Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Human evolution just does not feel school textbook-ready at this point


From Scientific American:

Awash in fresh insights, scientists have had to revise virtually every chapter of the human story

Yes indeed, and a quick peruse through The Science Fictions series at your fingertips (human evolution) will provide some highlights for free.

Darwin’s defenders typically respond to this type of announcement at blogs and Facebook pages by announcing that “Science, unlike religion, changes its mind.”

Leaving religion out of it for a minute (because they, not others, are usually the ones to bring it up, in the venues I frequent), my reaction is this: It’s one thing to change one’s mind now and then on the basis of evidence. But disciplines that are continually upended by new information (and that’s a better description of many recent events than SciAm‘s muted one) are probably weak disciplines at best. For example, For example,

Late last year, it was announced that the oldest assumed human sequence then published (400 kya) baffles experts because it belongs to an unknown group, one more like Denisovans (an extinct type of human) than Neanderthals. The DNA results from the “Pit of Bones” site in Spain were described as baffling (Nature), perplexing (BBC), hard to make sense of (The Scientist ), don’t quite know what to make of it (New Scientist), and creating new mysteries (New York Times) instead of neatly clarifying human evolution. October of that year had already brought the news that the human remains found at Dmanisi, Georgia, showed that many “separate species of human ancestors” never really existed and “may now have to be wiped from the textbooks.” “Separate species” of human ancestors (that nonetheless interbreed)? There are many definitions of “species,” so the term can be flung around freely, if accompanied by suitable credentials. More.

My inclination—based on this kind of admission—is that human evolution should not be taught in school. (William Jennings Bryan wuz right.)

It’s one thing to teach about trilobites, dinosaurs, and mastodons. It would be quite easy to come with lesson plans for them featuring only facts that are not likely to be controverted in the next edition of Nature. A textbook author need only avoid fanciful claims—except when it is made quite clear to students that we are using our imagination when we, for example, ask what intelligent dinosaurs would be like. (We really must have some fun now and then.)

But human evolution does not feel textbook ready at this point, apart from a few uncontroversial generalities like: Our ancestors mostly lived by hunting and gathering. Neanderthals no longer exist as a separate human group but some peoples today have Neanderthal genes. And artwork from say, the Lascaux caves or Gobekli Tepe give us some glimpse of typical societies of their day, though much has been lost in the sands of time, at least for now.

Note: The editorial quoted above shades off into Payland after a few paragraphs.

Follow UD News at Twitter!

Our understanding of human evolution is based on a very spotty fossil record plus a growing body of data from comparing DNA. The DNA results in minor corrections (We do have some Neanderthal DNA while the fossil record alone was leaning toward a conclusion that we did not). New fossils alter our best bets as to the sequence since the pretty well-established hominid split about 7 million years ago. It would seem that what is not ready for text books is dogmatic claims about the details, or the details of the sequence through the fossils (most of which likely are not on our direct ancestory, anyway), but the general picture of an established hominid split and gradual addition of bipedalism, tools, and culture is quite ready for the highschool classroom. It's our best bet at present, and has been for 40 years. Don't confuse surprises in small parts of that picture with general confusion.tkeithlu
September 9, 2014
07:40 AM
With human chromosome 2 no longer looking like a fusion event due to the gene in the middle of the alleged spliced area, the current "mainstream" idea of human evolution needs a complete re-write.Joe
September 8, 2014
02:09 PM

Leave a Reply