The Dmanisi skulls and creationism

| 74 Comments

I recently got a copy of the new 2nd edition of Marvin Lubenow's book Bones of Contention, a creationist book about the evidence for human evolution. I'll do a fuller review of it later, but there's one thing I want to comment on now. In 2002, the discovery of a new hominid skull from Dmanisi, Georgia, was announced. This skull had a very small brain size of 600 cc, in the Homo habilis range. Two other skulls which had been announced in 2000 had brain sizes of 650 cc and 780 cc. The skulls had a mixture of features from H. erectus and H. habilis and although the smallest one seemed slightly more primitive, the discoverers saw no reason not to put them all in the same species.

I found these skulls particularly interesting because they nicely straddle the gap that creationists like to claim separates humans from non-human primates. Generally the less-incompetent creationists (i.e. those who don't still think that Java Man and Peking Man are ape or monkey skulls) have a dividing line of about 700 cc; usually anything above that is human, and anything below it isn't. Although there are a couple of fragmentary habilis skulls estimated to be in the 650-700 cc range, there weren't any moderately complete hominid skulls between about 620 and 720 cc, so that became the "gap" separating humans from non-humans. But now we have three skulls from the same place, the same time, and of the same species, sitting smack on top of that gap - above, below, and in it. How, I wondered, would Lubenow handle it?

Well, the answer is interesting. The largest skull (780 cc) is listed on p.350 of BoC in a table of H. erectus fossils (classified by him as human). The smaller two skulls, 600 and 650 cc, are listed on p.352 in a table of H. habilis fossils (generally classified by him as non-human). So as best I can tell, Lubenow considers the largest skull to be human, and the smallest two skulls to be non-human. You'd think this might warrant some anatomical justification, but none is provided. In fact, apart from those two table entries, Dmanisi isn't mentioned in Lubenow's 350 page book which is supposed to be a comprehensive treatment of the evidence for human evolution.

The ICR radio show of November 23, 2002 on which Lubenow appeared was similarly evasive. There was a suggestion that the Dmanisi skulls might be a "misunderstanding", with no justification, but in the end ICR and Lubenow didn't give a verdict on the skulls. Answers in Genesis usually issues a response to new hominid fossils announced in the media, but they too have treated the Dmanisi skulls as if they don't exist. In fact, I'm not aware of any creationist who has tackled them squarely. I wonder why that might be?

74 Comments

So Jim, does that nifty graphic of skull volume vs. time have the Dmanisi skulls in it? There do not appear to be any obvious gaps in that graphic to begin with.

Syntax Error: not well-formed (invalid token) at line 5, column 164, byte 426 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.16/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187.

Bullying teenager to Dmanisi Timmy: “Your mama was an ape!”

Jim, you might mention this at the book’s Amazon.com page.

Jim, you might mention this at the book’s Amazon.com page.

Heh. Take a look at this:

Customers who bought this book also bought

* DARWINS BLACK BOX: THE BIOCHEMICAL CHALLENGE TO EVOLUTION by Michael J. Behe * Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing by John. Wilson * Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth? Why Much of What We Teach About Evolution is Wrong by Jonathan Wells * Evolution : A Theory In Crisis by Michael Denton * The Biblical Basis for Modern Science by Henry M. Morris * Not by Chance: Shattering the Modern Theory of Evolution by Lee M. Spetner

Apparently he’s preaching to the choir.

And a snippet from another customer review:

Read some real scholarship by Dembski, Behe and Ross.

You betcha. As soon as any one of them produces some real scholarship.

is creation wrong?

Syntax Error: not well-formed (invalid token) at line 1, column 64, byte 64 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.16/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187.

TAS:

No, creation exists. How it came to exist, now, that’s a good question. I doubt anyone knows.

…except that the very word, ‘Creation’, is begging the question.

AN Wrote:

… except that the very word, ‘Creation’, is begging the question.

What question might that be?

More to the point, TAS, is: Did your Creator fake the Dmanisi fossils as a test of our faith in TV preachers and conservative politicians who use religion as a means to power?

What, exactly, establishes that the skulls found in Dmanisi (or any other ‘transitional’ fossil) are from a species ancestral to homo sapiens? Is it the conjunction of the facts that (1) the skulls of the former are similar to those of the latter, and (2) the former were found in older dirt than the latter? Or are there additional considerations?

Gee, I thought “Bones of Contention” was a popular book by Roger Lewin about the history of paleoanthropology. Did Lubenow steal the title and just replace “Controversies in the Search for Human Origins” with “A Creationist Assessment Of Human Fossils?” I should look up a copy of Lubenow’s book, but, in the meantime, does any know if he even references Lewin’s book?

Dave S.

That skull graphic is incredible! Any chance that those data exist in tabular form anywhere, to anyone’s knowledge? I’d like to replot it, sprucing up the color and symbols on it a bit, to use as a teaching tool. If anyone knows the original citation, perhaps that would help. Thanks in advance.

If, by “creation”, you mean “God created everything”: This isn’t a proposition science can test. It may be right, and it may be wrong; either way, it’s a matter of faith, not a matter of science.

It’s equally likely that a little teapot created everything.

No, creation exists. How it came to exist, now, that’s a good question. I doubt anyone knows.

if you men that the world around us exists I believe it. If you mean that some intelligent agent created it that isn’t at all self evident. Science may some day prove this happened but until then there’s no reason to think so.

If anyone knows the original citation, perhaps that would help.

I’ve seen that partifular figure around a lot.

Lee and Wolpoff, 2003, paleobiology have a table and similar figure for the Homo genus going back to about 1.8 ma that includes the dmanisi skulls. Lee has a link to the PDF here: http://faculty.ucr.edu/~shlee/publications.htm

Science may some day prove this happened but until then there’s no reason to think so.

‘Scientific truth’ is co-extensive with ‘truth’; therefore, if science can’t establish something, it can’t be established.

Except that this last statement is supposed to be true, and science can’t establish it. Thus, the claim is self-defeating (i.e., self-referential incoherent).

Except that this last statement is supposed to be true, and science can’t establish it. Thus, the claim is self-defeating (i.e., self-referential incoherent).

By that definition, “God” is also self-referential and incoherent. “I am that I am.” Science is easier to believe and much easier to observe, so we’ll stick with it.

The brainsize vs. time graphic came from a 1994 paper by Henry McHenry referenced here:

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/hom[…]_brains.html

There never really was a gap; creationists just tended to gloss over fossils such as OH 12 which were too near it, or make an arbitrary decision as to whether an individual fossil was a human or an ape. What’s significant about the Dmanisi skulls is that for the first time, we have skulls from a single population that straddle the gap. That leaves creationists with a tough dilemma: either some of them are remarkably large and humanlike apes (if they’re all apes), or some are remarkably small and apelike humans (if they’re all humans), or they’re a mixture of apes and humans. Any of those choices is an unpalatable one for creationists.

Except that this last statement is supposed to be true, and science can’t establish it. Thus, the claim is self-defeating (i.e., self-referential incoherent).

Hey, if you want to go with solipsism, that’s fine too. Just don’t expect to make many important discoveries.

Jeff,

What can I say except that you need to read more philosophy, say PHIL 101 at your local community college.

“I am that I am” is a tautology, not a self-contradiction. These are opposites.

Hey, if you want to go with solipsism, that’s fine too. Just don’t expect to make many important discoveries.

Really folks, please read Sophie’s World or something.

‘Scientific truth’ is co-extensive with ‘truth’; therefore, if science can’t establish something, it can’t be established.

Except that this last statement is supposed to be true, and science can’t establish it. Thus, the claim is self-defeating (i.e., self-referential incoherent).

Isn’t it extraordinary, then, that assuming the truth of an unestablishable proposition should seem so universally beneficial; that it so readily results in an illusion of objective progress…especially considering the same illusion does not result from assuming the truth of so many other propositions…

By that definition, “God” is also self-referential and incoherent. “I am that I am.”

What can I say except that you need to read more philosophy, say PHIL 101 at your local community college. “I am that I am” is a tautology, not a self-contradiction. These are opposites.

And you need to learn something even more basic - *how to read*. I said self-referential, not self-contradiction. Idiot.

What, exactly, establishes that the skulls found in Dmanisi (or any other ‘transitional’ fossil) are from a species ancestral to homo sapiens? Is it the conjunction of the facts that (1) the skulls of the former are similar to those of the latter, and (2) the former were found in older dirt than the latter? Or are there additional considerations?

I don’t think anyone knows these skulls or even this population was necessarily ancestral. Rather, I believe what you need to consider is that presence skulls with these characteristics at these times in these places are very difficult to explain without the presence of AN ancestral line somewhere nearby with increasing brainsize over time.

Its also worth pointing out that with the exception of the Feldhofer neandertal skull (I think), none of these were known when Origin was published.

“What can I say except that you need to read more philosophy, say PHIL 101 at your local community college.”

and you have exhibited an even lesser understanding of biology than this, finley, yet you never seem to take your own advice.

Isn’t it extraordinary, then, that assuming the truth of an unestablishable proposition should seem so universally beneficial

for example:

“Some of [the Jews] had their skins flayed off them and their flesh was flung to the dogs. The hands and feet of others were cut off and they were flung onto the roadway where carts ran over them and they were trodden underfoot by horse.…And many were buried alive. Children were slaughtered in their mothers’ bosoms and many children were torn apart like fish. They ripped up the bellies of pregnant women, took out the unborn children, and flung them in their faces. They tore open the bellies of some of them and placed a living cat within the belly and left them alive thus, first cutting off their hands so that they should not be able to take the living cat out of the belly…and there was never an unnatural death in the world that they did not inflict upon them.”

Question for Finley or any other creationist around:

Do you believe that the existence of god can be scientifically proven?

Syntax Error: mismatched tag at line 12, column 2, byte 214 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.16/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187.

snaxalotl,

Not sure what you meant by that…I think you may have misunderstood.

Finley argued that the following statement is self-defeating:

“‘Scientific truth’ is co-extensive with ‘truth’; therefore, if science can’t establish something, it can’t be established.”

I said,

Isn’t it extraordinary, then, that assuming the truth of an unestablishable proposition should seem so universally beneficial; that it so readily results in an illusion of objective progress … especially considering the same illusion does not result from assuming the truth of so many other propositions …

My point was that IF Finley is correct (i’m not convinved he is), then he should actually be MORE impressed that science seems to work so well. When I said it was extraordinary that “assuming the truth of an unestablishable proposition should seem so universally beneficial…”, the unestablishable proposition was the one about science above that finley thinks is flawed.

Science DOES certainly seem to result in objective progress whether the continued reliance on it to the exclusion of other things is justifiable or not. In Finley’s epistemology, this must be an illusion.

so he should find it quite striking that we get so powerful an illusion from assuming the above statement about science is true, when we do NOT get a similarly-powerful illusion from assuming other statements are true.

In comment 30915

Duane Wrote:

Gee, I thought “Bones of Contention” was a popular book by Roger Lewin about the history of paleoanthropology. Did Lubenow steal the title and just replace “Controversies in the Search for Human Origins” with “A Creationist Assessment Of Human Fossils?” I should look up a copy of Lubenow’s book, but, in the meantime, does any know if he even references Lewin’s book?

In comment 31030

Heehee Wrote:

No, Lewin stole the title and replaced the subtitle.

Evidence? Judging from the entries in the Library of Congress catalogue, the first edition of Lewin’s book came out in 1987, while Lubenow’s didn’t appear until 1992. So if either of them stole from the other, this would appear to indicate that it must have been Lubenow who did the stealing.

But the title is a pretty obvious one for a book on palaeontological controversies anyway, so I don’t see any reason too believe that either of them “stole” the title from the other, or from anyone else for that matter. If you do a title search for “Bones of Contention” in the Library of Congress catalogue at the link given above, you will find it has 8 distinct items with that title, the earliest of which is dated 1944. So if either Lewin or Lubenow did “steal” the title, there are plenty of other victims they could have stolen it from.

Notions of truth appear in many areas of human endeavour: everyday life, mathematics, history, law, ethics, aesthetics, and politics.

I see your point is a practical one, my apologies.

“I’ve seen what seems to me a plausible hypothesis: that brain size is limited by the difficulties it imposes on childbirth.”

If humans were “designed”, why does the birth canal pass through the pelvis? Why couldn’t large-brained babies be born without having to pass through a doughnut of bone? Think of the advantages if babies at birth could walk and had control of bowels and bladder!

According to IDists, dipes must be part of the Designer’s Plan.

Re “in which case human’s descendents might end up to look very much like Humpty Dumpty.”

Or Coneheads, like in the movie. ;)

“Maybe the limiting factor would be the fact that we get to top-heavy, in which case human’s descendents might end up to look very much like Humpty Dumpty.”

Hmm. It would seem to me that if there were heavy selection pressures favoring large brain mass, why not seperate brain mass in multiple locations?

There are plenty of animals with multiple ganglion systems… why don’t we see mammals with multiple brains?

If an organism is getting too “top heavy”… why not develop a brain in oh, say, the ass area?

I’ve heard some humans think with their stomach, and some males think with their d*cks… maybe brain seperation is already being selected for?

Sir_Toejam Wrote:

Hmm. It would seem to me that if there were heavy selection pressures favoring large brain mass, why not seperate brain mass in multiple locations?

There are plenty of animals with multiple ganglion systems … why don’t we see mammals with multiple brains?

If an organism is getting too “top heavy” … why not develop a brain in oh, say, the ass area?

Ah, a redundant brain would be wonderful! That and a redundant heart, and I guess a redesign of the esophagus. There are some major design “decisions” that the “designer” made that show to me that this “designer’s” goals were to produce something that’s just good enough & no better.

But, as for distributed brainpower: I once had surgery where they gave me an epidural drip, where they inject novicaine into the base of the spine. After I woke up & waited for the feeling in my legs to come back, I was bored out of my mind, not to mention all the phantom itching sensations that kept flaring up, presumably as individual neurons at the base of the spine woke up.

So I desperately tried as hard as I could to move my toes, legs, anything - for god’s sake, something!!! But at the instant that I actually tried to move something, the intense desire vanished! It wasn’t that I was trying hard and the legs refused to obey; it was that the desire itself vanished.

I take that to mean that our moment-by-moment sense of what our brains desire is intimately connected to the feedback we get from the rest of our nervous system. Since then I’ve concluded that some of our mind is, in fact, contained in the nervous system as a whole.

Hmm. It would seem to me that if there were heavy selection pressures favoring large brain mass, why not seperate brain mass in multiple locations?

There are plenty of animals with multiple ganglion systems … why don’t we see mammals with multiple brains?

Actually we do (in a sense) have multiple brains - left and right hemispheres connected by the corpus calloseum. If a multiple brains were located elsewhere in the body, they would also need thick cabling to communicate. Then there is the issue of control & dominance, and how control would be distributed. And or course someone would come up with religious questions of “what does it mean to have a soul” in that context. In the future we may be able augment our nervous system through technology. That would also have philosophical & religious implications.

But in evolution, there has to be some way to get there from here. I suspect the genotypic distance separating the two designs may be too great to permit that kind of change.

Philosophers start with paper and a pencil.

Scientists start with paper, a pencil, and a garbage can.

If humans were “designed”, why does the birth canal pass through the pelvis?

Haven’t you read the ID, uh, scientific textbook yet? Human birth is so difficult because a woman several thousand years ago was tricked (by a talking snake) into eating a magic fruit, and as a result her descendents were cursed forever and ever and ever.

Or something like that . … .

why not seperate brain mass in multiple locations?

Costs in speed of transmission over a now-longer distance would potentially slow higher-level information processing way down. Cognitive inhibition in particular would be a big problem if it took too long.

JRQ:

hmm. that’s as good an explanation as any. Anyone here ever run across any tests of the potentially slower info processing?

@lenny

your post about original sin reminds me of the Davinci Code.

ever read that one? The guy gives a very plausible explanation of the development of the idea of original sin, and male dominance in christian churches (especially Catholic).

It was quite a refreshing change of pace from the standard “revelation style” religion-based action/mystery novels. A work of fiction to be sure, but like a good sci-fi novelist, the theories he develops to back the plot are quite plausible, and contain quite a bit of fact. A good read if you haven’t.

“Haven’t you read the ID, uh, scientific textbook yet?”

Oh! Silly me. I thought ID wasn’t supposed to be tied to any particular sect, but just postulates some generic Designer.

Never mind.

Loved this article! I hadn’t read about the dmanisi skulls before… Actually, I liked it so much I’ve bought the dmanisi.org domain. Any bright ideas for what to do with it?

interesting…

I’ve seen several requests for good displays of skulls, fossil hominids, up-to-date diagrams of current theories of humanoid descent, etc.

I suggest making it a repository of visual aids for common descent theory.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jim Foley published on May 18, 2005 8:48 AM.

Residual psychiatric pathology results in a new Tangled Bank was the previous entry in this blog.

A good review of the Kansas hearings is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Categories

Archives

Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.381

Site Meter