The problem with Cladistics

Evolutionists love cladistics. They use it for every kind of creature imaginable in an attempt to trace the lineage back to a common ancestor. Even some creationists have gotten in on the act, stealing from cladistics to create statistical baraminology, which attempts to determine which creatures are of the same kinds. Usually, this is performed on extinct creatures as interbreeding reports are impossible to obtain. However, there are significant issues with cladistics, which can lead to some strange results, such as the feathered dinosaur paper presented at ICC this July which caused me to respond pointing out the numerous problems with this idea. However, the reason these scientists tumbled into error was due to their overreliance on cladistics.  This article will explain how the process works and why it is not foolproof.

Cladistics works on three basic assumptions, which evolutionists themselves freely acknowledge. The first assumption is that the organisms you are working with all descended from a common ancestor. Obviously, it is impossible to establish a relationship where none exists. Creationists would agree to a point. It would be possible, using this assumption, to make a clade for all members of the dog kind, but not to find a common ancestor between a dog and a giraffe.  The second assumption is that new species/kinds arise when organisms divide into separate populations. This is flat wrong about kinds and evolutionists hotly debate the species aspect of it, with some saying new species can form within populations. The third necessary assumption is that changes occur over time. They are correct here, though creationists would expect much less change than evolutionists would.  Based on these assumptions, evolutionists and statistical baraminologists can attempt to build their clade.

When building a clade, evolutionists and statistical baraminologists look at traits of a given creature. This is much easier if the creature is alive, as internal soft tissue can be examined as well. Extinct creatures often leave little to no soft tissue behind and usually not even full skeletons.  However, based on what is available, cladistics assigns a given numerical value, usually one, to similarities, and a zero to differences.  The total number of possible similarities is equal to the total number of traits. However, no two kinds are identical so there is always some variation. By adding up the similarities, cladistics arrives at a number.  If two creatures have similar numbers, then evolutionists believe they are more closely related.  Baraminologists have borrowed this for extinct creatures.

There are multiple problems with this, the first being that statistics are not always right.  I’m reminded of what my statistics teacher said about stats. “There are three kinds of liars in the world. Liars, (expletive deleted) liars, and statisticians.” In other words, statistics, such as those used in clades, are only as good as the people generating them. Further, stats are not always predictive. Let me draw on a sports example. My family will tell you I am slightly obsessive over hockey statistics. Some of you may be the same over football stats.  If you are, you know that statistics can vary. Let me give you an example.  Suppose I told you that a mid-twenty something wing had played two and a half seasons in which he had scored 3, 9, and 6 goals. How many goals would you predict he would score in the next season based on those numbers? Most people would say maybe 6-8.  A few more positive ones would predict 10-15. No one predicted that William Karlsson would score 43 goals in 2017-18, more than doubling his career total in goals and ranking third in the NHL in goals scored.  Statistics are not always predictive.

Further, cladistics assumes all traits have equal value when determining a relationship. For example, some features are more distinctive than others.  When you look at a bird, feathers are an automatic distinction. When something comes equipped with feathers, that should weigh more heavily on the scale than both having lungs for example.  This is the problem with cladistics. It artificially creates similarity by generalizing over potential differences.  It essentially ignores detailed anatomy and physiology in favor of a statistical analysis.

Analysis of statistics are not useless, and they should be incorporated as supporting subsets of data.  However, alone, they are entirely subjective to the person or groups doing the research.  Cladistics is very useful, situationally.  Within kinds, it can be used to help trace back to the original created kind. However, attempting to tie two kinds together using cladistics is poor science.  Creationists should be wary of using the methods of cladistics in their baraminology.


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