Jonathan Sarfati

Response to PBS-TV series Evolution

Episode 6: The Mind’s Big Bang

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This episode attempts to explain the biggest difference between humans and animals: our mind, including the advantages of language. However, it makes hardly any attempt to prove evolution; rather, it assumes it, and makes up just-so stories to explain the differences given this assumption.

Origin of mankind

The program begins deep in a cave in France, where archaeologist Randy White explores cave paintings, allegedly 30–40 ka (kilo-annum = thousand years ago). The narrator intones about finding out how our ancestors became truly human, and how the mind was born. Then the scene shifts to the Rift Valley in East Africa, where ‘humans began’.

Supposedly our branch of the evolutionary tree split off 6 Ma (mega-annum = million years ago) from the line leading to chimps. Our ancestors swung down from the trees and became bipedal about 4 Ma, tools were first made 2.5 Ma, early humans began to leave Africa 2 Ma but they would all eventually become extinct, while truly modern humans left Africa 50–60 ka. This is all ‘documented’ with computer graphics, then by actors.

Internal evolutionary squabbles overlooked

As shown later, this program advocates what is called the ‘Out of Africa’ model, without saying so. This is where modern humans came out of Africa and replaced less evolved hominids that had emerged from Africa much earlier. But there is another evolutionary idea, called the ‘multi-regional’ or ‘regional-continuity’ hypothesis, where the hominids that emerged from Africa 2 Ma evolved into modern humans in many parts of the world. This is one of the most vitriolic debates among paleoanthropologists, yet this episode presents only one side. The acrimony between the proponents of these rival theories is due, according to the anthropologist Peter Underhill of Stanford University, to: ‘Egos, egos, egos. Scientists are human.’ We think both sides are right—in their criticisms of each other, because humans did not evolve at all! Dr Carl Wieland explains both the out of Africa and regional-continuity ideas and offers a Biblical view in his article, No Bones about Eve.

Human distinctives

The program showed a skull dated 100 ka, and said that the owner could have been dressed up in modern clothes and it would hardly raise an eyebrow. Massachusetts Institute of Technology psychologist Steven Pinker pointed out that modern human babies anywhere in the world can learn every language in the world, and counting, as well as grow to understand computers. So he suggested: ‘the distinctively human parts of our intelligence were in place before our ancestors split off into the different continents.’

The humans who left Africa 50—60 ka encountered the hominids that had left earlier, that had evolved into Neandertals. They were bigger and stronger than we are, had bigger brains, and were characterized by a big nose, receding chin (prognathism) and forehead, almost no cheek, and prominent brow ridges (supraorbital tori). But they were allegedly less creative, with almost no symbolic life or art, and unstructured burial of their dead. Their spear tips were easy to make from chipping stone, but had low range so were mainly for stabbing. Supposedly they learned by imitation, rather than passing on information via a highly developed language.

The late arrivals, however, had a structured burial of their dead, made long-range spears with some difficulty by carving antlers for tips. They also invented a spear thrower. Most importantly, they had a sophisticated language that enabled them to transmit information across both distance and time.

They also produced art and culture. The program demonstrates a ‘spit painting’ technique they could have used for their cave paintings, and shows that they may have played music by using speleothems (stalactites and stalagmites) as natural percussion instruments.

Creationist view of cave men and Neandertals

The Bible teaches that the first man, Adam, was made from dust and the first woman was made from his rib–see this part of Rebuttal 7. Also, Genesis 1 teaches that living creatures reproduce ‘after their kinds’—see this part of Rebuttal 1. Therefore we would expect no continuity between man and the animals.

The ‘links’ are still missing!

The ‘ape-men’ fossils are often based on fragmentary remains, and this is true of the latest of a long series of ‘missing link claims’, Ardipithecus ramidus kadabba (see Time’s alleged ‘ape-man’ trips up (again)). But when more bones are found, the specimens are found to be either man or non-man (e.g. australopithecine). The paper The non-transitions in ‘human evolution’—on evolutionists’ terms concludes from the analysis of a number of characteristics that Homo ergaster, Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, and Homo neanderthalensis were most likely racial variants of modern man, while H. rudolfensis and H. habilis were just types of australopithecines. The evolutionary anatomist Dr Charles Oxnard showed that australopithecines were more different from both chimps and humans than these are from each other.1

Cave men and the Bible

One important event recorded in the Bible is the confusion of languages at Babel. The obvious effect was to produce the major language families, from which modern languages have developed (see below). But the division of people according to their newly created language groups had other effects too.

Babel resulted in the isolation of small people groups, each containing a fraction of the total gene pool. This would help fix certain characteristics. Natural selection and sexual selection would act on these, producing the different people groups (‘races’) we see today. See Where did the human races come from?

Also, some people groups would be isolated from civilization. Consider even the typical small extended family group today, if suddenly isolated from civilization, e.g. on a desert island. Many such groups would not have the ability to smelt metals or build houses. Therefore they would have to use the hardest material available (stone) and make use of already-existing dwellings (caves). Different family groups would also have different levels of artistic ability. So it shouldn’t be too difficult to accept that humans such as Homo erectus and Neandertals were probably post-Babel humans who became isolated from major cities, and developed certain physical characteristics because certain genes became fixed due to the small population and selective factors. The notion of a ‘stone age’ is fallacious—rather, it’s a cave/stone technology stage of different people groups. Some people even today have this level of technology, but they live at the same time as us, and are just as human.

Human brain uniqueness

Pinker points out that the human brain contains 100 billion cells, and more importantly, it is wired with 100 trillion connections, ‘wiring it in precise ways to produce intelligence’. But he attributed this to mutations over 10s and 100s of thousands of years. But he has yet to find a single mutation that could increase information, let alone the many required to wire the cerebral supercomputer correctly.

Supposedly this would have been driven by selection for ability to manipulate others. Better language control means better social control.

Human v chimp minds

Psychologist Andrew Whiten of the University of St Andrews in Scotland tested how young children learned. Incidentally, on the lintel above the entryway to the school, was the Latin ‘In principio erat Verbum’, the Vulgate translation of John 1:1, ‘In the beginning was the Word’. He tested children with small models of people, where one ‘person’ puts an object in one place, goes away, then another ‘person’ takes this object and hides it somewhere else. Then the first ‘person’ returns, whereupon the child is asked where he or she would look for the object. A 3-year-old suggests the new hiding place, while a 5-year-old correctly realizes that the first ‘person’ would have no way of knowing that the object was moved, and would look in the place he left it. (Sometimes this is called the ‘Sally-Anne’ test, where the ‘Sally’ doll hides something in the presence of ‘Anne’) Whiten concluded that by the age of three:

‘A child cannot ascribe actions to others. But by the age of five, the child’s brain has developed the capacity for stepping into someone else’s mind.’

The program contrasts this with chimpanzees, which are incapable of this at any age, ‘No chimp has passed the test of attribution of false belief.’

Language

There are about 6300 languages in the world today. They all have certain constraints, and obey strict rules, called syntax. This enables us to hierarchically organize information, which is something chimps cannot do, even with the best training in signing.

There is a certain window of opportunity for learning syntax by imitation that gradually closes after the age of seven. The program shifted to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, where we meet ‘Mary No-name’. She was born deaf, and no one taught her sign language, so she never had a chance to learn syntax. She is still intelligent enough to communicate with some signs, but only to people who know the context.

After the revolution, US sign language experts tried to teach sign language to deaf people from isolated villages, but failed. But the children developed their own sign language instead, which is a real language with proper syntax and as much capacity for expressing complex thought as spoken language. They wanted to communicate with other people like them rather than have a language imposed upon them.

Deaf people actually process sign language with the same areas of the brain that hearing people use to process spoken language, including Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. This is shown by deaf patients who have damage to either area, who have an equivalent type of aphasia (language impairment) in sign language to that a hearing person would suffer in spoken language.2

Evolution of language?

None of the above has anything to do with evolution. The language processing areas are unique to humans, and enable us to use syntax in both written and sign language.

All the same, Richard Dawkins of Oxford University presents his usual storytelling about how language conferred a selective advantage, so left more offspring. It’s interesting that the only topic this well-known propagandist for neo-Darwinism is interviewed on is language, although Dawkins’ field is biology, not linguistics. It’s also notable that the PBS series did not show Dawkins promoting his rabid atheistic religion, which he makes plain is a main reason for his promotion of Darwin. Presumably the producers didn’t want to make the materialistic implications of evolution too obvious to an American public that might still be repulsed by overt atheism.

Robin Dunbar of Liverpool University researched the way people use language, and he rejects the idea that the main function is to exchange information. Rather, about 2/3 is social interactions, what he called ‘gossip’. So natural selection favored those with the most refined social skills, which would have the advantages of holding big groups together and being able to find out information about third parties.

Difficulties with language evolution

It’s one thing to claim that languages evolved, but it’s another to provide a mechanism. Evolutionists usually claim that languages evolved from animal grunts. Some even claim that the continuing change of languages is just like biological evolution. However, actual observations of language present a very different picture.

First, ancient languages were actually extremely complex with many different inflections. There is no hint of any build-up from simpler languages. E.g. in the Indo-European family, Sanskrit, Classical Greek and Latin had many different noun inflections for different case, gender and number, while verbs were inflected for tense, voice, number and person. Modern descendants of these languages have greatly reduced the number of inflections, i.e. the trend is from complex to simpler, the opposite of evolution. English has almost completely lost inflections, retaining just a few like the possessive “–’s”.

English has also lost 65–85% of the Old English vocabulary, and many Classical Latin words have also been lost from its descendants, the Romance languages (Spanish, French, Italian, etc.).

Second, most of the changes were not random, but the result of intelligence. For example: forming compound words by joining simple words and derivations by adding prefixes and suffixes, modification of meaning, and borrowing words from other languages including calques (a borrowed compound word where each component is translated and then joined). There are also unconscious but definitely non-random changes such as systematic sound shifts, for example those described by Grimm’s Law (which relates many Germanic words to Latin and Greek words). (From Talking Point and The development of languages is nothing like biological evolution).

Memes

Dawkins said:

‘The only kind of evolutionary change we’re likely to see very much of is not genetic information at all, it’s cultural evolution. And if we put a Darwinian spin on that, then we’re going to be talking about the differential survival of memes, as opposed to genes.’

Dawkins proposed the meme idea long ago in this book The Selfish Gene, and psychologist Sue Blackmore of the University of West of England has been one of his recent champions. She said:

‘Memes are ideas, habits, skills, gestures, stories, songs–anything which we pass from person to person by imitation. We copy them. … just as the competition between genes shapes all of biological evolution, so it’s the competition between memes that shapes our minds and cultures.

‘… Nowadays I would say that memetic evolution is going faster and faster, and it has almost entirely taken over from biological evolution. …

‘The more educated you are, the less children you have. That is memes fighting against genes.’

Now memes have apparently found a new home, the Internet, and it has actually enslaved us, we are told. Blackmore even believes that the idea of the ‘self’ is an illusion produced by competing memes in the brain. But under her own system, we must ask her, ‘Who is (or rather, what are) actually proposing this idea?’!But it becomes ridiculous when things such as the Internet, birth control, any invention, insulin, are called ‘memes’. A term that describes everything really describes nothing. All that she’s done is apply the same label to just about anything, but this adds nothing to our knowledge.It’s no wonder that the evolutionist Jerry Coyne called Blackmore’s book ‘a work not of science, but of extreme advocacy’. He says that memes are ‘but a flashy new wrapping around a parcel of old and conventional ideas.’ Coyne also believes that evolutionary psychology is non-science (and nonsense). Coyne is no creationist sympathizer but an ardent—but ineffective—opponent of creation (see New eyes for blind cave fish?).

As the Discovery Institute critique of the PBS series points out, if the likes of Eugenie Scott were truly concerned about non-science being taught in the science classroom, she would oppose evolutionary psychology and memetic evolution as well, and certainly not support using this PBS series in science classrooms. No, what she’s opposed to is challenges to her materialistic faith.

Footnotes

  1. Oxnard, C.E., Nature 258:389–395, 1975. More recently, he came to similar conclusions about ‘Lucy’, The Order of Man, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1984. Return to text.
  2. Hickok, G., Bellugi, U., Klima, E.S., Sign language in the brain, Scientific American 284(6):42–49, June 2001. Return to text.

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