Human evolution

Creationist argument (essentially) in evolution journal?

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Cave in South Africa where excavations have taken place. (Credit: Image courtesy of Lund University)

In “Cutting Edge Training Developed the Human Brain 80,000 Years Ago” (ScienceDaily, June 22, 2011), we are told,

Advanced crafting of stone spearheads contributed to the development of new ways of human thinking and behaving, according to new findings by archaeologists from Lund University. The technology took a long time to acquire, required step by step planning and increased social interaction across the generations. This led to the human brain developing new abilities.Some 200,000 years ago, small groups of people wandered across Africa, looking anatomically much like present-day humans, but not thinking the way we do today. Studies of fossils and the rate of mutations in DNA show that the human species to which we all belong — Homo sapiens sapiens — has existed for 200,000 years.

But the archaeological research of recent years has shown that, even though the most ancient traces of modern humans are 200,000 years old, the development of modern cognitive behaviour is probably much younger. For about 100,000 years, there were people who looked like us, but who were cognitively and socially very different from us.

Isn’t this a creationist argument? That it happened suddenly somehow? In Journal of Human Evolution?

They get way with it by suggesting “the complicated crafting process likely developed the working memory and social life of humans,” instead of all the other things that probably mattered at lot. But the critical question, unanswered, is why? Thoughts?

4 Replies to “Creationist argument (essentially) in evolution journal?

  1. 1
    jurassicmac says:

    Isn’t this a creationist argument? That it happened suddenly somehow? In Journal of Human Evolution?

    Where does the author say or imply that it happened ‘suddenly’? And isn’t the ‘somehow’ clearly posited?

  2. 2
    vjtorley says:

    The suggestion in the article appears to be that population density was the critical trigger that led to the emergence of new cultural behaviors, and that sparsely populated societies find it harder to innovate in this fashion. There’s another Science Daily article with a hyperlink on the same page, which makes a similar point: High Population Density Triggers Cultural Explosions (June 5, 2009):

    Increasing population density, rather than boosts in human brain power, appears to have catalysed the emergence of modern human behaviour, according to a new study by UCL (University College London) scientists published in the journal Science.

    High population density leads to greater exchange of ideas and skills and prevents the loss of new innovations. It is this skill maintenance, combined with a greater probability of useful innovations, that led to modern human behaviour appearing at different times in different parts of the world.

    In the study, the UCL team found that complex skills learnt across generations can only be maintained when there is a critical level of interaction between people. Using computer simulations of social learning, they showed that high and low-skilled groups could coexist over long periods of time and that the degree of skill they maintained depended on local population density or the degree of migration between them. Using genetic estimates of population size in the past, the team went on to show that density was similar in sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and the Middle-East when modern behaviour first appeared in each of these regions. The paper also points to evidence that population density would have dropped for climatic reasons at the time when modern human behaviour temporarily disappeared in sub-Saharan Africa.

    Adam Powell, AHRC Centre for the Evolution of Cultural Diversity, says: “Our paper proposes a new model for why modern human behaviour started at different times in different regions of the world, why it disappeared in some places before coming back, and why in all cases it occurred more than 100,000 years after modern humans first appeared.

    “By modern human behaviour, we mean a radical jump in technological and cultural complexity, which makes our species unique. This includes symbolic behavior, such as abstract and realistic art, and body decoration using threaded shell beads, ochre or tattoo kits; musical instruments; bone, antler and ivory artefacts; stone blades; and more sophisticated hunting and trapping technology, like bows, boomerangs and nets.

    Professor Stephen Shennan, UCL Institute of Archaeology, says: “Modern humans have been around for at least 160,000 to 200,000 years but there is no archaeological evidence of any technology beyond basic stone tools until around 90,000 years ago. In Europe and western Asia this advanced technology and behaviour explodes around 45,000 years ago when humans arrive there, but doesn’t appear in eastern and southern Asia and Australia until much later, despite a human presence. In sub-Saharan Africa the situation is more complex. Many of the features of modern human behaviour – including the first abstract art – are found some 90,000 years ago but then seem to disappear around 65,000 years ago, before re-emerging some 40,000 years ago. (Emphases mine – VJT.)

    It’s very tempting to suggest that this great leap forward that occurred around 90,000 years ago was what made us human. On the other hand, there’s some evidence (albeit highly contested evidence) that Heidelberg man was capable of language, art and religion as well, at least 350,000 years ago. And of course there’s the much stronger evidence that Neanderthal man buried his dead. Here’s an excerpt from a Wikipedia article on Neanderthal behavior :

    Although much has been made of the Neanderthals’ burial of their dead, their burials were less elaborate than those of anatomically modern humans. The interpretation of the Shanidar IV burials as including flowers, and therefore being a form of ritual burial, has been questioned. On the other hand, five of the six flower pollens found with Shanidar IV are known to have had ‘traditional’ medical uses, even among relatively recent ‘modern’ populations. In some cases Neanderthal burials include grave goods, such as bison and aurochs bones, tools, and the pigment ochre.

    Neanderthals also performed many sophisticated tasks normally associated only with modern humans. For example, they controlled fire, constructed complex shelters, and skinned animals. A trap excavated at La Cotte de St Brelade in Jersey gives testament to their intelligence and success as hunters.

    Particularly intriguing is a hollowed-out bear femur with holes that may have been deliberately bored into it, known as the Divje Babe flute. This bone was found in western Slovenia in 1995, near a Mousterian fireplace, but its significance is still disputed. Some paleoanthropologists hypothesize it was a musical instrument, others believe it was not the work of Neanderthals, or that the chomping action of another bear made the holes.

    Pendants and other jewelry showing traces of ochre dye and of deliberate grooving have also been found with later finds, particularly in France, but whether they were created by Neanderthals or traded to them by Cro-Magnons is a matter of controversy. (Emphases mine – VJT.)

    This article on the origins of language contains an excerpt which is good for a laugh:

    The term proto-language, as defined by linguist Derek Bickerton, is a primitive form of communication lacking:

    a fully developed syntax;

    tense, aspect, auxiliary verbs, etc.;

    a closed-class (i.e. non-lexical) vocabulary.

    That is, a stage in the evolution of language somewhere between great ape language and fully developed modern human language. Bickerton (2009) places the first emergence of such a proto-language with the earliest appearance of Homo, and associates its appearance with the pressure of behavioral adaptation to the niche construction of scavenging faced by Homo habilis

    Steven Mithen proposed the term Hmmmmm for the pre-linguistic system of communication used by archaic Homo, beginning with Homo ergaster and reaching the highest sophistification in the Middle Pleistocene with Homo heidelbergensis and Homo neanderthalensis. Hmmmmm is an acronym for holistic (non-compositional), manipulative (utterances are commands or suggestions, not descriptive statements), multi-modal (acoustic as well as gestural and mimetic), musical, and memetic. (Bolding emphasis mine – VJT.)

    OK, so here’s my question: what do you call a creature that has music and memes, but no syntax? Does it have a rational soul or not? Would it be ethical to kill such a creature and cook it for supper, if no other foods were available?

    What do people think?

  3. 3

    VJ,
    I think I’ve told you my theory before, but to refresh your memory:

    1) Gen 1:26 describes “male and female” made “in the image of God”. The piece of information that really jumped out at me, was that God gave them “plants for food”. Neanderthal didn’t eat plants, nearly all his energy and nutrition came from meat, and not just any meat, but large hairy beasts like mammoths.

    The reason was that Neanderthals lacked the rotator cuff to handle thrown weapons, bows and arrows, etc. Nor did they make fish-hooks and traps. All of which the succeeding Aurignacian culture (Cro-Magnon) did.

    The clincher was when Neanderthal DNA was shown to be so dissimilar from human that the divergence point (for what its worth) was placed 500,000 years ago, whereas the arrival of Neanderthal was 250,000 years ago. So Neanderthals may be our cousins, but not our ancestors.

    But Cro-Magnons were found to be 100% modern.

    So Gen 1:26ff matches Aurignacian but not Neanderthal culture.

    2) Since the difference is biological and genetic, one might take “image of God” to mean “DNA of God”. Yes, I know I’m being ultra-literal here, but Jesus had DNA, and someday somebody will do a genome sequence of the shroud of Turin.

    This has the further theological implication that “image of God” does not include some of the characteristics which separate us from Cro-Magnon man. We know about music and art, but he didn’t write. Technology was mostly absent. Yada yada. So we can refine our theological concepts by using science to limit the meanings of words! (I love it.)

    3) Gen 2:7, however introduces a different sort of person, a named man called Adam. Suddenly everything in Genesis 2 has a name–rivers, gardens, men, women, trees etc. I take this as indication that Adam could talk and do all those abstract things that Aurignacian culture could not.

    Archaeologically, this corresponds to the Neolithic Revolution, in which the Indo-European language, the domestication of animals and plants, and the A/B/O blood groups (or Y-chromosome) spread across Europe from a location in the Middle East at the rate of 1 km/year. It took 2000 years to reach Britain. Now mind you, tomatoes introduced by Columbus took 50 years to make the same journey, and neither genes nor languages followed the tomatoes. So something special was going on in the Neolithic–which I take to be the spread of a superior people group.

    3) However, if Aurignacians have the same DNA as us, what was so special about Adam and the Neolithic?

    The Bible talks about “breath of God”, and for the first time, has God not creating ex nihilo, but “forming” from “the dust of the earth”. Job and other Biblical writers refer to corpses as “dust”, so it is conceivable that Adam is DNA identical to a Cro-Magnon, but has a special property.

    And that special property could be epigenetic. This would explain the inability for the local Cro-Magnons to catch on to farming as Adam’s descendants moved north. Likewise, it would explain how language could sweep across the globe, such that American Indians, Australian aborigines and Eskimos could all acquire a language without much dilution of their DNA. They only needed the epigenetic switch turned on–for the sake of argument–say, by hearing speech in utero.

    But wait, didn’t I say that Neolithic Revolution involved the movement of genes? It did, but the genes got progressively diluted as they moved north. Today, the least “Neolithic” of the populations of Europe are the Basques of Spain, who also have a non-indo-european language.

    Well, you’ll have to read the rest of the “YACC”–yet another creation candidate– from the blog at procrustes.blogtownhall.com

  4. 4
    Mung says:

    Would it be ethical to kill such a creature and cook it for supper, if no other foods were available?

    This is one of those questions where I pray that I will never be faced with such a decision.

    I’m a huge believer in rights to gun ownership. But on more than one occasion I have sold my gun(s) because I never want to be placed in the position of having to choose whether or not to kill another human being with a gun.

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