‘The Way We Were: Human Origins Research in Ethiopia’
Published: 3 February 2006 (GMT+10)
Earlier this month I attended a lecture with the above title given at Miami University (in Oxford, Ohio, USA) by Dr Tim White, a leading researcher on human evolution from the University of California at Berkeley (California). The 400-seat auditorium was about two thirds full with people ranging in age from about 8 to 80, though most were college students.
White began his talk with the question, ‘Human Evolution—so what? Why does it matter?’ His answer was that ‘we wouldn’t be here without it!’ He went on to explain that cultures all over the world have myths about how people got here. Each culture has a different myth and Genesis gives us one of those. But, said White, human evolution studies were ‘the only way to move beyond these myths’ and ‘the only way to know the truth about our origins.’
Dr White repeated the wearisome mantra that ‘evolution is the basis of biology’ and that without it we cannot understand medicine or AIDS or any other aspect of biology. And then with a clear (and misleading) dig at young-Earth creationists and ‘Intelligent Design’ proponents, he made the distorted charge that ‘many people in the United States don’t want their children exposed to evolution at all.’
His lecture summarized the work that has been done in recent years in the Afar area of the Rift Valley in Ethiopia. With over 50 Ph.D. scientists from 40 universities in 11 countries working at this location, it is the largest human evolution research site in the world, he declared. According to these evolutionists, the layers of fossil bearing sediments represent 6 million years of human evolution. White presented a chart of the hominids found in these layers and discussed several of the key discoveries that had been made in very recent years, which supposedly showed the gradual transition from ape-like creatures to man.
But before discussing these fossils he took a few moments to deal with creationists. He said, ‘if you take a creationist view’ of these deposits, modern humans would be expected at every level. In fact, no creationist would say this, but most in White’s audience probably wouldn’t know he was destroying a straw man. White went on to discuss a lecture given by Dr Duane Gish (of the Institute for Creation Research) back in the 1980s at UC Berkeley. Gish had argued that there were no clear transitional forms documenting human evolution. But White distorted Gish’s lecture by saying that Gish said that there were only fossil humans and fossil chimps with nothing in between.1
White then showed us a picture of the skull (which was a mosaic of bone and plastic), which he had produced after Gish’s lecture to ‘prove’ Gish wrong. The pictured skull revealed a heavy brow ridge, and White told us it had a ‘large’ cranium. But he gave us no quantitative information. He obviously expected his audience to take his claim by faith.
His next piece of evidence was a picture of a fossil skull (again a mosaic of bone and plastic), which had been found by one of his students. It too had a big brow ridge, supposedly indicating a transitional form. But again White gave us no data about the skull or about how it was dated to be millions of years old.
Next, White discussed a picture of the skull (again some bone with much filler molding) that had been reconstructed from many pieces found recently by one of his graduate students, Yohannes Haile-Selassie. White didn’t tell us how we know these scattered broken bone fragments all came from the same individual. Such information was similarly lacking when White told us of an even more recent discovery by Haile-Selassie of fossil fragments found over a large area, which supposedly represent a bipedal humanoid about 5.8 million years old (see Time’s alleged ‘ape-man’ trips up (again)! for an enlightening analysis of these claims).
Several key facts stood out from White’s presentation, although they were merely passing comments. He said that fossilization is now going on in the Afar valley. But he gave no explanation of how this is happening. White only showed a picture of horse bones on the ground with a river in the background, and said that in the rainy season the waters rise to cover the bones. But this will not produce fossils unless the bones are buried and cut off from scavengers and erosion processes and unless the right chemicals are in the water.
He mentioned that volcanic ash layers are scattered through the layers of sediments in this area and that these ash layers had been directly dated by the Argon/Argon method to be several million years old. But as creationists have shown in several Web articles (see Q&A: Radiometric dating) and books (The Mythology of Modern Dating Methods, Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth, The Creation Answers Book), these dating methods are unreliable due to the uniformitarian (and anti-Biblical) assumptions involved. White’s comment also showed that few, if any, of the layers where the fossils are found could be dated by these radiometric methods. And yet he stated later that the geological framework must be done first, before he and other paleoanthropologists can draw their conclusions. He said, ‘We can’t figure out the evolution without the geological dates.’
With the very first artistic drawing of ape-men in their natural habitat that White showed us, he warned us that the picture was based on much speculation and was not very scientifically justified. But he continued to use such colored drawings during the rest of the lecture. As the saying goes, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’ which in most people’s minds erased from memory the few words he said in his disclaimer.
At the end White took questions from the audience. One was from a little boy in the front row, who asked if we were just monkeys. White replied, ‘No, we’re a special kind of apes.’ It was sad to see this brilliant scientist speak of himself (and all other humans) this way. And how ironic it was, for when asked if any humans had been found at these levels in the Afar area, he said no, and added that no tools had been found. Why is it that when evolutionists find tools they conclude that an intelligent agent (a human being) made the tool, even though there is no physical evidence of the existence of the agent himself, but when they look at the fossil remains of a human (far more complex than any old primitive, or modern sophisticated, tool), they conclude that man is the product of time plus chance plus the laws of nature, not the creation of the supremely intelligent Creator? But then, evolutionary thinking is full of such contradictions in logic.
Another person asked White if he was a ‘splitter’ or ‘lumper.’ Splitters tend to make a new species out of almost each new fossil; lumpers think that many of these fossils are simply variations of a single species. He said that he tended to be a lumper and felt that the splitters had often created many more species than the evidence justified, which he said is a ‘huge problem’ in paleoanthropology. He further commented on a recent fossil find (which he called ‘Aurora’), which he suspected, contrary to the conclusion of the discoverer, was actually a mosaic of more than one kind of creature since it had a canine tooth and a humanoid tibia.
But he was very excited about the painstaking research going on in the very inhospitable conditions of the Afar region. He said that instead of the ‘hand-waving’ speculations that have dominated paleoanthropology in the past, ‘we are going to have in the next 10 years a real good picture’ because of all the evidence being discovered in Ethiopia. One can only wonder how many times in the last century an evolutionist has denigrated all previous work on human evolution as he trumpeted his latest discovery as solid evidence that is finally giving a good picture the development of man. We might call to mind Java Man, Peking Man, Piltdown Man, Nebraska Man, Nutcracker Man, Lucy, etc., etc.2
Whenever we hear such grandiose claims, we should remember a recent statement by Henry Gee, senior editor of the leading British journal, Nature. After discussing the latest finds in Africa that discoverers have suggested are the 5–6 million year old common ancestors of chimps and humans, Gee says:
‘Sadly, I doubt that the status of these creatures can be resolved to general satisfaction. Some researchers have suggested that the dental and skeletal traits conventionally used as the basis for hominid systematics are unreliable guides for reconstructing evolutionary history, in that the phylogenies created using these traits differ from those based on molecular information from living primates. Given that bones and teeth are, for practical purposes, all there is to go on, uncertainty is likely to reign for some time, leaving the nature of the latest common ancestor—and the general course of early hominid evolution—as mysterious as ever.’3
White’s lecture, filled as it was with ‘hand-waving’ speculations, did expose mythological thinking about human origins. I am thankful that the Creator has given us His inerrant Word, the Bible, to tell us the truth about where man came from!
- That White clearly misled his audience about Gish’s view of the fossil evidence can be easily seen by anyone reading his book on the fossil evidence regarding evolution. In the three editions of his book the section on human evolution is the longest and each exposes White’s characterization—Evolution: The Fossils Say No! (1973), 41 out of 124 pages, Evolution: The Challenge of the Fossil Record (1985), 99 out of 262 pages, and Evolution: The Fossils Still Say No! (1995), 124 out of 367 pages. Return to text.
- See Duane Gish, Evolution: The Fossils Still Say No! El Cajon: ICR, 1995), pp. 209–332 and Marvin Lubenow, Bones of Contention Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992). Return to text.
- Henry Gee, Palaeontology: Return to the planet of the apes, Nature 412:131–132, 12 July 2001 (emphasis added). Return to text.