A recent issue of Time magazine (14 March 1994) displayed a picture of Homo
erectus on the cover with the title, "How Man Began: Fossil bones from the dawn
of humanity are rewriting the story of evolution." The question of human origins
fascinates us! Many people are intrigued by the possibility of descending from
an ape-like ancestor only 7 million years ago. The field of paleoanthropology,
the study of human fossils, embraces colorful personalities that compete for
our allegiance to their particular evolutionary scheme. Mary and Louis Leakey,
their son, Richard Leakey, and Donald Johanson are all recognizable names in
this fascinating field of study.
?Reading Time, Newsweek, and National Geographic convinces most people that
humans evolved from ape- like ancestors. However, a now well-known poll indicates
that 47% of adults in the United States, almost half, believe humans were created
only 10,000 years ago and that only 9%, less than 1 in 10, believe humans are the
result of an evolutionary process in which God played no part. So who’s fooling
whom? I want to take a brief look at the evidence for human evolution. This
is an engrossing topic with some surprising answers.
?The story begins about 3.5 million years ago with the appearance of a group
of animals collectively known as australopithecines. Australo means "southern"
and pithecines meaning "apes." These "southern apes," initially discovered in
South Africa, were small, apparently upright walking apes. Then around 2 million
years ago, a new creature appears that is now put into the genus Homo, Homo
habilis. Homo habilis possesses the same stature of the australopithecines but
with a slightly larger brain. It is also suggested that he used a few primitive
tools. Next appears the real star of human evolution, Homo erectus. Homo erectus
possesses the skeletal frame of modern humans though he’s a little more robust,
and his brain capacity is closer still to humans. Homo erectus uses more advanced
tools. This "almost" human hangs around we’re told for over 1.5 million years
when nearly modern humans (Homo sapiens) begin to appear. Soon the offshoot
Neanderthals arise and about the same time thoroughly modern humans appear in the
last 100,000 years.
?While this is the standard story, and the one you will find in the recent issue
of Time magazine, it is far from convincing when all the data are considered.
Take the australopithecines, for example. While there is still some debate about
whether these creatures walked upright at all, most anthropologists accept that
they walked on two legs. But it is misleading if you don’t know the rest of
the story. The fact is, that Lucy, the most well known australopithecine (Australopithecus
afarensis), was also mildly adapted to life in the trees. The evolutionist William
Howells said "there is general agreement that Lucy’s gait is not properly understood,
and that it was not something simply transitional to ours" (Getting Here: The
Story of Human Evolution, 1993, emphasis mine). If Lucy walked upright, it was distinct
from apes and humans. Not exactly what you would expect from a transitional
form. Lucy is simply an extinct ape with no clear connection to humans.
?The Uncertainties of Homo Erectus
We have all seen the series of extinct creatures that lead from ape to man.
Evolutionists confidently declare that while there may be a lot of details missing
from the story, the basic outline is fairly complete. This all seems rather
impressive. In his recent book, Bones of Contention (Baker, 1992, p. 21), creationist
Marvin Lubenow, offers an important observation:
What is not generally known is that this sequence, impressive as it seems, is
a very? artificial and arbitrary arrangement because 1) some fossils are selectively
excluded if? they do not fit well into the evolutionary scheme; 2) some human
fossils are arbitrarily? downgraded to make them appear to be evolutionary ancestors
when they are in fact true? humans; and 3) some non-human fossils are upgraded
to make them appear to be human? ancestors.
?The australopithecines are a good example of Lubenow’s third point. These extinct
apes are trumpeted as human ancestors because of their crude bipedal walking
ability. But nearly everything else about them is ape-like. The origin of their
bipedality would be no small evolutionary task. Even Richard Leakey admits as much
in his book with Roger Lewin, Origins Reconsidered (pp. 83-84), when he says
that the change from walking on four legs to walking on two legs
…would have required an extensive remodeling of the ape’s bone and muscle?
architecture and of the overall proportion in the lower half of the body. Mechanisms
of? gait are different, mechanics of balance are different, functions of major
muscles are? different–an entire functional complex had to be transformed for
efficient bipedalism to? be possible.
?Yet these immense changes are not documented from the fossil record.
?A good example of Lubenow’s second point, the arbitrary downgrading of human
fossils to make them appear to be our ancestors, is Homo erectus. Homo erectus
is said to span the time from around 1.7 million years ago to nearly 400,000
years ago. From its first appearance, erectus is admitted to have a fully human
post-cranial skeleton (that means everything but the head). But the brain size
is given an evolutionary twist by saying that it only approaches the average
for modern humans. In reality, Homo erectus brain size is within the range of modern
Throughout the course of their book, Origins Reconsidered, Leakey and Lewin
document an impressive array of characteristics that distinguish the ape-like
qualities of australopithecines from the human qualities of Homo erectus. Australopithecines
are small in stature, only 3-4 feet tall, and the males are twice the size of females.
In humans and Homo erectus, the males are only 15-20% larger than females, and
a juvenile erectus fossil is estimated to have grown to a height of six feet
if he had lived.
In Homo erectus, all of the following characteristics display the human pattern,
while in australopithecines, the ape pattern is evident: growth pattern, dental
structure and development, facial structure and development, brain morphology,
height to weight ratio, probable position of larynx based on the contours of the
base of the skull making speech possible, and the size of the birth canal relative
to the size of the adult brain.
Where some Homo erectus fossils differ from humans can be explained by the effects
of inbreeding, dietary restrictions, and a harsh environment. But evolutionists
need an intermediate, and Homo erectusis the only option available.
Neanderthals and the Paleontologists
In the field of paleoanthropology, the study of human fossils, one must approach
the data and interpretations of the scientists involved with a careful and skeptical
eye. There are a number of obvious reasons for this healthy skepticism. The
most important reason being that they are looking for man’s evolutionary ancestors.
If that is what you are looking for, then that is likely what you will report
to have found. That is just human nature.
?A second reason, is that there is a great deal of competitiveness among anthropologists.
They are involved in a race to be the one to discover the missing link whic
will mean immense notoriety and financial gain. The temptation to exaggerate
the importance of their findings at the expense of others is very great.
?Another reason for skepticism is that all anthropologists compare only plaster
casts of the fossils or measurements available in the literature and not the
fossils themselves. The actual fossils are understandably considered too delicate,
fragile, and valuable to be handled directly all the time. However, plaster casts
are sadly unable to accurately reproduce many of the details needed for proper
study. In 1984, the largest collection of actual fossils was gathered from around
the world at the American Museum of Natural History for the opening of the "Ancestors"
exhibit. It was a unique opportunity for side by side comparisons that took
much persuasion to pull off. The mounts for each skull or fragment were individually
prepared using a cast of the original fossil. Unfortunately, when the real fossils
showed up, most of them did not fit! It is a myth to think that those who teach
and write on human origins have actually held in their hands even a fraction
of the original material.
?Evolutionists have been embarrassed on more than one occasion when their evolutionary
bias, competitiveness, and lack of familiarity with the original fossils were
not considered. A good example is the misinterpretation of neanderthals. Though
there is still much dispute whether neanderthals are a sub-species of humans
or a completely different species, in the early part of this century, there
was unanimity in the belief that neanderthals were brutish, stooped creatures
who were more closely related to apes than to humans. This impression stood for
over forty years. One of the first complete neanderthal skeletons was found
in a cave in France in 1908. It was given to the French paleontologist, Marcellin
Boule to reconstruct.
?From other fragmentary fossils, Boule had already formed an evolutionary bias
that neanderthals were not related to humans. Boule saw only the "primitive"
traits of neanderthals and ignored clear evidence of arthritis and rickets in
the skeleton. Boule reconstructed the skeleton without the curves in the spine
that allow humans to walk upright. He also placed the skull far forward so that
it would have been difficult to even look up as we do. Other miscues produced
an individual who was little more than a shuffling hunchback. Because of his
reputation, this reconstruction stood until 1957, when two scientists re-examined
the reconstruction and found Boule’s prejudicial mistakes. Their study concluded
that neanderthals, when healthy, stood erect, and walked normally. Neanderthals
were simply stronger, stockier members of the human family.
?Allowing the Facts to Speak
It is interesting to observe certain pieces of the fossil evidence for human
evolution either ignored or stretched in order to not upset the accepted picture
of human evolution. Creationist Marvin Lubenow, in his recent book, Bones of
Contention, gives numerous examples of this kind of manipulation, and I’d like
to discuss three of the most glaring incidents.
First is a bone fragment of the lower end of the upper arm, near the elbow,
that was found near Kanapoi, Kenya, in 1965 and is given the designation, KP
271. What is unusual about this discovery is the date of around 4.5 million
years–unusual because it appears for all intents and purposes to be human.
Humans are not supposed to have been around 4.5 million years ago. Consequently,
this small piece of humerus is usually designated as Australopithecus because
that is the only hominid species known to be available at that time. Lubenow
quotes Harvard anthropologist William Howells in a stunning admission,
The humeral fragment from Kanapoi, with a date of about 4.4 million, could not
be? distinguished from Homo sapiens morphologically or by multivariate analysis
by Patterson? and myself in 1967. . . . We suggested that it might represent
Australopithecus because at? that time allocation to Homo seemed preposterous,
although it would be the correct one? without the time element. (pp. 56-57).
The only reason KP 271 is not listed as human is because it can’t be, according
Second, many have heard of a series of footprints found by Mary Leakey near
Laetoli, Tanzania. Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin, however, just gloss over
them by calling them hominid footprints (Origins Reconsidered, p. 103). But
Lubenow documents that these footprints are identical to those made today by humans
that always walk barefoot. Yet these footprints are routinely classified as
Australopithecine. William Howells refers to the conclusions of Russell Tuttle
from the University of Chicago and a leading expert on hominoid gates and limbs as
saying that the footprints are nearly identical to modern humans and that australopithecine
feet are significantly different. Tuttle suggests an undiscovered species made
these prints. But he can’t say that a human made them because humans aren’t
supposed to exist yet. In the words of evolutionist William Howells, "Here is
something of an enigma" (Getting Here: The Story of Human Evolution, p. 79).
?Finally, Lubenow documents the incredible saga of determining the date for
Skull 1470. Skull 1470 was very modern in its appearance but was found in rock
previously dated at 2.9 million years–much too old for a modern skull. So some
scientists set out to determine a much younger date. Lubenow recounts the back
and forth wrangling over the issue. Several radioactive methods and paleomagnetism
mainly pointed to 2.9 million years, but a few were found contradictory. Ultimately
the radioactive dates were tossed aside in favor of a date of 1.9 million years,
a date that fit the human evolution better, based on the certainty of the dates
of pig evolution. Yes, pig evolution. To quote Lubenow, "The pigs won. . . .
The pigs took it all. But in reality, it wasn’t the pigs that won. It was evolution
that won. In the dating game, evolution always wins" (p. 266).
A Creationist Perspective on Ancient Humans
Thus far we have been discussing some of the significant problems with evolutionary
explanations of ancient human remains. But questions still remain. Many of these
individuals do look very different from modern humans. Who are they? Where did
they come from? Does any of this make sense from a creationist perspective? While
we need to be careful not to over interpret the data as we have accused evolutionists
of doing, there are a few suggestions that make some sense.
?The most obvious first step is to recognize that Homo erectus, archaic Homo
sapiens, neanderthals, and Homo sapiens form a continuum of the human family.
The different forms represent genetic variation within a species and not distinct
species. Many evolutionists themselves have difficulty drawing the line between
these four different labels.
?A group of human fossils from Kow Swamp, Australia, are no more than 13,000
years old yet contain may of the skull characteristics of Homo erectus. Some
of the explanations for this involve cultural modifications and not genetic
differences. In other words, many of the characteristics of Homo erectus can be
achieved in modern humans by lifestyle changes. These could include deliberate
forehead compression, deformation due to inbreeding, modifications due to dietary
deficiencies and peculiar
ities. The late Arthur Custance documents differences
in the modern skulls of Eskimos due to the massive jaw muscles that are developed
because of their diet (Genesis and Early Man, 1975). Many of these changes would
be labeled as primitive if dug up in some ancient river bed, yet they exist in
fully modern humans today.
?Marvin Lubenow offers the interesting suggestion that many of these ancient
humans are the remains of individuals within the first millennia after the flood
of Noah (Bones of Contention, pp. 144-156). Effects of the ice age, constant
cloud cover (preventing Vitamin D formation leading to rickets), largely vegetarian
and uncooked diet, and expression of local genetic variation could readily account
for the many different, yet anatomically related human forms. Are these ancient
humans former ape-like creatures that are evolving towards humans, or are they humans
caught in a unique and harsh world that brought about numerous interspecies
variants? Evolutionists never bother to ask the latter question. A creationist
perspective, in this case, may lead to questions that evolutionists may never ask.
That is the value, in science, of a different perspective.
?? 1994 Probe Ministries International
About the Author
Raymond G. Bohlin is executive director of Probe Ministries. He is a graduate
of the University of Illinois (B.S., zoology), North Texas State University
(M.S., population genetics), and the University of Texas at Dallas (M.S., Ph.D.,
molecular biology). He is the co-author of the book The Natural Limits to Biological
Change and has published numerous journal articles. Dr. Bohlin has been named
a 1997-98 Research Fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal
of Science and Culture. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is Probe?
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