Creationist taxonomy

By June 17, 2019Science, Society

A taxonomist is a person who studies organisms in part to work out their relationships and the classificatory framework (i.e. their taxonomy) which explains those relationships. Creationists have little understanding of taxonomy nor an understanding of time frames. Some days ago, one creationist asked me, as if to refute evolution ‘how come there are no humanzees?’ (presumably he meant chimpanzee-human intermediates). There are two ways to interpret what this creationist means, and it all depends on context. In the context of someone explaining to him we are apes, as are gibbons, gorillas and chimpanzees1, it seems redolent of an interest in bestiality. In the context of explaining to him how evolution works, it clearly shows he lacks an understanding of the time frame of evolution, and how evolution works. He seemingly thinks that evolution is occurring quickly all around us and that if you watch a chimpanzee for long enough, it will turn into a ‘humanzee’ and eventually a human. This is to mistake evolution for morphing, a technique used in CGI and often used in movies2. Of course, creationists never believe that if you stare at a human long enough, it will turn into something else, because they believe that humans (especially those that adhere to their beliefs) are the epitome of perfection, so we could never evolve. Religious people who don’t quite believe in creationism, but are ambivalent about evolution, still seem to think that we are some sort of pinnacle of development. This is the same form of species narcissism that creationists have in spades.

I also had a creationist argue with me about birds being unrelated to dinosaurs. He said it couldn’t be the case because birds don’t walk, they hop, whereas all reptiles walk. He has apparently never seen chickens, pigeons, emus, ostriches, herons or penguins, among a myriad of other birds. Another argued the same point, but said that birds have feathers whereas dinosaurs don’t. Clearly, he has never seen recent photographs of some of the fossils of small theropods from northern China, on which you can see the feathers preserved; they have feathers as crests, on their arms, and on their tails, and in some cases over their body3,4,5,6. The more fossils that are found, the harder it becomes to draw the line between what is a bird and what is a dinosaur. Indeed, what was supposed to be the earliest bird, Archaeopteryx lithographica from the Solnhofen Limestone in Germany, some 155 million years old (i.e. Late Jurassic) has, in addition to feathers, a long bony tail, claws on its wings and numerous small teeth in its jaw, just like small theropods do.

Creationists do not seem to understand that modern scientific taxonomy is hierarchical (i.e. composed of several levels) and not like the colloquial classification that people use in their everyday conversations. Creationists don’t like being called apes, mammals or animals. However, everyone with a modicum of intelligence knows that humans are mammals (i.e. belong to the Class Mammalia). At the risk of boring the reader senseless, I need to demonstrate how sophisticated and hierarchical this system is. The Mammalia comprise two subclasses (Yinotheria and Theriiformes). The Yinotheria includes the monotremes, while the Theriiformes includes the marsupials (Marsupialia) and placentals (Placentalia). Humans belong to the Placentalia, which comprises three groups, Afrotheria, Boroeutheria and Xenarthra. Of these, humans belong to the Boroeutheria. This group consists of two superorders, Euarchontoglires and Laurasiatheria. Of these, humans belong to the Euarchontoglires. This group, in turn, comprises two grandorders, Gliriformes and Euarchonta. Of these, humans belong to Euarchonta. This contains three orders, Scandentia (treeshrews), Dermoptera (colugos) and Primates (lorises, lemurs, monkeys, apes)7,8.

The Primates consists of two suborders, Strepsirrhini (lemurs, lorises etc.) and Haplorhini (tarsiers, monkeys, apes). The Haplorhini comprises two groups, the Tarsiiformes (tarsiers) and Simiiformes (monkeys, apes) and the latter group comprises two groups Platyrihini (new world monkeys) and the Catarrhini (old world monkeys, apes). The latter group comprises Cercopithecoidea (old world monkeys) and Hominoidea (apes), and this latter group consists of two families, the Hylobatidae (lesser apes) and the Hominidae (great apes). Humans are members of the family Hominidae along with their cousins, the chimpanzee, bonobo, gorilla and orangutan9.

The determination of the levels in this hierarchical system is based on a large amount of evidence, including morphological, molecular biological and genetic, and this evidence has been obtained by thousands of scientists and published in thousands of peer reviewed scientific papers. The arrangement of these groups sometimes changes due to the discovery of new evidence, and several of them are currently hotly debated. That is another thing which creationists do not understand. Science is constantly advancing as new evidence becomes available. While these do change the arrangement of groups, and their content, never will they go back to a system of having humans divorced from the rest of life. That is where we started when we were almost completely in the dark, and this is to where creationists want to return us. The fact that creationists blithely discard the massive amount of evidence in an attempt to put across their infantile belief system, as if it was in some way based on evidence, is simply ludicrous.



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