Feature Article - March 2003
by Do-While Jones

The Taxonomy Revolt

“Taxonomy, the classification of living things, has its origins in ancient Greece and in its modern form dates back nearly 250 years to when Linnaeus introduced the binomial classification still used today.” 1 But since traditional taxonomy doesn’t fit very well with the theory of evolution, some evolutionists want to replace it with another system.

The Evolution in the News column of this newsletter describes a feathered creature that lived in China some time ago called Microraptor gui. Why was this creature called a dinosaur? To answer that question we need to examine the history and implications of the classification systems in use today.

Will A Bird By Any Other Name Fly As Well?

The published reports all referred to M. gui as a “dinosaur.” If the great fossil hunter Roy Chapman Andrews had discovered this fossil on one of his trips to China in the 1920’s, what would he have called it? No doubt he would have called it a bird. Why? Because it has a beak and feathers! What else could it be?

Suppose Mark Burnett, while producing an episode of the TV show Survivor Amazon, had accidentally filmed a creature that looked just like the artist’s recreation of M. gui, what would everyone have called it? We all would have called it a bird! Why? Because it has a beak and feathers! What else could it be? Certainly it could not be a dinosaur because (except for creationists) everyone knows that dinosaurs have been extinct for millions of years.

Why then, is M. gui called a dinosaur? We really don’t have to tell you (but we will, anyway). It is because evolutionists believe that dinosaurs evolved into birds, and they need some evidence to prove it. They need a missing link that is a dinosaur with feathers. So, they call M. gui a dinosaur.

Classification Rules

Pardon us for stating the obvious, but classification is purely arbitrary. Yes, there are some criteria (rules) used to classify living things, but those criteria are of purely human invention. They are simply a matter of choice.

Suppose that Mark Burnett not only filmed M. gui, but captured several of them alive (including at least one of each gender). Then we would know if M. gui had bellows lungs (where air goes in and out through the same tube, as in reptiles and mammals) or avian lungs (which have separate input and output airways). We would know if it was hot-blooded or cold-blooded. We might have discovered that the males had XY chromosomes, and females XX chromosomes. But, on the other hand, we might have found that males had WW chromosomes and females had WZ chromosomes, or maybe even environmentally determined sex (ESD). (See last month’s essay, Birds and Bees, to review gender determination methods.) How would those discoveries have affected the classification of this creature?

If a living specimen of M. gui was found to be hot-blooded, with WW and WZ chromosomes, hollow bones, and avian lungs, it would be classified as a bird, no question at all. If it was cold-blooded, with solid bones, bellows lungs, and ESD, it would not be classified as a bird no matter how many feathers it had.

Living creatures are classified based on certain key characteristics. Most creatures fit pretty well into a category because the categories were designed to fit most creatures pretty well. There are a few creatures (like the duck-billed platypus) which don’t fit very well, but they are exceptions.

The Attack on Taxonomy

Linnaeus invented the biological classification system we use today. There have been some minor changes over the years (especially in 1970), but it is basically his system. Recently, it has come under attack as shown by articles like this one in the scientific literature:

Linnaeus’s Last Stand?

A fight has erupted over the best way to name and classify organisms in light of current understanding of evolution and biodiversity

These days the once-serene hallways of the world’s natural history museums are anything but tranquil. A small but powerful contingent of systematists is challenging more than 2 centuries of taxonomic tradition by proposing a new system for naming and classifying life, one they say is more in line with the current understanding of evolution.

The traditional system groups organisms in part according to their resemblance to a representative “type” specimen and places them in a hierarchy of ever more inclusive categories called ranks that have helped people organize and communicate their thinking about flora and fauna. The new naming system would be based more explicitly on evolutionary relationships.

… in Linnaeus’s mind, a species never changed--Darwin’s observations about variation and evolution were still a century away. Thus, the Swede’s system made no provisions for naming and classifying organisms with evolutionary relationship in mind. “The Linnaean system was set up under a creationist world view to reflect a hierarchy of ideas in the eyes of the creator,” explains Brent Mishler, herbarium director and systematist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Under PhyloCode, each clade’s name would refer to a node in the tree of life and should thus provide nomenclature more appropriate for biological thinking, says the Smithsonian’s Kevin de Queiroz, one of PhyloCode’s developers. 2

Linnaeus used his system to make it easier to study living things. You can learn a lot by observing common trends, and specific differences from the norm. Linnaeus divided living things into those which make their own food (plants) and those which eat other living things (animals). He divided animals into those which have backbones and a central nervous system (vertebrates) and those which don’t (invertebrates). He continued this process, creating smaller and smaller groups, which eventually developed into our modern hierarchy of kingdom, phylum/division, class, order, family, genus, species.

Linnaeus did not base his taxonomy on evolution. He simply put lions, tigers, and house cats in the same family because they had many similarities, and it made it easier to study them. It was about one hundred years later that Darwin came along, and scientists tried to use taxonomy to explain evolution. They assumed that all the species in the cat family were similar because they were closely related to a common ancestor. They thought taxonomy was a natural result of evolution.

The problem (for evolutionists) is that DNA analysis reveals inconsistencies between traditional classification and genetic similarity. All the creatures in a genus or family should be more closely related to each other than they are to creatures in more distant taxa. But, they aren’t. So, there is a move afoot to replace Linnaeus’ binomial classification system with PhyloCode, or other “phylogenetic trees.”

They can do this because the classification scheme is a purely arbitrary human invention. There is no underlying natural law. Taxonomy is merely a tool humans use to group things together to make them easier to study. There is no right or wrong grouping. If one wants to study flight, it makes sense to group flying birds, bats, and flying insects in one group. There is nothing wrong with that. But, since some scientists think that all living things evolved from a common ancestor, they want to group living things in such a way that supports their theory. That’s why they want to classify M. gui as a dinosaur.

The problem is that living things didn’t all evolve from a common ancestor, so any classification system that tries to group them according to evolutionary heritage is bound to fail. This is evident by the preposterous relationships that result. What could be sillier than T. rex being classified as a bird? Don’t take our word for it. See what they are saying in the respected, scientific journals.

Now that molecular biologists are producing phylogenetic trees (which when congruent, we must consider irrefutable evidence for evolutionary pathways) a host of new problems arise. Because crocodiles are believed to be more closely related to birds than they are to turtles, for example, are sparrows just feathered reptiles, and does ornithology become merely a branch of herpetology? Hippos may be closer to whales than they are to their fellow ungulates such as pigs, so should librarians move hippo books down among the cetaceans? The lobe-finned coelacanth Latimeria [a fish] is closer to humans than it is to herrings--so what price ichthyology? It is indeed a kettle of fish. 3

Isn’t it interesting that “when congruent,” phylogenetic trees must be considered “irrefutable evidence” for evolution; but when they aren’t congruent--as sometimes is the case--they aren’t considered irrefutable evidence against evolution? Evolutionists only accept evidence that supports their prejudice, and reject evidence against their prejudice. That is not what real scientists should do.

Evolutionists must be closely related to ostriches, because they certainly like to hide their heads in the sand, just kidding as indicated by this recent news story:

Copy Crab

DNA confirms that crab forms have several origins

New genetic evidence suggests that crabs aren’t all close relatives and their characteristic shape evolved independently on numerous occasions. 4

Let’s look at the facts, and look at the interpretations of those facts. DNA analysis of the gene order in crabs shows that they don’t all have a close common ancestor. That’s a scientific fact reported in the February 22, 2002, peer-reviewed Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B. and summarized in the Science News article we quoted. The obvious interpretation is that this is evidence that crabs didn’t evolve from a common ancestor. But, in a conscious effort not to see the obvious, the evolutionary interpretation is, that “these species evolved on separate occasions from shrimp- or lobsterlike ancestors.” 5

Don’t Forget About Sex

Last month we wrote a long essay on sex. Here are a couple of key quotes from that essay to refresh your memory.

Yet though flies and butterflies share a common ancestor (which must have had some sex determination scheme) they've managed to evolve completely opposite ways to decide what sex they are. 6

Some taxa show both forms of heterogamety (e.g., ranid frogs) … some of these taxa also have other types of sex determination (especially ESD) 7

As we discussed last month, there is no explanation of how sex evolved (at least, the editors of the journal Science didn’t know of one in September of 1998 when they did their special report on it), and, from a logical point of view, it is difficult to see why sex would evolve. So, one would assume that all creatures with a particular method for sexual reproduction would have evolved from the same common ancestor. If one considers sexual reproductive method to be a fundamental characteristic, then from a phylogenetic point of view, spiders, ants, praying mantises, birds, and butterflies would all be in different clades, but people would be in the same clade as butterflies. That’s preposterous.

Depending upon what genes or physical characteristics you pick to classify animals, you will get different relationships. All the ones tried so far, when applied consistently, produce at least some absurd family relationships. Evolutionists honestly believe that they get silly answers because they have not picked the right method of DNA analysis. They will keep trying different criteria until they get family relationships which are mostly consistent with their evolutionary prejudice. They may have to call some crabs “lobsters” and other crabs “shrimp” to do it, but they will just chalk that up to “the self-correcting nature of the scientific process.”

If the theory of evolution were really true, you could pick any reasonable DNA analysis method and you would always get the same relationships, which would closely match the traditional hierarchy based on similar physical features. DNA analysis isn’t consistent because the theory of evolution isn’t true.

DNA analysis indicates that crabs don’t have a close common ancestor because crabs did not evolve from a common ancestor. Birds are not feathered reptiles. Hippos are not whales. Hippos aren’t even pigs. Evolutionists are wasting their time trying to find a classification scheme that fits an evolutionary scenario that never happened.

We don’t object to biologists examining DNA sequences to see which creatures are most similar. Nor do we object to biologists looking for genetic differences between those creatures which are most similar. Such study will help us understand how genes express themselves. That understanding may, in turn, lead to improved treatment of disease. We do object to biologists wasting valuable research time and effort trying to figure out how evolution produced all the species alive today.

Revisions to taxonomy won’t help explain how evolution produced all the living species because evolution didn’t produce all the living species. We want science students, and the general public, to realize that taxonomy is merely a tool for grouping things in such a way as to make them easier to study. We want everyone to know that the failure to reconcile taxonomy with evolution isn’t because traditional taxonomy is wrong. It is the theory of evolution that is wrong.

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Footnotes:

1 Godfray, Nature, Vol. 417, 2 May 2002, “Challenges for taxonomy”, page 17 (Ev)
2 Pennisi, Science, Vol. 291, 23 March 2001, “Linnaeus’s Last Stand?” page 2304 (Ev)
3 Lewin, Nature, Vol. 410, 5 April 2001, “Why rename things?”, page 637 (Ev)
4 Pickrell, Science News, Vol. 161, 2 March 2002, “Copy crab”, page 134 (Ev)
5 ibid.
6 Jeffrey Copeland & Jeffry Haemer, Server/Workstation Expert, March 2000, “Sex” pages 37-38.
7 R. D. Howard, Biol 597 (Sex & Evolution), Fall 97, http://www.bio.purdue.edu/courses/BIOL597/lecture/lectur9.html (Ev)