Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Paleoanthropology doesn’t support the idea of biological evolution

We have seen that biology doesn’t support the idea of biological evolution – that single cells changed into humans by mutations and natural selection. But what about paleoanthropology?

This post is based on the documentary movie “Dismantled” by Back2Genesis.

Paleoanthropologists at workMissing links

Since the time of Darwin many determined individuals have searched for missing links between apes and mankind. Periodically fragmentary skeletons have been found and artists reconstructions of their bones are presented to the public as undeniable evidence that mankind evolved from ape-like creatures. To scientists who study their bones these alleged transition forms are called hominins (see Appendix).

A family tree or bush is often used to represent how hominins are thought to be related. Most of the hominin species are understood by experts in the field to be evolutionary dead ends. Apes or variants of humans that went extinct, shown as broken side branches.

Paleoanthropologists generally recognize only a few hominin species in the direct human lineage. Among them are some of the most well-known discoveries such as the famous Lucy skeleton. If human evolution is a valid theory, the hominin fossils should fall along a traceable path starting with an early ape-like species such as Lucy into some form of Homo-habilis intermediate, then into the human looking Homo-erectus and Neanderthal type and finally into modern Homo-sapiens. What you may not realize is that there are leading experts in the field that contest the status of each of these alleged hominin ancestors (1) (2).

The bone fragments alleged to be Lucy - Australopithecus afarensisAustralopithecus afarensis

Let’s look at what we know of these hominins. Lucy is the nick-name given to a partial fossil skeleton discovered in 1974 at Hadar in the Afa region of Ethiopia by paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson. The bones of Lucy are believed to represent a single individual’s skeleton. Johanson claimed that Lucy belonged to an extinct population of ape-like creatures that one roamed Africa 3-4 million years ago. The species that Lucy is said to represent was named by Johanson as Australopithecus afarensis, meaning “southern ape from Afar”. To date over 400 specimens have been attributed to Lucy’s kind, afarensis. But nearly all of these consist of isolated bones or bone fragments that were found eroding out of the hillsides, jumbled together with the fossils of all kinds of African species.

With only 20% of Lucy’s skeleton preserved, it remains one of the most complete afarensis skeletons discovered. However, the bones attributed to Lucy and her kind were found disconnected and broadly scattered across the Afar landscape.

Johanson claimed that Lucy is 40% complete. But if you count the missing bones of the hands and feet, it’s actually only 20% complete. So much of it is missing. Moreover, they had to sift 20 tons of sediment. They would stream them and get rid of all the loose sediment and they would wash it by the river and they would pick out the bones that Johansen said “may” belong to Lucy’s skeleton. And there were hundreds of fragments. So they had to sift, not only 20 tons of sediment, but it was an area of about 50 square meters. So, do all those bones belong to Lucy’s skeleton? It’s an open question. In 2015 an evolutionary scientific journal showed that one of the vertebrae bones belonged to a baboon (3). But for 40 years it went un-noticed! And Lucy was reconstructed in museums around the world with that bone as part of the skeleton. Do we really know for sure if Lucy’s skeleton and the broader kind belong to the same species? We should be skeptical because today many experts in the field have written extensively in the scientific literature that afarensis appears to be a mixture of ape bones and human bones. It’s not a single species, it’s not a valid taxon  according to these evolutionary paleoanthropologists.

It is widely acknowledged that the fossils attributed to afarensis display a substantial range of variation in both size and anatomy leading many paleo experts to question whether all of the remains belong to the same species. In fact, Johanson originally reported in the journal Nature that at least two different species from separate genera were represented in his collection of bones (4). He described some of these fossils as looking virtually identical to modern humans, while other fossils he described as looking distinctly like apes.

Later, Johanson decided to reclassify all of his fossils, including the human looking bones, to a single new species which he named  Australopithecus afarensis (5). The extensive range of variation seen in these fossils was now explained as physical differences between males and females of the same species, called sexual dimorphism.

To make the story work paleoanthropologists have claimed that the larger human-looking bones belong to males that walked upright like modern humans. Whereas the smaller ape-looking bones belong to females that lived in the trees. However, experts in the field have taken issue with Johanson’s  sexual dimorphism hypothesis and have cited evidence that his original interpretation was more accurate. That afarensis is a jumble of ape and human bones.

There’s two basic camps. There’s the arboralists and the terrestrialists. The arboralists tend to emphasize the bones that have been called Lucy’s kind that looked very apish. Whereas the terrestrialists, like Johanson, emphasize the isolated bones that look more human. For example, they found a fourth metatarsal bone that looked human and claimed that it proved their model that Lucy’s kind walked upright like modern humans and therefore supports the displays we see in museums and textbooks around the world (6). To make sense of it they say that maybe the larger bones that look more human-like belong to males. And the males walked habitually upright like modern humans. And the smaller ape-looking bones belonged to females, which were more like apes and lived among the trees. But we’ve never seen a sexual dimorphism where the males locomote fundamentally different to the females. So how do we make sense of this? Well, there is a third competing view that Lucy’s kind is a mixture of ape bones and human bones. Therefore, it’s not a valid taxon. It’s not a real species. And this has been promoted by numerous experts in the field including famous paleo expert Richard Leakey and his mother Mary Leakey. In fact, even in the Journal of Human Evolution, Schmid and Häusler, leading experts in the field, suggest that afarensis, Lucy’s kind, is a jumble of multiple species, not our ancestor.

Laetoli footprints, discovered in 1976Laetoli footprints

In 1976, footprints fossilized in ash were found in Laetoli Tanzania by British paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey and were dated (using evolutionary assumptions) to be 3.7 million years old. Researchers described the Laetoli footprints as being virtually identical to those made by humans. The fossilized footprints lack a fundamental characteristic of all living apes, a grasping big toe. In describing her own discovery, Mary Leakey acknowledged that that don’t look any different to any modern human footprints, an observation that is widely acknowledged by experts in the field (Leakey: “The essentially human nature and modern appearance of the footprints were quite extraordinary”). This however presented a fundamental challenge for evolutionary scientists since modern humans are not supposed to have existed 3.7 million years ago. Such a finding would falsify the ape to mankind theory (a transition that was supposed to have occurred about 200,000 years ago).

To resolve this conflict, Johanson and colleagues claim that Lucy’s kind formed the human looking footprints in Laetoli, even though the footprints were found 1,600 km (1,000 miles) away from where Lucy was discovered in Hadar and dated over 500,000 years older. But the skeletal remains of Lucy could not substantiate their claim because the critical bones of the feet were missing!

Soon after the discovery of Lucy a large collection of fossils recovered at a separate site in Hadar cast more doubt on these claims (7). The sample included a number of hand and foot bones, including a partial foot skeleton that was assigned to Lucy’s species afarensis. In the Journal of Physical Anthropology, evolutionary anatomists Stern and Susman performed a comprehensive analysis of the hand and foot bones (8). It was clear to these researchers that the Hadar hands and feet were strikingly similar to living African apes. They concluded that there is no evidence that any living primate has long curved heavy muscled hands and feet for any purpose other than to meet the demands of full or part-time tree dwelling life. This has left evolutionists with a dilemma, which Scientific American has described as “the world’s oldest whodunit, an unsolved mystery” (9).

If Lucy’s kind cannot be credited with forming the human like Laetoli footprints, then who or what did? In an attempt to solve this mystery former researcher of the Laetoli footprints Russell Tuttle suggested a far-fetched idea. Tuttle writes in Natural History, “In any case, we should shelf the loose assumption that the Laetoli footprints were made by Lucy’s kind, Australopithecus afarensis. The Laetoli footprints hint that at least one other hominid roamed Africa at about the same time” (10). Perhaps a better explanation for why the footprints look identical to humans is that they were formed by humans. Tuttle admits that this would be the most reasonable interpretation, except for one problem. He believes the dating methods prove that ash layers were deposited long before the first humans evolved. But what if the dates obtained were wrong? As it turns out the Laetoli footprints were dated using the potassium-argon method, a radioisotope dating method that has an embarrassing track record of yielding exaggerated ages. The difference is millions of years when testing its accuracy on rocks of known age that formed recently.

Radioactive dating methods

The major problem with all the radioactive dating methods is the first assumption which is the initial conditions. It is assumed that when a volcano erupts and the lava flows over the ground that all the gases escape. And when the rock cools, you only have the parent potassium in the rock, with no argon. But of course we weren’t there in the past to test that assumption. And that’s why it’s critical that we look at present day volcanic eruptions. And one of the things we have discovered is that the argon doesn’t escape. A classic example is at Mount St Helens, which erupted in 1980. And scientists were able to watch the various lava flows building up the new dome. And a lava flow that we know erupted in 1986 was tested ten years later in 1996. When this was dated by the potassium-argon method, the whole rock gave an age of over 300,000 years and individual minerals gave ages of over one million years. This was for a rock that was only about 10 years old! That’s important because when it comes to the question of human evolution we have to remember that the bones themselves were not dated radiometerically. And often it wasn’t the rock that they were buried in because a lava flow would have melted and destroyed human bones. But we are looking at lava flows or volcanic ash deposits that are close to (in layers below of above) where human fossils are found.  The ash that’s spread out and deposited in the layer is quickly congealed. And so that material is a prime candidate for quickly locking in the excess argon. So the volcanic ash bed will invariably have problems when it’s dated with potassium-argon. So if the potassium-argon dating method cannot be trusted on recent or ancient lava flows then there is a real problem in establishing a true chronology for these supposed human ancestor fossils.

A more reasonable interpretation of the evidence is that the dating methods are unreliable. And the Laetoli footprints look human because they were formed by humans.

Skull and jaw framents of Homo habilisHomo habilis

The next alleged hominin species on the path to modern humans has traditionally been Homo habilis. The discovery of Homo habilis was announced to the world in 1964 (11). The bones were found at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. And consisted of two broken skull fragments, a deformed lower jawbone, a partial hand, and a tooth molar. Famous paleoanthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey claimed the fossils belonged to the earliest toolmaker and was given the name, “Handy man”. To this day, Homo habilis has been presented in text books as an apelike ancestor to man. Yet few people realize that there’s an ongoing debate among the paleoanthropology community regarding the status of Homo habilis (12). Most experts in the field now deny Homo habilis a position in the direct human lineage. And many others reject the validity of this species as a classification. Much of the controversy has to do with the extremely incomplete and fragmentary nature of the remains. None of the bones identified as Homo habilis were found physically connected to a more complete skeleton. The loose bones were scattered widely across the excavated area, jumbled together in a mixed bone bed containing many different species, including monkeys, extinct apes, and humans. Some of the bones are described as remarkably like those of modern humans (Nature, March 7, 1964, 201, 968). And others remarkably ape-like.

Paleo experts have attempted to resolve these contradictory findings by reassigning the appropriate bones to the extinct ape genus Australopithecus. To a growing number of experts, the fossils of Homo habilis look too much like a tree-dwelling ape to be considered a human ancestor (13). Among them is Bernard Wood world-renown evolutionary  paleoanthropologist and foremost authority on Homo habilis who has extensively studied the fossil remains for the past 50 years since its discovery. In Nature, Wood makes the following assessment, “Even with all the fossil evidence and analytical techniques from the past 50 years, a convincing hypothesis for the origin of homo remains elusive … the species is too unlike Homo erectus to be its immediate ancestor” (14). Wood has come to the firm conclusion that Homo habilis is not our ancestor.

Homo erectus

In the late 19th century Dutch anatomist Eugene Debois set off to the Indonesian island of Java. Along the banks of the Solo River he came upon a skull cap, a femur bone and a tooth. The leg bone resembled a modern human’s, but the skull cap displayed some unusual features. Debois interpreted the skull cap as having ape-like qualities and assigned the fossils to a new species that he named the Pithecanthropus erectus. The Greek name literally translates as “upright ape man”; in accordance with Debois’ conviction that humans evolved from ape-like creatures. Since then a number of specimens from Africa, Europe and Asia have been found. And all have subsequently been renamed Homo erectus reflecting its current status as the immediate ancestor to Homo sapiens. A claim that has not been substantiated by the fossil evidence.

Most of the recovered bones are highly fragmentary consisting of fragmented skulls, jaws, isolated teeth, and a single intact femur bone. Only one nearly complete Homo erectus skeleton has been found and nicknamed “Turkana Boy”, recovered in Kenya in 1984. For the first time it provided paleoanthropologists with a clearer picture of what Homo erectus looked like. The anatomy of the skeleton and overall size of Turkana Boy is unquestionably human. Dental evidence and unfused growth plates indicated to anatomists that had he lived until adulthood, he would have grown to over 6 feet tall. Experts in the field now universally acknowledge that the overall anatomy of Homo erectus overlaps extensively with modern humans. In fact, a number of evolutionary paleo experts insist on reclassifying them as Homo sapiens. In their view the skeletal features fall within the range of human variation. In addition, archaeological evidence indicated Homo erectus was able to perform sophisticated tasks and complete extraordinary feats requiring modern human intelligence including the ability to construct a seaworthy vessel and navigate significant stretches of open seas.

Artist's image of a Neanderthal womanNeanderthal man

Paleoanthropologists have traditionally interpreted Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) as a separate subhuman species. In popular movies they are portrayed as half-stooped brutish cavemen with low intelligence. Few people realize that this mental image stems from an outdated evolutionary perception that Neanderthals are a missing link between ape and mankind.

In 1908 French anatomist Marcellin Boule fraudulently arranged the bones to appear ape-like with a grasping big toe and a bent-kneed bent-hip posture. In his view, Neanderthals were a degenerate race. Too primitive to be considered Homo sapiens. Boule’s errors were eventually corrected. Now with thousands of Neanderthal specimens and a complete skeleton assembled, it is clear to paleoanthropologists that Neanderthals were human in their anatomy – albeit more robustly built, but with few relatively minor differences. Experts on human evolution acknowledge that a Neanderthal in modern dress would go un-noticed on a New York city subway.

Foremost authority on Neanderthals, Erik Trinkaus confirms “detailed comparisons of Neanderthal skeletal remains with those of modern humans have shown that there is nothing in Neanderthal anatomy that conclusively indicates locomotor, manipulative, intellectual or linguistic abilities inferior to those of modern humans” (15).

Archaeology has further revealed an impressive cultural inventory including fire, stone tools, tailored clothing, art, musical instruments, cosmetics, jewelry, and ceremonial burial of their loved ones. A defining aspect of what it means to be human.

In 2010, Swedish geneticist Svante Pääbo and his international team of researchers sequenced the first ever nearly complete Neanderthal genome confirming once and for all that they were fully human and members of our own species, Homo sapiens (16). About 3% of the American or Eurasian genome is Neanderthal, which means that 3% of their ancestors were Neanderthal.

When they discovered DNA in Neanderthal bones,  that wasn’t supposed to happen. They thought the bones are too old. In the evolutionary model, Neanderthal bones 30,000 to 100,000 years old should have no DNA left in them. And yet they do! That was a big surprise. And when we look at the ancient DNA it is clear that multiple interbreedings happened between human Homo sapiens and human Neanderthals. There’re not supposed to be human. But 3% of our ancestors were Neanderthal! It makes them people, Homo sapiens, human beings. Therefore, it should not surprise us about the fossil record – all these things we are learning about Neanderthals recently has completely changed the picture that we were given when we were younger, especially the picture they tried to give us in the 1800s. The age-old assumption that Neanderthals were a subhuman species has been disproven.

No evolutionary progression from ape to mankind

Evolutionary paleoanthropologists traditionally expected the hominin fossil record to reveal a traceable linear progression where an ape-like Australopithecus species like Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis) evolved into Homo habilis, which evolved into Homo erectus, which evolved into Homo sapiens. In recent decades however, this view has been dramatically overturned. Instead of the simple human family tree with a few branches, the paleo community now describes the hominin fossil record as a messy bush with many disconnected branches showing no clear evolutionary progression from ape to mankind.

The pattern that is emerging in the hominin fossil record is surprisingly consistent with the biblical view of human origins recorded in Genesis which teaches that humans and apes were created as independent forms of life. Indeed there appears to be a clear separation between two distinct types in the fossil record, the human type called “Homo” and the extinct ape type called “Australopithecus”. Paleoanthropologist Leslie Aiello says, “No doubt about it, australopithecines are like apes and the Homo group are like humans” (17). These two types are found together in rock strata of equivalent age as far back as hominin fossils are found, just as the Laetoli footprints have confirmed. This shows that humans have always coexisted with a diversity of apes, rather than one evolving into the other.

Conclusion

Paleoanthropologists have proposed that many hominins were our ancestors. But we have seen that Australopithecus afarensis seems to be a mixture of ape bones and human bones; Homo habilis was probably an extinct ape (Australopithecus); and Homo erectus and Neanderthal man were human beings. So there is no clear evolutionary progression from ape to mankind. And there is evidence that humans have always coexisted with a diversity of apes.

So paleoanthropology doesn’t support the idea of biological evolution: molecules to mankind. Although biology and paleoanthropology don’t support the idea of biological evolution, maybe genetics does?

Appendix: What’s the difference between hominins and hominids?

In the last few decades, the classification of the great apes has been revised several times by paleoanthropologists. This has been done to develop more up-to-date evolutionary trees. For example, the definition of “hominids” has been broadened to include orangutans, gorillas and chimpanzees because of the recognition that these apes are very closely related to humans.

Currently they define a hominid to be a member of the family Hominidae: humans and apes (orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees) and the extinct species from these groups.

And a hominin is a member of the tribe Hominini: humans since they split from chimpanzees. It’s comprised of humans and their human-like ancestors. So hominins are defined to be a subgroup within the hominids.

Of course, this classification assumes that humans evolved from apes, which we have shown to be problematic.

References

  1. White T, 2002, “Early hominids – Diversity or distortion?”, Science, 299, 1994-1997.
  2. Haile-Selassie et al, 2016, “The Pliocene hominin diversity conundrum: Do more fossils mean less clarity?”, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 113, 6364-6371.
  3. Meyer et al, 2015, “Lucy’s back: Reassessment of fossils associated with the A.L. 288-1 vertebral column”, J Human Evolution, 85, 174-180.
  4. Johanson D C & Taieb M, 1976, “Plio–Pleistocene hominid discoveries in Hadar, Ethiopia”, Nature, 25, 260, 293-297.
  5. Johanson D C & White T D, 1979, “A systematic assessment of early African hominids”, Science, 203, 437.
  6. Ward V et al, 2011, “Complete fourth metatarsal and arches in the foot of Australopithecus afarensis”, Science, 331, 6018, 750-753.
  7. Latimer B M et al, 1982, “Hominid tarsal, metatarsal, and phalangeal bones recovered from the Hadar formation: 1974-1977 collections”, Amer. J Phys. Anthropol. 57, 701-719.
  8. Stern J T and Susman R L, 1983, “The locomotor anatomy of Australopithecus afarensis”, J of Physical Anthropology, 60, 279-317.
  9. Wong K, 2005, “Footprints to fill”, Scientific American, August 2005.
  10. Tuttle R, 1990, “The pitted pattern of Laetoli feet”, Natural History, March 1990.
  11. Leakey L S B et al, 1964, “A new species of the genius Homo from Olduvai Gorge”, Nature, April 4.
  12. Lewin R, 1987, “The earliest “Humans” were more like apes”, Science, 236, 4805, 1061-1063.
  13. Wood B, 1987, “Who is the ‘real’ Homo habilis?”, Nature, 327, 187-188.
  14. Wood B, 2014, “Fifty years after Homo habilis”, Nature, 598, 31-33.
  15. Trinkaus E, 1978, “Hard times amongst the Neanderthals, Natural History, 87, 58.
  16. Prüfer K et al, 2014, “The complete genome sequence of a Neanderthal from the Altai Mountains”, Nature, 505, 43-49.
  17. Leakey R. & Lewin R, 1992, “Origins reconsidered: In search of what makes us human”, Anchor Books (Double-day), New York, 196.

Acknowledgment

The content of this post comes from the documentary movie “Dismantled” (2020), which is a scientific dismantling of the theory of evolution.

Posted, November 2020

Also see: Biology doesn’t support the idea of biological evolution
Genetics doesn’t support the idea of biological evolution

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