Baraminology: Creationists Re-Examine the Horse Series

This post should find interest amongst those critics who claim that Creation scientists do not follow the evidence where it leads.

In a recent issue of Answers magazine [Vol. 3 No. 4 Oct-Dec 2008], an article on pp. 74-77 called “Horse Fossils and the Nature of Science” by Dr. Todd Charles Wood caught my eye. It began with something of a warning:

“Scientific models change. Both evolutionists and creationists change their scientific models. Sometimes we creationists don’t like it when our models change, but this is no cause for alarm… When creationists’ models change, it often means we learned something new and we have a better understanding of our unchanging God or His creation. Sometimes, our better understanding requires us to own up to the need for changes and jettison arguments that we used to use. These changes are… good. It means we’re growing and developing as scientists.”

 The horse fossil series have been used against us creationists ever since Darwin’s Bulldog [T. H. Huxley] visited the Peabody Museum at yale and decided that they somehow proved the evolution of horses beyond a shadow of any doubt. Such was his implacable and uncritically assumed faith in Darwin’s Just So Story. He took Darwin at his word and had no trouble imagining macroevolution taking place everywhere he looked! I digress.

Dr. Wood gives a pretty succint summary of the creationist reaction to his trumpeted overstatements of Darwinian victory:

“I was sure as any other creationist that horse evolution is bogus, but… I was curious how many kinds [baramins] of horses God had created.”

 This led him to begin work with David Cavanaugh in the field of baraminology.

For those of you who are not familiar with this term, baraminology comes from a word coined by Frank Marsh, baramin. He suggested the term from the Hebrew words bara [created] and min [kinds]. Thus, baraminology is the study of created kinds. According to another Answers article [in the same issue!]dedicated to introducing this scientific discipline to those as yet unfamiliar with it, “The modern field of baraminology attempts to identify… created kinds using sophisticated mathematical formulas to identify categories of creatures.” [pg. 35]

Long story short, he ran some statistical methods on horses and the results were not exactly what he expected. “David [Cavanaugh]‘s analysis showed a pattern that matched almost exactly the order in which these horses were buried in the fossil record.Not only that, but we found evidence of only one created kind. To my surprise, our analysis seemed to support the view that horses have changed significantly in the past.”

Before the local Darbots start breaking out the champagne and cigars, they need to understand this isn’t another accomodation to Darwinism. We aren’t slouching toward macroevolutionism, but neither are we denying the evidence.

In fact, Dr. Wood’s assessment of the data is as follows:

Our analysis supported a single created kind of horse, and a diversity of species that started and ended with horses. We concluded that the “evolution” of the horse was actually the diversification of horse species after the Flood… I believe that Noah had something like a Hyracotherium with him on the Ark. After leaving the Ark, the offspring of that Ark-horse quickly spread to North America… By Abraham’s time, around two centuries after Babel (and perhaps three or four centuries after the Flood), the Bible describes animals that are essentially modern (Genesis 12:16).” He admits that we no ,longer see such rapid changes in modren species, but suggests that if we take into account that the post-Flood world was a time of “terrific upheavel,” “it’s not surprising that living things also experienced an upheavel of their own, as completely new ecosystems established themselves.” In other words, the horse series is a perfect example of microevolution, not macroevolution.

Now it must be said that while he believes the evidence possibly suggests that Hyracotherium is a part of the horse baramin, he’s not 100% sure and wants to confirm whether all the horses in the series actually belong to the same created kind. 

ICR also has a take on this. John D Morris, president of ICR comments in The Mythical Horse Series

“Hyracotherium… looks very, very different from a horse, but most of its reputed predecessors could possibly be true variants of the horse. If you took the tiny three-toed ones out of the line-up, then the fossils would fit the creation picture, showing variety within a created kind.”

Creation Ministries International [] weighs in similarly in The non-evolution of the horse:

“[The 'dawn horse'] was discovered in 1841 by Richard Owen, one of the leading paleontologists of the day, the inventor of the word ‘dinosaur,’ and a staunch opponent of Darwin. Owen saw no connection with the horse, but thought it was very like a modern-day hyrax—that is, a rock badger or coney. So he named it Hyracotherium. Other fossils of the same type of creature were later named ‘Eohippus’ or ‘dawn horse’ by more evolutionarily-minded paleontologists. But the name given by the discoverer takes priority. Thus ‘it is not clear that Hyracotherium was the ancestral horse’, according to [evolutionist Gerald] Kerkut.” More plainly, they summarize this point at the end of the article: “The textbooks create this ‘evolutionary series’ from a probable non-horse (Hyracotherium) and varieties of true horses.”

The basic conclusion is that the horse series shows variation within a kind and that Hyracotherium [while not a hyrax] may not be a valid inclusion into the series.

A Darwinist may object that we do see macroevolution in action, since the fossil record displays evidence of a small, four-toed horse-like mammal evolving step-by-step into the single-toed modern horse. I counter-object that the macroevolutionary conclusions aren’t an imperative of the fossil record; it’s simply data in need of interpretation. Creationism accounts for the data splendidly.

The aforementioned article on Creationontheweb adds a few more insights:

Living horses come in a wide range of sizes. Horses vary in other ways too. Modern horses can have 17, 18 or 19 pairs of ribs. Also, three-toed horses are known today. O.C. Marsh himself noted that some horses in the American southwest had three toes of almost equal size, ‘thus corresponding to the feet of the extinct Protohippus.’ An important part of the biblical creation model is that different kinds of creatures were created with lots of genetic information. Natural selection can sort out this pre-existing genetic information, by eliminating creatures not suited to a particular environment. Thus many different varieties can be produced in different environments. Note that this sorting process involves a loss of information, so is irrelevant to particles-to-people evolution, which requires non-intelligent processes to add new information. Also, much of this (created) genetic information may have been latent (hidden, i.e. the features coded for are not expressed in the offspring) in the original created kinds. They also had other controlling or regulatory genes that switch other genes ‘on’ or ‘off.’ That is, they control whether or not the information in a gene will be decoded, so the trait will be expressed in the creature. This would enable very rapid and ‘jumpy’ changes, which are still changes involving already created information, not generation of new information. Applying these principles to the horse, the genetic information coding for extra toes is present, but is switched off in most modern horses. Sometimes a horse is born today where the genes are switched on, and certainly many fossil horses also had the genes switched on. This would explain why there are no transitional forms showing gradually smaller toe size. It’s possible that body size and tooth shape were also controlled by regulatory genes… These mechanisms would explain the alleged horse evolutionary series as variation within the equine (horse) kind. The amount of variety within living horses, undoubtedly one kind, supports this.”

By observing the variation in modern horses, we can infer how the horse baramin might have developed in the fossil record. We can also see, primarily in the loss of toes in the sequence, that this evidences microevolutionary loss of existing genetic potential, not a macro-evo gain of information.

Incidentally, the rest of the Answers issue is absolutely amazing, dedicated to explaining flood geology and post-flood geology. How fortuitous, since this has been the subject of one of my more provacative posts as of late!

–Sirius Knott

2 thoughts on “Baraminology: Creationists Re-Examine the Horse Series

  1. Pingback: Does Whale Evolution Hold Water? |

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