Review: The Image of God

The Image of God

The Image of God (1997) is a 27-minute long creationist video by Keziah Productions on the subject of human origins. It was produced, directed, and written by Gillian Brown, and narrated by David Aikman.

The video contains interviews with people on both sides of the creation/evolution debate. Creationists interviewed are Dr. Sigrid Hartwig-Scherer of the University of Munich; Marvin Lubenow, author of the book Bones of Contention; and Richard Milton, science writer and author of the book Shattering the Myths of Darwinism. Evolutionists interviewed are Dr. Chris Stringer of the British Museum of Natural History; Dr. Fred Spoor of University College, London; and Dr. Mark Roberts.

Richard Milton says that, of the many claimed "missing links":

"What's happened in every case is, once the headlines have died down after the announcement of the discovery, serious researchers have investigated the finds, and they've found that either the fossil in question was an extinct ape, or it was an extinct human."

This is just wishful thinking. There is a small element of truth in this statement when it comes to the australopithecines, because one can find a handful of scientists (Solly Zuckerman and Charles Oxnard are the ones who almost always get mentioned) who have considered the australopithecines to be no more closely related to humans than modern apes are. Such claims are, however, very much in the minority.

When it comes to Homo habilis and H. erectus, Milton's statement is just plain false. Milton and I had a long email debate about this in 1997, and Milton was totally unable to substantiate his claims that H. habilis had been reclassified as a human. A similar claim by Milton (in email, not on the video) that Java Man is "now considered to be an ape" is even more absurd. A quick search through any library will quickly confirm that Java Man is universally classified as Homo erectus, and the quotes Milton supplied to support his claim were all hopelessly out of date (between about 60 and 100 years old) and made before further discoveries clarified the status of Java Man.

The Australopithecines

According to creationist Richard Milton,

"Many anthropologists who have examined australopithecine remains have come to the conclusion that it's nothing more than an extinct ape. It's only Darwinists who insist that Australopithecus is a human ancestor."

Milton also claims that the australopithecines were arboreal, and not bipedal to any significant degree.

This sounds like a reference to the work of Stern and Susman (1983), who claimed that Australopithecus afarensis bones had many arboreal adaptations. What Milton does not tell us is that Stern and Susman did not conclude that that A. afarensis was not bipedal. Evidence of bipedality in afarensis is widespread and almost universally accepted. Stern and Susman concluded that afarensis was arboreal in addition to, not instead of, being bipedal:

"Finally, we must emphasize that in no way do we dispute the claim that terrestrial bipedality was a far more significant component of the behaviour of A. afarensis than in any living nonhuman primate." (Stern, Jr. and Susman 1983)

Nor did Stern and Susman conclude that afarensis was "nothing more than an extinct ape":

"In our opinion A. afarensis is very close to what can be called a "missing link." It possesses a combination of traits entirely appropriate for an animal that had traveled well down the road toward full-time bipedality, but which retained structural features that enabled it to use the trees efficiently for feeding, resting, sleeping, or escape." (Stern, Jr. and Susman 1983)

Homo habilis

Most scientists believe that the specimens assigned to habilis actually belong to two or three different species. Stringer agrees, and says so on the video. Based on this, Image of God argues that Homo habilis is an "invalid taxon":

"Many experts recognize that Homo habilis is a wastebin of various species and not a valid category".

The first part of that sentence is correct; the second part does not follow from the first and is false. The claim that habilis is an invalid taxon is not only wrong, but spectacularly wrong.

Homo habilis is and will remain a valid taxon until its type specimen, OH 7, is reclassified as a member of a previously identified species, something which is very unlikely to happen. Not only that, other habiline specimens will probably be assigned to one or more other valid species as scientists become better able to classify them. (Many scientists, for example, now put ER 1470 in H. rudolfensis.) So rather than forming zero valid taxa, as Image of God implies, the habilines will probably end up forming more than one taxon. This is not a problem for evolution. Splitting habilis into multiple species does not remove it from contention as a human ancestor. Although it makes working out the relationship of the hominid species harder, it certainly means that there is no shortage of potential human ancestors.

The "invalid taxon" argument would be somewhat moot even if it was correct. The reason is that no matter how one chooses to classify them, the fossils still exist and have to be dealt with. If the habilis fossils are more humanlike than australopithecines (as they are) that inconvenient (for creationists) fact would not go away even if habilis was an invalid taxon and all the habilines were reclassified as australopithecines.

The most famous habiline fossil, and the only one discussed on the video, is ER 1470, discovered by Richard Leakey in 1972, of which creationist Sigrid Hartwig-Scherer says:

"... it's just a variety maybe of an australopithecine with a big brain and a typical australopithecine face"

One might, of course, wonder why an "australopithecine" with a large brain (and other features of the genus Homo, such as the humanlike teeth noted by Stringer on the video) is not an excellent candidate for a transitional form between apes and humans, but the video does not choose to address that question.

Another thing Image of God does not tell its viewers is that one of its other creationist experts, Marvin Lubenow, considers the same skull to be human, and says that there is "no compelling reason" (Lubenow 1992, p.164) not to classify it as Homo sapiens.

In fact, none of the three creationists on the video agree on how to classify the important specimens of the hominid fossil record; they classify the two fossils ER 1470 and Java Man in three different ways (out of only four possibilities). It's a shame Duane Gish wasn't interviewed on the program, because he supports the fourth possibility:

  H-Scherer Lubenow  Milton    Gish  
ER 1470 Ape Human Human Ape
Java Man Human Human Ape Ape

Of course, the contention of Gish and Milton that Java Man is an ape unrelated to humans is laughable and only illustrates how little they know about human evolution. There is no question that it is more humanlike than apelike, and no competent scientist has claimed otherwise for at least 60 years. All modern scientists, and even the more up-to-date creationists, accept it as Homo erectus.

The disagreement over ER 1470 is much more serious, however, because it is so genuinely transitional that it defies classification even by the more competent creationists. Hartwig-Scherer has a doctorate in anthropology and has published papers in paleoanthropology, which makes her probably the only young-earth creationist so qualified. While not a paleoanthropologist, Lubenow is widely considered the foremost creationist expert on human evolution. He has been studying the subject for over 30 years and is familiar with the fossil evidence, owning casts of many major hominid fossils including ER 1470. His book is often considered the definitive creationist assessment of the human fossil record.

The fact that Lubenow and Hartwig-Scherer cannot agree whether ER 1470 is an australopithecine or a human strikingly illustrates its transitional nature. If, as Lubenow claims in his book, there is no reason not to put ER 1470 in Homo sapiens, it must surely have some human features. And if, as Hartwig-Scherer claims, it is actually an ape with a big brain, it must surely have some apelike features.

The inescapable conclusion is that the reason ER 1470 cannot be classified as either an ape or a human is because it has a mixture of ape and human characteristics (and, as previously noted, the issue of how the habilines should be classified is irrelevant to this conclusion).

Semicircular canals

Dr. Fred Spoor is interviewed about his research into semicircular canals, small organs in our inner ears which are used for balance and orientation. Spoor and his colleagues compared the canals of many living primates, along with some hominid fossils. As I have discussed on another web page, their results are interesting and sometimes surprising, but it is premature to claim that they are problematic for evolutionary theory.

Image of God goes on to say that
"Homo erectus has been depicted as a primitive, stooped apeman, but Fred Spoor's CAT scans showed they walked just as we do."
It's not stated how recent these depictions are supposed to be, but, as Spoor explains on the video, his erectus CAT scans came as no surprise because H. erectus was already known to be completely bipedal.

(Incidentally, a skull cast labelled as Homo habilis that is displayed while Spoor is talking is actually a cast of the A. africanus fossil Sts 5.)

Homo erectus

Chris Stringer does admit that Homo erectus was "human", which the video then uses to infer that it was not different enough from modern humans to be evidence of human evolution. If one imagines a sequence from an apelike ancestor to modern humans, there is no question that H. erectus falls on the human-like side of the midpoint. That does not mean that it is not evidence of human evolution. Homo erectus fossils easily fall outside the range of variation of modern humans.

Image of God concludes that "... evolutionists agree with creationists that Homo erectus, together with other ancient human forms, are distinct variants of true humans." That may be the conclusion creationists like to make, but it is certainly not what Stringer and other evolutionists mean when they say that H. erectus is human. Evolutionists do not consider erectus as a variant of modern humans, but as a primitive precursor to modern humans, and different enough from us to be classified as a separate species.

The Neandertals

With Neandertals, I have no real objection to the creationist claim that they are "human". I would note, however, that Image of God, like most creationists, understates their distinctiveness and implies that they are merely modern humans. Stringer describes them as "human, but nevertheless, quite different to anyone living on the planet today". Indeed, many scientists are of the opinion that they should be classified as a different species, Homo neanderthalensis. There should, of course, be no more difficulty with the idea of two "human" species than there would be with the idea that two groups of monkeys can belong to different species and yet still both be "monkeys".


Like most creationists, the film does not fail to mention past errors such as Piltdown Man and Nebraska Man. Piltdown was indeed a highly significant fraud which affected anthropology for decades. However, for all that creationists like to imply otherwise, Nebraska Man was never generally accepted as a hominid even in the few years before it was correctly identified, and it played a neglible role in scientific thinking about human evolution.

The video even refers to a case of an "apeman reconstructed from the remains [...] of a dolphin". Well, not exactly. What actually happened was that one scientist briefly misidentified one bone as being probably hominid. Calling this a reconstructed apeman seems quite a stretch.

In the interview with Mark Roberts, director of the Boxgrove site in England, much emphasis is placed on the fact that the humans found there were not hunched over ape-men, but fully erect bipeds. This is arguing against a strawman, since nothing else would have been expected from such relatively recent fossils. Apparently, in creationist eyes, locomotion identical to that of modern humans (Homo erectus and Boxgrove), and locomotion which differs from us (australopithecines) both constitute evidence against human evolution.

As creationists often do, Image of God equates evolution with atheism, when it says that:

"Most evolutionists deny the possibility of supernatural intervention in our lives, we're just naked apes."

This ignores the fact that many if not most evolutionists are theists, and that even many of those who are not would not deny the possibility of supernatural intervention, even if they do not actually think it happened.


Gillian Brown seems to have told her interviewees (the evolutionist ones, at least) that Keziah's films would be balanced or neutral, examining both sides of the creation/evolution debate. This is to some extent justified by their use of both creationist and evolutionist sources, but there was never any doubt what conclusion this video was going to reach.

Yes, evolutionist scientists were featured on the video, but the creationists always got the last word. Looking at the credits list, most of the individuals and organizations listed are creationist (such as ICR, AIG, Ken Ham), and there are none who are obviously non-creationist, except for the museums and zoos which allowed filming.

The four consultants listed are all prominent creationists: Carl Wieland and John Morris, presidents of Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research respectively, and Don Batten and Andrew Snelling, who are workers with the same organizations. None have any expertise in human evolution. These are not the consultants that would be chosen by any organization wishing to do a balanced presentation on human evolution.

In the November 1998 issue of their newsletter Prayer News, Answers in Genesis claimed that Keziah were contracted by AIG to produce another Keziah video, From a Frog to a Prince. If this was also true of The Image of God, it is in every sense a creationist video, and not a neutral look at human origins.

Keziah does deserve some credit for at least allowing evolutionists to appear on the video and have their say. Stringer, in particular, made some good counters to creationist claims that were not responded to, pointing out, for example, the humanlike teeth and relatively large brain of Homo habilis, and the primitive nature of Homo erectus, and the existence of fossils which were not clearly ape or human.

In the end, Image of God fails in its attempt to refute human evolution. The similarity of Homo erectus to ourselves is exaggerated, the similarity of the australopithecines to apes is emphasized and the differences minimized, and the habiline fossils that lie between them are handwaved away.


Lubenow M.L. (1992): Bones of contention: a creationist assessment of human fossils. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Stern J.T., Jr. and Susman R.L. (1983): The locomotor anatomy of Australopithecus afarensis. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 60:279-317.

This page is part of the Fossil Hominids FAQ at the Archive.

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