Biology Magazine

Creationists Admit Humans and Australopithecus Are Related

Posted on the 23 September 2013 by Reprieve @EvoAnth

Not all young earth creationists believe that every species was created by God. Rather, they think the common ancestor of a “kind” was created and over the ensuing 6,000 years it spread and diversified into the myriad of forms that make up that kind today. But which species are part of the same kind? Which share a common ancestor?

Unfortunately the Bible is a bit vague about what constitutes a “kind”. This has led to the development of baraminology, the creationist science of using statistical analysis to identify how similar species are and thus whether they form part of the same kind.

In 2010 Todd Wood (of Neanderthals were on the arc fame) published a baraminological analysis of hominins that reached a surprising conclusion: Australopithecus sediba belongs in the human “kind.” He also found that Homo rudolfensis and Homo habilis - 2 of the more ape-like members of the genus Homo - should also be placed in the human kind. This is significant because many creationists (including the famous Gish) claim that these species were actually apes.

Wood’s revised human family tree goes something like this: modern humans were created in the garden of Eden. Since the fall they spread out and diversified into a variety of forms, including into Neanderthals, Homo erectus and Australopithecus sediba. Many of these “new” humans would’ve been the first to spread around the world after Babel. As Wood explains

The dispersal of the human population from Babel would presumably have been led by H. habilis and H. rudolfensis, specimens of which appear stratigraphically lower than any other human species

A modern human (left); sediba (middle) and chimp (right)

A modern human (left); sediba (middle) and chimp (right)

So his chronology is the reverse of the evolutionary one, with modern humans giving rise to species typically labelled the ancestors of modern humans. But the fact these ancestors left Babel first can explain why they appear to be older than humans and present in lower stratigraphic layers.

As interesting as these conclusions are, this study suggests that humans and Australopithecines are related. And that’s a fact that creationists cannot abide. This prompted the Answers Journal (Answers in Genesis’s own research journal that originally published Todd Wood’s paper) to also publish 3 critiques of Wood’s work.

The first is by David Menton, who works for Answers in Genesis. His criticism is essentially “the scientists say Australopithecus sediba isn’t a member of Homo.” It would seem that what palaeoanthropologists classify as Homo suddenly carries some weight: remember, when they classified Homo habilis as Homo many creationists rejected that conclusion.

Menton also takes a casual swipe at those pesky evolutionists for good measure

Wood uncritically accepts an evolutionist’s claims of certain anatomical similarities of Australopithecus sediba to humans as hard data, rather than opinion. He then does a statistical analysis of these opinions as though they were objective data.

So, you know anatomy? That tangible physical thing? Turns out it’s actually opinion, not objective. Do humans have 2 arms? Who can say? It’s all up in the air, all just opinion!

So what can we learn from all this? Creationists should listen to what the scientists say as long as it supports their conclusions. If it doesn’t then science can be ignored, it’s just opinion after all!

The next criticism was written by Anne Habermehl, an “independent scholar”. Their criticism betrays a fundamental misundertsanding of how science works, which results in some excellent quotes that really shed light on the creationist way of thinking

Will we now accept these obvious apes. . . as human, because somebody’s manipulation of statistics tells us that we should do this? And no matter what fossils this statistical technique dredges up and lumps into the category of humans, are we expected to welcome these beings into our human family with wide open arms?

Because altering your view in light of new evidence is something that should never be done!

This paper shows that there is a total faith required of the statistical analysis method itself, the suites of characters chosen, the integrity of these measurements by evolutionists, and the end results. This faith is a troublesome requirement

Suddenly faith is a bad thing? Further, it would seem the idea of accepting conclusions tentatively is beyond the ken of a creationist. We must either have total faith in a conclusion and ignore all flaws, or reject the whole thing.

Also, lovely sideswipe at those evilutionists there.

We can accept the scientific X-ray analysis studies of Cuozzo and recognize that the long-lived Neanderthals are the only early humans, or we can refuse to accept Cuozzo’s work and have no answers at all on the Neanderthals.

In other words, better to accept any conclusion rather than saying “I don’t know.”

Let me point out that we creationists can tell, merely from reading our Bible, that some fossils are human and some are not; we do not need statistical analysis to confirm this.

We want none of your pesky “evidence” and “science” getting involved with our reading of the Bible. No siree.

In the application of statistical analysis, it is the final results that ultimately tell us whether or not the method has merit

In other words,  the way to tell whether or not a methodology is valid is whether or not it gives you the conclusions you want.

The third criticism is from David DeWitt of Liberty University. It’s the only one that really makes a point worth considering: baraminiology works best when many different aspects of anatomy are analysed. Wood only examined the skull, so more work is needed. Not that it should really matter which bit he’s analysing, since anatomy is opinion after all.

Wood’s work, with it’s large sample size and comprehensive analyses, is probably one of the most rigorous articles ever published in the Answers Journal. I think it’s telling that it is also the study whose results are most consistent with the modern palaeoanthropological consensus.

What I find most interesting however, is the creationist response to this paper. Not a single one included any additional analysis or new data to challenge these conclusions. They all consisted of appeals to authority (scientists say sediba isn’t Homo) or challenges to the “authority” on Wood’s work is based (anatomy is just opinion). It takes 3 criticisms and thousands of words to make a single good point (and even then DeWitt repeats the “science say sediba isn’t Homo” response).

I think it provides valuable insight into the creationist mindset that appeals/challenges to authority are the primary response to a statistical analysis they don’t like.

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