry is so mind-blowingly obvious that even creationists have trouble denying it. Unless it's human, of course, in which case it shares its baramin with no non-human primate.[14] Where various hominids go is another story.[15]

[edit] Baramins and DNA

Baraminologists generally accept the existence and function of DNA and even measure changes in it as part of baraminological analysis. However, the idea of baramins seems rather counterintuitive to the observed similarities in the DNA of every organism on Earth. The DNA of humans and chimpanzees is more than 98% identical[16] — sufficiently similar that we can point to the places in the code where the differences emerged, such as the fusion of chromosome 2.[17]

Fortunately, baraminology knows how to deal with this sort of "science": it blankly denies it.[18] For example, after baraminologist Todd Charles Wood notes the similarity of primate genomes, he states,

How does this happen? Is it random? No, we can totally rule out random similarity. Statistically speaking, it's essentially zero probability that this could be random. Could it be somehow functionally necessary that these repeats be the same? That's unlikely, because some of these repeats are naturally variable and you would never even notice. So you could change them, and nothing would happen. Could it be inheritance from a common ancestor? That's at least a logical possibility. A creationist has to rule that out, though, because the Bible says that God created humans separately from apes. And that is why this similarity has to be the result of design. We know that God created apes and humans separately. The similarities they share must by necessity be a result of that creation event.[19]

[edit] Is there a Biblical concept of "kind"?

In the appeal to the Bible in support of the idea, one critical point is whether there is any Biblical support for entities called "kinds".

The word min occurs in the Bible only in a very special construction: the preposition l'+min+possessive pronoun.. This is evident even in translation: the repeated phrases according to its/their/his kind. A fixed phrase is consistent with it being an idiom with a non-transparent (i.e., not literal) meaning.[20]At least a bit of justification is needed that the Biblical expression "according to their kind" is meant to refer to a "kind", and that this supposed referent is something which is (1) the thing that is created (rather than it being individuals which are created, for example, or processes, or who-knows-what-else) and (2) unchanging for all time. There is little to support such a supposition.

But the word is suspect for another reason. The word in Biblical Hebrew has something of a mysterious origin. There is no known good relative for the word in closely related languages, supposing that it is a noun at all. It has been suggested that the word is really not a noun in its own right, but only part of a derivation from a grammatical oddity.[21] This is not universally accepted, but it does at least add a bit of suspicion which ought to be addressed.[22]

The very concept of fixed species did not occur in the history of thought until the 16th-17th century. In fact, it was invented to help explain Noah's Ark.[23][24] It is an anachronism to attribute to the compilers of the Bible (circa 800 BCE) a concept of some two thousand years later. And once it did occur, it was a concept of fixed species, not any larger biological taxon, such as family, perhaps for the obvious reasons that it is not obvious how and why any larger biological taxon would have any objective reality, or how and why it would remain fixed, and that no one has found any evidence or reason for this to be the case. (Not to mention what it means and looks like for a large taxon to be created, and where the smaller taxa come from.)

The concept of fixed kinds seem to have arisen not from any Biblical hermeneutics, but out of the necessities imposed by trying to save the doctrine of creationism from the undeniable reality of the immense diversity of nature, aided by the natural human cognitive bias of thinking of the universe in terms of Platonic ideals.

[edit] Do humans form a "Biblical kind"?

The Hebrew word min is never used in reference to humans in the Bible. Of the other words which could be translated as kind, the only instance in which such a word is applied to humans in general is in the Deuterocanon, 2 Maccabees 7:28 — the original Greek anthropon genos, meaning mankind. In other passages where the Greek genos is used in the Septuagint version in reference to humans, it is applied to a subgroup of humans, meaning relatives or clan, as in Exodus 1:9, "people of the children of Israel".

The notion that humans are in the same baramin as any non-human primate has consistently been rejected by baraminologists.[14] Recent "research" places Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, and Australopithecus sediba in the human holobaramin.[5], although this is quite controversial in the creationist community.[25] Never mind that those findings (based on skull similarities) are far better explained by us having evolved directly from them.

Of course, notwithstanding all this, even if the Bible completely, explicitly and unambiguously supported the idea it would still be wrong.

[edit] How baraminology produces observed diversity

The Creator, if He exists, has "an inordinate fondness for beetles."[26]

Creationists hold that baraminology explains the diversity of life observed today despite the extinction level event of the alleged global flood. This requires new species to diverge — by whatever means — from the original "kinds" taken on board Noah's ark. Todd Charles Wood estimates, from the fossil record and Biblical text, that 15 million species arose in only three to four centuries after the flood, and many of those are now extinct.[27]

This poses a sizable problem, because proponents of baraminology are the same people who reject most of evolution, asserting that new species do not, and cannot, form over time. According to them, only "microevolution" occurs, since horses are still horses and haven't evolved into anything startlingly different in the last few hundred years. (Creationists also have yet to clearly distinguish the "microevolution" process they accept from the "macroevolution" processes they reject, which they define as one kind descending from another.)

And there is the little issue of the separation of living things into species. If baramins are the things that were created by God, are species just accidents, things that came about by random chance after the Flood? The Bible doesn't tell us that God had anything to do with the origins of species, does it?

[edit] Extreme rates of differentiation

The problem is that evolution just does not happen as fast as would be needed. Baraminology requires a mechanism that causes diversification at super-evolutionary speeds. If genetic differentiation could occur fast enough for several thousand[28] creatures to result in the many tens of thousands of vertebrate species alone, then it would be simple enough to submit the "proof" of evolution that creationists often ask for — showing one species developing into a totally divergent one in a few generations.

The greatly increased mutation rate that baraminology requires to achieve this differentation would have caused severe problems in the organismal populations. The mutation rate required for such rapid genetic change would not leave enough viable genomes for negative mutations to be selected out of the gene pool.

There are an estimated four harmful mutations per zygote (embryo).[29] Normally, this is not a problem because nearly all mutations are recessive, and natural selection can weed out these malignant changes. Baraminology would require the rate of mutation to be sped up by a factor of up to 250,000,[30] and we could expect to see a gigantic influx of mutations approaching one million detrimental genetic changes per fertilization. This would result, of course, in the sudden termination of all life on earth.

In addition, genetic mutations cause most types of cancer;[31] an increase of even a few hundred times, far less than baraminology demands, would have tremendous and fatal consequences for animal life.

Of course, one could resort to special pleading that God "switched on", and then "switched off", the high-speed differentiation. Baraminologists have presented no evidence as to why God is unwilling and/or unable to repeat such a process now or in the future, or indeed any evidence that such a thing has happened in the past, particularly as fossil evidence only indicates a smooth and relatively slow evolutionary process. Even the best evidence for rapid evolutionary change (known as punctuated equilibrium) — such as the Lenski experiment or the Cambrian explosion — do not show evolution happening anywhere near fast enough for such rapid genetic differentiation to be realistic.

[edit] Baraminology finds a first answer

Fortunately, baraminology has found a possible mechanism for rapid diverse genetic change that doesn't conflict with the Bible or kill everything. Jean Lightner claims chromosomal translocations are the primary source of variation in the cattle baramin, and posits God as the agent who personally set up the cattle genome in such a manner so as to ensure that each of the translocations would play out just right.[12] Thus, creation science uses God as evidence of God.

Furthermore, Peter Borger has argued that created kinds had pluripotent undifferentiated genomes (coined: baranomes)[32]. Baranomes were frontloaded with a multitude of redundant genetic programs[33], as well as variation-inducing genetic elements (VIGEs) in order to facilitate adaptation, variation and speciation as described by Jean Lightner. Most of the repetitive DNA in the genomes, which is known as junk DNA, qualifies as VIGEs and functions as facilitators for recombinations[34]. Some VIGEs (knowns as ERVs) contained only two genes (gag and pol) which are required for a copy-paste mechanism to bring genes in novel genetic contexts, hence creating variability w.r.t gene expression (i.e. variation). Borger also argues that VIGEs easily transform into RNA viruses in only a few recombinational steps. [35]

[edit] See also

Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about Baraminology.

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. "Ironically, the word baramin created by the use of English syntax, in Hebrew means created by nature, therefore implies evolution." From the article Baramin in the Polish-language version of Wikipedia Baramin#Etymologia i odniesienia biblijne
  2. Frair, Wayne (2000). "Baraminology — Classification of Created Organisms". Creation Research Society Quarterly Journal 37 (2): 82–91.
  3. Is the evolutionary tree turning into a creationist orchard? (Pierre Jerlström, Creation Ministries International)
  4. National Center for Science Education:Baraminology
  5. 5.0 5.1 Todd Charles Wood. Baraminological Analysis Places Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, and Australopithecus sediba in the Human Holobaramin. Answers Research Journal 3 (2010): 71-90.
  6. The truth about evolution (Todd C. Wood) — in which Wood calls evolution "an extremely successful scientific theory" but says that "It is my own faith choice to reject evolution, because I believe the Bible reveals true information about the history of the earth that is fundamentally incompatible with evolution."
  7. "Dinosaur man: playing creationists at their own game." New Scientist, Web edition, 4 Aug 2010. Accessed 7 Aug 2010.
  8. http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/wondermonkey/2011/07/faith-versus-science-does-crea.shtml
  9. 9.0 9.1 About Us: Taxonomic Concepts and Methods (BSG: A Creation Biology Study Group)
  10. Scientists confront creationism, Laurie R. Godfrey, ISBN-10: 0393301540
  11. Wikipedia article on hybrids
  12. 12.0 12.1 Jean K. Lightner. "Karyotype Variability within the Cattle Monobaramin". Answers Research Journal 1 (2008): 77-88
  13. Roger W. Sanders. "A Quick Method for Developing a Cognitum System Exemplified Using Flowering Plants". (12.2MB PDF) Occas. Papers of the BSG No. 16, pp. 1-63.
  14. 14.0 14.1 D. Ashley Robinson and David P. Cavanaugh. "A Quantitative Approach to Baraminology With Examples from the Catarrhine Primates". . Creation Research Society Quarterly Journal 34 (4).
  15. Comparison of all skulls (talkorigins.org)
  16. Ken Miller on Human Evolution
  17. Evolutionpages.com — Chromosome 2
  18. Lightner, J. K. "A tale of two chromosomes". Answers in Genesis, December 14, 2007.
  19. Todd Charles Wood (June 16, 2010). "Stickman explains homology." Todd's Blog.
  20. With the caution that analogies between languages are to be used with reserve, think of the idiomatic English expression kind of, as in he was kind of happy — there is clearly no intended referent for the word kind.
  21. To risk another cross-language analogy, think of the English verb burgle, which is a back-formation from the noun burglar. Or the noun ilk (meaning kind), whose ultimate origin is a pronoun meaning "same".
  22. entry for min, page 262, volume 5, of The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, David J. A. Clines, editor, Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001, ISBN1-84127-217-5. Also: page 392 of Chaim Rabin, "Etymological Miscellanea", pages 384-400, Studies in the Bible, edited by Chaim Rabin, volume 8 of Scripta Hierosolymitana, Jerusalem: Magnes Press of the Hebrew University, 1961
  23. pages 232, 95 in John S. Wilkins, Species: A History of the Idea, University of California Press, 2009, ISBN 978-0-520-26085-6
  24. John Wilkins "We have ‘species’ thanks to Noah’s Ark." The Conversation, 28 October 2013.
  25. See David N. Menton. Baraminological Analysis Places Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, and Australopithecus sediba in the Human Holobaramin: Discussion. Answers Research Journal. 3 (2010): 153-158; Peter Line. "Gautengensis vs sediba: A battle for supremacy amongst ‘apeman’ contenders, but neither descended from Adam." [1]. Accessed 26 August 2010. Wood's response with links can be found at his blog.
  26. Wikiquote — JBS Haldane
  27. Building a Community for Discovery (Pam Sheppard, Answers In Genesis, January 22, 2009)
  28. Baraminologists do not yet claim a solid figure for the number of baramins. John Woodmorappe's Noah's Ark: A Feasibility Study (Institute for Creation Research, 1996), as summarised by Jonathan Sarfati, says 8,000 genera would be sufficient.
  29. Giannelli F.; Green P.M., The American journal of human genetics, 67, 2, 515-517 (2000)
  30. The Creation Museum teaches super evolution. (Note that "super evolution" is a description by skeptics of the required process, not a term used by creationists.)
  31. Wikipedia article on cancer
  32. http://evoinfo.org/papers/auxilary/borger2.pdf
  33. http://evoinfo.org/papers/auxilary/borger1.pdf
  34. http://evoinfo.org/papers/auxilary/borger4.pdf
  35. http://evoinfo.org/papers/auxilary/borger3.pdf
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