Saturday, July 12, 2014

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

I thought that I would respond to Ken Ham's veiled attack on my BioLogos series and subsequent referral to the post on human origins by David Menton in one lump post but it is becoming too massive and straggly and it is taking too long, so I will respond to it in a series of posts, starting with this one.  Here goes:

As I mentioned last week, Ken Ham took a potshot at me on the AiG page.  His post is titled Does the Bible Teach Human Evolution.  In it, he writes:
BioLogos is at it again! Earlier this week, I wrote about how they’re indoctrinating children, teens, and young adults with theistic evolution. But now they’re running (for the second time) a blog series on the supposed evidence for human evolution!
Now, evolutionists have claimed for decades that humans evolved from an ape-like ancestor over long ages. But the so-called evidence they’ve produced for their idea doesn’t support it at all. In fact, many of the alleged fossils of “missing links” have turned out to be hoaxes, and many others are easily identified as either fully human or fully ape.
Really?  I can only think of one hoax in the last hundred years, Piltdown, and that was uncovered by scientists, using scientific methods, in 1953.  He continues:
Dr. David Menton, an AiG speaker and a retired professor of anatomy at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, explains how evolutionists create ape-men.
Let's follow the link and see how we create “ape-men.”  He begins his post by laying out Biblical Starting Assumptions and Evolutionary Starting Assumptions.  The hermeneutic validity of AiG's (and by extension, the young earth creationist) doggedly literalist position has been been addressed by thousands of writers over the course of the last two thousand years and will not be addressed in-depth here.  I will, instead, address his points regarding human evolution.

Point 1.  He writes:
Since evolutionists generally do not believe that man evolved from any ape that is now living, they look to fossils of humans and apes to provide them with their desired evidence. Specifically, they look for any anatomical feature that looks “intermediate” (between that of apes and man). Fossil apes having such features are declared to be ancestral to man (or at least collateral relatives) and are called hominids. Living apes, on the other hand, are not considered to be hominids, but rather are called hominoids because they are only similar to humans but did not evolve into them. Nonetheless, evolutionists are willing to accept mere similarities between the fossilized bones of extinct apes and the bones of living men as “proof ” of our ape ancestry. 
First, the wording is such that it gives the impression that the fossils we find and the characteristics that we identify as transitional are those that we desire to.  What we want is immaterial.  Our understanding of human evolution has changed as we have uncovered new evidence.  This process has often been messy and straggly.  If we tailored the fossil record to fit our evolutionary preconceptions, it would not look anything like what it does.  We don't look for features that are "intermediate."  We look for traits that are derived in a particular direction and differentiate them from traits that are retained.  In this way, we can identify lineages based on shared derived traits and identify splits in the fossil record between lineages.  As was recently written over on Panda's Thumb, taxonomists cannot identify ancestor-descendent relationships.  It is not possible to do so given our understanding of the fossil record and taxonomy.  What we can do, and do quite well, however, is identify related taxa and place them in taxonomic relationship to each other.  That is how we have identified Ardipithecus and differentiated it from other late Miocene apes.  Whether or not Ardipithecus is on the line that led to humans or not is not known.  What is known is that it had traits derived in the hominin line (shortened canines, facultative bipedality) while still maintaining a large number of retained traits linking it to other Miocene apes (long arms relative to legs, adaptations to arboreality, a small ape-like brain-case).

Point 2:
Though many similarities may be cited between living apes and humans, the only historical evidence that could support the ape ancestry of man must come from fossils. Approximately 95 percent of all known fossils are marine invertebrates, about 4.7 percent are algae and plants, about 0.2 percent are insects and other invertebrates, and only about 0.1 percent are vertebrates (animals with bones). Finally, only the smallest imaginable fraction of vertebrate fossils consists of primates (humans, apes, monkeys, and lemurs).   
What is meant by the “smallest imaginable fraction?” If you have a sample size of five hundred, 0.01% would be 5. That is not much to go on. On the other hand, if your sample size is huge, say on the order of hundreds of billions of fossils, which reflects the best estimates, then 0.01% would still be over one billion fossils.  Even if only a fraction of that, 0.01%, related to human origins, we would still have over a million fossils relating. Recently, Ian Tattersall and Jeffrey Schwartz put together a four-volume encyclopedia set of human fossil remains.  Each volume is at least 400 pages.  There are a total of 149 listed, many of which have multiple individuals represented.  And this represents only the most complete sites.  In 1977, Kenneth Oakley published, in four volumes, the Catalog of Fossil Hominids, a listing of every fossil site known to that point.  There are literally hundreds of sites listed.

Is it true that we have gaps in our understanding of human evolution because our fossil record is incomplete?  Yes, it is, but what we have is a whole lot better than Menton suggests.  The site of Hadar alone, which is where the Australopithecus afarensis find Lucy was discovered, yielded over 250 hominin fossils alone in the 1970s.  Many more have been found since.   Menton makes a blanket assumption that, since we have only a fraction of the total fossil record, that is not much.  Here, he is mistaken.

Part II here.


  1. Rich Gitschlag12:14 AM

    You goofed up on the percentages. .01% of 50,000 (not 500) is 5.

  2. You are absolutely right. Never was good at math. Having said that it would still be over twenty million fossils.

  3. You may be interested in my comments here about how another YEC apologetics site - CMI - tried to portray the Christians at Biologos as dishonest (by lying about radioactive isotopes to make them look 'incorrect' or 'making false statements) when they were merely being brief):

    Unsurprisingly when I emailed Tas Walker about the misleading claims by CMI in that 2012 article I received no response.

    1. I am sorry. I did not respond immediately. I have severe problems with CMI. That is from where Carl Weiland works, and I commented (or tried) to on one of his pages that was just one lie or half-truth after another. It is here I think I ended with something to the effect of "that is why scientists despise dealing with young earth creationists."

  4. Anonymous8:06 AM


    Something is seriously messed up on your home page. The side bar is missing and the bottom is cut off.

  5. Looks okay to me. What browser are you using?