As mentioned in the previous post, when making my list of Ark Encounter Kinds my methodology consisted entirely of coming up with a list of land vertebrate families. One of the main challenges I ran into is that a lot of extinct species that have not been assigned to families.

The Linnaean system of classification, which assigns animals to Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genera and Species based on shared characteristics, works pretty well for extant species. But when you get into extinct species things get a bit more complicated, not because there isn’t a hierarchy, but because the hierarchy doesn’t nicely match Linnaeus’s original categories. 

For example, the fossil record contains many creatures, the non-mammalian synapsids, that had scaly skin and laid eggs, but every aspect of their skeleton looks more like a mammal than any other reptile. If you go with the traditional Linnaean system these creatures are reptiles because they have the defining characteristics of reptiles. But scientists agree they are much closer to mammals than they are to reptiles.

Note that when I say that, I don’t just mean scientists that accept evolution. If you look at the Ark Encounter list you’ll see that they have a category for “non-mammalian synapsids” which is separate from both mammals and reptiles. Answers in Genesis regularly refers to them as “mammal-like reptiles” or even “reptile-like mammals”. Even they realize that it is difficult to fit some extinct species in the traditional Linnaean classes.

These days when animals are classified they tend to be laid out in the overall tree of life based on their characters. Some Creationists will insist that the tree is due to scientist’s biases, while others accept that the tree does exist in nature but doesn’t tell us anything about how life arose. But that doesn’t really matter. The point is that the traditional Linnaean classification system is falling out of favour, and thus some species are no longer assigned to families. If a species is completely new and different from everything around, they are likely to propose a family name when they publish. But if the new species shares most of its characteristics with an existing family, without actually fitting within it, it’s not given a separate name, it’s just referred to as “basal <insert family name they are close to>”. Basal means closer to the base, so it describes a branch just slightly closer to the base of the tree of life than that family.

When I made my list of kinds I was wondering how Answers in Genesis would handle these species. I thought they might leave them out altogether, or lump them in with the family they are basal to, or maybe just make up a name for them. But I definitely was not expecting what they did. On the poster at the Ark Encounter, there are several groups listed as “basal”!

This seems very strange to me. Sure, basal technically just means toward the base of the tree, and some Creationists do admit that the tree is valid. But they still think the kinds are completely separate and independent creations. Why would you name the kind based on its relationship to other kinds if you don’t think the relationship is real?