|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. Kurt Wise, Dr. David Menton; ©2003|
|What does the fossil record show about the evolution of man? Are there any transitional forms? What about Neanderthal? Lucy? Or Ramapithecus? (With Dr. Duane Gish and Dr. Kurt Wise)?|
[Editor’s note: In June 1990 The John Ankerberg Show taped a series of interviews with men from several branches of the sciences regarding the evidence for creation. For technical reasons we were unable to air these interview. Nevertheless, we have decided to release portions of these interviews in a series of articles so you could read the arguments that were being made at that time—more than a decade ago.
Considerable effort has been made to quote the gentlemen correctly. We have attempted to find the correct spelling of the scientific terms used. However, the reader should keep in mind that this is a transcription of oral interviews. Mistakes in spelling and in the technical language should be laid at the feet of the editor.]
Dr. John Ankerberg: We are talking with men who have Ph.D.s in the sciences concerning the scientific evidence. Does it point to a creator? Does it point to evolution? In particular, we want to talk today about human evolution. Did man evolve from apes or was it actually that he evolved from one cell? We want to look at the fossil record and what it shows concerning an ape to man transition. I would like Dr. Kurt Wise to start us off in this area.
Dr. Kurt Wise: Analogous to the situation we see in major groups; in major groups we see major groups of organisms coming into existence with gaps in the record and no fossils that connect that organism with any other organism. We see the same thing in the human record. Even if you accept Australopithecine in the lineage of man, as some people do, there is a big gap between Australopithecines, which are thought to be the ancestors to man, and whatever primate, ape or whatever, that Australopithecus supposedly evolved from.
Ankerberg: Dr. Gish, take us through some of the things that are in some of the older textbooks and then bring us up to date and let’s talk about Lucy.
Dr. Duane Gish: Well, in times past, of course, there’ve been a number of creatures suggested as possible ancestors or intermediates between ape-like creatures and man. One was Ramapithecus, which for nearly half a century was suggested represented in intermediate form between apes and man, or ape-like creatures and man. And with the discovery of additional material, it turned out to be essentially an orangutan. And others like that have turned up, of course, from time to time.
Piltdown man, of course, stood for nearly half a century as a suggested ancestor of man—turned out to be a hoax. And even Nebraska man didn’t last very long, only lasted a few years, but [it was] based upon a single tooth, which turned out to be a pig’s tooth.
And then Neanderthal people. These for many, many years were viewed as primitive, subhuman ancestors of man. But it turned out that the so-called primitive features were pathological, due to arthritis or rickets or Vitamin D deficiency and conditions like that which gave them a very primitive appearance in some ways, but it was merely pathological. And today he’s been upgraded to a Homo sapiens.
I think this might lead us to be a bit more skeptical about some of these things that we’re being told, even today, although it would not necessarily invalidate the claims that are being made today. One of the central figures in human evolutionary schemes today, and has been for many years, are the Australopithecines mentioned by Dr. Wise. The first fossil of this creature was found in 1924 in South Africa and at that time it was not widely accepted. Most evolutionists actually rejected the claims for Australopithecines. But then as time went on it became more generally accepted. Today it is quite widely accepted as possibly an ancestor between apes and man.
It is claimed that these creatures are quite ape-like from the neck up. One skull was discovered by Louis Leakey and his wife Mary in East Africa in 1959, and they claim that it is very importantly related to the evolution of man and later claims were that these creatures did walk upright. We can see from pictures that they were grossly ape-like.
Donald Johanson, an American paleontologist who discovered Lucy and her fellow creatures, says that the creature appeared to be quite ape-like from the neck up. The fact is, they said it looked a small, female gorilla, when it was reconstructed. But Johanson and his fellow workers claimed that these creatures walked upright in the human manner, just like you and me, essentially, and therefore that they are true intermediates between ape and man. That is a general consensus today: most evolutionists believe that, but not all evolutionists believe that.
I think that the real experts in the field who have devoted many years of study to the fossils of these creatures, Lord Zuckermann, a very famous British anatomist, and Dr. Charles Oxnard, Professor of Anatomy and Director of Graduate Studies at the University of Southern California, both these men are evolutionists, but they have devoted many years of study to the Australopithecus. The fact is that they were studying fossils of creatures believed to be 1 to 2 million years younger than Lucy or more recent in time and they said from their research they did not believe that these creatures walked, certainly in a manner similar to you and me, that if they did walk upright, it was quite a different manner than you and I do, and that they still retained a great ability in the trees.
These creatures, these Australopithecine, did have long curved toes, and long curved fingers, and some of the recent fossils have been found with the arms, so we’re able to determine that the arms hung down practically to the knees. You know, if these things did walk upright, well, any ape can walk upright, monkeys can walk upright, they don’t do it habitually, and if you have long, curved fingers and long, curved toes, and you have arms hanging nearly to your knees, or nearly so, that’s not what you use to walk on the ground. You don’t use that type of anatomy for walking around on the ground. That’s what you use in the trees.
Now what Oxnard said is that these Australopithecines were not on the line leading to man, that they were unique, they weren’t ancestral to man and they weren’t ancestral to any living apes. They were just themselves. And I think that’s the best assessment.
Ankerberg: So, in other words, this is another transitional form like Archaeopteryx that is just there but it is very complex and it should be just left as being complex?
Gish: Well, I think the comparison to Archaeopteryx might be a pretty fair one. You see, where Archaeopteryx has some features associated both with birds and reptiles, it certainly was not intermediate; none of the structures were intermediate. I think maybe we can look at Australopithecine in the same way. Definitely, I would not say they were not ancestral to man. But again, that’s the general consensus of evolutionists.
Ankerberg: Dr. Wise, do you have any other thoughts on Lucy?
Wise: Not so much on the Australopithecines. I think what has been said there is rather good. Again, to reiterate, they are distinct from any other organism. They’re distinct from any organisms from which they could have evolved, according to the fossil record. There’s a gap between them and anything else. In addition, they are distinct from man. So they are as if they are a separate group all to themselves, very complex, very capable. I think Oxnard’s study on this point indicates that they’re capable in both the trees and the ground in such a unique manner, unique to any other organism. So they are quite unique from man.
That then leaves us only with the genus Homo in the fossil record. The three species are there or classified there, Homo habilis, Homo erectus, and Homo sapiens. We are Homo sapiens. Homo habilis is the one in dispute right now, even in the paleoanthropological community. The conventional community has some dispute as to what Homo habilis is and what it’s doing. Some people feel that some of the specimens are misidentified and they are actually Australopithecine material, and some of the material may be Homo erectus material. Some people feel that Homo habilis may not be a valid species. We need to leave that up for grabs right now. I think it leads us to believe that Homo erectus and Homo sapiens are the only human species in the record, and it could very well be that Homo erectus is a human species.
Ankerberg: So you actually feel that this is actually detrimental to the evolutionary, and it’s also a positive step then for the creationist theory. Tell us why.
Wise: Not only are there large gaps between Australopithecines and anything that came before, but there’s basically a morphological gap between Australopithecines and humans. Humans, represented by Homo erectus and Homo sapiens, appear as a distinct group in the fossil record with no apparent ancestors in the fossil record, at least, definite ancestors.
That’s exactly what the creation model would predict. A lack of ancestors, come in with great complexity, Homo erectus clearly is quite complex, it has not only complexity in anatomical features, but also, we’re getting more and more evidence that associated with Homo erectus are more evidences of culture than we would expect in a non-human organism. This is in fact, human for various reasons.
Ankerberg: Let me take the evolutionist’s point of view for a moment. If you are trying to prove evolution is true through the transitional forms up to man, what would you have to find in order for a creationist to accept that you had found a true transitional form between ape and man? What would it have to look like?
Wise: Well, I think what many paleoanthropologists have done incorrectly in the past is to assume that whatever it looked like, it would have to be half-way in between ape and man, or three-quarters, or one-quarter, or whatever. I think evolutionists have learned in the past that that’s not what the fossil record gives us as evidence. The only thing we can hope for is that we have creatures that have a combination of characters between ape and man. But they must be truly intermediate in even their combination.
In other words, Australopithecines don’t meet this requirement, because it’s not just that they are swinging apes with the ability to walk on the ground. No, Oxnard’s group concluded that they have a unique mode of locomotion. It’s even unique in the way that they swing. So they haven’t just added the ability to walk on to their list of characteristics of being similar to man. They have, in fact, a very different form of locomotion.
So you need something between whatever fossil in the record you’re going to say that man evolved from and man, which has characteristics which are truly intermediate. It’s an organism that perhaps walks upright in a true sense, but might have a very small brain. Australopithecines were thought to fit that bill, except that it appears that their locomotion is not truly bipedal as it is in humans.
Gish: I think a living example of that, by the way, more extreme, is a gibbon. The gibbon of course, is unique in its ability to swing in the branches, but when it gets down on the ground it does walk habitually upright. But its anatomy is not suited for that, it is a very tiring, difficult thing for the gibbon to do—it gets right back up into the tree. But he does walk habitually upright. And so you can have a creature that walks upright and swings through the trees.
Wise: I still think it’s necessary to make a distinction here. Because the gibbon, by the same analysis that Oxnard performed on the Australopithecine, would not and is not, on his diagrams, placed with Australopithecines.
Gish: Oh, I agree.
Wise: It is a brachiator. It does not have that, even in a unique way; it’s capable of running along bipedally. I guess this probably reflects a misunderstanding many people have, just because something runs along like a bear on two hind legs, does not make it bipedal. It might temporarily run on two legs, such as chimpanzees, gorillas, gibbons, and bears can do, but they’re not truly bipedal.
It appears as if the only truly bipedal organisms that have ever lived are humans, and birds in a different type of bipedal gait, and dinosaurs. Dinosaurs also have a very similar gait as birds. But even there you have different kinds of bipedalism between the dinosaurs and man. And then you have Australopithecines, which is very strange, because it has a strange combination of two abilities. It can very well walk on ground, apparently, bipedally, but also it is very comfortable in trees. Very unique among any organism.
Ankerberg: The bottom line then is that as of right now, according to the evidence, we do not have that transitional form and again we have gaps. And so therefore, the case for creation, all of a sudden man is there, the apes are there, other things are there. They’re just there and we’re missing these links.
Wise: That’s correct. Major morphological gaps [exist] between any proposed ancestor and the group that you’re interested in.
Dr. Kurt Wise’s doctoral degree in paleontology was completed at Harvard.
Dr. Gish received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in 1953.