12 July 2002
Newspapers are again abuzz with excitement at one more specimen which is claimed to have significance for ‘human evolution’.
Briefly, this skull, nicknamed the ‘Toumai’ skull, found in Chad’s Sahel region, was given the species name Sahelanthropus tchadensis. The excitement appears to be NOT because it affords any actual additional evidence that man evolved from apes, but because it is revolutionary for theories of human evolution. In other words, if we START with the belief that man evolved from apes, it turns some of the previous notions on their head. In one sense, it seems to make a mockery of the ‘certainty’ with which schoolchildren are taught of the neat ‘schemes’ of our alleged ‘ancestry’. No doubt it will spawn a new orthodoxy, which will be taught with just as straight a face, until the next ‘revolutionary’ discovery (this one is said to have the ‘impact of a small nuclear bomb’. A brief summary of the facts would appear to be as follows:
The ‘date’ assigned to the creature, on the basis not of radiometric methods, but other fossils found with it, is about 6’7 million years. This is far, far older than the australopithecines, such as the famous ‘Lucy’, which were previously credited with ancestry.
No bones were found from ‘below the neck’. The skull itself is very fragmented and incomplete.
From the back, this skull looks like a chimpanzee's. From the front, it looks like an australopithecine. It is regarded as a ‘mosaic’ of chimp and australopith features.
Australopithecines are extremely chimplike to begin with. They have flatter faces, and some of their teeth are smaller.
Detailed studies over the years on australopithecines show that these have been markedly overhyped as potential ‘ancestors’. Even the dogmatic belief that they walked upright (which would not necessarily make them human ancestors anyway) has taken a severe blow from CAT scans of the bones housing the organ of balance, from the discovery of knuckle-walking wrist anatomy, and other anatomical features of tree-dwelling primates.
The detailed morphometric studies of distinguished anatomist Charles Oxnard, an evolutionist, supported by other independent researchers, show that the overall anatomical ‘sum’ of known australopiths is not ‘intermediate’ between people and the great apes at all. He is convinced that they were a distinct group of primates, now extinct, and that they were not in the human line.
The ‘revolutionary’ aspects of this skull for schemes of human evolution seem to have a lot to do with the dates given to the various specimens. On the basis of the extremely subjective nature of dating schemes, linked as they are to pre-existing paradigms of an old Earth, it is not unreasonable to ignore the dates assigned. Toumai illustrates the circularity involved: the nearby fossils would have been assigned dates based on the assumption that they were present at a particular stage in the evolutionary scheme. Even a radiometric date which contradicted that assumption by enough of a margin would be rejected as ‘unreliable’ (see Question & Answer sections (Q&A): Radiometric Dating and Young Age Evidence).
Since australopiths are not good candidates for our ancestors, why should creationists utter more than a big ‘yawn’ when something is found which combines chimp and australopith features? It is already clear from existing fossil finds that there was a great deal of variation in various primate kinds in the early post-Flood period. Toumai fits comfortably into this pattern. This variation will continue to cause confusion and drop ‘nuclear bombs’ into the evolutionist camp, as one carefully worked out evolutionary scheme collapses with a new discovery and has to be replaced by another. In one sense, this is normal in science; creationists also modify things when new evidence appears. What we need to remember, however, is that the pronouncements in newspapers are not dealing with ‘raw facts’ but with interpretations that are already seen through culturally-determined ‘glasses’ which assume that evolution is a 'fact'. Seen through the ‘glasses’ of the Bible's real history, Toumai reveals nothing which would cause even a mildly raised scientific eyebrow.
The excitement over such fragmentary, trivial findings underlines again the flimsy nature of the evidence for the evolutionary story of human origins. The anthropologists apparently spent 10 years or so in the Chad desert looking for something to do with human ancestry. Then there is also the problem of the ongoing funding of a project that does not turn up something. These would be strong incentives to ‘see’ something in anything that is found.
The wild enthusiasm the mass media have shown towards this find (front page treatment in many cases) underlines again the ‘push’ by many in positions of power to make us into ‘just evolved animals’ rather than ‘made in the image of God’. And they wonder why social problems abound!
POST-SCRIPT: Not long after the above was written, doubts were already beginning to be expressed about whether this skull was in the human lineage after all. See Skeptical evolutionists say latest ‘ape-man’ just a female gorilla and Toumai ‘ape-man’ suffers another blow.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: The video In The Image of God (above), which features interviews with fossil researchers, gives major insights into the way paleoanthropological deductions work, and documents many of the comments made above about australopithecines, for example. See Q&A: Anthropology for articles on other claimed human ancestors.