“So We Make Up Stories” About Human Evolution
by Kyle Butt, M.A.
Dr. Richard Lewontin is the Alexander Agassiz Research Professor at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. Harvard University Press describes him as one of their “most brilliant evolutionary biologists.” A Harvard professor since 1973, he has impeccable academic credentials, and has gained worldwide notoriety for authoring several books, including The Triple Helix, The Genetic Basis of Evolutionary Change, and Biology as Ideology.
During the week of February 14-18, Dr. Lewontin was invited to speak at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting held in Boston, Massachusetts. Michale Balter, writing for Science magazine, reported briefly on Lewontin’s comments that caused quite a stir in the evolutionary community. Balter titled his article “How Human Intelligence Evolved—Is It Science or ‘Paleofantasy’?” (2008). In the first paragraph, Balter quipped that Lewontin really “knows how to grab an audience’s attention.”
What did Lewontin say that was so noteworthy and attention-grabbing? Lewontin “led off a session titled ‘The Mind of a Toolmaker’ by announcing that scientists know next to nothing about how humans got so smart. ‘We are missing the fossil record of human cognition,’ Lewontin said at the meeting. ‘So we make up stories’” (Balter, 2008, emp. added). While Balter spent the rest of his article scrambling to show that Lewontin’s conclusions are not recognized by all in the scientific community, Lewontin’s devastating blow to evolution’s long-cherished scenario of human development could not be papered over so easily.
James Randerson, science correspondent for the United Kingdom’s Guardian, wrote an article titled “We Know Nothing About Brain Evolution” in which he, too, reported on Lewontin’s speech. Lewontin titled his speech, “Why We Know Nothing About the Evolution of Cognition.” Randerson reported that, in the lecture, the eminent Harvard professor “systematically dismissed every assumption about the evolution of human thought, reaching the conclusion that scientists are still completely in the dark about how natural selection prompted the massive hike in human brain size in the human line” (2008, emp. added).
Lewontin then turned his attention to the fossil record. Randerson summarized Dr. Lewontin’s statements by saying: “The main problem is the poor fossil record. Despite a handful of hominid fossils stretching back 4m [million—KB] years or so, we can’t be sure that any of them are on the main ancestral line to us. Many or all of them could have been evolutionary side branches” (2008). Randerson continued, stating: “Worse, the fossils we do have are difficult to interpret. ‘I don’t have the faintest idea what the cranial capacity [of a fossil hominid] means,’ Lewontin confessed. What does a particular brain size tell us about the capabilities of the animal attached to it?” (2008).
Of course, Lewontin’s comments fly in the face of everything the general population has been led to believe about human evolution. The beautiful drawings showing ape-like creatures gradually evolving in a straight line into humans have been plastered on science-lab walls, in science textbooks, and in popular science magazines for the last five decades. We have been told that the hominid fossil record is so complete that it provides irrefutable evidence verifying human evolution. We have been told that our “ancestral” fossils indicate exactly when our ancient great-grandparents began to walk upright, when they evolved greater cognitive skills, and when they evolved into us.
Lewontin was not finished tearing into the standard evolutionary party line about hominid fossils. Randerson noted that Lewontin “is even skeptical that palaeoanthropologists can be sure which species walked upright and which dragged their knuckles. Upright posture is crucial for freeing up the hands to do other useful things” (2008).
What, then, did Lewontin conclude regarding the prevailing status of ignorance that pervades the scientific community regarding the supposed evolution of humans? He said: “We are in very serious difficulties in trying to reconstruct the evolution of cognition. I’m not even sure what we mean by the problem” (as quoted in Randerson, 2008).
The bombshell that Lewontin dropped on the 2008 AAAS annual meeting will leave devastating and lasting carnage in its wake in the evolutionary community. He debunked 50 years of orchestrated evolutionary propaganda. Randerson concluded his summary of Lewontin’s statements by observing: “All in all, despite thousands of scientific papers and countless National Geographic front covers, we have not made much progress in understanding how our most complicated and mysterious organ [brain—KB] came about” (2008).
After reviewing Lewontin’s statements and the various journal articles describing them, the writers of Creation/Evolution Headlines appropriately admonished the reader:
Remember this entry the next time you get a National Geographic cover story of a hominid with a philosopher’s gaze. Remember it when you are told stories about hominids walking upright, their hands now freed to scratch their chins and think. Remember it when you are shown a chimpanzee on NOVA performing memory tricks for a banana or smashing bugs with a rock. Remember it when a stack of erudite scientific papers on human evolution is placed on the witness table at a trial over whether students should be allowed to think critically about evolution in science class (“Paleofantasy…,” 2008).
Balter, Michael (2008), “How Human Intelligence Evolved—Is It Science or ‘Paleofantasy’?” Science, 319 :1028, [On-line], URL: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/319/5866/1028a.
“Paleofantasy: Brain Evolution is Mere Storytelling” (2008), Creation/Evolution Headlines, February 22, [On-line], URL: http://www.creationsafaris.com/crev200802.htm.
Randerson, James (2008), “We Know Nothing About Brain Evolution,” Guardian, [On-line], URL: http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/science/2008/02/the_distinguished_biologist _pr.html.