David A. DeWitt, Biology & Chemistry chair at Liberty, knows a thing or two about skulls, and writes to say,
This afternoon and evening I tracked down 46 of the 51 skulls that were on the slide Nye showed in the Ken Ham debate (at about 1:05 on the Youtube video).
This was a challenge because some of them are not very well analyzed, partial skulls, etc. While some of them are well known, others are rarely discussed. I believe only a well-trained anthropologist would have been able to address that slide in the very brief time that it was visible. It was especially confusing because the skulls are in different orientations (including one that is viewed from the bottom and one that is just a jaw). They were not shown with the same scale so the relative sizes are wrong, and they are not grouped or lined up in any clear order. They are mixed up by type of skull and by date, and the only label is the name of the individual skull. I suspect that this was deliberate. I am also curious whether Nye knows very much about those skulls at all, and this may be why he didn’t say which ones were humans or how many were represented on the slide.
Some of the comments Bill Nye made:
“I assure you not any of them is a gorilla.”
That is actually true. There is no gorilla skull on the page.
He said the fossils were found “all over the place.” That is true if you mean in a variety of locations. It is not true if you mean that they are common.
They are mixed up by type of skull and by date, and the only label is the name of the individual skull. I suspect that this was deliberate.
He asked where would you put modern humans/us. The technical definition of modern human would be Cro-magnon which is the last one, but you should probably include the whole bottom row and the last 2 in the row above it since these are all homo sapien. Some of those homo sapiens are called ‘archaic’ because of their age and that is the distinction to ‘modern human.’
There are issues with Dali however because it is difficult to say whether it is homo sapien or homo erectus. However, if we accept the recent analysis (by Lorkipanidze et al) of the Dmanisi skull variation, then we would start humans with the last one on the top row which is H. habilis. Personally, I would not do that, I would start 2 in from the second row because I think the 1470 skull H rudolfensis has reconstruction issues and I would classify this with K. platyops which is not on the chart.
Bill insisted that there were more than 2 kinds represented on the chart, and perhaps he is right. It may be 3, but that depends on whether you include the australopithecines with paranthropus or not. It would be a max of 4 if rudolfensis is a distinct kind from the other two apes. I conclude that most of the skulls are in fact human, and there are likely up to 3 different kinds of extinct apes depending on how those are grouped. The Smithsonian website shows the Australopithcus group as distinct from the Paranthropus group, which is probably reasonable especially since they show both of them and not being direct human ancestors. I was surprised that Nye’s slide did not show the more recent fossils from the last few years such as ardipithecus, Australopithecus sediba, and Sahelanthropus.
I am also curious whether Nye knows very much about those skulls at all, and this may be why he didn’t say which ones were humans or how many were represented on the slide.
It is important to remember that some of these fossils are of extinct types of apes that were different from chimps and gorillas. Due to variation within the type as well as sexual dimorphism (along with partial and fragmented skulls) it can be challenging to distinguish the fossil apes.
The entire first row is messed up because it is:
Australopithecus afarensis (~3 million)
Paranthropus aethioopicus (~2.5 million)
3 Pranthropus Boisei (1.8-1.7 million)
2 Australopithecus Africanus (2.5-2.1 million and then 2.8-2.4 million)
Homo habilis 1.7 million
Overall there is a general trend to the fossils shown, but there are Neanderthals, H. heidelbergensis and H. erectus skulls that are out of order and out of a time sequence. I can only conclude that the sole purpose of showing such a slide was to confuse and obfuscate, not educate.
Oh, not to worry, when Darwin’s followers run the world, confusion and obfuscation will be education, and there will be no one left who knows the difference.
Heck, the other night we noted a science writer reviewing books in a prominent publication who thinks there is little or no difference between humans and other animals. If you can get published saying things that are as clearly un-evidence-based as that, you needn’t bother confusing people.
The multiversers are right: Science doesn’t have to make sense any more. It just has to support the right causes.
See also: The Science Fictions series at your fingertips
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