“THE UNIVERSAL RULE OF GRADUATE WORK–MAKE SURE YOUR DATA SUPPORTS YOUR CONCLUSIONS!”
When I was doing research for my master’s degree, that statement was posted on the graduate studies bulletin board at Indiana University. I have no idea who put it there, but I can tell you it got a pretty strong response from the school’s dean. Unfortunately, there is more truth to it than most of us would like to admit, and it is not just graduate students to whom it applies.
One of the problems any scientific researcher has is getting funding for the work, and you don’t get funding unless you produce results. There have been several cases in National Geographic where the magazine reported some incredible find by a researcher they were funding and later discovered that the claimed discovery was a hoax. We have reported on these in the past. (For example HERE, HERE, and HERE.)
One of the disciplines where this problem has been very apparent is in the finds of fossil humans. In 1974 Donald Johanson found pieces of a skeleton in Ethiopia. While they were excavating the fossil, the radio was playing the song “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” Johanson decided to name the specimen “Lucy.” The find was announced at the Nobel Symposium in 1978 and was hailed as the first ape to walk upright, and thus it was a proven link between apes and humans.
The primary evidence that Lucy walked upright was a knee joint, which was clearly from an individual that walked in an upright position. Evidence that the rest of the skeleton was clearly from an ape included a V-shaped mandible, a very small brain, and a humerus and femur that were the same size. Lucy has made the covers of numerous magazines and even toured the United States.
It has now been announced that the researchers found the knee joint, which they used to prove Lucy was walking in an erect position, more than two miles from the rest of the skeleton. It also came from a stratum 200 feet lower than the one where the rest of the skeleton was found. Richard Leakey, the Director of Kenya’s National Museum, said that “the evidence for the alleged transformation from ape to man is extremely unconvincing. It is overwhelmingly likely that Lucy was no more than a variety of pygmy chimpanzee.” Johanson has agreed that Lucy was not related to humans at all.
Why does this kind of thing happen? Researchers tend to accept a theory and then look for evidence to support that theory. They adopt the philosophy “make sure your data supports your conclusions.” The media wants instant gratification, and the result is that front-page stories are frequently not factual. Several books have addressed this problem. The Fossil Chroniclesby Dean Falk is a useful resource. See The Wall Street Journal for October 8, 2011, section C6 for a review by Brian Switek.
The researchers are victims of the system, but atheistic attacks on the Bible that depend on the media stories are obviously vulnerable to this issue. We need to have our brains engaged when we read anything, and that is true of the Bible as well as scientific reports in the media.
The subject of human evolution is an area that continues to change with new techniques and new data, such as the study of a fossil nicknamed Little Foot. This area is of interest to those of us involved in apologetics – the study of evidence for the existence of God. The biblical concept of human creation is that we are created in the “image of God.” That message is clearly not referring to our physical makeup or how we look. God is a spirit (John 4:24), and it is our spiritual makeup, which is in God’s image.
The origin of the races of humans is interesting historically, but especially now with the “black lives matter” movement. Evolutionists at the time of Darwin claimed that black people were early prototypes of humans, but were not fully human and therefore could be treated like animals. For many people, that belief, as absurd as it is, was the justification for slavery. As far as apologetics is concerned, the uniqueness of all humans is rooted in human spiritual abilities. Those include the capacity to worship, the ability to create music and art, the ability to feel spiritual emotions, and our concept of self-awareness.
The assumption that humans evolved from some ancient ape-like animal has been fraught with difficulties and controversy. A skeleton of Australopithecus prometheus found at Sterkfontein in South Africa has added to the discussion. The fossil nicknamed Little Foot has a well-preserved atlas vertebra that sits just beneath the cranium at the top of the spinal column. By studying this vertebra, scientists can determine the flow of blood to the brain.
Little Foot’s blood flow was significantly lower than the flow into human brains, which means that Little Foot’s brain was severely restricted. Scientists classify it as Australopithecus, which refers to a group of apes and monkeys. New data adds to the evidence that science needs to clarify the physical models of change in monkeys, apes, and, most importantly, in humans.
Any attempt to use science to denigrate a race of humans as inferior is unsupported by the evidence. We see human uniqueness in the truth of the simple biblical statement, “God that made the world and all things within it … has made of one blood all nations of men to dwell upon the earth…” (Acts 17:24 and 26).
Many people misunderstand what it means to be created in the image of God. If you think that God is an “old man in the sky,” then you probably believe that God looks like you. I have a whole shelf of children’s books that portray God as a caucasian, male, old white-bearded man in the sky. I have a few that show God as a man of color. I have one that shows Him as an oriental. All of these are dead wrong and can lead a child to misunderstand an essential concept that we are created in the spiritual image of God. God is not any racial, ethnic, sexual, or aged physical being (John 4:24). We know this is true because we see God’s image in human creativity and spirituality.
The March 2020 issue of Scientific American (page 70-73) carried an interesting article by Kateb Wong titled “The First Story.” She begins a report on new archeological discoveries by saying, “Homo sapiens is the only species known to make figurative art, engage in spiritual thinking, and convey fictional tales through imagery.” We suggest that this is true because humans are the only life-form created in the image of God. We see God’s image in human creativity and spirituality. We don’t see this ability developing gradually over a long period of evolutionary change. The article reports on cave paintings discovered by archaeologists on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
What the paintings describe is a hunt. Six hunters using ropes or spears confront a large buffalo. Nearby more hunters are attacking other buffalos and pigs. One of the hunters is a therianthrope, meaning a spiritual leader and similar to the minotaur of Greek mythology. The researchers suggest that the scene shows a communal hunting strategy or game drive in which prey are flushed from cover and driven toward other hunters. These paintings are high up in hard to reach caves, and they appear to be made for cultural and symbolic use.
These are the oldest artworks anthropologists have ever found that depict a story. They show the uniqueness of humans from their earliest days on Earth. When God excluded humans from the “Garden,” they left with no experience, tools, or data. They had to start at the very beginning of the learning curve, but their desire for self-expression artistically and spiritually was in full operation. These ancient drawings display God’s image in human creativity and spirituality.
Over ten years ago, scientists found some human remains in Siberia’s Denisova Cave. They looked different from any human remains known at the time. Scientists have continued to study the mysterious Denisovans.
The past year of 2019 turned out to be a banner year for more data on these ancient humans. A breakthrough came with more remains that have been found in Tibet. Genetic evidence relates these specimens to humans in East Asia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. New genetic studies show that there are Denisovan genes in Neandertal and Homo sapiens. Paleogeneticist E. Andrew Bennett says that there is no doubt that interbreeding occurred among all of these ancient humans.
The biblical account tells us that all humans on Earth came from a single ancestor. The Hebrew word translated Adam literally means “of the ground,” and the description of that first human is not dated or timed. The biblical point that all humans came from one, simply means that there are no different species of humans. The variations in the human genome are racial. They show the adaption to various climates, altitudes, and diets. Bennett says, “It is better to talk about different populations, not different species.” The mysterious Denisovans are merely another population of humans.
One of the enduring UFO claims has been the massive drawings on Peru’s Nazca desert plateau. As far back as Eric Von Daniken’s book Chariots of the Gods in 1968, there have been those who claim that people on the Earth could not have made the drawings. They claim that the lines marked out landing strips for alien space crafts. It has been proven that people CAN, in fact, make huge drawings visible from space. However, there have not been good explanations as to what the Nazca drawings represent. Masaki Eda, a zooarchaeologist from Hokkaido University in Japan, seems to have found some clues in his recent study of the Nazca Lines and birds.
The large hummingbird drawing, which has been popularized, is an excellent portrayal of a bird known as the long-tailed hermit. Two other drawings that Eda has identified are a pelican and a guano bird. This doesn’t answer all of the mysteries of the Nazca lines, however, because those birds are rainforest or coastal birds, and the Nazca plateau is a desert. Social anthropologists studying the religions and myths of the people of the area may tell us more. There is still much to be learned about the Nazca lines and birds.
As more and more people have their genetic history analyzed to find out where their ancestors came from, interest has increased in the origins of human genetic history. There has been a lot of speculation on this question, and some skeptics have tried to claim that the Genesis account is incompatible with the human genome, and particularly with the very early specimens of ancient humans including Denisovans and Neanderthals.
Science News (June 8, 2019) published an interesting article by Bruce Bower about recent finds of these hominids and how they may fit into human genetic history. The first point we want to make is that the Bible has an economy of language on this subject. We do not know anything about the appearance of Adam and Eve or their offspring from the biblical account. We don’t know when they lived, or where they went as they left the Fertile Crescent where they were created. People whose denominations have established a doctrinal view on these questions do so with no biblical support.
Recent finds of the Denisovans in the Tibetan Plateau show that great migrations had taken place because the name “Denisovan” comes from the original discoveries made in Siberia’s Denisova Cave (shown in picture). Anthropologists have also found remains of the Denisovans in China. Modern humans in Asia, Melanesia, Australia, and Papua New Guinea have some Denisovan DNA. In fact, these populations show protein sequences which are more closely related to the Denisovans than the Neanderthals.
There is an old battle that has been going on among scientists for at least the last 100 years. It’s the battle between the “splitters” and the “lumpers” and how they handle human genetic history. The splitters are those who tend to put a new species identification on every new find. In this case, they have identified each of these groups as being independent of each other, so Denisovans, Neanderthals, and modern humans are each classified as a different species. The lumpers tend to say these are all variations in the original DNA, and they must all be one species since they can and did interbreed.
Foster Stanback is a collector of artifacts of historical significance. In 2015 he established a museum in York Nebraska to house many of those artifacts. Because of our long association with Foster, he honored our work together by naming it the Clayton Museum of Ancient History.
The Clayton Museum houses an amazing collection of items from the time of Christ and earlier. The museum focuses on ancient Mesopotamia and the Roman Empire. The oldest artifacts are an Egyptian mace head and an ax head, both approximately 5000 years old. You can see a 3500-year-old Egyptian toolkit comparable to what was used at the time the Israelites were slaves in Egypt.
The Roman collection from the first to third centuries is especially impressive since it includes everything from personal grooming items to weapons of war. You can see an authentic Roman gladius (sword), a Roman soldier’s helmet, and pieces of armor. A reconstructed Roman onager (a type of catapult) stands near the center of the museum. The displays help us to understand the conditions and way of life that existed in Biblical times and during the time of Christ.
On June 19, 2018, the famous lowland gorilla named Koko passed away. Koko was famous because she learned the sign language of the deaf and could comprehend 2,000 words and “speak” 1000.
Koko was born in captivity and lived in the Gorilla Foundation in California. Her trainer, Francine Patterson, began training the gorilla in the sign language of the deaf when she was about a year old. Koko got major attention from the entertainment industry and the media. Robin Williams and Fred Rogers interacted with Koko and gave her significant publicity.National Geographic ran a documentary on her in 1978.
A line in The Week (July 6/July 13, 2018, page 12) by Molly Roberts summarized Koko’s impact: “Science is still far from establishing how much apes truly resemble humans mentally and emotionally, but in Koko’s case, it may not really matter. What mattered is that we looked at this creature, and somewhere in Koko’s eye, we saw ourselves.”
There is no question that Patterson’s work with this gorilla was a remarkable demonstration of human patience and animal capability. Attempting to prove that the gorilla named Koko is a distant relative of her trainer is quite a stretch. Ms. Patterson became emotionally involved with Koko, and the usefulness of her work with the gorilla scientifically is highly controversial. Skeptics point out that Paterson’s questions were “designed to elicit responses that made it seem as if Koko understood more than she really did, but boy, did we want to believe.”
The commercialization of Koko did much to destroy any scientific value in her ability to communicate. Patterson created a record album in which Koko “picked songs she liked” based on what she listened to. Koko’s capacity to create art was demonstrated by having her copy what Patterson drew. Koko’s ability to select colors for what animal she was supposedly drawing produced some comical results. Koko’s “desire” to have a “pet” kitten was made into a children’s book in 1983. Understanding the concept of a kitten or a pet certainly was not part of Koko’s animal instinct.
One of the oldest debates among scientists is what it takes for an individual to be called “human.” The problem is that each discipline has its own criteria for being human.
A physical anthropologist would likely base his definition on the size of the brain, the shape of the mandible, or the position of the foramen magnum–the opening into the brain through which the spinal column passes. A cultural anthropologist might use community structure or communication techniques. In each discipline, the criteria correspond to the tools that discipline uses in its study. All of them are useful, but none present the full picture.
The biblical definition of being human is that being uniquely created in the image of God–that being possessing a soul. Physical appearance and physical characteristics are not part of the biblical definition. The indicator of being created in the image of God is how those spiritual characteristics are expressed. Worship, artistic creation, the use of symbolism, musical creation, and the ability to feel guilt and sympathy are leading indicators.
The media has portrayed the Neandertals as prehumans. Because they were bulky and jut-jawed they seem to fit the picture of prehuman cavemen. Movies have portrayed them as brutes lacking human characteristics. We have maintained for many years that the Neandertals were a race of humans. Recent genetic studies have shown Neandertal genes in the modern human population.
Recently researchers found artwork in three Spanish caves that are attributed to the Neandertals because they predate the time when other races of humans, such as Cromagnons, came to the area. Dr. Francesco d’Errico who has been studying the evidence for Neandertal artwork in the caves says, “Neandertals took modern humans into caves and showed them how to paint.”
One of the things I love about science is that because of the nature of the discipline, errors eventually get corrected. Data on ancient animal butchering by humans just received a correction.
“In a field where researchers reap big rewards for publishing media-grabbing results in high-profile journals … there’s a push to publish extraordinary findings, but evolutionary researchers always have to weigh what is interesting versus what’s correct.” That statement was made by David Braun, an archaeologist at George Washington University in Washington D.C. He was responding to an announcement that what scientists thought was human butchering work with stone tools was apparently crocodile bites.
The date of tool use by early humans has been pushed back again and again as microscopic investigations looked at the shape of marks on the bones of horses and other animals. Carnivores like hyenas leave U-shaped marks on bones. Scientists had assumed that V-shaped incisions with internal ridges were caused by ancient animal butchering by humans using stone-age tools. The new finds show that crocodile bites can leave the same pattern on bones as stone butchering tools.
The traditional and biblical views of early humans show that they were gatherers and that butchering animals came along sometime later. The picture of the real human history is based on the evidence, and it is a constantly changing picture. The picture gets modified as scientists discover new evidence. The model indicated by Scripture and the scientifically-accepted picture will get closer to agreement as new evidence comes to light, and old evidence is re-examined.