Surprising human hand fossil disproves evolution

The styloid process evolved earlier than we previously thought, which apparently disproves human evolution


The Institute for Creation Research is an organisation which spins science news to support the notion that the earth was created 6,000 years ago. As such, a lot of their articles evolves around trying to refute evolution. Which they just did. Again. They report on a surprising fossil finger and apparently this fossil disproves evolution

Ok, I joke.

The real story is that a fossil finger, dating to 1.42 million years ago, has been found with a styloid process. This allows the wrist and hand to lock together, meaning we have a more powerful grip. Such a grip comes in pretty handy (if you’ll pardon the pun) for making tools, but it isn’t necessary for doing so. We know our ancestors were making tools without a styloid process for more than a million years before it evolved.

Before this new fossil we thought the styloid process evolved around 800,000 years ago in Homo heidelbergensis and was inherited by all subsequent species of human, including both us and Neanderthals. The new fossil suggests it actually evolved earlier in Homo erectus, but the story nonetheless remains unchanged: early humans were making tools and developed a styloid process some time later to aid them.

It’s just a bit less later than we thought

fossil disproves evolution

The real science in handy picture form

But somehow Brian Thomas of the ICR seems to think this fossil disproves evolution. How did he reach that conclusion?

Well, he seems to be under the impression that the styloid process is actually a defining characteristic of modern humans. Never mind the fact that Neanderthals, Homo heidelbergensis (and now Homo erectus) have been found with it. No, it actually defines Homo sapiens. But since we’ve found a really old version of it, modern humans have been alive forever, unchanged and most certainly not evolving.

the most significant news from the latest hand-fossil find should be the simple fact that the oldest, widely recognized human hand bone shows no evolutionary change. This Kenyan fossil points to man originating…as man [ellipses in original, this description of them was not]

He seems to be basing this conclusion on a quote from the research paper, which notes that “in all ways, this bone resembles that of a modern human in overall proportions and morphology.” However, he misses the paragraph after next goes on to note that

[the styloid process is] short compared with modern humans, as are those of Late Pleistocene humans…[it also] falls within the observed ranges for modern humans and Neandertals, both of which overlap considerably [these ellipses are all mine]

In other words many different species have a similar bone. So it can’t be used to identify “man” and say “man” has existed as “man” for millions of years. It’s a bit like saying both the Ford Model T and a Ford Fiesta have wheels; therefore cars haven’t changed at all in decades.

If you were being generous to Brian, I suppose you could say he’s arguing (badly) that this fossil disproves evolution because it shows the styloid process hasn’t changed for millions of years. But actually that’s a statement which in no way challenges evolution. If a trait is beneficial then it would be stick around. That’s how natural selection works. And since using our hands is still useful we would expect it to remain all the way into modern humans.

So it seems Brian doesn’t understand how evolution works or what defines modern humans. But that’s not the most wrong he gets. No, he lists 8 ways in which the human hand has a “unique design”. This he lifted from the research into the new finger bone, but in the process he omitted a pretty important fact.

The first of Brian’s ways in which the human hand is uniquely designed is that we have “short fingers relative to thumb length” but in the original paper it notes that

Most noticeable are the short fingers (relative to thumb length) and a robust thumb metacarpal. Australopithecus afarensisAustralopithecus africanus, and Australopithecus sediba also have short fingers

The Australopithecines are believed to be the ape-like ancestors from which humans evolved. Most creationists would agree they’re very definitely not human. Yet their hand shares some of our  “unique” characteristics. Clearly our hand is not as special as Brian thinks.

It would seem Brain doesn’t understand how to define a human or how evolution works or even what “unique” means. And this is despite the fact he is copying and pasting from an article that explains where he’s wrong sometimes in the sentence immediately after the one he copies. I don’t really want to libel, but from where I’m sitting it looks like the ICR is either borderline incompetent or outright deceptive. In either case, I don’t think this fossil disproves evolution.

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9 thoughts on “Surprising human hand fossil disproves evolution”

  1. john zande says:

    ICR is the home to Grade-A lunacy. They are, however, dangerous lunatics. The leaked Wedge Document is proof enough of that. Here’s an interesting read on it.

    http://sensuouscurmudgeon.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/what-is-the-wedge-document/

    1. john zande says:

      The Wedge Document is the Discovery Institute, but they are Creationist bedfellows, of course, with ICR.

      1. Adam Benton says:

        We’re approaching 20 years since the document was published, yet they’re nowhere near achieving their 5 year goals, let alone their 20 year ones. There is hope!

        1. john zande says:

          Agreed, but it doesn’t stop them trying.

  2. Ashley Haworth-roberts says:

    Adam (and Peter aka Eye on the ICR if he is reading this)

    I made the following post on the British Centre for Science Education community forum a couple of nights ago about a new AiG article which also referred back to an earlier ICR article – as follows:

    “More much ado about nothing from AiG.
    http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2014/01/25/human-hand-fossil
    “The styloid process has been found on all true human fossils for which the metacarpals have been found—including Neanderthals and Homo heidelbergensis. Conversely, the styloid process is clearly missing on both modern apes and the various supposed ape-like human ancestors in the human evolutionary lineage. For instance, the australopithecine fossil record (Au. afarensis, Au. africanus, and Au. sediba) has produced no styloid processes. Ape wrists are well-designed for the lifestyle of an ape but not for human pursuits”. So the ‘Lucy’ species must have been an ‘ape’? After all, as I gather from a brief online search, metacarpal fossils HAVE been actually found for at least one Australopithecus species.
    Mitchell also refers to a past ICR article by Brian Thomas – and that article refers back to a previous Thomas article:
    http://www.icr.org/article/lucys-new-foot-bone-actually-human/
    Which article refers (without linking to it properly) to this paper in ‘Science’:
    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/331/6018/750.abstract
    The Abstract of which stated: “These features show that the A. afarensis foot was functionally like that of modern humans and support the hypothesis that this species was a committed terrestrial biped”. So ‘Lucy’ LACKED a feature found in humans but also HAD a feature found in human beings (but not found in today’s ape species)?
    The 3 million year old plus foot bone looked so ‘human’ that Thomas insisted that it must have been misidentified (as being from the ‘ape’ species Australopithecus afarensis presumably) and instead stamped his foot and insisted ‘Lucy’s’ New Foot Bone Is Actually Human’.
    Back to Mitchell:
    “Nothing about this metacarpal supports evolution.”
    NOTHING about this metacarpal and its estimated age UNDERMINES evolutionary theory.”

    1. Adam Benton says:

      I had a look at the Lucy footbone story; and it appears to be the same paper that was later critiqued by showing that the footbones fall within the range of gorillas. So ICR joins AiG in claiming gorillas have human feet

  3. Ashley Haworth-roberts says:

    Even if a particular hand bone showed no evolutionary change – what about the REST of the body?

    1. Adam Benton says:

      Well apparently possessing 1 modern bone makes you completely modern, so clearly none of that has changed either!

  4. Pingback: AiG & ICR double down on “gorillas have human feet” | EvoAnth
  5. Trackback: AiG & ICR double down on “gorillas have human feet” | EvoAnth

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