Darwinian Evolution | Plausible or Not? | Human Origins

(19 Minute Read)
The big question is here, DId we come from ape-like ancestors? There are different theories creationist have, and I would like to outline them here before we review the real evidence. The theories go like this:
  • Some say that we DID descend from an ape-like ancestor, however all life on Earth is not related and there are limits to evolution.
  • Some say that we did NOT come from an ape like ancestor.
  • Some (such as those at reasons to believe) would even argue that we can go as far to suggest that "human like" species such as Homo erectus did not qualify as a human.
The truth is that the fossil, archeological, and genetic evidence is limited, but we may be able to make some educated observations that should lead us to a reasonable conclusion on the truth about the origins of humans. First, we must define what a "Human" is exactly. Humans are normally considered to be in the genus Homo, which is defined as "the genus which emerged in the otherwise extinct genus Australopithecus that encompasses the extant species Homo sapiens (modern humans)". At a more basic level, we are assumed to have a LCA (last common ancestor) with chimpanzees. However, this LCA is what we call a missing link as there are no known fossils that could represent this transition. This does not mean evolutionist do not try to fit some "ape-like" transitional fossils in our lineage however. To be clear, they do not try to fit them in the last common human/chimp ancestor category. The traditional order in which our genus Homo is thought to have arisen is as follows: 
  1. Australopithecus Afarensis 
  2. Homo Habilis 
  3. Homo Erectus 
  4. Homo Neanderthalensis 
  5. Homo Sapiens (Modern Humans)

As you could tell from above, the genus Homo arises from A. Afarensis to H. Habilis. These two transitional benchmarks are vital, because if they could be shown to not be associated with the evolution of Homo Erectus then all of a sudden it appears "Anatomically Modern Humans" suddenly appear in the fossil record without a trace. This would of course be a huge blow to the credibility of evolution. In this article, we will challenge what is known about A. Afarensis and H. Habilis to understand if the evidence really suggest a transition. (Note: Neanderthals did not necessarily "evolve" into homo sapiens as they co-existed at the same time. Neanderthals are found earlier in the fossil record though, and modern homo sapiens today are most likely just a mixture of the different humans that existed - an end result if you will.)

A. Afarensis

Australopithecus (meaning "southern ape") Afarensis has become very popular from a famous fossil known as "Lucy". This overall genus existed from about 4 million years ago to 1.97 million years ago when it has been widely considered to go extinct, but we'll discuss this later. The fossil of "Lucy" (3.2 million years old) is a 40% complete fossil of A. Afarensis, which mostly consist of rib fragments. Some skull has been preserved with other fossils representing it's limbs. There is some controversy over the find, meaning that its founder Donald Johanson came across the fossils scattered on a hillside. In the Journal of Human evolution it was found that one of the vertebrae fossils associated with Lucy actually belonged to a Baboon, you can read more HERE.

This does not make any huge differences to the conclusion, as all of the other bones associated with the find are generally accepted as being accurate. Regarding the quality the bones were in, Johanson has stated in the past that if there was one more rainstorm, the bones could have eroded away. So what does this say about the famed fossil? Well, it cast a small doubt on the accuracy of the find and how the find could be interpreted. We often see depictions of early humans by artist, but for the sake of this argument please be aware that nobody can tell exactly what the living creature would have looked like especially if major parts of the skeleton are missing. So, what's all the hype about Lucy? As you can tell from it's genus name "Australopithecus", Lucy looked a lot like a modern ape, more specifically a chimpanzee. Lee Berger, a National Geographic South African paleoanthropologist states in his book Footsteps of Eve: The Mystery of Human Origins "Lucy’s face would have been prognathic, jutting out almost to the same degree as a modern chimpanzee.”

Furthermore, the evidence suggest that Lucy's locomotion was more primitive than some like to believe. Mark Collard and Leslie C. Aiello wrote a paper in the journal Nature titled, From forelimbs to two legs which states Lucy's body was "quite ape-like" due to "relatively long and curved fingers, relatively long arms, and funnel-shaped chest". Furthermore, another paper published in the journal Nature by Brian Richmond and David Strait entitled Evidence that humans evolved from a knuckle-walking ancestor describes evidence "that fossils attributed to Australopithecus anamensis (KNM-ER 20419) and A. afarensis (AL 288-1) retain specialized wrist morphology associated with knuckle-walking. This distal radial morphology differs from that of later hominids and non-knuckle-walking anthropoid primates, suggesting that knuckle-walking is a derived feature of the African ape and human clade" which adds to show just how "ape-like" Lucy was. However most either say that Lucy knuckle-walked and was a biped, or was exclusively a biped with leftover traits from her knuckle-walking ancestors. We believe that the limited evidence suggest Lucy did do both, just as modern chimps will stand on two legs to carry food today. Jeremy Cherfas elaborated on this issue in his paper Trees have made man upright that was published in the journal New Scientist: "Everything about her skeleton, from fingertips to toes, suggests that Lucy and her sisters retain several traits that would be very suitable for climbing in trees. Some of those same tree climbing adaptations can still be detected, albeit much reduced, in much later hominids such as the 2-million-year old specimens of Homo habilis from the Olduvai gorge. It could be argued that Lucy’s arboreal adaptations are just a hangover from her tree dwelling past, but animals do not often retain traits that they do not use, and to find those same features in specimens 2 million years later makes it most unlikely that they are remnants." Next, let's discuss Lucy's inner ear canals. The shapes of these canals are responsible for balance related to locomotion. In the journal Nature, University Professor of Human Origins at George Washington University - Bernard Wood (Over 30 years of experience) and his colleagues wrote a paper entitled Implications of early hominid labyrinthine morphology for evolution of human bipedal locomotion which states "Here we report a systematic attempt to reconstruct the locomotor behaviour of early hominids by looking at a major component of the mechanism for the unconscious perception of movement, namely by examining the vestibular system of living primates and early hominids. High-resolution computed tomography was used to generate cross-sectional images of the bony labyrinth. Among the fossil hominids the earliest species to demonstrate the modern human morphology is Homo erectus. In contrast, the semicircular canal dimensions in crania from southern Africa attributed to Australopithecus and Paranthropus resemble those of the extant great apes." Last but not least, this paper published in the US National Library of Medicine by Ray Y. and colleagues describe "Gorilla-like anatomy on Australopithecus afarensis mandibles [jaw or a jawbone]." With all of this evidence taken into consideration, it cast much doubt that modern humans would be able to evolve so many "human like" features from A. Afarensis in such a short amount of time. Maybe we can learn something about her from how she died. According to a paper published in Nature entitled Perimortem fractures in Lucy suggest mortality from fall out of tall tree, states on the "basis of close study of her skeleton, that her cause of death was a vertical deceleration event or impact following a fall from considerable height that produced compressive and hinge (greenstick) fractures in multiple skeletal elements. Impacts that are so severe as to cause concomitant fractures usually also damage internal organs; together, these injuries are hypothesized to have caused her death." This therefore provides compelling evidence that Lucy was in fact a tree dweller of some sort. However, if the transitional forms after A. Afarensis prove to show a transition into modern man like some diagrams try to show then evolution has more power than previously thought. 

 

H. Habilis

Okay, so A. Afarensis wasn't even classified in the genus Homo so we shouldn't expect to see many "human-like" features. However the only currently accepted possible transitional form [H. Habilis] should, as it's the big merger between ape and man. Upon researching into this subject, it didn't look extremely promising as I could tell this was about to get controversial by simply looking at it's Wikipedia page. On this page it states "Homo habilis is a proposed archaic species of Homo, which lived between roughly 2.1 and 1.5 million years ago.." so by reading the first sentence it was clear that the evidence must be lacking somewhat. Very quickly one also notices the huge lack of fossil data they have for this species. The fossils mostly consist of broken skull, and jaw bones. However the fossil specimen "OH 62" which consisted of 300+ fragments helped to determine that Habilis was more ape like than previously thought due to long arms, and short legs. In another publication by Bernard Wood and Mark Collard entitled Defining the Genus Homo the abstract states "We find that, on balance, the available evidence still supports their suggestion that Homo should be reconfigured such that it includes H. ergaster, H. erectus, H. heidelbergensis, H. neanderthalensis, and H. sapiens but excludes H. habilis and H. rudolfensis. We also find that the proposed inclusion of the collection of Late Pleistocene specimens from the site of Liang Bua, Flores, in the genus Homo as a new species, H. floresiensis, is not compatible with Wood and Collard's (1999) definition of the genus Homo." This conclusion comes from an analysis they conducted which found that H. Habilis had very little Homo characteristics as represented by the table below. 

Numerical Categories:

  1. Body Size
  2. Body Shape
  3. Locomotion
  4. Jaws & Teeth
  5. Development
  6. Brain Size

(H) Stands for Modern and humanlike, (A) stands for australopith-like, and (I) stands for intermediate or inbetween. 

From above one can see that H. Habilis, H. Rudolfensis, and H. Floresiensis have very little in common with the genus Homo, thus making Bernard Wood challenge the fact that they are most likely in the wrong genus. In this video interview Bernard states: "It began to strike me that Homo Habilis wasn't as modern human-like as it had been made out to be" He continues.. "We came to the conclusion that Homo Habilis probably wasn't as good a candidate for the earliest member of our genus as it was made out to be." This however is not the only evidence against the hypothesis that H. Habilis is the precursor to H. Erectus. Like stated above, Homo Habilis is generally accepted to have lived 2.1 million years ago. Why is this a problem? Because Homo Erectus lived 1.8 (accepted) to 2.1 (controversial) million years ago. The 2.1 million year old evidence comes from a paper entitled Hominin occupation of the Chinese Loess Plateau since about 2.1 million years ago which "implies that hominins left Africa earlier than indicated by the evidence from Dmanisi." This means they [H. Erectus & H. Habilis] likely co-existed which cast huge doubt as the messy chronological order implies that H. Habilis most likely did not evolve into H. Erectus. It was previously thought that H. Habilis also invented flaked stone tools for scraping bones, etc. This would in theory prove that there was a somewhat gradual increase in advanced tool use, however recent evidence suggest otherwise. A paper published in Nature entitled Evidence for stone-tool-assisted consumption of animal tissues before 3.39 million years ago at Dikika, Ethiopia shows evidence that this "discovery extends by approximately 800,000 years the antiquity of stone tools and of stone-tool-assisted consumption of ungulates by hominins; furthermore, this behaviour can now be attributed to Australopithecus afarensis." Therefore, behavior attributed to "becoming human" can simply be described as a trait of A. Afarensis. It's important to note that animals are very intelligent, and basic stone tools do not suggest a super intellect. The tools described were rocks that were slapped together, which caused sharp pieces to flake off. An article in Science Magazine entitled Who Was Homo habilis—And Was It Really Homo? states Habilis "matured and moved less like a human and more like an australopithecine" and had a dietary range "more like Lucy’s than that of H. erectus" and ends with "That [Dietary Evidence] suggests the handyman [Habilis] had yet to make the key adaptations associated with our genus, such as the ability to exploit a variety of foods in many environments, the authors say." In the same paper cited earlier regarding the ear canals of A. Afrenses, it also states that its [Habilis] skull is most similar to the skull of Baboons and it "relied less on bipedal behaviour than the australopithecines." You may also be shocked to hear another paper entitled Was "Lucy" more human than her "child"? Observations on early hominid postcranial skeletons was published to the Journal of Human Evolution detailing that "Surprisingly, it emerges that OH 62 [Habilis] displays closer similarities to African apes than does AL 288-1 [Afrenses]. Yet A. afarensis, whose skeleton is dated more than 1 million years earlier, is commonly supposed to be the ancestor of Homo habilis. If OH 62 [Habilis], classified as Homo habilis by its discoverers, does indeed represent a stage intermediate between A. afarensis and later Homo, a revised interpretation of the course of human evolution would be necessary." This statement is huge, we have multiple scientific sources stating that H. Habilis should not be classified under the genus Homo. The real question is if it can get any worse? Apparently yes, it can. In a publication entitled Hominid Brain Evolution: Looks Can Be Deceiving in Science Magazine Dean Falk writes "cranial capacity in Homo began a dramatic trajectory" about 2 million years ago, and that resulted in an “approximate doubling in brain size" which was a larger difference than expected. Interestingly enough, the chart we showed earlier only shows one trait that could be considered as intermediate. However, in Homo Erectus and not Homo Habilis (If we can still call it Homo). The possible "intermediate" trait was brain size, however they are quick to note that "Relative brain size does not group the fossil hominins in the same way as the other variables. This pattern suggests that the link between relative brain size and adaptive zone is a complex one" in their [Wood & Collard] publication entitled The Human Genus it is shown that Brain size is not as important as how the different parts of the brain are structured and organised, so it is entirely possible to have a slightly smaller cranial capacity without losing any intelligence. We have come to a reasonable conclusion with the amount of evidence we have been provided with. Both A. Afarensis and H. Habilis appear to not be related to the genus Homo in any way. It is doubtful that Darwinist will change H. Habilis into something like A. Habilis as they need their "transitional fossil" to explain how humans got here. We explored this topic with an open mind, and at first it seemed as if the evidence suggested the descent from "ape-like" creatures. However, after reviewing countless publications from credible scientific sources we now see that the need for another "Big Bang" is currently undoubtful. So, what does this all mean? When did "humans" come about and who were they?

 

H. Erectus (Upright Man)

It appears as if about 2 million years ago what we would describe as "Humans" came to be. H. Erectus actually existed until 500,000-143,000 years ago according to this published paper. It is simply hard to tell, especially with fossils because around this time period it appears as if most "humans" mixed and mingled to create what we come to know as the diversity of the human race we see today. The point of this article is to challenge the existing views of human origins and to show that evolution has not solved this puzzle. We will not make any definitive claims, however we will share our view on the matter. Like stated above by Wood, H. ergaster, H. erectus, H. heidelbergensis, H. neanderthalensis, and H. sapiens could all be described as "human". There is no doubt there were subtle differences between the groups, however their major similarities outway the minor differences. Homo Erectus could have potentially separated in groups and through adaptation changed slightly based on the environments they were subdued in. Thus, giving rise to modern humans today (which is the standard model). 

 

How Smart Was Erectus?

This is a hard question, because we must define what "smart" means. There is also the idea of having the ability to be smart, but not being able to take advantage of it. For example, children that are abandoned very young (some even lived with wolves, monkeys, etc) are called feral children. There has been documented cases of these victims being rescued later in their teen years, however they will never be able to function like a normal human. Why? Because it turns out that if language is not taught to you while your young, your brain will physically change making it physically impossible for the victim to become "normal". However, they can get better without language and understand emotion to some level so they are still "human". Unlike apes, humans possess the complex network of the frontal cortex. This part of the brain is responsible for planning, language, abstract thought, and decision making. The brain needs stimulation to grow normally in the child's early years, if the correct stimulation is not provided the complex parts of the human brain will become permanently damaged. This on its own is an interesting topic because it makes one wonder how Darwinian evolution can account for such knowledge when the intellect must be passed down or it won't develop. Is this proof God imparted Adam with knowledge so he can pass it down? There doesn't seem to be a counter explanation unless earlier brains worked differently. Now, back to the real question. There is not an extreme amount of evidence, but we will briefly discuss some of the important discoveries below.

The Sailing Man

Sadly there is no material evidence of a H. Erectus raft, but it may have looked something like the pictures above. However, there is evidence that Home Erectus created island settlements in Wallacea (Indonesia), Crete and, in the Arabian Sea, Socotra. None of these places were accessible to Homo Erectus except by crossing open ocean, then and now. Alan H. Simmons is the professor and chair in the Department of Anthropology and Ethnic Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In his book Stone Age Sailors he states: "our ancestors have often been painted as unintelligent brutes … however … this simply is not the case. Evidence … suggests that at least Homo erectus and perhaps pre-erectus hominins were early seafarers … based on this evidence, it seems that our early ancestors were … successful seafarers … Biological studies suggest that considerable numbers of ‘founder populations’ are required for viable colonisation." He then concludes with "Given these variables, purposeful seafaring, involving intentionally constructed craft capable of carrying relatively large payloads [people & resources] over considerable distances, is a more plausible model, in light of the increasing global evidence of early humans on many islands." National Geographic elaborates in a 2010 article entitled Primitive Humans Conquered Sea, Surprising Finds Suggest reporting that "Two years ago a team of U.S. and Greek archaeologists were combing a gorge on the island of Crete in Greece, hoping to find tiny stone tools employed by seafaring people who had plied nearby waters some 11,000 years ago. Instead, in the midst of the search, Providence College archaeologist Thomas Strasser and his team came across a whopping surprise—a sturdy 5-inch-long (13-centimeter-long) hand ax. Knapped from a cobble of local quartz stone, the rough-looking tool resembled hand axes discovered in Africa and mainland Europe and used by human ancestors until about 175,000 years ago. This stone tool technology, which could have been useful for smashing bones and cutting flesh, had been relatively static for over a million years. Crete has been surrounded by vast stretches of sea for some five million years. The discovery of the hand ax suggests that people besides technologically modern humans—possibly Homo heidelbergensis—island-hopped across the Mediterranean tens of thousands of millennia earlier than expected." The article continues with "Even so, as researchers from the Directorate of Paleoanthropology and Speleology of South Greece and four U.S. universities combed the island, evidence of this unlikely journey kept mounting. The team found more than 30 hand axes, as well as other stone tools of similar vintage, embedded into geological deposits at nine different locations on the southwestern coast of Crete near the town of Plakias. Some artifacts had possibly eroded out from caves in the sea cliffs, becoming incorporated into ancient beach deposits. Over time, geological processes lifted these ancient beaches up and away from the shore, forming natural terraces." After finding out about this find Boston University archaeologist and stone-tool expert Curtis Runnels stated "I was flabbergasted," that.. "The idea of finding tools from this very early time period on Crete was about as believable as finding an iPod in King Tut's tomb." This find puts sea travel at about 130,000 years ago (at least). However, archaeologist Michael Morwood of the University of New England suggest that H. Erectus voyaged from the Indonesian island of Bali to nearby Flores. This is where excavations have revealed 750,000 year-old stone tools. If you really want to stretch the date back, you may be able to even more. The NG article concludes "The discovery of human remains and stone tools in Spain dating to over a million years ago may indicate that some ancient hominin navigated the hazardous Straits of Gibraltar from Morocco, a journey of less than 12 miles." The Science Magazine publication Ancient Island Tools Suggest Homo Erectus was a Seafarer by Ann Gibbons documents "stone tools from the Indonesian island of Flores that confirm H. erectus's presence there 800,000 years ago". We clearly have solid evidence that H. Erectus could have possibly been smarter than most scholars credit. The building of a raft, paddling it,  and moving resources is all suggestive traits of linguistic abilities as well. 

Cooking With Fire

Homo Erectus has also been arguably proven to have cooked their food. In East Africa, (at the site known as Chesowanja) archaeologists have found fire hardened clay fragments, dated to an astonishing 1.4 million years ago. After analyzing the clay, it was shown that the clay was headed to around 750 °F (the published paper can be found HERE). Furthermore, a site at Bnot Ya'akov Bridge in Israel is said to show evidence of fire control around 750,000 years ago. BBC News reported on this find in their article entitled Early human fire skills revealed and stated "The evidence, from northern Israel, suggests species such as Homo erectus may have been surprisingly sophisticated in their behaviour. The find links earlier evidence of controlled fire from Africa with later discoveries in Eurasia, scientists say. The researchers say that a wildfire is unlikely to be the cause." This paper even suggest that H. Erectus used fire over 1 million years ago, a team member by the name of Francesco Berna examined "thin sections from the layer microscopically and analyzed their molecular composition by passing an infrared beam through the samples and studying the resulting spectrum. The presence of angular, sharp-edged bone fragments and well-preserved plant ashes, he says, indicates that neither wind nor water had buffeted and transported the particles; the burning took place in the cave." Berna went on to state that "Before this, I didn't believe that humans used fire so early... But there's no other explanation."

The Engraver

There is very little evidence to suggest that H. Erectus would carve inscriptions. However, Eugène Dubois discovered something special in 1891, a shell with a geometric engraving upon it that dated to around 500,000 years ago. In a 2014 publication in the journal Nature entitled Homo erectus at Trinil on Java used shells for tool production and engraving the authors describe how they "found evidence for freshwater shellfish consumption by hominins, one unambiguous shell tool, and a shell with a geometric engraving. We dated sediment contained in the shells with 40Ar/39Ar and luminescence dating methods, obtaining a maximum age of 0.54 ± 0.10 million years and a minimum age of 0.43 ± 0.05 million years. This implies that the Trinil Hauptknochenschicht is younger than previously estimated. Together, our data indicate that the engraving was made by Homo erectus, and that it is considerably older than the oldest geometric engravings described so far" They do make it clear that we cannot derive if these engravings had any specific meaning. All of these discoveries do challenge the old worldview that H. erectus was only as smart as a "7 year old" human.

The Communicator

Bruce Bower is a professional psychologist and journalist. In 2006, he wrote an article for science news entitled Evolutionary Back Story: Thoroughly modern spine supported human ancestor which depicts that "Bones from a spinal column discovered at a nearly 1.8-million-year-old site in central Asia [Dmanis] support the controversial possibility that ancient human ancestors spoke to one another." Anthropologist Marc Meyer is in favor of this view and states "The Dmanisi spinal column falls within the human range and would have comfortably accommodated a modern human spinal cord." Bruce says that this is significant "because the vertebrae would have provided ample structural support for the respiratory muscles needed to articulate words." Marc Meyer acknowledges that it's impossible to know if H. erectus did speak, but it appears that they were able to as they had  no respiratory limitations on speech. It has been suggested that before 500,000 years ago (by Robert McCarthy) that the genus Homo was not able to speak due to due to a short set of neck vertebrae. Meyer did respond however stating that many [human] populations of today, such as Australian aborigines, possess neck vertebrae comparable in length to those that McCarthy’s team considered inadequate for modern speech. Furthermore in Richard Leakey's book entitled Origins Reconsidered: In Search of What Makes Us Human he shows how H. Erectus most likely had the brain size, and the presence of Broca's area. Broca's area is a important region in the frontal lobe of the dominant hemisphere [usually the left] of the brain with functions linked to speech production. This idea is backed up in the paper The Origins of Speech which published in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal. If H. Erectus did not speak, there is good evidence it had the ability to.

Extra (Bonus Note): Further evidence to support the fact that H. Erectus was human comes from the 1.5 million year old Ileret footprints. LiveScience noted in an article that "In 2009, paleontologists discovered human-like footprints near the eastern shores of Lake Turkana in Ileret, Kenya. The fossilized tracks suggested similarities to modern human feet, including an arch, a rounded heel and a big toe aligned parallel with the other toes. But at 1.5 million years old, these prints were much too old to belong to Homo sapiens, or modern humans. They were attributed to Homo erectus, an early human ancestor." Even 1.5 million years ago we have footprints that could have been attributed to Homo sapiens. In the article it is even noted that the study author - Kevin Hatala, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and George Washington University, said "...these footprints provide some of the only direct evidence to support the common assumption that at least one of our fossil relatives at 1.5 million years ago walked in much the same way as we do today.." Of course we disagree that we have other ancestors in the form of a species or kind before erectus.  The simple capability of being a bipedal creature also does not qualify an animal to be qualified as human or a human ancestor. Bipedalism is believed to have been used by A. afarensis, although it is unclear - and I would argue unlikely that it walked upright as a primary locomotive function. On the other hand, the evidence from the skeleton of H. erectus pared with these footprints makes it very probable that they walked almost exactly how we do today.

Conclusion

This topic has been up for debate for awhile, but we feel that the evidence is in favor of Homo Erectus being considered a modern type of Human. As more evidence is released we will continue to update this post. Please be aware that because H. Erectus existed millions of years ago it is expected that not much about them could have survived weathering. H. Erectus most likely was a type of "hunter-gatherer" as described in this book by Christopher Boehm. They harvested fire (1-1.5 million years ago), cooked food, likely sailed, created stone tools, carved shapes, possibly talked, and migrated. It appears as if Adam and Eve did multiply and fill the Earth. From Erectus filling the Earth, it is no wonder why people look somewhat different today. Each population would have adapted to the surrounding climate thus creating slightly different looking individuals. Even the humans of today have varying skull sizes, this does not make the small headed people "not human". Eventually most populations would have converged and mated creating the more standard "modern human" facial structure we see today.

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