Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Free advice for ICR

I got the latest Acts & Facts from ICR over the weekend, and I read Jeanson's article "Common Ancestry and the Bible--Discerning Where to Draw the Line." I'm glad to see ICR turning to creation biology after decades of Flood geology research. Since I've worked on these problems for more than a decade now, I wanted to offer some free advice (and no, I'm not being sarcastic).

I'm particularly interested in responding to this paragraph:
Determining ancestry in the plant and animal realm hinges largely on one critical term, min, the Hebrew word that is usually translated "kind" in the English Bible. If you've followed creationist writings for a while, you have probably come across the phrase "reproduce after their kinds," a term used to describe the view that kinds are reproductively isolated from one another. However, some have questioned the connection between reproductive compatibility and the word "kind" and have suggested that kind denotes a set of morphological traits, such as anatomical features or physiology. One scientist has even postulated that kind refers to some sort of archetypal pattern God used to construct creatures during the creation week. Which is it? Does kind refer to reproductive compatibility, archetype, or morphology? Might it refer to a fourth set of yet undetermined criteria?
I'm sure that Jeanson must be referring to the refined baramin concept when he talks about defining a kind by a "set of morphological traits." According to the article, Jeanson wants to look at the Hebrew term min again, just like the BSG did back when we started 14 years ago. What we found was a lot of uncertainty, which was published in the first BSG paper, "What does min mean?" [PDF] Basically, we thought that maybe min could be understood in the sense of division, but a major conclusion of the paper was that our modern concept of "created kind" was not necessarily related to the term min. It could be, but it didn't have to be.

We were sure that the Bible did not explicitly teach the modern ancestral concept of "created kind." We were also sure that the Bible did not overtly connect the idea of reproduction to min. Of the ten times min is used in Genesis 1, only once is there a connection to reproduction, in Gen. 1:11, where it says "Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth." The problem with that verse is that the subject of "after his kind" is actually ambiguous. If you make the phrase parallel with the other usages of min in Genesis 1, then "after his kind" should be understood to modify "fruit tree" not "fruit."

We were not the first to notice this either. In 1980, Strickling wrote a letter to CRSQ pointing out that min was not reproductive but rather a contrast to the "image of God" (1980, 17:106). In a 1948 manuscript currently held by the Center for Adventist Research, creationist pioneer Harold W. Clark wrote about "after its kind," "The command in Genesis was for the earth, for creation, not for reproduction" ("Amalgamation: a study of perplexing statements made by Mrs. E.G. White," p. 9).

In Understanding the Pattern of Life, I tried to construct an argument for created kinds based on both science and Scripture. I noted that the creation account of Genesis is vague. It mentions broad categories of plants and animals (e.g., "beasts of the field") but nothing so specific as to warrant belief in species fixity. Likewise, using simple biology arguments that Darwin used, we can see evidence of at least some speciation happening. How much evolution could we accept then? Well, since the Bible describes the creation of birds ("flying things," actually), we can assume that all birds are not related to a common ancestor. So we can identify one limit based on the description of the creation of these broad categories listed in Genesis. We can identify another limit based on recency of ancestry (6000 years), which would seem to preclude large-scale evolution (although this line of argument assumes we understand the mechanism of evolution, which we may not). Given all these considerations, I suggested we should look for baramins between the classification ranks of species/genus and order/class. That accords well with the long-held suggestion (originated - as far as I know - by none other than George McCready Price) that the baramin is approximately equal to the rank of family. The key point here is that our modern understanding of baramin is not linked directly to the min of Scripture.

Dr. Jeanson, please understand that I don't intend these observations to be a discouragement. Quite the opposite, in fact. I want to encourage you to build on the work of the BSG. If you want to look more carefully at min, then by all means, do so. Given what we've already done, I encourage you to look more carefully at the Flood account, where you will find such interesting things as a parallel between min and the Hebrew word mishpachah, meaning "family" or "clan" (Gen 8:19). Furthermore, there's an explicit command to reproduce given to the min after the Flood (Gen. 8:17).

Most important of all, I hope you won't work in a vacuum. The BSG has been right where you are now. We have experience, resources, and knowledge that can help you in this work. Dr. Jeanson (and the rest of the ICR biology research team), please consider this a personal invitation to the BSG conference. I think you'll find it a very, very fruitful time.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.