An oft-touted “fact” by creation skeptics is that young-earth creationists are “species fixists” who believe God made the original creation with present levels of biodiversity. On the other end of the spectrum are creation skeptics who label creationists as “hyper-evolutionists,” thereby implying that creationists are incapable of explaining the rapid diversification of animals that survived the Flood aboard Noah’s Ark. Both charges are, at best, naïve, and at worst, disingenuous.
Creationists actually believe that in the beginning, God created distinct “kinds,” or “baramins,” of animals and plants with the ability to multiply, adapt, and form new species. The created kinds that survived the Flood (either on the Ark or by other means) and diversified into the array of species we see today and preserved in the post-Flood fossil record. Baraminology, the study of created kinds, has flourished over the past three decades. Nevertheless, there are still unanswered questions that remain:
- Which organisms today are descended from the same created kind?
- Which mechanisms are involved in creating the diversity that we see within created kinds?
- Can we trace the natural history of various animal kinds as they moved from the Ark and repopulated the earth?
In 2016, the Creation Research Society (CRS) founded the Examination of Kinds In Natural Diversification and Speciation research initiative, or eKINDS for short, with the goal to resolve these very questions and more.
In a nutshell, baraminology uses suites of additive criteria that unite smaller groups of organisms, called monobaramins, into larger groups, and suites of subtractive criteria to break up larger groups of organisms, called apobaramins, into smaller groups. Through successive approximation, the goal is to identify a group of organisms that is both a monobaramin and an apobaramin: a holobaramin. One of the most helpful criteria at a baraminologist’s disposal is hybridization. The complexities involved in every stage of reproduction―from the union of sperm and egg to the birth of healthy offspring―are so great, that most baraminologists consider it only possible if the organisms in question were specifically designed to reproduce. Therefore, the ability to bring forth is a positive confirmation that two organisms belong to the same baramin. Baraminology studies that use the hybridization criterion show that baramin can often be approximated to the taxonomic rank of family, or even the order in some cases.
However, the hybridization criterion does have its handicaps. For any number of reasons, organisms can lose the ability to interbreed despite belonging to the same baramin. (e.g. To date, no one has interbred cheetahs with any other cat species.) It also cannot be readily applied to non-captive animals or those that don’t naturally interbreed in the wild. To help with this, statistical baraminology tests like Baraminic Distance Correlation (BDC) and Multidimensional Scaling (MDS) have been developed. These methods have also proven helpful, but they are not without limitations of their own.
With the initiation of eKINDS came a new baraminology tool: whole-genome content analysis. This method utilizes molecular data that is accumulating for many species. Specifically, it measures the similarity in expressed orthologous protein content between species and assigns them to individual baramins. It is based on two starting assumptions, the validity of which can be tested with further research. One is that different baramins were created with a unique array of protein coding genes that have remained more or less unchanged throughout history. The second assumption is that each baramin has by and large retained what makes them distinct from other baramin.
The first group of animals the eKINDS project used this method on consisted of 104 species of insects from the orders Diptera (flies), Hemiptera (“true bugs”), Hymenoptera (wasps, bees, ants, etc), and Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies). While the results are as of yet preliminary, they do display some interesting patterns:
- Diptera formed two tentative groups. The first is made up of black flies, gnats, crane flies, midges and mosquitoes. The second included horse flies and fruit flies.
- Hemiptera was divided into two tentative groups, but only one of them was statistically significant.
- The ants, bees, wasps, and other species of Hymenoptera that were included in this analysis fell into one group.
- The ten species of Lepidoptera included in this study represent six different superfamilies. Despite this, they all formed one group.
Whole-genome content analysis was also used to compare humans and other primates with other mammals and birds. The three species of humans for which we have genomic data were Homo sapiens (us), Neanderthals, and Denisovans. It was found that they formed a group that was clearly divided from chimpanzees and other great apes, which were more aligned with Old World and New World monkeys. Even more so, it was found that the differences between humans and other primates were comparable to the differences between humans and some cats!
The clear discontinuities among insects and between humans and all other mammals are not a predicted result of universal common ancestry, which would maintain that all of biodiversity forms a gradient. It is, however, very consistent with the creationist predictions that discontinuities should punctuate the Tree of Life, reflecting different baramins
They suggest that it “is fully consistent with the belief that humans were separately created in the image of God, and should not be too surprising given that a significant number of genes are either unique to humans or distinct in humans.”
If baraminology has taught us anything, it is that there can be great diversity within a baramin. But how did all of this biodiversity come about? One common creationist explanation is that post-Creation changes within a baramin occurred as a result of natural selection, mutation, and the recombination of created alleles. There is no reason to doubt that these were factors in operation in the past as now. At the same time, however, there is evidence that other biodiversification mechanisms were also at work.
One mechanism that participants of the eKINDS project are eager to look into further is DNA editing. Activation-induced cytidine deaminase (AID) is a known enzyme used in immune system DNA editing to create diverse antibodies, a process which involves somatic hypermutation and class switch recombination. Could AID or a similar enzyme also have had a role in generating adaptive mutations in vertebrates that resulted in heritable genetic changes? This has not yet been demonstrated, but provides an excellent launch pad for future scientific inquiry.
Another factor that eKINDS is investigating is the importance of the founder effect, which refers to a decrease of available genetic variation when a new population of organisms is formed and established from a small number of individuals from a larger population. As animals multiplied and spread across the earth’s surface after the Flood, they would have been spoiled for choice over the new, empty environments they could colonize. This factor alone would have produced a number of founder effects and could be a key ingredient in a recipe for rapid biodiversification, largely untapped by creationists as of yet.
There is still much to learn about baraminic membership and the mechanisms involved in their diversification in the pre-Flood and post-Flood world. Currently, the eKINDS researchers are carrying out an in-depth investigation of the kingfishers (Alcedinidae) and landfowl (Galliformes) to see what can be learned of their natural history.
The authors conclude that “the eKINDS project has already helped to expand the creation model regarding diversification and adaptation of the original kinds. It is our hope that, by the grace of God, the project will gain momentum and more researchers will contribute. This would enable us, as believers, to significantly advance the creation model as we come to more fully understand the world God created.”
Lightner, J.K., and K. Anderson. 2018. The CRS eKINDS research initiative: Where we have been and where we are headed from here. In Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Creationism, ed. J.H. Whitmore, pp. 185–190. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Creation Science Fellowship.
The views expressed in this article reflect those of the author(s) mentioned and not necessarily those of the editorial staff.