Leakey Evolution

"Atheist Richard Leakey" does not approveFrank Sherwin’s Acts & Facts article, Leakey and ‘Human Evolution’, wastes no time before denigrating that field of research:

Atheist Richard Leakey is an authority regarding the tenuous idea of human evolution, working tirelessly to establish human evolutionary roots in Africa.

“Tenuous” indeed. The Leakey family has had a major role in paleoanthropology over the better part of the last century, beginning with Richard’s father, Louis. While Richard Leakey himself may have been less active in the field in the last decade or so, you may have noticed his wife, Meave, and daughter, Louise, as being the first and last authors respectively on the recent Homo rudolfensis paper – there’s no stopping them.

Sherwin is correct in saying that Richard is an atheist, though it’s interesting that the “…tenuous idea of human evolution, working tirelessly to establish human evolutionary roots in Africa” part perhaps would have better described the late Louis, as back when the (grand)father was working the ‘tenuous’ description might actually have made a bit of sense. No longer. But Louis, unlike his son, was also a devout Christian.

Anyway, Sherwin has a quote he wants to talk about:

This past May at an evolution-promoting event, Leakey stated that sometime in the next three decades evolution will become so established that “even the skeptics can accept it.” But skeptics of evolution see only an anemic defense coupled with the aetheists’ [sic] philosophical need to assert that solid rock became people, animals, and plants. However, science provides no reason for Darwin’s theory of “descent with modification”—particularly in the field of human evolution. In fact, only 15 percent of Americans agree with Leakey’s secular proclamation of man’s origin.

We’ll work backwards through this. First, only a small fraction of Americans believing with a statement doesn’t make it false. That being said, this statistic is a little more relevant here as Leakey is saying that they will eventually come round, perhaps unrealistically soon. For the second-to-last claim in this paragraph Sherwin cites the 2004 edition of the creationist book Bones of Contention – the 1992 is reviewed at talk.origins here, where it is noted:

The book Bones of Contention, by Marvin Lubenow (1992), is considered by many creationists to be the definitive creationist treatment of the claimed evidence for human evolution. To his credit, Lubenow has read a large amount of the scientific literature on human evolution, and his book stands up well compared to the gross incompetence of other creationist authors such as Duane Gish and Malcolm Bowden who have written on the same topic. By any other standards, the book fails badly and will not convince anyone familiar with the details of the literature on human evolution.

The major theme of Bones of Contention is that the various species of hominid cannot form an evolutionary sequence because they overlap one another in time.

You can only hope that the updated – but by now still quite definitely out of date – edition doesn’t try the same route, arguing that a species cannot split into two.

Next, the ‘anaemic defence’: Sherwin decides to cite the book Deniable Darwin by David Berlinski, along with an article of his own from the December 2011 A&F edition, Defending a ‘Fact’, which for some reason I missed at the time. He uses the macro/micro evolution dichotomy, and tries to claim that all the evidence evolutionists have is for micro evolution.

Finally, what did Leakey actually say? The AP article cited is not greatly helpful by way of context – who, exactly, was Leakey actually addressing? He should realise, I hope, that if people like Sherwin were actually concerned with the evidence they wouldn’t hold the position they do. Instead, he should be going after the 85%, or whatever portion it was that thought Goddidit. The article does, however, give another quote:

“If you get to the stage where you can persuade people on the evidence, that it’s solid, that we are all African, that color is superficial, that stages of development of culture are all interactive,” Leakey says, “then I think we have a chance of a world that will respond better to global challenges.”

Probably true. Sherwin goes on:

Leakey lectures the public by saying that those who deny evolution also deny science, giving the common example of new diseases that are “evolving.” This is a “bait-and-switch” ploy—no one would deny gravity and slight biological variation (science); so how could anyone deny that all living things came from inanimate “ancestors” (evolution)?

Well no, technically that’s abiogenesis (which is a different issue). Sherwin here points out that, when hammered, creationists are prepared to concede a fair bit of ground in order to dodge the repercussions of mundane and easily observable phenomena such as bacterial resistance. But in a world where creationists were in charge and there was nobody around to force them to resort to claiming that E. coli is ‘still’ a bacterium we’d be in a bit of trouble (or you would be – I obviously wouldn’t be there, would I?). If possible, they would like to argue that the resistance was already present as part of the natural variation and was then er, um, ah, naturally selected to become more common in the population. “That’s not evolution,” as Thomas once tried to spin it. That kind of attitude, of accepting science only when you absolutely have to, is very dangerous. And that’s really what Leakey seems to have been getting at.

Troubling, also, is Leakey’s non-definition of the word “evolution,” upon which hangs the origins debate—“If you don’t like the word evolution, I don’t care what you call it, but life has changed.”

Sherwin cuts off the rest of the quote, which continues:

You can lay out all the fossils that have been collected and establish lineages that even a fool could work up. So the question is why, how does this happen? It’s not covered by Genesis. There’s no explanation for this change going back 500 million years in any book I’ve read from the lips of any God.

And yes, you can lay them out and do that if you want to. What Leakey was really talking about is the apparent stigma against the word, something which I’ve never personally seen, and that if what it takes to accept it is calling it “slight biological variation” or whatever then go for it. “Troubling” that isn’t really.

Liking or not liking a certain word is not the issue, but in science adequately defining a key word is mandatory. Living things undoubtedly change, but they exhibit only variation within discrete kinds of plants and animals in the fossil record and in experiments. Observable, vertical evolution always eludes evolutionists.

He never said he didn’t have a definition, but just that you could apply it to a different word instead. Exactly what Sherwin thinks ‘vertical’ evolution is I’m not sure: a dog giving birth to a cat would quite definitely be horizontal after all. A ‘kind’ is whatever a creationist wants it to be, which makes it utterly useless, and I would say that if Sherwin is unable to accept small changes as ‘vertical’ then there is no change that will satisfy his requirements.

Is Leakey correct in maintaining that people evolved from ape-like ancestors? Let’s ask his fellow Darwinists.

It should be perfectly obvious that these ‘Darwinists’ will agree with him, so as you should have guessed the following quotes are almost certainly mined:

Science writer Jennifer Viegas said, “The last common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans remains a holy grail in science.” Six evolutionists stated, “Evidence of humans from this period is sparse and controversial.”

An issue of Scientific American stated, “But with so little evidence to go on, the origin of our genus has remained as mysterious as ever,” and a popular British magazine lamented: “We thought we had just about nailed human evolution, now everything is up for grabs again.” A well-known paleoanthropologist at George Washington University said, “The origin of our own genus remains frustratingly unclear.”

Importantly, also, all of these quotes are talking more about specific fossils than the actual fact that “people evolved from ape-like ancestors.” We know from fossils that the more recent parts of our family tree are extremely complicated, full of dead ends and other fossils that are off the direct path to H. sapiens. There is no reason to suppose that the split between humans and chimpanzees was any simpler, but as it was further in the past we have far fewer fossils from this time, and therefore (“frustratingly”) we don’t have enough pieces of the puzzle to draw accurate conclusions at this stage. But we can still tell that it happened, just not how.

Not only does paleontology fail to document our ascent from animal ancestors, we also are not evolving genetically. Despite improvements in medicine, we are all subject to mutations that are building in the human genome, dooming it and, therefore, people to increasing genetic decay and degeneration. This is called genetic burden or genetic load, and with time the problem gets worse as these mutations take us genetically downhill. Such an observation has not been lost to evolutionists, causing one geneticist to ask, “Why aren’t we dead 100 times over?”

Given that the ICR now seems to be using this paper – Contamination of the genome by very slightly deleterious mutations: why have we not died 100 times over? – to push it’s genetic load argument with a vengeance, if you have access to the full text I’d like to see it. The paper claims to have solutions, but what I can read doesn’t give enough information to be useful should this indeed turn out to be key in Nathaniel Jeanson’s “devastating” new argument.

Sherwin concludes:

This is just another reason why man and “proto-humans” before him could not have lived for “millions of years.” A much better scientific and scriptural explanation would be that these mutations have accrued for over 200 generations of mankind since Adam and Eve, approximately 6,000 years ago. So, it would seem Leakey’s rosy “evolution-accepted-by-all” prediction will forever remain to be seen.

Realise here that Sherwin has spent this entire article explaining why he doesn’t believe in evolution now, but that Leakey was predicting that he would accept it in the future – as such Sherwin is really proving Leakey’s point more than anything else. But I’d be cautious in predicting imminent victory: creationists have their own wet dreams on this matter and the only real way to differentiate them is to bring one or the other to fruition.

Less talking about winning, more actually doing it. But then I suppose Leakey has done more than his fair share already.

5 thoughts on “Leakey Evolution

  1. Building a more complete record of human evolution is very powerful. It is the kind of evidence that creationists most fear. That humans are special, and specially created by God, is a core creationist belief.

  2. Slightly off topic but I sent an email last night to AiG which included the following (on this week’s announcement of a new species of Homo as found in Kenya):

    08112012 (News to Note – see item 1)
    Here is the Abstract of the Nature paper alluded to but NOT linked to
    by Answers in Genesis:

    I quote:
    “This singular morphology and the incomplete preservation of the
    fossil have led to different views as to whether KNM-ER 1470 can be
    accommodated within a single species of early Homo that is highly
    variable because of sexual, geographical and temporal factors, or
    whether it provides evidence of species diversity marked by differences
    in cranial size and facial or masticatory adaptation. Here we report on
    three newly discovered fossils, aged between 1.78 and 1.95 million
    years (Myr) old, that clarify the anatomy and taxonomic status of KNM-
    ER 1470…
    … The new fossils confirm the presence of two contemporary species
    of early Homo, in addition to Homo erectus, in the early Pleistocene of
    eastern Africa”.

    What do Answers in Genesis have to say (Mr Ham’s blog urges his
    readers to have look: “AiG’s Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell and Dr. David
    Menton will show you how the evidence confirms the creationist argument
    that the bones are from just another variety of human beings”)?

    Well, the article confirms the view of Maeve Leakey of KNM-ER 1470
    that “We know that flat face is real – it isn’t just an aberrant
    specimen”. But other hominins (species designated as Homo in fact)
    that have been discovered had protruding faces – UNLIKE modern humans.

    And then the final paragraph: “The million-year dates are based on the
    unverifiable assumptions by which radiometric data is interpreted. In
    fact, nothing about these findings indicates anything other than the
    confirmation that another variety of human being was among the people
    descended from those dispersed from the tower of Babel. Just more
    descendants of Adam and Eve, who were created by God about 6,000 years
    ago, in His image and distinct from apes, which He created the same
    day”. No NEW science-denial there as far as I can see. But I’m not sure
    it QUITE lives up to Mr Ham’s billing!

    If only 8 people survived the Flood, how come there seems to have been
    so much phenotypic variety in eg faces of various Homo creatures so
    soon after (which would suggest a good deal of genetic variation – more
    than seen in the human race today, perhaps)?

    Is the Answer to this to be found in Genesis?

  3. My two cents is just to point you to the ‘meaning’ of “‘vertical’ evolution”.

    Entropy and Open Systems by Henry Morris, Ph.D. http://www.icr.org/article/86/

    The most devastating and conclusive argument against evolution is the entropy principle. This principle (also known as the Second Law of Thermodynamics) implies that, in the present order of things, evolution in the “vertical” sense (that is, from one degree of order and complexity to a higher degree of order and complexity) is completely impossible.

  4. Pingback: HOMO RUDOLFENSIS « Tsjok's blog


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