As new early primate specimens are unearthed, we continue to hear of possible 'missing links' between man and ape. In November of 1994, scientists from Spain uncovered well preserved remains of an ape that they now believe would have lived as far back as 13 million years ago (Ref 1). Named after a nearby community, this specimen has been classified under the genus Pierolapithecus and is thought to have moved around on all fours (Ref 2). While not explicitly calling Pierolapithecus a missing link, Salvador Moya-Sola and colleagues from the Institute of Paleontology in Barcelona clearly hinted at its evolutionary significance claiming it to be, "close to the last common ancestor of great apes and humans" (Ref 1). Of course depending on who one talks to amongst the experts, there are conflicting views on what Pierolapithecus is and is not related to (Ref 2). Another 6-million year old hominid called Sahelanthropus was likewise touted as a specimen that would have been close to the chimpanzee/human ancestor (Ref 3). Indeed Sahelanthropus received an almost iconic status from the president of Chad who called it Toumai, literally meaning 'Hope of Life' (Ref 4). Others such as Martin Pickford and Brigitte Senut at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris questioned whether Sahelanthropus could really be placed into a human lineage claiming instead that it would have been a forerunner to modern apes (Refs 4, 5).
Regardless of where one stands in the debate of hominid evolution and irrespective of which features one chooses to look at as the most important indicators of evolutionary relationships, the fact remains that a transition from a quadrupedal ancestor to a bipedal form of walking would have required numerous coordinated anatomical changes to occur. As Nobel Laureate John Eccles has pointed out, several key adaptations such as elongation of the hind limbs, broadening of the pelvis, adjustment of the hip musculature, a considerable reshaping of the foot to support the additional weight and extensive rewiring of the neural system and the brain would have been essential before walking on two legs could have been achieved (Ref 6, pp. 51-60). Those eager to cite the occasional episodes of two-legged movement in modern apes as a precursory state of the human bipedal gait ignore the chasm between these two modes of locomotion (Ref 6, p. 51). Equally important is the discovery by biomechanical engineer Dennis Bramble and physical anthropologist Daniel Lieberman that humans are unique amongst all mammals in his ability to run for vast lengths of time- sometimes for hours- with very low energy consumption (Ref 7). One review of Bramble's and Lieberman's work noted how numerous adaptations are necessary for sustaining long distance running- adaptations that must have all appeared together for running to be as efficient as we see it in modern humans (Ref 7).
Our species is of course much more than a two-legged ape. Humans are after all able to rationalize and think about the world in ways that any of today's primates cannot, while exhibiting a self awareness that sets them apart from the rest of the natural world. While much has been made of the findings of gorillas that are able to use sticks as tools for measuring the depth of water (Ref 8), nothing approaches the complexity of tool making that species of Homo are known to have displayed (Ref 9). As theologian G.K Chesterton noted man derives great importance from, "the world which he sees when he wakes every morning and the nature of his general position in it" (Ref 10, p. 138). We can therefore understand why Russell Wallace, who published his theory of natural selection together with Darwin, would lay claim to the uniqueness of our species. UCL biologist James Mallet captured Wallace's sentiments:
"[because] the capacities for art, music and philosophy...resulted ultimately in the flowering of human culture, Wallace felt that some sort of benevolent law, in addition to natural selection, must be directing human evolution" (Ref 11).
Science writer Roger Lewin similarly wrote of the inevitable spiritual implications of Wallace's conclusions:
"What of wit and humor, and mathematical skill, in advanced societies? How could these be the product of natural selection when our forebears could have no use of them? [Wallace] listed our peculiarly naked skin as inexplicable by natural selection, our singing voice, our "unnecessarily perfect" hands and feet and of course our moral sense. "The inference I would draw from this class of phenomena is, that a superior intelligence has guided the development of man in a definite direction, and for a special purpose"" (Ref 12, p. 310).
Attempts to explain the origins of human consciousness in terms of some vaguely-defined process of emergence (Ref 13) have so far lacked substance. As one review noted,
"not only has advanced neuroscientific research revealed an obdurate mystery at the core of consciousness, but theoretical advances in the natural and physical sciences have greatly complicated the effort to reduce all human phenomena- the mind notably included- to the effects of material causes" (Ref 14).
Philosopher Alvin Platinga likewise asserted that Darwinism will never be able to explain the origin of consciousness and the mind (Ref 15, p. 530).
So we see humans today as beings distinct from the other animals, whose mode of locomotion, intellectual attributes and desires for artistic exposition and cultural expression are not to be found at the base of any evolutionary tree linking humans with the apes. Strikingly, we do not even see lesser degrees of these characteristics (Ref 12, p.309). Paleoanthropologists such as the late Sir Arthur Keith noted the paradox of this human-ape divide and rightly asked why it was that humans had supposedly gone through so much evolution while the ape had, as he put it, "been left in the obscurity of its native jungle" (Ref 12, p.34)? It is in recognizing the facts of human uniqueness that we see how those that question our evolutionary relatedness to the apes have a case to make. In the end opinions on what are and what are not hominid species depend very much on what features one chooses to look at. We may rightly ask how much of what we now state as fact about our own evolution is dependent upon which data we may subjectively choose to include in support of our assertions. We may also ask how much of what we claim to 'see' in human evolution is based on expectation and preconceptions of what the fossil record should show.
1. Salvador Moya-Sola, Meike Koehler, David M. Alba, Isaac Casanovas-Vilar,Jordi Galindo (2004), Pierolapithecus catalaunicus, a New Middle Miocene Great Ape from Spain, Science, Vol 306, pp.1339-1344
2. The BBC Review on the finding of Pierolapithecus entitled 'Original Great Ape Discovered', can be found at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4014351.stm
3.Michel Brunet et al (2002), A new hominid from the Upper Miocene of Chad, Central Africa, Nature, Vol 418, pp.145-151
4. Rex Dalton (2002), Face to Face With our Past, Nature, Vol 420 p.735
5. Milford H. Wolpoff, Brigitte Senut, Martin Pickford and John Hawks (2002), Palaeoanthropology (communication arising): Sahelanthropus or 'Sahelpithecus'? Nature, Vol 419, pp.581-582
6. John C. Eccles (1991) Evolution of the Brain, Creation of Self, Published by Routledge, New York
7. Carl Zimmer (2004), Faster Than a Hyena? Running May Make Humans Special, Science, Vol 306, p.1283
8. The CNN report on the use of tools by wild gorillas, entitled 'Wild gorillas recorded using tools for first time' can be found at
9. James Steele (1999), Palaeoanthropology: Stone legacy of skilled hands, Nature, Vol 399, pp.24-25
10. G.K Chesterton (1923), The Everlasting Man, Ignatius Press, San Francisco
11. James Mallet (2002), Review of 'In Darwin's Shadow: The Life and Science of Alfred Russel Wallace' by Michael Shermer, Nature, Vol 419 pp.561-562
12. Roger Lewin (1987), Bones of Contention: Controversies in the Search for Human Origins, Published by Simon and Schuster, New York
13. Olaf Sporns (2003), Network Analysis, Complexity, and Brain Function, Complexity, Vol 8, Issue 1 pp.56-60
14. Jay Tolson (2006), Is There Room for the Soul? New challenges to our most cherished beliefs about self and the human spirit, US News & World Report, October 15th, 2006
15. Lee Strobel (2004), The Case For A Creator: A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points Towards God, Zondervan Publishers, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA
No Pingbacks for this post yet...
|<< <||> >>|
Evolution has become a favorite topic of the news media recently, but for some reason, they never seem to get the story straight. The staff at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture started this Blog to set the record straight and make sure you knew "the rest of the story".
A blogger from New England offers his intelligent reasoning.
We are a group of individuals, coming from diverse backgrounds and not speaking for any organization, who have found common ground around teleological concepts, including intelligent design. We think these concepts have real potential to generate insights about our reality that are being drowned out by political advocacy from both sides. We hope this blog will provide a small voice that helps rectify this situation.
Website dedicated to comparing scenes from the "Inherit the Wind" movie with factual information from actual Scopes Trial. View 37 clips from the movie and decide for yourself if this movie is more fact or fiction.
Don Cicchetti blogs on: Culture, Music, Faith, Intelligent Design, Guitar, Audio
Australian biologist Stephen E. Jones maintains one of the best origins "quote" databases around. He is meticulous about accuracy and working from original sources.
Most guys going through midlife crisis buy a convertible. Austrialian Stephen E. Jones went back to college to get a biology degree and is now a proponent of ID and common ancestry.
Complete zipped downloadable pdf copy of David Stove's devastating, and yet hard-to-find, critique of neo-Darwinism entitled "Darwinian Fairytales"
Intelligent Design The Future is a multiple contributor weblog whose participants include the nation's leading design scientists and theorists: biochemist Michael Behe, mathematician William Dembski, astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, philosophers of science Stephen Meyer, and Jay Richards, philosopher of biology Paul Nelson, molecular biologist Jonathan Wells, and science writer Jonathan Witt. Posts will focus primarily on the intellectual issues at stake in the debate over intelligent design, rather than its implications for education or public policy.
A Philosopher's Journey: Political and cultural reflections of John Mark N. Reynolds. Dr. Reynolds is Director of the Torrey Honors Institute at