Guest post by David MacMillan. David MacMillan is a former creationist and AiG supporter who earned a degree in physics in 2012 and began writing publicly against creationism in 2014. He has written a previous series on creationist arguments for Panda’s Thumb and just completed filming We Believe In Dinosaurs, an upcoming documentary about creationism, science, and the Ark Encounter.
Scientists have recently discovered a new species in our family tree. The unearthing in 2015 of more than 1,550 bones buried in a South African cave, representing as many as fifteen individuals, was one of the most significant finds in the story of humankind’s descent. The new species, Homo naledi, has been described as a small bipedal hominin with a mixture of human and australopithecine traits. Perhaps most exciting was the location of the bones; their burial en masse in a remote, hard-to-access cave suggests that they were intentionally placed there, establishing the earliest signs of deliberate disposal of remains by early hominins.
As I expected at the time, creationists were quick to insist that H. naledi couldn’t possibly be evidence for human evolution. However, though they all predictably agreed that it wasn’t a transitional form, they were completely unable to agree on what it was. Some saw the apparently intentional burial in a cave (which would have required the use of fire for artificial light) as undeniable evidence of humanity, while others pointed to the small cranial size and numerous australopithecine traits as an argument against this. Dr. Joel Duff of Naturalis Historia wrote a series of posts as the various responses emerged, illustrating the utter inability of creationists to reach any sort of resolution.
The controversy gives us outsiders a glimpse into just what makes these groups tick. Creationist organizations are less focused on research and more focused on presenting a veneer of authority, as this earns the greatest amount of loyalty from their followers. So it was important for them to present an authoritative-sounding answer; after all, if there really are no “missing links”, then the true nature of a discovery like H. naledi should be readily apparent. The disagreement in their collective responses, however, only demonstrated what mainstream science already recognized: H. naledi really did have a mixture of modern and plesiomorphic traits.