Commentary on the so-called Creation/Evolution/Intelligent Design Debate and Right-Wing nuttery in general - and please ignore the typos (I make lots!)

Friday, January 27, 2006

An ineffectual rebuttal (Baraminology)

*The following is still in draft form and may contain typos and incomplete thoughts. I plan on 'finishing' it over the weekend and will add links and such where helpful*

Crevo linked to an old discussion board post I had written in which I had briefly critiqued a 'peer reviewed' creationist article on the subject of Baraminology. He rebutted it, and below, I respond to his rebuttal. My replies in red.


The primary article under discussion is "A Quantitative Approach to Baraminology With Examples from the Catarrhine Primates". I don't have access to the article, so I'm going to give the authors the benefit of the doubt. It's possible they don't deserve it, but I've read other things by Cavanaugh, and so giving him the benefit of the doubt seems reasonable to me.

The basic error in the criticism is a category error. Two of them actually. The first and most important one is that, while the author appears to understand the difference between assumptions and conclusions at the beginning of the article, he appears to forget it by the end.


Is this really what I did? Or did I expose the baraminologist/creationist penchant for conflating and confusing the two? We’ll see…



There are multiple kinds of creationist scholarship. Some of it is geared towards proving the creationist position. Other works are scholarship that research _from_ the creationist position. This paper, as far as I can tell, is the latter. It does not say "the results of this paper show that humans and chimps are different baramins", instead it says "we know from scripture that humans and chimps are in different baramins, and we can use that information to help us determine which characters and character analysis techniques are useful in determining baraminic organization". Those are two completely different statements. The paper appears to be making the latter, while the article appears to be criticizing it for making the former.


The baraminologists start with the assumption that Scripture is correct, then use this assumption as a framework for their analyses. However, they later use their analyses to lend support to their assumption. This is clearly demonstrated by me in the criticism.




The author of the article complains that the paper hand-selected the traits that put them in different baramins, but in fact that was the entire point of the paper -- to determine what traits were important baraminologically. If humans and chimps are in different baramins, then it is reasonable to examine the differences between them and use them as guides to determining baraminically important characters.

And so Crevo endorses cherry-picking data to get preconceived conclusions.
Apparently, Crevo accepts that things like where a creature lives is more important than their genetic make-up in determining their ancestral and descendant relationships.



Now, the question is, are creationists alone in arguing from assumptions to conclusions? The answer is no. For example, see the paper Estimate of the Mutation Rate per Nucleotide in Humans. This paper estimates the rate of nucleotide change. However, it does so by comparing chimps to humans. Thus, the counts in that paper are based on the assumption that chimps and humans share a common ancestor.

There is a major difference here, that Crevo is glossing over. The “assumption” of human-chimp ancestry is actually a conclusion based on multiple lines of empirical evidence, while the assumption that humans are special creations separate from all other animals is premised solely on Scripture. Further, the goal of the Nachman and Crowell paper is not to ‘prove’ or support human evolution, rather it is to examine mutation rates. The baraminology paper, on the other hand, presents it’s rigged findings to support their assumptions.



I have seen this paper used to argue that this overcomes Haldane's dillema by showing emperically that the mutation rate is fast enough.



Creationists, including Crevo, utterly misrepresent the impact of 'Haldane's Dilemma'. Their use of it is premised solely on their flawed assumptions. See this.



However, this is a totally inappropriate use of that paper, because the paper is only correct if chimps and humans share a common ancestor, which is the point under discussion. Thus, it is circular reasoning. Note that it isn't the paper that was guilty of circular reasoning -- in fact the paper is an excellent example of scholarship. It is using the paper in a way that confuses assumptions and conclusions that is inappropriate. There is nothing wrong with taking assumptions and using them to press forward. Ultimately we have to. The problem comes when we confuse our assumptions and conclusions, and when science sets a pre-determined set of assumptions for everyone else to follow.



Indeed…



I have no problems with evolutionists using evolutionary assumptions for research. It doesn't make the research bad or useless or inappropriate. However, it is bad if people take the assumptions and confuse them for conclusions.

And that is what this author does.

The authors of the baraminology paper, yes.


Let's look at the concluding statement:

"That is, they have to pick data that give them the results they want – those that conform to Scripture."

Note that this isn't about getting a _desired_ conclusion. The conclusion is what are the baraminically important characters -- that list of characters did not come from scripture. The _assumption_ is scripture. This is one of the hallmarks of baraminology -- that it doesn't attempt to argue for or against the scriptural perspective, but simply uses it as an assumption for ongoing research.

Incorrect. As Crevo has not read the paper – and I have – I know this is incorrect. The authors start with Scripture, they then essentially discard the analytical results that do not conform to their assumptions. They then conclude that their now cherry-picked results DO conform to Scripture, so everything is hunky-dory. Crevo should not be engaging in fellow creationist protection like this unless/until he actually reads the paper.



I can see why others may not like it, specifically those who don't see scripture as authoritative. But the specific criticism being thrown at this particular paper seems to be coming from the confusion between assumption and conclusion.

It has nothing to do with ‘not liking it.’ No, my criticism stems from the fact that they cherry-picked data to get the results they “knew” were correct. I explained how I concluded that fairly explicitly. Briefly, they excluded objective data – data that they had used with great praise in previous papers – because it did not provide support for their assumption, and embraced subjective and largely irrelevant data because – and only because – it gave them what they hoped for. In addition, as I explained in the article, the authors were aware of a paper that was far more rigorous and used far more morphological data then they did, yet did not cite it because, I believe, the results did not conform to their assumptions.
If researchers have to discard and ignore data analyses because they do not support/conform to their assumptions, does not the valid conclusion become that there is a problem with the assumptions?



If this paper had been an attempt to prove that primates were in a different baramin than humans, then the criticism given in the article would be completely valid. However, as it was using it as an assumption, it is not.

It is true that establishing the separate baramin for humans was not a stated goal of the paper, yet it was stated clearly in their conclusions (and in the abstract) that this was a result. An oddity – they start off stating the assumption of the supremacy of the “Scriptural criterion” which indicates non-descent for humans, then later use data analyses to try to ‘confirm’ it.





As a short, non-proving defense of the assumption, let me ask a question -- if God created individual kinds, don't you think His scripture would be the best initial source of information as to what those kinds are?

If the assumption was borne out by other lines of evidence, perhaps.


A separate, and much more minor error in the article deals with his criticism of what determines appropriate traits for analysis:

"Things like percent foliage in diet, monogamy, population group size and density, home range size, etc. It looks to me like these data too were chosen to produce a desired outcome, for what exactly does “monogamy” have to do with descent?"

This misses the fact that creationists are not bound by descent being the only determining factor of the makeup of a baramin. A fairly minor point with little consequence, but I thought I'd point it out anyway.

In reality, the baraminologists accept descent, they just place arbitrary (i.e., premised on Scripture) limits on it.
If the baraminologists are not bound by descent, why on earth are they even trying to determine baraminological relationships? If God can just poof into (and out of) existence anything He wishes, isn’t trying to define these groups and their ancestral-descendant relationships a futile effort?

3 comments:

crevo said...

I have now read the paper.

And, again, you are confusing the assumption and the conclusion. _Nowhere_ in the paper does it say that "therefore humans and chimps are separately created kinds". That is not a conclusion of the paper. It is an _assumption_ of the paper.

Let's look at it this way. Let's say that you were friends with an artist. Let's say that artist told you, "I have made several paintings using different styles. In the 80s I used one style, in the 90s I used another, and now I am embarking on a brand new style of painting. For instance, here are two paintings I have recently completed, and here are two that I did in the 90s". Now let's say that you are tasked with determining, for each of the artists paintings, which one was painted in what decade. The best thing to do is to look at the paintings that you _know_ to be from different decades, and try and conclude what characteristics are decade-dependent, and which characteristics are not. The paintings from the current decade may be very different from each other. However, the artist himself has told you that he uses a consistent style, and it is different from a style he used to use. Therefore, it is reasonable that, if I want to know which aspects of the artists paintings differentiate them stylistically, I should compare two that are known to be different in style. In fact, it would be even better if I had a painting of the same subject done by two different styles. That would show best of all which features were stylistically important.

And that is precisely what this paper does. The Author has said that humanity is a unique root of ancestry (being formed "from the dust"). Physically, we are most similar to other primates than other animals. Therefore, if we are to know which characters are most important in defining a baramin, it would be useful to examine humans vs chimps and determine which traits are baraminically important.

This is not cherry-picking data -- that would only be the case if they then turned around and said "and therefore we can be sure that the Bible is correct", which they do not do. There is a good case for humans and chimps being from different ancestors, but this paper is not it nor does it claim to be. Only if it claimed to be such a paper would the objection of cherry-picking make sense.

"Crevo accepts that things like where a creature lives is more important than their genetic make-up in determining their ancestral and descendant relationships."

Why would you think that genetic make-up is necessarily good at determining ancestral relationships? Have you ever written a program? Ever used design patterns? How, specifically, would you differentiate a genomic pattern that was based on common descent versus common design (creationists have a hypothesis, which I will get to).

"There is a major difference here, that Crevo is glossing over. The “assumption” of human-chimp ancestry is actually a conclusion based on multiple lines of empirical evidence, while the assumption that humans are special creations separate from all other animals is premised solely on Scripture."

This isn't quite correct. You are implying that there is no evidence for the common ancestry of humans and chimps, which is incorrect. Scripture is _sufficient_ reason for creationists to doubt the common ancestry of humans and chimps, but it is not the only reason, and many (including myself) think that the problems in assigning common ancestry for both groups are sufficient to doubt that such ancestry exists even in absence of scriptural authority.

"Further, the goal of the Nachman and Crowell paper is not to ‘prove’ or support human evolution, rather it is to examine mutation rates. The baraminology paper, on the other hand, presents it’s rigged findings to support their assumptions."

This is a false statement. The point of this paper has nothing at all to do with proving different ancestry. It is about finding which characters are important in determining ancestral relationships from a Biblical perspective, not in proving that such multiple roots occur.

"The authors start with Scripture, they then essentially discard the analytical results that do not conform to their assumptions."

They don't _discard_ anything. The question is, which characters are baraminically important? How better to do that than examine creatures which are close but known to be in different baramins and see which types of characters can reliably represent the difference? As with the artist example mentioned above, how is that invalid, given the assumptions? It would only be invalid if that data were turned around and used as proof of the assumption, which it is not.

"No, my criticism stems from the fact that they cherry-picked data to get the results they “knew” were correct."

They did not at the outset of the study know which characters were going to be baraminically important, now they do. What they knew beforehand was the separate ancestry of chimps and humans. What they did not know was what characters are most important for determining baramins. They used what they knew beforehand to find out what they didn't. Isn't that the whole point of analytical studies? Again, this is the same line of reasoning used in "Estimate of the Mutation Rate per Nucleotide in Humans". They used a assumption to determine an unknown fact. The difference is that in the case of the "Estimates" paper, the assumption was common ancestry, while in the paper under discussion it was separate ancestry. Neither paper attempts to prove the assumption. Both papers use their assumption to make a conclusion. The difference is with which assumption you agree with.

"It is true that establishing the separate baramin for humans was not a stated goal of the paper, yet it was stated clearly in their conclusions (and in the abstract) that this was a result."

This is a false statement. I will reproduce the abstract below to prove it.

"In reality, the baraminologists accept descent, they just place arbitrary (i.e., premised on Scripture) limits on it."

(a) scripture is not arbitrary
(b) scripture is not the only measuring stick for determining descent (though, for creationists, where it lists separate descent is a sufficient reason for believing so)

I have written some of my own thoughts on some of the problems with universal common descent from an information science perspective here. Todd Wood has hypothesized that, genetically, mobile elements within the genome will be the most important in defining baramins. This makes sense from a semantic perspective, as mobile elements are basically collections of entities which have semantic meaning. They would have to be different (as a group at least, though not necessarily each individual one) when applied in a different semantic environment. See Todd Wood's The AGE-ing Process: Rapid Post-Flood Intrabaraminic Diversification Caused by Altruistic Genetic Elements (AGEs).

"If the baraminologists are not bound by descent, why on earth are they even trying to determine baraminological relationships? If God can just poof into (and out of) existence anything He wishes, isn’t trying to define these groups and their ancestral-descendant relationships a futile effort?"

Often times people who believe in God are criticized because God, theoretically, can do anything. However, Christians don't believe in any God, they believe in Yahweh. Yahweh has made His acts and His ways known to us (at least partially), therefore, any comment about something that God did or could have done is constrained by what is in the character of Yahweh to do. In fact, modern science is premised on many of Yahweh's characteristics, specifically that He made the universe understandable to man. And cosmologists have shown over and over again that this is true in a major way.

crevo said...

I forgot to include the abstract in my previous post:

ABSTRACT:

"Quantitative methods for identifying holobaramins have yet to be introduced into the field of baraminology. In this report we examine some quantitative methods which may be applied to a variety of biological data to empirically estimate the identity of holobaramins. Organismal relationships are based on a measure of dissimilarity called baraminic distance. A set of diagnostic statistics is described that allows the researcher to assess the completeness, variation, resolving power, and associations within a data set. Bootstrapped dendrograms are constructed to identify clusters of organisms, which are subsequently evaluated for phylogenetic discontinuity by comparing baraminic distance variation, and by correlating sets of baraminic distances. Using this approach both related monobaraminic groups and unrelated apobaraminic groups can be identified. The described methods are illustrated using data from humans and nonhuman primates, a group assumed by baraminologists to be polybaraminic. 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."

Doppelganger said...

Sorry Crevo - none of that changes the facts.

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