Friday, 11 September 2015

Another of Those (Missing) Transitional Species Found!

Homo naledi. Reconstruction by paleoartist John Gurche
Image credit: John Gurche / Mark Thiessen / National Geographic.
Homo naledi: new species of ancient human discovered, claim scientists | Science | The Guardian

We've known about the Rising Star Cave, and that there was something important there, for some time now, so it's no real surprise that palaeoanthropologists have announced this find. In fact, I first wrote about it in November 2014.

What is perhaps surprising is that they've classified these remains as members of our Homo genus rather than members of the Australopithecus genus, because this would be the first archaic hominid from outside East Africa, where it was generally assumed Homo had evolved from Australopithecines such as A. afarensis. But, it ties in quite nicely with the alternative theory that true hominids evolved further south possibly from A. sediba.

This find is stunning not only because of the number of individuals found in the cave but because of their condition. To find so many in one place is almost unprecedented and on a par with the much later Atapuerca site in Spain, which is still yielding up its secrets.

So, the big question now is just where these new hominids, if indeed they are hominids (i.e. true members of the Homo genus), fit on our branch of the hominin family tree. Are they our direct ancestors or are they a sister species - a side branch on our particular branch?

But remember these distinctions, especially when dealing with diverging species over time, are essentially artificial anyway. It is entirely biologically possible that Australopithecines gave rise to two or more descendant species that were capable of interbreeding if and when their respective ranges overlapped. Our branch could have arisen from a hybrid, for example between H. naledi and A. afarensis or A. sediba. There is no reason why these diverging species need have complied with our artificial classification systems, especially since we do not know how their genomes were arranged.

The fact that H. sapiens, H. neanderthalensis and the Denisovans, and possibly H. antecessor, H. heidelbergensis and H. erectus may have interbred in what was essentially a ring species in Euro-Asia means it is also possible that these diverging species could have done the same in South and East Africa.

What will be fun now is watching how creationists cope with this news. Obviously they can't simply accept the evidence and throw in the towel because too many incomes depend on selling creationism to those who don't feel important enough unless they believe the supposed creator of the Universe did it all for them and holds them in specially high regard. Ken Ham has already rolled out his stock response that no matter how much the facts seem to refute the Bible, they have to be dismissed because refuting the Bible proves the facts are wrong, not the Bible.

... we can say with confidence that this discovery changes nothing about our understanding of human history. You see, the only eyewitness account of human origins is the one provided by God our Creator in the Bible’s book of Genesis. No scientist witnessed the origin of man, and evolutionary scientists only believe there were intermediate evolutionary links between an ape-like ancestor and man because they have disregarded God’s Word and substituted their own fallible opinions in its place.

...

God told us He created two humans as well as all the kinds of land animals — and that includes apes — on the same day. That means that there could be no evolution involved. Whatever species these bones represent — and we will be publishing a more complete report on the discovery and the claims being made about it soon [can't wait Ken!] — we know that they cannot be any sort of intermediate between apes and humans. The only way to find an ape-man — or a “bridge” between apes and humans — is to misinterpret fossils of either an ape or a human as something in between. But all humans — even varieties of humans that we no longer have with us — were all descended from the first two people God made. So are we. And all apes, even extinct varieties, are all descendants of the kinds of apes God made in the beginning. Scientific observation reveals that all living things, including apes and humans, only vary and reproduce within their created kinds, never evolving into new kinds. This scientific observation affirms what God decreed in the beginning, as recorded in Genesis 1, that all would reproduce after their kinds.


So there we are. The facts contradict Ham's evidence-free superstition, so the facts are wrong. Ham, like so many creationists, feels he can determine scientific facts by fiat. If he agrees, they are real; if he doesn't, they aren't. It's as simple as that. No other evidence is required. And he's decreed an old book to be infallible by the same process so he can wave it as his evidence. This only works for Ham's favourite old book, mind you so don't go trying it out with any others - Ham's decreed that to be so too.

That's creation 'science', folks!

No doubt Ray Comfort and the Discovery Institute frauds will spin much the same line.

Other versions of creationists will no doubt be working on their dismissals of this find as I write, if they haven't done so already, or don't yet have Ken Ham's utility response already prepared. A certain Dr. Hugh Ross (an Old Earth Creationist with a PhD in astrophysics but no training in biology) has already gone on record as declaring that only Homo sapiens sapiens are real humans so anything else is an ape and not covered by what the Bible says God made from dirt and spare ribs, hence all archaic hominids can be waved aside and fitted into the creationist narrative by defining them as 'not human' in advance of their discovery. Hardly any point in looking for them really!

And Hugh Ross's colleague, Fazale Rana, a biochemist and devout Christian, again with no formal qualification in biology (No creationists! Biochemistry is not the same as biology!), has already given his considered opinion on Twitter (Yawn!).

Kudos to the person who can find the most idiotic dismissal of the Rising Star Cave find by a creationist (excluding Ken Ham's effort, to give others a chance). Candidates below, please.

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1 comment :

  1. Listened to NPR's Science Friday and got a thankfully detailed story concerning this discovery. All the other usual news sources I generally follow barely mentioned anything about the find. I do hope they can extract some DNA remnants from the fossils, although one of the people on the show said that could be difficult since, naturally, the caves are hot and wet.

    Kudos to the person who can find the most idiotic dismissal of the Rising Star Cave find by a creationist...
    I'm sure one or two of my coworkers will mention something about this all being a Satanic-inspired hoax.

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