Tuesday, July 15, 2014

BioLogos, Ken Ham and David Menton—A Response, Part III

This is the third part of my response to David Menton's post on human origins, cited by Ken Ham in his swipe at BioLogosPart One his here, Part two is here.We have been proceeding, point by point.

Point 6.  Menton writes:
Evolutionists are particularly interested in the angle at which the femur and the tibia meet at the knee (called the carrying angle). Humans are able to keep their weight over their feet while walking because their femurs converge toward the knees, forming a carrying angle of approximately nine degrees with the tibia (in other words, we’re sort of knock-kneed). In contrast, chimps and gorillas have widely separated, straight legs with a carrying angle of essentially zero degrees. These animals manage to keep their weight over their feet when walking by swinging their body from side to side in the familiar “ape walk.”
Evolutionists assume that fossil apes with a high carrying angle (humanlike) were bipedal and thus evolved into man. Certain australopithecines (apelike creatures) are considered to have walked like us and thus to be our ancestors largely because they had a high carrying angle. But high carrying angles are not confined to humans—they are also found on some modern apes that walk gracefully on tree limbs and only clumsily on the ground. 
Living apes with a high carrying angle (values comparable to man) include such apes as the orangutan and spider monkey—both adept tree climbers and capable of only an apelike bipedal gait on the ground. The point is that there are living tree-dwelling apes and monkeys with some of the same anatomical features that evolutionists consider to be definitive evidence for bipedality, yet none of these animals walks like man and no one suggests they are our ancestors or descendants. 
Let's leave aside the fact that the spider monkey is not an ape, although it speaks to Menton's understanding of primate taxonomy.  Menton follows the above quoted passage with some of the differences between the human feet and hips and, largely, gets them right.  But that makes his comments about the carrying angle all the more peculiar.  In hominin biomechanics, the legs do not operate independently of the hip, or of the feet.  He comments that there are apes that seem to have similar carrying angles and yet can't walk bipedally to save their lives.  He even writes that, given the ape pelvis, there is no way to walk like a human.  He is right about their hips, they are long and narrow.  He is right about their feet, they have opposable halluxes and the toes are not straight and narrow.  These features, in combination would keep anyone from walking upright like a human, no matter what their carrying angle was.  Walking gracefully on tree limbs is not the same thing as walking gracefully on the ground.  He isolates the carrying angle and seems to think that, because it might be similar in apes and humans, our analyses of the gait differences between the two are suspect.  That is absurd. 

And this brings up another problem.  He states that australopithecines were considered bipeds because of their carrying angle.  What he doesn't mention is that we have many fossil finds that indicate that not only did they have high carrying angles, they had all of the other adaptations for bipedalism.  They had human-like hips, and feet that are mostly human-like and, unmentioned by Menton, STS-14, an almost complete australopithecine vertebral column, shows that they had the double-s curve of the spine that we have and that are critical to bipedal locomotion.

Further, in his discussion of the skull, he ignores the placement of the foramen magnum, which is critical to understanding primate morphology.  The foramen magnum is the hole in the skull through which the spinal cord descends into the body.  In non-human primates (all non-human primates!) the hole is at the back of the skull, to facilitate quadrupedal locomotion.  In all hominins, fossil or otherwise, the hole is at the bottom of the skull, reflecting a bipedal gait.  This is yet another thing that raised a red flag with Raymond Dart on the Taung skull—the hole was at the bottom of the skull, as in humans, not the back, as in baboons—and he noted it accordingly.  This is a critical difference between apes and humans and Menton fails to mention it. 

Point 7: The second major section of Menton's article is “Only Three Ways to Make an Ape-Man.” He writes:
Knowing from Scripture that God didn’t create any apemen, there are only three ways for the evolutionist to create one:
  1. Combine ape fossil bones with human fossil bones and declare the two to be one individual—a real “apeman.”
  2. Emphasize certain humanlike qualities of fossilized ape bones, and with imagination upgrade apes to be more humanlike.
  3. Emphasize certain apelike qualities of fossilized human bones, and with imagination downgrade humans to be more apelike.
These three approaches account for all of the attempts by evolutionists to fill the unbridgeable gap between apes and men with fossil apemen.
This is the hallmark of modern young earth creationism: to jettison all of modern science in favor of a particular and peculiar hermeneutic involving biology and its evolutionary history.  He reasons that since God would not have ever created a transitional form like an “ape-man,” humans must have fabricated them. How exactly does he know that God didn't create “ape-men?”  It is difficult to be charitable toward Menton regarding this section because he is, at once, so pompous, so insulting and engages in so much obfuscation that one is left wondering if he displays any intellectual integrity whatever. For his first point, he dredges up the Piltdown hoax, writing: 
The whole thing turned out to be an elaborate hoax. The skull was indeed human (about 500 years old), while the jaw was that of a modern female orangutan whose teeth had been obviously filed to crudely resemble the human wear pattern. Indeed, the long ape canine tooth was filed down so far that it exposed the pulp chamber, which was then filled in to hide the mischief. It would seem that any competent scientist examining this tooth would have concluded that it was either a hoax or the world’s first root canal! The success of this hoax for over 50 years, in spite of the careful scrutiny of the best authorities in the world, led the human evolutionist Sir Solly Zuckerman to declare: “It is doubtful if there is any science at all in the search for man’s fossil ancestry.”1
The Piltdown hoax celebrated its one hundredth anniversary two years ago, in 2012.  Far and away (in my opinion) is Frank Spencer's account of the hoax, called Piltdown: A Scientific Forgery. Here are details that Menton conveniently leaves out of the account.  When the Piltdown remains were found, there were no dating methods and very few fossil human remains of any kind.  Nonetheless, it sparked controversy when it was discovered by Charles Dawson and, as initially reconstructed by Grafton Elliot Smith, looked remarkably modern in appearance.  It was not until the jaw was found, conveniently missing the ascending ramus, and incorporated into the find that it took on a more ape-like morphology.  Once Piltdown was described, however, it was locked away in a vault and access was very limited. That is where the problems began.  At this point, a critical thing happened.  Dawson died, in 1915.  Common consensus is that Dawson was the perpetrator and took  this information with him to the grave.

As I noted here, as time went by, more and more human ancestor remains were discovered in Africa, Asia and continental Europe.  As this happened, two things became clear: Nothing even remotely resembling Piltdown was found elsewhere and nothing remotely resembling Piltdown was found in England.  As human lineage trees were constructed throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Piltdown's peculiarity grew and researchers struggled to place it within any context.  Franz Weidenreich, in his excellent monograph on the Homo erectus remains from Zhoukoudian, questioned the dating of the find and had mused, even since the 1920s,  that it might be a combination of human and ape parts.  Ales Hrdlicka, the head of the American Museum of Natural History, actually uttered the dreaded word “fake.”

Owing to all of these concerns, in 1949, Kenneth Oakley, then in possession of the ability to use a brand-new dating method, fluorine analysis, was successful in getting access to the skull on the condition that he not damage it in any way.   This analysis suggested that the bones were less than 50,000 years old.  On the strength of this, and since nobody could believe that a fossil ape had roamed the English countryside at this time, further, more in-depth analyses were undertaken.  In addition to using fluorine, he and Wilfred Le Gros Clark were able, for the first time, to use a powerful electron microscope, which had been invented in 1926 but was not in widespread use until around 1939.  It was only then that they could discern what Menton seems to think anyone could have seen: that the teeth had been filed down and the jaw stained and fractured.

Was this embarrassing?  Yup, sure was.  But Menton also fails to mention that the hoax was uncovered by scientists using the scientific method and that the primary reason it was uncovered in the first place is that we knew, even then, enough about human evolution, based on the fossil record, to tell that there was something wrong with Piltdown.  He also fails to mention that the quote by Solly Zuckerman is 44 years old (!) and that Zuckerman even admits that his view was soon in the minority.  Zuckerman, additionally, is remarking on why Piltdown escaped notice, and it is quite clear from his other writings that he accepted human evolution without question.  Menton, once again, fails to include these facts in his post. 

Part IV here.

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