This article is from
Creation 34(1):54–55, April 2011

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Icon illusion


©iStockPhoto.com/sjlocke icon illusion
From Whalley, et al., ref 18.
Human evolution, according to a modern textbook used in Australian high-schools. (Figure 7.4.7 in: Whalley, K., and 6 others, Science Focus 4, Pearson Educational Australia, Melbourne, 2005.) Note the subtle colour change of the creature from a ‘black’ ape to a ‘white’ human.

Surely you’ve seen it: the succession of drawings portraying our supposed evolution from ape-like creature to modern human—an instantly recognizable ‘icon’ of evolution. Apart from adorning evolutionary magazines and books, it’s become stock-in-trade for many cartoonists worldwide. And advertisers have used it in their efforts to boost sales of anything from cell phones to steaks (e.g. “feed the man meat”, just like our supposed hunter-gatherer ancestors, etc.).

But does this icon have any basis in fact? Not according to eminent paleoanthropologist Bernard Wood, of George Washington University’s Department of Anthropology at the Center for Advanced Study of Hominid Paleobiology. Although a committed evolutionist himself, Wood has written (emphasis added):

“There is a popular image of human evolution that you’ll find all over the place, from the backs of cereal packets to advertisements for expensive scientific equipment. On the left of the picture there’s an ape—stocky, jutting jaw, hunched in the knuckle-walking position. On the right, a man—graceful, high forehead, striding purposefully into the future. Between the two is a succession of figures that become ever more like humans, as the shoulders start to pull back, the torso slims down, the arms retract, the legs extend, the cranium expands and the chin recedes. Our progress from ape to human looks so smooth, so tidy. It’s such a beguiling image that even the experts are loath to let it go. But it is an illusion.1

An illusion! And none of the much-heralded ape-man ‘discoveries’ in the decade since Wood made that admission in New Scientist have done anything to change his view.2 He recently wrote:

sxc.hu Blue monkey
“The origin of our own genus remains frustratingly unclear.”3

Our supposed evolutionary origin: frustratingly unclear, according to this leading evolutionist. One of the reasons is apparent in a lengthy review Wood co-wrote with colleague Nicholas Lonergan in the Journal of Anatomy4 about the ‘hominin’5 fossil-naming controversies raging among anthropologists. In context of widespread arguments and disagreements over ascribing genus and species names to particular fossils, Wood and Lonergan highlight the difficulties involved in accurate species identification when only bone fragments or teeth are available:

“We know from living animals that many uncontested species are difficult to distinguish using bones and teeth (e.g. Cercopithecus species [guenons, a type of Old World monkey]).”4

By “uncontested species” Wood and Lonergan are referring to living animals such as the blue monkey (Cercopithecus mitis) where there is no dispute as to what the creature (and its bones and teeth) looks like. Leading anthropologists concede that it’s difficult enough to identify from teeth or bone alone a living animal, where we know what they look like. So, what hope is there for reconstructing from teeth some unknown and disputed creature presumed extinct?

Wood and Lonergan conclude their review by counselling (emphasis added), “we hope that these relatively simple explanations of the background to some of the main controversies will enable readers to apply a healthy dose of skepticism to pronouncements about the taxonomy and systematics of the hominin clade.”4

Sage advice indeed, coming from evolutionists. Especially when it concerns such illusory icons.6

References and notes

  1. Wood, B., Who are we? New Scientist 176(2366):44–47, 26 October 2002. Return to text.
  2. Also Wood, B. and Collard, M., The human genus, Science 284(5411):65–71, 1999, shows that various alleged ‘ape-men’ have almost fully human characteristics or fully australopithecine features. See also Woodmorappe, J., The non-transitions in human evolution on evolutionists terms, J. Creation 13(2):10–13, 1999; creation.com/non-transitions. Return to text.
  3. Wood, B., Did early Homo migrate “out of ” or “in to” Africa?, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 2011; published ahead of print 15 June 2011, doi:10.1073/pnas.1107724108. Return to text.
  4. Wood, B. and Lonergan, N., Review—The hominin fossil record: taxa, grades and clades, Journal of Anatomy 212:354–376, 2008. Return to text.
  5. Wood defines the ‘hominin fossil record’ as consisting of “all the fossil taxa that are more closely related to modern humans than they are to any other living taxon.” Ref. 4. Return to text.
  6. For a discussion on how this icon has promoted racism by showing that blacks are less evolved than whites see Cosner, L. and Bates, G., Racism: a consequence of evolution?. Return to text.

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