June 9, 2013 | David F. Coppedge

Is This Primate a Prime Mate?

The news media jumped onto claims that a tiny primate fossil is an ancestor of human beings, when it is really an amazing example of biological miniaturization.

A tiny fossil primate from China, classified as Archicebus achilles, was announced with fanfare by most of the science news media (e.g., Northern Illinois Univ. press release).  It looks like a tiny shrew or tarsier that probably lived in the trees.  It probably weighed less than an ounce.  What makes it noteworthy such that reporters would call it a human ancestor?  For one, it’s the alleged oldest primate fossil.  For another, it has a mosaic of features (small eyes, odd feet, etc.) that led K. Christopher Beard (Carnegie Museum) to say,

It looks like an odd hybrid with the feet of a small monkey, the arms, legs and teeth of a very primitive primate, and a primitive skull bearing surprisingly small eyes. It will force us to rewrite how the anthropoid lineage evolved.

After commenting on its tarsier-like toes but monkey-like heel, Beard said that some interpretation is required:

We have interpreted this new combination of features as evidence that this fossil is quite primitive and its unique anatomical combination is a link between the tarsier and monkey-ape branches of dry-nosed primates,” he said. “This new view suggests that the advanced foot features of anthropoids (monkeys and apes) are in fact primitive for the entire lineage of dry-nosed primates.

The press release avoided mention of this tiny creature as an ancestor of human beings.  Other reporters were not so restrained, even though the original paper in Nature did not mention human evolution at all:

One problem is that this creature lived in Asia, not Africa, where most ape evolution is thought to have occurred.  On Evolution News & Views, Casey Luskin pointed out that this would require ape ancestors to go a-rafting across the ocean to get to Africa, which is believed to have been an island back then.  According to Science Now, Beard said he was ridiculed when he suggested primates might have evolved in Asia.  “Everybody knew that everything in primate and human evolution occurred in Africa,” he said.  Like many of the feathered dinosaur fossils (5/31/13), this one was found by a farmer.  Science Now downplayed the link to humans: “Although several experts—including Beard himself—expect debate about the precise position of A. achilles on the primate family tree, they all agree that it is a remarkable specimen.”

Meanwhile, National Geographic jumped for joy at the thought that some humans have bendable soles like apes.  New Scientist claimed that 1 in 13 people have “bendy, chimp-like feet.”  Other than making the textbooks wrong, it’s not clear what this has to do with evolution (humans and chimps also have bendy mouths, tongues, and fingers).  It’s possible the trait in humans is a disadvantage, making walking less efficient, in those people so afflicted.

Those who remember the flap over Ida (Darwinius masillae, 3/20/10) have learned to yawn at these pronouncements.  The little fossil should be enjoyed for its own sake, not for what evolutionary narrative Darwinians can force it into. That all the features of a primate could be microminiaturized into this one-ounce critter is the amazing thing.  The interpretation is dumb.

Faces of the future, or hypnotized Darwin subjects?   Image by Nikolay Lamm

Storytelling; that’s the game for Darwinists.  Look what Parmy Olson did with the craft on Forbes: projected how humans will look in 100,000 years, after millennia of staring at screens or wearing Google glass.  Why, they’re evolving back the bulging eyes of their ancestors, the tarsiers!  Doesn’t this sound scientific when a computational geneticist did the prognosticating?  No; it’s just plain silly.  And he won’t be around then for us to say, “You were wrong!”  It’s just as wrong for these monkey-makers to tell us the new fossil is a human ancestor.  Time travel backwards is just as unavailable as it is forwards.  The claims can’t be tested; they can’t be falsified; they are not science.







  • ashleyhr says:

    “the original paper in Nature did not mention human evolution at all”. The Abstract of the paper in Nature refers to ‘primate evolution’ and modern humans ie our species are classed as primates.

    It is true that media speculation eg at BBC TV News about a possible ancestor species to humans went beyond the scientists’ conclusions. From the Abstract: “our phylogenetic analysis based on total available evidence indicates that this fossil is the most basal known member of the tarsiiform clade”; it’s thought by the scientists that the creature lived soon after the “divergence between tarsiiforms and anthropoids”.

    • Editor says:

      The word “human” nowhere appears in the paper, so our statement stands. You can only infer it implies something about human evolution if you already believe in human evolution — a circular argument.

  • ashleyhr says:

    Humans are classed as primates by biology.

  • ashleyhr says:

    To clarify: I have read only the Abstract. Whilst these scientists believe humans evolved, they do not think this primate was on the human lineage. But the wider context of the finding is the ‘primate evolution’ they believe occurred and humans are scientifically classified as anthropoid primates.
    Whether I personally believe in ‘human evolution’ is immaterial to what I wrote in my first reply.

    • Editor says:

      You are making an illogical statement. You said it talked about primate evolution, and that humans are primates, making a clear inference aimed at contradicting my statement that they did not mention “human evolution at all.” You are conflating classification with evolution. Creationists accept the primate classification, but not the evolution of primates or of humans.
      No more comments on this till after June 21– CEH on hiatus till then.

  • ashleyhr says:

    I accept much of what you say in your last comment. I perhaps should have been clearer in my second comment – when I wrote “untrue” I was referring to your claim “You can only infer it implies something about human evolution if you already believe in human evolution — a circular argument”. I was inferring originally that ‘primate evolution’ (if it has occurred) by definition includes human evolution even if that specific phrase was not used in the paper (which I’ve not read).
    If I appeared to you to somehow conflate the classification of humans as primates with a discussion of ‘human evolution’, that was not my intention – rather I was thinking of the reports eg on BBC TV where they showed a linear divergence many millions of years ago into the tarsiiform and anthropoid primate clades, with this particular species tentatively included within the former – whereas humans belong within the larger latter clade (but all the species involved, whether extant or extinct and which are thought to have evolved over time, are primates).

    It is up to you whether you publish this comment, which I’m posting at the BCSE community forum.

  • Some members of the Church have been fooled into the interpretation game in science because they had already turned from revelation to interpretation regarding Scripture. They turned from acknowledging God to leaning on their own understandings. They turned from seeking the mind of the Lord to seeking human wisdom of the current dying age. The human mind can rationalize anything and can tell a scientific-sounding story or spiritual-sounding story about anything. However, God reveals, in real time through the Bible and the observation of His creation, to anyone who comes to Him with respect, contrition, and humility rather than contempt, self-justification, and pride. We are not to add to His words or to take anything from them.

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