Creation Bits

This blog has been superceded, and is only here for archive purposes. The latest blog posts, depending on topic, can be found at one of the blogs at the new location!

These are very uneditted and underthought ideas that I get while debating the creation/evolution debate. This is the more-often-updated but less-thought-out version of the crevo blog.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Understanding the Pattern of Life Book Review

I just finished reading Understanding the Pattern of Life by Todd Wood and Megan Murray. This book is a creationist introduction to biosystematics, known as baraminology (baramin coming from Hebrew for created kinds). This review is a review of (1) the book, (2) the methods, and (3) the terminology.

In general, this is a very excellent first effort of modern creationists to put out a constructive book on biology from a creationist perspective. This IS NOT a creation/evolution controversy book. There are some definite shortcomings both as a book and as a methodology, but I think it is exceptional given how few resources are currently put into the topic at this point. If you read the book, be warned that it starts out really slow and kind of boring, but really, really, really picks up towards the middle and end with very fascinating looks at creation biology.

The book is organized into three sections -- foundations, methodology, and applications.

In foundations, the first chapter deals with the importance of naming, specifically from a biblical perspective. It's a good, introspective chapter as to why we bother with all of this, as well as some history on it. It emphasizes the holistic approach of baraminology, as apposed to the reductionist view of, say, cladistics. The second chapter introduces the terminology, and this is my main sticking point.

Baramins originally referred to the original created kinds. This is an unusual word as it is. However, it was complicated by the fact that it is nearly impossible to be certain that what you find in nature is, in fact, an original created kind. Therefore, this method of biosystematics is more inspired by the biblical kinds, and hopefully approximate to them, but not exactly. Therefore, they came up with the concept of holobaramin to be an empirically determined approximation of the original baramin. The goal is to find the holobaramins.

Then, to add more confusion, they added the words monobaramin for any kind of inclusive group -- anything that adds members to a group, such as the ability to cross-breed, and apobaramin for any kind of exclusive or subtractive evidence, such as having a radically different genome. You theoretically arrive at the holobaramin when your exclusions and your inclusions hit the same group of animals.

At its core, what they are trying to do is to find and measure continuities (monobaramins) and discontinuities (apobaramins) in nature. I agree wholeheartedly with the approach and with most of the methods. However, I wish a better terminology could have been thought of. Perhaps, to help gain new audiences, using simpler terms such as simply "continuous" and "discontinuous" would have been more helpful. Reading entire chapters of "baramin"-based words is extremely annoying.

One thing that I think was missing, however, was mentioning that not every useful classification system would relate to monobaramins and apobaramins. Sometimes in classification, there comes times when other naming / classification systems are more appropriate. It would have been nice for the book to touch on those things.

The history of baramins is a concise view of biblical history in specific relationship to ecological events affecting animal populations.

In the methodology section, the "gathering and interpretting biblical data" chapter should have been left out, and simply mentioned in the introduction. This is a far bigger field than to cover in one chapter (the book admits as much), and instead of attempting it, there should have been one or two paragraphs about animals in the bible and translation issues, and then give the reader a reference to other works on the subject. I understand the desire to include such a chapter in a creation-based biosystematics book, but it is really an entirely different subject altogether.

The "successive approximations" chapter really needed to be reworked. I kept on feeling like they were arguing in a circle, and then merely stating "we're not arguing in a circle." I agree in general with the direction they are going, but I think they need to approach it in a different manner so that it doesn't sound like it's being argued in a circle.

The next three chapters, however, were great. It talks in-depth about discontinuity, followed by an in-depth chapter on breeding/hybridization. This is excellent material. The one issue that I have is that it seems on occasion that the ability for two species to hybridize is given as conclusive evidence of monobaraminic relationship. While I agree that it is strong evidence, I don't think that it is conclusive evidence, especially as Leviticus outlaws breeding between kinds. I emailed Wood about this, and he said that (1) baramins were not directly equivalent with the "min" of Genesis, but rather a human concept justified on a scriptural basis, (2) breeding was not used as 100% conclusive proof of monobaraminic relationship, but he was not aware of places where it was ever contradicted by the statistical evidence, and (3) the word translated into "kinds" in Leviticus is not the same "min" found in Genesis anyway.

While hybridization is a fascinating subject, the chapter on statistical baraminology is even more interesting. They give two methods for this: BDIST (for biological distance) and ANOPA (for analysis of patterns). BDIST is the more easily explainable. To compare species with BDIST, each basic trait for each species considered is quantified between 0 and 1. Each pairing of species is then plotted together with all of their traits. If the trait plots give a generally ascending line, then that is evidence of continuity. A descending line is evidence of discontinuity. I have not yet fully grasped ANOPA yet, but here's what I _think_ it is: you take a dimension for every character trait, and plot each species being examined within this n-dimensional matrix, and then calculate a 1D, 2D, or 3D projection of this n-dimensional space for easy viewing.

Even better than the baraminology methods is the applications. Each of these chapters is wonderful, although I wish that they were longer. These topics are covered, and great things are said about each:

  • Design, including design for non-function (like beauty)

  • Biological imperfection, including contemplations of the origins of pathogenic diseases (although True Origin has a better, more extensive review of this topic)

  • Diversification was probably the book's absolutely best chapter. Covered rates of diversification, reasons for diversification, and different means of diversification. The means are: heterozygous fractionality (from Mendel), Genomic modularity (the ability of a genome to modify itself in response to the environment) as well as participate in lateral genetic transfers, and neo-darwinistic theory. Baraminologies uses all of these to one degree or another, but denies the neo-darwinistic mechanism as having the ability to create new biological systems. They had a great analogy to fireworks which I will hopefully touch on in a later post.

  • Biogeography was good, with information I was unaware of. Unfortunately, the chapter was too short to consider biogeography in general, and instead considered only the areas where creationist biogeography differs from traditional biogeography.

Anyway, I would recommend this book to anyone, if only for the diversification chapter. I'm hoping for future releases of this book with expanded chapters.

A few nits:

  • Very few of the experiments mentioned were talked about in detail. I kind of felt like I needed to have a copy of Following Form and Function just to get the details. In fact, that will probably be my next book purchase.

  • It definitely could have been longer. I would want a biosystematics book to go into more detail into what many more of the major baramins are thought to be.

  • Successive approximation should have followed the statistical methods -- it would have given it a bigger punch. On the other hand, statistical methods, in requiring "outgroups", is somewhat reliant on the concept of successive approximation.

  • The terminology. Sadly, I doubt this will be changing.

  • MORE RESEARCH. I kept on feeling like I was getting the same sources over and over. I probably was. This is a new field, but there needs to be more research done on it, or at least with these methodologies that can be co-opted.

There's probably more I could say, but you're probably bored reading by now. If you want a constructive view of creationist biology, buy the book. Also, see the Baraminology Study Group website. I think they're having a conference soon, which, unfortunately I can't attend :(

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