Variation Within the Human Kind

Well that was fast: in the form of New African Fossil Confirms Early Human Variations Brian Thomas already has an article on the new Homo rudolfensis fossils. The standard creationist strategy when it comes to hominin fossils is to obfuscate, claim that all fossils can be neatly divided into ‘human’ and ‘ape,’ and then obfuscate again for good measure. Insinuating the possibility of fraud by bringing up past examples, claiming deceit or other bad practise in the fossil discovery and excavation, and arguing that this or that trait cannot be determined from the evidence are all tactics that play a role in the obfuscation. Thomas’ new article is textbook, except that he doesn’t seem to want to be completely pinned down over which side of the divide the new fossils lie on.

The cover of the August 9, 2012 issue of the journal Nature featured the reconstructed face of newly-discovered human-like fossil bones described by Meave Leakey and colleagues in their report.

Indeed it did, or close enough anyway:Reconstruction of the KNM-ER 1470 Homo rudolfensis cranium (the original one, not what was just discovered)

Three hominin fossils newly discovered at Koobi Fora, east of Lake Turkana in Kenya, will greatly improve our understanding of the early radiation of the genus Homo, clarifying the iconic but enigmatic hominin cranium KNM-ER 1470, first described by Richard Leakey in Nature in 1973. The three are an exceptionally well-preserved lower jaw (KNM-ER 60000), a fragmentary lower jaw and, importantly, a well-preserved face. At between 1.78 million and 1.95 million years old, they broadly support the idea that there were at least two contemporary Homo species, in addition to Homo erectus, in the early Pleistocene of eastern Africa. The cover shows the KNM-ER 60000 lower jaw as a photographic reconstruction together with a digital visualization of KNM-ER 1470, which probably belongs to the same species. [Image by Fred Spoor]

That’s the summary of the front page image. Thomas goes on:

Three new human-like fossil face parts from Africa have given evolutionists another opportunity to reiterate their confusing philosophy, but the data doesn’t match their story very well.

Ok, so he’s calling them ‘human-like’ – as if that were the comparison that really mattered – so at least thus far, especially given the title of his article, it seems clear where he wants to put them. We shall see if he can show that the data doesn’t match the story – but don’t hold your breath. It’s nice that he calls it “confusing,” as if Brian Thomas not understanding it made it false all of a sudden.

What was their first task upon discovering the fossils? According to long-time African hominid fossil expert and anatomist Bernard Wood who summarized the Leakey finds in a short article in the same issue of Nature, “The task of palaeoanthropologists is to reconstruct the evolutionary history of the period between our species, Homo sapiens, and the ancestral species we share exclusively with chimpanzees and bonobos.”

Once again, Thomas awkwardly introduces his money quote. That is the first sentence of Wood’s article, which continued:

There must have been a ladder-like sequence of species connecting us with that common ancestor; but it is unclear whether our section of the ‘tree of life’ is restricted to this ancestor–descendant sequence, or whether it includes other, now extinct, lineages. Might there have been multiple lineages early in the history of our own genus, Homo? In this issue, Meave Leakey et al.1 (page 201) describe fossils recovered from Koobi Fora in northern Kenya that provide compelling evidence for at least two Homo lineages as early as 2 million years ago.

Continuing with Thomas:

So much for objective science, which would entail evaluating the fossils against evolutionary and competing tenets, not force-fitting them into evolutionary preconceptions. After all, a century of searching has failed to produce one fossil that can wear the undisputed tag of “ancestral species.”

If anyone wants to force-fit these fossils anywhere, it’s Mr Thomas. In the world outside the “Controversy” the fact that humans evolved from apes is easily clear-cut enough for it to be used as a basis for further research. Nobody is asking astronomers to continually rebut the claims of flat-earthers, after all.

And what does it actually mean for there to be no definitive “ancestral species,” as he calls it? As I have mentioned before, this field of research is both complex and rapidly changing. You cannot say with absolute certainty that your fossil is ancestral, in the same way that you don’t know whether your theories will be considered laughably simplistic in fifty years or so. In fact, you can with much greater confidence say that your specific fossil at least is not an ancestor as if there is one thing you can know for sure about a fossil it’s that it’s owner died. And if you know that Lucy didn’t procreate prior to her death then you can be fairly confident that she’s not your Greatn-grandmother.

All this uncertainty has no bearing on the fact that the transition actually occurred – which is what matters here when creationists are involved – so Thomas bringing it up is simply part of his obfuscation strategy. Moving along:

Wood said the three new fossils challenge a view that he had published in 1992. Back then, he attributed a large lower jaw to a fossil human variety named Homo rudolfensis whose identity has been contested for decades. The two new lower jaw fossils, found near the same rock outcrop and having the same general shape as the lower jaw he once attributed to H. rudolfensis, now look like poor fits for H. rudolfensis.

In the middle of this Thomas gives a footnote:

Some researchers have stated that representatives of H. rudolfensis do not even belong to the human genus Homo, but instead to an extinct ape kind. One even wrote that the flat, human-like facial structure of the most famous H. rudolfensis fossil skull KNM-DR 1470, described by Richard Leakey in 1974, was due to its facial bone fragments (that came from at least four different individual creatures) having been glued to an already human-like backer mold. See Bromage, T. 1992. Faces from the Past. New Scientist. 133(1803): 38-41.

First, remember they would not have been talking in terms of “kinds” – Thomas and co. like to pretend that real scientists use their made-up lingo. What they would have been talking about was the genus Australopithecus, which is not quite the same thing. In his haste to point out (historical) discord between paleoanthropologists Thomas brings up what would, if his talking about ape kinds was in any way a reflection of reality, be a case of disagreement over whether the fossil was human or ape. Point is, if the creationists were correct that there is no transition and the distinction is easy to make then there should be no such confusion of the kind that Thomas claims in this footnote. It is this apparent back door that he gives himself – where it could also be an ape – that makes me say that he doesn’t want to be pinned down even despite his title and opening paragraph.

But back to what Wood said. Thomas’ paragraph is confusing and, I think, more than a little inaccurate. Judge for yourself:

However, the existence of a second early Homo species remained controversial, as there was no single H. rudolfensis fossil specimen that contained both the face and the lower jaw. It was also unfortunate that, although the type specimen (the specimen that is linked with that species name) of H. habilis (called OH 7) had a lower jaw that contained teeth, it lacked a face, whereas the type specimen of H. rudolfensis (KNM-ER 1470) had a face, but neither tooth crowns nor a lower jaw. I made the assumption that the big-boned face of H. rudolfensis would be matched by a robust jaw and large chewing teeth, and ascribed lower jaws with these attributes (such as KNM-ER 1802 from Koobi Fora) to H. rudolfensis8.

Leakey and colleagues’ three new specimens1 test these taxonomic hypotheses. The fossils are a well-preserved face (KNM-ER 62000), a well-preserved lower jaw (KNM-ER 60000) and a fragmentary lower jaw (KNM-ER 62003). None of the three specimens is as old as KNM-ER 1470, which is approximately 2 million years (Myr) old; the face and the fragmentary lower jaw are between 1.95 and 1.9 Myr old, and the better-preserved lower jaw is younger still, at around 1.83 Myr old. In a nutshell, the anatomy of the specimens supports the hypothesis of multiple early Homo species9, but refutes the hypothesis that lower jaws like KNM-ER 1802 went with the type of face — KNM-ER 1470 — that belongs to H. rudolfensis.

Thomas appeared to be saying that it was the new fossils – the two out of the three that were lower jaws, or alternatively the two that aren’t used in Thomas’ picture – that didn’t fit. But it is clearly the 1802 fossil, which has a different shape, which is the odd one out.

They may, instead, belong to yet another “species” or extinct variety of true humans. According to the Nature authors, the new fossils support the idea that multiple varieties of humans lived at the same time and place in Africa.

Species in scare quotes? Is that a first? Probably not.

Wood’s brief summary about these new fossils reshaping old ideas mirrors whole careers spent arguing over fossil fragments—whether they fit an ape, human, or something in-between (or a pig); which kind or variety of ape or human; and who gets the glory and funding from naming it. Confusion and revision even characterize the constantly changing ages assigned to these fossils.

Hey look, Nebraska man! The reason, if you don’t know, why things are being revised is that this is science in action – they change their minds. (And yes, that’s a good thing.)

And now, evolutionists have to explain why these African rock beds that are supposed to represent the cradle of human evolution fail to show a series of fossils in anatomical progression. Why don’t these rocks display ape-like creatures morphing to man-like creatures in a well-established continuum upward in geological position? Evolutionists should also explain why there appears to have been three or more varieties of mankind whose remains were buried alongside the very ape-like remains that were once considered human ancestors.

Because that would be too easy. Why should they be all in order? There wasn’t a single line of descent – that’s the whole point here, after all – and it’s not like they all died in the same place. There is an anatomical progression, and that’s all that matters to this debate. Precise timing, dead ends, and other considerations are irrelevant to the fact of evolution.

Hominid remains can all be categorized as extinct ape varieties, extinct human varieties, or as too fragmentary or too poorly reconstructed to discern—or as exposed frauds. The evolutionist’s task of unraveling their own stories, which incur new knots with almost every discovery, is unenviable. And according to Wood, that task promises to worsen! He wrote, “Researchers will view our current hypotheses about this phase of human evolution as remarkably simplistic.”

So we’ve got the first and last sentences of Wood’s article quoted now – how odd. The metaphors here are a bit mixed – the stories are unravelling? Oh no! You can see what I meant in my introduction – here’s the ‘clean division,’ now back to obfuscation. Wood’s probably right, but that’s because that’s how science tends to work.

Thomas concludes, at last:

On the other hand, the Bible’s origins account is compatible with discontinuous fossils like these, since it says that God created people to reproduce after their own kind, not between kinds. Scripture says that “the son of Adam, which was the son of God” was not the son of an ape. It follows from this that no undisputed ape-to-human transition will ever be discovered. If these new human-looking fossils really do represent human varieties, then they only reinforce the biblical and scientific observation that humans can and did rapidly express widely differing variations in form and features.

Now, the cited verse (Luke 3:38) does not actually say that Seth – the son of Adam, this being the conclusion to one of the genealogies of Jesus – was not the son of Adam, merely that Adam specifically was the son of God. The bible does not say anything obvious and explicit about evolution at all, having never heard of the concept, and creationist claims to the contrary like this one always amuse me. They may be correct that their bible, or at least their reading thereof, demands that humans not be descendants of apes, but there’s no need to abuse the book to back that up.


Further reading on this topic:

Have fun!

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One thought on “Variation Within the Human Kind

  1. Those who object to scientific theories that have not been disproven, on doctrinal grounds, are likely to complain “So much for objective science”. It’s just waffle.

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