The Hunt for the Mythical Kind

Frankly, it’s about time. Young Earth creationists assert that the natural world is divided into clearly distinguishable “kinds,” collections of species that share common ancestry. This would produce what I’ll call the ‘fungus of life,’ and if true should be a damn slight bit more obvious than it is. While this – that is, actually testing the various out-there claims that creationists make – is generally Todd Wood’s department, the ICR is finally getting in on the act. But they’re not approaching it quite right. Nathaniel Jeanson opens his article, Bio-Origins Project Update, Comparing 2,000 Animal Species Molecularly, like so:

If you were to compare DNA across diverse species, what pattern would you expect to see? The Bio-Origins project at ICR has narrowed its focus to DNA to answer several major creation biology questions. We want to: 1) identify the created kind boundaries; 2) identify the mechanism by which the kinds underwent diversification into the vast array of species we see today; and 3) identify the biological reason why the diversification process is limited to change within kinds. We also want to gather evidence against the faulty evolutionary paradigm epitomized by the “tree of life.”

The flaw here is that he assumes that kinds even exist before starting out: if he were doing this properly he would test that fact first. Not doing so runs the risk (who am I kidding? It’s gonna happen) of phenomena being misinterpreted as the features he is looking for, and probably used later as proof that kinds exist into the bargain – and it would be terrible if the ICR was to fall into the trap of circular reasoning, a sin they baselessly accuse real scientists of committing about every other month.

Weekly Weinersmith episode on horizontal gene transfer. And also slime moulds.

While we’re here, there are problems with the ‘tree of life.’ A proper mathematical tree demands that its branches never rejoin or otherwise come into contact, but life really cannot be pinned down to such strict and arbitrary rules.

Dr Jeanson continues:

How would you attempt to answer these questions using DNA as a tool? Would you expect to find a “signature” in DNA that marks which species belong to which kinds? Would you expect to find discontinuity that depicts every species as isolated and unique from every other species? Perhaps a signature that genetic change started recently (in the past few thousand years)?

Yes, you would expect to find all those things (depending on your definition of “species” in question three). But he’s not going to find them, not if he does his work properly.

As we hypothesize answers to these questions and try to test them, it is helpful to take stock of what we know about species’ origins. First, we know that species undergo change—you don’t look exactly like your parents. Second, we know how fast (at present) change occurs. For example, we know, on average, how many mutations occur each generation in humans. Third, we know from Scripture that change has happened for only 6,000-10,000 years, not for millions of years (as evolution posits). Fourth, we know that species have descended from the kinds that God created during the creation week.

Careful there Nathaniel – don’t start positing gaps to make things fit, you’ll never be forgiven. You’ll note, once again, that he thinks the Bible is sufficient to tell him these things and that he doesn’t need to test it just to make sure. See what I meant about faith and evidence yesterday?

This knowledge creates a framework in which we can identify underlying assumptions about DNA change that must be addressed before our bigger questions can be answered. Several unknowns are apparent.

We also don’t know if DNA changes since creation occurred randomly or deterministically. Were changes designed to occur in specific regions of the genome, or did they occur haphazardly?

If they’re the result of the Fall like they often claim, then they probably would be random (certainly degenerate). This is closest to the ‘random, for certain definitions of the word’ situation we actually observe. The other option I’ve seen claimed occasionally, as a sort of escape hatch when it comes to beneficial mutations, and it would be nice if they finally put up or shut up here.

Another unknown is the rate of change in each species—was it constant or variable? Was there a burst of change post-Flood followed by a slow-down to the present day, or was change constant over every species’ history? All of these assumptions need to be explored before we can use DNA comparisons to answer our bigger creation biology questions.

Todd Wood can answer that first question for you, if it comes down to it – it would have to be. (H/T Adam Benton for that interesting link – see his post for a rundown.) Jeanson concludes:

So, what would we expect the pattern of DNA similarities and differences to be across diverse species? Our molecular studies so far have (tentatively) revealed an intriguing phenomenon. We have compared DNA and protein sequences across ~2,000 species of animals, and, pending peer review, these comparisons naturally lump species into groups that match traditional classification categories based on anatomy and physiology. What do these results imply about the origin of these sequences in these species? Stay tuned to this column as we try to answer this question!

Oh really. This could be interesting to see. Do these ‘groups’ form some kind of heirachy, I wonder…

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