Ken Ham’s Problem: The Gaps Keep Closing

This may not be the biggest problem faced by creationism, but it’s certainly way up there on the list. The problem we’re talking about today is that whatever we don’t yet know — gaps in our knowledge — is what creationists claim to be flaws in science that constitute their “proof” of Genesis. But because gaps keep vanishing, their proof keeps fading away.

The latest example of a vanishing gap is the humble turtle. Consider this article from 1999 which is still found at the website of Answers in Genesis (AIG), the online creationist ministry of Ken Ham (ol’ Hambo to us). AIG’s gap-glorifying article is Turtles: These Uniquely Designed Creatures Continue To Defy Evolutionary Explanation. A few excerpts, with a touch bold font added for emphasis, should be sufficient to make our point:

Given the incredibly specific features of turtle anatomy, it should be easy (if evolution were true) to trace its supposed evolutionary roots. The New Encyclopaedia Britannica [1992 edition] boldly claims that “the evolution of the turtle is one of the most remarkable in the history of the vertebrates.” However, in the very next sentence it states: “Unfortunately the origin of this highly successful order is obscured by the lack of early fossils, although turtles leave more and better fossil remains than do other vertebrates.”

[…]

Dr Duane Gish, in his book Evolution: The Fossils Still Say NO!, says that given the amazingly unique structure of turtles, it should be a rather easy task to find the transitional forms to trace the evolutionary path from ancestral reptile to turtle, if that is in fact what has happened. … Yet not one transitional form has ever been discovered. Dr Gish quotes a series of evolutionists, each freely admitting to this truth.

And as they usually do, AIG wraps it up with their expected conclusion:

The biblical account of Creation in Genesis 1 — animals created to reproduce after their kinds—would mean that turtles should be instantly recognizable as turtles, with the shell and other unique features fully formed from the start, and no series of “pre-turtle ancestors” should be found. It is obvious that the fossil record of turtles gives powerful support to biblical Creation, and stands opposed to the idea of evolution.

Yes, it’s turtles all the way down to Genesis. We’ve seen these claims from creationists over and over again, and they all fit a familiar pattern. The argument is always God of the gaps. This illustrates a striking difference between creationists and rational people. A creationist is thrilled by gaps. They confirm his belief in Oogity Boogity, and he is content to let a gap remain a gap — which only a miracle can explain. Creationists have no curiosity; for them, ignorance is truly bliss.

In contrast, when scientists observe that there’s a gap in our data, they are motivated to find evidence to fill the gap. Their efforts are some of the most interesting and rewarding tales in the history of science — e.g., the cosmic microwave background radiation, the Higgs boson, etc. Our favorite in the field of evolution is one to which we often refer — see The Lessons of Tiktaalik.

The science news today isn’t as grandiose as as those, but it fills a gap and makes another creationist argument look silly, so it’s definitely worth mentioning. At the PhysOrg website we found this: Genomic analysis solves the turtle mystery. It says, with bold font added by us:

The turtle has always been considered somewhat odd in evolutionary terms. In addition to lacking the hole in the skull — the temporal fenestra — that is characteristic of the egg-laying amniotes, the structure of its shell differs from that of other armored tetrapods such as the armadillo, and its shoulder blades are inside rather than outside the rib cage.

Yes, and that’s just the way the creationists like it. They want turtle origin to be a mystery forever. But alas, that is not to be. Let’s read on:

An international research team led by Naoki Irie of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology has now shown through genomic analysis that turtles are most closely related to crocodiles and birds, and that their embryonic development follows the latest ‘hourglass’ model of vertebrate embryology.

Egad — turtles have evolutionary ancestors! How horrible for the creationists. The PhysOrg article continues:

Evolutionary relationships have traditionally been established by comparing differences in anatomical and structural features. However, with features inconsistent with the traditional lineages, the turtle has proved difficult to place, resulting in at least three different hypotheses for its evolution. The international team, which included researchers from BGI and the Ensembl genome database project, instead sought to establish the evolutionary position of the turtle based on its genome, which conserves information that can be traced back to its evolutionary ancestors.

It seems there’s more than one way to close a gap. One last excerpt:

The result was clear verification that the closest evolutionary relatives of turtles are crocodiles and birds, from which they diverged about 250 million years ago.

Okay, that’s enough. If turtle evolution interests you, you can click over to PhysOrg to see the full article. Also, here’s a link to the researchers’ published paper: The draft genomes of soft-shell turtle and green sea turtle yield insights into the development and evolution of the turtle-specific body plan. You can read it all without a subscription.

But don’t worry about the creationists. There are still gaps in our knowledge. There always will be. And as long as there are gaps, the creationists can claim that each one is evidence of creationism. Every unknown is — to them — a shady oasis where they can find refuge from the intolerable light of reason.

Update: A day after we posted the foregoing, AIG posted an article responding to the turtle news: Turtle in the Gap. They say:

A hypothetical evolutionary ancestor would not possess the information for the next step (or for the infinite number of next steps required in a random trial-and-error process), and there is no observable mechanism in biology to show how it could acquire the information for increasing complexity. Mutations lose genetic information; they do not add the complexity needed to even incrementally produce a more complex creature.

So it looks like they’re gonna stay with their creationist interpretation. We’re not surprised.

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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19 responses to “Ken Ham’s Problem: The Gaps Keep Closing

  1. waldteufel

    By and large, the average creationist is lacking in curiosity, and because of that intellectual deficit, they are ignorant of most history and science.
    Hucksters like ol’ Hambo and his coterie of professional creationists depend on that ignorance and lack of curiosity in order to peddles their little bags of oogity boogity to their largely brain dead audience.

  2. Doctor Stochastic

    The Gaps Keep Closing

    Kind of like being caught in a crevice in the ice.

  3. waldteufel

    Oh, thanks Curmy for your link to the Nature Genetics paper!

  4. Doctor Stochastic observes:

    The Gaps Keep Closing

    Indeed. But I remain entirely confident that the cavernous gap betwixt Ken Ham’s ears will remain unfilled, and unfillable.

  5. Some recent research on turtle shells that Ham must have missed:

    How Turtles Got Their Shells: Fossil of Extinct South African Reptile Provides Clues:
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130530132431.htm

    Scientists Discover That Turtles Began Living in Shells Much Earlier Than Once Thought:
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130530132433.htm

  6. That’s bad, docbill1351. Really bad.

  7. I’ve come to regard the “God of the gaps” locution as incomplete. In fact, in virtually every case with creationists and ID creationists (see Nick Matzke’s review of Meyer’s latest), it’s the “God of the gaps of their own ignorance” that’s salient. It’s not that science is ignorant of this or that detail, it’s that the creationists are ignorant of what science in fact already knows!

  8. anevilmeme

    Scientists fill in gaps with knowledge, creationists move goalposts out of fear and ignorance……..

  9. It was a setup. The turtles had Ham outfoxed from the beginning.

    AND I tested my HTML this time too.

  10. Loved the link to Nick Matzke’s review and I could only imagine a creationist’s brain go through a meltdown trying to read the review. But there’s actually two errors in my own observation; I used the words “brain” and “read” to describe a creationist’s behavior.

  11. I just added an update to the end of the post, linking to a new AIG article on turtle evolution. They still say it’s a miracle.

  12. Turtles are archosaurs?!?

    Wild.

  13. “Mutations lose genetic information; they do not add the complexity needed to even incrementally produce a more complex creature.”
    Is this true? I hear this all the time from creationists. AIG has tons of videos making this claim.

  14. Those claims are bulls**t. Two mutational mechanisms that add “information” (whether Shannon info or Kolmogorov-Chaitin info) are insertion mutations and gene duplications. See here for an introduction to the question of information theory in evolution.

  15. “Mutations lose genetic information; they do not add the complexity needed to even incrementally produce a more complex creature.”

    Are ‘ol Hambo and his minions arguing that turtles are more complex than birds and crocodiles?

  16. “Mutations lose genetic information; they do not add the complexity needed to even incrementally produce a more complex creature.”

    My turn! This also conflates information with entropy. Heat transfer (in a closed system!) is one way, but there is no “Second Law of Information Theory” ** that prevents new information from forming. New information, in the form of mutations, are more likely to persist if they they allow more efficient transfer of heat through the (eco)system.

    ** Another commenter here (Alan(UK)) originally pointed this out to me.

  17. Mark Joseph

    @Mark Germano

    Are ‘ol Hambo and his minions arguing that turtles are more complex than birds and crocodiles?

    No, ‘ol Hambo and his minions are babbling incoherently.

  18. Mark Joseph

    @Curmudgeon:

    The argument is always God of the gaps. This illustrates a striking difference between creationists and rational people. A creationist is thrilled by gaps. They confirm his belief in Oogity Boogity, and he is content to let a gap remain a gap — which only a miracle can explain. Creationists have no curiosity; for them, ignorance is truly bliss…
    But don’t worry about the creationists. There are still gaps in our knowledge. There always will be. And as long as there are gaps, the creationists can claim that each one is evidence of creationism. Every unknown is — to them — a shady oasis where they can find refuge from the intolerable light of reason.

    I love it!