Telling apes from humans

| 128 Comments

Creationists are always very definite that there are absolutely, absolutely no transitional fossils between apes and humans. For example, according to a 1990 article by Answers In Genesis (AIG)

When complete fossils are found, they are easy to assign clearly as either ‘ape’ or human, there are only ‘ape-men’ where imagination colored by belief in evolution is applied to fragmented bits and pieces.

Very well then. Here are some photos of fossil skulls, all to the same scale. Some are of humans, some of apes. Care to identify which are which?

Fossil 1 Fossil 2
Fossil 3

Answers after the fold.

Well surely, if some of these are apes and some are humans, then the big one on the left must be human and the other two must be apes, right?

Bbrrrrrp!! Sorry, thank you for playing. You clearly don’t have the mental flexibility required to be a creationist. According to AIG, one of the small ones is human, and the other one is an ape. Can you tell which is which?

I suspect not, so here are the answers. The complete skull with the large braincase is, as you probably knew, a modern human - an adult male. Brain size unknown, but probably close to the modern human average of 1400 cc.

The second skull (top right) is a Homo habilis fossil from Kenya, ER 1813, brain size 510 cc. Because of its extremely small size, it is always considered to be non-human by creationists. (e.g. Lubenow 1992, who says that ER 1813 is “far too small to be considered human”. One creationist (Line 2005) in an article published by AIG did suggest that ER 1813 might be human, but it was not a firm opinion.)

The third skull (bottom right) is D2700 with a brain size of 600 cc, one of a number of skulls found at Dmanisi in Georgia, with similarities to both Homo erectus and Homo habilis (Vekua et al. 2009, Science 297:85). It looks like a small, primitive Homo erectus skull:

Vekua et al. 2009 Wrote:

The Dmanisi hominids are among the most primitive individuals so far attributed to H. erectus or to any species that is indisputably Homo, and it can be argued that this population is closely related to Homo habilis (sensu stricto) as known from Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, Koobi Fora in northern Kenya, and possibly Hadar in Ethiopia.

However in a recent news article about the Dmanisi skulls, Answers in Genesis claimed that this skull was human, and breezily dismissed the primitive features:

Astute readers will notice that what these scientists call primitive does not preclude the fact that this population was fully human.

Even astuter readers will notice that AIG seems to think that the primitive features that don’t prevent D2700 from being considered human apparently somehow do prevent ER 1813 from being considered human.

ER 1813 is slightly smaller than D2700, but Vekua et al. 2009 document a number of similarities between them. However one doesn’t need to be an expert anatomist to see that the two smaller skulls are far more similar to each other than either of them is to the modern human. If a ‘human’ skull is far more similar to an ‘ape’ skull than it is to an indisputably modern human skull, doesn’t that make it a transitional fossil by any reasonable definition?

AIG is trying to con their readers. This is why creationists usually gloss over those inconvenient habiline fossils in the 500-700 cc range, and why, when they do discuss them, they never show pictures of them. If they did, the absurdity of the creationist position would be laid bare.

As a further disproof of AIG’s claim that “When complete fossils are found, they are easy to assign clearly as either ‘ape’ or human”, you should note that their own ‘expert’ Marvin Lubenow has classified the third skull, D2700, as non-human (Lubenow 2004, p.352), contradicting AIG’s own assessment!

By the way, in case you were wondering, this is what a real ape skull (a female chimpanzee) looks like:

Chimp skull

Not much similarity, you may notice, to the ‘ape’ skull(s) above.

References

Line, P.: Fossil evidence for alleged apemen, Technical Journal 19(1):22-42, 2005.

Lubenow M.L.: Bones of contention: a creationist assessment of human fossils, Grand Rapids,MI:Baker Books, 1992.

Lubenow M.L.: Bones of contention (2nd edition): a creationist assessment of human fossils, Grand Rapids,MI:Baker Books, 2004.

Vekua A., Lordkipanidze D., Rightmire G.P., Agusti J., Ferring R., Maisuradze G. et al. (2002): A new skull of early Homo from Dmanisi, Georgia. Science, 297:85-9.

128 Comments

Excellent post! I can’t tell you how many times I have asked creationist to describe how a transitional fossil between apes and humans should look and gotten no response. Their dogma doesn’t allow for transitional fossils so they are incapable of recognizing or describing them.

Nice little post, Jim. Always good to revisit subjects like this every now and then, lest anyone get the idea that creationists have any idea what they’re talking about.

However, I’m curious: why no link to your much more elaborate treatment of this topic at the talk.origins archive?

For the other teachers in the audience I highly recommend a similar activity to this in your biology classes. The talk origins archive has a wonderful image with a wide variety of hominid fossil skulls. I took the image, cut the skulls out erased the letters, and stuck them into a single power point slide for the students to then classify into different groups of the same and different species. It’s a very organic way to have your students prove to themselves the difficulty and subtlety of grouping things into the same vs. a similar species.

This is a trick question, kind of like asking people to distinguish which fossils are tuna and which are fish. Hopefully, some astute reader will point out that humans ARE apes, generally positioned right in the middle of the ape clade. I suppose it might be possible from appearance alone to date a skull as closer or further from the branch from a common ancestor, but that’s difficult enough so even experts don’t agree.

IIRC, all of these hominids made and used stone tools. If the AIG quacks are going to insist that H. habilis is an ape, then it is an ape that makes and uses stone tools. Just like H. sapiens.

Hmmm, so did the H. habilis have their own god, Eden, and talking snake?

One of the minor absurdities of AIG is that there couldn’t have been a stone age. In Genesis, the first city, Enoch, is founded by Caine, after he gets kicked out of the house. No ice ages either.

Of course, the earth’s surface is littered with stone tools everywhere.

Okay, I’m embarrased. I counted 3 apes, but only 2 humans. (Based on those canines.)

You have to admit, the human skull is very impressive, the comparison must really upset people.

Flint said:

This is a trick question, kind of like asking people to distinguish which fossils are tuna and which are fish. Hopefully, some astute reader will point out that humans ARE apes, generally positioned right in the middle of the ape clade. I suppose it might be possible from appearance alone to date a skull as closer or further from the branch from a common ancestor, but that’s difficult enough so even experts don’t agree.

Trick question? No, it is an absurd question, asked by Creationists of varied stripe.

Agreed that if we are thinking about humans as we would other life, we would speak about humans as another example of ape specialization. However the question is not valueless if we pose it as “Which of these are on the lineage that include modern Homo as opposed to being on a lineage that led to some other modern ape?”.

For the Creationist the dilemma is that they’ve already lost the battle if they don’t say that the top left skull is “human” and the other two skulls are “ape”. Anything else looses their Fundamentalist base. Anything else also enmeshes them in a web of doublespeak that make them look foolish to all outsiders.

dpr

My apologies! I made the same mistake I hate in other’s posts. “loser”, not “looser”.

dpr

D. P. Robin said:

Flint said:

This is a trick question, kind of like asking people to distinguish which fossils are tuna and which are fish. Hopefully, some astute reader will point out that humans ARE apes, generally positioned right in the middle of the ape clade. I suppose it might be possible from appearance alone to date a skull as closer or further from the branch from a common ancestor, but that’s difficult enough so even experts don’t agree.

Trick question? No, it is an absurd question, asked by Creationists of varied stripe.

Agreed that if we are thinking about humans as we would other life, we would speak about humans as another example of ape specialization. However the question is not valueless if we pose it as “Which of these are on the lineage that include modern Homo as opposed to being on a lineage that led to some other modern ape?”.

For the Creationist the dilemma is that they’ve already lost the battle if they don’t say that the top left skull is “human” and the other two skulls are “ape”. Anything else looses their Fundamentalist base. Anything else also enmeshes them in a web of doublespeak that make them look foolish to all outsiders.

dpr

Take away that jaw from the H. sapiens photo and it becomes an even bigger challenge…

Flint said:

This is a trick question, kind of like asking people to distinguish which fossils are tuna and which are fish. Hopefully, some astute reader will point out that humans ARE apes, generally positioned right in the middle of the ape clade. I suppose it might be possible from appearance alone to date a skull as closer or further from the branch from a common ancestor, but that’s difficult enough so even experts don’t agree.

Apes? I thought we were primates-but apes? I think not. Correct me if I am wrong! :)

Apes? I thought we were primates-but apes?

http://tolweb.org/Hominidae/16299

Hominidae is the taxonomic group that contains the apes (orangutan, gorilla, chimpanzee, human).

(Primates also include monkeys, lemurs, and some others.)

Yes, humans are still apes. For the same reason that we’re still mammals and still synapsids.

“Creationists are always very definite that there are absolutely, absolutely no transitional fossils between apes and humans.”

Just for clarity, are we defining “transitional fossil” to be exactly the same as “something that appears like a transitional fossil”?

Henry J said:

Apes? I thought we were primates-but apes?

http://tolweb.org/Hominidae/16299

Hominidae is the taxonomic group that contains the apes (orangutan, gorilla, chimpanzee, human).

It has been a very common statement by evolutionary biologists, still said more often than you might think, that “humans are not descended from apes, although humans and apes did have a common ancestor”. It is supposed to reassure the listener. I have asked my classes about this statement and many of the students report having been told that. It seems to be based either on outdated notions of hominid phylogeny which had the lineage to humans as the sister lineage to the (other) apes. Or it is based on non-monophyletic taxonomies that are no longer widely accepted.

It is more common for evolutionary biologists to announce that “we are not monkeys, but we have a common ancestor with monkeys.” This too is wrong, at least if New World monkeys (howler monkeys, spider monkeys, etc.) are allowed to be called monkeys.

The last time I lectured on this, I announced that I was descended from apes because (in addition to my being an ape) my mother and father were apes. And we were all monkeys too. And for that matter, I am a monkey’s uncle.

Joe Felsenstein said:

Henry J said:

Apes? I thought we were primates-but apes?

http://tolweb.org/Hominidae/16299

Hominidae is the taxonomic group that contains the apes (orangutan, gorilla, chimpanzee, human).

It has been a very common statement by evolutionary biologists, still said more often than you might think, that “humans are not descended from apes, although humans and apes did have a common ancestor”. It is supposed to reassure the listener. I have asked my classes about this statement and many of the students report having been told that. It seems to be based either on outdated notions of hominid phylogeny which had the lineage to humans as the sister lineage to the (other) apes. Or it is based on non-monophyletic taxonomies that are no longer widely accepted.

It is more common for evolutionary biologists to announce that “we are not monkeys, but we have a common ancestor with monkeys.” This too is wrong, at least if New World monkeys (howler monkeys, spider monkeys, etc.) are allowed to be called monkeys.

The last time I lectured on this, I announced that I was descended from apes because (in addition to my being an ape) my mother and father were apes. And we were all monkeys too. And for that matter, I am a monkey’s uncle.

You are also a strepsirhine…

I have a copy of Lubenow 2004 that I just started reviewing for a friend of mine. I’m looking for the spot where he commits to calling H. habilis an ape. I see the table on p. 352, but that isn’t very helpful, other than ER1813 is further down the table.

Yeah. I think the quote “humans are not descended from apes” is missing a critical qualifier - we aren’t descended from currently living non-human apes - the last common ancestor is unlikely to be any of the still living species. But that ancestor (as I understand it) would have had enough characteristic ape features to be called an ape. (Similarly for the last common ancestor of monkeys and apes.)

Henry

You’re using scientific jargon and vernacular English at the same time as if they were the same thing. We are primates because there’s a clade called “Primates”, just as birds (“Aves”) are dinosaurs because they’re included in a clade called “Dinosauria”. We are catarrhines, too, and hominids– but we’re not apes. “Ape” is a common English word that doesn’t mean to be phylogenetically accurate. It’s used for tailless old world monkeys. To me, the word “ape” is like “fish” or “bug”- they only respond to some kind of animals’ vague, common English description.

Semantics can get boring…

Henry J said: Yeah. I think the quote “humans are not descended from apes” is missing a critical qualifier - we aren’t descended from currently living non-human apes

Well, Jennifer Lopez is probably descended from Spanish invaders at some point, but we don’t mean that those ancestors are alive today or that they are people who live in Spain today. I don’t see why when you say “we come from apes” somebody has to think that you mean “we come from gorillas” or whatever other species of present-day apes.

KP said:

I have a copy of Lubenow 2004 that I just started reviewing for a friend of mine. I’m looking for the spot where he commits to calling H. habilis an ape. I see the table on p. 352, but that isn’t very helpful, other than ER1813 is further down the table.

Nevermind, I found it: “Homo habilis: The Little Man Who Isn’t There” p. 299.

I don’t see why when you say “we come from apes” somebody has to think that you mean “we come from gorillas” or whatever other species of present-day apes.

I agree. And that’s why I said the previously quoted line “humans are not descended from apes” needed a qualifier, since by classification criteria as I understand it, the ancestor would qualify as an ape.

Henry

KP said:

Nevermind, I found it: “Homo habilis: The Little Man Who Isn’t There” p. 299.

Yep, that’s it. Isn’t it remarkable that in 300+ pages of text, Homo habilis gets a measly two pages?

I suppose in the vernacular, “apes” refers mostly to gorillas - or possibly even to some cartoon parody of a gorilla.

But we are also without question “tailless old world monkeys”. Granted many of us have migrated around the globe over the millennia.

I think the vernacular notion of an ape is associated with lots of body hair, unattractive (to us) faces and figures, low intelligence, lack of sophisticated language, and such. So the word refers to critters that kind of resemble us, so that the differences give them the appearance of being stupid and ugly. If only they were different enough, like (say) horses or cats, we wouldn’t have nearly the motivation to disassociate ourselves from them and try to pretend we’re not one of them.

RebusMaze said:

“Creationists are always very definite that there are absolutely, absolutely no transitional fossils between apes and humans.”

Just for clarity, are we defining “transitional fossil” to be exactly the same as “something that appears like a transitional fossil”?

Hmm, I suppose so. There is of course always a possibility that something that appears to be a transitional fossil isn’t, or that something that doesn’t appear to be is. Was there a point to that question?

I am YEC. Skulls mean nothing to me as its clear to me that the ape/man sameness is real. God simply upon looking at his creations picked the best body type to put a being made in his image into. What else? What other type of body would suit a divine being like ourselves? A mouse, rhino. bear insect, bird?? All creatures show they come from a common design. Mostly we all have eyes, ears, legs, butt, etc. So if god was going to have us on earth the only options are to pick a body so unlike the general theme or simply pick within the theme the best type of body. This is the ape body. So this creationist welcomes dead on sameness to monkeydom. There is no need to seek differences. The little difference in skulss is just for a practical container for the addition of this or that tool we use more then animals.

Its possible post flood humans did not need and therefore have as much of this or that tool in the brain. However probably we have pretty much the same skull. so its easy to tell us from apes if apes have always lesser brains etc.

Once again this is all about weighing brains. Surely the computer age with its “small is smarter” should put to rest brain size as a factor in intelligence and so humanness.

Robert Byers

Whoa, dude, your comment is really dumb. I don’t even know where to start from. What’s “YEC”? I’m asking cause I’d like to avoid it as much as possible, considering its effects.

YEC = Young Earth Creationist. And yes, definitely avoid it. 99.9% (give or take .01%) of everything Byers says is utterly crazy.

Robert Byers said:

I am YEC. Skulls mean nothing to me as its clear to me that the ape/man sameness is real. God simply upon looking at his creations picked the best body type to put a being made in his image into. What else? What other type of body would suit a divine being like ourselves? A mouse, rhino. bear insect, bird?? All creatures show they come from a common design. Mostly we all have eyes, ears, legs, butt, etc. So if god was going to have us on earth the only options are to pick a body so unlike the general theme or simply pick within the theme the best type of body. This is the ape body. So this creationist welcomes dead on sameness to monkeydom. There is no need to seek differences. The little difference in skulss is just for a practical container for the addition of this or that tool we use more then animals.

Its possible post flood humans did not need and therefore have as much of this or that tool in the brain. However probably we have pretty much the same skull. so its easy to tell us from apes if apes have always lesser brains etc.

Once again this is all about weighing brains. Surely the computer age with its “small is smarter” should put to rest brain size as a factor in intelligence and so humanness.

Nice display of ignorance there Robert. But then again, it’s what we have come to expect from you. After thousands of posts, you still can’t be bothered to even write a coherent sentence. That is very disrespectful to the educated people here who are forced to put up with your incessant whining. Why can’t you at least try to be more civil Robert?

Now I know this is probably hopeless, but let me at least try to explain this to you. If descent with modification is true, then there humans and chimpanzees shared a common ancestor millions of years ago. If that is true, then there would be millions of years of ancestors with combinations of basal chimp and derived human characteristics forming a graded series in chronological order, these are called intermediate forms. Now Robert, pay close attention here: THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT WE OBSERVE. The fossil record is completely consistent with descent with modification. It is completely inconsistent with any type of YEC nonsense. You can be YEC all you want, but that just means that you are wrong. Deal with it already.

We know that skulls mean nothing to you, so why are you so proud of it? Perhaps your own skull means nothing to you. Maybe that is why you have let it remain in ignorance.

Robert Byers said:

Physics hardly matters to creationism save in a few areas. Math nothing.

Yet all the major works by Dembski, Abel, Meyer, Behe, and all the other “intellectual giants” of ID/creationism get the physics wrong at the most fundamental levels.

No one expects that you would know any of this, but those of us who have watched creationist activity and propaganda since the 1960s and 1970s have seen first hand exactly the errors and misconceptions Gish and Morris introduced. These misconceptions are at the heart of the lexicon of ID/creationist misrepresentations. They are why Dembski, Abel, Meyer, et. al. make all their serious mistakes while sneering at the science community.

But you don’t even know what these misconceptions in physics and math are. That is why they don’t bother you even though your blind acceptance of them identifies you as a dupe.

Robert Byers said:

I also see the fact of these subjects so able to be equations and so understood by children, retarded people (Idiot savant )(sp) etc that math requires less thinking or weighing of concepts.

You have just classified yourself as being far below these levels of intelligence. Thanks for the clarification and acknowledgement. It just might be progress on your part.

Mike Elzinga said:

Robert Byers said:

Physics hardly matters to creationism save in a few areas. Math nothing.

No one expects that you would know any of this…

Au contraire, I expect. I think anyone with a H.S. diploma should understand why the creationist 2LOT argument is wrong. Understanding that organisms extract energy to do work is about as basic a concept as understanding organisms are cellular. Such basic concepts should be explained in the required mixing bag of middle school ‘natural science,’ and as such understanding them should be required for graduation.

Oh wait, they are - even in Texas, even now under the pro-creation board. I was wrong about one thing though; cells are covered in grade 6, the flow of energy through living systems in 7th. Well, now I know where to peg Byers, Meyer, Dembski, etc - at about the 6th grade level.

Robert Byers said:

Creationists do not address much biology but rather evolutionary biology which is not about biology but origins of it. Biology is a subject of blood and guts and tools to hold the same. Evolutionary biology is about casts of former life and ideas of life that is not before ones eyes. Real biology uses dissecting tools. Evolutionary biology uses pick axes. Creationists address evolutionary ‘biology” because it attacks the truth of origins in Genesis or God. Clear motivation .

Since you chose to recopy without comprehension my entire reply to John Harshman, there are some things you should know. However, having watched your many previous posts, I have no illusions that you will comprehend what follows.

When John Harshman recognizes my incompetence in his area of expertise, that recognition is reassuring to me because I am aware of my own incompetence in his area.

This means that I can be assured that areas where I lack expertise are being covered by people who have demonstrated their expertise in those areas; I can trust them.

What this means for you and all those “intellectual giants” in ID/creationism is that you cannot fake knowledge in any area of science. It is irrationally stupid for you to attempt to pass yourself off as knowing the entire spectrum of science with your pretenses. There are always experts in these areas who can recognize fakery.

This applies to all those purveyors of ID/creationism who puff themselves up with multiple degrees to give the appearance they are experts in all areas. Every real expert in each area recognizes the same tendencies toward fakery on the part of ID/creationist leaders. You don’t recognize this. You imitate their fakery.

And we all know it.

Robert Byers said: Yec here. … Physics and math are simple ideas in comparison and thats why they advanced quicker in the old days.

Well, that didn’t prevent ridiculously incompetent and dishonest arguments about the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and its supposed incompatibility with evolution from becoming a staple of creationist literature for decades after Henry Morris and ICR started popularizing them in the 60s. Their popularity seems to have greatly waned in recent years - I’m not sure whether its because creationists realized they were rubbish (if so, they never admitted it), or whether it was a tactical retreat because they found them too difficult to defend.

I’m not sure whether its because creationists realized they were rubbish

Or maybe they just got tired of people saying something along the lines of look at the sky on a clear day; that bright yellow thing is called the sun…

Henry

Robert Byers said:

Physics and math are simple ideas in comparison and thats why they advanced quicker in the old days.

Physics hardly matters to creationism save in a few areas. Math nothing.

Your ignorance is so stunning that I have to assume you are brain-damaged. No, I take that back, for my wife is brain-damaged and I think she is smarter than you! NOTHING you have said makes sense, you fraud!

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This page contains a single entry by Jim Foley published on December 29, 2009 6:41 PM.

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