Crooked Dealer at Sima de los Huesos

Homo heidelbergensis Cranium 5

A fossil from Sima de los Huesos.

While other groups of young-Earth creationists may hold differing opinions, the Institute for Creation Research insists that Neanderthals were humans too. This is all very well, but for reasons that are not at all clear they take this position to the extreme, minimising, misreporting, or denying any genetic and morphological evidence of differences between modern humans and their former contemporaries, and trampling over the more nuanced scientific view that Neanderthals were very closely related to us yet also a distinct group. Today Brian Thomas writes “Human Remains in Spain: Neandertal or Not?“, going so far that he ties himself up in knots.

A paper in Science – “Neandertal roots: Cranial and chronological evidence from Sima de los Huesos” (pdf), published on the 20th of June – investigated the accretion model of Neanderthal origins. The cliffs notes on this idea seems to be that the notable Neanderthal-specific features appeared at different times in a stepwise fashion, with those associated with the jaw for example developing before those related to the brain. The skeletons at the Sima de los Huesos cave in Spain, being around 430,000 years old according to this paper, lie in the middle of this transition and so provide a test case (who said you couldn’t test things in “historical science”?). The authors looked at the bones of 17 individuals and did indeed find Neanderthal faces with more archaic brains. They write: Continue reading

Friday Falsehoods #1

You don’t need me to tell you about the upcoming “Ham on Nye” debate – a name with many curious connotations – nor give you my opinion on whether it is a good idea or not. But any aspiring debater needs to be able to almost reflexively parse creationist claims for their most crucial and obvious errors. At present we’re four articles behind, so this is the perfect time to start this series – in future I will probably pull from other, non ICR sources as well.

The format we’ll start off with is to give you a quote from each article to consider, and then (if I can get it to work) you can go to the next page to see what I made of each. Then, head to the comments below to tell me what you would have said. Continue reading

Spears of Destiny

Ethiopian spearheadsWe return at last to regular service with a new article by Brian Thomas, Which Came First–the Spear or its Thrower? But first, let us backtrack.

You may remember from October 2012 that Thomas dedicated an article to the Schöningen spears. These are wooden throwing spears found in a coal mine in Germany, and at around 300,000 years old they are commonly billed as the oldest hunting weapons known. Thomas, seeming to believe that they were the oldest tools of any kind, used these artefacts to claim that humans have always had this kind of technology. He said at the time:

If human evolution were true, one would expect to find that the earliest ape-like humans produced clumsy efforts, not the refined tools and artifacts known around the world.

Continue reading

Dmanisi Round 2: Fraud?

You no doubt still remember Friday’s post, in which we looked at an article by Brian Thomas and Frank Sherwin called Human-like Fossil Menagerie Stuns Scientists (screenshot) that horribly mangled the science around Dmanisi skull 5 to claim that it showed that all early Homo species were fully human in the modern sense, while Australopithecus and others were just apes. While they correctly noted that many species would have to be “wiped from the textbooks” – quoting from a Guardian article they couldn’t go too far wrong there – they went so far in their enthusiasm as to claim that human evolution itself should be similarly erased. For my part I suggested that the ICR may want some new science writers, as their article went over and above the call of duty when it comes to misrepresenting scientific results for creationist ends. Seriously: I could do much better.

Today, in a spectacular turnaround, Brian Thomas alone has published a second article on the same fossil called New ‘Human’ Fossil Borders on Fraud. Having previously argued that Dmanisi skull 5 was a problem for evolution, he now suggests (while not so much as acknowledging the previous article) that it’s really a fraud in some manner, perpetrated by researchers to prop up evolution. Thomas doesn’t seem to be claiming that the skull itself is a fraud, in the manner of Piltdown Man, but that it’s really just a Australopithecine that anthropologists are calling early Homo for their own ends. Continue reading

Lumping at Dmanisi

Palaeontologists at Dmanisi, an increasingly famous village in Georgia, have made some quite interesting discoveries: a small collection of early Homo skeletons from people living in the same place at the same time that are nevertheless fairly variable in appearance, as exemplified by the recently-described “skull 5.” The usual rules of population dynamics say that you can’t have different species that have the same niche (i.e. they have same shtick – they live in the same way, eat the same food etc) living in the same place – one of them will quickly win out and exclude the others. If this hasn’t happened – and it doesn’t seem to have at Dmanisi – we must conclude that the organisms are or were of the same species. Continue reading

Meet Frank Sherwin

Frank SherwinThe second in the series of YOM interviews with ICR employees has been posted. This one is of Frank Sherwin, talking about human evolution, and is quite a bit shorter than the previous one with Nathaniel Jeanson. Because it’s so short I’ve been able to reproduce a full transcript below, interspersed with commentary.

The interview is broken into three parts, separated by title cards (bolded). Continue reading

Recombination “Defies Evolution”

Homologous recombination in meiosisWe’re back to genetics, and Jeffrey Tomkins thinks he’s disproved evolution once again in Genetic Recombination Study Defies Human-Chimp Evolution. He says:

Results from a recent study in human and chimpanzee genetics have shipwrecked yet another Darwinian hypothesis.

Some parts of the chimp and human genomes are more similar to each other than others. According to Tomkins, the process of genetic recombination is supposed to have produced these differences. He points to a new paper – Recombination Rates and Genomic Shuffling in Human and Chimpanzee—A New Twist in the Chromosomal Speciation Theory – that shows, among other things, that recombination rates are actually lower in places where there are more differences. Or, in his own words: Continue reading

Omnivorous Neanderthals

The most recent missed Brian Thomas article was called Neandertals Apparently Knew Medicinal Plants. The primary subject was a Naturwissenschaften paper from August called Neanderthal medics? Evidence for food, cooking, and medicinal plants entrapped in dental calculus (available open-access, at least for the rest of the month), which examined hardened dental plaque (calculus) from Sidrón Cave Neanderthals and the microfossils and molecules embedded within it:

Our results provide the first molecular evidence for inhalation of wood-fire smoke and bitumen or oil shale and ingestion of a range of cooked plant foods. We also offer the first evidence for the use of medicinal plants by a Neanderthal individual.

The first conclusion that Thomas draws is the same as Jeff Tomkins did a couple of weeks ago, namely that Neanderthals were human. As such, the same response can be made as then: while it’s true that any reasonable definition of ‘human’ not arbitrarily restricted to what we currently call Homo sapiens would need to include Neanderthals, and even that a case can be made for the idea that the distinction between H. sapiens and Neanderthals in fact lies at the subspecies level, there are still differences (primarily morphological) between the two groups. The creationist narrative being pushed is that Neanderthals are just another group descended from Adam, and their claims that they were “fully human” and “identical” to modern humans – both true if you use certain definitions both of ‘human’ and ‘identical’ – are not so much contrary to the current scientific view as an attempt to undermine it. The appeal of saying ‘we’re right, the scientists were wrong’ to the creationists, no matter how accurate that really is, cannot be understated. Continue reading

Evolutionary Back Pain

The human vertebral columnOur first catchup post is the most recent That’s a Fact video, Back Trouble. The vertebrate spine originally appeared in aquatic animals, and has had a number of different roles aside from being the central supporting column in the human skeleton. The story runs that due to the processes that evolution follows – that it can do little more than modify what already exists rather than completely redesign an organism from the ground up – the human spine is not quite the structure that would have been created had it been designed specifically for that purpose. This narrative, which I’m sure you’ve all heard, at least partially blames human back pain on this effect.

I can’t tell you to what extent that’s true or not. It’s probably true that a good portion of the back troubles experienced by modern humans comes not from the fact that the spine is not designed for bipedalism, but that it isn’t designed for bipeds with lousy posture. However, an upright orientation for the spine just gives it a whole plethora of new ways to get injured. The ICR video, of course, argues against the evolutionary explanation – one thing I can tell you is that they did a poor job of it: Continue reading

The Schöningen Spears

The lignite mine in Google mapsThere seems to be an interesting side effect of the distaste that young Earth creationists seem to have for “historical science”: they’re no good at it. Believe it or not, there are some events in history that the Bible says absolutely nothing about, and creationists seem to be unable to build a coherent picture from the available evidence. Take this latest Brian Thomas article, Eight Spears found in German Coal Mine, as an example.

First, though, there are a few things that need to be noted. The obvious conclusion that would be drawn from such a title in a young Earth creationist publication is that the story is of the “petrified hammer” variety. Not so. I can’t get explicit confirmation from anything I’ve read, but it seems that while it’s literally true to say that the Schöningen Spears were indeed ‘found in a German coal mine‘ they weren’t actually in the lignite being extracted. Instead the spears themselves are dated to ~300,000 years ago, and are believed to have been wielded by Homo heidelbergensis.

Researchers discovered eight well-manufactured throwing spears in an Ice Age coal deposit near Schöningen, Germany. They are calling these the oldest human tools. What can forensic science reveal about the people who made them?

As I said I don’t think the spears were actually found in the deposit, but it’s a fairly moot point as that aspect isn’t relevant to the rest of the article.

Who’s “calling these the oldest human tools”? I’m struggling to find anyone but Brian doing so – they’re calling the spears the oldest hunting weapons, which is quite a difference. Continue reading