Ken Ham has some peculiar ideas about taxonomy

He kind of wants to throw it out.

How odd. You know, the classification system he’s complaining about was formulated by Carl Linnaeus, who happened to be a pre-Darwinian Christian who also believed in a literal creation of different “kinds” by a god, just like Ham, but without some of the dogmatic stupidity. He’s the one who put humans in the animal kingdom.

Of particular interest is the fact that Linnaeus classified the human species in the animal kingdom. In different editions, he made numerous modifications to the details, but “man” was now part of the natural world, though distinguished by “his” soul. The term “homo sapiens” to describe our species (literally: “know thyself”) is due to Linnaeus, in the third edition.

The reasoning was straightforward. He thought all organisms were created by his god, beetles, camels, and salmon as well as humans, so he had no reason to separate out Homo sapiens as a distinct, exceptional creation event, unlike all those other species.

I think Ken Ham’s religious purity has been tainted, and he’s leaning towards accepting a natural history for animals, and is desperately shoring up human exceptionalism as a refuge for his incomplete beliefs.

He’s probably going to burn in hell for that.


  1. monad says

    Homo distinguished by their soul, but maybe for want of much else.

    “It is not pleasing to me that I must place humans among the primates, but man is intimately familiar with himself. Let’s not quibble over words. It will be the same to me whatever name is applied. But I desperately seek from you and from the whole world a general difference between men and simians from the principles of Natural History. I certainly know of none. If only someone might tell me one! If I called man a simian or vice versa I would bring together all the theologians against me. Perhaps I ought to, in accordance with the law of Natural History.” – Linnaeus, writing to Gmelin.

  2. blf says

    [Ken “piglet rapist” Ham]’s probably going to burn in hell for that.

    Seems about right: An entirely fictional punishment for an assertion which is entirely fiction.

  3. Jethro says

    He’s probably going to burn in hell for that.

    No, but not for the reason that he thinks.

  4. consciousness razor says

    He’s the one who put humans in the animal kingdom.

    A human being was a “rational animal” according to Aristotle. He didn’t develop the taxonomic structure you’re talking about, for which you can thank Linnaeus, but we had already been categorized as animals for about two thousands years.

    Or maybe more than that, I don’t know. (Aristotle didn’t originate a lot of the ideas which appear in his books, and this could certainly be one such example.)

  5. felicis says

    ““homo sapiens” to describe our species (literally: “know thyself”)”

    His latin is also pretty weak… Homo sapiens means ‘thinking man’ or (more commonly) ‘wise man’.

    Although – I am not sure humans need an entire genus to ourselves…

  6. blf says

    Ray “bananaman” Comfort, amongst others, also has similar weird ideas: Man is not an animal, despite his similarity to the animal kingdom. For example, dog’s [sic] (like human beings) have the ability to think and to speak. They communicate with each other in their own language. But mankind is unique in that he has the ability to appreciate, among other things, good music and the beauty of a colorful sunrise. While birds seem to think that a gorgeous sunrise is something to sing about, the similarity stops there. Birds don’t care about justice. Neither do animals, fish and insects. But we do. If a man lies about taking performance-enhancing drugs, there’s an international outcry because he has done something morally wrong. So we demand things like repentance and retribution. He has to somehow pay for his transgression. This isn’t just because the society in which we live has taught us this. It is because it is intuitive. Mankind, sinful though we are in our fallen state, is made in the image of God. […]

  7. cartomancer says

    felicis, #5

    “sapiens”, while it can be used as an adjective meaning “wise” is actually the present active participle of “sapio, sapere” – to discern, taste, sense or come to an awareness of something. So it can be rendered as “aware human” – with the implication that what the human is aware of is itself.

    Of course, that’s not really a literal translation. Usually in Latin (especially Medieval Latin) one would use “scito teipsum” to say “know thyself”, a direct translation of the original Greek “gnothe seauton”, which was one of the divine maxims written on the wall of the Temple of the Pythian Oracle at Delphi.

  8. says

    Homo is the genus name, and it is the Latin word for “man.” There is no ambiguity about that. Homo erectus, Homo habilis and Homo neandertalis are other members of the genus. BTW “mann” in olde English originally could mean a human of either sex. Not sure about the Latin homo, however.

  9. monad says

    @5 felicis, @7 cartomancer:
    It’s not supposed to be a translation at all. The author here has gotten confused; “Homo sapiens” was the name of the species and “nosce te ipsum” – know thyself – was his description.

  10. Owlmirror says

    The original Latin that Linnaeus wrote to Gmelin says:

    Non placet, quod Hominem inter ant[h]ropomorpha collocaverim, sed homo noscit se ipsum. Removeamus vocabula. Mihi perinde erit, quo nomine utamur. Sed quaero a Te et Toto orbe differentiam genericam inter hominem et Simiam, quae ex principiis Historiae naturalis. Ego certissime nullam novi. Utinam aliquis mihi unicam diceret! Si vocassem hominem simiam vel vice versa omnes in me conjecissem theologos. Debuissem forte ex lege artis.[7]

    [bolding mine]

    There’s a footnote to the paragraph:

    [7] : In Systema naturae[+] of 1735 Linnaeus placed man at the top of the animal kingdom and included in the same order Anthropomorpha, i.e. the ape. However, in Fauna Svecica[+] (1746) Linnaeus had to defend himself. In his Summa dubiorum circa classes quadrupedum et amphibiorum[+] (1743) Jacob Theodor Klein[+] reasonably denied that man could be called anthropomorph (“human-like”) or quadrupedia (”four-footed”), and Linnaeus changed the terms Quadrupedia to Mammalia and Anthropomorpha to Primates in Systema naturae of 1758. Linnaeus divides Homo sapiens into five races. See G. Broberg, Homo sapiens L. Studier i Carl von Linnés naturuppfattning och människolära[+], 153-253. For nosce te ipsum (”know thyself”) as a criterion to separate genera, see esp. 282-286, and G. Broberg, “Homo sapiens. Linnaeus’s classification of man”[+], 156-194.

  11. Owlmirror says

    David Marjanović’s translation:

    It does not please [someone… you?] that I have placed [the genus] Homo (humans) among the anthropomorphs [human-likes; from 1758 or earlier onwards: Primates], but man knows himself. Let’s set the words aside. It will not matter to me which name we use. But I ask you and the whole world for a genus-level difference between Homo (humans) and Simia (monkeys/apes) that [follows?] from the principles of natural history. I most certainly do not know any. If only somebody would tell me a single one! If I had called man a monkey or the other way around, I would have brought up all theologists against me. I really would have had to by the law of the art [ = natural history].

    I think the “Non placet” might be more clearly translated as “Some are displeased”; a deliberately vague formulation — not necessarily Linnaeus, not necessarily Gmelin reading the letter, but presumably referring to those with religion-based objections to the classification, like Ken Ham.

    At some point when discussing the paragraph, David Marjanović emphasized that “genericam” is not exactly the same as “general” (as the translation at #1 has it), but rather referred to the philosophical concept of a genus that Linnaeus was busy classifying organisms into. The English word “general” of course derives from the Latin “genus”, but it’s clearer to emphasize that Linnaeus was using the taxonomic concept.

  12. gijoel says

    He’s probably going to burn in hell for that.

    No, he’ll be forced to work in Heaven’s gift shop.

  13. rgmani says

    Actually, Linnaeus did something that ought to irritate Ken Ham even more. He placed chimpanzees and orangutans in the same genus as people! As per his original classification, chimpanzees were classified as homo troglodyte and orangutans were homo nocturnis.

    – RM

  14. cartomancer says

    Owlmirror, #11

    “Non placet” is one of those impersonal constructions common in Latin (particularly scholarly neo-Latin) that signifies a general state of affairs. The meaning is essentially “it’s not right” or “something doesn’t seem right” or “there’s something wrong here”. Linnaeus seems to be invoking a nagging sense that we are dealing with a tricky and controversial issue – hence the next sentences are a justification of what he has done. I am not sure the sense of difficulty is entirely of a theological nature though – there is a fairly obvious linguistic impropriety too, calling a human an anthropomorph (human-shaped) – humans aren’t just human-shaped, they actually are humans. This might be what the “but man knows himself” line is getting at – man knows that he himself is human, not just human-shaped. Which would account for the shift to “primates” (“first” or “highest”) in later versions. In fact “removeamus vocabula” seems to suggest just this change of terminology – it means more literally “let us take away the words” – i.e. let us change them for less problematic ones (followed by “it’s all the same to me whichever name is used”).

    As for “genericam”, that is an adjective more usually implying “by descent” or “by generation” (ultimately from gens – a tribe or people). It can mean “by type” or “according to class of things”, or it can mean “in terms of where it comes from”.

  15. leerudolph says

    He’s probably going to burn in hell for that.

    No, but not for the reason that he thinks.

    There’s no reason at all that he can’t “burn in hell” while he’s still alive: surely he has some, probably very detailed, mental construct of “Hell” (even though he’s obviously a charlatan, I have no reason to doubt—and considerable reason to believe—that he is a religious believer), and in the throes of a protracted, unlucid, mental and physical breakdown that is as likely as not to precede his death, why shouldn’t he have an extended death-bed vision of himself subjected to all the imagined tortures and horrors that he has spent his life terrorizing his marks with? If a hellish delirium was good enough for Dutch Schulz, it’s good enough for Ken Ham!

  16. Rich Woods says


    Ken Ham has some peculiar ideas about taxonomy

    You could have just ended that sentence after six words.

    @cartomancer #14:

    “removeamus vocabula”

    The last time I spoke those words out loud my Latin-English dictionary disappeared in a puff of smoke.

  17. nomdeplume says

    In a broader sense than taxonomy of course, this is part of the constant approach by many people, even zoologists, to try to say that Homo sapiens is totally different to othe animals, and any who disagree get accused of anthropomorphism. There is, clearly, a spectrum of intelligence, speech, social behaviours, altruism, tool use, reaction to the death of others, and so on. Ken Ham wouldn’t accept that for religious reasons, but there are others who don’t because of a sense of “human exceptionalism”.

  18. stwriley says

    felicis @ #5

    Humans don’t have an entire genus to ourselves, we’re just the only currently living members of it. There are at least four extinct members of the genus (Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Homo naledi, and Homo neanderthalensis) There are also, if you follow Linnaeus’ thinking, a couple of potential living members too (Pan troglodytes and Pan paniscus), both of which have been proposed as members of Homo numerous times.

  19. robro says

    What the Hamster doesn’t know could build and then fill a big gay wooden boat.

    I’ve had actual conversations with people who insist that humans are not animals, at least not white humans. Blacks are another story and they are definitely animals, but then they’re not really human. It doesn’t matter that we (white people) eat, shit, fuck, and piss pretty much like any other mammal, including non-white humans. We are not animals because the Bible says god created us in his own image…a notion that must have driven gnostics mad. Of course, god is an elderly white man just the way Michelangelo depicted him in the Sistine Chapel. One big difference: we die, god doesn’t…well, until Nietzsche came along and the end of Karl Wallinger’s song, “Is It Like Today.”

  20. jack16 says

    PZ “Separate” is much stronger and more precise than “Separating out”. The pronoun blurs and weakens.

  21. John Morales says


    PZ “Separate” is much stronger and more precise than “Separating out”. The pronoun blurs and weakens.

    To what supposed pronoun do you intend to refer? Neither of your quotations are pronouns.

  22. says

    I seem to remember that Old Carl included sloths in anthropomorpha: ah! those slow moving Swedes!
    And anyway we should surely be Homō stultus!!!!!

  23. aziraphale says

    Ken Ham’s Genesis quote has a revealing omission:
    1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

    So is God’s image male or female or both? Are we talking about the physical form? I scent possible heresy here.

  24. blf says

    So is God’s image male or female or both? Are we talking about the physical form?

    Magic sky faeries are only visible in the woo-ray part of the spectrum, and in modern times can only be detected by special equipment known as the Presupposing Phaerie Pleader. In olde times, the magic sky faeries were “seen” using a burning bush or goat on fire, which later turned into not expecting the inquisition.

    One traditional technique still in common wide-spread use is raping a child in a temple. This has produced the most plausible description, someone protected by all the other inhabitants of the temple. That suggests the faeries do appear to have a human-shaped physical form, at least when the temple habitants are hearing voices inside their heads.

    The voices themselves also need equipment to detect, albeit this has never changed: The clink! clink! of coins in the bowel. The more coins in the bowel, the moar faeries…

    (It is not my intention to make fun of the very serious problem of child abuse; I do hope I got the tone right. And of course, as mentioned, the proclivity to cover-up and continue-to-enable the rapists is another extremely serious problem.)

  25. Oggie. says

    richardelguru @23:

    I seem to remember that Old Carl included sloths in anthropomorpha

    That works. I think my spirit animal is the sloth.

  26. ashley says

    Ken Ham is both rather biblical and anti-science in his beliefs. The two things seem to go together.

  27. felicis says

    Cartomancer – @7 and @14 – thanks for the tips in Latin! I was going by the ‘translation’ of homo sapiens that I was taught growing up, not necessarily the ‘proper’ translation (though I am interested in that as well).

    Owlmirrow – @10-1 – thanks for finding the Linnaeus writing – I did not know about that at all (my knowledge of the history (or present) of biological (or any other) taxonomy is – well, about as good as that of Ken Ham. I guess I am different in that I recognize my lack and am happy to learn to fill it (even in little bits and pieces).

    Stwriley @18 – “There are also, if you follow Linnaeus’ thinking, a couple of potential living members too (Pan troglodytes and Pan paniscus), both of which have been proposed as members of Homo numerous times.”

    Which was kind of my point. Are we really so biologically different from chimps and bonobos that we should be in a different genus?

  28. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    re aziraphale @24,

    Of course English forces us to give god a gender (unless we use it to refer to the creature, but the translators of the book didn’t go there), but the real question ought to be what was it in the original Hebrew. I found a pretty interesting discussion of that here. A couple of caveats: the site presupposes the truth of Christianity, and while the discussion seems reasonable to me as a linguist, I don’t know (or know enough about) Hebrew to judge its accuracy. That aside, here’s the crux of the discussion:

    In the Hebrew Bible (and in translations to languages with a she/he dichotomy) God is referred to as “he”. God might be a ‘He’ in the Bible but non-Hebrew-literate individuals do not always know that in Hebrew language, grammatical gender is NOT an indicator of actual gender. Hebrew nouns have grammatical gender. Each object is masculine or feminine. There are no gender-neutral pronouns in Hebrew, i.e. there is no equivalent of the English “it”. Everything is a “he” or a “she”.

    The spirit of God Ruach Elohim (Genesis 1:2) is a feminine noun. So is the Shekhinah – the Presence of God. Does this mean the Spirit of God and the Presence of God are female?
    Since the titles for God in the Hebrew Bible (Elohim, El, Adonai) are masculine nouns, God is called “he”. A book sefer is a masculine noun too. So a book is also called “he”. God is no more male than a book is male.

  29. mnb0 says

    Come on guys, Ol’Hambo is the holiest and wisest man on Earth, who understand science, philosophy, theology and religion better than anyone else. So he must be right and good old Carl had it wrong.

  30. monad says

    @28 felicis:

    Are we really so biologically different from chimps and bonobos that we should be in a different genus?

    We have many odd features of the sort that often separate genera – our chin, little teeth, moved hyoid bone, the whole shift in our hips and legs. I think on the whole we aren’t that much more similar to Pan than Gorilla are, and so it’s reasonable to treat us as a third genus. But the first question should be about keeping Homo and Australopithecus apart, which most but not all palaeontologists seem to find useful, before you start worrying about other apes.

  31. ashley says
    This raven speciation and reticulate evolution is happening far too slowly for what is proposed in that Nathaniel Jeanson book to be plausible (post-flood hyper-evolution within so-called ‘kinds’) – though of course if you insist that that raven speciation happened in 4,500 rather than 2 million years then you can make that unobserved hyper-evolution appear plausible.
    Also, Ken Ham insists that ‘kinds’ (not individual species as seen today and via the fossil record, but ‘kinds’ normally at the biological family level of classification) were on the Genesis ark. Even though it is pairs of an individual species that normally breed successfully together – which would have been rather vital after a ‘worldwide flood’. (Link follows in a separate post in case flagging more than one link triggers a moderation process.)

    Yet he then claims: “Organisms within a kind can reproduce with one another so it’s not surprising to see these raven species interbreeding…”. But the National Geographic article states “though many of us learned in school that two species can’t interbreed, scientists say, biology isn’t always so clear-cut”.
    However it remains the case that inter-breeding between species (NB in the same genus as well as family normally) rarely can produce viable and fertile offspring – not to mention the fact that (without human intervention at least in the last couple of centuries) animals rarely breed ‘choose’ to with a different species to their own:

    Also, Ham and co claim that the reason the Bible does specifically mention dinosaurs is simply that the word had not been invented yet. Using that argument the only reason Genesis (eg Genesis 19-20) does not mention species (only min translated ‘kinds’) is that the concept and word had not been formulated yet.

  32. ashley says

    In fact I did (absent-mindedly) attach two links to my preceding post.
    Here is that third link:
    “Even without bacteria, fungi, plants, and sea creatures on the Ark, lots of species remain to be accounted for. The key is to understand the word used in Scripture, kind (Hebrew min). The Bible does not say God brought every individual or every species to Noah.” It strongly implies it. Especially as those ‘kinds’ dreamed up by Answers in Genesis are something that genetically has never been encountered (even they admit those genetically ‘front-loaded’ kinds with ‘created heterozygosity’ aren’t around today – which is convenient when you insist they ‘must’ have existed prior to the Genesis flood:

    According to Wikipedia (and, I suggest, the Bible by implication in that it appears to speak of species breeding ‘true’ post-flood):
    “A cell is said to be homozygous for a particular gene when identical alleles of the gene are present on both homologous chromosomes. The cell or organism in question is called a homozygote. True breeding organisms are always homozygous for the traits that are to be held constant.”
    Genesis 6: 19-20: “You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive.”
    Genesis 7: 8-9: ” Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah.”

  33. jack16 says

    Ouch! @21, @22 Guess I don’t know pronouns from prepositions! You should avoid ending a clause with a preposition. (Did I get this right?)
    I’m also opposed to “leverage” in place of “use”.