Since I first read the story of the groundbreaking 1974 discovery of possible human ancestor Lucy, I have been captivated by the study of human origins. I felt as if during my atheistic indignation at the fantastical creation stories in the bible, paleoanthropology took my hand and showed me that there is an entire field of study that strives to learn where humans really came from. I’ve been baffled that more people weren’t devouring the findings of fossil hunters. I’m afraid that that might be partly because creationist teachings have been normalized, at least in the United States. I want to help break down, clearly and understandably, why creationism holds no answers about human origins whatsoever.
Inspired by Viced Rhino
I have written posts against creationism before, but I never really refuted any specific claims. I’ve mostly commented on why someone’s logic was faulty or how someone was showing extreme bias. Mostly, when it came to deconstructing specific claims, I’ve referred people to the Viced Rhino YouTube channel; and before I go any further, I just want to do that one more time.
I know it has a funny name and a funny cartoon, but Viced Rhino’s entire channel is his analyses of videos from creationists (and occasionally other Christian apologists) and point by point explanations into why they are wrong. He’s not a scientist by trade, but he’s excellent at researching, he always lists his sources, and he picks up on sly tricks employed by the creationists that an untrained eye would never notice. This series is partially inspired by his channel, and I can only hope to do as well as he does at the task at hand.
Why I’m starting this series
This takes me to what this new series of blog posts will be: I want to look at the articles on creationist websites about human evolution and do in-depth analyses and commentary. I’ve already spent more hours on Answers in Genesis than I’d ever wanted to. I want to be an accessible resource for those who are duped by creationists’ dishonest, and often convincing, tactics.
Most of all, however, I’m doing this to learn about paleoanthropology. I learn by reading books on it, but reading on its own isn’t as effective as, say, taking a real class complete with studying, essays, and tests. To take it further, as we’ve all heard, nothing will teach you a subject as effectively as you becoming the teacher. I want to better understand paleoanthropology and build skills in writing about it specifically, all while taking on the claims made by biblical creationists.
What this series will be
Finally, rather than just presenting you with an announcement that I’m starting this new series, I want to give you a taste of what it will be like. Unlike Viced Rhino, I won’t be tackling one post (or one video, in his case) at a time, at least not with my first contestant, Answers in Genesis. Their website is deliberately set up to feel like a maze. They have multiple names for each article so that you feel like they have more articles than they do. They have a main hierarchy of posts on various topics, but there are dozens of posts just floating in the AiG void that can’t be found except through link trails from other posts. If I talked about every single post, you and I would both go crazy.
Instead, two weeks ago I started reading through all the posts linked to in the main hierarchy at answersingenesis.org/human-evolution. You probably could have guessed that even with their thirty-six posts, some of which are 5,000+ words, not a whole lot is said. Or at least, a lot of things that are said in one post will also be said in five other posts. It’s a way of sounding like they have more arguments than they do. Knowing this, I want to refute specific groups of ideas, and in each post I’ll list the articles that they show up in. For example, they reiterate an already refuted nineteenth-century hypothesis that Neanderthals were just Homo sapiens with arthritis in three different articles. You can say something as many times as you want, but that doesn’t make it true.
Here’s a little taste of the types of things I’ll be refuting. The authors at Answers in Genesis (none of which, in this case, are Ken Ham himself, I’m afraid) like to purposely not define words. Their whole schtick is that “apes are apes, and humans are humans.” At least in what I’ve read so far, they very rarely refer to Homo sapiens as Homo sapiens. Of course, in regular conversation, we know that each other are referring to Homo sapiens when we say “human,” but when you are distinguishing between various extinct human species, you really need to specify which species you’re talking about. They like to use words like “man,” “mankind,” and “modern man” to mean Homo sapiens. First of all—you know what I’m going to say—what about women? Why not humankind, at the very least?
Fuzzy words like this render a lot of their arguments null. When it comes to Neanderthals, their view is that Neanderthals are humans, too. This implies that paleoanthropologists don’t think that Neanderthals are humans… but they do. Neanderthals are a species of human: Homo neanderthalensis. Some believe them to be more closely related to us than others do, and so they define them as a subspecies of Homo sapiens: Homo sapiens neanderthalensis. We all agree that they’re humans, but when you don’t define human as a genus containing multiple human species, you’re withholding information from your reader to make your opponent look worse than they are. It’s a form of the straw-man fallacy. (And we’ll get back to Neanderthals in much more depth later.)
Defining apes and humans
Likewise, they never define apes. Here, allow me: an ape is any creature in the superfamily Hominoidea. The superfamily includes the families Hylobatidae (lesser apes, gibbons) and Hominidae (great apes). Among the great apes are four genera (plural of genus): orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, and humans. Of all living genera within the ape family, chimps (of the genus Pan) are the closest relative of humans. If a paleoanthropologist is examining the morphology of a fossil with both “human” and “ape” characteristics, she will most often (but not always) be comparing the skulls of Homo sapiens and a chimpanzee.
Answers in Genesis ignores all this. Like I said, they just say “man” and “apes,” as if there’s only one species of each. Hominoidea is an entire superfamily, and Homo is an entire genus four levels deep within that superfamily. This tells us that any species between us and the common ancestor we share with chimps (and much further than that), are all apes. So the distinction between “apes” and “man” makes no sense. We’re all apes.
Deception from Answers in Genesis
The madness continues, however. AiG will discuss the supposed differences between a human and an ape, and if you’re lucky enough for them to specify what kind of ape they mean, it will often be an orangutan. Now, take another look at the diagram above: excluding only gibbons, orangutans are the furthest removed apes from us in the ape family tree. If AiG had instead compared a Homo sapiens skull with that of a chimp, you would see that they’re not all that different.
The science of taxonomy (classifying organisms) is hard enough as it is. It is a lot more confusing when you make it so on purpose. Answers in Genesis author Roger Patterson knowingly did this in the post The Origin of Humans by saying: “Many nearly identical terms are used to describe alleged human and ape ancestors. Care must be taken to distinguish between hominoids, humanoids, hominins, hominans, and hominids.”
He is making it sound like scientists try to trip us up by using words that sound like each other, but if you look closely at his list, he includes words like “hominan” and “humanoid.” “Hominan” seems to be nothing but a misspelling of “hominin,” and “humanoid” had nothing to do with taxonomy whatsoever. “Humanoid” refers to anything that resembles a human, like an alien in a science fiction movie. Even so, there are still a lot of words that sound very similar: it’s how taxonomy, and science at large, work. Do you know how hard it was to learn the pronunciations and differences between words like Australopithecus afarensis, Australopithecus anamensis, and Australopithecus africanus? Big words just come with the territory of learning a new field of science.
This is the kind of deception that I want to bring to light as I go through this series. We’ve all heard a creationist say, “If we evolved from apes, then why are there still apes?” But Answers in Genesis is smarter than that. They sneak in big words, but they use them wrong. They quote snippets from real scientists, who aren’t creationists, to make their arguments seem valid. They have their own in-house “journal,” Answers in Depth, that is made to look and sound like a peer-reviewed science journal, but isn’t. They don’t expect people familiar with paleoanthropology to read their articles in detail; they want people to read their posts who have been taught creationism for their entire lives and who want their beliefs to be reinforced.