A veteran paleoanthropologist says the discoveries of 2013 have replaced Darwin’s tree picture of human evolution with a “braid.”
Be afraid, Darwin: it’s a braid, not a tree. Clive Finlayson of the Gibraltar Museum says that a single skull in the Caucasus has overthrown the concept of a branching tree of human evolution. Writing in the BBC News in “Viewpoint: Human evolution, from tree to braid,” he says the implications of replacement therapy are far-reaching:
Some time ago we replaced a linear view of our evolution by one represented by a branching tree. It is now time to replace it with that of an interwoven plexus of genetic lineages that branch out and fuse once again with the passage of time.
This means, of course, that we must abandon, once and for all, views of modern human superiority over archaic (ancient) humans. The terms “archaic” and “modern” lose all meaning as do concepts of modern human replacement of all other lineages.
A typical “braid” is composed of strands that do not fuse, so the analogy is somewhat misleading. The evidence he presents actually suggests a single strand of humanity. Such a shocking announcement is not the only implication of Dmanisi skull #5 and its brethren in the cave.
It also releases us from the deep-rooted shackles that have sought to link human evolution with stone tool-making technological stages – the Stone Ages – even when we have known that these have overlapped with each other for half-a-million years in some instances.
Finlayson just stated here that prior assumptions have shackled the field – even when paleoanthropologists knew better. One might say a new ‘libertarian’ wing of the early-man field is ready to cast off those shackles and embrace freedom to think anew. “The world of our biological and cultural evolution was far too fluid for us to constrain it into a few stages linked by transitions,” he remarked.
Without doubt, Finlayson is still an evolutionist and old-ager, but he agrees that all the splitters were wrong. The latest findings of 2013 indeed show that all “species” of Homo – whether Homo erectus, Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, Neanderthals, Denisovans or modern humans – perhaps including Homo floresiensis, the ‘Hobbit’ – interbred. That famous paper in Science (10/18/13) showcased more variation within the Denisovan skulls than between the other skulls long thought to be distinct species of Homo. The “biological species concept” (classifying species by their ability to produce fertile offspring) leaves no option: all of them were members of the same species. It was “a logical conclusion … too much for some researchers to take.”
Finlayson thinks we should accept that logical conclusion and move forward. Indeed, paleoanthropology has been so wrong so often, some humility is in order.
It seems that almost every other discovery in palaeoanthropology is reported as a surprise. I wonder when the penny will drop: when we have five pieces of a 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, every new bit that we add is likely to change the picture.
Did we really think that having just a minuscule residue of our long and diverse past was enough for us to tell humanity’s story?
If the fossils of 1.8 or so million years ago and those of the more recent Neanderthal-modern human era were all part of a single, morphologically diverse, species with a wide geographical range, what is there to suggest that it would have been any different in the intervening periods?
Before proposing the “braid” picture of human evolution, Finlayson openly declared that paleoanthropology has been wrong – not just about the facts, but about their approach to finding facts:
The conclusion that I derive takes me back to Dmanisi: We have built a picture of our evolution based on the morphology of fossils and it was wrong.
We just cannot place so much taxonomic weight on a handful of skulls when we know how plastic – or easily changeable – skull shape is in humans. And our paradigms must also change.
It should be obvious from New Year’s Eve at Times Square that skull shape diversity is plastic. Some skulls can even look like aliens from another planet (see story #6 from Science Now). Though Finlayson is ready to accept the wrongness of his field, the meaningless of its classification of “archaic” and “modern,” and though he sees the logical conclusion and the need for paradigm change, one bit of logic escapes him: how could humans equal to us go for 1.8 million years without learning to ride a horse or plant a farm? Is he sure about the long-age paradigm?
In a related story on Live Science, Charles Q. Choi summarized “What We Learned About Human Origins in 2013.” Short answer: every lesson was an upset to a previously-held idea: (1) Denisovans bred with a mystery lineage; (2) early humans were all one species (10/18/13); (3) “The testing of the oldest known human DNA added more evidence that human evolution was complex”; (4) hands for tool use existed earlier than thought (12/18/13); and Neanderthals buried their dead (12/18/13).
Incidentally, the “tree of life” concept has also been challenged for all of evolution. Some radical evolutionists, disillusioned with neo-Darwinism’s poor fit with the evidence, have supplanted the tree image by a “web of life” (see 1/22/09).
Wow, that was sure a long and unnecessary detour. Now let’s get back to the Bible that already taught that humans are all one race. After listening to Clive Finlayson show the wrongness of the “picture” (i.e., “idol”) evolutionary paleoanthropology has fashioned, the Apostle Paul’s words to the self-styled wise men of his day are very apt right now:
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17: 24-31).
Got assurance? How about an empty tomb? Darwin’s view of human origins (1859-2013) lies mouldering in the grave. Let the living worldview with the least mistakes, better evidence, and superior logic take the lead.