|Evolution in the News - July 2016|
|by Do-While Jones|
Has another human ancestor been discovered?
Let’s examine the report of a new human ancestor in light of what we have just written in our feature article. A biology professor said there were many other controversial studies which would be better exercises for evaluating scientific data—but he gave no examples. We agree and propose this example, which appeared just 25 pages earlier than the professor’s article in that same issue of Science. It claims there is scientific evidence for a previously unknown dwarf human ancestor. This is what we would like to see debated!
In 2003, fossil remains of a small, apparently human-like creature were found on the Indonesian island of Flores. The scientific name for this creature is Homo floresiensis. It has been nicknamed, “the Hobbit.” We told you about this discovery when it was first published. 1 Immediately, there was a controversy over whether these fossils came from a race of diseased/dwarfed modern humans or a completely different species. We also told you that subsequent discovery of more hobbit fossils didn’t put the controversy to rest. 2 You might want to go back and read our previous articles on the subject—but that isn’t really necessary. All you really need to know is that there is great uncertainty surrounding Homo floresiensis.
The headline of an article in the peer-reviewed journal, Science, said,
Likely hobbit ancestors lived 600,000 years earlier 3
The subheading in the printed article said,
|Fragmentary “hobbitlike” fossils show evolution of dwarf human on Indonesian island|
|(This subheading does not appear in the on-line version of that article.)|
The first word of the headline is “Likely.” Just how likely is “likely?” Does it mean “almost certainly?” Or does it just mean, “The probability is 50.0001%?” It is ambiguous, but we feel most readers would take it to mean, “It is all but proven.” In that case, the scientific evidence must be very conclusive to make that statement.
The print-version subheading said, “Fossils show evolution.” There apparently isn’t any doubt. They didn’t say, “Fossils hint at evolution” or, “Fossils may show evolution.” It just stated as fact, the fossils show evolution.
Granted, headlines tend to exaggerate to entice people to read the article, especially in trashy science tabloids like Scientific American; but the journal Science should be better than that.
Science is the premier professional science journal in America, and Nature is the premier professional science journal in Britain. They are competitors. Nevertheless, Science does often report on articles in Nature, and this is one such instance. According to Science,
This week in Nature, the team announces that they have found specimens of a tiny hominin at a site on Flores called Mata Menge, 74 kilometers from the hobbit's home in Liang Bua cave. The haul is meager—a fragment of [a] jaw and isolated teeth—but the fossils' diminutive size suggests they belong to the hobbit's species, Homo floresiensis, or a precursor to it. They are securely dated to 700,000 years ago, hundreds of thousands of years earlier than the hobbit—and they are about 20% smaller. Their size is “amazing!” says Christoph Zollikofer of the University of Zurich in Switzerland, who studies fossils of the human ancestor H. erectus from Dmanisi, Georgia. 4
Rather than rely on what Science said about what Nature said, we went straight to the source. We found four articles in the June 6, 2016, issue of Nature that dealt with the subject. One was a peer-reviewed article on the jaw and teeth they found. The second peer-reviewed article described the things found in association with the jaw and teeth that were used to establish the age of the teeth. The other two articles were commentaries on what people thought about the two technical articles.
Let’s begin with the article that tells how they dated the jaw and teeth. We don’t believe those dating methods are accurate; but let’s not quibble about that. For the sake of discussion, let’s pretend that the dating really is correct. If the dating is correct, does that really prove ancestry? No! One can prove that President George Washington was born before the famous racehorse, Secretariat. That doesn’t prove George Washington was Secretariat’s ancestor. It takes more than chronology to prove ancestry.
The real question is, “How do we know these fossils were associated with hobbit ancestors?” Their short answer is, “The unique tools, which could not possibly have been made at any other time, by any other creature.”
Here’s their picture of the evidence, including their caption. In simple English, the caption claims that fossils a through e are stone tools found in association with the alleged hobbit ancestor, viewed from multiple angles. The rest are fossils of other living things whose evolutionary history was used to help establish the date of the jaw.
All specimens are from the hominin fossil find-locality (Layer II fluviatile sandstone, trench E-32). a, Bifacial core (chlorite). b, c, Chert flakes. d, Chalcedony flake. e, Rhyolite flake. f, Right maxilla fragment (M1-M3), Hooijeromys nusatenggara. g, Left mandible fragment (m1-m3, i) H. nusatenggara. h, Right maxilla fragment, Varanus komodoensis. i, Crocodile tooth. j, Right coracoid of a duck (cf. Tadorna). k, Stegodon florensis thoracic vertebrae in articulation (still partially embedded in sandstone matrix). Scale bars, 10 mm (a–j); 100 mm (k). 5
Let’s talk about the alleged tools first. To you, they may look like pieces of rock that naturally flaked off of a bigger rock when water froze in a crack, or broke off when tumbling down a mountain during a rockslide. You might think they are just the product of a random, natural process—not an intentionally designed tool. Don’t be so naïve! The complexity and obvious purpose of these stone flakes are clearly seen to be indisputable evidence of intelligent design in the eyes of experts. (These are the same eyes that can’t see intelligent design in eyeballs or bumblebees.) Furthermore, the distinctive design could only be the work of hobbits, or hobbit ancestors.
Brumm and colleagues report on the open-grassland habitat and stone tools associated with these hominins. They describe these tools as technologically similar to the ones found with the later H. floresiensis individuals from the Liang Bua site, and suggest that this points to the behavioural stability of the hominins from Flores over a long period of time. 6
The other fossils came from animals that allegedly lived at the same time as the presumed hobbit ancestor. Fossils f and g came from giant Indonesian rats. Fossils h through k came from a komodo dragon, crocodile, duck, and a dwarf elephant.
The evolutionists have an explanation for the hobbits and dwarf (excuse me, “vertically challenged”) elephants on that island.
Dwarfed by diet
This explains the fossils of the GIANT rats, and the komodo dragon found there.
The researchers take the appropriately cautious and parsimonious view that these hominins were most closely related to early Asian Homo erectus, on the grounds that this is the only species of hominin otherwise known to have inhabited that part of the world at that time. However, it remains possible, as an accompanying News & Views explains, that these creatures might represent some very early, pre-H. erectus exodus from Africa. If so, that expands our ignorance from a barely manageable ocean into a gulf of interstellar magnitude, implying that a wholly unknown plethora of hominins lived in Eurasia millions of years earlier than anyone suspected, just one of whose number has been found in the region’s southeastern extremity to betray the possibility that such an array of species ever existed. 8
If this fossil jaw has increased the amount of our ignorance from the distance across an ocean to the distance to the nearest star, that doesn’t seem like much progress. (Just like entropy, ignorance in a closed-minded system always increases. )
Here are four views of the piece of jaw that was found, compared to one view of a hobbit jaw on the bottom.
|Figure 1: SOA-MM4 mandible compared with a Liang Bua H. floresiensis specimen. 9|
Their conclusion is,
The current findings — consisting of a lower-jaw fragment, an indeterminate cranial fragment and some small teeth from at least three different individuals — confirm beyond any reasonable doubt that H. floresiensis is a distinct hominin species with deep evolutionary roots that trace back more than 700,000 years. 10
Those evolutionists who believe that hobbits were just dwarfed modern humans would not agree.
This speculation could be proved wrong if remains from other small hominins were found with the tools in the future, but it raises an interesting question: can the extreme reduction of the brain and body of H. floresiensis have evolved over a mere 300,000 years?
Three hundred millennia may not seem a 'short' period of time to many readers. However, no other such dramatic transformation in hominin evolution is known to have occurred over a similarly brief timescale. A quantitative analysis and comparison of evolutionary rates across different hominin species and with H. floresiensis would lend formal support to this informal observation. 11
The journal Science submits this proof:
The 1-million-year-old jaw on the bottom evolved into the 700,000-year-old jaw in the middle, which evolved into the 60,000-year-old jaw at the top. How can one argue with such conclusive evidence?
We would love to see college students use this as a means of learning how to analyze scientific evidence.
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of the Month
Disclosure, November 2004, “Homo floresiensis”
2 Disclosure, October 2007, “Scary Skeletons”
3 Elizabeth Culotta, Science, 10 Jun 2016, “Likely hobbit ancestors lived 600,000 years earlier”, pp. 1260-1261, http://science.sciencemag.org/content/352/6291/1260.full
5 Adam Brumm, et al., Nature, 9 June 2016, “Age and context of the oldest known hominin fossils from Flores”, pp. 249–253, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v534/n7606/full/nature17663.html
6 Aida Gómez-Robles, Nature, “Palaeoanthropology: The dawn of Homo floresiensis”, pp. 188–189, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v534/n7606/full/534188a.html
7 Ewen Callaway, Nature, 9 June 2016, “‘Hobbit’ relatives found after ten-year hunt”, (online title), http://www.nature.com/news/hobbit-relatives-found-after-ten-year-hunt-1.20045, “Hobbit relatives hint at family tree” (print title), pp 164-165
8 Nature, 9 June 2016, “Humanity’s forgotten family”, p. 151, “http://www.nature.com/news/humanity-s-forgotten-family-1.20040
9 Gerrit D. van den Bergh, et al., Nature, 9 June 2016, “Homo floresiensis-like fossils from the early Middle Pleistocene of Flores”, pp. 245–248, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v534/n7606/full/nature17999.html
10 Aida Gómez-Robles, Nature, “Palaeoanthropology: The dawn of Homo floresiensis”, pp. 188–189, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v534/n7606/full/534188a.html