From Tiny Bones to Whopper Conclusions

Posted on May 20, 2013 in Darwin and Evolution, Dumb Ideas, Early Man, Fossils, Human Body, Mind and Brain

It doesn’t take much to stimulate an evolutionist’s imagination.  A tiny middle ear bone will do.

The press all jumped on a report that some early fossil apes had “human-like” middle ear bones.   The paper, published in PNAS, alleges that the malleus (hammer) of Paranthropus and Australopithecus africanus have human-like proportions, whereas the incus (anvil) and stapes (stirrup) retain ape-like proportions.  Here’s how the press took this:

Nature News: “Hearing changes could be ancient in the human line.”

Science Now: “Earliest Ear Bones Sound Off on Human Hearing.”

New Scientist: “Early hominins couldn’t have heard modern speech.”

Science Daily: “Prehistoric Ear Bones Could Lead to Evolutionary Answers.”

Science Daily again: “Oldest Fossil Hominin Ear Bones Ever Recovered: Discovery Could Yield Important Clues On Human Origins.”

Few reporters seem to be asking follow-up questions of less dramatic import, such as: What is the natural range of variation in the malleus among apes, and what is the natural range of variation for humans?  Has there been any reworking of these tiny delicate bones since they were deposited?  Science Now did state, “The team is not entirely sure what this precocious appearance of a human-like malleus means.”  If so, it seems premature to think that this little bone can reveal anything significant about hearing in extinct apes, much less about human origins.

The little bone actually creates a problem for evolutionary theory.  Science Daily put it, “Since both the early hominin species share this human-like malleus, the anatomical changes in this bone must have occurred very early in our evolutionary history.”  Nature News quoted one evolutionary morphologist, Callum Ross (U of Chicago), who was “underwhelmed” by the announcement, stating that the outer ear has more influence on hearing than the ossicle bones.  He also discounts the importance of minute hearing changes in alleged human ancestors compared to bipedalism, feeding, and brain size.  (Speaking of brain size, another paper in PNAS asserts the surprising claim that “Human frontal lobes are not relatively large” – contradicting over a century of assumptions about human uniqueness in that regard.)

The authors of the original paper are not even sure if their work has any significance to human evolution.  Nature News ended, “But Quam is confident that his team will soon demonstrate the importance of changes in the ossicles.”  Thus, another promissory note was issued in lieu of conclusory evidence.

The operative word in most of these articles is “could.”  The discovery “could” yield important clues on human evolution; the bones “could” lead to evolutionary answers; hearing changes “could” be ancient in the human line.  Whenever you see that word in evolutionary claims, or its siblings “may” or “might,” you have every right to respond, “But then again, it might not lead to evolutionary answers; it may having nothing to do with human evolution; it could be irrelevant to the human line.”  After all, they have demonstrated nothing scientifically.  They are only dealing in possibilities.

That’s a theme we will have to explore in future posts: the prevalence of “possibility thinking” in evolutionary circles.  Think of the possibilities!  This little malleus bone could have opened up hearing for mid-range frequencies!  That could have spurred the development of language!  That could have brought the apes down out of the trees and motivated our ancestors to walk upright!  For shame.  That’s the very kind of faith they disparage in their critics.  When an evolutionist pulls his faith on you like that, tell him to go back into the lab and keep his mouth shut until he has something observable, testable, and repeatable to talk about.

 

 

 

 

 

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