Ken Ham is known for using the dog family to defend the biblical concept of kind. After all, domestic dogs vary so much but can interbreed and produce fertile offspring, which they can also do with wolves (their wild ancestor), coyotes, and golden jackals.
So all these different animals must represent the dog kind, right?
Well, very early in the debate from last night , Ham went for the dogs again, comparing the different species and breeds of the genus Canis to Darwin’s finches. Darwin’s finches are more less divergent in morphology than all these dogs are, so they both must represent the respective dog and finch “kind.”
The problem is that all the weird morphology that exists in dogs is really nothing more than the selection pressures that have occurred since domestication. Domestic dog skull vary more than all the other species in the order Carnivora. That means that domestic dogs have skulls that diverge more than the differences between those of house cats and walruses. It is now thought that tandem repeats may play a role why dog heads have been able to become so diverse so rapidly through selective breeding, which is really nothing more than a really weird aspect of the dog genome. Domestic dogs actually don’t vary that much from each other, and they also don’t vary greatly from wolves either, which is why they still have to be classified as Canis lupus familiaris.
Ken Ham bathers on how all these Canis were interfertile and thus the same kind, but here’s a challenge I guess he didn’t think about.
These two animals look very similar, and I’m sure that Ken Ham would say they are the same “kind.”
If you didn’t know any better, you’d say that these two animals were the same speces, and if you were a creationist, you’d definitely say they were the same “kind.”
But if all living things on the earth now are all derived from an ancestral and clearly interfertile ancestral pair on the ark, then why can’t these two animals interbreed?
The animal in the top photo is a North American coyote. It actually can interbreed with domestic dogs and wolves, and it has been bred to the golden jackal, which is actually far more closely related to the wolf and coyote lineage than the other jackals.
Indeed, there are two jackals that are found only in Africa that are not interfertile with the rest of the genus Canis. These two are the black-backed and side-striped jackals, which are even more divergent from the rest of the genus Canis than African wild dogs and dholes are.
The animal below is a black-backed jackal, and in Southern and East Africa it is ecologically quite similar to the Western and Latin American populations of coyote.
Because black-backed and side-striped jackals are genetically that distinct from the rest of the “dog kind,” then Noah surely would have had to have brought along a separate jackal kind.
But wouldn’t an all-knowing creator just ask Noah to bring the dog kind and populate Africa with an animal deriving from that ancestral dog kind? Having to put another pair of dog-like creatures on that already crowded boat seems like an awful waste. Kennel space was pretty limited.
Why go at it with such a divergent animal?
Most people don’t realize that these two endemic African jackals are so different from the rest of the genus Canis. Most have heard that golden jackals cross with dogs, and there is an assumption that all of these animals are very closely related.
But if you were to play on this kind game a bit more, you’d think that these two animals would interbreed, and that there would be no way to breed a cute little dog like a beagle to a coyote. A black-backed jackal would be a much more logical mate, right?
But there have been several studies that have crossed laboratory strain beagles with coyotes (like this one: coyote beagle).
The photo above is the male coyote protecting his beagle mate.
Here are their descendants:
Beagles and coyotes would clearly be part of the same kind, but coyotes and black-backed jackals would not.
But you’d never be able to guess that solely by looking at the animals.
And this is where the entire concept of “kinds” falls apart.
We have many different and often nasty debates about the taxonomy and classification of species, but we have these debates because we have some idea of what a species is.
The same cannot be used for the term “kind.”
A kind is really whatever one thinks it should be. It’s an ad hoc definition, one that is squishy and malleable, which means that it is perfect for people who like to misrepresent facts to twist around however they would like.
It’s precisely the sort of thing creationists like to use to bamboozle the science-illiterate public.
The internets are abuzz about the big debate last night at the Creation Museum between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. Bill Nye is “the Science Guy” who I used to watch on PBS every evening. Ken Ham is a creationist. Creationists are scum.
I need not say any more about this, but they are scum. All they ever do is speculate or misrepresent actual science.
And when a qualified person of reason decides to engage in a formal debate with one of these demagogues, it elevates the scum to a respectable level that they clearly don’t deserve.
I watched the debate this morning, and all I can say is that Ken Ham’s argument was twofold: 1. There are a few prominent scientists who are creationists and 2. It’s just a difference of worldview and interpretation of data.
Number 1 is irrelevant to the debate. Lots of brilliant people have thought stupid things. Lots of brilliant people have accepted erroneous ideas. Konrad Lorenz was a Nazi scientist. Thomas Jefferson believed that Africans were a subhuman race.
Number 2 is not true at all, and no one in their right mind would accept it. When Ham surrenders to the “difference of worldview” argument, then he opens up the door to all sorts of postmodernist bullshit being paraded out as science. All they have to do to defend themselves is say “We have different worldviews, and we interpret the data differently.”
That is a standard that no scientist could ever accept.
Nor should one.
As bad as Ken Ham’s arguments were, I still don’t think he lost the debate.
That’s because whenever a rationalist person tries to debate a creationist, the entire metrics of success are different for each side.
On the facts and logic, Bill Nye beat Ham hands down. Nye even taught me a thing or two, which is really the only reason to watch one of these debates. You can learn a lot when someone really qualified uses facts and reason to debate someone who clearly does not.
But the creationists are not playing that game: To a creationist, it matters very little if what they say can be verified empirically. The only thing that matters is belief.
And that is why they are impossible to debate.
And a formal debate is the worst place in which to engage one of these people.
That’s because in a formal debate, both sides get equal time, and it’s well-known that a lie can make it half-way across the earth while the truth is just putting on its shoes.
So a creationist can engage in what is called a “Gish Gallop” — so-named for the creationist who developed this debating technique of using his time during the debate to let loose a volley of half-truths, misrepresentations, and absolute lies that his opponent couldn’t possibly correct. (Federal inmate Kent Hovind was a master of this technique. He should be called the Gish Marathoner!)
But Ham didn’t even try this technique– at all.
He just went back to these two themes, and if we’re going to assess the debate on those grounds, Ham lost. Severely.
However, I don’t think you can say that Billy Nye won.
Bill Nye made his argument for “the reasonable person”– should the “reasonable person” accept Ham’s creationist model?
The answer is, of course, no.
But a huge section of the American body politic– and most of the people in the audience– are not reasonable people.
Belief is all that matters. Defending this belief against all reasonable objections is considered a virtue– one of the highest virtues. That’s what Christians call “faith.”
And you simply cannot debate them.
All you can do is call them out and expose them for what they really are.