Monday, April 03, 2017

Thinking About Galapagos (12): Todd Wood's Baraminology

In my previous posts, I have mentioned Todd Wood's young-Earth creationist theory of baraminology--the idea that species have arisen through a limited evolution of species within created kinds (baramins).  In 1941, Frank Marsh coined the term baramin from the Hebrew words for "create" and "kind."  In 1990, Kurt Wise coined the term baraminology as a label for the creationist science that would elaborate and test Marsh's theory.  Over the past 20 years, Wood has continued to work out this theory.  Notably, all three of these people can be identified as serious scientists.  Marsh had a Ph.D. in biology from the University of Nebraska.  Wise earned his Ph.D. in geology from Harvard University, where he studied under Stephen Jay Gould.  Wood earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of Virginia.  The critics of creationism cannot say that these men are ignorant of science.

For some years, Wise and Wood were together at Bryan College (named after William Jennings Bryan), located in Dayton, Tennessee (the site of the Scopes trial in 1925).  It should be noted that William Jennings Bryan was an old-Earth creationism, and so he would have rejected the young-Earth creationism of Wise and Wood.

                                                                     Todd Wood

Kurt Wise

Wood has produced this video--"Understanding Created Kinds with Bunnies"--to illustrate his idea of baraminology as worked out through statistical analysis of biological traits to find clusters of species.

Of all the creationist writing on Galapagos, the most impressive in its scientific rigor and comprehensive coverage of Galapagos is Wood's book A Creationist Review and Preliminary Analysis of the History, Geology, Climate, and Biology of the Galapagos Islands (2005).  It occurs to me that a serious project for thinking through the scientific and theological meaning of Galapagos would be to organize a tour of Galapagos on a yacht with 16 passengers who would represent the full range of positions on creationism and evolution; and prior to the voyage, all the passengers would read Wood's book along with some evolutionist writings on Galapagos.  While sailing around the islands, these people could then debate the meaning of their observations of Galapagos in the light of the differing positions represented in their readings.  Hey, I'm ready to go again!

Here's one passage from Wood's book that summarizes his conclusions:
"In contrast to natural theologians of Darwin's younger days, today's creationists affirm a single creation event and a single global catastrophe with recolonization of the earth by land animals from Ararat.  The young-earth creationist framework precludes re-creation of species, 'centers of creation' for modern organisms, and even species stasis.  Thus, the species of the Galapagos were not created in the islands nor in any nearby center of creation. Instead, the Galapagos were certainly devoid of life immediately after the Flood (Gen. 7:21-23), whether the islands formed during or after the Flood.  The ancestors of Galapagos plants probably sprouted from propagules that formed large vegetation mats during and after the Flood.  The land animals must have sprung from ancestral stock that survived the Flood on the Ark, explaining their affinities with South and Central American species. In modern creationism, the question of how animals colonized the islands remains an important issue to be addressed" (2005, 170-71).
He says that he accepts "a chronology similar to Ussher and Lightfoot" (Wood and Murray 2003, 35).  So, I assume this means he accepts Ussher's dates--4004 BC for the Creation, 2350 BC for the Flood.  The evolution of all the species we see today would have happened in a period of rapid diversification shortly after the Flood, perhaps within a few hundred years. He never comments on the problem that the Bible never specifies these dates.

As I have already indicated in previous posts, what is most remarkable about baraminological creationism is how much it concedes to Darwin.  The creationism that Wood rejects--"re-creation of species, 'centers of creation' for modern organisms, and even species stasis"--is the "theory of special creation" that Darwin rejected in The Origin of Species.  Wood agrees with Darwin that the "theory of natural selection" is a better explanation for the species endemic to Galapagos than the creationist idea that God specially created each of those species for Galapagos.  According to Wood, "Darwin correctly deduced that species on the islands had evolved by natural selection," although he incorrectly deduced that all species evolved from a common ancestor over a long period of time (2005, 4).

The baraminological creationists say that the biblical creationism rejected by Darwin was actually "unbiblical," because it misinterpreted the Bible as teaching that each species had to be specially created by God.  The problem, Wood indicates, is that in the Bible's account of creation, the Hebrew word min ("kind" in King James English) is an "imprecise term" that was translated as "species" by Saint Jerome in the Latin Vulgate of the Bible (using the Latin word species) and by biblical creationists generally up to Darwin's day (Wood 2008, 8). But since the baraminological creationists have recognized that Darwin refuted the theory of special creation, they now realize that min should be interpreted as a term for a group of plants or animals at a taxonomic level higher than species, designated by the technical term baramin ("created kind"), which is at or near the modern taxonomic rank of "family" (Wood 2005, 57).  But such a contrived interpretation of the Bible's language contradicts the claim of the baraminological creationists that their position rests on "clear biblical teachings about the past" that require no special interpretation.  Indeed, this baraminological interpretation of the Bible is so hard to see that almost no readers of the Bible saw it until Frank Marsh proposed it in 1941; and even today most readers of the Bible don't see it, and many biblical creationists actively criticize it.

In principle, baraminological creationism is truly scientific in so far as it can make falsifiable predictions that are open to empirical testing.  It makes four general predictions.  (1) All species of plants and animals are grouped into baramins at or near the taxonomic level of families, as identified by a biological similarity that sets species within the group apart from species outside the group.  (2) Baramins do not have any common ancestors. (3) The genomes of the species within a baramin show a genetic mechanism that caused a rapid speciation within a few hundred years that stopped a few thousand years ago. (4) These baraminological patterns are consistent with the biblical account of creation.

Marsh believed that organisms belonging to the same baramin were identified by their God-given ability to hybridize.  Wise and Wood believe that hybridization is a sufficient but not necessary sign for identifying baramins.  Wise and Wood propose that baramins "merely occupy a continuous region of biological character space," and consequently, baramins are identified either by the continuity between species or by the discontinuity between larger groups (Wood 2005, 53-54).  Wood employs various statistical methodologies for detecting patterns in biological traits that show continuity or discontinuity at the taxonomic level of families.

Wood uses this statistical methodology to classify the Galapagos species into baramins.  So, for example, Wood sees evidence that all of Darwin's finches in Galapagos belong to a single baramine (geospizine).  In contrast to those creationists who have argued that Darwin's finches are too similar to be separate species, Wood agrees with the Grants that these finches have evolved by natural selection into separate species.  And yet, Wood insists, this is speciation "within a created kind" (Wood 2005, 108-25, 187-88).

Similarly, Wood sees the other endemic species of Galapagos as belonging to distinct baramins.  So that, for instance, the Galapagos penguin belongs to the baramin family Speniscidae. The three booby species--blue-footed, red-footed, and Nazca--belong to a single baramin. And the lava lizards, the land iguanas, and the marine iguanas all belong to one baramin--the family Iguanidae--that was on the Ark.  In this case, the hybridization on South Plaza Island of marine and land iguanas proves that they belong to the same baramin.  (I have written about the hybrid iguana in a previous post.)

Wood also accepts the Darwinian explanation of how the ancestral species for the endemic species of Galapagos migrated from the South American mainland to the islands.  Wood, however, sees this as part of the migration of animals from Noah's Ark on Mount Ararat in what is now Turkey.

Wood rejects the Darwinian claim that this speciation that one sees on Galapagos took millions of years, because Wood is committed to an Ussherite biblical chronology that requires a short span of two hundred years or less.  For this reason, old-Earth creationists like Hugh Ross have identified young-Earth creationists like Wood as "hyperevolutionists" who believe in "ultraefficient biological evolution" that can create thousands of new species in a few hundred years, which seems ridiculously implausible unless there is some amazingly fast mechanism for such evolutionary speciation (Ross 2015, 116). 

Wood only briefly acknowledges this criticism in a few sentences (Wood 2005, 58).  In fact, it's his only reference to old-Earth creationism.  He doesn't answer the criticism except to say that young-Earth creationists have proposed some mechanisms for explaining rapid diversification of species.  He mentions his own proposal--that transposable genetic elements ("jumping genes") with an extremely high rate of producing beneficial mutations could explain rapid speciation after the Flood (Wood 2002).  But, surprisingly, he mentions this theory in only three sentences in his Galapagos book (Wood 2005, 58, 187, 196); and he does nothing to show how this explains speciation in Galapagos.  As far as I know, he has never presented any evidence that such a mechanism exists. So it seems that he has no good answer to this criticism from the old-Earth creationists.

Another problem for Wood and the young-Earth creationists generally is that they don't have a good explanation for what Wood recognizes as "biological imperfection" or "any biological phenomenon that appears to be contrary to our understanding of the nature or intentions of the Creator" (Wood 2005, 144).  David Hull, a philosopher of biology, once wrote an essay on "The God of the Galapagos."  He asked:
"What kind of God can one infer from the sort of phenomena epitomized by the species on Darwin's Galapagos Islands?  The evolutionary process is rife with happenstance, contingency, incredible waste, death, pain, and horror. . . .
". . . The God of the Galapagos is careless, wasteful, indifferent, almost diabolical.  He is certainly not the sort of God to whom anyone would be inclined to pray" (Hull 1991, 486).
Wood fervently disagrees with Hull:
". . . Based on the preliminary work I have presented here, I would say that just the opposite is true.  The organisms of the Galapagos reveal a wise and caring Creator that endowed His creatures with amazing abilities to survive in hostile and unpredictable environments, despite the influence of sin and the Curse.  This is exactly the kind of God to whom I would not only pray but also trust with my life" (Wood 2005, 199).
It is not clear, however, that this explains "biological imperfections" like siblicide among the Galapagos boobies.  As I have noted in a previous post, tourists who are initially charmed by the Galapagos boobies are disturbed when they learn that Nazca boobies lay two eggs and then allow the older of the two offspring to kill the younger, because only one can be reared to maturity.  Wood says that creationists explain something like this as an imperfection that comes from the God's Curse for the Fall of Adam and Eve.  But as he indicates, this doesn't seem to explain the "intrabaraminic variation" among the boobies: although all three booby species belong to the same baramin, only one species (the Nazca booby) shows this genetic propensity to siblicide (Wood 2005, 144-46).  If the divinely created propensity to siblicide is God's Curse on boobies because of the Fall, why does it appear only among the Nazca boobies?  The alternative Darwinian explanation is that this is something that arose from an evolutionary process that was not designed by God.

Of course, the creationists might say that we can't rightly hold the boobies morally responsible for their behavior, because only human beings were created in God's image, as moral and spiritual beings, and thus set apart from all other animals.  Here is a clear disagreement with Darwin, who once wrote: "Man in his arrogance thinks himself a great work, worthy of the interposition of a deity, more humble and I believe true to consider him created from animals" (Darwin 1987, 300).

If human beings were not "created from animals," but specially created in God's image, as the Bible teaches, then it would seem that the human species should be in a baramin of its own, showing little or no biological similarity with other animals.  One would think, therefore, that this is a falsifiable prediction of Wood's baraminological science.

Wood recognizes the remarkable biological similarity between human beings and chimpanzees at the level of their genomes--about 98%.  He does not admit that this falsifies one of the predictions of his creationist science.  But he does say this is a "problem" for creationist science, for which he has no solution (Wood 2006).

Wood considers the possibility "that God created humans and chimpanzees with identical genomes."  and he says: "Theologically, the high similarity of humans and chimpanzees reinforces our spiritual--not physical (Ecc. 3:18-21)--distinctiveness from the animals. It is the image of God that makes us human not some intrinsically valuable genetic element" (Wood 2006, 12).

By citing the verses from Ecclesiastes, Wood confirms the point made by Hugh Ross (2015, 58-60, 267-68) that there are many creation-related passages in the Bible outside of the opening chapters of Genesis.  The verses from Ecclesiastes are particularly interesting in indicating the biological similarity of humans and animals:
"I think to myself: where human beings are concerned, this is so that God can test them and show them that they are animals. For the fate of human and the fate of animal is the same: as the one dies, so the other dies; both have the same spirit [ruwach].  Human is in no way better off than animal--since all is futile.  Everything goes to the same place, everything comes from the dust, everything returns to the dust. Who knows if the human spirit [ruwach] mounts upward or if the animal spirit [ruwach] goes downward to the earth?" (Ecclesiastes 3:18-21)
Wood wants to see here a distinction between the physical similarity of humans and animals and the spiritual difference, so that human beings are the only spiritual animals.  But notice that humans and animals are said here to have the "same spirit," using the Hebrew word ruwach. 

Was Darwin right about human beings as "created from animals"?  If all the evidence supported this conclusion, would Wood accept it?  Perhaps Wood would agree with Kurt Wise who once wrote:
"Although there are scientific reasons for accepting a young earth, I am a young-age creationist because that is my understanding of the Scripture. As I shared with my professors years ago when I was in college, if all the evidence in the universe turned against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate. Here I must stand." (Wise 2000, 355)
Notice what Wise is saying here.  His biblical faith takes priority over scientific reasoning.  His biblical faith dictates young-earth creationism, and thus he looks for scientific evidence that supports that faith, but his faith commitment does not depend on any scientific evidence.  Therefore, no scientific evidence for evolution could ever convince him to change his mind.  Ken Ham said that in his debate with Bill Nye.  Similarly, Wood said this in a blog post:
"Evolution is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for evolution, gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion. It is a productive framework for lots of biological research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of evolution. There has really been no failure of evolution as a scientific theory. It works, and it works well.

"I say these things not because I'm crazy or because I've "converted" to evolution. I say these things because they are true. I'm motivated this morning by reading yet another clueless, well-meaning person pompously declaring that evolution is a failure. People who say that are either unacquainted with the inner workings of science or unacquainted with the evidence for evolution. (Technically, they could also be deluded or lying, but that seems rather uncharitable to say. Oops.)

"Creationist students, listen to me very carefully: There is evidence for evolution, and evolution is an extremely successful scientific theory. That doesn't make it ultimately true, and it doesn't mean that there could not possibly be viable alternatives. 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. I am motivated to understand God's creation from what I believe to be a biblical, creationist perspective. Evolution itself is not flawed or without evidence. Please don't be duped into thinking that somehow evolution itself is a failure. Please don't idolize your own ability to reason. Faith is enough. If God said it, that should settle it. Maybe that's not enough for your scoffing professor or your non-Christian friends, but it should be enough for you."
"Faith is enough.  If God said it, that should settle it."  So, again, belief in young-earth creationism is not based on scientific evidence.  It's based on biblical faith--or rather on faith in a young-earth creationist interpretation of the Bible.  Someone like Wood with that young-earth creationist faith is motivated to look for scientific evidence consistent with that faith, but that faith is not falsifiable by the scientific evidence.  Without that faith, Wood candidly admits, looking at the evidence would support evolution.

Notice that the content of that faith comes from a human interpretation of the Bible--a young-earth creationist interpretation--that many readers of the Bible will not share.  So there will be different kinds of biblical faith depending upon the different kinds of biblical interpretations that believers adopt.

Perhaps it is not fair to say that biblical creationism is not falsifiable in any way.  After all, Wood is candid in saying that he developed his theory of baraminology as a creationist substitute for the theory of special creation--the theory that God had specially created every species, and that species were immutable--because that theory had been refuted by Darwin.  Wood also had to develop a special interpretation of the Bible that would be consistent with his theory.  Therefore, Wood indicates, the older creationist science and creationist interpretation of the Bible were falsified by Darwin's evolutionary science.  (Wood's concessions to Darwinian science are similar to the concessions made by Michael Behe, the intelligent-design proponent, as I have indicated in a previous post.)

So those who go to Galapagos, who listen to the Darwinian explanations of their naturalist guides, and who then look at the evidence for evolutionary adaptation in Galapagos will see that the evidence there really does support the truth of evolution.  But those who go to Galapagos with faith in the young-earth creationist interpretation of the Bible will interpret the evidence as showing that God created "kinds," and that the only possible evolution has been within those "kinds," as an expression of the genetic potential originally designed by the Creator.

Some of my other posts on the different kinds of creationism and intelligent design can be found hereherehere, and here.


Darwin, Charles. 1987. Charles Darwin's Notebooks, 1836-1844. Eds. Paul Barrett et al. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Hull, David. 1991. "The God of Galapagos." Nature 352: 485-486.

Ross, Hugh. 2015. A Matter of Days: Resolving a Creation Controversy. 2nd expanded edition. Covina, CA: RTB Press.

Wise, Kurt P. 2000. "47." In Six Days: Why Fifty Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation, 351-55. Green Forest, AR: Master Books. (Available online.)

Wood, Todd. 2002. "The AGEing Process: Post-Flood Intrabaraminic Diversification Caused by Altruistic Genetic Elements (AGEs)." Origins (GRI) 54:3-34.  (Available online).

__________. 2005. A Creationist Review and Preliminary Analysis of the History, Geology, Climate, and Biology of the Galapagos Islands. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers.

__________. 2006. "The Chimpanzee Genome and the Problem of Biological Similarity." Occasional Papers of the Baraminology Study Group. Number 7, pp. 1-18.  (Available online.)

__________. 2008. "Species Variability and Creationism." Origins Number 62: 6-24.  (Available online.)

Wood, Todd, and M. J. Murray. 2003. Understanding the Pattern of Life. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman.

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