Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Evolution and Young Earth Creationism

Impressions Versus Science

If you bing, google, or yahoo up “first humans” you get a collection of estimates of upright figures who lived somewhere further than 2 million years ago. Artistic images from the Olduvai and Laetoli discoveries likewise show bipedal creatures, a bit hairier than us, heads a little different, but clearly meant to emphasise their similarity to us. They hold hands. They look off to the horizon. I will call this the National Geographic impression, as that is the popular-culture representative of the textbooks and educational videos which teach that view.

In contrast, what I will call the Genesis view is of figures that look a good deal more like us. They are in fact usually healthier and better-looking than we are, a sort of Platonic ideal of the human form. As most of the artists depicting them until recently were European, they used to look more European than Semitic. That has been changing over the last few decades. They look rather Mediterranean now.

The impression created by the National Geographic view is that humans emerged 2.3 million years ago, in East Africa, from a large population. How large? That varies greatly, as it seems to depend on the time snapshot focused on. But the impression created is of many small bands of humans over a limited area expanding eventually to a population of many thousands ancestors of wonderful us.

The Genesis impression,drawn directly from the text, is that the first humans were two people who lived about 6000 years ago between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

In one sense, and the most common, the science is all on the side of the National Geographic view. I am an evolutionist and accept that science. I believe in Lucy and Olduvai Gorge and stone tools having a great deal to do with our origins. But I am concerned at the impressions created by the National Geographic view, impressions that accord more with a particular worldview than with the actual science as we know it.

Because Young Earth Creationists (YEC) limit the discussion to the last 10,000 years, and because people in general tend to have large numbers run together in their heads, any discussion of hominid creatures from say, 230,000 years ago tends to be immediately rejected by YEC's and immediately accepted as anti-creationist evidence by evolutionists. Yet 230,000 years ago is only 10% of the way back to 2.3 million. We miss that because our brains just read "Big Number," which to evolutionists means "proves my point" and YEC's means "can't be true."

If we start at 2.3M years, we have these First Humans. They. make stone cutting tools by artfully chipping away certain types of rock. If we move forward a hundred thousand years, we find them doing the same thing. Two, three, four hundred thousand years on, same tools. No improvement. At six hundred thousand years forward, about 1.7M years ago, there is a slight improvement in the stone cutting tools. That is a very long period of time. Have these First Humans improved in other realms - in social organization, housing, variety of diet, anything like that? No, no, no, and no. Do they sound like any human beings you have ever heard of, going thousands of generations without the slightest improvement, even by accident, of the way they go about living?

The National Geographic supporters, seeing where this is going, will object at this point. Wait, we never said they were just like us. We don't call them human beings so much as hominids. We know they were different and there was development. You are misrepresenting us. No, actually, I'm not. The first exercise in this essay was to google up "first humans," and those folks that lived 2 million years ago are consistently called humans in biology textbooks, Science Channel specials, the New York Times - in all of the popular science culture. You ordered it, you eat it, as the saying goes.

Scientists do not, as some YEC's believe, emphasise this time-span just to stick it to Christians. That motive seems to be pretty dominant in a few, and a whole lot more go out of their way to keep mentioning that these humans did not live just a few thousand years ago, but millions. But there are more innocent motives for the emphasis. First, when people know that they have got the right answer - which in one sense the evolutionists do - and someone else has got the wrong one, they tend to return to that sticking point pretty often. If someone says the Treaty of Utrecht was 1638 instead of 1648, I might not bother to correct them. It doesn't matter so much at this juncture. But if they keep saying it's 1548 or 1748, or worse, say it was in 648 AD, then I'm going to move to correct that thought pretty emphatically, because the understanding of much history is at stake. If they keep getting it wrong I will grow strident. That's just human nature, not an especial vice of evolutionists.

More innocently still, we humans like to try and imagine ourselves as closer than we are to just about anything. We talk to pets and pretend we understand their feelings. If we read about a crime in Los Angeles we think of people we know there, or the time we went there, and try to see if there is some connection between ourselves and the event. We want a connection to be there. Thus, artists for National Geographic are trying to capture similarity, trying to identify with, trying to project their own thoughts onto the creatures whose bones we have found. It's a nice feature of humanity - it just leads us a bit astray in this case.

We left off at 1.7M years, still in East Africa, still with thousands of hominids running about. At 1.5M, no change. 1.1M - in the evolution "his halve cours yronne" - nothing different. Man from Mars dropping by every 100,000 years isn't seeing any difference in these humans. 900,000 years, 500,000 years, still the same stone tools, no improvements. No change here. At about 200,000 years ago we might start to see some subtle changes if we knew exactly what to look for, but really, we have to get well under 100,000 years ago before anything you'd notice pops up.

At about 60,000 years ago, these bipedal creatures develop language. Maybe it's a little more than that.

Now just a cotton-pickin' minute, AVI! You've been talking about these hominids, these humanish creatures who have been bopping about in Africa for over two million years, that National Geographic says are humans and they don't even TALK?

Well yeah, pretty much. They must have had some sort of verbal communication - a fair number of mammals do - but there is good reason to believe that there is some threshold element to language, and once that point is reached, sophisticated language develops and spreads very, very rapidly. So, evolutionists might call them human beings with some legitimacy, and they certainly did exist and are our ancestors, but if you want to say that this first 97% of human beings weren't really human beings, using language as your standard, you've got some justification for that.

We'll leave this hominid group right here for now, so you can start to absorb that the contrast between the Genesis impression and the National Geographic impression isn't quite as advertised by at least one measure.

3 comments:

D R Zinn said...

Nice. Keep going.

karrde said...

Curious.

Some time back, I went on a dive through Wikipedia looking at information on genetics. Apparently, there are groups of male Y-Chromosome types (and different groups of female X-Chromosome types), and they can be used to get a rough measure of hominid migration patterns.

It seems that there was a "Y-Chromosomal Adam" some 50000-60000 years ago. That is, every male human on the planet carries a Y-chromosome derived from his.

The various groups (and subgroups) of Y-chromosome types were caused by small mutations since then.

However, there was apparently also a "Mitochondiral Eve" some 150000 years ago, a woman from whom all living humans (male and female) can claim descent.

It is curious that the language-barrier seems to coincide with the Y-chromosomal Adam, give or take 10000 years.

jlbussey said...

I was thinking similar thought when I read about "Ardi" (hominid skeleton that predates Lucy significantly: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/10/091001-oldest-human-skeleton-ardi-missing-link-chimps-ardipithecus-ramidus.html). I was thinking through the whole thing how they were trying to create a certain image or impression that they didn't appear to have enough data to support; making assumptions based on their own world view.