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Making man out of monkeys

by , Ph.D.

Copyright © 1997 Missouri Association for Creation, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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Published: 22 August 2000(GMT+10)

The bitterest pill to swallow for any Christian who attempts to “make peace” with Darwin is the presumed animal ancestry of man. Even many Christians who uncritically accept evolutionary dogma as “God’s way of creating” try to elevate man and his origin above that of the beasts. Evolutionists attempt to soften the blow by assuring us that man didn’t exactly evolve from apes (tailless monkeys) but rather from ape-like creatures. This is mere semantics, as may be seen from the fact that many of the presumed animal ancestors of man have been given scientific names which include the word pithecus (derived from the Greek meaning ape) just like many living apes. The much touted “human ancestor” commonly known as “Lucy,” for example, has the scientific name Australopithecus afarensis (meaning southern ape from the Afar triangle of Africa), though evolutionists often refer to this ape as a “woman”! But what exactly is the evidence for the ape ancestry of man and how compelling is it?

The first and most important thing we should understand is that evolutionists begin with the assumption that man has in fact evolved from apes. No paleoanthropologist (one who studies the fossil evidence for man’s origin) would dare to seriously raise the question “did man evolve from apes?” The only permissible question is “from which apes did man evolve?” Since evolutionists generally do not believe that man evolved from any ape that is now living, they look to extinct apes in the fossil record to provide them with their desired evidence. Specifically, they look for any anatomical feature that looks “intermediate” between that of apes and man. Fossil apes having such features are declared to be ancestral to man (or at least collateral relatives) and are called hominids. Living apes, on the other hand, are not considered to be “hominids” they only sort of look like humans. Still, evolutionists are willing to accept certain trivial similarities between extinct apes and men as “proof” of ancestry.

Fossils of so-called “hominids” are typically fragmentary and sufficiently rare that even many who presume to study the origin of man have never actually handled one. Many scientific papers on human evolution are based on only casts of original specimens (or even on published photos, measurements, and descriptions of them). Naturally, there is a great premium on first-hand studies of real “hominid” fossils but such opportunities are typically confined to those lucky enough to find them, and the chosen few they permit to handle their fragile specimens. Since there is much more prestige in finding an ancestor of man than an ancestor of living apes (or worse yet, merely an extinct ape), there is immense pressure on paleoanthropologists to decide in favor of “hominid” status for any of the exceedingly rare, ape-like fossils they find. It would seem that the living apes have pretty much been left to find their own ancestors.

With rare exception, primate fossils consist of bones and teeth rather than the soft organs of the body. Because of their relative hardness, teeth, jaws and basal skull fragments are the most frequently found primate fossils. Much of the evidence for the ape ancestry of man is based on similarities in teeth and jaws. In contrast to man, apes tend to have large incisor and canine teeth which are relatively larger than their molars. In addition, there is typically a broad gap between the incisor and canine teeth of apes. Finally, the jaws tend to be more U-shaped in apes and more parabolic (like the St. Louis Arch) in man.

One of the problems in identifying evolutionary “intermediates” is the normal range of variations that occur among both fossil and living species of apes and humans. The normal human jaw, for example, may vary among individuals from parabolic (human-like) to U-shaped (ape-like), while some living species of apes, like the Galada baboons, have relatively large molars (human-like). It seems almost certain that teeth tell us more about an organism’s diet and feeding habits than its supposed evolution. Still, impressionable artists have not hesitated to illustrate entire “apemen” from nothing more than a single tooth. In the early 1920’s, the “apeman” Hesperopithecus (which consisted of a single tooth) was pictured in the London Illustrated News complete with the tooth’s wife, children, domestic animals, and cave! This tooth, known as “Nebraska man” was still used by evolutionists as compelling evidence for human evolution during the time of the Scopes trial in 1925, but in 1927 parts of the skeleton were found and Nebraska man was downgraded to an extinct pig!

The most eagerly sought after evidence in fossil “hominids” is any anatomical feature that suggests bipedality (the ability to walk on two legs). Humans walk in a bipedal fashion (as do birds and kangaroos), so any evidence of bipedality in fossil apes is considered by evolutionists to be compelling evidence for human ancestry. The distinctive human gait requires the complex integration of many skeletal and muscular features in our hips, legs and feet. Thus, evolutionists closely examine the hip bones (pelvis), thigh bones (femur), leg bones (tibia and fibula), and foot bones (especially the toes) of fossil apes in an effort to detect any anatomical features consistent with bipedality.

Evolutionists are particularly interested in the angle at which the femur and the tibia meet at the knee (called the carrying angle). Humans are able to keep their weight over their feet while walking because their femurs converge toward the knees forming a carrying angle of approximately 9 degrees with the tibia (we’re sort of knock-kneed). In contrast, chimpanzees and gorillas have widespread legs with a carrying angle of essentially 0 degrees. These animals manage to keep their weight over their feet when walking by swinging their body from side to side in the familiar “ape-walk.” Evolutionists assume that fossil apes with a high carrying angle (human-like) were bipedal and thus evolving into man. The south African australopithicines (like Lucy) are considered to be our ancestors largely because they had a carrying angle of 15 degrees. Many evolutionists now argue, however, that this high carrying angle might actually indicate that australopithicines were adept tree climbers! Among nonhuman living primates, the highest carrying angles (values comparable to man) are found in the orangutan and spider monkey—both exceptionally adept tree climbers though capable of at least a clumsy bipedal gait on the ground. The point is that there are living tree-dwelling apes and monkeys with some of the same anatomical features that evolutionists consider as evidence for bipedality, yet no one suggests that these animals are either our ancestors or descendants.

Australopithicines (especially “Lucy”) are often depicted as having hands and feet identical to modern man which, if true, might strongly suggest human ancestry. A live-appearing mannequin of “Lucy” in the Living World exhibit at the St. Louis Zoo, for example, shows virtually human hands and feet on a shapely (though hairy) human-like female body with an obviously ape-like head. Lucy stands erect in a deeply pensive pose with her right elbow resting on the wrist of her crooked left arm and with her right forefinger curled under her chin, her eyes gazing off into the distance as if she were contemplating the mind of Newton. Any uncritical visitor seeing this exhibit would be inclined to think they had seen a true “apewoman.” Few visitors are aware that this is a misrepresentation of what is known about the fossil ape Australopithecus afarensis. While the “Lucy” fossil itself lacks both hands and feet, several other known specimens of A. afarensis include these important bones and all show evidence of the long curved fingers and toes characteristic of tree dwelling primates. Paleoanthropologists Jack Stern and Randall Sussman (American Journal of Physical Anthropology, vol. 60, pages 279–317, 1983) have reported that the hands of this species are “surprisingly similar to hands found in the small end of the pygmy chimpanzee-common chimpanzee range.” They report that the feet, like the hands, are “long, curved and heavily muscled” much like those of living primates that engage in tree climbing as well as bipedality. The authors remind us that no living primate has such hands and feet “for any purpose other than to meet the demands of full or part-time arboreal (tree dwelling) life.”

We have seen how evolutionists have used australopithicines to make man out of monkeys, in our next installment we will see how they have used Neandertal man to make monkeys out of men.

Originally published in St. Louis MetroVoice, Vol. 5, No. 2, Feb. 1995.

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