Darwinism Education Evolution Intelligent Design Science

Human Exceptionalism

Spread the love

Wesley J. Smith has written a blog on human exceptionalism at Secondhand Smoke, his blog at First Things, in light of the recent publications about  “Ardi”, the hominid that is supposedly “pretty close” to the common ancestor of humans and chimps way back 4.4 million years ago.

Human exceptionalism received a boost today with the news that human beings apparently did not evolve from apes…I bring this up because some Darwinsists and other assorted materialists have attacked human exceptionalism on the basis that our supposed emergence from the great apes and/or our genetic closeness means that we should not think of ourselves as distinctive. I never thought that was in the least persuasive.  What matters is what we are now, not what might have been millions of years ago or how we got here…

And that brings me to Ewen Callaway’s review in New Scientist of the book Not a Chimp: The hunt to find the genes that make us human authored by Jeremy Taylor. As Mr. Callaway explains, Jeremy Taylor’s book sheds light on the issue of genetic similarity:

In this book, his first, the former BBC producer synthesises recent genetic, behavioural and neuroscientific research to argue that far more than a handful of genes divides humans from our evolutionary cousins, 6 million years removed.

Take that 98.4 per cent, an oft-repeated figure that has been used to argue that chimps deserve human rights. True, Homo sapiens and Pan troglodytes share an extraordinary amount of genetic similarity – yet humans and mice share almost as much.

My own conceptual difficulty of evolution’s measurement and falsification is this:

So it appears that humans didn’t evolve from apes after all, so the correlation of modern genetic similarity between us seems a non-issue.  It’s interesting to me to note that genetic similarity is used in evidence for evolution, showing how closely related organisms are, but so is genetic dissimilarity, showing that evolution accounts for why they have grown apart. After all, evolution is supposed to exist in the differences, otherwise something isn’t evolving unless it is moving away from something else. And if something isn’t going away from something else, then there is no evolution. But in order to know the proximity of something to another thing, you have to know the basis for comparison, but the basis of comparison is assumed to be a result of evolution too. The measuring stick and the thing being measured are both evolving, and are indeed both the continuing result of evolution, so there cannot be a steady baseline for comparison because the measurement has evolved along with the variation it is supposed to be measuring in a continual process. Unless the measuring stick is separate from the thing being measured, you can do no measuring, to paraphrase C. S. Lewis. That is one difficulty.

This is my second difficulty. What is outside the circle of evolution that is used to compare evolution to? If all living things evolved, what are we using to determine that against? Something has to exist to be used as a basis for comparison that isn’t itself the thing being compared. Similarity and dissimilarity are both used to support evolution, which is, quite honestly, circular and a tautology in the respect that no new information is being given and all possibilities have been exhausted. It is like saying that it is either raining or not raining outside. Conceptually, by wanting too much, evolutionists will get nothing. If it explains everything, it explains nothing in particular. The knot comes loose when you try to pull it tight.

Aside from having it’s own measurement problem, what’s left to falsify it, since all comparisons are used to be evidence for evolution?  It seems to me you have to pick one or the other, and choosing the similarity of forms as your baseline, is based on an idea that “at bottom” forms should be fundamentally similar and evolve to different, which is really just smuggled in teleology. There is no conceptual nor evidential reason why anything should be similar with the assumption of evolution.  If we say that things that are similar survive better, then there is no reason to evolve. And if we say that things that are different survive better, then we have removed the basis for why things should be similar, ourselves and our ” reciprocal altruism” included. Or if we go the third route and claim both as true, then nothing stands to falsify it.

17 Replies to “Human Exceptionalism

  1. 1
    nullasalus says:

    I can’t believe I’m doing this, but after reading that review, I’m going to have to come to the defense of… journalists. At least to a degree.

    It’s not just the journalists who are pretending chimps are “practically human”. There are philosophers, politicians, bloggers (I suppose a species of journalist) and others, including some scientists, who have been pretending the gap is tiny and inconsequential. Journalists have their share of blame, but many times journalists are just mouthpieces. Who they find themselves speaking for share some blame here.

  2. 2
    ellazimm says:

    Wasn’t the claim that humans and apes had a common ancestor NOT that humans evolved from apes?

  3. 3
    Borne says:

    ellazimm :

    “Wasn’t the claim that humans and apes had a common ancestor NOT that humans evolved from apes?”

    Generally yes, but unfortunate ‘slip-ups’ by certain high level Darwinian scientist stating that we descended from apes, rather than a common ancestor to both apes and humans, makes the whole thing rather questionable.

  4. 4
    bFast says:

    ellazimm:

    Wasn’t the claim that humans and apes had a common ancestor NOT that humans evolved from apes?

    Oh contrair, humans are apes. Wikipedia under “Hominidae” says

    “The Hominidae (anglicized Hominids, also known as great apes[notes 1]) form a taxonomic family, including four extant genera: chimpanzees, gorillas, humans and orangutans.[1].

  5. 5
    Michael Heath says:

    Humans, and Hominids for that matter, are apes.

    Ardi doesn’t contradict that humans evolved from species with more primitive features, it in fact adds to that weight of evidence. Ardi contains no modern day homindae features that Lucy didn’t also possess while containing a number of features more primitive than Lucy, exactly what you would expect when finding an older hominid.

    In addition, Ardi provides evidence that chimps have evolved quite a bit themselves since 4.4 million years ago.

    Ardi in no way falsifies our general understanding of our inter-relatedness from a genetic perspective either.

    Ardi is a great find for many reasons. We have compelling new evidence that bipedalism evolved in the forest though we can’t validate that was true for all like-species that might have been extant in Ardi’s time. Ardi’s foot and pelvis are both classic examples of transitional forms in terms of moving from a life in the trees to being exclusively bipedal.

  6. 6
    absolutist says:

    Australopithecus afarensis (Lucy) does mean “Southern Ape from the Afar region” and is our supposed ancestor.

    Or so I thought until I read Time Magazine‘s piece on Ardi yesterday. It sounds like a major blow to evolutionary theory from a casual reader’s standpoint as this fossil discovery “reshapes the very picture [fossil hunters] thought they were building.”

    The article if full of goodies:

    “[Ardi is] not chimplike,”

    “This skeleton flips our understanding of human evolution,”

    “It’s clear that humans are not merely a slight modification of chimps, despite their genomic similarity.”

    “she walked upright on the ground”

    “This tableau demolishes one aspect of what had been conventional evolutionary wisdom.”

    “Paleoanthropologists once thought that what got our ancestors walking on two legs in the first place was a change in climate that transformed African forest into savanna.”

    “The fact that Ardi walked upright in a similar environment many hundreds of thousands of years earlier makes it clear that there must have been another reason.”

    “No one knows what that reason was, but a theory about Ardi’s social behavior may hold a clue.”

    “Deducing such details of social behavior is, admittedly, speculative “

  7. 7
    absolutist says:

    Don’t you hate it when these pesky little recalcitrant puzzle pieces don’t fit?

  8. 8
    Ritchie says:

    absolutist

    A fascinating article! But it rather sounds like you are misrepresenting what it is saying. It is not saying that humans and chinpanzees DON’T share a common ancestor, it is saying that the common ancestor we share with chimpanzees may have been more human-like, and less chimpanzee-like than we imagined. The common ancestor was not, basically, a chimpanzee from which WE have evolved and chimpanzees have not – it may in fact be the chimpanzee which has changed most from our common ancestor. Nor does it dispute than Lucy is an ancestor of ours – it states that Ardi lived much earlier than Lucy. No-one claims Lucy was our EARLIEST ancestor – only the earliest discovered one. Here are a few more quotes:

    “Every so often, though, fossil hunters stumble upon a discovery that fills in a big chunk of the puzzle all at once ”

    “Ardi, a 125-piece hominid skeleton that is 1.2 million years older than the celebrated Lucy”

    “The skeleton allows scientists to compare Ardipithecus directly with Lucy’s genus, Australopithecus, its probable descendant.”

    “But “[Ardi is] not chimplike,” according to White, which means that the last common ancestor probably wasn’t either.”

    “It’s clear that humans are not merely a slight modification of chimps, despite their genomic similarity.”

    “it appears that chimpanzees may actually have evolved more than humans — in the scientific sense of having changed more over the past 7 million years or so.”

    “[Ardi is] a lovely Darwinian creature,” says Penn State paleoanthropologist Alan Walker, who was not involved in the discovery. “It has features that are intermediate between the last common ancestor and australopithecines.”

  9. 9
    smordecai says:

    We may share much of our genome with chimps and I continue to hear that humans and chimps are 98/99% genetically identical. Those who cite this fact seem to think that it must prove that humans evolved “naturally” from chimps. Then they look at chimps and see all the ways they act that “proves” we are the same.

    For me it means that DNA is indeed a most powerful code and an extremely efficient one, which can incorporate all of the differences between chimps and humans in that 1 or 2%. Imagine, just a few tweaks and we go from Bonzo to Einstein or Bonza to Jolie (Angelina).

    Way back when, we humans used to make much more of the differences. You know, music, math, language, technology, humor, art, etc. Now we look at the chimp using a stick to get at food in a log and exclaim – “oh, look it is using a tool, it is so human like.”

    Then on that basis we teach our children they are nothing but animals and then wonder why they start acting like animals.

    I think we are better served by pointing out the differences.

  10. 10
    Ritchie says:

    smordecai

    What do you make of the fact that chimpanzees have sucessfully been taught sign language?

  11. 11
    Michael Heath says:

    smordecal:

    We may share much of our genome with chimps and I continue to hear that humans and chimps are 98/99% genetically identical. Those who cite this fact seem to think that it must prove that humans evolved “naturally” from chimps. Then they look at chimps and see all the ways they act that “proves” we are the same.

    This is not true. Scientists see the similarities and understand it as evidence that chimps and humans share a common ancestor, not that humans evolved from chimps. This is especially true when looking at the non-coding aspects of our DNA. Daniel Fairbanks’ Relics of Eden does a good job of explaining DNA evidence between pan and homo and how that explains our inter-relatedness and how we evolved since then if you care to bone-up.

    Ardi does nothing to falsify this general approach, Ardi does argue for the earlier range of dates when this last common ancestor lived though still within the range previously thought (closer to 6 mya than 5). Ardi also suggests that our last common ape ancestor was more monkey-like than modern ape-like as one of the Ardi scientists claims in their summary paper at the publication Science (I forget which one since I read all eleven without stopping, but each summary paper is a mere one page long, I think it was probably one of the Lovejoy papers.)

  12. 12
    O'Leary says:

    Michael Heath, at 5, if humans are apes, does that make apes human?

    Maybe you can get standing as a witness for the defense in the horrific case of Travis the ape (whose mistress is currently being sued for $50 million, so I assume there is a budget … )

    For many years, we have been “reliably” informed that we are the 98% chimpanzee (or even 99% chimpanzee), and been required to believe it.

    The Darwinist morphs effortlessly from one demand for belief to another.

    I remember when it was the savannah, now it is suddenly the forest.

    Personally, I don’t believe any of it any more. It sounds like a giant fraud, fronted as a tax burden.

    I don’t know what’s true, but I know what I can’t rely on.

    As I said in another post, Darwinists have only themselves to blame if people scoff at their tales.

    It would really work better as science fiction, like when that monolith lands in the hominid camp in Space Odyssey 2001.

    That was great stuff, and no one was threatening me with anything if I said it was fiction – and anyway the story wasn’t changing all the time.

  13. 13
    smordecai says:

    I don’t pretend to be a scientist. I just read and convey what most ordinary folk hear from the elite. My point was that there is a very wide gulf between us and “them” (limited sign language hardly covers it!). And, this, in spite of the close simularity in genome.

  14. 14
    Michael Heath says:

    Smordecal – nothing is stopping you from having a solid general understanding of evolution. All you need is desire, access to a library, and good advice on which book are not mere arguments, but instead adequately report peer-accepted empirical evidence and note when the evidence is not peer-accepted and why.

    I’ve learned a tremendous amount over the years, way more than what learned when I was in college taking science classes given that was a small slice of time.

    I would start with Jerry Coyne’s “Why Evolution is True”, follow it up with Dawkins, “Greatest Show on Earth”, followed by Sean B. Carroll’s book on DNA evidence, followed by Prothero’s book on the fossil evidence, followed by Sean B. Carroll’s book on evo devo (Endless Forms most Beautiful), followed by Neil Shubin’s “Your Inner Fish” and then jump into Daniel Fairbanks book on the DNA evidence for human evolution.

    I would invest in the purchase of Carl Zimmer’s upcoming text book on evolution, Tangled Bank, coming out on 10/15. None of these book are mere arguments based on speculation. They are all reporting what Science had discovered and understands while doing a great job of qualifying its confidence and doubt.

    Such an education would have caused the sort of elation I felt when reading the Ardi papers. They provided additional validation for evolution while providing some pleasant surprises that strengthen some hypotheses while discrediting others.

  15. 15
    Michael Heath says:

    O’Leary:

    if humans are apes, does that make apes human?

    Humans are apes at the super-family level. Your question is somewhat circular so I can’t go any further. If you are asking what chimps are, they belong to the same super family but are from a different genus, Pan, where our genus is Homo.

    Maybe you can get standing as a witness for the defense in the horrific case of Travis the ape (whose mistress is currently being sued for $50 million, so I assume there is a budget … )

    I’m sorry, I don’t follow either your logic or appreciate the humor in the travesty you refer to here. In addition, what specifically have I previously wrote that justifies such hostility? I assume you’re merely taking a shot at the messenger and that’s fine, I’m a big boy and can take it. 😉

    For many years, we have been “reliably” informed that we are the 98% chimpanzee (or even 99% chimpanzee), and been required to believe it.

    If you are talking about the similarities between pan and homo at the DNA level, I believe those similarities are very high though IIRC, it was about 97%. Why the scare quotes around “reliably”? Do you believe the first calculations were wrong given the technology used when doing the comparisons were calculated and if so, do you have a citation? It’s not a belief system, it’s a calculation.

    In addition, it isn’t the similarities that are interesting; it is instead the differences. It’s my understanding that as the technology improves to allow us to more completely map both genus’/species’ DNA, the nominal number of differences will increase, providing more opportunities for more research and increased understanding of our inter-relatedness. I don’t recall if the proportional rate is predicted to change, I would assume it would drop somewhat given the new territory is focused more on non-coding areas of the DNA.

    The Darwinist morphs effortlessly from one demand for belief to another.
    I remember when it was the savannah, now it is suddenly the forest.

    To the best of my knowledge, all relevant scientists have argued for quite sometime that we came to the savannah from the forest. The fact that Lucy dwelled in a savannah and a hominid older than Lucy dwelled in a forest was predicted and in Ardi, validated. In fact Ardi shows a beautiful transitional feature regarding both her more primitive bipedalism relative to Lucy coupled to her big toe still being a feature for tree grasping. This was truly a historic find and in no way requires some massive reversal in the general theory.

    I regret your use of “Darwinist” used as pejorative term. Personally, I’ve ardently studied science for decades and have also considered the most popular non-scientific arguments as well. I know of no good reason to distinguish between scientists that are currently doing research and publishing in the relevant peer-reviewed journals. From that perspective, your use of “Darwinists” is less accurate than “scientists” given that ‘isms’ don’t tend to hold provisional understandings while scientists do, as we see here given this new find modifies some understanding of hominids and chimps from this time period.

    Personally, I don’t believe any of it any more. It sounds like a giant fraud, fronted as a tax burden. I don’t know what’s true, but I know what I can’t rely on.

    Maybe you need to change your reading habits given everything you though prior was so wrong given Ardi’s discovery. As I stated earlier, I was elated by this find given it validates the strength of the peer-accepted theories, clearing the air on some competing hypotheses, and providing us with a lot more insight into the evolution of chimps, humans, and what our last common ancestor looked like. I was already in the camp that our LCL was more monkey-like than chimp-like so maybe that’s why I find the Ardi so delicious. However if Ardi had falsified my position, that would be OK as well given it was always conditionally held as more evidence is discovered. Unlike a “-ist”, I have no ideological position to defend and therefore go where the science takes me. I left a great reading list for another commenter here in my previous comment post, perhaps that would help you get up to speed with what science understands.

    As I said in another post, Darwinists have only themselves to blame if people scoff at their tales.

    Many scientists certainly continue to do a poor job of communicating with the public on an individual basis, as Dr. Lovejoy is showing in the Ardi roll-out where he confuses his phylogenies. However, the vast volume of objections I’ve encountered on-line since yesterday has come from creationists attempting to spin this discovery in a manner that defends their preconceived beliefs which are not held provisionally but instead held even at the cost of lying to themselves or maintaining a willful ignorance to what science has discovered.

    When it comes to the information that Science comes together on after it’s been hashed out, I think your charge is completely unwarranted; I’ve certainly never been gravely disappointed, and my studies go back to the 1970s. That does mean one has to distinguish between explanations that are held with a high degree of confidence, which Ardi validated, and those are held with less confidence and maybe even have competing hypotheses, some of which Ardi helped and discredited. The books I listed previously all do a great job of reporting the confidence level science holds for its set of relevant explanations.

    It would really work better as science fiction, like when that monolith lands in the hominid camp in Space Odyssey 2001.

    This appears to be flaying away. I can only speculate why. Given the lack of any attempt at an argument discrediting my assertions (which are merely what science understands), perhaps your upset Ardi was discovered?

  16. 16
    vjtorley says:

    Regarding Ardipithecus:

    Here are some links for interested readers.

    http://www.sciencemag.org/ardipithecus/

    http://news.nationalgeographic.....midus.html

    From what I gather, there’s no doubt about the date of Ardipithecus, as it was found between two easily dated layers of volcanic rock. It’s 4.4 million years old. And that’s precisely why it’s irrelevant, in my opinion. Perplexed? Read on.

    Below, I’ve included a link to a very original paper by a Chinese researcher, Shi Huang, who has examined various kinds of primate DNA and formulated a bold new maximum genetic diversity hypothesis, which appears to successfully account for the peculiar anomalies and internal contradictions in the molecular clock dating of splits between animal lineages. Huang does a good job of exposing the flaws in molecular clock dating.

    Huang’s surprising conclusion is that orangutans, gorillas and chimps are all pongids (apes), while humans belong to a separate group which diverged from the apes 17.3 million years ago. Huang has carefully checked his maximum genetic diversity hypothesis against other mammalian lineages, and it agrees well with the paleontological data.

    http://precedings.nature.com/d...../version/1

    The upshot of Huang’s paper is that we’re not apes after all. We belong in a separate clade. In that case, Ardipithecus is not the common ancestor of humans and apes. It’s way too late to be anything of the sort.

  17. 17
    Michael Heath says:

    Lovejoy’s paper on the hypothesized phyletic split between pan and homo based on the Ardi find is not well-represented in this blog post. Lovejoy’s article, which I believe was ineptly presented so far by him, will get close scrutiny by his peers. I doubt his findings will be immediately accepted but instead given the extra scrutiny it deserves no matter who well he communicates his arguments. Here is what Lovejoy actually states in a portion of the summary page of his paper (all text following, the link is to the actual paper at Sciencemag.org):

    Lovejoy states:

    The Ar. ramidus fossils and information on its habitat now reveal that many of these earlier hypotheses about our last common ancestor with chimpanzees are incorrect. The picture emerging from Ar. ramidus is that this last common ancestor had limb proportions more like those of monkeys than apes. Its feet functioned only partly like those of apes and much more like those of living monkeys and early apes such as Proconsul (which lived more than 15 million years ago). Its lower back was mobile and probably had six lumbar vertebrae rather than the three to four seen in the stiff backs of African apes. Its hand was unpredictably unique: Not only was its thumb musculature robust, unlike that of an ape, but its midcarpal joint (in the wrist) allowed the wrist to bend backward to a great degree, enhancing its ability to move along tree branches on its palms. None of the changes that apes have evolved to stiffen their hands for suspension and vertical climbing were present, so its locomotion did not resemble that of any living ape.

    The hominid descendant of the last common ancestor we shared with chimpanzees (the CLCA), Ardipithecus, became a biped by modifying its upper pelvis without abandoning its grasping big toe. It was therefore an unpredicted and odd mosaic. It appears, unlike Au. afarensis, to have occupied the basal adaptive plateau of hominid natural history. It is so rife with anatomical surprises that no one could have imagined it without direct fossil evidence.

Leave a Reply