A Response to Wayne Jackson

Creationist Wayne Jackson refers to this site in his article The Continuing Search For Man's "Fossil" Ancestor (I even get referred to as an "evolutionary zealot"! :-)

Jackson quotes the following paragraph, which he calls a "confession", from my Prominent Hominid Fossils web page (emphases were added by Jackson):

". . . [T]here is little consensus on what our family tree is. Everyone accepts that the robust australopithecines (aethiopicus, robustus and boisei) are not ancestral to us, being a side branch that left no descendants. Whether H. habilis is descended from A. afarensis, africanus, both of them, or neither of them, is still a matter of debate. It is possible that none of the known australopithecines is our ancestor. The discoveries of A. ramidus and A. anamensis are so recent that it is hard to say what effect they will have on current theories. It is generally accepted that Homo erectus is descended from Homo habilis (or, at least, some of the fossils often assigned to habilis), but the relationship between erectus, sapiens and the Neandertals is still unclear. Neandertal affinities can be detected in some specimens of both archaic and modern sapiens.";
According to Jackson,
That entire paragraph is a concession to the utter confused ignorance of human origins - from the Darwinian perspective.
Jackson also refers to a list of supposedly refuted human ancestors from the book Bone Peddlers by William Fix. A poor choice; Fix is somewhat of a crackpot, and his list shows very poor scholarship. (Read my review of Bone Peddlers)

A few comments in response:

First, Jackson omitted to quote the preceding paragraph - because it contains information he doesn't want to know about:

There are a number of clear trends (which were neither continuous nor uniform) from early australopithecines to recent humans: increasing brain size, increasing body size, increasing use of and sophistication in tools, decreasing tooth size, decreasing skeletal robustness. There are no clear dividing lines between some of the later gracile australopithecines and some of the early Homo, between erectus and archaic sapiens, or archaic sapiens and modern sapiens.
Second, the fact that there is "little consensus" on the exact structure of the hominid family tree doesn't mean there isn't a consensus on the fact that a variety of fossil hominids exist which are intermediate between humans and apes. Relationships between fossils are always going to be hard to determine, even in the presence of good fossil evidence.

I don't know why Jackson takes exception to the fact that new finds might cause scientists to re-evaluate their current interpretations. Perhaps it's because creationists prefer to start with fixed conclusions then try and find evidence for them.

Third, if disagreements between scientists about the exact relationships between fossil species is evidence of "utter confused ignorance of human origins - from the Darwinian perspective", what on earth are we to make of the far more spectacular level of creationist disagreement?

For example, we have absurdities such as Duane Gish's claims that the Peking Man skulls belong to apes. Never mind that the largest ones overlap the modern human range (and are larger than the skull of Nobel Prize for Literature winner Anatole France, who is famous for having an exceptionally small brain size of 1017 cc). Never mind that Gish simultaneously believes that the Homo erectus Turkana Boy skeleton is human, even though its skull is smaller than (but otherwise similar to) the Peking Man skulls. (George Orwell, in 1984, invented the term 'doublethink' to describe just this sort of mental contortionism)

Lubenow thinks Peking Man is human. He also thinks (unlike Gish) that the habiline fossil ER 1470 is human, despite its remarkably small brain size and other differences from modern humans.

Cuozzo, by contrast, claims all of these fossils, even the strikingly human-like Turkana Boy, are non-human. (These discrepancies are only a sample; see the skull comparison page for many more examples.)

So Jackson, and other creationists, should ponder this: if leading creationist authors such as Gish, Lubenow and Cuozzo, after decades of study, can't even agree on which fossils are apes and which are humans, what does that say about the level of creationist ignorance?

To use an analogy, scientific disputes about exact relationships between hominids might be compared to disputes over how wolves, dogs, coyotes, dingos, hyenas and foxes are related. On that scale, creationists would still be trying to work out how to tell cats and dogs apart.

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

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http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/homs/wjackson.html, 11/31/2001
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