Baraminology: quite possibly the stupidest thing you will learn of today.

The point of creationism is to assert that the Biblical depiction of the creation of the world, life and humans is how it all actually happened. The point of scientific creationism is to assert that the Biblical depiction of the creation of the world, life and humans is how it all actually happened — and pretend that this makes consistent and robust sense.

Baraminology is one of the stranger fruit of this particular bramble bush. It attempts to solve the problem of how to fit two (or seven) of every kind of animal on Noah’s Ark. The more than 10 million existing animal species could not have fit, let alone survived, on any plausible boat; so baraminology attempts to redefine the meaning of the word “kind” in Genesis to mean a much wider group (a baramin) so as to reduce the number of animals Noah would have had to take.

Baraminology is a Bizarro-ray version of cladistics, the way scientists actually classify species these days: everything placed in one tree of descent of all life. Baraminology postulates multiple trees, discontinuous and unrelated. Baraminologists use many of the techniques of cladistics — and some of it approaches excellent evidence for evolution, if only they could admit it to themselves.

There has never been a clear explanation of how to tell if two creatures are part of the same “kind”. 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. (Except humans, of course, which share their baramin with no non-human primate.) The clearest summary of the art of baraminological classification is given by Roger W. Sanders in his 2010 paper on placing plants into baramins:

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.”

One critical point in appealing to the Bible is whether there is any Biblical support for entities called “kinds”. The Hebrew word “min” (“kind”) occurs in the Bible only in a very special construction: the preposition l’+min+possessive pronoun — “according to its/their/his kind.” There’s pretty much nothing to support 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. The concept of fixed kinds seems to have arisen not from Biblical hermeneutics, but from trying to save a doctrine from the undeniable reality of the immense diversity of nature.

Baraminology requires new species to diverge from the original “kinds” taken on board Noah’s ark. The theory involves 15 million animal species (many now extinct) arising in only three to four centuries after the flood, in a burst of apparent super-evolution — even though proponents of baraminology are the same people who reject most of evolution, asserting that new species cannot form over time.

The problem is that species change just does not happen as fast as would be needed, and baraminology requires a mechanism that causes diversification at super-evolutionary speeds. The greatly increased mutation rate that baraminology requires to achieve this differentation would have caused severe problems in the population of each species. There are an estimated four harmful mutations per embryo. Normally, this is not a problem because nearly all mutations are recessive, and natural selection can weed out these malignant changes. But baraminology would require the rate of mutation to be sped up 250,000 times, giving a million detrimental genetic changes per fertilization. This would result, of course, in the sudden termination of all life on earth.

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, in the Answers Research Journal, that 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. Thus, creation science uses God as evidence of God.

Adapted from Baraminology on RationalWiki.org. Reproducible under Creative Commons by-sa 3.0.

(Had enough baraminology? Try some Barmyology!)

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