Bones of Contention IV: A YEC Homo naledi Fossil Status Scorecard

Creation Ministries International, the third of the big-three literal solar-day young earth creationist organizations, weighed in yesterday with their own assessment of the remarkable set of bones found in the deep recesses of a South African cave. The scientists who recovered and examined those bones over a two-year period have identified them as belonging to a previously unknown species of the genus Homo which they have called Homo naledi.

Now that the final of the big-three have made their assessments of the bones I thought it would be helpful to compare their views. Below is a chart I made to help summarize the responses of these three YEC organizations to this important fossil discovery.

Young Earth Creationist’ Assessment* of the physical and spiritual status of Homo naledi fossils from South Africa
Organization Answers in Genesis Institute for Creation Research Creation Ministries International
Publication title and location

 

Is Homo naledi a New Species of Human Ancestor? https://answersingenesis.org/human-evolution/homo-naledi-new-species-human-ancestor/ Homo naledi: Claims of a Transitional Ape (Last of a 3-part series)
http://www.icr.org/article/homo-naledi-claims-transitional-ape
The puzzling Homo naledi: a case of variation or pathology in Homo erectus? http://creation.com/puzzling-homo-naledi
Author Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell (MD from Vanderbilt U.) Dr. Tim Clary (PhD in Geology) Dr. Peter Line (PhD in Neuroscience)
Primary conclusion Fully Ape imaginary creatures” resulting from a mixture of fully human and fully ape individuals.  Scientists have either been duped or are making fraudulent claims Likely fully human but with pathological features
Descendants of Adam and Eve? No – they are soulless creatures Yes and No Probably
Most pertinent quote from each article “We seriously doubt the original owners of the Dinaledi bones were among the descendants of Adam and Eve, as the preponderance of the evidence suggests they were animals, one of the variations that developed among apes.” “The claimed new species appears to be a mosaic of different species put together based on evolutionary biases, not scientific evidence. The scientists built an imaginary creature from bones that likely come from both humans and non-humans.” “Can Homo naledi be human? As discussed earlier, most of the features that are said to be ‘primitive’ in Homo naledi are still within human variation, whether it be modern humans or robust humans (e.g., Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis and Neandertals).”
Age of the fossils <4500 years post-Noahic flood population <4500 years post-Noahic flood population <4500 years post-Noahic flood population
*As of November 19, 2015

I have already written about the responses of Answers in Genesis (Bones of Contention II: Ape, Human or Fraud? Young Earth Creationists Respond to Homo naledi Fossils) and that of the Institute of Creation Research (Bones of Contention III:  ICR claims Homo naledi Fossils are of an Imaginary Creature).  Now we finally have an assessment from Creation Ministries International to consider.

Once again, I am surprised by how different the responses to these fossils have been.  Even with an additional month to consider the responses of their colleague’s articles at AiG and ICR, CMI chose to take a yet a third view of the Homo naledi fossils.   They take the position that the bones are neither ape, nor fraud or accidental mixture of apes and humans but are most likely fully humans albeit ones with pathological features.

The author, Peter Line, takes a cautious approach admitting there is much that is mysterious about these fossils.  He accepts the bones in the cave probably represent a population of the same species: “the article here assumes we are dealing with a genuine fossil find, and this author has no reason to doubt the integrity of Lee Berger and his team.”   This is in stark contrast to the claims Tim Clarey of ICR who believes the bones in the cave likely represent individuals of two different species that are mixed together either out of ignorance or more likely on purpose to make it look like an intermediate species.

Line’s article for CMI takes no definitive position on what species the bones represent but he begins with the initial assumption that they may be members of Homo erectus:  “As I regard members assigned to Homo erectus as consisting of mostly humans, i.e., descendants of Adam and Eve, this analysis will investigate whether Homo naledi are a group of humans, possibly Homo erectus-like.”   From there he proceeds to look at various portions of the skeleton of Homo nadeli and it is apparent that he is attempting to interpret the bones in ways that will make them fit within the variation found in Homo erectus and sometimes Homo florensiensis.  But to do so he has to invoke multiple pathological conditions which he hypothesizes may be the result of iodine and sunlight deficiencies. He also speculates that the fossils may be the remains of humans with cretinism.  Here is just a sampling of his admitted speculation:

The finger curvature of Homo naledi certainly appears outside the range of non-pathological modern humans, but how do we know that Homo naledi individuals did not suffer from some pathology? As discussed earlier, if the human-like hand of Homo naledi is from a human, then a possible explanation for the curved fingers is some sort of bone pathology, possibly vitamin D deficiency and/or old rickets, Another explanation, regarded as the more plausible by this author, is that it may be associated with cretinism, which is also a non-genetic condition causing bone pathology (see below discussion on Homo floresiensis).

If a modern human with cretinism can have many pathological features that mimic the so-called ‘primitive’ features of evolution, it is highly likely that robust humans, such as Homo erectus, with cretinism will have as many, if not even more such features.

This last statement is revealing because it shows that the authors is seeking to explain the features that are ape-like in the Homo naledi fossils as being only side effects of a pathological condition of a fully human descendant of Adam and Eve. It is fascinating to compare this approach to that of Answers in Genesis who attempt to do the very opposite: explain away the human-like features of Homo naledi as “one of the variations that developed among apes.”

Likewise, I would also add the voice of the independent but influential YEC author Dr. Kurt Wise whose initial reaction to the fossil find was strongly in favor of the bones being “fully human.”   His comments are very much in-line with this more recent analysis by Peter Line of Creation Ministries International. Kurt Wise is quoted in a World Magazine article as stating:

I think the case is very strong that these fossils are not just of the genus Homo, but are actually fully human (meaning they are descendants of Adam and Eve),” said Kurt Wise, director of the Center for Creation Research at Truett-McConnell College. Wise noted that early humans dispersed after the biblical Tower of Babel incident would have lived in isolated populations and developed highly distinct traits.

In my first article, soon after the Homo naledi fossils were revealed to the world, I predicted the following:

These new fossils are being labeled a new species of Homo. Some YE creationists will probably simply declare them to be human not much different than you or me. However, others will probably recognize the obvious ape-like features of these skeletons and the lack of any cultural artifacts and declare that these fossils were misnamed and are just a type of ape.  I am going to predict that there will be some initial disagreement among YECs but that when Ken Ham declares these to be just another type of ape that most will come around to claiming that the “Homo” distinction is just a case of wishful thinking and they will dismiss the traits of these individuals that are more human than ape.

I was right about Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis proclaiming these fossils to be “nothing but one of the variations that developed among apes” but I was wrong in my assumption that other YEC organizations would fall in line with his proclamation.

The lack of unity may not be that surprising though when one considers the complexity of this fossil find.  All three YEC groups approach the fossils with only one unfailing assumption: that the fossils represent fully ape or fully human individuals. They are either descendants of Adam and Eve or they are just another type of animal.  However, those worldview glasses that they look at the fossils through don’t clearly tell them if these particular fossils are human or ape.  In other words, the Bible doesn’t tell them directly what these fossils are so they must interpret the fossils themselves.  How they do so reflects many non-biblical assumptions about how science works and how trustworthy the scientists are who collected the data. It also reflects their own ability, or lack of ability, to assess the complicated data sets and certainly involves their own, apparently differing, views of what physical features make a human an human.  Each organization has ended up emphasizing different characteristics and assumptions about the context in which the bones are found to come to very different conclusions about the physical and spiritual status of these individuals.

Regarding the context of the fossil find, I would suggest that the lack of any tools or other evidences of culture may have strongly influenced AiGs view of the fossils and thus pushed them to think “ape” while CMI appears to have taken what I predicted would be a safer route.  That safer route includes claiming they are human because it is far more likely that new discoveries, such as artifacts in the cave, will humanize these fossils overtime. As a result, CMI will be able to accommodate nearly any future findings into their interpretive framework whereas AiG is going to find new data much more difficult to accommodate in their  interpretive framework.

It will be fascinating to watch this story continue to unfold as more fossils are surely uncovered from these caves and more data is published.  I suspect I will be writing a “Bones of Contention Part V” in the not too distant future.

Below is a image of my scorecard for those that have browsers that can’t see all of the chart above and that anyone is free to share.

Homo-naledi-fossils-YEC-scorecard

Comments

  1. Reblogged this on #POPChrist and commented:
    Natural Historian continues his summary and assessment of the three major Young Earth Creationist organizations interpretations of the Homo Naledi fossil find. — IP

    I highly recommend this website for those who are interested in the Christianity and Science discussion. Of course, they do more than address YEC related topics.

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  2. Hey Joel, just wanted to point out a small error in your “scorecard,” if you hadn’t seen it yet. It appears the “publication title and location” and “author” are backwards for AiG and ICR, in both versions of the card. I think the rest of the columns are correct.

    Other than that, great work!

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  3. Thanks for this collection of posts this week. I enjoy reading them and appreciate your attention to detail and engagement. I am a pastor in a Reformed Church where people have a wide variety of views on Creation and these posts help me navigate the landscape.

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  4. All this reveals how what the young earth/biblical creationists are publishing is not the Bible itself (since the Bible never discusses fossils or human or ape anatomy) but their own ‘biblical worldview’ ie it is Man’s word (as is pretty much all science including the technology that YECs do accept) and not ‘God’s word’.

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  5. Let’s hope these schisms don’t blow up into full-scale warfare.

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    • The three YEC organizations have their differences some of which have been on public display i the past. However, I don’t think these fossils will be a divisive issue. Most of the pronouncements have been qualified to some extent by saying there are many unknowns and so as more data is released each group will have the chance to reassess the data and will claim to be doing the scientific process if they change their opinion. I think the differences are instructive and tell us something about just how strange this set of bones is that it isn’t obvious if they are human or not. For the most part the story is not longer a hot topic and most YEC followers will know very little about the fossils and won’t notice that there are big differences in what different organizations are telling them unless they are very attentive to detail.

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