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Creation Vs. Evolution: In the News

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Introducing the “Latest, Greatest, and Most Important Discovery”

by  Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

Only three short months have passed since University of California paleoanthropologist Tim White cautioned his fellow evolutionary colleagues about being overeager to name new species and “overinterpreting” the alleged diversity seen in hominid fossils (2003a). But, oh, how former advice is forgotten when it is your day to be in the media spotlight! And that is exactly where Tim White is.

The June 12, 2003, cover of Nature has a striking series of photos announcing White’s latest find. There—emblazoned on the cover under the title “African Origins”—is a subtitle that boldly announces “Ethiopian fossils are the earliest Homo sapiens.” Headlines declaring “Oldest Homo sapiens fossils found” appeared in almost every major media outlet. In fact, MSNBC even sent out “news bites” that appeared on pagers and cellular phones, stating:

OLDEST HUMAN FOSSILS DISCOVERED: Homo sapiens fossils found in Ethiopia are the oldest known found, making them a key link between pre-human and modern humans.

White and his colleagues have designated this “latest and greatest” find as Homo sapiens idaltu—the new subspecies name “idaltu” (meaning elder) being taken from the African Afar language.

While the names of the paleoanthropologists, the locations of the fossils, or the name given to a new fossil discovery may change, the story remains the same: Evolutionists claim to have made a “landmark discovery” that will “change the way people think about their own history.” Or, the suggestion is offered that such and such a find “documents beyond doubt that evolution occurred in the past, and will shake up the evolutionary tree of life.” While some admit that “these fossils raise more questions and contradict some of the previous data observed,” the bottom line always goes something like this: “Our find sets a new age record, making it the most important (and, by the way, we would appreciate more funding in the future).” OK, so that last little bit is not usually included in the media clips, but it is true all the same. These researchers are dependent on grants, and those grants commonly are awarded based on past achievement(s). Thus, the researcher who can grab the most spotlight, pound his or her chest the loudest, and claim “fifteen minutes of fame,” likely will be rewarded in the end (including making a considerable sum on the side for writing a book on the “most important” find in human history!).

So what did Tim White and his colleagues really find? The very first sentence in an on-line National Geographic report states: “Three fossil skulls recovered from the windswept scrabble of Ethiopia’s dry and barren Afar rift valley lend archaeological credence to the theory that modern humans evolved in Africa before spreading around the world” (Roach, 2003). Three fossilized skulls? Well, not exactly. In commenting on the find, Chris Stringer noted: “Three individuals are represented by separate fossils: a nearly complete adult cranium (skull parts excluding lower jaw), a less complete juvenile cranium, and some robust cranial fragments from another adult” (2003, 423:692). The truth is, the third “skull” is so fragmented that White and his colleagues chose not to even include a photo of it in their report in Nature. They found some bone fragments, and from those they composed an adult skull and part of a juvenile skull (with some leftovers remaining unused).

The Nature article contains some good science, in that the researchers did uncover some fossils. They put them together (as they thought they best fit). They took them back to the lab, made measurements, and compared them with other anthropometric data. But that’s where the good science stops, and speculation begins. In an effort to help fill in some gaps that recently have been found in the evolutionary theory, White and his colleagues painted a “before” picture that was intended to help explain away and fill the gaps. Recently, evolutionists have had a hard time explaining just how man evolved “out of Africa,” when researchers were finding Neanderthal fossils in Europe. How could this occur, when previously, evolutionists asserted that Homo sapiens had evolved from Neanderthals and then left Africa? Enter the “side-by-side” theory. This latest twist has both modern humans and Neanderthals coexisting in many of the same regions, including Europe. That helped explain the Neanderthal fossils in Europe, but evolutionists still needed evidence in Africa to back up their claims. Alas, Tim White, and his coworkers have saved the day. They not only speculated how their new find fits into the “out of Africa” theory, but also went on to note: “When considered with the evidence from other sites, this shows that modern human morphology emerged in Africa long before the Neanderthals vanished from Eurasia” (2003b, 423:746-747).

This latest find is nothing more than a modern human that has been dated (using evolutionary methods) at 154,000-160,000 years old. When you disregard the dating (due to the inherent evolutionary assumptions), you will see that White and his colleagues found nothing more than bone fragments from two adults and a child (Homo sapiens) who once lived in Africa. That’s it. End of story. Tim White would do well to re-read his recent cautionary advice to his evolutionary colleagues, regarding hastily assigning new names for every bone fragment discovered. But grant money is needed, and so the spotlight will continue to shine…at least until the next “latest, greatest, and most important fossil discovery” comes along.

REFERENCES

Roach, John (2003), “Oldest Homo sapiens Fossils Found, Experts Say,” National Geographic, [On-line] URL: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/06/0611_030611_earliesthuman.html.

Stringer, Chris (2003), “Out of Africa,” Nature, 423:692, June 12.

White, Tim (2003a), “Early Hominids—Diversity or Distortion?,” Science, 299:1994-1995,1997, March 28.

White, Tim D., Berhane Asfaw, David DeGusta, Henry Gilbert, Gary D. Richards, Gen Suwa, and F. Clark Howell (2003b), “Pleistocene Homo sapiens from Middle Awash, Ethiopia,” Nature, 423:742-747, June 12.




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