Wednesday, 28 March 2018

No Transitional Neanderthal Forms!

Neanderthal skeleton and artist's reconstruction.
Source: Wikipedia
Credit: Photaro (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Appealing to their ignorance and desire for confirmation of their bias, creationists fraud often dupe their followers with assertions that there are no transitional fossils showing evidence of change from one species to another. This is nonsensical, of course, because all archaic fossils are transitional between their ancestors and their descendants.

Having said that, however, there is a very good reason why there are no transitional forms between some earlier species and later ones - the later ones did not evolve from the earlier one as a superficial reading of the geological column might suggest. I explained this some years ago using the apparent 'transition' from red squirrels to greys in Britain, but there is an even better European example from our own ancestry.

Neanderthals were first discovered in 1829 in Belgium but it was not until 1864 that, following other discoveries, they were identified as an archaic species of humans and a different species to Homo sapiens, H. neanderthalensis. This was just a few years after Darwin's Origin of Species and before any of the many African hominin fossils had been found.

The temptation then was to assume these archaic hominins were ancestral to modern humans. But there was one major problem - there were not and have never been any fossils showing intermediate stages between Neanderthals and humans. Creationists, of course, looking for easy answers and clutching at any reason to dismiss evolution as an explanation, would have gladly waved the absence of these intermediate as 'proof' that there was no evolution - that modern humans were created fully formed a mere few thousand years ago. They conveniently forgot to explain why an apparent earlier attempt to create humans appeared to have failed or how Neanderthals fitted in with their Bible stories and had been around for tens of thousands of years before Earth itself was created, but these considerations rarely trouble creationists, who can be found arguing that a 20 million years unchanged coelacanth proves Earth is 6000 years old, without the least sense of absurdity.

So what have we got, taking just the European 'geological column' in isolation and in the absence of any other fossil evidence from Africa or Asia? What we have is Neanderthals showing only slight change over time for maybe 250,000 years, then they disappear completely to be replaced almost instantaneously by modern humans about 50,000 years ago. Well, obviously, Neanderthals, after a long period if equilibrium, suddenly and far more quickly than can be explained by gradual evolution over time, changed into modern humans, didn't they? Obviously there was something going on in Europe 50,000 years ago. There was some mechanism for changing one species into another almost overnight, or there was some way in which modern humans had popped up and Neanderthals had died out.

That was the simple, superficial and wrong interpretation of what little evidence there was.

But now we have more and more detailed information. Now we know there was a migration of an even earlier hominin out of Africa into Eurasia and that this species, in Eurasia evolved into at least two and probably three other species, one of which was Neanderthal. We now know that descendants of this archaic hominin that remained in Africa, now the species we call H. sapiens or modern humans, followed their archaic ancestors out of Africa into Eurasia and there they met, interbreed to a limited extent with, and one way or another replaced the Neanderthals over a period of just a few thousand years - the blink of a geological eye and on a scale that would barely register in the geological column.

What looked like punctuated equilibrium by some mysterious and unexplained mechanism, or special creation by magic by an even more inexplicable mechanism, was nothing more than the replacement of one species by another across its range and a species that had evolved slowly over time somewhere else.

There are no transitional forms between Neanderthals and modern humans because there was no transition. Neanderthals are our first or second cousins, not our parents or grandparents.

I wouldn't expect a creationist dupe to understand the distinction, of course, because it's not what they want to understand.

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