Friday, May 25, 2007

Ham's Creation Museum - What Kids Won't Hear About Teeth

No doubt information found in the exhibits at Ken Ham's Creation Museum will be derived directly from the AnswersInGenesis web pages, particularly their "Get Answers" sections. As such, the expectation is that visitors will be treated to false information regarding the geological, paleontological and biological history of life on this planet. It is not difficult to find errors, misrepresentations, selective information and outright falsehoods on the AnswersInGenesis website - and these intellectual atrocities will be repeated throughout the museum.

Consider, for example, Ken Ham's "explanation" regarding the tyrannosaur's sharp teeth. He and his staff clearly believe that, as they interpret biblical passages, all creatures were originally plant eaters:

Were dinosaurs meat-eaters? According to the Bible, all animals were originally plant eaters (Gen. 1:30), not carnivores....Therefore, even the menacing T-Rex was meant to eat plants at the beginning. Although he had very sharp teeth, a lot of animals who have sharp teeth today are not carnivores, but use them to open fruit and eat vegetables. Having sharp teeth has nothing to do with an animal being a meat-eater or not.

Ken Ham has gotten somewhat more specific in interviews. When reporters comment that the tyrannosaur has very sharp teeth, he responds:

"So do bears", says Ken, "but they eat nuts and berries! Remember, before the sin of Adam, the world was perfect. All creatures were vegetarian."

It is difficult to know where to begin pointing out the errors of logic so completely that so completely dominate Ham's thinking on any subject of evolutionary consequence. There are not only a number of specific fallacies inherent in Ham's conclusions regarding teeth, but by these statements it is also apparent that Ham and his staff reject some of the most basic methods of science and fundamental procedures for making inquiries about the world around us.

On the specific errors, Ham draws a false similarity in tooth structure between bears and tyrannosaurs. To Ham, the gross generality is sufficient: both bears and tyrannosaurs have "sharp teeth", but different diets - the conclusion, therefore, is that this observation is consistent with the Genesis account that all creatures ate plants initially, but later diverged into different diets. Of course a very simple inspection (I have a bear jaw and skull in front of me now) shows quite clearly to anyone without pre-conceived ideas of what these animals should be eating that bear teeth are not like tyrannosaur teeth at all. Tyrannosaurs have multiple, generally cone-shaped teeth. The only remotely cone-shaped teeth on the bear are the canines: the remaining teeth are largely low, with rounded cusps. When you look at the teeth of to days carnivores (crocodiles, porpoises, sea lions, tigers, coyotes, foxes, etc.) their teeth are cone or triangular (a flattened cone) in design, much like the tyrannosaurs. Bear teeth on the other hand, show a mixture of cone-like and low, flattened teeth similar to those seen in raccoons, badgers, monkeys and, to a lesser extent, humans. All of these animals eat a variety of foods including meat, insects, fruit and other plant materials.

Anyone who has spent a lifetime looking at the specifics of teeth (as I have) knows that they are highly distinctive of both diet and species. I can often identify a particular species in the archaeological record on nothing more than a fragment of tooth. Not all teeth look alike and animals have widely varied combinations of them. Most of this variation occurs as a result of diet, but teeth are often designed and used for other purposes: for social grooming, defense, stirring up sediments, "rooting" in the soil for grubs, etc. As Simon Hillson has pointed out in his seminal work on teeth: "Teeth are highly variable structures. They are very closely adapted to the jobs for which they have to do" (Hillson 1986:14). For Ham to suggest that tyrannosaur teeth and bear teeth are similar is simply bypass volumes of data to the contrary. But bypassing data that doesn't fit Ham's model of biblical origins is what the staff at AnswersInGenesis do best.

The often repeated mantra among the AnswersInGenesis crowd is that they use the same evidence "evolutionists" do but simply start with a different premise (biblical literalism) and reach a different conclusion. This is simply not the case. Actually, it is only Ham who starts with a premise and then proceeds to find the evidence to fit it; and his expectation is that evolutionists are doing the same thing with their data: starting with an assumption of evolution and then fitting the data to it. But contrary to Ham's assertions, evolutionary biologists do not start with an evolutionary premise. He and other creationists fail to understand that the data are better explained by the evolutionary model when considered cumulatively. In contrast, AnswersInGenesis incorporates only those data that fit the model of biblical origins - anything else is considered either faulty or ignored. Ham cannot recognize that bear teeth and tyrannosaur teeth are different because his model cannot account for that difference. Moreover, if star with Ham's assumption that all creatures started as vegetarians, then why the current distinctions among animals now? What was it about "The Fall" that caused tyrannosaurs and lions to start eating meat? Why do deer browse and zebra graze? (For that matter, why does the black rhino browse and the white rhino graze?). Why do colobus monkeys only eat leaves but vervet monkeys eat a varied diet of fruit and insects? Why do bears and humans eat a broad variety of things. And ultimately, why does each of these species exhibit a quite different set of teeth? Ham's model cannot account for the facts of the geological, paleontological and biological records unless selected examples are used. In contrast, evolutionary theory "explains" most of what we see in each of these records, to a far greater extent than biblical models ever could. This is why the biblical model started to be abandoned several centuries ago: it failed to adequately explain the mounting evidence we see all around us. AnswersInGenesis wants to return us to a biblical model of origins, but it can support it with nothing more advanced than 14th century data.

Finally, Ham's model and his explanation of how bear and tyrannosaur teeth fit into it outright rejects basic principles of comparative anatomy. Basically any observational data must be rejected if it does not meet his interpretation of scripture. I regular take skulls of North American and African mammals to elementary schools in Lassen County and talk about the different skull types, including differences in teeth. Kids are fascinated by this and quickly grasp the connection between different diets and different tooth types. Ken Ham would have these kids believe that none of their powers of observation have anything to do with reality - and it is here that Ham and the Creation Museum pose the greatest threat to society. Ham and his museum pose no threat to those of us who are educated and have seen this stuff first hand. We know Ham and his staff are lying about the evidence. But the kids that see the Creation Museum will walk away carrying no inquisitiveness about the world; they will think that they have seen it all and that bear teeth and tyrannosaur teeth are really the same.

And America will take one step closer to a new Dark Age because of Ken Ham.

Hillson, S. (1986) Teeth. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.


Laelaps said...

Wonderful post; it's good to see an insightful post on why Ham is so off the mark.

Beloved Spear said...

Excellent, thoughtful post. I might even use it in this week's sermon.

You'd think someone who purports to see God's glory in the world would have an easier time seeing the beauty and elegance of the evolutionary process.

Fundamentalism is it's own form of denies both the witness of science and reason and the essence of faith.

الايفون said...

great article very clear very interesting