Thursday, September 28, 2006

 

A Silly Creationist Article

Some of you may be familiar with a website called Playfuls.com. For whatever reason its a prominantly listed byline on Goolge News. The recent announcement of Selam, the 3.3 mya australopithecine child from Dikika, elicited news stories from all major and minor news services as well as many popular scientific magazines such as Scientific American and National Geographic, but the lead story listed by Google News regarding Selam was from the Science and Technology page at Playfuls.com. It therefore, was the first report regarding this important paleoanthropological story seen by literally millions of on-line viewers. And, much to the discredit of Google News, what a doozie of misinfomation and sham anti-scientific, creationist gibberish it was!

Below is a verbatim copy of the account with my appended comments in bold type.

Every television, every Internet radio or news site (including Google News) has been stuffed with fresh details from about 3 million years ago concerning a…skeleton. Which should have been our eldest ancestor.

The specimen, dated to approximately 3.3 mya, is not considered by any knowledgeable commentator to be “our eldest ancestor.” The author should take an elementary Anthropology class at any college or university in which he will find out that there are far older fossils within our direct ancestry.

The bones discovered in Ethiopia are now thought to be the oldest ever discovered, with an estimated age of 3.3 million years. That is 150,000 years before Lucy in Dikika area, North Eastern Ethiopia, Dr. Zeresenay Alemseged of the Max Plank Institute in Leipzig, Germany, said.

No. They are not the oldest ever discovered. Fossils attributed to Australopithecus afarensis from Laetoli in Kenya are dated to approximately 3.7 mya while fossils attributed to Au. anamensis in Kenya are dated to 4.2 mya. Older material attributed to Ardipithecus from Ethiopia is dated between 4.4-5.8 mya.

If you didn’t know this by now, Lucy (her bones to be more exact) was considered until the recent dig from her “natal” country the oldest of OUR ancestors. The scientific community that has been studying the relics from which allegedly we were born says they have now found an older ancestor, which apparently died at the age of three.

Again, wrong. Lucy is no longer considered the “oldest of OUR ancestors” and has not been so considered for over twenty years.

The skeleton was included in the primitive human ancestor category Australopithecus afarensis and Zeresenay Alemseged of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, an Ethiopian paleoanthropologist who led the team that discovered it, said about it that: "This is something you find once in a lifetime."

True. Finding a fossil specimen of this sort is exceedingly rare and a “once in a lifetime” discovery for whomever does so.

Apparently, this relic offers clues about how the line between ape and human got blurred in the past. From the waist down, the skeleton looks like a human's. But her upper body had many apelike features: a small brain, a nose flat like a chimpanzee's and a face long and projecting. Her finger bones were curved and almost as long as a chimp's.
Basically correct. Australopithecines do show a mix of ancestral “ape-like” and derived “human-like” features. That’s why they are considered so important and why they serve as unequivocal evidence for the fact of human evolution.

The discovery was praised by Lucy’s discoverer, Donald Johanson, director of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University. “Clearly, we have a species in transition" and the species "sits at a critical point of human evolution."
A well stated comment by Dr. Johanson.

The first piece of the child was found on December 10, 2000 in Dikika area. Recovering the partial skeleton, however, required intensive searching and sifting over four successive field seasons from 2000-2004, said the leader of the team of paleoanthropologists.
No comment. Simple reiteration of what’s been reported.

Some parts of the skeleton are missing-the pelvis, the lowest part of the back and parts of the limbs-but what is preserved is remarkably complete. The brain case, the lower jaw with most of its teeth, both collar bones, many vertebrae and ribs, the fingers, both kneecaps and the delicate bone that holds open the throat, called the hyoid, are all present.
Should also mention the well-preserved scapulas (shoulder blades).

"One must travel forward in time more than 3 million years, to a Neanderthal infant from Dederiyeh, Syria, to find a comparably complete infant skeleton," anthropologist Bernard Wood of George Washington University wrote in an editorial for Nature.

True.

"We don't often get the opportunity to see a 3 to 4 million-year-old hominid in the course of growing up," Wood said in an interview. "This fossil is a bright beam of light on the problem of human growth and development and how it evolved."

True.

The fossil has been named "Selam", which means peace in Ethiopia's official Amharic language.

"The scientific significance of the finding is multifold, contributing substantially to our understanding of the morphology, body plan, behavior, movement and development patterns of our early ancestors," Dr. Zeresenay said.

"Reconstruction of an entire body of a three-year-old Australopithecus afarensis child would take place after full cleaning and preparation of the fossil," he added.
At least the above passages are all standard reportage that needs no comment in this context. But now comes the "craziness."

But, allow me to express some scientific doubts concerning not only the remains of the so-called human ancestors, but also about the entire evolutionary theory involved in explaining how human kind appeared.
This is where things get totally confused. First off the doubts about to be expressed are anything but scientific, as they are not based on objective evidence but the subjective belief system of the commentator.

First, I do agree that evolution is a certain and palpable fact in every domain of life, as we know it. It has rules that are beyond doubt and can even be seen in action during our life cycle.

OK, so far, a certain concession to a reality based world, but don't hold your breadth.

But these rules are just so primitive to explain the complexity of the human being, as known by the same scientific community. Paleoanthropologists think that at one moment in time, apes separated from their humanoid counterparts and evolved differently.
Aha, human exceptionalism incarnate! But let us not digress. It must first be rebutted that the so-called “rules” of evolution are anything but primitive. Evolutionary processes involve many complex interactions within the genome and between communities of organisms and the ever changing environmental conditions they encounter. Evolutionary biologists are the first to admit that we have much to learn regarding how evolution takes place and that it is not a simple process. All living things on earth have evolved “complexity” of one sort or another and many species of vastly different sorts have adaptations as complex or more complex than those of us humans. We have unique features that distinguish us, but so do all forms of life, a topic that could be elaborated upon ad infinitum.

Moreover, the commentator has a fundamental misunderstanding of what Paleoanthropologists “think”. We do not think that “apes” and “their humanoid counterparts” separated from one another at a specific “moment in time,” that’s just plain silly, as if there was some line drawn in the sand seperating one from the other. The ancestors of our closest living relative among the apes, the chimpanzee, and our ancestors began to gradually diverge from one another about 6 mya. It can be assumed that the divergence between the two lineages was at first virtually imperceptible. It may have taken hundreds of thousands of years before the two lineages became distinct from one another at the species level. Speciation does not occur “overnight” as the commentator presupposes. Now comes the old creationist saw "if humans evolved from apes why are there still apes?"

But this raises some serious questions, among which many of you might find familiar interrogations: why apes evolved so little during the same period in which “humanoid apes” allegedly evolved so dramatically? What triggered such separation (was it the environment, the social interaction of those “special apes” or a conglomerate of factors) and are we ever going to find the famous “missing link” that united the two species?
Firstly, the fossil record shows that living apes have evolved quite a bit from their Miocene ancestors. Human ancestors until about 2 mya were in fact very “ape-like” in most features other than the way they moved around on two legs. Our dramatic evolution towards the modern human condition began millions of years after our lineage split from the last common ancestor we shared with chimps. The old saw of “why are there still apes if we evolved from them?” shows a profound ignorance of how evolution takes place. Some lineages retain many ancestral features, while other lineages evolve new features as they adapt to different conditions. Fish appeared before the land dwelling vertebrates which evolved from them, so why are there any fish left in the world? This is a specious argument, i.e. for the unschooled it has the ring of truth or plausibility but for anyone remotely familiar with modern biology it is totally fallacious. What triggered the divergence of chimp and human ancestors from our shared last common ancestor is a subject of continuing research and debate but that is what science is all about. As for the “missing link” between apes and humans, modern biologists and anthropologists understand that there was no such thing. There was a last common ancestor of chimps and humans that was a unique species unto itself. There were transitional forms between this last common ancestor and the sequence of fossil species leading to modern humans. The idea of a “missing link” between apes and humans is an old discredited idea that few if any serious scientists still hold. The phrase should be discarded. In fact, if you still want to use the term, the human fossil record is actually full of “missing links” between more ancestral and more derived human species.

But what about the “missing link”? Was it a single individual that has “given birth” to a whole new species, whose genome would modify repeatedly in such short time and eventually become us? According to the verified laws of genetics, modifications in a species’ genome take place rather randomly and in order for these modifications to “live” a multitude of favorable factors have to occur to make that species adopt on a large scale the new features (we are talking about a certain “inertia” of a species, which protects it from potentially aberrant “evolutions”).
Again, a complete misunderstanding of evolutionary biology. What the commentator is suggesting is the long discredited “hopeful monster” hypothesis that has not had any adherents for more than half a century. No one suggests that a new species is “born” overnight. That’s just a thinly veiled modified form of creationism. The whole notion is contrary to modern evolutionary thinking. The rest of the comments are directed against this straw man.

One key feature for a genetic modification to resist is to be adaptative. The famous missing link should have found its way better into the world and this should have been the reason for its thriving and evolution. But this also means two things: the interaction with the “former-species” should have been abruptly and bilaterally suppressed, and the ape species must have been way inferior to the apes we know today.

This is a very confused passage. As stated above, there was no “missing link”. There was no sustained interaction between chimp and human ancestors after they began diverging from one another. In fact it was the lack of interaction between the two incipient species that led to their divergence from one another, as they adapted to differing sets of conditions. Speciation is a result of the imposition of barriers between populations that were once united by gene flow. It can be assumed that some geographical barrier may have led to the initial divergence of the chimp and human lineages. The rest of the comments in this paragraph show a profoundly naïve misunderstanding of how species originate and diverge from one another.

Arguments: an interaction between our primitive ancestors and the apes from which they supposedly evolved would have lead to some sort of annihilation between the “new” and the “old” The individuals would wither sexually interact (and since we are discussing about a small minority of humanoid individuals their new features would again fall into oblivion when confronted with the majority’s) or the new “smarter” minority would begin hunting down their ape-relatives for food.
This paragraph is complete gibberish and does not deserve comment.

I have no intention of exhausting the questions or arguments against or in favor of evolutionism in this article. But I have to warn you that evidence points towards where we want them to point. If we want to believe that our grand-grand-grand…father was a monkey, we will search for a proof to sustain our belief. But if we believe in God we already have the proof in front of us, even before we begin our search

Now, the true agenda of all creationists comes to the fore. What he is saying is that no matter what the physical evidence for evolution, including human evolution, may be, I’ll just believe whatever the hell I feel like believing. If I believe in creationism then no amount of argumentation can ever deflect me from that belief.

I honestly dislike considering myself a relative of some funny chimp, although I heard about the performances Sultan had in Kohler’s experiments. And I don’t find a reliable source of explanations for the complexity that surrounds me a partial skeleton which dates back million years ago.

Rampant prejudice and know-nothingism here.

I do have a soul and I do believe in God. I know that he created the Universe and that he created the humans. I dispatch Good from Evil because I am a moral human being, and I also know that I am far from perfection. I have come to know that on course of my evolution, but I don’t compare my evolution to an animal’s.

If only ID creationists were so honest. These articles of faith cannot be argued with, but they have nothing to do with the scientific evidence for human evolution.

The God in which I believe created me as the ultimate purpose of His entire creation and he also gave me the power to protrude His secrets with the wisdom He has endowed me with. He didn’t give that to a monkey. Moreover, he made the monkey and all other animals obey me as their master.
What kind of silly god would waste his time on the likes of us? If we have dominion over all life on earth, we’re doing a damn poor job of it as we’ve nearly driven “the monkey” and many other species to extinction in much of the world.

And no, He did not sacrifice His Son for an ape, nor is His Son a relative to a chimpanzee.

Sorry, I cannot take any of this claptrap seriously.

This is my scientific belief. I call it scientific because I have far better proof of the existence of God than I have for the existence of the famous “missing link” between me and the animal world.
This is not a scientific belief. Your proof of the existence of God is purely subjective. If you do not consider yourself part of the animal kingdom please forego all the medical advances achieved over the last century based on experiments done on animal models of human physiology. In other words, go back to the Middle Ages and live your life accordingly.

Who doesn’t believe me should go to Israel on the day the Resurrection of Jesus is celebrated by the Orthodox Church. He would then witness there how candles in the Holy Tomb kindle without “logical” explanation and their fire, along with the candles’ fire, burns without hurting those who keep their palms above. And how the Patriarch’s beard remains intact although he first enters in contact with the fire of Resurrection.
Irrelevant nonsense.

I DO believe in God but I don’t believe in Australopithecus afarensis.

‘Nuff said. I TOO DO NOT believe in Australopithecus afarensis, I accept the existence of Au. afarensis as a scientific fact, neither do I believe in God nor do I accept “his” existence as a fact, as there is no comparable evidence in support thereof.

Why even bother responding to this idiocy? I actually feel embarassed doing so. But when silliness of this sort gets widely disseminated on the web through a prominent link on the likes of Google News there needs to be some response. So be it.


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You have more patience to muddle through that crap than I, but I like the format (point counterpoint). Keep up the good work if you can stomach it. DS
 
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