Creationists admit humans and Australopithecus are related

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 ark 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 Duane 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 (although that’s not saying much). 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 research they don’t like. Which isn’t how science works, in case you hadn’t figured that out already.

32 thoughts on “Creationists admit humans and Australopithecus are related

  1. You mention Answers journal. This can be purchased from PWAMM, People With A Mission Ministries, who currently have three “Challenger” buses visiting non-denominational publicly funded schools in Scotland and contributing to their religious education programmes.

    But the type boundary problem is nothing new for creationists. Some say Archaeopteryx is really a reptile (look at that tail!), others that it is a bird (feathers!), but this much they agree on: since it mist be one of the other, it cannot possibly be intermediate between the two and therefore no intermediate forms exist.

    • The Answers journal is freely available from the AiG website, so you don’t have to give PWAMM your money if you don’t want to.

      The interesting thing is that Wood claimed his study would solve the boundary problem, thus solving one common evolutionist critique of creationism. Not that it stopped him receiving tonnes of criticism.

        • Really? Blue letter Bible (my go to hebrew resource) says the word miyn is the sort of kind creationists describe. But then again, the BLB definition makes references to “genetics” which I pretty sure isn’t an Ancient Hebrew concept….

          Any light you could shed would be great.

          • Hebrew syntax is subtle. Bara is “created” as in active verb 3rd person masculine singular past tense, not as in the intended adjectival past participle.. Miyn could be type, or type-of, since in this case the possessive is the same as the nominative. “A” is absent in Hebrew, as in, say, Latin, but the word would always need at least an implicit quantifier, and “the” would be transferred to the word for the thing possessed if miyn were possessive.

            But I imagine this is more than you want to know

            • Miynology would work. But they want the “bara” to designate separately created. And, as I said, they don’t know a passive adjectival participle from an active past tense verb. But then, as we know, they don’t know much.

            • When it comes to “things creationists get wrong” I think Hebrew grammar is probably one of their lesser offences. Although it’s telling they don’t even get that right, given it’s meant to be the very foundation of their worldview.

  2. It looks to me like A. sediba is an Australopithecus robustus. All this talk of humans evolving to A. sediba is nonsense. The trouble with people making conclusions is that they are not looking at the evidence and they are trying to come up with new ideas which only adds to the confusion.

    • Wood’s main problem isn’t his ignorance of the evidence. He’s thorough and competent. His problem is what he’s looking for. He’s trying to identify clusters of similar species (i.e. kinds) rather than examining whether or not there are links between these clusters (i.e. a family tree).

      In fact, looking at his statistical analysis you can see that the results replicate the evolutionary family tree. Humans are similar to Australopithecus which is similar to Ardipithecus etc. These similarities just aren’t enough to count as a single “kind” so are completely ignored.

      Also, sediba probably wasn’t directly related to the robusts.

  3. I think Todd Wood’s views are a minority within YEC-ism (I don’t think baraminology is given any prominence at the Creation Museum for instance). I knew many YECs accepted other Homo species as being within the ‘human’ kind – and indeed label them as misidentified Homo sapiens. I didn’t realise that Wood considered Australopithecus sediba (but not afarensis?) as being part of a human ‘kind’ too (surely he is not saying this species which most YECs dismiss as an extinct ‘ape’/’chimp’/’gorilla’ was actually human). He also seems to accept that eg Homo habilis may have been created as a different species to us within the human ‘kind’. Or does he assume diversification post-flood to produce habilis – which then died out? It’s not obvious from the Abstract if he thinks that.
    “The dispersal of the human population from Babel would presumably have been led by H. habilis and H. rudolfensis.” Wood appears to offer no reason for this startling assumption used to deal with the fossil record I hope it wasn’t an early case of ethnic cleansing (a phenomenon not unknown in the Old Testament).
    Not sure how biblical Wood is being in his ‘baraminology’ but there we are – Genesis 1: 26-27 imply that humans were separately created from other land animals, including other wild animals such as what we today call ‘apes’, on ‘day six’.

    • Amongst most creation scientists there is an idea of “post-flood divergence within kinds.” The idea is that Noah only took a single example of each kind and that all modern variation within that kind is a result of evolution and speciation since the flood.

      Wood appears to be saying that humans have undergone a similar recent evolution. The other species he identifies aren’t part of our species, but other species that fall within the human kind and emerged after the flood.

  4. I don’t completely understand why you spend time reading creationist papers, but I thought I would play devil’s advocate to offer a different light on of the quotes (I realize the irony of that sentence):

    Will we now accept these obvious apes. . . as human … 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?

    This criticism has merit if you consider what being in “our human family” means to the creationist. To them, it confirms special rights and privileges on members, these are arbitrary and socially decided. As such, there is no need to respect ‘scientific’ evidence for boundaries of this family. That is not a question of import to them, unless an ethical argument is also given as to why the family should be extended. The author could have, of course, said this more constructively and scientifically if they weren’t tied to blind realism (they assume that these categories are real and not observer defined; the often have similar problems with the micro-vs-macro evolution distinction) by saying “this scientific category that Wood calls ‘human family’ is an arbitrary classification, that does not properly reflect how we normally use the term ‘human family’ in scripture”. This kind of argument is actually often used (and sometimes well) in philosophy with ‘in scripture’ replaced by ‘in every day language’.

    I also wish the following quote was confined only to creationism:

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

    But unfortunately, it seems to be common any many fields that don’t provide mathematical training, but report statistics. In psych, for instance, if some common statistical test yields significance then nobody bothers to check if this is a test that is reasonable to use; however, if it is not significant then people will often spend a long time hunting for an alternative test that will yield the results they want. Of course, the difference between psychology and creationism is that if you admit to such methods then people will consider you as doing bad science in one but not necessarily the other.

    The only part of the post that is relevant to science, though, is your sarcastic remark on creationist methods:

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

    I would argue that from a cstheory perspective, scientists are actually very bad at saying “I don’t know”, at least formally. Recently, I’ve been a little on the fence about parts of this. On the one hand, it is significantly useful to remain inconclusive where solid evidence is lacking. However, in fields like math, the only solid evidence is proof and sometimes it is impossible to have a research program without assuming some things to hold true that you can’t prove. This has recently generated some interesting discussion on reddit regarding the belief in P != NP. Do we need different standards for forming beliefs between verificationalist and falsificationalist fields? How does all of this relate to realism versus pragmatism?

    • I think the key issue surrounding “I don’t know” is science’s ability to hold tentative conclusions. It’s not a case of “I don’t know” vs “assuming something to be true” for we can apportion belief appropriate to the evidence and accept a conclusion with the provision it is imperfect and could be changed or altered at a future date.

      As for the rest of it, there are certainly many areas science needs improving. We continue to see papers published about large percentages of people admitting to dishonest practices, low rates of replication and so forth. But at least we’re motivated to and trying to fix it!

  5. i. we know now that human has 60 unique genes that apes dont have. but before this- i think lucy was kind of ape because her legs foots was ape like and not human like. we dont find any foot print of lucy yet that are human like. the second thing is the lenght of is arms.

    • Lucy is a kind of apes, but then so are humans. We both fall within that definition of creature. The real question is whether she was part of a non-human ape lineage. It’s certainly true that the Australopiths possessed many ape-like characteristics more similar to chimps and gorillas than humans. These include small brains, prognathic faces, brow ridges, arms and hands adapted for climbing and many more. And yet most palaeoanthropologists still argue that they are more closely related to humans rather than to these other apes they resemble.

      This is because evolutionary biology doesn’t identify relationship by comparing the raw number of similarities between a species. Rather, they look for synapomorphies. These are traits which are unique to one particular lineage, having evolved since they diverged from others, so can be used to define it. Thus if you find them in a fossil there’s a very good chance your looking at an ancient member of that lineage.

      Many of the similarities between Australopithecus and the non-human apes aren’t synapomorphies. For example, both gorillas and chimps have a small brain, so this can’t be used to define either. As such, the fact Australopithecus has a small brain isn’t evidence it was an ancestor of gorillas or chimps.

      Conversely, many of the similarities Australopithecus shares with modern humans are unique to our lineage, indicating that Australopithecus is part of it. Things like habitual bipedalism, use of stone tools and many boring things relating to the shape and size of their various bones are all traits which define the human lineage and are present in Australopiths. These synapomorphies mean that we can say with confidence that Australopithecus is a member of the human family.

    • My approach for identifying relationships was based on physical characteristics whilst the post you linked to was attempting to dispute genetic evidence. As such, they’re unrelated and your link in no way invalidates what I said before. That’s still a good way to figure out who is related to who.

      That post doesn’t even do a good job of disputing the genetic evidence either. They’re trying to claim that because a few percent of ape genomes doesn’t match up with the evolutionary tree evolution is invalidated. This argument is based on ignorance of a phenomena known as “incomplete lineage sorting” (ILS) which is a well documented occurrence that accounts for this effect.

      For more info on ILS see this nice post.

        • A nice little analogy is to imagine that a parent has 2 genes (A and B). They have two children, one who inherits both genes, one who only inherits gene A (because sex is random). The first child grows up and has two children of their own, one inheriting gene A and the other gene B. Thus for those genes, one of these grandchildren would be more closely related to their uncle than their sibling.

          Based on creationist logic, this would be sufficient to deny the idea of reproduction.

      • “My approach for identifying relationships was based on physical characteristics whilst the post you linked to was attempting to dispute genetic evidence. “-

        from what i know. the genetics is best way to check phylogeny. even so it more interesting than this. check this artivle:

        By contrast, humans share at least 28 unique physical characteristics with orangutans but only 2 with chimps and 7 with gorillas, the authors say.

        ” (ILS) which is a well documented occurrence that accounts for this effect.”-

        so we cant test phylogeny tree. we can always say that the tree is mix or somthing. so this claim isnt sientific/

        • Genetics is a good way of testing morphological analyses, helping us refine our methods of what parts of anatomy we should like for. This is particularly useful for when we don’t have the genome of an animal, as is the case with Australopithecus. But genetic tests have shown looking for synapomorphies is a good way of figuring out who is related to who, so the method I described above is valid. If you want to figure out who Australopithecus is related to, that’s the way to do it.

          ILS typically results in <2% of a species' DNA not "matching" phylogenetic relationships. If you go back and read the post you sent me, you'll see figures like "0.8%" and "0.5%". So phylogenetic analyses are testable, because the vast majority of the genome should still match up.

          As for the orang-utan paper, they examined ~70 anatomical characteristics. When follow-up research examined more than 500 traits it was shown that humans are more similar to chimps after all. Like I said, comparative anatomy is a fineky field and you have to be careful with your methodology.

          • hi again.

            “ILS typically results in <2% of a species' DNA not "matching" phylogenetic relationships. "-

            i think its ad hoc. because we always can say that this is because convergent evolution or ils or different selection pressure ect.
            the point is that its not testable. if we will get a change of 4% its still can be because of ils. so can5% or 6%.

            "As for the orang-utan paper, they examined ~70 anatomical characteristics. When follow-up research examined more than 500 traits it was shown that humans are more similar to chimps after all."-

            yes. but its very complex trait with complelx genetic information. so its not simple at all. its like to find 3 cars(with dna). 2 of them have the same engine. but even so we can say the 3rd car is more close to one of them. because the all other parts in the 2 cars are more different from each other then the 3rd car.

          • Except that ILS and all those other factors are testable because they make different predictions about what should happen. For example, we have 4% Neanderthal DNA and there was debate over whether this was the result of interbreeding or ILS. This could be tested through linkage disequlibrium (LD), which is when two or more alleles are more likely to be inherited together than would be expected due to random chance. However, sexual reproduction jumbles up the genome, “breaking” linked genes. This means that over time the number of linked genes decreases.

            This is useful because under the ILS model we got Neanderthal DNA before our species split 300 – 600,000 years ago. Under the interbreeding model we got it much more recently, within the last 100,000 years. So we can then look at the number of linked alleles shared by us and Neanderthals (which means that they were inherited from a common ancestor). The ILS model predicts we should see fewer linked alleles in this shared DNA, since more time has passed. And when scientists did look at it, they found it was inconsistent with ILS, disproving that as an explanation.

            If it is testable and does get investigated, it is not ad hoc.

            As for the orang-utan stuff, neither team of scientists was able to identify an “engine” that is so complex that if two groups shared it they must be related. It’s certainly an interesting possibility and would perhaps be useful when examining another set of relationships. But in the case of orang-utans, chimps and humans it doesn’t really alter the results.

  6. hi adam. actually a complex eye evolve according to the evolution a lots of time. so even if we will find a complex trait the scientists can say that its a product of parrel evolution.

You evolved too. Have a say.

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