In preparing my post on human evolution (hopefully covering the evolution from tree-shrews to apes to humans), I’ve been trying to get a handle on creationist explanations about fossil hominids and human evolution in general. Thus far, I haven’t gotten any straight answers about what to do with our numerous fossil relatives, human evolution usually considered to be incorrect a priori because the Bible says man was created from dust by God (Eve getting her start as a rib). If we are to accept this, however, then the problem becomes organizing and correctly identifying fossil hominids and apes, a task that creationists don’t seem up to. Given the importance of this topic, uncovering the origins of our species, I would expect that those who believe in a special creation for man would go out of their way to somehow explain where hominids like Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, and Kenyanthropus platyops came from (thanks for the correction Luca).
Instead of explanations, what I have generally found from major creationist groups like Answers in Genesis is an attempt to discredit any new hominid fossils, pointing to the various changes and discarded hypotheses as proof that scientists have no clue when it comes to the contrary. Indeed, while I have seen explanations for fossil hominids put into context of “confusion” at the Tower of Babel, this is usually downplayed; it is almost as if they’re embarrassed to say that they believe our closest fossil relatives were, in their view, “degenerate” lineages of people that are now extinct. I’ve seen this explanation in some of the creationist literature I have at home (I’ll sift through that when I have time this evening), but for now I’m going to focus on internet sources to see if there’s anything new when it comes to creationist claims about fossil hominids.
The largest creationist index I was able to find was the “Anthropology and Apeman Q&A” at the via the AiG website. The vast preponderance (if not all) the posts seem to primarily deal with criticisms of paleoanthropologists and evolutionary scientists, with little in the way of alternate explanations for the fossils. While some of our more distant ancestors are typically lumped in with apes, the only hominid more closely related to us that is mentioned is Homo neanderthalensis (Neanderthals). Given this overall inattention to fossil hominids, let’s have a look at what some of the listed articles has to say;
Man: The Image of God (1981)
In this article, Prof. John Rendle-Short proceeds to make a disjointed and largely ignorant argument that man is somewhere, spiritually and mentally, halfway between God and animals (I assume in this instance that “animals” is being used to mean “mammals” rather than all metazoans). The overall thrust of the article is that we are so unlike other animals that we can’t possibly be related biologically to them, thus meaning that we were specially created as told in Genesis, one of the key differences being “creativity.” Rendle-Short has this to say on the subject;
Animals are not creative. They endlessly reproduce a stereotyped design. A particular spider constructs a web of constant pattern. The song of a bird is species specific, or mimicry of another bird or human. No originality is demonstrated.
Apparently this man was not familiar with animal behavior or psychology at the time of writing, and I find it odd that somehow he missed the various reports of apes, elephants, and even cats that enjoy painting (I realize that many of these links were not available in 1981, although creativity in apes, at least, has been known since the 1950’s). The intellectual bias that man is somehow the only creature that exhibits any creativity has long stifled the notion that animals have emotions, can exhibit creativity, and are generally far-more complex than recognized under a strict behaviorist mindset, a bias that exists only because of our own hubris.
No Bones About Eve (1991)
This article by Carl Wieland (now of Creation Ministries International) largely says that if the genetic evidence for “Mitochondrial Eve” fits the Biblical inference of all living people being able to trace their origins back to one mother in the not-too-distant past, then creationists can accept the data pointing to such ancestry (while rejecting any data for a timeline older than 6,000 years). Other than the intellectual cherry-picking going on, the article gives us some clues as to creationist interpretations of some fossil hominids in the conclusion. Wieland writes;
Some of the ‘archaic’ skulls referred to are of the Neanderthal type. Creationists have long recognized these large-brained people as being a part of the range of variation in true humankind. Some of the other of these skulls in question, however, are classified as Homo erectus, which means that at least some of the specimens labelled in this way have to be accepted by creationists as part of the gene-pool of post-Flood humanity.
So, rather than considering Homo neanderthalensis and H. erectus as separate species, they are instead regarded as humans, the clear anatomical differences the products of regional variations that must have occurred at an astounding rate (notice that Wieland states that H. erectus would have survived the Noachian Deluge, therefore proliferating, undergoing variation, becoming extinct, and undergoing some degree of fossilization starting after the flood occurred in 2348 BC [the dispersion from the Tower of Babel is calculated at 2242 BC (figures lifted from AiG estimate)]. As would be expected, there is no actual evidence for this, the creationist assessment of the two hominid species as belonging to Homo sapiens being based entirely on the desire to avoid conflict with a narrow interpretation of the Bible.
Neandertal children’s fossils (1994)
Furthering the idea that Neanderthals were only humans that had undergone variation post-Flood, orthodontist Dr John W. Cuozzo (who is from my home state of New Jersey, no less) makes the claim that growth rates of Neanderthal children were slower than modern H. sapiens children, therefore showing that “humans” (as loosely used by creationists like Cuozzo) lived longer in ancient times. He concludes;
This whole topic is fascinating; as my book [Buried Alive: The Startling truth about Neandertal man] discusses, many of the ‘archaic’ features of some strains of ‘early man’ are very likely due to delayed maturation in early post-Flood people who still had (as the Bible record indicates) significantly longer lifespans than today.
While the article is listed as being “technical,” it is hardly that; short on scientific information and long on astonishment over the author’s proposed findings. Cuozzo’s claims are interesting to consider given the creationist model for human evolution, however, being that not only would the survivors of the Flood have to be dispersed from the Tower of Babel, but they’d have change very quickly despite delayed maturity and long life-span (dying just in time to be fossils to us).
The Caring Neanderthal (1996)
This article, by A.J. Monty White, follows in the same vein as those previously mentioned, attempting to show that Neanderthals were essentially “just like us” and not as brutish as assumed in pop culture. While Neanderthals certainly have gotten some bad press (perhaps because we ended up being the “winners” in an evolutionary sense), White goes too far when he reinforces the idea that Neanderthals were merely dispersed variations of humans;
None of this is surprising when we consider that they were not primitive evolutionary ‘links’. They were people, forced to live in harsh conditions, after the dispersal of humanity at Babel, during the great post-Flood Ice Age.
The Ice Age mention has also been something that has baffled me about creationist mythology; when did the Ice Age occur and for how long? Being that it would have had to occur in the last 4,000 years or less, it would be an awfully fast change, subsiding as quickly as it arose. Just like hominid evolution, the Ice Age is another area where creationists are conspicuously quiet. The Neanderthal explanation, however, just seems to be a variation on a previous argument that all the Neanderthal skeletons were merely H. sapiens skeletons that showed disease or were changed because of taphonomic/environmental factors, the more recent creationist articles recognizing differences but maintaining that they were well within the range of H. sapiens variation or plasticity.
AiG’s response to “Up From the Apes” (1999)
An anonymous article in response to a 1999 TIME magazine article further tries to explain away the more “primitive” tools and cultures of Neanderthals and H. erectus. The author writes;
The Bible makes it clear that all people are descendants of Adam and Eve—there are no ‘pre-Adamites’ coming before the first people. The different fossils which are distinctively human (Neanderthals, Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, etc.) must all be descendants of Adam and Eve. It is likely that many of these specimens come from the time after the Babel dispersion. Many of the resulting small people groups would find themselves without city-building technology, so would need to resort to stone tools and finding shelter in caves—as many people do even today, although they are no less intelligent than city-dwellers.
No explanation, however, is given why some dispersed groups prospered and others did not, especially in the middle of a catastrophic Ice Age (see the discussion of the previous article). Indeed, this is merely a just-so story that has no evidence to back it up, but will be readily believed by those already predisposed to agree with the “authorities” at AiG.
The non-transitions in ‘human evolution’—on evolutionists’ terms (1999)
In a 1999 article, John Woodmorappe goes beyond Neanderthals and H. erectus to envelop even more taxa into geographic variants of H. sapiens, essentially suggesting that all “transitional forms” are either clearly apes or variations of our own species, descended from Adam and Eve. He claims;
Adam and Eve, and not the australopiths/habilines, are our actual ancestors. As pointed out by other creationists [e.g., Lubenow], Homo ergaster, Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, and Homo neanderthalensis can best be understood as racial variants of modern man—all descended from Adam and Eve, and most likely arising after the separation of people groups after Babel.
This seems to exemplify the overall creationist strategy, lumping all the closest hominid relatives together as our own species, all others being apes. As more discoveries are made and more post-cranial skeletons come out of the ground, I expect that they are going to have to change their stance on this matter.
Where are all the human fossils? (1991)
Andrew Snelling, AiG’s new Flood geologist, wrote a rather odd article for the extinct Technical Journal in 1991. Attempting to address why we do not find fossils of humans and dinosaurs/trilobites/pterosaurs/etc. together, Snelling suggests the following;
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.
This is a strange claim indeed; that God selectively destroyed the remains of any people living before the Flood (being that they were sinful) for fear that the bones would be revered. I have not come across this argument outside this old article, however, and so I assume that it isn’t a central part of modern creationist dogma (although I could be very wrong). [This article did remind me of Adrienne Mayor’s book The First Fossil Hunters, however, wherein she describes how Greeks revered mammoth, Sivatherium, and other large bones as those of dead heroes and giants.]
‘Oldest’ hominid footprints show no evolution! (1993)
The Laetoli footprints are perhaps my most favorite fossil trackway (if not one of my favorite fossils), but Alexander R. Williams claims that the footprints clearly show that man was specially created and walking upright; if these prints had been made by our ancestor (or a relative of our ancestor), the prints would have been much more ape-like. This entire argument, however, is based upon the primary assumptions already discussed (i.e. AiG’s narrow reading of Genesis is historically accurate, meaning no humans lived before Adam and evolution does not occur, meaning any tracks must be, under these assumptions, made by a descendant of Adam and therefore human), and it is clear that Williams has made no effort to actually even study the fossil in question. This issue has already been discussed at Talk Origins, and from what I can tell the prints are similar overall to our own but are not identical. I’ll have another look for myself when I see the cast of the prints at the AMNH this weekend, but there is no reason to believe that the prints were made by the descendants of the mythical Adam.
A search for the “Tower of Babel” on the AiG website did not offer up anything new; indeed, all that was mentioned was how people were dispersed because because of God’s judgment, giving almost not attention to where people went, how they got there, or what happened to them. This is a huge gap in creationist apologetics, the very events surrounding the origins of man receiving far less attention than dinosaurs. Perhaps this is not surprising given than AiG seems to give a lot of attention to bringing in children, rather than trying to convince those who are already opposed. Nevertheless, the creationist model for human origins seems to hinge exclusively on man’s special creation, all the fossil finds, archaeological sties, etc. that do not fit a 6,000 year old earth being shoehorned into one far-fetched explanation or another. Being that the special creation of Adam & Eve seems central to creationist doctrine (it is among the most central of the given assumptions), perhaps they see no need to provide evidence for one of their strongest beliefs.
Just in case anyone was wondering, this post in no way endorses the previous creationist thoughts/bare hypotheses. Rather, I am trying to more fully understand creationist apologetics so I can more effectively combat their claims, although creationists seem to be long on rhetoric but short on evidence when it comes to fossil hominids. Nothing I saw even came close to sufficiently proving that Neanderthals or other hominids had to be either apes or extinct populations of H. sapiens, thus one of the most central beliefs of creationists has no foundation in reality. Like I mentioned above, I will have a look at some of the books from ICR and AiG tonight to see if there’s anything more to be learned, but I doubt it.