January 30, 2015 | David F. Coppedge

More Human-Evolution Contortions

Contrary data can be made to fit a theory if you know some good wrestling moves.

Human history defies easy stories,” the editors of Nature warned this week after reports surfaced of a skull in a Galilee cave (said to be 55,000 years old) that’s hard to place in the family tree. What they mean, of course, is that evolutionists have to create hard stories. This is one skill they have mastered. “The discovery of part of a 55,000-year-old human skull in Israel will help to answer some questions about our species’ evolution — but it shows that the tale is complicated.” That’s great news to a paleoanthropologist. It means he or she can stay looking busy.

Nature’s rationale for encouraging more nuance in the storytelling bears quoting:

Where does the find fit in? Beware simple answers, and, indeed, simple questions. There is a temptation when discussing human evolution to reconstruct it as a narrative, in which successive species evolved to be more like us, and the more like us they became, the more likely they were to migrate to other parts of the world and replace pre-existing forms.

There are at least four things wrong with this. The first is its rather imperialist framing, in which evolution and replacement can be justified after the fact as a kind of manifest destiny.

The second is that it dismisses any extinct species as inferior and therefore of secondary importance.

The third is that it assumes the existence of an arrow of progress, in which species always evolve towards ourselves, a mistaken view that is too welcoming of spurious conceits such as ‘missing links’, and unwilling to countenance odd side branches such as Homo floresiensis, the peculiar, dwarf hominin (member of the human family) that lived in Indonesia until relatively recent times….

The fourth, and arguably the most important, is that it misrepresents the extreme fragmentation of the fossil record, something that Charles Darwin recognized, with his usual percipience, as a ‘difficulty’ with his theory of evolution by natural selection. Darwin was (as usual) selling himself short. That evolution has happened is no longer in doubt: the shared chemistry and structure of all life, from the meanest microbe to the furriest feline, would be testament to that, even had no fossils ever been found.

They fell right into the fallacy of affirming the consequent: i.e., completely ignoring the alternative explanation for “shared chemistry and structure”: common design. Their statement shows that their dogmatism for Darwin does not require evidence from the fossil record at all. Nevertheless, it is well that they reject “spurious conceits,” given the dark history of Social Darwinism, Darwinist racism and the myth of progress. Perhaps on this week of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz they feel a tinge of conscience. But since they are beholden to Darwin with religious zeal, the real world is going to force them to undergo contortions to force the bones into a “tale that is complicated”—a tale nonetheless.

They proceed, however, to tell a simplified plot themselves: out of Africa, Neanderthals, Homo sapiens, and the rest of the rot. The only puzzle they admit to is a question of what happened between 90,000 and 45,000 years ago. They claim the new fossil “goes some way towards providing an answer, as well as hinting at how complicated our early history might have been.” So much for the optimistic summary:

Here comes the ‘but’. Our modern genomes contain Neanderthal DNA. At some point, our ancestors bred with Neanderthals before they became extinct. Does the Manot skull represent that moment? We simply do not know. Welcome, Manot skull, to messy reality.

What the face gave, the “but” took away.

For details of the Manot of Galilee, see BBC News, PhysOrg, Nature (Ewen Callaway article), Science, and Live Science. The tales are, indeed, complicated.  The perhapsimaybecouldness index skyrockets in “messy reality.” But many of the articles expect that this individual interbred with modern humans. Doesn’t that make him a brother, a member of the human species, according to commonly-accepted species definitions? “Humans and Neandertals likely interbred in Middle East,” Michael Balter writes in Science, pointing to this skull as tantalizing evidence of where and when that tryst occurred.

Another bone to pick: Adding to the confusion is a possible Denisovan jawbone discovered in Taiwan. Charles Q. Choi posits, “Ancient Human Fossil Could Be New Primitive Species” (see caution #1-4 from Nature’s editors).  “Analysis of trace elements in Penghu 1 suggests the hominin probably lived between 10,000 and 190,000 years ago,” he says—a range so broad as to be meaningless. That’s worse than trying to decide if a skeleton was from Sumeria or a Harvard. Ann Gibbons puts the range at 200,000 to 400,000 years ago, admitting that nobody knows. She suggests it’s Denisovan, but Chris Stringer thinks the fragmentary evidence looks “primitive”. Choi has the best line by a Japanese expert: “This is a very different, complex and exciting story compared to what I was taught in school.

All those diagrams, drawings, dioramas, panoramas, and TV documentaries you grew up with are now out the window. Remember how many cover stories National Geographic had about their favorite expert Louis Leakey? Remember those old Time-Line books with the “parade of man” diagrams that Nature now admits were false and misleading? It’s all gone. Nobody pays that stuff any attention any more. Even Richard Leakey is barely hanging on to Lucy, and everyone forgets his old Skull 1470 and many of the others (Zinjanthropus, Java Man, Peking Man, and the lot). Skulls and bones pass off the stage like forgotten rock groups. Even what they are saying now is tomorrow’s trash. Why do we even pay attention to these guys? There’s one story that matches history well, and explains everything you need to know. It’s an outline of early human history you can corroborate with the archaeological evidence. Read it here.



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