Friday, September 18, 2009

Rewriting "Human" History?

The mainstream media came out with some sensationalistic headlines a couple weeks ago saying that this skull is threatening to "overturn" our understanding of human origins (evolution). Here is one version of the story:

"Ancient skeletons discovered in Georgia threaten to overturn the theory of human evolution"

The issue at stake here is that the best evidence says humans originated in east Africa. But this human skull shows up very early (1.8 million years ago) in Georgia (former member of the Soviet Union, not the Georgia in the U.S.). This is why the media saying that this group of skulls threatens to "overturn" our understanding of the entire evolutionary paradigm for human origins.

Well, not so fast.

At most, these skulls muddy the evolutionary scenario a bit. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

First, one important point of clarification - these specimens from Georgia are NOT Homo sapiens sapiens (anatomically modern human or what Christians may call descendants of Adam and Eve). They are hominids. More specifically, they are thought to be a Homo habilis (who, in evolutionary terms, would have been the ancestor of Homo ergaster [African ancestor] and Homo erectus [Asian ancestor], who supposedly migrated out of Africa and eventually give rise to Neanderthals and modern humans).

Let's assume for a minute that this Georgian specimen has been correctly identified as Homo habilis and correctly dated at 1.8 million years old, so what? What does this mean? Well, basically, it means that apparently, hominids migrated out of Africa earlier than previously thought and then migrated back to Africa prior to the appearance of modern humans. Here is a depiction of one possible scenario.

So, what are we to make of all this? Well, first of all, this is NOT a new discovery. Reasons To Believe commented on these same remains in their book, Who Was Adam? several years ago. Basically, this is a case of the media picking up on something that isn't new news and making something sensationalistic out of it.

Secondly, while this discovery may muddy the evolutionary "family tree" a bit, it doesn't really affect the picture from a creation model perspective. How is that? Well, from an old-earth creation perspective, we would understand hominids as interesting creatures that God made, but not as ancestors of modern humans. They are behaviorally and biologically distinct. In other words, from our perspective the Georgian fossils have no evolutionary connection to modern humans. They are distinct and separation creations of God.

Fuz Rana from Reasons To Believe, and author of Who Was Adam?, has posted a good podcast explaining his perspective on this specimen.

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