Did Walking Evolve in the Trees?
The news media are all echoing a report from Science1 that orangutan behavior in trees tells us something about the evolution of human bipedalism (see National Geographic, Fox News, and MSNBC News). If this new view gains acceptance, it means the old iconic image of man emerging upright from a stooped-over ape posture (05/03/2007) is wrong. A new icon will have to show a descent from the trees. Paul O’Higgins and Sarah Elton said in scientese, “This raises the possibility that preadaptations for hominin bipedalism arose in arboreal settings rather than in terrestrial environments.”
The original paper by Thorpe, Holder and Crompton says, “Orangutans react to branch flexibility like humans running on springy tracks, by increasing knee and hip extension, whereas all other primates do the reverse. Human bipedalism is thus less an innovation than an exploitation of a locomotor behavior retained from the common great ape ancestor.”2 But is it fair to make an inference about humans from observations of living orangutans? That is the question.
O’Higgins and Elton noted that this “reopens the debate” about the origins of our own “peculiar” habit of walking on two feet. “To date,” they confessed, “there is no consensus about the adaptive scenario that could have led to the adoption of terrestrial bipedalism.” They listed four competing theories. “A similar lack of agreement is also evident in discussions about the locomotor behavior of the hominin ancestor.” While admitting that Thorpe et al have “invigorated the debate” by presenting a “plausible and elegant argument” for the tree-down theory, they said, it also causes new problems: “We must now question whether morphologies that indicate bipedalism can be used to identify hominins at the base of their radiation.” Not only that, “This then raises the issue of whether we can unequivocally identify any traits that are truly diagnostic of early hominins.”
The MSNBC report mentioned another cause for doubt. “Why would chimps lose that bipedal ability while whatever became human retained it, asked Will Harcourt-Smith of the American Museum of Natural History in New York.” He favors a view that our ancestor was multi-talented: “Another view of this might be that actually, our ancestor was rather good at doing a number of things.” Orangutans are able to “stand straight-legged, like a person” when manipulating their stance to reach food high overhead. The Associated Press story includes this quizzical statement: “Evolution requires a reason for such a special skill.”
1Paul O’Higgins and Sarah Elton, “Anthropology: Walking on Trees,” Science, 1 June 2007: Vol. 316. no. 5829, pp. 1292-1294, DOI: 10.1126/science.1143571.
2Thorpe, Holder and Crompton, “Origin of Human Bipedalism As an Adaptation for Locomotion on Flexible Branches,” Science, 1 June 2007: Vol. 316. no. 5829, pp. 1328-1331, DOI: 10.1126/science.1140799.
Who is Evolution? Why does she require a reason? We have just unmasked the idolatry of evolutionists again. They cannot make any tale fit without invoking their goddess, a mythical person who works miracles with a goal in mind.
You never hear them talking about all the anatomical adjustments that would be required to have an ape walk upright like a man, and how these adjustments would have taken place by chance mutations. Arched feet, reshaped skeleton, a new neck and head, readjusted internal organs, changes to musculature (including buttocks and shoulder girdle), adjustments to skin and hair and thermoregulation, new brain software – how many other major changes would have to occur simultaneously to make human bipedal motion possible? And people can run! Recall the impressive list of anatomical specializations required for endurance running (re-read 11/18/2004).
Do you know of any functional activity with requirements that operates by an unguided process? We must call foul when evolutionists reason from requirements to Darwinian theory. We must hold them to Darwin’s own requirements that evolution must proceed without guidance or direction. No long-term goals can be envisioned, and no personalities can direct the process. To this we add that assuming evolution did it anyway is a bad case of begging the question.
Let’s ask the Darwinists why the orangutans haven’t caught onto our superior means of locomotion if it is so good. And let’s further ask why the orangutans are not observing humans and publishing papers about how primitive humans evolved into tree climbers like themselves. Better yet, let’s have these researchers role-play the orangutans in trees, barefoot and wearing minimal clothing, so we can sneak some video of them onto YouTube.