Paleo-jigsaw or transitional form?
Paleoanthropologist Lee Berger’s team has brought their Australopithecus sediba fossils out of the closet for another showing and published a batch of anatomically ordered articles in last Thursday’s Science. The famous fossil pair, dug in 2008 from Malapa Cave in South Africa, debuted in Science last year when Berger put forth his hopes that Australopithecus sediba would prove to be the elusive transition between the apes and humans.
Many evolutionary paleontologists were not convinced by Au. sediba’s bid for Homo status. For instance, Berkeley paleoanthropologist Tim White pointed out that the characteristics being touted as transitional to Homo may have been nothing more than the characteristics of a juvenile ape.1 The fossil pair consists of an adult female and a male juvenile. Actually, published reports persist in referring to the male juvenile as a “boy,” a designation which typifies the observer bias found in the remainder of the reports.
Since last year’s publication revealed that the Au. sediba skull is remarkably ape-like, one of the current reports looks inside the “boy’s” skull to see what he may have really been thinking—at least that is the implication. The 3D virtual endocast of the “boy’s” tiny ape-size brain has become the subject of an analysis asserting that the shape of the frontal lobe part related to language and social behavior in humans is un-ape-like. Berger’s team believes that the brain was reorganizing itself for human-hood.2
Additional pieces of the paleo-puzzle are presented in articles about the hand, the foot, and the pelvis. Each part contributes to the assessment that the fossil pair offers a “’marvelous mosaic’ of primitive and modern traits.”2 Many assertions relate to possible functions for the anatomical parts, suggesting for example that the hand retained its tree-climbing features while acquiring the ability for human-like dexterity. Other observations involve some wishful reconstruction. For example, the “remarkably complete”2 skeletons are missing some key pelvic portions—the ones that particularly distinguish human from ape. A look at the photographs of the two reconstructed pelvises shows those imaginary parts—the ones in gray—are conveniently drawn to match those of humans. Artistic license seems to have reached into the realm of observer bias.
Be sure to watch this web site this week for two additional reports dealing with the Science articles in greater detail. And have a look at our previous discussions of these same fossils at their 2010 debut: The Problem with Australopithecus sediba and Baraminological Analysis Places Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, and Australopithecus sediba in the Human Holobaramin: Discussion.
A trip to the zoo will confirm that we humans do indeed share some characteristics with apes. Yet the existence of some similarities is attributable to our common Designer. Those similarities do not imply a common evolutionary ancestor.
Similar design only implies ancestral origin in the imagination—no observational science shows actual transitions from ape to human. Those who “see” transitions are those who are committed to find them and to exclude the possibility of a Creator who designed one kind of human being in His image and many kinds of animals in one week. Some Christians claim we can compromise and assert that God used evolution, but that position is theologically bankrupt3 and denies God’s own eyewitness account of Creation.
Paleoanthropology cannot provide an eyewitness account of transitions from ape to human. Only the imagination can connect those dots. What you believe Au. sediba to be depends not on science but on your own worldview. You may choose to believe the God who sent His Son to die in your place or you may choose to compromise His word on the basis of conjectures based on wishful thinking, not on scientific facts.
Doses of Denisovan and Neanderthal DNA may have provided immunity to many modern humans.
Not much remains of the Denisovans—only a little girl’s finger and a couple of big teeth from a cave in Siberia. We don’t even know what Denisovans looked like. But some of our ancestors did. And so did some Neanderthals.
Genomic sequencing of Neanderthals and the more recently discovered Denisovans4 has suggested that each of these groups of humans is represented in the genomes of many living humans. According to earlier estimates, interbreeding of more modern types of humans with Neanderthals has left a Neanderthal presence in the DNA of 1–4% of modern Eurasians. Mixing with Denisovans in the past appears to have left a footprint in the DNA of 4–6% of Melanesian people. (Melanesians are native to islands in and around Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and the Solomons.) A more focused bit of detective work, however, has shown a much more widespread impact in a key area of the genome of very many humans.
When the Denisovans and the Neanderthals dropped off the map, the immune memory stored in their DNA did not. Researchers in Dr. Peter Parham’s lab at Stanford decided to pick up where the Max Planck Institute’s Svante Paabo—who sequenced the archaic human DNA—left off. Parham’s team decided to search for a rare genetic variation in the HLA-B portion of the human genome.
HLA is a group of genes which contains the database used by the immune system. HLA genes supply the information that allows the immune system to recognize foreign invaders. When exposed to dangerous pathogens, people whose HLA types contain the information to fight those particular pathogens most effectively have the best chance of combating the infection. There are many variations for the genes in the HLA complex, so the chance of two people who are not identical twins having identical HLA sequences is practically zero.
The Stanford group found that Denisovan DNA contains the elusive HLA-B*73 allele. Nowadays, the rare gene variant HLA-B*73 is primarily found in about 5% of the population of western Asia.5 Continuing the search for other HLA matches, the team found additional Denisovan and Neanderthal footprints in other parts of the HLA complex.
“Certain traits coming from these archaic humans have become the dominant form,” said Parham. “The likely interpretation was that these HLA class variants provided an advantage to modern humans and so rose to high frequencies.”5 HLA genes are on the front line of the body’s immunological defenses. For that reason, variations of HLA types should be extremely responsive to natural selection.
Parham speculates that “cross breeding wasn't just a random event that happened. . . It gave something useful to the gene pool of the modern human.”5 Denisovan- and Neanderthal-derived portions of the HLA have become prevalent in many modern populations, estimated to be present in over 50% of Europeans, over 70% of Asians, and over 95% of some Melanesian groups.6 If these estimates are accurate, then the immunity provided by those gene types at some point in time may well have offered a survival advantage and increased in certain populations through natural selection or other mechanisms.
This summer a group of human origins researchers attended a symposium near the Denisova Cave to sort out the mystery all this genetic information has created. They debated the various models for human evolution and population dispersion. Hoping more data will be forthcoming, they concluded, “Genomic data have already shown that our ancestors mingled with archaic humans, who may have given us valuable immune cell types. But it's not clear when and where this happened.”7
From a biblical perspective, there really is no mystery. After the rebellion at the tower of Babel,8 people groups dispersed and migrated to diverse places. Isolation of groups resulted in the formation of some distinctive characteristics as genetic diversity within populations decreased. Variations of humans in the fossil record—such as Neanderthal and Denisovan and Homo erectus—as well as in living populations today are ultimately traceable to that dispersion.
As Stanford’s Abi-Rached notes, “For small migrating populations, admixture with archaic human could restore HLA diversity following population bottleneck, and also provide a rapid way to acquire new, advantageous HLA variants already adapted to local pathogens.”6 And that’s not evolution. That’s just genetics, natural selection, and the biblical history of the world.
Pliocene rhino plowing pre-Pleistocene snow pleases paleontologists.
A woolly rhinoceros skull fossilized in the Himalayan foothills has excited paleontologists seeking the origin of Ice Age animals. Evolutionary thinking has long held that the big woolly beasts associated with the Ice Age slowly “evolved as a response to the ice sheet expansion.” The Pliocene location of this woolly rhino’s skull has given the researchers publishing in September 3’s Science a new tale to tell.
Dr. Xiaomin Wang found the skull at the frigid altitude of 4,207 meters (about 13,800 feet) in the high Tibetan plateau known as Zanda Basin. Most such fossils have been found in Pleistocene (ice age) rock, so Wang believes its presence in the deeper Pliocene layer indicates it was an ancestor of the Ice Age woolly rhinoceros.
Based on some subtle characteristics, Wang and colleagues have classified their rhino as a new species, Coelodonta thibetana, declaring it “the earliest representative of the genus.” The skull is roughly the same size as today’s white rhinoceros’s skull.9 Like living and extinct rhinos, the Pliocene skull appears to have had a large horn. However, based on the size of horn support structures, paleontologists think the horn was unusually large, like an elasmotherium’s.10
The horn is key to the new tale. The researchers write, “The skull of the Zanda woolly rhino shows signs of the snow-sweeping morphologies” found on Pleistocene rhinos. Living rhinos have a rounded horn, but Pleistocene woolly rhinos appear to have had large flattened horns, ideal for sweeping snow off edible grasses. Ice Age cave paintings depict the woolly rhino poised with its horn tipped forward as if ready to sweep a path to dinner. The shape of the horn support structures on the Zanda skull resembles that on the Pleistocene specimens, so the researchers believe the ancestral rhino, living in the high altitude cold climate of Tibet, evolved “snow-clearing adaptations, which became a key preadaptation for its Pleistocene descendents.”
Evolutionists believe the “last” Ice Age in their interpretation of the geologic record began 2.8 million years ago. Since paleomagnetic analyses and isotope ratios in fossil tooth enamel provide a Pliocene date of 3.7 million years ago for the Zanda rhino, the researchers write that the woolly rhino and similar large animals “first evolved in Tibet before the beginning of the Ice Age. The cold winters in high Tibet served as a habituation ground for the megaherbivores, which became preadapted for the Ice Age, successfully expanding to the Eurasian mammoth steppe.”
The woolly rhino, like the woolly mammoth, has become an iconic reminder of the Ice Age. Evolutionists do not have an explanation for the Ice Age and so postulate the occurrence of many ice sheet advances and retreats (glacials and interglacials) within it, yet they have no way to explain the odd combination of cold climate with the vast amounts of humidity needed to produce such a phenomenon. Their 2.8 million year date for this “last” Ice Age is based on ice core11 analyses12 interpreted according to presuppositions about the earth’s age.13 Similarly, paleomagnetic analyses of the sedimentary rocks in the Zanda Basin depends on the unprovable assumptions underlying radiometric dating.14 And analyses of isotope ratios in tooth enamel can only be calibrated by making assumptions about the timing of ancient climate changes. Thus these dates should be disregarded.
The meteorological aftermath of the global Flood (about 4,300 years ago) explains the only Ice Age15 and provides a reasonable time for it (post-Flood). Lots of evaporation from volcanic waters released into the oceans16 would have provided sufficient precipitation, even in a world cooling at the poles and clouded by volcanic dust, to produce enough snow17 to build up ice sheets in high latitudes. Glaciation18 would have taken about 500 years to peak and then another 200 years to resolve.
The paleontologists’ pleasure stems from finding not just a rhino pre-dating the Ice Age but one evolved and “preadapted” to extreme cold, all prepared to take its place in a frigid world. The skull seems quite similar to its Pleistocene “descendants.” In fact, it is that very similarity that excites the researchers as they consider its “preadaptations” for life on snowy steppes. The Pliocene layers are thought by many creation geologists to have been deposited in association with small localized post-Flood catastrophes, since they also contains fossilized creatures in their apparent native habitats. Thus the Pliocene layers would have entombed these Tibetan creatures—which are pretty much like their Pleistocene counterparts—around the time their cousins proliferated in the well-watered grassy steppes, not a million years before. And the rhinos didn’t have to evolve in Tibet; they (or their rhino ancestors) just had to wander there from the mountains of Ararat.
Actually, antibiotic resistance is not evolving.
Bacteria from the permafrost of the Yukon Territory has been revived and coaxed to reveal its secrets. A team from McMaster University has re-discovered the phenomenon of ancient antibiotic resistance and demonstrated it in a new direct way.
Antibiotic resistance has long been a problem, especially in hospital settings where lots of antibiotics are used. Pathogens resistant to antibiotics survive and take over, causing many difficult-to-treat infections. Many claim that antibiotic resistance is the observable proof of evolution. But are bacteria really evolving?
Back in 1988, explorers frozen in 1845 were autopsied at the University of Alberta, and six strains of bacteria isolated from their colons were revived. According to microbiologist Dr. Kinga Kowalewska-Grochowska, “Three of them also happen to be resistant to antibiotics. In this case, the antibiotics clindamycin and cefoxitin, both of which were developed more than a century after the men died, were among those used.” 19
Now researchers have gone a step further. They have isolated bacterial DNA from Ice Age permafrost20 and found genes coding for resistance to several classes of antibiotics, including β-lactams, tetracycline, and glycopeptide antibiotics.21
Then, focusing on the genes encoding vancomycin resistance, they recreated those gene products in the lab. The three enzymes thus produced worked together to resist vancomycin in the same way as their modern counterparts.21 They conclude, “Antibiotic resistance is a natural phenomenon that predates the modern selective pressure of clinical antibiotic use.”21
So how did the bacteria already have suitable weapons years before their enemy was invented? Antibiotics and their antidotes are actually natural substances produced by fungi, algae, and bacteria. Dr. Gerry Wright explains, “Antibiotics are part of the natural ecology of the planet so when we think that we have developed some drug that won't be susceptible to resistance or some new thing to use in medicine, we are completely kidding ourselves. . . . Microorganisms have figured out a way of how to get around them well before we even figured out how to use them.” He adds, “Antibiotics are remarkable resources that need to be carefully husbanded.”22
Some of this genetic material is in a form that can be transferred to other microorganisms. Microbiologist Dr. Stuart Levy, who has warned of profligate use of antibiotics for 30 years, explains, “What had been missed in the 1960s and 1970s was the ease with which resistance could appear,” he said. “Bacteria share these genes like baseball cards with each other.”22
So is antibiotic resistance the poster-child of evolution? No. There was a time when people thought bacteria evolve resistance because they “need” to. But—as demonstrated in this study and in the 1988 one—the variations and mutations that confer resistance are already in the genomes of some bacteria. The “resistance information” does not necessarily develop in response to the antibiotic threat. Natural selection allows resistant bacteria to survive and reproduce, replenishing the bacterial population. And those surviving bacteria are still bacteria—the same kind of bacteria they were all along.
Antibiotic resistance not only fails to prove the evolution of new kinds of organisms but actually demonstrates our Creator’s wisdom. We believe that God provided many mobile bits of information23 to enable microorganisms to survive and fulfill their complex ecological roles. Changing conditions in the post-Fall world have allowed helpful bacteria to become dangerous (see The Genesis of Pathogenic E. coli). A combination of mutations, horizontally transferred genes, environmental changes, and host changes can transform harmless microorganisms into pathogens. Frankly, from an evolutionary point of view, killing the host is a particularly bad idea! Biblical understanding explains the phenomenon of antibiotic resistance.
Homo erectus tool time tinkers with anthropological thought.
Homo erectus is believed by evolutionary paleontologists to be a human precursor that evolved in Africa about two million years ago and migrated to Europe and Asia. Acheulian stone tools—hand axes—are associated with Homo erectus. “The origin of the Acheulian is thought to have closely coincided with major changes in human brain evolution, allowing for further technological developments.”24
“The Acheulian tools represent a great technological leap,” according to geologist Dennis Kent. Careful crafting of tools denotes the ability to plan for the future. Evolutionists associate these tools with an advance in hominid evolution. Paleoanthropologists therefore wish to determine how early the Acheulian technology developed.
Research just published in Nature reveals some surprisingly early dates for Acheulian artifacts from the western shore of Lake Turkana in Kenya. Researchers found artifacts of both Acheulian and much simpler Oldowan configurations at Kokiselei. The artifacts did not have any human fossils with them, but because a Homo erectus fossil had been found in the same geological stratum on the eastern shore, they assumed the artifacts were truly of Homo erectus origin.
Geologists dated the sedimentary rock in which the hand axes were found using a combination of dating methods. The argon-dated volcanic KBS tuff is about 1–15 meters below the Kokiselei site, and an argon-dated volcanic layer on the other side of Lake Turkana has an elevation around 150 meters higher than the site. The age of the artifacts was estimated by assuming a uniform sedimentation rate between these argon-dated layers. Paleomagnetic analyses of polarity reversals were also used to date blocks of sedimentary rock from the site. The researchers concluded these Acheulian tools are a record-breaking 1.76 million years old. “We suspected that Kokiselei was a rather old site, but I was taken aback when I realized that the geological data indicated it was the oldest Acheulian site in the world,” said geologist Christopher Lepre, the study’s lead author.
Anthropologists have previously found Acheulian tools dated 1.4 million years old in Konso, Ethiopia, and 1–1.5 million years ago in India. However, the Homo erectus excavation in Dmanisi, Georgia, has much simpler tools. So “Why,” geologist Dennis Kent wonders, “didn’t Homo erectus take these tools with them to Asia?” And how, the researchers wonder, should they explain the coexistence of the Acheulian with the more primitive Oldowan?
While evolutionists ponder ways to fit the new data into their evolutionary models, we should take a look at the preconceptions underlying their results. The dating methods involved here are based on an elaborate series of assumptions and some dates which are controversial even among evolutionists.
First of all, argon dating requires calibration against specimens of known age. Those known ages, however, are derived from other radiometric dating methods. Those methods in turn are based on a set of unprovable assumptions.14 Therefore, circular reasoning is built into the argon dating method.
Second, the article in Nature specifies the rocks being examined by paleomagnetic analyses were from a stratified sedimentary complex of mudstone, claystone, and siltstone consistent with sediment washed in by flooding. But the magnetic reversals within those sediments were calibrated by comparison to the paleomagnetic timescale derived from volcanic rocks in other parts of the world.24 The magnetite grains in the volcanic layers record the polarity of the earth’s magnetic field at the times the lavas cooled, but these sediments were washed in as disorganized fragments, so they cannot be reasonably compared to the volcanic material.
Third, the dating of the relevant rocks in the Turkana region has been the subject of much contention among evolutionists. For instance, the KBS tuff beneath the Kokiselei region has been re-dated numerous times since the 1960s in order to obtain results more in line with evolutionary expectations. Read more about that interesting saga at The Pigs Took It All.
Furthermore, the Homo erectus skull found east of Lake Turkana by Lepre and Kent, co-authors of this study, also came from an area known for its controversial dating. Olduvai Gorge, final resting place of a number of Homo erectus bones, has been re-dated multiple times because “precise age estimates have been elusive.”25 As Lepre and Kent reported, “A problematic magnetostratigraphy for the Koobi Fora Formation has contributed to debates on the evolutionary implications for early hominin fossils.”26 We must certainly question the reliability of dating results which are not only based on circular reasoning, but which have been routinely repeated until more pleasing results were obtained.
Actually, when stripped of the sensational dating, the archaeological findings at Kokiselei are consistent with a biblical understanding of history. These fossils and artifacts are in Pleistocene layers24 deposited during the Ice Age. In fact, the sediments of this region were deposited at a time when the climate was extremely wet and beginning to dry “in response to global climate forcing.”27 These findings are thus consistent with the early post-Flood world. The Ice Age was triggered by the global Flood. Furthermore, the mixture of artifacts at Lake Turkana and the evidence of scattered Acheulian artifacts around Eurasia and Africa is consistent with fully human groups of people—those now being called Homo erectus among others—scattering from the tower of Babel. There is no need to explain the dates because they are contrived from unsupportable assumptions. The Bible makes sense of the rest of the findings.
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