[Originally published as Is Baraminology Bogus?
Editor’s note: The following is a discussion of how some creation scientists approach the classification of living beings. It allows us to see behind the scenes into the ongoing philosophical and research-related efforts that demonstrate we are nowhere near being done understanding how God created.]
First, I will remind my readers that I’m a young-age creationist.
- I believe the universe is only thousands of years old and that God created all of what we see in just a week’s time.
- I also believe that science is a great tool for understanding God’s creation, and I believe that studying God’s Word, the Bible, is just as important as the science.
- I also recognize that the Bible does not address every question that I have.
I fervently believe that humans are a special creation made in God’s image and not evolved from apes, but the Bible does not tell me what to think about Neandertals. For that issue, I have to use science to evaluate the evidence and make an informed decision. There are lots and lots of questions that science brings up that the Bible does not answer directly, but the framework the Bible describes allows us to place nearly everything into a creation model context. So the Bible may not spell out what to think about four-legged whales, Neandertals, or feathered dinosaurs, but it provides a lot of guidance about the creation of animals that lets me figure out where they might go in a creation model.
Sources of Information
With that said, should we “trust” the information reported by evolutionary scientists? That’s a complicated question.
Insofar as the entire scientific enterprise depends on accurate reporting of results, then yes, we have no choice but to trust their data reporting. Since the public nature of scientific publication guarantees that your mistakes will be part of the record, there’s a strong motive to make sure your work is accurate, and that’s a good reason to accept published data as it is.
Furthermore, given that 90% of creationist research depends on reinterpreting published data, nearly all of creationist research would grind to a halt if we stopped trusting basic data reporting. So when it comes to information about fossils (like measurements, anatomical descriptions, and so forth), I would trust an evolutionary scientist who has examined the fossils personally before I trusted an amateur creationist who has not.
There’s nothing about being an “evolutionist” that makes a person inherently untrustworthy when it comes to reporting basic data (I would not say the same for reporting interpretations of data, which must be treated with a great deal of skepticism).
That said, no scientist really “trusts” much of anything.
Scientists always try to replicate earlier results, and in that regard, I’m no different. My big surveys have looked at a lot of published character matrices only because I wanted to generate a lot of case studies that others could follow up on. I wanted to get a sense of what we could see as a first approximation. With hominins, however, I’ve been far more critical to the point where I went through all 391 published characters to find more information on Homo floresiensis. Now, I’m generating even more original data from casts, scans, and photographs.
Do I “trust” scientists to report accurately? Yes but no.
What I don’t want to do is get to the point where I reject methods or data only because it does not conform to my preconceived notions about creation. Science is emphatically not a tool to confirm our biases and preconceived beliefs. That’s quite literally the opposite of science. Or maybe I should say that that’s more of a postmodern, deconstructionist stereotype where science is culturally constructed and not producing actual knowledge.
I’m a realist, and I don’t believe that science is just a word game. Unless I have a good reason to reject my methods or results, I’m not likely to do it. Especially when I keep getting the same result. But I still retain that scientific skepticism that drives me to keep exploring. It shouldn’t need saying that baraminology is not infallible.
The Limits of Creationist “Baraminology”
Another important point to remember is that the purported existence of feathered dinosaurs or four-legged whales, or bipedal apes is not really a question that’s suitable for baraminology.
The categories “dinosaur,” “whale,” or “ape” almost certainly contain more than one created kind, and those sorts of categories aren’t exactly what statistical baraminology is after. I dabbled a little with these kinds of categories when examining birds and dinosaurs, but we did not try to identify any created kinds in that study. We simply noted places where discontinuity between groups of created kinds was evident.
Only in evolutionary biology does it make sense to be dogmatic about whether a thing is a “bird” or a “dinosaur” because those groups really exist as branches of the evolutionary tree. We creationists don’t accept a single evolutionary tree, so “bird” and “dinosaur” take on different meanings as groups of baramins.
And as far as I can see from my experience, there are a lot of weird cases where I’m not sure what to call a fossil. That does not undermine creation because I can still identify created kinds that those creatures might belong to. But whether or not feathers are limited to an artificial category called “bird” is not a hill worth dying on. It’s certainly inappropriate to use it as a litmus test of orthodoxy or a basis for harassing people.
You Can Only Have Statistics by Knowing What is in the Fossil Itself
Furthermore, whether australopiths walked upright or some dinosaurs had feathers is a question of the fossil evidence rather than statistical baraminology. Even when we can all agree that certain fossils are called australopiths or dinosaurs, the attributes of the fossils themselves determine their attributes. Statistical baraminology has nothing to do with it. If I find a dozen traits in australopiths that match what I expect from a biped, then it’s sensible to conclude that they walked upright.
We can debate what those attributes might be and how to interpret them, but statistical baraminology is only suitable for telling whether this or that group of fossils belongs to a created kind or not. It can’t tell you if dinosaurs had feathers or australopiths walked around on two legs.
To be continued…