Answers in Genesis claim new Australopithecus fossil is human!

Cleveland's reconstruction of Lucy (left) and BoneClone's reconstruction of Lucy (right)

Cleveland’s reconstruction of Lucy (left) and BoneClone’s older reconstruction (right)

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History has recently re-reconstructed Lucy; a famous, more ape-like human ancestor from ~3.2 million years ago. This update is based on the 2010 discovery of another Australopithecus afarensis which fills in many of the gaps in Lucy’s 43% skeleton. The other Au. afarensis (nicknamed “Big Man”, as in since it’s male and taller than Lucy) revealed their species had a more human-like barrel shaped ribcage and longer legs – amongst other things – than previously thought.

This is bad news for the Liverpool World Museum, where I volunteer, which had recently obtained a now-out-of-date reconstruction of Lucy. Darn.

It’s worse news for Answers in Genesis, whose main argument against Lucy being a human ancestor is that she was just another quadrupedal ape. Not only does Big Man further confirm their species walked upright like humans, but also refutes many of AiG’s arguments for why Lucy walked on all fours, like a chimp. In particular BM’s hip shows Au. afarensis had strong, functioning walking muscles (a fact AiG has previously disputed) and a human-like scapula (which they’ve also disputed).

How does AiG respond to these revelations? By doing the only sane thing left: claiming BM was a human! In their new article, “Lucy Makeover Shouts a Dangerously Deceptive Message About Our Supposed Ancestors” they write (bold added by me)

Of course, the possibility that the headless “Big Man” was neither ape nor ancestral hominid but rather a human (like perhaps Homo erectus) never enters the minds of evolutionary paleoanthropologists.

The dramatic differences between “Big Man” and “Lucy” are presumably written off to sexual dimorphism or their supposed 0.4 million year age discrepancy rather than to the fact that “Big Man” might not even be an afarensis or any kind of ape at all.

It looks like the author, Dr Mitchell, hasn’t read the scientific paper reporting Big Man’s discovery. After all, she’s talking about what she ‘presumes‘ the explanation for the differences between Lucy and BM is; rather than the actual explanation offered by BM’s discoverers. She also doesn’t cite the scientific paper reporting Big Man’s discovery and the relevant anatomical traits, a critical paper that should be present in any discussion of BM.

The footnotes from the AiG article. Note how they completely ignore the main article discussing why BM is an Australopith, titled “An early Australopithecus afarensis postcranium from Woranso-Mille, Ethiopia"

The footnotes from the AiG article. Note the absence of the primary article discussing why BM is an Australopith, titled “An early Australopithecus afarensis postcranium from Woranso-Mille, Ethiopia”

It would seem that the claim BM’s anatomy is distinct from Lucy’s is based on omitting the anatomy of Big Man. If the paper concering BM’s discovery and anatomy had been examined, it would’ve revealed the real reason Lucy and BM are so drastically different.

And what is the real explanation I hear you ask? Lucy and BM just aren’t that different. Most of the “differences” present in BM’s skeleton are bits that aren’t preserved in Lucy, so can’t be said to be different to her. As this colourful table I’ve prepared explains, when you compare the bits present in both Lucy and BM you find that they’re actually very, very similar.

Incomplete list of anatomical traits of chimps, BM, Lucy and humans. Taken from the supplementary information of An early Australopithecus afarensis postcranium from Woranso-Mille, Ethiopia

Incomplete list of anatomical traits of chimps, BM, Lucy and humans. Taken from the supplementary information of “An early Australopithecus afarensis postcranium from Woranso-Mille, Ethiopia

In fact, there are only really 2 major differences between BM and other Au. afarensis specimens. Firstly, his leg are longer than Lucy’s, but then the fact a species varies in height is hardly shocking. Secondly, his shoulder blade is more human-like than Sema’s (another Au. afarensis). However Sema is a 3 year old child, and we know that the scapula changes as an individual matures. So the fact BM’s adult scapula isn’t the same is hardly a “dramatic difference”.

Nonetheless, Dr Mitchell is determined to play up how different Big Man is from other Australopiths, so brings up the scapula difference (conveniently forgetting to mention the age of Selam). Bold added by me, again.

Despite the 2012 report of another afarensis fossil (named “Selam”) with a shoulder blade adapted for arboreal life, the more human-like “Big Man” offers more “scope for imagination” to the evolutionary story and to the Cleveland museum’s new fleshed-out, slim-and-trim Lucy.

Now here is where AiG really irritates me. You see that quote I’ve highlighted in bold. Now based on it’s context you might be led to think that it comes from someone related to Big Man’s discovery or his reconstruction. This might lead you to think that there’s some imagination used and the reconstruction isn’t scientifically accurate (something AiG have said about other reconstructions).

In fact, that quote comes from a novel published in 1908! The full quote, if you’re interested, goes like this

Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive—it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?

So if you’d been led to think that this quote is connected to the reconstruction and thus raises questions about it’s validity, you’d be dead wrong. It’s about as unrelated as possible and I think it’s a deplorable move by AiG to try and associate it (and its negative implications) with the new Lucy. 

But that show just how desperate they are. Their arguments that Lucy was a quadruped (weak as they are) have been thoroughly debunked by Big Man. The only out for AiG – aside from admitting that Au. afarensis is one of those “transitional forms” they say doesn’t exist – is the absurd claim BM and Lucy are different species. This claim is so weak it can only be supported by completely ignoring the paper discussing the anatomical characteristics of BM and poisoning the well with unrelated quotes. 

Bravo AiG.

14 thoughts on “Answers in Genesis claim new Australopithecus fossil is human!

  1. If it walked (mainly) upright, it was human. If it didn’t, it was an ape. Therefore, there are no intermediate forms between human and ape, nor will there ever be. Therefore, science may have the data but Genesis has the answers.

    No way of refuting that.

    • That seems to be the case. When presented with one clearly bipedal fossil they start claiming it’s human. When there’s a little bit of ambiguity about the other, that’s an ape, despite the fact they’re both the same species.

      Clearly the definition of “kind” is rigorous and scientific

    • Genesis has all the answers? The bible inaccurately discribes the earth, our atmosphere, and so many other attributes that I am startled you would make the statement above.

      • Oh dear, Roberto Aloi! I’ve fallen victim to Poe’s Law (Nathaniel’s, not Edgar Allen’s) ! I was trying to point out that AiG and their ilk will always move the goalposts so that the evidence for evolution, however, massive, somehow doesn’t count. For the avoidance of doubt, let me state that I regard creationism as absurd, anti-intellectual, anti-scientific, and from a religious perspective (which I did have, once), obtuse in its misconstruing of scripture and indeed blasphemous, since it would make God a liar in the great book of nature.

    • If a cyclonic storm has a wind speed of 39 and 74 miles per hour, it’s a tropical storm. If it has wind speed 75 miles per hour or higher, it is a hurricane. Therefore, there are no intermediate forms between tropical storm and hurricane, nor will there ever be. B-)

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  3. I suspect that Adam and Paul may have seen my own take on the latest AiG Australopithecus afarensis (or not) web article at the BCSE community forum. Others might not though. (comment at 7.46 am BST on 06.10.13)
    “Comment by one of the brainwashed bigots who inhabit the Answers in Genesis Facebook page:
    “We were in Ethiopia on an adoption journey and went to this museum and saw ‘Lucy’.I was fuming!It’s a monkey!!I’m so tired of the lies!! I have a fit every time we go visit the library.Almost every book has a thread of evolution.LIES,LIES ,LIES! I made a scene and said to anyone listening,”I’m going upstairs,I can’t stand these lies!”

    She was reacting to this: … lelinkedin … velte-look

    The new ‘dangerously deceptive message’ (by who?) AiG article FINALLY acknowledges the findings reported here:
    Though of course they do NOT supply a readily accessible link to this Abstract.

    Mitchell waffles and asks how can scientists be sure that the fourth metatarsal belonged to Australopithecus afarensis. Has she seen this I wonder:

    “Australopithecus afarensis is extinct. Its bones suggest it was not identical to living apes, but it did have much in common with them…”. So will Ken Ham STOP suggesting it was a ‘gorilla’?

    “Its wrist bones also suggest it was a knuckle-walker”. That is an OUT OF DATE claim, over a decade old. Whereas the Abstract of the 2011 paper in Science – FINALLY mentioned in an AiG article a year after they depicted a ‘gorilla’ in their ‘Creation Museum’ – stated “These features show that the A. afarensis foot was functionally like that of modern humans and support the hypothesis that this species was a committed terrestrial biped”.

    Thus AiG are forced to question in public that the metatarsal belonged to the ‘Lucy’ species, as they have decide that A. afarensis was an ‘ape’ and ‘knuckle-walker’. After all, as Mitchell admits: “The fourth metatarsal rescued from a pile of over 370 miscellaneous bones looks remarkably human, as presented in the comparative photos from Ward et al.’s 2011 article in Science”.”

    • I found the AiG article whilst looking up what they have to say about unforimatrianism (in preparation for a post in defence of it, now on hold). I didn’t get it from your BSCE post. This is unfortunate, since you bring up some great points, including that second study on the metatarsal.

      This study shows that the metatarsal is very similar to human ones, but that human ones do bear some striking similarities to ape ones. As such the features identified in it can’t really be used to “diagnose” many of the human features (such as arches) that Ward’s original study claimed to find. Since AiG is arguing the new metatarsal is fully human, by extension this means most apes have fully human metatarsals as well! Fancy that.

      That wrist thing really annoys me. It’s from the Richmond and Strait paper I’ve criticised many times before. Like the metatarsal, it identified traits which aren’t really diagnostic of various locomotory behaviours (and used some broken bones as well)! They also don’t make the argument Lucy was capable of knuckle walking.

      This highlights just how deceptive AiG is being, as they write:

      They believed Lucy was adding bipedal abilities to her already efficient “repertoire consisting of terrestrial knuckle-walking, arboreal climbing and occasional suspensory activities, not unlike that observed in chimpanzees today.

      However, the full quote from the paper reveals the authors aren’t talking about Lucy, but her pre-bipedal ancestors:

      Pre-bipedal locomotion is probably best characterized as a repertoire consisting of terrestrial knuckle-walking, arboreal climbing and occasional suspensory activities, not unlike that observed in chimpanzees today

      What do they actually say about Lucy’s locomotion?

      Rather, the absence of these features in early hominids, in conjunction with clearly derived morphological evidence for bipedalism, suggests to us that early hominids did not themselves practise knuckle-walking. The total morphological pattern is consistent with the suggestion that the knuckle-walking morphology in the wrists of A. anamensis and A. afarensis was retained from a knuckle-walking ancestor [rather than actually being used for knuckle-walking]

      Of course, as I mentioned this work is suspect anyway! But even assuming AiG were citing a paper which hadn’t been been refuted, it doesn’t even say what they say it does!

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