« New Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan story "Invasion" | Main | Confronting prejudice in the best way possible »

[Adam Cuerden] Baraminology, Part II: It sounds better in words of four syllables or more

Part I

I'm afraid I may have been a bit misleading with my quotes in Part I: It's actually very unusual for them to use relatively simple language, even in introductory pages. For instance, take today's article, which opens with:

We believe that phylogenetic discontinuity is obvious for most groups approximating the family level and higher categories. Therefore, baraminology sees multidimensional biological character space crisscrossed with a network of discontinuities that circumscribe islands of biological diversity. Within these character space islands, the basic morpho-molecular forms are continuous or potentially continuous. Discontinuity in this sense does not refer to either the minor breaks in quantitative ranges that are used to delimit species or the modifications on a basic theme that demarcate genera. It is the unbridged chasms between body plans - forms for which there is no empirical evidence that the character-state transformations ever occurred. The mere assumption that the transformation had to occur because cladistic analysis places it at a hypothetical ancestral node does not constitute empirical evidence.

This is meant to be a basic description of the field.

Now, I could - and will - criticise the writing style, but first, let's try and figure out what the hell this means...

"We believe that phylogenetic discontinuity is obvious for most groups approximating the family level and higher categories."

Most people are aware that animals have scientific names. The cat currently demanding my attention is "Felis catus", where "catus" is the name of the species - that is, domestic cats, and "Felis" is the genus. A genus contains several other species, for instance, Felis sylvestris, the wildcat. However, all the species in the genus Felis look pretty similar to domestic cat, and some may be able to interbreed. This similarity in appearance is true of most genuses.

If we go up one more level of orginisation, to the family Felidae, we add in tigers, panthers, and other recognisably cat-like things, but are starting to get far more diversity - as a simple example, the "big cats" cannot purr. We also see a much wider range of shapes: a lion, a jaguar, a tiger, and a domestic cat can all be easily distiguished, whereas a domestic cat and a wildcat are not quite so easy to tell apart.

However, if we go up one more level, we reach the order "Carnivora", which includes dogs, cats, walruses, seals, raccoons, red pandas, mongooses, otters, and several others. There are still similarities, but they aren't quite so obvious, having to do with skull shape (the somewhat pointy nose and jaw, for instance), the prominent canines, and the shape of the molars and pre-molars. It's much easier to dismiss these similarities, and so these creationists deny that anything above the level of a family has biological reality.

"Therefore, baraminology sees multidimensional biological character space crisscrossed with a network of discontinuities that circumscribe islands of biological diversity."

A marketing-speak version of what I just said.

Within these character space islands, the basic morpho-molecular forms are continuous or potentially continuous.

In other words, they accept evolution at the family level or lower.

Discontinuity in this sense does not refer to either the minor breaks in quantitative ranges that are used to delimit species or the modifications on a basic theme that demarcate genera. It is the unbridged chasms between body plans...

Same thing again.

...forms for which there is no empirical evidence that the character-state transformations ever occurred. The mere assumption that the transformation had to occur because cladistic analysis places it at a hypothetical ancestral node does not constitute empirical evidence.

And here we finally see why they're using such complicated language. This section is wrong. Every word in it is misleading, inaccurate lies.

Cladistic analysis is a simple scientific method to help determine the relationship between species. Basically, it says that, given several species, the most likely ancestry of them is the simplest, as determined by what traits they'd have to gain or lose and in what order. For instance, given three species with the following traits, we can make a good guess as to the order they branched off from their last common ancestor, and what traits that common ancestor might have:

Species 1: Traits A, B, and C
Species 2: Traits A, B and D
Species 3: Trait A

This can then be confirmed by using different traits, looking at fossil evidence, and so on. As it happens, we can use more or less any method we like, looking at DNA, observable characters, fossil evidence, and so on, and still come up with extremely similar relationships. These "theoretical" common ancestors are remarkably stubborn, refusing to go away, and it's disingenuous to dismiss them as "hypothetical ancestral nodes". (See here for more information, and here for a fuller description of cladistics and the "phylogenetic trees" made from it.)

What is more, this claims there is no empirical evidence for common ancestors. This ignores the fossil evidence, which is summarised here. We have very good evidence for transitional forms. Perhaps it's not surprising that they deny fossil evidence, since, as seen here (last section, bottom of page), they reserve the right to claim any fossil evidence they don't like is jumbled remains of animals from the time of Noah's flood, and accept only such evidence as backs their positions.

We'll be seeing more of accepting only evidence that backs their positions in a moment. But before we do, let's look at the style of writing in this paragraph? What is it?

The short answer is that it's an attempt on their part to imitate the worst class of journal abstracts, a class of writing where an entire study has to be condensed into one or two short paragraphs, including both what is being studied, and the conclusions. For complicated subjects - particularly the minutae of Cell Biology, where any one study is likely to look at one tiny part of an important process, in the hopes that eventually the whole process will have been studied and we can then understand it in full - these abstracts can be extremely difficult, as there just isn't room to cover much of the background. That said, most aren't too bad, trying to give at least one clearly-stated sentence at the start so that the general thrust of the study is clear, even if the details are lost. And yet... this doesn't really work as an explanation for what we have here: Abstracts were developed in order to get across an entire article as quickly as possible, whereas the first five sentences of this repeat more-or-less the same thing over and over. In short, the only purpose of writing in this stilted style is to make it look science-y, and give it an aura of authority it doesn't deserve, particularly to people who think difficult to read is the same as intellectual.

In any case, the next section is pretty much the same list of terms we covered in back in part I so we'll skip ahead to the list of criteria as to whether or not they'll accept things are related. Abusing language, as they rather like doing, they divide it into "additive criteria", that is, evidence in favour; and "subtractive criteria"; that is, evidence against.

They say the ability of two species to hybridise is considered evidence in favour of being related. As the farther apart two species are the less likely they'd be able to hybridise, with it generally being impossible above the level of family, and usually above the level of genus, this is a pretty good way of denying higher groupings, and, indeed, they say this was formerly the only criteria used. However, as by this logic, a great dane and a poodle might have to be considered in separate "baramin", and like all creationism, they like to go with what feels right, not the evidence, this is rejected as the sole criteria.

You know, sometimes, I really wish that a human would have a baby with a chimp. Just to see the brains of every creationist explode.

Their next additive criteria - also a subtractive criteria - is "Morpho-molecular similarity" - in other words, cladistics, as I mentioned above, though their actual description is "Are the natural and artificially hybridized forms linked by overlapping quantitative measures, by character-state transitions in which all the states are observable in known and otherwise similar organisms, or by a homoplastic distribution (recombination) of redundant character states among similar organism?" This works out to more-or-less the same as the cladistics I mentioned above, only explained in terms to firstly try and make them look more intelligent, and secondly, to make it less clear that in the opning paragraph they bashed cladistics, and now are using it. However, they add a concept called "Baraminic Distance". He's pretty vague on what that is, but if you follow through enough links you can get to the abstract of the paper where the concept is set out. Which is also extremely vague. Also vague are: papers using it and the instructions for a program that analyses it. However, some things can be gleaned: The abstract, while very vague on the whole, has a very interesting closing statement: "We have found that baraminic distances based on hemoglobin amino acid sequences, 12S-rRNA sequences, and chromosomal data were largely ineffective for identifying the Human holobaramin. Baraminic distances based on ecological and morphological characters, however, were quite reliable for distinguishing humans from nonhuman primates." - in other words, genes are to be rejected as a criteria, to avoid saying that humans are related to monkeys. Carefully picking methods so that they support what you want to find is not usually considered good science. As well, it appears the input accepted by that program is highly prone to rigging. It appears to take an estimate of how much you think various animals differ by criteria you choose as input, so, if you want things to be further apart, you could just make your judgement of difference arbitrarily large. As I can find no report that gives the data fed into the program, this is highly significant.

EDIT: I found this review that makes it clear: You just assign arbitrary numerical values from 0 to 1 for each trait for each species, to indicate how far you think they're apart, then apply statistics. In other words, it is just as arbitrary as I thought, and, given the so-called studies don't even list what traits they're doing this test by, or what values they assigned, it's literally nothing more than a way to fake results you want. Absolutely no merit whatsoever.

Their final additive criterion is "Stratomorphic Series", in other words, a fossil record. More on that in a moment, as lack of it is a subtractive criterion, and the description there is much more interesting.

Their first subtractive criterion is "Scripture claims discontinuity".

...I don't think that needs any further analysis. Helpful hint: When trying to sound sciency, it's usually best to try and conceal that sort of criterion. After all, we just established you're quite willing to tweak evidence until you get the result you want.

The next one is "Morpho-molecular dissimilarity" - judged, again, by baraminic distance; "Unique synapomorphies" - which makes... no sense, as synapomorphies are traits found only within one group (derived from their last common ancestor, but not found before that ancestor) so surely it would be an additive criterion. Unless they mean it separates it from other groups, I suppose, but that's not what they say... Lastly, we have "Lack of fossil intermediates". The paper describes this one as:

That is, there is no known fossil ancestral group, and fossils with "ancestral states" or "states transitional to other groups" are unknown. Forms identifiable in Flood sediments were probably distinct from the time of creation. A good example is Archaeopteryx, which likely represents its own unique baramin, distinct from both dinosaurs and modern birds.

...It takes a very special type of arrogance to cheerily say how great an example one of the most famous transitional species is of a species with no relation to any other groups.

About

This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 20, 2007 3:20 PM.

The previous post in this blog was New Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan story "Invasion".

The next post in this blog is Confronting prejudice in the best way possible.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Powered by
Movable Type 3.34