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Creation "Science" and the Genesis "Kinds"

by Lenny Flank


Like all of the other parts of creationism, the creationist view of the fossil record is based directly upon Biblical Scripture, and centers around the "type" or "kind", also sometimes called a "baramin" (from the Hebrew words bara, or "created", and min, or "kind"). This comes from the description of creation given in Genesis, which states, "And God said, let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yeilding seed, and the fruit tree yeilding fruit after his kind . . . And God created great whales and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind . . . And God said, let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind, and it was so." (Genesis 1:12-24)

Thus, the creationists assert:

"By creation we mean the bringing into being by a supernatural Creator of the basic kinds of plants and animals by the process of sudden, or fiat, creation." (Gish, 1978, p. 40)

"The creation model, on the other hand, postulates that all basic animal and plant types (the created kinds) were brought into existence by acts of a supernatural Creator using special processes which are not operating today." (Gish, 1978, p. 11)

"During creation the Creator created all of these basic animal and plant kinds, and since then no new kinds have come into being." (Gish, 1978, p. 40)

The creationists do not even attempt to make a pretense of science here, but refer openly to their religious preconceptions that all organisms are part of these "baramins" which were originally created by God.

Nevertheless, the creationists also realize that overwhelming evidence exists in nature for the transformation of organisms, such as the various breeds of dog that have been produced by breeders, the well-known example of the British peppered moth, which has been observed to vary in color according to its environmental conditions, and the many instances where speciation has actually been observed and described in the laboratory (as in the case of the production of new plant species and new species of Drosophila fruit flies). Unlike the creationists of the 19th century, therefore, who refused to believe that speciation of any sort was possible, modern creationists instead assert that some "variation" is possible, but only within the Divine limits imposed upon the original "created kinds":

"The variation that has occurred since the end of creation has been limited to changes within kinds." (Gish, 1978, p. 40)

"All present living kinds of animals and plants have remained fixed since creation, other than extinctions, and genetic variation in originally created kinds has occurred within narrow limits." (ICR Impact, May 1981)

"These 'kinds' have never evolved or merged into each other by crossing over the divinely-established lines of demarcation." (Whitcomb and Morris, 1961, p. 66)

"According to this view, God created all living creatures 'after his kind', and whatever changes have come about since creation have been within the original types, or the 'Genesis kinds'." (Clarke, 1977, p. 8)

And what is the biological mechanism which the creationists propose for producing all of these "variations" within the original "created kinds"? Surprisingly enough, it is evolution. As Morris puts it: "Modern creationists recognize and accept all the observed biological changes which evolutionists offer as proof of evolution. New varieties of plants and animals can be developed rather quickly by selection techniques, but creationists point out that no new basic kind has ever been developed by such processes." (Morris, The Troubled Waters of Evolution, 1977, p. 16) Richard Bliss of the ICR echoes, "We accept change one hundred percent. We accept the same change that the evolutionist is accepting, only he's calling it micro- evolution and we're calling it variation." (Conway and Siegelman, 1984, p. 152)

Thus, the basic creationist hypothesis has been, in effect, that "evolution happens, but only a little bit". In an effort to sound scientific, they refer to this process as "micro-evolution", and assert that, while evolutionary mechanisms may produce micro- evolution, or changes within the basic kinds, evolution cannot produce "macro-evolution", or changes from one kind to another:

"Creationists generally accept the fact that within the limitation of the genera and family, sufficient changes may take place to bring about the vast array of species seen in present plants and animals. It is the changes postulated in major groups--macro- evolution--that creationists refuse to believe could ever have been possible, because there is no evidence to support it." (Clarke, 1977, p. 204)

"The small variations in organisms which are observed to take place today . . . are irrelevant to this question, since there is no way to prove that these changes within present kinds eventually change the kinds into different, higher kinds. Since small variations (including mutations) are as much to be expected in the creation model as in the evolution model, they are of no value in discriminating between the two models." (Morris, Scientific Creationism, 1974, p. 5)

According to the modern theory of genetics (which the creationists say they accept), evolution takes place through the natural selection of variations brought about by genetic mutations. By postulating that there are certain limits beyond which mutations cannot proceed, the creationists are in essence claiming that there is some mechanism, whether biochemical or biomechanical, which only allows certain mutations to appear (those within the limits of the "created kind"), and rigorously excludes certain other mutations (those which would carry the organism outside these limits). But the creationists have been quite unable to produce (or even propose) any workable mechanism which would so effectively weed out some variations and allow others to exist. There is no known biochemical or genetic mechanism which would prevent any mutations from proceeding beyond the limits of a "created kind".

In fact, the creationists have all along been unclear and contradictory about just what a "created kind" is, and have never given a consistent definition of the term. They cannot even give a basic estimate of how many "kinds" of organisms exist. When creationist Wayne Frair of King's College in New York testified at the Arkansas trial, he was questioned on this point:

"Q: How many original created kinds were there?

FRAIR: Let's say 10,000 plus or minus a few thousand.

Some creationists believe kinds to be synonymous with species,

some with genera, some with family, and some with order, don't they?

FRAIR: The scientists with whom I am working . . . well . . . it tends more towards the family. But it may go to order in some cases.

You have been studying turtles for many years, haven't you?


Is a turtle an originally created kind?

FRAIR: I'm working on that.

Are all turtles within the same created kind?

FRAIR: That's what I'm working on." (Trial transcript, McLean v Arkansas, 1981, cited in Montagu, 1984, pp 295-296)

It is not surprising that Frair was unable to tell us how many "kinds" of turtles there are, since no creationist has ever produced a workable and consistent definition of what constitutes a "kind". Duane Gish, the creationist's "expert" on the fossil record, writes:

"We must here attempt to define what we mean by a basic kind. A basic animal or plant kind would include all animals or plants which were derived from a common stock. In present day terms, it would be said that they have shared a common gene pool." (Gish, 1978, p. 32)

Gish is here using circular reasoning. The concept of "all animals or plants which are derived from a common stock" is a good definition of a biological "clade", which is defined as all organisms sharing common ancestry. Ultimately, of course, evolutionary theory holds that all organisms constitute a single clade, since all are derived from a single common ancestor. The creationists, on the other hand, argue that certain "kinds" of organisms are not related to each other by descent. To use the criterion of "common stock" as a definition of a "kind" is therefore spurious, since it is precisely the question of "descent from common stock" which is at issue here. The creationists thus must come up with some criteria for determining exactly which groups of organisms share a common ancestry (and thus constitute a "kind") and which do not (and thus constitute separate "kinds"). In an attempt to clarify this criterion, Gish then cites an example:

"We have defined a basic kind as including all of those variants which have been derived from a single stock . . . This basic kind (which we may call the dog kind) includes not only all coyote species, but also the wolf (Canis lupus), the dog (Canis familiaris) and the jackals, also of the genus Canis, since they are all interfertile and produce fertile offspring." (Gish, 1978, p. 34)

This definition--a created "kind" consists of organisms which interbreed and produce fertile young--seems to be the most commonly cited among creationists:

"A kind may be defined as a generally interfertile group of organisms that possesses variant genes for a common set of traits but does not interbreed with other organisms under normal circumstances." (ICR Impact, "Summary of Evidence for Creation", May/June 1981)

"Many varieties of dogs have been developed from one ancestral dog 'kind', yet they are still interfertile and capable of reverting back to the ancestral form." (Morris, Scientific Creationism, 1974, p. 180)

"The oft-repeated statement, however, that God's creatures brought forth progeny 'after their kind' would strongly indicate that plants and animals which can interbreed and produce offspring would be of the same 'kind'. A corollary conclusion would then be that production of offspring from matings between two different kinds would be impossible." (Hilbert Siegler, CRS Quarterly, Vol. 15, 1978, cited in Godfrey, 1983, p. 168)

As stated by creationists, this definition of a "kind"--a group of organisms which interbreeds with each other but does not interbreed with those outside the group under normal circumstances--is identical with the biological definition of a species. (Dogs and coyotes are classified as separate species even though they are physically capable of breeding and producing viable offspring, since, under natural conditions, they do not normally interbreed. The biological species is therefore based on the principle of "reproductive isolation"--if organisms do not interbreed under natural conditions, they are considered to be a separate gene pool, a species.)

If this definition of a "kind" were to be accepted ("plants and animals which interbreed and produce viable offspring"), the creationists would have to conclude that no species can ever evolve into another species, since a species itself is a group of organisms which interbreed and produce viable offspring. But this assertion presents tremendous problems, since speciation has been directly observed many times both in nature and in the laboratory.

The definition we have seen of a created "kind" is, moreover, unworkable in its own terms. A horse and a donkey are universally held by creationists to be one "kind", but a horse and a donkey cannot produce fertile offspring. They can breed and produce young, but this progeny, a mule, is completely sterile and cannot reproduce after its "kind". By the logic of their definition, the creationists would seem to be forced to conclude that horses and donkeys are separate "kinds". But, since horses and donkeys are so obviously related by evolutionary descent, the creationists cannot have this either, since it would establish "evolution between kinds", which is precisely what they are trying to avoid. (Remember that the creationists accept the existence of evolutionary descent as a mechanism for producing "variation within a kind".)

Hence, some creationists have now dropped the requirement of "interfertility", and have asserted that any organisms that can breed with each other and produce offspring, whether fertile or not, constitute a "kind":

"Creationists have long felt a need for a classification that would include in one consistent category all organisms that interbreed under any conditions." (David Menton, "Species, Speciation and the Genesis Kind", Missouri Association for Creation, October 1994)

This definition, however, also produces problems. In the northeastern United States, for example, are found two species of tree frogs, Hyla versicolor and Hyla chrysoscelis. The two are absolutely identical in appearence, and the only way to distinguish them in the field is by their slightly differing mating calls. One of these species is a "polyploid" of the other, that is, it developed from the other species when a chromosomal abnormality left some individuals with twice the normal number of chromosomes. (Polyploidy is a very common means of plants to produce new species--in fact, most domesticated food plants like wheat and rye are polyploids--but is comparitively rare among animals.) There is no doubt that the two frogs share an ancestor/descendent relationship, and that one evolved from the other through polyploidy.

For the creationists to consider these two virtually identical frogs as being of different "kinds" would be absurd on the face of it, since they are so alike they can be distinguished only in the lab, and they obviously share evolutionary descent. So naturally, the creationists would like to lump these two species together as "variations" within one "created kind". But there is a problem for the creationists--the two Hyla species do not, and, because of their chromosomal differences, cannot, interbreed. Not only do they not produce any fertile offspring--they are incapable of producing any offspring at all. The same problem arises in connection with plants-- the polyploid descendents of particular plants can no longer produce viable seeds with the parent stock, and thus cannot produce any offspring with the parent species. Therefore, the creationist, using the criterion of "interbreeding", must conclude that the two are different "kinds", even though one is obviously a descendent of the other (polyploid plants have been successfully produced and bred in the laboratory--in fact many of our food crops are polyploid descendents of corn and wheat plants which can no longer interbreed with the parent stock).

Once again, the creationists must either admit the existence of evolution between "kinds", or they must change their definition of what constitutes a "kind". Thus, we are finally led to:

"If two organisms breed, even though it is infrequent, they are of the same kind; if they don't breed but are clearly of the same morphological type, they are of the same kind, by the logic of the axiom which states two things equal to the same thing are equal to each other." (Wysong, cited in Kitcher, 1982, p. 152)

One may dispute just how "logical" Wysong's definition is (on the one hand, organisms which interbreed are of the same "kind"; on the other hand, organisms that don't interbreed are also of the same "kind" if they look enough alike), but there is no disputing that even this loose definition causes problems for the creationists. Now we need to define what constitutes an organism "of the same morphological type". Gish points out, "The division into kinds is easier the more the divergence observed." (Gish, 1978, p. 35)

"It is obvious, for example, that among the invertebrates the protozoa, sponges, jellyfish, worms, snails, trilobites, lobsters and bees are all different kinds. Among the vertebrates, the fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals are obviously different basic kinds. Among the reptiles, the turtles, crocodiles, dinosaurs, pterosaurs (flying reptiles), and icthyosaurs (aquatic reptiles) would be placed in different kinds. Each one of these major groups of reptiles could be further subdivided into the basic kinds within each. Within the mammalian class, duckbilled platypuses, opposums, bats, hedgehogs, rats, rabbits, dogs, cats, lemurs, monkeys, apes and men are easily assignable to different basic kinds. Among the apes, the gibbons, orangutans, chimpanzees and gorillas would each be included in a different basic kind." (Gish, 1978, p 35.)

But now Gish has confused the issue even further. On the one hand, Gish lists "mammals" as constituting one basic kind. Since most mammals cannot interbreed with each other, it must be assumed that this is based on morphological criteria--i.e., all of the mammals are sufficiently alike in their basic body structures that they must all be descended from each other (variation within the "created kind"). But in the very next paragraph, we are told that the chimpanzees and gorillas, both mammals, must also be separate "kinds". How can the mammals be assumed to have body structures that are similar enough to form a "basic kind", yet two of the members of that group, the chimps and the gorillas, are sufficiently different in basic body plans to constitute separate kinds? Even more confusingly, Gish classifies "dinosaurs", a huge group of reptiles which differed profoundly from each other (they ranged from the chicken-sized predator Compsognathus to the fifty-ton plant eater Seismosaurus; some dinosaurs walked on two legs, some on four; some, such as Stegosaurus, had absurdly small brains, while some, like Troodon, had relatively large brains for their body size), as one "kind", but separates chimps and gorillas (who look almost identical and who share over 95% of their genetic codes) as being "different kinds".

The reason for Gish's arbitrary classification is obvious. If dinosaurs are all related through evolution, that is not a big deal to the creationists, since it is "only variation within a kind" and not "real evolution". But if the anthropoid apes are related by evolutionary descent, that strikes a bit too close to home for the creationists; after all, if chimps and gorillas are one "kind" and share over 95% of their DNA, what then are we to make of human beings, who share over 98% of their genetic code with chimps? The conclusion that apes and humans would then constitute (on the basis of morphological similarity) a single "created kind", and that therefore apes and humans would be evolutionary variations of each other, is flatly unacceptable to the reationists. After all, the very core of their opposition to evolution is the supposed divine origin of human beings. Rather than admit that humans are just an evolutionary variant of the ape "kind", the creationists instead carefully draw their boundaries to avoid that possibility.

In effect, then, creationists define a "kind" as (1) a group of organisms which do interbreed, or (2) a group of organisms which don't interbreed but which are similar in basic body plans--and then they leave the guidelines extremely fuzzy about what constitutes "similarity in basic body plans". This loophole leaves so much room for manipulation that it is essentially useless. Fish as different from each other as hagfish and lungfish and rainbow trout can all be classified as one "kind", while animals as similar to each other as gorillas and chimpanzees are classified as separate "kinds". A created kind, under this definition, is nothing more than whatever the defining creationist wants it to be.

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