Creationism, Evolutionism, and Categories

I’ve been thinking about the progression of ideas about natural categories, such as “men” and “women,” “cows” and “mules,” “English” and “Polynesian.” Not exactly our high philosophical progression, but a somewhat commoner one.

It seems that 100 years or so ago, most people would have explained the differences between things with a simple, “Because God wanted them to be that way.” And if God wants it that way, then the way they are is good and you should leave them alone.

I have heard my [sibling] wax practically poetic about the way God made mules and horses for farm work, and why you should not yoke together an ox and a donkey. (One of the interesting parts of meeting my siblings for the first time as an adult was realizing that dorkiness is genetic.)

The evolutionary perspective is that evolution created things (or, as we like to call it around here, GNON, the God of Nature and Nature’s God.) Gnon and God are functionally rather similar, for Gnon also made things in natural categories, and while we may refrain from deeming them “good” in quite the same way as religious people, we certainly believe that each group’s features serve purposes that have helped members of that group survive where others did not.

The conservative creationist denies the role of evolution, but he does not deny that categories exist. He merely disputes their method of creation. To quote Answers in Genesis:

So, a good rule of thumb is that if two things can breed together, then they are of the same created kind. …

As an example, dogs can easily breed with one another, whether wolves, dingoes, coyotes, or domestic dogs. When dogs breed together, you get dogs; so there is a dog kind. It works the same with chickens. There are several breeds of chickens, but chickens breed with each other and you still get chickens. So, there is a chicken kind. The concept is fairly easy to understand.

But in today’s culture, where evolution and millions of years are taught as fact, many have been led to believe that animals and plants (that are classed as a specific “species”) have been like this for tens of thousands of years and perhaps millions of years. So, when they see things like lions or zebras, they think they have been like this for an extremely long time.

From a biblical perspective, though, land animals like wolves, zebras, sheep, lions, and so on have at least two ancestors that lived on Noah’s Ark, only about 4,300 years ago. These animals have undergone many changes since that time. But dogs are still part of the dog kind, cats are still part of the cat kind, and so on. God placed variety within the original kinds, and other variation has occurred since the Fall due to genetic alterations.

For all that people accuse the Answers in Genesis folks of being crazy, and for all that they are trying awfully hard to re-invent the wheel, this is an unobjectionable approach to species and hybridization.

By contrast, the liberal creationist, since she cannot fall back on God in his rejection of Gnon, asserts that the categories themselves do not exist. “Race is a social construct. Gender is a social construct.” etc. Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos, who is definitely not a crazy Creationist with no respect for science, writes:

When people talk about the differences between men and women they are often drawing on sex – on rigid ideas of biology – rather than gender, which is an understanding of how society shapes our understanding of those biological categories.

Gender is more fluid – it may or may not depend upon biological traits. [bold mine.] More specifically, it is a concept that describes how societies determine and manage sex categories; the cultural meanings attached to men and women’s roles; and how individuals understand their identities including, but not limited to, being a man, woman, transgender, intersex, gender queer and other gender positions. …

The sociology of gender examines how society influences our understandings and perception  of differences between masculinity (what society deems appropriate behaviour for a “man”) and femininity (what society deems appropriate behaviour for a “woman”). We examine how this, in turn, influences identity and social practices. We pay special focus on the power relationships that follow from the established gender order in a given society, as well as how this changes over time.

And the New York Times writes:

Race is not biological. It is a social construct. There is no gene or cluster of genes common to all blacks or all whites. Were race “real” in the genetic sense, racial classifications for individuals would remain constant across boundaries. Yet, a person who could be categorized as black in the United States might be considered white in Brazil or colored in South Africa.

Answers in Genesis understands genetics better than the New York times or people with doctorates from actual universities. That is pretty damn pathetic.

crayon map of racial distribution. Not guaranteed correct
crayon map of racial distribution. Not guaranteed correct

Of course, some of our ideas about what “men” and “women”  or “blacks” and “whites” are like are cultural (especially any that involve technology, since technology has changed radically over the past 100 years.) As an amateur anthropologist, I am quite aware that different cultures have different ideas on these subjects. This does not negate the fact that “maleness” and “femaleness” are basically biologically-driven. Female interest in babies and male interest in violence has its roots in biology, not culture. Genetics have a huge effect on personality. Likewise, races are absolutely real, biological categories, which no doctor attempting an organ transplant can afford to ignore.

The idea that races don’t exist in some kind of genetic way is absurd. Let’s just take the EDAR gene:

Ectodysplasin A receptor (EDAR) is a protein that in humans is encoded by the EDAR gene. EDAR is a cell surface receptor for ectodysplasin A which plays an important role in the development of ectodermal tissues such as the skin.[3][4][5] …

A derived G-allele point mutation (SNP) with pleiotropic effects in EDAR, 370A or rs3827760, found in most modern East Asians and Native Americans but not common in African or European populations, is thought to be one of the key genes responsible for a number of differences between these populations, including the thicker hair, more numerous sweat glands, smaller breasts, and dentition characteristic of East Asians.[7]… The 370A mutation arose in humans approximately 30,000 years ago, and now is found in 93% of Han Chinese and in the majority of people in nearby Asian populations. The derived G-allele is a mutation of the ancestral A-allele, the version found in most modern non-East Asian and non-Native American populations.

Most East Asians and Native Americans (that is, the greater Asian Race,) have the G-allele of EDAR. Most non-Asians have the A-allele.

World map of Y-DNA Haplotypes
World map of Y-DNA Haplotypes

If you don’t have some form of causality to explain how the world’s variation came to exist, I guess you fall back on “it’s totally random and meaningless.”

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10 thoughts on “Creationism, Evolutionism, and Categories

  1. Don’t even waste your time. I go on and off debating Creatards. They never get it. I don’t know if it’s the fact that they cannot grasp the fact that time+change+geographic isolation=new species or it’s explicitly said that things were ‘created as they were’.

    I met a woman a few months ago and I started talking about biology and she said, “You mean like, evolution?” I said yep. She said, “You don’t think we evolved from monkeys, do you?” Then I said no and explained it to her. I didn’t speak to her after that. Out worldviews were not compatible.

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    • I interact with a lot of creationists, and have had trouble defending some of their criticism (if I can recall it correctly, mostly having to do with large leaps in complexity and the absence of a clear evolutionary path). My general response tends to be that I don’t know and don’t particularly care, but that geology shows the earth to be considerably more than 6000 years old, so Genesis must be at least partly metaphorical.

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      • Wild. What made you change your views? I debate with Creatards on the Daily Stormer whenever I can stomach it (I do it in spurts because the ignorance astounds me). It seems that most people use the “If I can’t see a monkey give birth to a human or a dog give birth to a cat then evolution don’t real.” I gave the peppered moths example and he said oh they’re still moths they didn’t change species.

        People are idiots. What made you see the truth? Have you read The God Delusion? I’m agnostic to be honest. I can’t prove it or disprove it with data.

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      • Evolution is a fact. Beyond reasonable doubt, beyond serious doubt, beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt, beyond doubt evolution is a fact…That didn’t have to be true. It is not self-evidently, tautologically, obviously true, and there was a time when most people, even educated people, thought it wasn’t. It didn’t have to be true, but it is….Evolution is the only game in town, the greatest show on earth.—Richard Dawkins

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      • Short version: I read a book about human evolution and found it convincing.

        To be fair, I was never that invested, emotionally, in creationism. It was just part of the background noise of beliefs I was raised in. A good explanation of evolution was sufficient.

        Addendum: I am obviously independently interested in science.

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  2. I think the “race is a social construct” people are 100% right, but for the wrong reasons. Unless you’re an essentialist (which is basically a type of creationism), categories do not exist in a mind-independent way. In other words, they are socially constructed. You may cleave at the joints, but you’re still cleaving. The issue isn’t social construction, it’s whether a the construct is arbitrary or based on reality.

    You say the Answers in Genesis approach to species is unobjectionable. And it is. But this just highlights the socially constructed nature of the scheme. It’s easy to think of other approaches that yield different results and are also unobjectionable. A chihuahua and a great dane can’t breed (in vivo), but it’s not due to incompatible gametes..what do we do in that case? Depending on the situation, we may wish to group dogs and wolves together, or split each into their own group, or treat dog breeds separately.

    The best approach is to accept “race is a social construct”, but also append: “one that is based on real differences.” Not only is it the case, it allows for maximum flexibility: depending on what the context calls for, you might want to treat humans as a unified group (e.g. when comparing against chimpanzees), or use Rosenberg’s 6 clusters/races, or “zoom in” further and look at the differences between smaller clusters (e.g. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/41/Distribution_and_PCA_of_the_populations_in_the_HUGO_Pan-Asian_SNP_Consortium.png).

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  3. If we pay attention to the history of science, we would see that it includes a huge chunk of time wherein in Christians said ‘God did it’ and then they went about trying to figure out how God did it.

    This really wasn’t much of an problem until the 1800s as the revolutions supplanted what was left of the nobility, and we became stuck with bureaucrats at the apex of our societies. Now, suddenly, what you believe or don’t believe is so ridiculously important.

    On the one hand, I hold evolution as a hypothesis- a multitude of hypotheses really, because there’s the main idea, and then a lot of speculation on particulars- and on the other I have likely benefited more from evolutionary thinking than most die-hard atheist believers in evolution. Why? Because you don’t have to ‘believe’ in a map. You just have to open it up and use it. If it is a good map, it will get you somewhere.

    The whole paleo movement is an application of an evolutionary framework to environment- it started with diet, but a lot of the discussion now is about stuff like too much blue light at night, and other very novel things our unthinking embrace of technology has brought us.

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