Since then I’ve been waiting for young-earth creationists to comment on the issue. Given they reject evolutionary explanations of things, I suspected they’d arrive at the same conclusion at me but via a different path. I was hoping that these differences in approach could shed some light on how our thinking differs; perhaps revealing how we might have a productive discussion.
Over the weekend Answers in Genesis – the organisation behind the controversial replica of Noha’s ark and the recent debate with Bill Nye – fulfilled my request. Sadly I was disappointed as they didn’t actually say much that was really substantial. Most of their article simply recounted the research, interspersed with a bit of commentary about how it’s based on evolutionary theory, which is wrong. To make matters worse a large chunk of their interpolations were simply false.
For example, they claim:
Because australopithecines are generally regarded as the oldest actors in the human evolutionary story, Carrier and Morgan compared the facial structure of humans to several australopithecine species
This is wrong, we have hominin fossils almost twice the age of Australopithecines. What’s perhaps more egregious is that the researchers didn’t select these species based on age. Rather, they were examining them because they have a unique skull which they believe can be explained as an adaptation to withstand getting punched. As the researchers actually write in their study:
For six decades, the distinctly robust faces of the first bipedal apes, the australopiths, have been recognized as phylogenetically derived [i.e. unique]…..In this review, we suggest an alternative adaptive hypothesis for many of the facial features of australopiths based on the need to protect the face from injury during fighting.
And that’s what this post was originally going to be about: picking through the creationist article, demonstrating how many of their original thoughts on the subject were factually vacuous as (more) evidence young-earthers should be ignored.
However, as I was going through these claims by the creationists I ran across one that seemed very peculiar. It purported to describe how some “evolutionists” were objecting to the face-punch and their motivation for doing so. They discuss such objections twice, each time making basically the same point:
Their conclusions have drawn criticism from some who do not believe human ancestors were inherently violent. To admit that violence shaped human evolution impugns the image of the “noble savage.”
Carrier and Morgan’s theory demands that our supposed ape-like ancestors were aggressive enough for violence to primarily shape our evolution. That view is not popular with everyone. The French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau once argued that before civilization humans were “noble savages” and that violence results from various evils of society.
Now, these statements leapt out at me because I’m one of the people criticising this study and it in no way reflects the basis of my objection or my motivation for doing so. What’s more, I’ve been reading a lot about this research elsewhere, and none of the other objections I’ve seen are even remotely similar to the points raised here either (in fact, there’s been remarkably few objections with most sources repeating the story uncritically).
- Brian Switek, over at NatGeo, points out that Australopiths weren’t that great at forming fists
- David Nickle is interviewed over at the LA times, and argues that simply matching traits to explanations isn’t enough.
- George Dvosky, at io9, briefly mentions that their evidence is circumstantial
- I, over at here, note they provide no evidence that Australopoiths were actually fighting.
- And of course, there’s assorted sarcasm throughout twitter.
And that’s it1. Most other critical references to face punching cite one of these sources (HuffPo, for example, links back to me; whilst I’ve seen Brian Switek cited across Reddit). None of us mention the “Noble Savage” and none of us have based our objections on assumptions about how violent our ancestors were.
You know who does talk about the noble savage though? The authors of the face-punch research in interviews. However, they bring it up in the context of the wider implications of their study. As reported in Sci-News (and a lot of other places; also H/T to BDAskeptic for pointing me to these quotes)
The study provides an alternative explanation for the evolution of the hominin face, but also addresses the debate over whether or not our distant past was violent,” Dr Carrier [one of the authors on the study] explained.
“The debate over whether or not there is a dark side to human nature goes back to the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau who argued that before civilization humans were noble savages”
In essence then, Answers in Genesis has fabricated a “scientific” debate out of the wider philosophical implications of the research; misrepresenting the actual debate in the process. Their discussion of the objections to the research in no way reflect the objections actually being raised by real people; they’re basically inventions derived from a few quotes about philosophy by the authors of the research. What’s worse, it’s giving the false impression that this discussion of evolution is rooted in philosophy and assumptions, rather than actual evidence. See, that pesky evolution isn’t scientific after all!
Of course, I can’t say whether this fabrication by Answers in Genesis was malicious. They may simply have invented these objections because they were unable to find legitimate ones. They saw these quotes from Dr Carrier and didn’t bother to dig any deeper to uncover legitimate discussion of this research. However, I’m not sure that puts them in a better light; as it implies their articles are poorly researched (the LA times article is the first result for “face evolved to be punched criticism”) and are willing to cover this up with fabrication.
Regardless of the ultimate answer, I think this gives you a much better reason to ignore them than the one I was originally going for. So thanks Answers in Genesis!
- The rest of my post flows from this point; so if you discover it is wrong and some news source has actually made the leap from “noble savage” to “no punching faces” please let me know. I’ll take this post down and issue an apology
EDIT: The discussion of the authors reference to these philosophical idea was added.