The Fool and The Heretic - Whale Discontinuity

Just finished “The Fool and The Heretic” by Todd Wood and Darrel Falk the other night. I have to agree with Darrel that Todd is a very interesting and odd Creationist (no spoilers here - read the book).

In chapter 10 - What about the Whales - Todd talks about “discontinuity using fancy math called cluster analysis”. Seems like he’s hit on something here or has he? He doesn’t get into a lot of details but does say the discontinuity indicates there is isn’t a whale sequence, what data is he looking at how does the math show this?



I enjoyed the book, too; @RyanBebej, your expertise is in whales, among other things; do you know what he’s talking about? Thanks.

I just took a look at this chapter in the book. He doesn’t go into much detail at all, but he cites is an abstract from a conference in 2005. After a bit of digging, I found the abstract. Here it is:

R10. Statistical Evidence for Five Whale Holobaramins (Mammalia: Cetacea) S.R. Mace and T.C. Wood, Bryan College. As a prelude to a more extensive examination of the whale fossil record, we have analyzed a published dataset of cetaceans (Messenger and McGuire 1998) using baraminic distance and classical multidimensional scaling (MDS). The dataset consists of 207 characters scored for 72 taxa. The characters are skeletal and soft tissue. The taxa consist of 66 extant cetacean species, one composite taxon of family Basilosauridae (suborder Archaeoceti), and five artiodactyl outgroups. The three cetacean suborders are represented by 60 species from all 33 genera from suborder Odontoceti (toothed whales) and six species from the three families of suborder Mysticeti (baleen whales). The archaeocete taxon is a composite of the Upper Eocene species Basilosaurus cetoides, Zygorhiza kochii, and Dorudon osiris. After filtering the dataset for 95% character relevance, we used 121 characters to calculate baraminic distances. Baraminic distance correlation revealed two groups of taxa whose members are positively correlated but which are negatively correlated with each other. The two groups corresponded to the Odontoceti and the Archaeoceti + Mysticeti + Artiodactyla. We hypothesized that the second group actually comprised multiple apobaramins, and we recalculated baraminic distance correlations for the non-odontocete only. These results revealed significant negative correlation between the Mysticeti and Archaeoceti + Artiodactyla. Baraminic distance correlations for just the Archaeoceti + Artiodactyla revealed significant negative correlation between those two groups. We also calculated baraminic distance correlation for just the odontocete taxa, and found significant negative correlation between the Ziphiidae, Physeteroidia, and the remaining Odontoceti. For all baraminic distance correlation calculations, the Mysticeti, Ziphiidae, Physeteroidea, and remaining odontocetes exhibited within-group significant, positive correlation. We calculated three-dimensional MDS on the baraminic distances as recommended by Wood (2005). Our results showed a stress of 0.165 after MDS calculations. The 3D MDS results confirm our distance correlation results, showing six well-defined groups separated by clear gaps. The groups correspond to the Artiodactyla, Archaeoceti, Mysticeti, Ziphiidae, Physeteroidea, and the remaining odontocetes. We conclude that the extant cetaceans comprise at minimum four holobaramins, based on positive correlation with ingroup taxa and negative correlation in ingroup/outgroup comparisons. These four holobaramins are the Mysticeti, Ziphiidae, Physeteroidea, and the remaining odontocetes. Most significantly, the Archaeoceti, while occupying a morphologically intermediate position between the extant cetaceans and the artiodactyls, are very much closer to the artiodactyls than to any of the extant whale holobaramins. Based on the limited sample, we also propose that Archaeoceti may be a fifth whale holobaramin. Future research should examine more of the archaeocete species to determine their baraminic relationships in greater detail, especially the pakicetids and ambulocetids. Other studies will be needed to evaluate the putative ancestral status of mesonychids or hippopotamids. Messenger, S.L. and J.A. McGuire. 1998. Morphology, molecules, and the phylogenetics of Cetaceans. Systematic Biology 47(1):90-124.Wood, T.C. 2005. A creationist review and preliminary analysis of the history, geology, climate, and biology of the Galápagos Islands. CORE Issues in Creation 1:1-242.

I have not delved into the types of methods that they used here, nor am I well-versed in the arguments they’ve used to define ‘baramins’ in the past. So I can’t really critique the results without a thorough understanding of the methodology (which goes well beyond what I have time to do right now). However, I notice a couple of major problems with the taxonomic sampling here that would have a profound effect on the results.

(1) They included just one archaeocete cetacean, and it was a composite of three different species, one of which (Dorudon osiris) is not even a recognized species anymore. There are a number of prominent differences between these species, so to collapse these into a single representative is problematic. Plus, there is a wealth of earlier diversity among archaeocetes that is obviously not accounted for at all.

(2) They posit a gap between the archaeocetes and modern cetaceans they included. Obviously, there is quite a morphological gap there. But they also do not appear to have sampled any of the many fossil cetaceans that existed in the 40-million-year gap between archaeocetes and modern forms, including a number of fully extinct cetacean clades, as well as the earliest members of all of these modern lineages. In some sense, this type of selective sampling would predispose you to finding gaps between these different groups, mainly because you didn’t sample the many fossils that actually fall between the two and demonstrate in a more clear manner their affinities.

That’s about all I have time to do for now. Hopefully this helps.


thank you! That is exceptionally helpful.

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Thanks Ryan, that does help but I’m going to need to look up a few terms! That’s okay though.

It’s worth mentioning that in the book Todd does note that these discontinuities (he apparently found similar is homin fossils, but not in horses) don’t upend evolution.

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Thanks for the effort. It was informative. @T.j_Runyon knows a little about whale evolution, I believe. Perhaps he may have something to offer.

Baraminology. It’s just hard to believe someone would waste all their education, training, and time on something of so little value.

Edit: Seriously, what are they trying to do? Disprove evolution, or simply calculate how many animals Noah had to squeeze onto the Ark? Bizarre.

So I learned a new word today - from wikipedia:

baramin (a neologism coined by combining the Hebrew words bara [created] and min [kind], though the combination does not work syntactically in actual Hebrew).

Looks like baraminology is something created by the YEC folks then?

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That is my impression. Interestingly, I was just listening to the BioLogos podcast with John Walton, where he talks of ordering as being one of the primary messages of Genesis 1, so the opening sentence in the AIG article is common ground in that respect.

Yes. Since Hebrew lacks our scientific term “species,” the ancient author used “according to their kind.” Recognizing that Noah couldn’t fit every species on Earth into the ark, YEC apologists invented the “baramin” to squeeze many species into one prototype. It’s pure speculation overlaid with a veneer of mathematical respectability. Here’s an article on the subject from the NCSE:

The aim is to find the “discontinuities” in the history of life, or the limits of common ancestry… What is most amazing is the number of traditional systematic methods and terminology that are employed by baraminologists. While they use many of the same methods as most systematists, from cladistics to the Analysis of Pattern (ANOPA) method, they use these tools to identify the “gaps”, rather than the connections in life as most systematists do.

Eh. I would disagree. Wood takes “naming” as a sign of authority or power, which is incorrect, and he immediately launches into a literalistic tailspin speculating that Adam naming Eve “woman” must mean that he gave “category names” rather than individual names to the animals. That’s how Adam could name all the “kinds” in one day and still leave God enough time to create Eve!

I’m constantly amazed by the logical and exegetical hoops that YEC is willing to jump through.

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Well, it was a stretch, but you take what you can get sometimes. Still, it is ordering of chaos of a sense, though I am sure AIG would also bristle at being in concert with Walton.


Digging up a Basilosaur in Mississippi as we speak!

I’m kinda of in the same boat as @RyanBebej. I haven’t delved into baraminology enough. I’ve had private discussions with Todd and he was helpful. And I have a textbook on it that I haven’t cracked yet. So I’m not sure how much i could help here. I’ve tried reading a few articles on it but it just seems like a confusing mess to me so I haven’t put any time in on studying it. Regular systematics is hard enough.

I find Remine’s discontinuity systematics more interesting.


The thing about baraminology is that it doesn’t incorporate DNA evidence. DNA evidence (of course) runs roughshod over all sorts of categories that YECs want to call distinct created kinds (humans and chimpanzees being the most obvious). The sort of morphological groupings that Todd is trying to find gaps in between relies on skeletal measurements. It’s easier to find discontinuities this way - I’m sure baraminology would find that dachshunds and grey wolves are separate. But the genetics easily ties them together.

In an important way baraminology is deliberately reducing the available evidence in order to obtain a desired result. That’s not science.


I’ve recently read a Tyrannosaur baraminology paper. And I was surprised how close they were to the mainstream interpretation of Tyrannosaur evolution. They just excluded some basal forms (ones that tend to show transitional characteristics). But I found that interesting.

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Just so it’s clear, I’m not saying that their methods are flawed - and I have a lot of respect for Todd Wood in particular - it’s just that it’s a way of addressing a question with an intentionally limited data set.

Within tyrannosaurs? Sure, morphology is what you have to work with.

With hominins or great apes? If you try to build a case for isolation of humans and chimpanzees, the DNA data is (a) more plentiful and (b) more able to resolve the issues. It’s a meaningless exercise to try create separate groups while excluding the most powerful data that bears on the question.