Finally

28 09 2007

A bit of a minor note (which I’m also late to the game with) about science & the media concerning Ben Stein’s upcoming propaganda piece “edutainment” Expelled; the New York Times recently came out with an article about the movie and the deceit involved in obtaining interviews from anti-creationism figures, and the author Corneila Dean writes something I’ve been wanting to see for a while.

There is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth. And while individual scientists may embrace religious faith, the scientific enterprise looks to nature to answer questions about nature. As scientists at Iowa State University put it last year, supernatural explanations are “not within the scope or abilities of science.”

Part of the problem with science & media relations is that in many news outlets “objectivity” is placed in higher regard than actual understanding; if a new report comes out saying that there is new evidence showing global warming to be human-caused, for example, find someone from the other side to balance things out. Such journalistic tactics have their place and I don’t want to see science columns become dogmatic about legitimate controversies, but I don’t think there’s a need to “balance” established scientific reality with complaints from whomever can formulate a tenuous point of contention. Given such waffling on the part of many newspapers, I was glad to see a firmer stance taken in this article, although the last sentence didn’t quite sit right with me.

Although it doesn’t necessarily work in practice, the idea of Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA) as proposed by Gould is still a popular notion, many peacemakers saying that science and religion are mutually exclusive “ways of knowing” and science can’t tell us anything about religion. While I’m not suggesting that we should end civility while debating the intersection of science and religion, it is starkly apparent that science and religion do overlap, and nearly all religions make claims about the world that can, in fact, be refuted or confirmed by scientific study. We often think about this in terms of Christianity and the existence of God or of a soul, but let’s step back and examine a religion that I doubt many (if any) of my readers practice; Bakuba. The summation of the creation mythology associated with the religion, via Wikipedia, is as follows;

Originally, the Earth was nothing but water and darkness. Mbombo, the white giant ruled over this chaos. One day, he felt a terrible pain in his stomach, and vomited the sun, the moon, and the stars. The sun shone fiercely and water steamed up in clouds. Gradually, the dry hills appeared. Mbombo vomited again, this time the trees came out of his stomach, and animals, and people , and many other things: the first woman, the leopard, the eagle, the anvil, monkey Fumu, the first man, the firmament, medicine, and lighting. Nchienge, the woman of the waters, lived in the East. She had a son, Woto, and a daughter, Labama. Woto was the first king of the Bakuba.

Now, was anyone alive today present when the earth was formed to say that it wasn’t populated and given form by giant puke? Obviously the answer is no, but the evidence from geology, paleontology, chemistry, physics, history, etc. (and the absence of any evidence of a celestial giant with IBS) show that the events described above did not occur as they are described in Bakuba mythology. Bringing this back to the issue at hand, i.e. Young Earth Creationism from the Christian perspective, it has been long established that the two differing accounts of origins in Genesis are incorrect in terms of the origin of the earth and the life that inhabits it. I won’t get into the larger debate over whether the stories are allegory or what their origins are, but the Bible makes some specific claims about the way nature works that are inconsistent with the weight of evidence gleaned from nature.

I don’t intend to turn this post into a long treatise on the intersection of science and religion, but the idea that we can keep science and religion sequestered from each other, giving each an intellectual domain to “rule” over, doesn’t work in the long run. Perhaps it can be done, and in fact I know people who have professed that they have taken such a route, but it often requires the qualification of “I do not think about things I do not think about.” I should probably clarify my own intent for writing this article as well, and it is simply this; science and religion do conflict with each other, and although this may seem to be an obvious point, it is often glossed over or put aside for the sake of comfort. Is it possible to be religious and agree that modern scientific concepts are correct (or at least are the best approximations of reality as yet discovered)? Of course, and I know there are many readers here who blog about just that topic in order to better represent those standpoints. Those positions, however, often differ substantially from the viewpoints of other members of the same religion and conflict abound no matter where one falls on the scientific/religious spectrum. Still, what I am proposing is that those invested in this debate stop ignoring the conflict and deal with the strained relationship between religion and science in a more direct manner, as I think we can only benefit by dropping the tattered NOMA flag.





New packaging on an old idea

26 09 2007

In 1857 scientist Philip Henry Gosse published a book called Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot (available online, although be forewarned that it is a very large .pdf), proposing that God had created the world with the illusion of great age, other researchers of his day being deceived into thinking the world was more than 6,000 years old. Today Gosse’s work is largely forgotten, and if Gosse had listened to his friend Charles Kingsley (author of The Water Babies) the book might not have been published at all. When Gosse asked Kingsley to review his book (probably thinking that he’d get a glowing summary from his friend), Kingsley replied;

Shall I tell you the truth? It is best. Your book is the first that ever made me doubt [the doctrine of absolute creation], and I fear it will make hundreds do so. Your book tends to prove this – that if we accept the fact of absolute creation, God becomes God-the-Sometime-Deceiver. I do not mean merely in the case of fossils which pretend to be the bones of dead animals; but in … your newly created Adam’s navel, you make God tell a lie. It is not my reason, but my conscience which revolts here … I cannot … believe that God has written on the rocks one enormous and superfluous lie for all mankind.

[Reproduced from Wikipedia]

Obviously, Gosse published anyway, and although American evangelicals would later suggest that fossils were “tricks of the devil,” no one seems to hold to the strong version of “Deceitful Creation” Gosse advocated. A weak version of Gosse’s ideas continue to survive in Christian apologetics to this day however, and evidence of this can be seen in an article in the Spring/Summer 2007 Harvard Divinity Bulletin entitled “God and Evolution: A New Solution.” The author of the work, Sarah Coakley, sets out to accomplish the following;

First, there is the issue of how we should understand the relation of God’s providence to prehuman dimensions of creation and their development. Second, there is the issue of how God’s providence can relate to the specific arena of human freedom and creativity. Then third, there is the problem of evil, the question of why what happens in the first two realms manifests so much destructiveness, suffering, and outright evil, if God is indeed omnipotent, omniscient, and omni-benevolent.

These are relatively “classic” areas of conflict in the evolution vs. Christian theology culture wars, and I do find it interesting that even modern apologists are doing the best they can to separate man from all other forms of life on earth (primarily through culture since anatomical differences have proven to be poor support for such distinctions). Dealing with the first question, Coakley writes;

As such, God is both “within” the process and “without” it. To put this in richly trinitarian terms: God, the Holy Spirit, is the perpetual invitation and lure of the creation to return to its source in the Father, yet never without the full—and suffering—implications of incarnate Sonship. Once we see the possibility of understanding the contingency of precultural evolution in this way, we need not—as so much science and religion “dialogue” has done in recent years—declare the evolutionary process as necessarily “deistically” distanced in some sense from God. Rather, I propose in contrast that God is “kenotically” infused (not by divine loss or withdrawal, but by effusive pouring out) into every causal joint of the creative process, yet precisely without overt derangement of apparent “randomness.”

Such might qualify as pious prose but it has little actually explanatory power; the references and allusions are more poetic than sharply attuned to the topic at hand. The first section relates to the popular Christian notion of a “God-shaped hole” (ok, ok, take a few minutes to get the laughter out of your system and then continue) in every person’s soul or spirit, attributing a spiritual need to every person on earth. There is no proof at all for such assertions, and so it seems to be a bit of popular Christian doctrine that ties itself to the belief that everyone must be saved by Christ to enter heaven (and who wouldn’t want that? Wait, don’t answer that…).

The second half of the paragraph is where it gets interesting; Gos is infused through “effusive pouring out” (so God is in a liquid state?) into the process of evolution, giving it an orthogenic pathway but still exhibiting randomness and contingency. This is the “weak” version of Gosse’s argument, God being present in the evolutionary process but making it look as if he was not, seeming to take a method once suggested in the show Futurama ; “When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.” Things get a bit sillier as the explanation continues;

But how, the skeptic might object, is evolutionary contingency—and genuine human freedom—to be seen as logically compatible with secret divine guidance? The intuition pump I want to propose here is what Peter Geach once called the “chess master model.” The basic idea is this: God is like a chess master playing an 8-year-old chess novice. There is a game with regularities and rules; and although there are a huge number of different moves that the child can make, each of these can be successfully responded to by the chess master—they are all already familiar to him. And we have no overall doubt that he is going to win. The analogy with God and the evolutionary process, or with human freedom, admittedly involves some stretching. For a start, God has created the whole game. Also, God timelessly knows what will happen in any different scenario depending on what moves occur. But there is a crucial difference here between God knowing what will occur and God directly causing what occurs; for in this model the contingent variables and choices occur at the level of secondary causation (albeit undergirdingly sustained and thus primarily caused by God).

I assume the hapless 8-year-old playing chess against God was not Bobbie Fischer (and I thought it was Death who played cosmic chess… oh well). Nevertheless, such reflects another popular Christian notion that God is “in control” and “has a plan” even when it is not apparently so, and you have to beat him in chess in order to get what you want, I mean, you’re at the whim of seemingly undirected events that are in reality being directed, making you generally confused as to what the often-cited “will” of God really is. All of the assertions from the author’s essay operate out of unstated assertions about the definite reality of God (it is considered a given), therefore the history of life on earth must be crammed into tight theological boxes if it is to prevent people from abandoning their faith. It is really nothing more than Gosse’s argument with new paint on it, humanity ever playing the fool because they just can’t win against the omni-present “Chess Master.” Coakley’s discussion of resurrection after death/extinction (?) is also rather odd;

Here, once more, there is an equally seductive modern misapprehension to avert: the presumption that dying, or indeed evolutionary “extinction,” is the worst thing that can happen to anyone (or thing). Again, I would contest the misapprehension. This point is not to be misread as a seeming justification for avoidable suffering, victimization, and abuse; but it is to be heard christologically as an insistence that the deepest agony, loss, and apparent wastefulness in God’s creation may, from the perspective of atemporal divinity (and yet also in the Son’s agony and “wasted” death), be spanned by the Spirit’s announcement of resurrection hope. Evil, from this perspective, is mere absence of good; death is the prelude to resurrection. To be sure, the risk God takes in human “freedom” is the terrible risk that humans announce their false “autonomy” in cruelty and destructiveness. Yet the risk is the only risk out of which the worthiest—and, again, most incarnational—forms of participation in God can arise.

[emphasis mine]

Does this mean that there will be glyptodonts, mosasaurs, and tyrannosaurs in heaven? The extinction alluded to in this paragraph is probably that of Homo sapiens (although I’d be interested to see what the author would have to say about the presence of absence of Megatherium in heaven), again hearkening back to the somewhat scary Christian idea that death is necessary for “true life.” I won’t go into a long rant about the subjective use of “good” and “evil” here (I find the position that evil is merely the absence of good to be absurd), but I will briefly mention the dig aimed at atheists in the 2nd-to-last sentence. Human “autonomy” (as if such a thing had not existed at some point and had been given) is related to destructiveness and cruelty, reinforcing the misapprehension that in the absence of God (=good) there is only evil. Such a statement is patently untrue, even though those who are already inclined to agree with such a statement will nod there heads and move on.

And then I arrived at this bit, which I can only describe as “treacly”;

[I]f by that we mean that God is perpetually sustaining us, loving us into existence, pouring God’s self into every secret crack and joint of the created process, and inviting the human will, in the lure of the Spirit, into an ever-deepening engagement with the implications of the Incarnation, its “groanings” (Romans 8), for the sake of redemption.

So if God stopped loving us, we would cease to exist? Again, the psuedo-poetic religious buzzwords and catch phrases mask any sort of rigorous intellectual understanding of what is being said, but such off-key notes will gain the assent of those who have already trained themselves to respond to them without much further thought.

I will leave the reader of this post to continue on with the initial document if they so choose; I don’t want to spend all my time today pointing out fairly obvious defects within it. I will close by saying, however, that the author of the paper seems to desire a more active God (vs. a more distant God as in deism), found throughout nature but not being apparent, thus allowing Christians a sort of “secret knowledge” not shared by atheists or members of other religions. This approach is often diluted into evangelical techniques, like suggesting that some of the names of God sound like breathing, and therefore even when a atheist breathes they’re speaking the name of God. Such notions may make some people feel warm and fuzzy inside, but it seems to be little more than the construction of a person God that is just active enough to be influential in person life but not enough to intervene when needed the most (tragedy is assumed to be “God’s Will,” any number of reasons being ascribed to a trauma). Indeed, Coakley’s paper puts forth a deceitful and controlling deity that is present in everything but sees fit to let it run riot all the same, and as Laplace once replied to Napoleon on a similar subject “I had no need of that hypothesis.”





I had to talk about it sooner or later…

24 08 2007

I wanted to finish up my post on whale locomotion/evolution this morning, but things have come together in the blogosphere just-so that I can’t ignore the issue of the “new atheism” any longer. It initially cropped up last night in the comments of the previous post in discussion of the documentary Flock of Dodos. Personally, I felt that the scenes shot of the scientists at the poker game were a bit of a set up, creating something of a straw man version of who scientists are and what they think. We weren’t treated to a similar meeting of evangelicals, but, lest we forget the great “Framing Wars” from earlier this year, scientists are often shown as being intolerant, condescending, and bad communicators overall. The recent spate of atheist literature, most notably The God Delusion, Breaking the Spell, God is Not Great, and Letter to a Christian Nation, seem to have reinforced this view as some of the authors (like Dawkins and Dennett) are so closely associated with previous works on evolution, seemingly confirming that it is the mission of scientists to destroy religion in whatever form it might take. To be honest, I haven’t read any of those books and I am not particularly interested in them, but there are discussions about them everywhere on the blogosphere, and the impressions seem to be relatively polarized. I can’t speak to what the books do or do not say being that I haven’t read them, but there has been a great debate as to the approach the authors have taken in trying to get their point across, a method that some people feel makes science seem bigoted and condescending.

My friend Walt, from the blog Prehistoric Pulp, summed up his take on the subject this way;

[A]s I was moving away from pseudoscience, the last thing that would have helped was some know-it-all telling me how stupid I was for believing all that garbage. People are naturally defensive, and the most likely result of me hearing that would’ve been to found reasons to keep believing, to solidify my stance to let this jerk know I wasn’t going to let him intimidate me. That’s why I hate the language the two use to defend atheism – it’s so counter-productive to the cause. I’m not saying that certain big wig creationists, like the Discovery Institute folks, shouldn’t be ridiculed and criticized. They most certainly should. I’m talking about everyday folks who usually give no more thought to religion than maybe showing up for church every Sunday. People like to be treated as equals, and showing a certain amount of respect to their own views can help open the door to getting them to think about other points of view.

This is a feeling shared by many people, and even if authors like Dawkins and Hitchens don’t call people stupid outright, that is the impression that titles like “The Enemies of Reason” (which, don’t get me wrong, is an excellent documentary) can sometimes give. Even so, deeply held religious or spiritual beliefs often lead to a certain amount of defensiveness and sensitivity (as Walt noted), especially when we’re dealing with a personal god that many evangelicals claim to know. Take this quote about the god of the Old Testament from The God Delusion, for example;

[A]rguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction. Jealous and proud of it, a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak, a vindictive bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser, a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

Is the comment pointed? Surely, but nonetheless true. This particular quote has been one of the most cited, yet it does not deal with Christians/Jews themselves, merely the way their god acted according to the Old Testament. Even when I had something resembling Christian faith myself, I found the sheer violence and anger of the Old Testament God to be absolutely horrifying and disgusting, yet many of the worst stories are repackaged for children via shows like Veggie Tales. In one particular episode I was made to watch about the famous fall of Jericho under the leadership of Joshua, the various seed-bearing fruit seemed to be having a good time, their faith causing the walls of the city to come crumbling down with no loss of life or limb. When I got home I pulled a Bible off the shelf and decided to check out what really happened;

When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.

[Joshua 6:20-21]

This is just one of many examples of the bloodstained past that Christianity so proudly proclaims, but mentioning this fact (or implying that a God who deems such an act fit to carry out is an unjust one) is often taken as a personal attack. Indeed, religion is such a touchy subject that one need not say “You’re an idiot” to easily offend, and for that reason any discussion of religion that is too pointed is said to be intolerant. At this point even mentioning the name “Richard Dawkins” in some churches or small groups is enough to make hackles rise, and (from what I can tell from my own experiences at least) he is often seen as the archetype for all modern scientists.

Then comes a bit of correspondence from Sam Harris in the latest issue of Nature calling for scientists to stand up against “unreason.” Harris first mentions the overall incompatibility of orthodox Muslim beliefs with modern science (primarily that nothing can challenge or contradict the Koran), then moving on to Francis Collins and how Nature commended Collins’ attempt to bridge the science/religion gap despite Collins coming to choose his belief system because of how beautiful a frozen waterfall is. I’m not a big fan of Collins and I don’t think the arguments he has made in many public forums have been especially good (I haven’t read his book, The Language of God, nor am I much inclined to), but I fail to see how his personal conversion story somehow undercuts all of science or is a threat to it. I may disagree with Collins about his beliefs or assertions he makes based upon them, but Harris’ highlighting of Collins as a religious, rather than scientific, figure seem to be little more than a jab at religion for it’s own sake.

By the same token, however, I often have issues when scientists claim that there is no conflict whatsoever between science and religion, or that they are mutually exclusive ways of understanding the universe. The history of the debate in and of itself shows that not to be true, and religions often have very different interpretations of nature and where humans came from than the evidence that humanity has been able to gather about nature through science. Taking a NOMA-type approach might be pleasing or non-threatening, but (at least for me) it doesn’t work cognitively. The fact that people have deeply held religious beliefs which shape the way they view and interact with their world should be understood (dare I say respected), but this doesn’t mean that we should pretend like there is no larger conflict here. I would like to believe that if we focused on good science that important ideas like evolution could gain a much wider acceptance (and I think this is true to some degree), but at least in the present time beliefs on this issue have often become so polarized that religion is tightly wound around ideas about nature, and it’s nearly impossible to try to reach people who don’t understand evolution without making them feel like they’re being attacked by an atheist.

So what are we to do? Unfortunately I don’t have many answers, and often times I don’t try to address this hot topic of modern atheism/agnosticism because I feel like I’m walking on eggshells. I think we should be honest and straightforward about atheism/agnosticism and putting forth good science without being overly antagonistic (Carl Sagan seems to have taken to this sort of approach in many of his works), but even then some people are going to feel attacked because personal belief is such a sore spot. Even beyond putting forth good science, superstitious beliefs and nutty hypotheses should be addressed and confronted, and I don’t think there’s any reason at all why religion should somehow be exempt from criticism or scientific scrutiny. Still, even classic science documentaries like Cosmos offend by stating that “The cosmos is all there is, all there ever was, and all there ever will be,” some feeling that such statements implicitly deny God, who is often said to be “outside” of time and space despite his interventions in the affairs of man and nature. Even documentaries that have nothing at all to do with religion, putting forth only science, seem to irk the religious. Talking about some of the responses to the various documentaries he’s hosted, David Attenborough said this;

I often get letters, quite frequently, from people who say how they like the programmes a lot, but I never give credit to the almighty power that created nature, to which I reply and say, “Well, it’s funny that the people, when they say that this is evidence of the almighty, always quote beautiful things, they always quote orchids and hummingbirds and butterflies and roses.” But I always have to think too of a little boy sitting on the banks of a river in west Africa who has a worm boring through his eyeball, turning him blind before he’s five years old, and I reply and say, “Well presumably the god you speak about created the worm as well,” and now, I find that baffling to credit a merciful god with that action, and therefore it seems to me safer to show things that I know to be truth, truthful and factual, and allow people to make up their own minds about the moralities of this thing, or indeed the theology of this thing.

I can’t help but feel that people who protest so much believe in a “small god” who can only exist within the strained confines of one book instead of the world itself, but my opinion on the matter makes them no less fervent about their personal beliefs. Science aside, I don’t think that religion is inherently bad or inherently good; just as anything else it is a mix of the two, and there are radical fundamentalists just as well as more liberal and reasonable thinkers. Figuring out how such mindsets become entrenched, rather than trying to battle against them as a whole, seems to me like a more productive affair than labeling the whole of religion “expired” and struggle to get it into the dust bin. In fact I’m sure religion will continue on through my entire life and long after I’m gone, just as science will, and I think people will (and should) disagree on topics where the two intersect. Ideas may be railed against, refuted, and deemed ignorant, but even as we try to do away with ancient belief systems that hinder us as a society I think we need to respect that others whom we disagree with are “fellow travelers” shaped by their own life experiences as well, and understanding who they are, where they’ve come from, and why they think the way they do can be more helpful than simply attacking their opinions with no considerations. This isn’t a call of relativism or to ignore the problems of reduced science literacy coupled with increases in memberships to fundamentalist religions, but rather my opinion that it may be more helpful to listen carefully and respond firmly without calling many of the world’s inhabitants superstitious morons.

John Wilkins has some more informed/better written thoughts on the same subject over at Evolving Thoughts, so be sure to check out his take on this subject.





If this comes out on my birthday I’m going to be pissed…

22 08 2007

Why does Ben Stein have to go ahead and ruin the month in which I was born? According to a link supplied by PZ, the deadpan actor is going to release a film called “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” about how us crazy “Neo-Darwinists” are trying to take over the hearts and minds of America’s youth through the public education system. (Also, the conservative screed Indoctrinate U is also meant to premiere this September) This propaganda piece documentary looks like it wants to be the answer to Randy Olson’s Flock of Dodos, although it appears that Stein’s venture is better financed. Still, having a look around the site already points to the overall lack of research and downright stupidity employed by our “hero” Stein in trying to scare conservatives into believing him. From the site’s blog;

Freedom of inquiry is basic to human advancement. There would be no modern medicine, no antibiotics, no brain surgery, no Internet, no air conditioning, no modern travel, no highways, no knowledge of the human body without freedom of inquiry.

This includes the ability to inquire whether a higher power, a being greater than man, is involved with how the universe operates. This has always been basic to science. ALWAYS.

Some of the greatest scientists of all time, including Galileo, Newton, Einstein, operated under the hypothesis that their work was to understand the principles and phenomena as designed by a creator.

Operating under that hypothesis, they discovered the most important laws of motion, gravity, thermodynamics, relativity, and even economics.

Now, I am sorry to say, freedom of inquiry in science is being suppressed.

Under a new anti-religious dogmatism, scientists and educators are not allowed to even think thoughts that involve an intelligent creator. Do you realize that some of the leading lights of “anti-intelligent design” would not allow a scientist who merely believed in the possibility of an intelligent designer/creator to work for him… EVEN IF HE NEVER MENTIONED the possibility of intelligent design in the universe?EVEN FOR HIS VERY THOUGHTS… HE WOULD BE BANNED.

In today’s world, at least in America, an Einstein or a Newton or a Galileo would probably not be allowed to receive grants to study or to publish his research.

The first thing that Stein does, in classic neo-con fashion, is equate science with technology. The only things vaguely biological mentioned are antibiotics and human anatomy, but these are directly tied to medicine and not understanding how humans (or other organisms) work in any other sense. This is one of the most difficult battlegrounds in any debate about science/religion/politics, as many see natural science as ultimately pointless. “Why do I need to know what sort of animal Pakicetus was when technology supplies me with MTV and plenty of porn via the internet?” This “What, me worry?” sort of mindset can be traced all the way back to the first Christians, who felt it was essentially pointless to study nature (or even medicine) because Jesus’ return was imminent. “Why learn about botany when the world will be destroyed and created anew next week?” Sooner or later people got the idea that such a way of thinking was impoverished and worthless and started to investigate the natural world, although new discoveries were often met with opposition from those who attempted to uphold the religious orthodoxy of the time (certain areas of science, like medicine, becoming acceptable as they could be brought into the ideological fold of helping others in Christianity).

Stein then goes on to play the name game; everyone will recognize the names Newton, Galileo, and Einstein, but how many people actually know anything about them? Stein is merely trading in on their recognition and seems to know little else about these men of science other than that they had some sort of idea about a creator god. If Stein had done his homework he would have found that Newton and Einstein did not hold concepts of a Judeo-Christian God that exactly fits the Old Testament bully so loved by modern evangelicals (Einstein over and over again professing his belief in “Spinoza’s God”, or the nature of the universe as God). The inclusion of Galileo was curious as well, especially given what the Church of Galileo’s time perpetrated upon the man and the overall resistance to his ideas. If we’re going to include Christian scientists, why not go ahead and add a young Charles Darwin, Charles Lyell, William Buckland, Gideon Mantell, or any number of other 19th century scientists involved with paleontology, geology, and evolution that showed the world was not created in the way the creation mythologies of the Bible state? Stein also seems to be ignorant of the many attempts through the early to mid-1900’s to reconcile science and evolution after the Modern Synthesis was formed, so why not mention some of the Christian and Jewish leaders from the first part of the last century who had no problem with evolution? I guess they’re on the naughty list.

Stein then moves on to an attempt to spread paranoia, picking up where Jonathan Wells left off in the latter part of Icons of Evolution. Evolutionary science (or at least evolutionary scientists) are said to be cultish, rabid bigots, stopping at nothing to stomp out any mention of a Christian god. They may as well burst into flames at the mention of the name “Jehovah.” No evidence is given for this assertion (I guess I’ll just have to watch the movie), but Stein goes back to trading in on the names of intellects far greater than his own by suggesting that such men would have been figuratively “burned at the stake” by modern academia. I guess it doesn’t matter to Stein that how religious a person may be is more a product of how they’re brought up rather in “Darwinist indoctrination” in public schools. Stein also doesn’t provide any reason why we should take creationists and ID advocates seriously, either; they’ve come up with absolutely no actual research to prove their point, despite continuous calls to do so (I guess Behe and his buddies would rather just keep pumping out the popular books). Why should we allow intelligent design into science class when it simply is not science?

Anyway, the film looks like it’s going to be absolutely horrible, and judging from the fact that Stein can’t even be bothered to open up a history book I’m sure the film is going to be a propaganda piece that will appeal primarily to those who already tend to agree anyhow.

Update: Mike P, in the Pharyngula comment, has provided us with the Press Release for this atrocious bit of drek.

Update the 2nd: The DI has now weighed in (how could I ever have guessed that they were involved?), and the film is set to come out on Darwin’s birthday, February 12th. I can’t imagine it getting a wide release, but I have to wonder if the production company is going to go around wooing churches as other companies did for The Passion of the Christ, The Chronicles of Narnia, and other films. Still, the movie will probably be greeted with cheers by those already convinced and be thoroughly trashed by those who can already smell that it’s rotten inside and out.





Adnan Oktar goes crying to the courts

20 08 2007

Adnan Oktar (AKA Harun Yahya), author of the massive & misguided Atlas of Creation, is having a hissy-fit because some WordPress blogs have brought attention to his creationist tomfoolery (thanks to Ed Darell for initially bringing this to everyone’s attention). Indeed, it appears that all access to WordPress has been blocked in Turkey, as per the ruling of the “Fatih 2nd Civil Court of First Instance, number 2007/195.” Luckily, some people have figured out how to get around the block (thanks to PZ for mentioning the resource), but this whole thing is a complete farce. As Ed has already pointed out, it’s hard to believe that the whole of WordPress is blocked in Turkey because Oktar can’t take criticism about his poorly-researched work.

This isn’t the first time Oktar has gone crying to the courts and got his way, either. As reported by IFEX, in April of this year Oktar restricted access to online forums/sites where the comments threads contained “defamatory” comments about him, the sites in question ultimately removing the content that so offends. I guess his actions show Oktar for what he really is, though; an arrogant creationist who wants to stamp out any other opinion through a court system that isn’t wise enough to understand the importance and value of free expression. I hope the WordPress admins will stand up for the freedom of speech and expression on here and not give Oktar an inch, especially since one of the most active spots I can see on my little clustrmap is Turkey and their is a solid blogging community from that region.





Thursday Book Blogging

16 08 2007

I know the pace has slowed down a bit here over the last few days; part of it is because I’m trying to find papers/books to use for my review-paper-to-be, and part of it is because I’ve been lacking inspiration. There’s plenty to blog about, I just haven’t been especially motivated. Even so, here’s some notes on what I’ve been reading this week. I’ve been trying to take no more than two days to finish any one book, cramming as much information into my brain as possible. At the end of the summer I’ll do a big rundown of what I’ve read and what I think I can still remember.

Time Traveler by Michael Novacek

It’s all about the fieldwork, or at least this book is. Taking a look at a huge swath of Novacek’s career, the autobiography/pop-science book shows us the hardships and joys of working as a paleontologist in the field from the American West to Yemen to Mongolia. Much of the technical details about what was found and why it was important to science is left out, focusing instead on the process of becoming a paleontologist and attempting to conduct fieldwork in a variety of locales, although some of the earlier chapters of interspersed with explanations of basic geology/plate tectonics. Despite some minor errors in the text (i.e. Maiasaura is spelled wrong) and the section on Mongolia being way too short (I suppose I should pick up Dinosaurs of the Flaming Cliff, also by Novacek, if I want those details), the book is a highly enjoyable and quick read that would serve as a good primer to anyone looking to get their feet wet in the field of paleontology. If you’re interested in “true tales of paleo”, I would also highly recommend Charles Sternberg’s autobiography The Life of a Fossil Hunter, and (to a lesser degree) Lilian McLaughlin Brown’s Bring ‘Em Back Petrified and I Married a Dinosaur.

The Sinner’s Guide to the Evangelical Right by Robert Lanham

I don’t normally pick up this sort of book, but it only cost $0.02, so I thought “Why not?” and read it aloud to my wife in one go. As if you couldn’t tell from the title, the book is a humorous attempt to get readers unnerved by evangelicals up to speed about what they think/do/believe/spend their money on, focusing on everything from the frighteningly absurd Left Behind series to the current trend of millionaire pastors & megachurches. While the book will certainly rile those with evangelical sensibilities, it is doesn’t discount Christianity as a whole, praising the “emerging church” movement and pastor Rob Bell (author of the book Velvet Elvis). Much of the book’s criticism is well-placed, pointing out such big-time scam artists like Creflo Dollar and conservative nutters like the mysterious Jack Chick, but the main flaw of the book is it’s lack of organization and tendency to repeat itself. When it’s funny, it’s hilarious, but they call Rick Warren the “Jimmy Buffett of evangelicals” so many times that it stops being funny by the end of the chapter. The book does get points, however, for noting how much of a slimeball Ted Haggard was before even before the big scandal broke (their jokes about “praying in the closet” are strangely prescient).

Also, quotes from real-life evangelicals (ranging from a young born-again girl to a Calvinist to the founder of the xxxchurch.com “Christian Porn Site” [it's not what you think]) are interspersed throughout the book, but they’re usually placed in the wrong chapters or have little to do with what’s being discussed when they appear. If you can overcome these minor annoyances, pick up the book and put it in the bathroom’s magazine rack or take it along on a trip; I can’t say it wasn’t worth the money I paid for it.

Dinosaur Lives (which my wife always jokes should be Dinosaur LIVES!) by Jack Horner and Edwin Dobb

I thought this wouldn’t be a bad follow-up to Time Traveler (I try to read certain kinds of books in clusters so I can make connections between things), but overall Horner’s book has been rather disappointing. The book kicks off with Horner’s participation in the Jurassic Park franchise, listing what the filmmakers did and did not fix under Horner’s advisement. Some of the behind-the-scene information is interesting (i.e. a “lost shot” where we see the lawyer Gennaro’s disembodied leg with a Tyrannosaurus tooth stuck in it), but it would have served the book better overall if it was organized as an appendix or placed towards the end. Moving along, the book chronicles Horner’s forays in Montana in a very abstract manner, making it seem like Horner has got the “magic touch” when it comes to dinosaurs. While Novacek’s book was marked by occasional failures, persistence, and detail of what it was like to be trying to retrace the past, Horner’s book merely jumps from discovery to discovery, nearly all of them being a new species or otherwise notable. Given this fact, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that at one point Horner laments that a particular mosasaur find made over a decade before the book was published is still languishing in its plaster jacket in storage (as I’ve said before, you don’t have to go into the field anymore to make discoveries or find new specimens. Effigia is a testament to that, at the very least). Granted, going back to some of the prime fossil sites of the likes of Barnum Brown is a bit more of a “sure thing” than, for instance, Novacek’s essentially fruitless searching for dinosaurs in Yemen, but Horner’s book reads more like a list of accomplishments than a tale of paleontological discovery.

The illustrations also leave much to be desired. While Novacek’s book often took diagrams directly from technical papers (like one of the Psittacosaurus illustrations I used from one of H.F. Osborn’s papers yesterday), the dinosaur reconstructions in Horner’s book are a bit misshapen and overall sad. There are some official photos from museums, maps, and other more high-quality work in the book, but the book’s reconstruction of a Tyrannosaurus definitely didn’t resemble the skeletons I’ve seen of the animal. At present I’m about halfway through the book, although I can’t say I’m overly optimistic about the rest of it improving in overall quality, although I will try not to let the first half spoil the second if it indeed improves.





Homo sapiens: The Evolution of What We Think About Who We Are

11 08 2007

[Note: I definitely didn't expect the welcome reception this post has received from so many notable bloggers! Thank you all for your support and compliments. I took a few snapshots and have uploaded them, although I admit they are not of the best quality. I will come up with some better versions of these images when I have more time this week.]

Pondering
From the Wellcome Images Collection

How many ribs do humans have? Despite it being a fairly straightforward answer, you may get different replies depending on who you ask. Few people will know the exact number (12 pairs), but a surprisingly large amount of people might tell you that while women have a full set, men come up one short. Basic anatomy proves this to be wrong, but then again most people have not studied basic anatomy, so where would such an idea come from?

20: And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.

21: And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;

22: And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.

23: And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.

– Genesis 2:20-23

It almost sounds like a Neo-Lamarckian belief; that because God took a rib from Adam (whether it was just one or one pair, the book does not say) to make Eve in the second Genesis creation story, all men should inherit the trait of missing one rib. In fact, it is possible (even likely) that the “rib” taken from Adam was not one of the bones in his chest at all, but rather a mythical baculum (or “penis bone“), which is present in most mammals but missing in man and a few others. Despite the Bible being opaque on the topic of general anatomy, however, the belief that the number of ribs in men and women are different is widespread and I am often met with astonished faces when I tell people who accept the idea that there is no difference between the sexes in that respect at all. Outside of a widespread unfamiliarity with basic human anatomy, the belief shows us something else; that just as Homo sapiens has evolved, so too have our ideas about ourselves, and vestiges of past beliefs still remain in the skeletal structure of our understanding.

Skeleton
From William Cheselden’s The Anatomy of Bones. This image also graces the cover of my copy of William Paley’s Natural Theology.

Although the Genesis account of the creation of man is probably the most familiar, it is far from being original. The concepts found in the first chapters of the book of Genesis correlate surprisingly closely to earlier beliefs of the Chaldeans and Babylonians, from the differing orders of the two creation accounts to the dispersal at the Towel of Babel. Seeing that the myths from which the Genesis account derive no longer exist in their original form, however, we will start our intellectual foray with the set of beliefs that rails against science even to this day; that humans were specially created by God less than 10,000 years ago, from little more than some dirt and a rib. As alluded to before, the accounts of the creation of humans contradict each other and cannot be reconciled (as many apologists attempt to do) by saying that the account given in Genesis 1 is merely an overview or outline, with Genesis 2 filled in the details.

If we look at Genesis 1, God creates plant life (before the “lights in the firmament”), then life in the water and the air, then all the “beasts” and “creeping things” (of which there are many more than the beasts), and then both sexes of Homo sapiens simultaneously;

27: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

The God of Genesis 2 does things a little differently (perhaps even taking a more pragmatic approach). We are told that because there was “no man to till the ground,” there was no point in creating plants on earth before people. Thus God watered the entire face of the earth and then created man, “planting” the man in Eden. It might be impious to think this way, but whenever I read that verse (Genesis 2:8) I can’t help but imagine a gigantic hand picking up Adam by the scruff of his neck and literally placing him back down in the Garden. Imagery aside, God then populates the Garden with plant life (which in Genesis 1 was long established on earth before Adam came to be), and then decides that it isn’t good to have Adam wandering around Eden by himself. We are told that God then created all the “beasts of the field” and “fowl of the air” and had Adam name them (but neglected to form a proper system of taxonomy or systematics), but no “help mate” was to be found. Then comes to famous rib-story (see above), things finally being set right in Eden, at least until that whole forbidden-fruit business. Despite the strange inconsistencies, in both accounts humans are the crowning achievements of the Creation, told to “subdue” the planet and to reproduce in order to fill it. This idea of trampling nature beneath our heel has resonated with people for thousands of years, although theology has twisted various aspects of Genesis this way and that to suit certain needs.

Indeed, while Adam and Eve were supposed to be the ancestors of all humanity, some groups of people were left out of the picture. Just like certain lower classes of people in other cultures were said to be formed from the “dirt of the body” particular gods, denoting their inferior existence, people with darker skin were deemed to be bearing the “Mark of Cain” or to be “Sons of Ham,” in either case slavery being justified for the sins of the proginator of that line. Thankfully this view has now largely been abandoned, although vestiges of such superstitions remain today (and equality wasn’t even given to these people until the middle of the last century in the United States). Racism and the Biblical justifications for it is another complex issue however, and it is only mentioned here to elucidate the point that even in theology, the origins of man have not always been used for good or just ends.

Progress
The first section of the original “March of Progress” from F. Clark Howell’s Early Man

While basic researches into ancient Egypt and other cultures began to show that the chronology determined by Lightfoot, Ussher, and others was far too short to be accurate, our place as a special creation didn’t start to be truly challenged until the remains of ancient peoples unlike ourselves began to be discovered. Fossils found by many cultures had long been thought to be evidence of gods, titans, giants, dragons, and monsters (see Adrienne Mayor’s The First Fossil Hunters), but these remains seemed to be more curiosities or holy relics than the remains of people more ancient than anyone then conceived of. Andrew D. White tells us in his masterwork A History of the Warfare of Science With Theology in Christendom;

In France, the learned Benedictine, Calmet, in his great works on the Bible, accepted ["the doctrine that fossils are the remains of animals drowned at the Flood"] as late as the beginning of the eighteenth century, believing the mastodon’s bones exhibited by Mazurier to be those of King Teutobocus, and holding holding them valuable testimony to the existence of the giants mentioned in Scripture and of early inhabitants of the earth overwhelmed by the Flood.

Even in the 1854 edition of Gideon Mantell’s Medals of Creation, fossil remains of humans are not mentioned because they seemed to be conspicuously lacking. In the “Retrospect” of the book Mantell writes;

But of MAN and his works not a vestige appears throughout the vast periods embraced in this review. Yet were any of the existing islands or continents to be engulphed in the depths of the ocean, and loaded with marine detritus, and in future ages be elevated above the waters, covered with consolidated mud and sand, how different would be the characters of those strata from any which have preceded them! Their most striking features would be the remains of Man, and the production of human art – the domes of his temples, the columns of his palaces, the arches of his stupendous bridges of iron and stone, the ruins of his towns and cities, and the durable remains of his earthly tenement imbedded in the rocks and strata – these would be the “Medals of Creation” of the Human Epoch, and transmit to the remotest periods of time a faithful record of the present condition of the surface of the earth, and of its inhabitants.

This doesn’t mean that the remains of humans were not thought to be found, however. In an earlier chapter on reptiles (being that amphibians were included within the reptiles in Mantell’s work), the author writes;

A celebrated fossil of this class is the gigantic Salamander (Cryptobranchus), three feet in length found at Ceuingen, which a German physician of some note (Scheuchzer) supposed to be a fossil man!

Mantell
Scheuchzer’s tricky salamander, from the 2nd volume of Mantell’s Medals of Creation.

The view of fossils began to change, however, as creatures were found that could not simply be considered giants, gods, or heroes. A.D. White quotes Dr. Anton Westermeyer’s The Old Testament vindicated from Modern Infidel Objections as follows;

“By the fructifying brooding of the Divine Spirit on the waters of the deep, creative forces began to stir; the devils who inhabited the primeval darkness and considered it their own abode saw that they were to be driven from their possessions, or at least that their place of habitation was to be contracted, and they therefore tried to frustrate God’s plan of creation and exert all that remained to them of might and power to hinder or at least, to mar the new creation.” So came into being “the horrible and destructive monsters, these caricatures and distortions of creation,” of which we have fossil remains. Dr. Westermeyer goes on to insist that “whole generations called into existence by God succumbed to the corruption of the devil, and for that reason had to be destroyed”; and that “in the work of the six days of God caused the devil to feel his power in all earnest, and made Satan’s enterprise appear miserable and vain.”

Indeed, although the first known remains of Megalosaurus were confused to be the enormous testicles of an “Antediluvian Giant,” the rest of the skeletal remains found by Dr. Buckland (and those of Iguanodon found by Mantell) showed that these animals could not be considered to be characters introduced to us in the Biblical narrative of creation or history. While evolution or “transmutation” of species was not yet ready to make its full appearance on the scientific stage, some did recognize the fossils as representing animals long gone, and the concept of extinction that Cuvier did so much to establish became essential to scientific thought and was a great victory over the religious dogma that God would not create a “kind” of animals and then let them be destroyed. This does not mean that other explanations of these remains were not legion, however.

Despite his contributions to marine biology, Philip Henry Gosse published one of the most infamous attempts to reconcile the geologic column with a historically-accurate Genesis account in his 1857 book Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot. Taking the reader on a painfully protracted tour of creation, the author introduces us to Adam, the prose suggesting that Gosse has persuaded Adam to sit down for a full anatomical evaluation. After detailing certain aspects of Adam’s anatomy (including the ever-problematic navel), Gosse tells us that every bit of Adam’s anatomy tells of a full human life, from gestation to birth to growth, but this is merely a set-up. Gosse writes;

How is it possible to avoid this conclusion? Has not the physiologist irrefragable grounds for it, founded on universal experience? Has not observation abundantly shown, that, wherever the bones, flesh, blood, teeth, nails, hair of man exist, the aggregate body has passed through stages exactly correspondant to those alluded to above, and has originated in the uterus of a mother, it foetal life being, so to speak, a budding out of hers? Has the combined experience of mankind ever seen a solitary exception to this law? How, then, can we refuse the concession that, in the individual before us, in whom we find all the phenomena that we are accustomed to associate with adult Man, repeated in the most exact verisimilitude, without a single flaw-how, I say, can we hesitate to assert that such was his origin to?

And yet, in order to assert it, we must be prepared to adopt the old Pagan doctrine of the eternity of matter; ex nihilo nihil fit. But those with whom I argue are precluded from this, by my first Postulate.

Gosse’s first Postulate being;

If any geologist take the position of the necessary eternity of matter, dispensing with a Creator, on the old ground, ex nihilo nihil fit, – I do not argue with him. I assume that at some period or other in past eternity there existed nothing but the Eternal God, and that He called the universe into being out of nothing.

All such considerations from Gosse, Mantell, and others seem to ignore that remains like, yet unlike, humans were already being discovered during the 19th century. While the most noted discovery of Neanderthals occurred 151 years ago this past week, fossils of hominids we now call Neanderthals were found in 1829 and 1848, A.D. White mentioning unspecified “human remains” being found “as early as 1835 at Cannstadt near Stuttgart” as well. Still, the remains of Neanderthals and stone tools seemed to be too close to Homo sapiens to dissuade advocates of special creation that man had evolved, although scientists were able to confirm that the origins of mankind were probably far older than anyone had previously thought.

The publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection made evolution a scientifically credible and defensible idea, however, and while he generally avoided the evolution of humans in this work (it being more important to convince readers that evolution has in fact occurred rather than offending religious sensibilities of the time head-on), he later addressed the issue directly in The Descent of Man. Darwin writes in the Summary;

Man may be excused for feeling some pride at having risen, though not through his own exertions, to the very summit of the organic scale; and the fact of his having thus risen, instead of having been aboriginally placed there, may give him hope for a still higher destiny in the distant future. But we are not here concerned with hopes or fears, only with the truth as far as our reason permits us to discover it; and I have given the evidence to the best of my ability. We must, however, acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system – with all these exalted powers – Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.

Mandrill
A Mandrill as it appears in the 2nd edition of Darwin’s The Descent of Man.

Darwin wasn’t the first to consider that men today had changed from earlier forms, although Darwin was much closer to the truth than other intellectual peers. The Ionic philosopher Anaximander proposed an idea that later would come back, in new form, as the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis. In his valuable book From the Greeks to Darwin, Henry Fairfield Osborn presents Anaximander’s thesis thusly;

He conceived of the earth as first existing in a fluid state. From its gradual drying up all living creatures were produced, beginning with men. These aquatic men first appeared in the form of fishes in the water, and they emerged from this element only after they had progressed so far as to be able to further develop and sustain themselves upon land. This is rather analogous development from a simpler to a more advanced structure by a change of organs, yet a germ of the Evolution idea is found here.

We find that Anaximander advanced some reasons for this view. He pointed to a man’s long helplessness after birth as one of the proofs that he cannot be in his original condition. His hypothetical ancestors of man were supposed to be first encased in horny capsules, floating and feeding in water; as soon as these ‘fish-men’ were in a condition to emerge, they came on land, the capsule burst, and they took their human form.

After evolution became established in both terms of fact and theory, the great fossil collectors of the late 19th and early 20th century began to come up with hypotheses as to from whence came Homo sapiens. In his Neo-Lamarckian 1896 treatise, Edward Drinker Cope proposed the following hypothesis;

The relation of this fact ["the high percentage of quadritubercular superior molars in the Malays, Polynesians, and Melanesians"] to phylogeny is to confirm Haeckel’s hypothesis of the lemurine ancestry of man. I have advanced the hypothesis that the Anthropomorpha (which include man and the anthropoid apes) have been derived directly from the lemurs, without passing through the monkeys proper. This close association of man with the apes, is based on various considerations.

Cope goes on to list some of the differences, focusing primarily on limbs and teeth, before coming to this passage;

Professor Virchow in a late address has thrown down the gage to the evolutionary anthropologists by asserting that “scientific anthropology begins with living races,” adding “that the first step in the construction of the doctrine of transformism will be the explanation of the way the human races have been formed,” etc. But the only way of solving the latter problem will be by the discovery of the ancestral races, which are extinct. The ad captandum remarks of the learned professor as to deriving an Aryan from a Negro, etc. remind one of the criticisms directed at the doctrine of evolution when it was first presented to the public, as to a horse never producing a cow, etc. It is well known to Professor Virchow that human races present greater or less approximations to the simian type in various respects… Professor Virchow states that the Neanderthal man is a diseased subject, but the disease has evidently not destroyed his race characters; and in his address he ignores the important and well-authenticated discovery of the man and woman of Spy. These observations are reinforced by recent discovery of a similar man by DuBois at Trinil in the island of Java ["Java Man," otherwise known as Pithecanthropus erectus].

Progress 2
The second part of the original “March of Progress” from F. Clark Howell’s Early Man

Cope goes on to describe the fossils, noting that the remains DuBois had found do not seem to be of a Neanderthal, and Neanderthals are sufficiently far from humans that Cope finds the scientific name Homo neanderthalensis somewhat objectionable, the more defining characteristics of Neanderthals being found nowhere in the aboriginal peoples then known. Nowhere does Cope suggest an anagenic relationship of Neanderthals or “Java Man” as a direct ancestor, although their utility in showing evolution has occurred is invaluable. Still, the fossil remains of hominids (and in turn, their ancestors) were certainly wanting during Cope’s time, but in the first half of the 20th century some scientists became to come across some bonanzas in Africa. Raymond Dart was one of the most noted scientists to study the great fossil-bearing caves from Taung, Sterkfontein, and Makapansgat in South Africa. In the fantastic book The Hunters of the Hunted?, C.K. Brain shares with us this passage of Dart’s from his early discoveries in the caves;

The fossil animals slain by the man-apes at Makapansgat were so big that in 1925 I was misled into believing that only human beings of advanced intelligence could have been responsible for such manlike hunting work as the bones revealed… These Makapansgat protomen, like Nimrod long after them, were might hunters.

They were also callous and brutal. The most shocking specimen was the fractured lower jaw of a 12-year-old son of a manlike ape. The lad had been killed by a violent blow delivered with calculated accuracy on the point of the chin, either by a smashing fist or a club. The bludgeon blow was so vicious that it had shattered the jaw on both sides of the face and knocked out all the front teeth. That dramatic specimen impelled me in 1948 and the seven years following to study further their murderous and cannibalistic way of life.

As Brain then notes, such was the murderous Australopithecus of R. A. Dart; brutal savages and cannibals, making their tools and weapons out of the bones and horns of the animals that they managed to kill. Examinations of the cave after Dart, however revealed something incredibly different from the terrifying reign of the “protomen.” Humans were, in fact, prey for a long time, many remains attributed to cannibalism instead being signs that the caves once belonged to fearsome predators. One of the most famous evidences is part of a skull with two puncture holes, nearly exactly matching the canine teeth of a leopard. Indeed, the real story seems to be a struggle for existence among the hominids found in these areas, not being very advanced in hunting at all. Nonetheless, they eventually overtook the predators (when they weren’t stealing from their kills), and came to reside in the caves themselves. Such revelations, however, would have to wait until the 2nd half of the 20th century, and there were plenty more ideas about human origins prior to Brain’s 1981 book.

Despite the progress of science there have always been “fringe” hypotheses about humans and their place in the universe, and perhaps nothing fueled crackpot claims so much as the popularity of UFOs and the possible existence of aliens on Mars during the first half of the 20th century. Humans became the products of alien engineering projects, bizarre sexual encounters between aliens and early hominids, or even aliens themselves, having no remembrance of coming from a civilization on another planet. Racist hypotheses also abounded, and there were many odd amalgamations of cherry-picked scientific discoveries and superstition.

While some were content to conjure up ideas of aliens laying down with “Lucy”, scientists continued to attempt to determine not only from what ancestors man arose from, but where those ancestors may be. A.S. Romer, in the 1933 book Man and the Vertebrates Vol. I, supports H.F. Osborn’s view that man’s origins were likely to be found somewhere in Asia. Indeed, the famous 1923 expedition undertaken to the Flaming Cliffs of Mongolia by Roy Chapman Andrews that yielded Protoceratops and so many dinosaur eggs was intended to be a search for the ancestors of humans. Romer writes;

The fossil of Tertiary tropical life is, however, still comparatively unknown. It is not only possible but extremely probable that the Asiatic hills will, upon further exploration, give us the certain knowledge we desire of the primate ancestors of man.

Despite the lack of early ancestors, however, there was enough scientific understanding for Romer to close out the 1st volume with the following words;

Man has gone far and, we trust, may go still farther along the lines of evolution. But in his every feature – brain, sense organs, limbs – he is a product of primitive evolutionary trends and owes, in his high estate, much to his arboreal ancestry, to features developed by his Tertiary forefathers for life in the trees.

Romer’s diagram of human evolution varies from that described by Cope earlier, however. While Cope saw humans evolving directly from lemur-like ancestors, Romer created a diagram of extant primates (lemurs, tarsiers, new world monkeys, old world monkeys, great apes, and man) connected by one line, each of the groups branching off from the main line leading to man and seemingly having no relation to each other. This is part of the classic model of anagenesis that seems to suggest non-stop progress to man, almost as if a vitalistic force was setting humans on a fast-track (although I am not suggesting Romer had this view or advocated it; it merely seems to be an underlying theme in such illustrations). As G.G Simpson noted in the 1950 popular work The Meaning of Evolution, however, contentious fossil remains so close to humans can easily stir up trouble;

Primate classification has been the diversion of so many students unfamiliar with the classification of other animals that it is, frankly, a mess. It involves matter of opinion on human origins and, humans being what they are, such opinions are endlessly varied and not always distinguished by competence or logic.

Simpson
G.G. Simpson’s tree diagram of primate evolution, from the 3rd edition of The Meaning of Evolution.

Simpson’s diagram of primate evolution is a bit closer to truth than Romer’s from nearly 20 years earlier, as well. It more closely resembled the “branching bush” of evolution, groups linked by common ancestors with some lineages dying out and leaving no living descendants. Still, great apes are distinguished from “early man” and the genus Homo, and given that details are not given it can’t be ascertained whether Simpson held the view that all hominids discovered by that time were linked in a straight-line of evolution. Edwin H. Colbert (also of the American Museum of Natural History), put forth a similar view in his popular work Evolution of the Vertebrates, stating;

Even though human beings may not be descended from the australopithecines as we know them, it is very possible that man arose from australopithecine-like ancestors. The origin of the human stock probably occurred in late Tertiary times, for man is essentially a Pleistocene animal. Having become differentiated from his primate relatives, man evolved during the Pleistocene period along certain lines that made him what his is today. The evolutionary development of human beings was not of great magnitude within the course of Pleistocene history; rather it was a matter of the perfection of details that set man apart from all other primates, and from all other animals for that matter.

Colbert
The hominid reconstructions as they appear in Colbert’s Evolution of the Vertebrates.

This isn’t an especially profound statement, more along the lines of “Man is different from other animals, thus different things must have happened to cause his ‘perfection,'” but it does point towards the “ladder” view of human evolution. What Colbert is essentially saying is during the latest parts of human evolution, there was a refinement of types rather than major evolutionary change, and while he doesn’t line up a point-by-point lineage some of the pictures accompanying his text do suggest a sort of anagenesis from Australopithecus to Pithecanthropus to Neanderthals to Homo sapiens. Chris Beard, in his indispensable book The Hunt For the Dawn Monkey, attributes this view of human evolutionary “progress” to Sir Wilfrid E. Le Gros Clark, quoting Clark’s work The Antecedents of Man as follows;

Among the Primates of today, the series tree shrew-lemur-tarsier-monkey-ape-man suggests progressive levels of organization in an actual evolutionary sequence. And that such a sequence did occur is demonstrated by the fossil series beginning with the early plesiadapids [so-called "archaic primates" from the Paleocene] and extending through the Palaeocene and Eocene prosimians, and through the cercopithecoid [Old World monkeys] and pongid [apes] Primates of the Oligocene, Miocene, and Pliocene, to the hominids of the Pleistocene. Thus the foundations of evolutionary development which finally culminated in our own species, Homo sapiens, were laid when the first little tree shrew-like creatures advanced beyond the level of the lowly insectivores which lived during the Cretaceous period and embarked on an arboreal career without the restrictions and limitations imposed by… a terrestrial mode of life.

Potto
Skeleton of a Potto (a prosimian like a Loris) from the American Museum of Natural History

As Beard notes in his book, however, most of the hominid fossils then known were almost like bookends to a series, with the lemur-like ancestors (i.e. Notharctus from North America and Adapis from France) of later primates and the famous African and European hominids being the most well known. As countries became more open to science, however, more and more fossils came out of the ground, and Beard does note that while Africa may very well be the “cradle of humanity” in terms of hominids, if you really want to go back to the beginnings of prosimians Asia is the place to search. This somewhat vindicates those who thought that Asia would be the place to look for human ancestors, though not quite in the way they imagined. Even so, the ladder view seemed to be the favored one, at least for all fossil hominids younger than the Australopithecus. In his Vertebrate Paleontology (3rd Edition), A.S. Romer writes;

A word may be added here with regard to the nomeclature of human finds. We have freely used several generic terms for various early human finds. Such a usage implies that the forms differed widely from one another, had independent evolutionary histories, and did not interbreed – that the differences between them were not merely of species value but of such a magnitude as, for example, those between a cow and an antelope, a dog and a fox. This is absurd. Because they are so close to us, we tend to magnify differences. Actually, the differences between modern man and “Pithecanthropus” are, viewed impersonally, rather minor ones (particularly if we keep in mind the considerable variations found even today), and quite surely all types on the human line above the Australopithecus level pertain to our own genus Homo. Further, while communications between the various Old World area in which man was early present were obviously poor, and there presumably was little interbreeding and consequently (as today) a tendency for the differentiation of regional races, it seems fair to assume that throughout our long Pleistocene history, our human ancestors formed at all stages a single, if variable, group.

Despite this rather homogenous view of human evolution (the idea that Pithecanthropus falls within human variation being an idea that has reared its ugly head in modern creationism, as we’ll see later), Romer does make a distinction when it comes to Neanderthals. He writes;

A type of man definitely assignable to our own species, Homo sapiens, appeared in Europe well toward the end of the last glaciation, not more than 50,000 years or so ago. One would at first assume that he had arisen from his Neanderthal predecessor. But the contrasts are too great; there in (in Europe, at least) no evidence of transitional types; the appearance of modern man was, the evidence suggests, relatively sudden. There is every indication that the “modernized” invaders wiped out their predecessors (Tasmania is a modern parallel).

Progress 3
The third part of the original “March of Progress” from F. Clark Howell’s Early Man

Thus, during the 1960’s the evolution of man was rather ladder-like as it approached culmination, with relatively little radiation of types. The links to Australopithecus and Homo neanderthalensis as understood then were both doubted, although it was certain that humans had gone through a similar stage in the evolutionary process from the apes. Indeed, the ladder-view seemed to use representative types to show the gradation of evolution than linking all known hominids into a straight line (at least this is the impression from the popular works cited). Still, visual representations of human ancestry seemed far-more powerful than the actual text of many of these books, which brings us to the (in)famous “March of Progress.” The artwork, appearing in the 1979 Time-Life book Early Man by F. Clark Howell, certainly became iconic, and I am lucky enough to have a copy of the “Young Readers Nature Library” version of the book from my childhood. The “march,” with all members standing upright, carries this caption, and proceeds as follows;

The stages in man’s development from an apelike ancestor to the modern human being are shown in drawings on this and the following three pages. Some of the stages have been drawn on the basis of very little evidence – a few teeth, a jaw or some leg bones. However, experts can often figure out a great deal about what a whole animal looked like from studying these few remains. In general, man’s ancestors have grown taller as they became more advanced. For purposes of comparison, this chart shows all of them standing although the ones on this page [Pliopithecus through Oreopithecus] actually walked on all fours.

PliopithecusProconsulDryopithecusOreopithecusRamapithecusAustralopithecus africanusAustralopithecus robustusAustralopithecus boiseiHomo habilisHomo erectus – Early Homo sapiens – Neanderthal Man – Cro-Magnon Man – Modern Man

Progress 4
The final part of the original “March of Progress” from F. Clark Howell’s Early Man

Proconsul
Skull of Proconsul from the American Museum of Natural History

The inclusion of “Early Homo sapiens” before “Neanderthal Man” is a strange one, and even on the following pages australopithecines are shown living during the same time or exhibiting variation. While the author and artists of the book may not have meant to show that all the primates in their line evolved directly from their predecessors in line, the power of the image overwhelmed any explanation, and the image certainly became iconic. Evolutionary scientists did not sit idly by while a fallacious notion of human evolution was promulgated, however; Stephen Jay Gould opens his 1989 book on the Cambrian fauna Wonderful Life with his astonishment that his books, translated into other languages, bear the incorrect image. Gould writes;

The march of progress is the canonical representation of evolution – the one picture immediately grasped and viscerally understood by all. This may best be appreciated by its prominent use in humor and in advertising. These professions provide our best test of public perceptions. Jokes and ads most click in the fleeting second that our attention grants them. …

Life is a copiously branching bush, continually pruned by the grim reaper of extinction, not a ladder of predictable progress. Most people may know this as a phrase to be uttered, but not as a concept brought into the deep interior of understanding. Hence we continually make errors inspired by unconscious allegiance to the ladder of progress, even when we explicitly deny such a superannuated view of life. …

First, in an error that I call “life’s little joke”, we are virtually compelled to the stunning mistake of citing unsuccessful lineages as classic “textbook cases” of “evolution.” We do this because we try to extract a single line of advance from the true topology of copious branching. In this misguided effort, we are inevitably drawn to bushes so near the brink of total annihilation that they retain only one surviving twig. We then view this twig as the acme of upward achievement, rather than the probable last gasp of richer ancestry.

Gould as absolutely right; the iconic imagery of the “March” is so wrong, yet so easily understood, that it survives even when it is inaccurate. Creationists use it as a symbol of evolution (or, more often, mistakes evolutionary scientists have made), while satirists often use it to show the “devolution” of one group or another, and I doubt that the overall imagery will lose its utility anytime soon. If nothing else, the lesson we must learn from “The March of Progress” is that we are to use the utmost care in selecting visual representations of evolution, for one image can stay in the collective understanding (or misunderstanding) of a subject even when it’s accuracy has long passed the expiration date.

Going back to the thoughts of human evolution during the 60’s and 70’s, the life of earlier hominids was deemed to be a violent one, centering around man as the hunter. Without the ability to hunt as a group on dangerous African plains, we wouldn’t have advanced to our current state, requiring plenty of red meat to provide human ancestors more protein for their growing brains (or so was the logic, anyway). Some people, however, didn’t buy into this view that humans owe everything that evolution bestowed upon them to the Great Hunter, and so a feminist reaction was proposed; the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis. Centuries after Anaximander proposed his own views on the aquatic nature of man, Alister Hardy presented a lecture on “Aquatic Man: Past, Present, and Future” in 1960, and soon after he presented the idea to the public in a series of articles for New Scientist magazine.

The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis did not really take off, however, until a writer named Elaine Morgan published the book The Descent of Woman in 1972. Hardly a scientific work, the book focused more on a rejection of male-centered anthropology, and Donna Kossy provides an excerpt of Morgan’s prose in the book Strange Creations;

She knew at once she wasn’t going to like it there. She had four hands better adapted for gripping than walking and she wasn’t very fast on the ground. She was a fruit eater and as far as she could see there wasn’t any fruit… She never thought of digging for roots – she wasn’t very bright. She got thirsty, too, and the water holes were death traps with large cats lurking hopefully around them. She got horribly skinny and scruffy-looking.

…The only thing she had going for her was the fact that she was one of a community, so that if they all ran away together a predator would be satisfied with catching the slowest and the rest would survive a little longer.

What then, did she do? Did she take a crash course in walking erect, convince some male overnight that he must now be the breadwinner, and back him up by agreeing to go hairless and thus constituting an even more vulnerable and conspicuous target for any passing carnivore? Did she turn into the Naked Ape?

Of course, she did nothing of the kind. There simply wasn’t time. In the circumstances, there was only one thing she could possibly turn into, and she promptly did it. She turned into a leopard’s dinner.

With piercing squeals of terror she [a different ancestral ape] ran straight into the sea. The carnivore was a species of cat and didn’t like wetting his feet; and moreover, though he had twice her body weight, she was accustomed like most tree-dwellers to adopting an upright posture, even though she used four legs for locomotion. She was thus able to go farther into the water than he could without drowning. She went right in up to her neck and waited there clutching her baby until the cat got fed up with waiting and went back to the grasslands…

…One idle afternoon after a good deal of trial and error she picked up a pebble – this required no luck at all because the beach was covered with thousands of pebbles – and hit one of the shells with it, and the shell cracked. She tried it again, and it worked every time. So she became a tool user, and a male watched her and imitated her (This doesn’t mean that she was any smarter than he was – only that necessity is the mother of invention. Later his necessities, and therefore his inventiveness, outstripped hers.)

… She began to turn into a naked ape for the same reason as the porpoise turned into a naked cetacean, the hippopotamus into a naked ungulate, the walrus into a naked pinniped, and the manatee into a naked sirenian.

Morgan wrote other books on the subject and there still is a bit of a following to the idea that humans arrived in their current configuration due to an “aquatic stage” sometime in their history. Long hair on the head is for babies to cling to, large breasts float better than small ones, hairlessness makes one more streamlined, and nearly any part of the body that has been adapted this way or that, is potentially explained by life in or around the water, and even recent popular science books have taken a bit of a shine to Morgan’s hypothesis (like Survival of the Sickest). Despite the popular appeal, there is not much to the hypothesis, however, and no actual evidence to confirm it, fossil or otherwise. Indeed, it almost starts with modern female anatomy and works backwards, trying to find an explanation for this trait or that, based upon how we act in the water now, although if we were ever well-adapted to life in the sea we have lost such abilities. While Morgan was right to criticize the lack of attention given to women in terms of anthropology and evolution, her view is as extreme (if not moreso) than the one she was trying to replace.

And now we come to the present. The evolution of Homo sapiens from older species now extinct has long been established, the evolutionary history of hominids now understood to represent more of a “bush” than a ladder of progress. There are lineages that do show anagenesis or transitions from one species to another, but in the last few decades so many unexpected finds have come out of the ground that imagining human evolution to be a straight-line, deigned to produce us in our present form, is utterly ridiculous. There are still battles to be fought over which fossil fits where, what kind of dispersal early hominids had, what pressures led to our ancestors being obligate bipeds, but the competing hypotheses in such debates become more and more refined with every discovery, and the evidence supporting the fact that we have evolved cannot be overturned. This isn’t to say, however, that some trends in understanding ourselves or our ancestry haven’t changed. As I mentioned earlier, some of the diagrams of human evolution during the first half of the 20th century based themselves on living primates and prosimians, looking to them for the order in which we should place human evolution. There has been something of a return to this as of late, but in the area of evolutionary psychology rather than paleoanthropology. Chimpanzees and bonobos, after being confirmed as our closest living relatives, are often used as the two polar archetypes for our own ancestry; we were either violent like chimpanzees, horny bohemians like bonobos, or something in-between. While it is often noted that we humans have the ability to do good in spite of our evolutionary past, the authors of Demonic Males make their premise clear; all living male apes are exceedingly violent;

This helps explain why humans are cursed with demonic males. First, why demonic? In other words, why are human males given to vicious, lethal aggression? Thinking only of war, putting aside for the moment rape and battering and murder, the curse stems from our species’ own special party-gang traits: coalitionary bonds among males, male dominion over an expandable territory, and variable party size. The combination of these traits means that killing a neighboring male is usually worthwhile, and can often be done safely.

Frans de Waal, in Our Inner Ape, also recognizes our dark side, but is more of an optimist; he sees the sexual (and “peaceful”) culture of bonobos to be proof that violence is not pre-ordained for us. He writes;

That such a creature could have been produced through the elimination of unsuccessful genotypes is what lends the Darwinian view its power. If we avoid confusing this process with its products – the Beethoven error – we see one of the most internally conflicted animals ever to walk the earth. It is a capable of unbelievable destruction of both its environment and its own kind, yet at the same time it possess wells of empathy and love deeper than ever seen before. Since this animal has gained dominance over all others, it’s all the more important that it takes an honest look in the mirror, so that it knows both the archenemy it faces and the ally that stands ready to help it build a better world.

While chimpanzees and bonobos are our closest living relatives, we proceeded on our own line of evolution for at least 4,000,000 years, evolving on an apparently accelerated trajectory while our evolutionary “cousins” have not been adapted in exactly the same way. This is not an appeal to say that humans are so distinct that we should not look to living primates for answers about why we are as we are, but rather that we must also keep the long view in perspective. Exclusively using the behavior of living apes to work backwards to the behavior of our own ancestors treats the subject as if chimpanzees and bonobos our are ancestors, one of the biggest mistakes still made by people unfamiliar with how evolution works. Speaking of the “If we’re evolved, why are there still monkeys?” argument, it is now time to look at modern creationism and its view of human evolution.

As covered at the beginning of this post, the contradictory Genesis accounts tell of humans being created at some point in the past by the Judeo-Christian God, exactly when this event occurred being inferred from chronologies in the Bible. Still, how could such stories stand up to the weight of scientific evidence for our own evolution? The truth of the matter is that it cannot, but that has not stopped some from trying to bring us back to a reliance on Genesis. The first unsuccessful attempt to debunk human evolution I came across was in Jonathan Wells’ odious work Icons of Evolution, which bears a scaled-down version of the “March of Progress” on its cover. In the chapter discussing this particular “icon”, Wells notes that he is familiar with Gould’s rejection of the ladder-view of human evolution in Wonderful Life, but this does not seem to be sufficient for Wells. He engages in the following rhetoric in trying to make his case;

But how does Gould know that extinctions are accidents? On the basis of fossil evidence, how could he possibly know? Clearly, it takes more than a pattern in the fossil record to answer sweeping questions about direction and purpose – even if we knew for sure what those patterns are. And even if extinctions are accidents, does that rule out the possibility that evolution is goal-oriented? Everyone’s death is contingent; does that make everyone’s birth and life an accident? The continued existence of the human species is contingent on many things: That we don’t blow ourselves up with nuclear weapons, that the earth isn’t struck by a large asteroid, and that we don’t poison our environment, among other things. But it doesn’t follow that our very existence is an accident, or that human life is purposeless.

In this metaphysical muddle Wells offers up no evidence that extinctions have a purpose, that evolution is goal-oriented, or that human life has an inherent “purpose.” Indeed, he acts with such incredulity that he seemingly expects it to be contagious, luring the reader in with a string of absurd questions. There is no sign of evolution (or extinction) occurring as a part of a plan or having an ultimate goal and mind, and even if there was some sort of “directing force” to evolution it would seem to be an awfully wasteful process, never ensuring the permanence of a species (and would evolution, therefore, have an end?). What Wells essentially does is dress up Gould’s argument from Wonderful Life as a straw man, and apparently he doesn’t realize that Gould beat him to the punch about the famous illustration (and much more accurately, too) over a decade before Wells published his own book.

Young Earth Creationist ministries, like the well-known Answers in Genesis, take a slightly different approach; goading based upon the perceived authority of the Bible. In his tract The Lie, AiG leader Ken Ham includes cartoon after cartoon of the Bible being set up as the foundation for everything Christians believe, evolution being (often comically) set up as the origins of murder, abortion, and all sin. According to this view, even Old Testament figures like King David fell under the “evil influence” of evolution when they committed various sins, even though Darwin would not even be born until centuries later. The book states;

Society depends on moral foundations. By a mutual agreement which has sometimes been called a “social contract,” man, in an ordered and civilized society, sets limits to his own conduct. However, when such obligations are repudiated and the law collapses along with the order it brings, what option has the man who seeks peace? The psalmist is looking at the fact that whenever the foundations of society are undermined, then what have good and righteous men done to prevent its impending collapse?

Indeed, AiG sets the stakes high; nothing less than the existence of “civilized” and moral society rests on the battle being fought over evolution by creationists. Even those who accept evolution and are Christians are deemed to be compromisers, and generally looked down upon despite shared central theological beliefs. While the argument that there can be no morality without religion is certainly fallacious, it is a powerful concept, deeply tied to the evangelical desire to “save” those who have not accepted Jesus as God. What is even more surprising, however, is that creationists often state this weakness in their thought process up front; in the Young Earth Creationist view, nothing can contradict the Bible, and so anything that seems contradictory to accepted doctrine (which has, of course, been interpreted from the Bible by people) has to either be shoved into the Bible or dismissed as a lie or hoax. Case in point; AiG’s new geologist Andrew Snelling once tried to address the lack of human remains intermingled with those of dinosaurs and other fossil creatures from ages past (they should have been mixed together by the Flood) by stating that God made sure that no human remains survived the Flood so they would not be worshiped if found by subsequent generations of survivors. He wrote;

It would seem to us unloving of God to execute such relentless judgment, but such is God’s abhorrence of sin that its penalty must be seen for what it is—utter destruction and removal of all trace. If God cannot tolerate sin (His holiness cannot ‘look’ on sin), then all trace of sin has to be removed in judgment, which necessitates utter destruction. Should human remains have been allowed to survive the Flood as fossils, then there could also have been the possibility of such remains being worshiped and revered.

But what about the hominid remains that we do find? These are usually said to be “degenerate” people dispersed from the Tower of Babel, as God confused the languages of the people trying to build a tower to reach to heaven and dispersed them, feeling excessively threatened by the attempt for some reason (it is likely that those who wrote the Babel story thought God lived on the firmament in the vault of heaven, a place that actually could be reached if you just built high enough). It has even been argued that if you were to see a Neanderthal today on a subway, you would probably think them a boxer or wrestler, never being the wiser to the fact that you’re looking at another species. Generally members of the genus Homo are incorporated into such arguments, with the more basal Australopithecus and Paranthropus being relegated to merely being “apes.” In The Amazing Story of Creation From Science and the Bible, creationist-celebrity Duane Gish writes;

However, evolutionists’ faith in their theory makes it necessary for them to believe that a tooth, or a piece of skull, or a jawbone, or some other fossil bone came from a creature partway between ape and man. When all of the evidence is carefully and thoroughly studied by the best scientific methods, however, it turns out that these fossils were either from monkeys, apes, or people, and not from something that was part ape and part human.

This assertion is importance not only because it shows the YEC need to shoe-horn various hominids into the three categories mentioned above, but also because it involves one of creationism’s big tricks; trying to equate science with religion. If scientists can be said to “believe” in evolution, or have “faith” that more fossils will be found, then it becomes easy to make it sound like a parallel belief system to Christianity, evolution just being a secular creation myth. This, of course, is far from the truth, but many are easily drawn into this idea as all religions that are not Christian must therefore be incorrect by definition, once again putting the cart before the horse when considering the natural world. Young Earth Creationists aren’t the only ones attempting to refute evolution, however. Hugh Ross is a famous Old Earth Creationist, and his hypotheses are neither here nor there. Rejecting both evolution and the idea that the earth is less than 10,000 years old, Ross holds that Adam and Eve really were created by God just like the Bible says, only 7,000 to 60,000 years ago. As for other hominids, Ross puts them in a separate category with other animals, the primarily dividing factor being a lack of a relationship with God. In The Genesis Question Ross writes;

Although bipedal, tool-using, large-brained primates roamed Earth for hundreds of thousands (perhaps a million) years, religious relics date back only about either thousand to twenty-four thousand years. Thus, the anthropological date for the first spirit creatures agrees with the biblical date.

Thought most anthropologists still insist that the bipedal primates were “human,” the conflict lies more in semantics than in research data. Support for their views that modern humans descended from these primate species is rapidly eroding. Evidence now indicated that all bipedal primates went extinct, with the possible exception of Neanderthal, before the advent of human beings. As for Neanderthal, the possibility of a biological link with humanity has been conclusively ruled out.

Only such Neanderthal/Homo sapiens interactions, however improbable, haven’t been conclusively ruled out. There are strong arguments from both sides, and at present it doesn’t appear that we’ll be able to come up with a definitive answer. Still, Ross’ stance is just as silly as that of the YEC’s; he concedes scientific evidence for an old earth and universe, yet evolution is still too much of a detestable idea to be taken seriously. It’s not surprising that AiG issued a book, twice the length of Ross’ original, entitled Refuting Compromise, presenting a point-by-point breakdown of Ross’ arguments. All this is a great waste of intellect and paper, but I’m sure Jonathan Sarfati and Hugh Ross would say the same about what I’m doing here.

There is still at least one more trick in the creationist toolkit, however; bringing up past hypotheses that have been refuted or fossil lineages that have been changed and claiming that scientists are either ignorant or liars. Such is the setup provided to Jonathan Wells by the apologist Lee Strobel, who prides himself on being a “Devil’s Advocate” when he actually presents those he interviews with straw man after straw man. In the numbingly boring book The Case for a Creator, Strobel concocts a story of how he was convinced that evolution was true because of a reconstruction of “Java Man” (whom we’ve already met, see above), only to have Jonathan Wells crush his childhood memories of Pithecanthropus. he writes;

As I leaf back through my time-worn copies of the World Book from my childhood, I can now see how faulty science and Darwinian presuppositions forced my former friend Java man into an evolutionary parade that’s based much more on imagination than reality. Unfortunately, he’s not the only example of that phenomenon, which is rife to the point of rending the record of supposed human evolution totally untrustworthy.

I guess Strobel couldn’t be bothered to update himself on evolutionary theory between the time he received his World Book and when he met Wells, and if his “faith” in a topic can be so easily manipulated, I wonder why anyone considers him a good apologist. Still, creationists continue to bring up historical mistakes like “Nebraska Man” as if such errors were to strike terror into the hearts of scientists everywhere. Outside of the outright lies, however, Strobel’s prose shows us another important side to creationist tactics in trying to undermine evolution; science is not to be trusted at all. This strategy, like those mentioned before, works because it appeals to sentiments probably already held by many evangelicals, primarily that the Bible is the source of all truth and holds the answer to every conceivable question, any sort of knowledge or understanding produced by man being inherently flawed and untrustworthy. The fact that the Bible requires interpretation and that theology is constantly changing, however, does not seem to register, and so the evolution of humans is denied simply because the idea is unsavory.

And that, my friends, bring this post to a close. Despite the amount of resources I’ve used from my personal library, this is hardly an exhaustive study; I have largely ignored major fossil finds in order to focus on the ideas surrounding our own evolution, and any more detail would have greatly prolonged this post. What I hope to have shown, however, is that science does not crumble when taxa are reassigned or a new fossil shows up where it was not expected; it only furthers our understanding. If a hypothesis is shown to be false, then that is one more thing that we now understand to be wrong, therefore improving our knowledge and understanding. Some will continue to consider this a source of weakness, but as we are not gods, the constant desire to improve our understanding of nature is the best that we can hope for, and the correction of old ideas is what science thrives on. What would be the alternative? To hold on to favored ideas even when they’ve been proven wrong, hoping that the mere devotion to a notion would make it true? Such an idea is far from being unproductive; it is dangerous. Fossil finds will continue to be made, the genome will continue to be searched for clues to our evolution, and scientists will continue to ask questions, being both amazed but never satisfied by the latest information as to the history of life on earth.

Me
The author taking his place among the transitional forms in the branching bush that is hominid evolution, taken at the American Museum of Natural History.








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