The creationist debate over Homo naledi is finally kicking off. Kind of. Creationists have been “arguing” over the species since it was discoveered more than a year ago. This is because the species straddles the divide between our genus – Homo – and the earlier, more ape-like Australopithecus. Such a “transitional form” cannot exist in their mind, leading to some fascintating “debate” within the movement.
I put debate in quotemarks because there actually hasn’t been any. As the excellent summary above (from the equally excellent Naturalis Historia) shows, there’s plenty of disagreement between creationists on the subject. They have mutually contradictory reviews supported by mutually contradictory opinions. Yet there’s very little engagement between these creationists on the subject. No debate, discussion, or even real acknowledgement that they aren’t all of one mind.
Until now. Sort of.
Backtracking in Genesis
Jean O’Micks is an “independent scholar” whose been published by many creationist outlets. He’s written for Creation Ministries International, the Journal of Creation Theology and Science, as well as Answers in Genesis. He weighed in on the discovery of Homo naledi shortly after it was found. The gist of his argument being that the skull shared more similarities with Homo so it should belong in the human “baramin“.
This argument was apparently quite convincing. Other creationists found his argument compelling and changed their mind. Although, it’s worth pointing out the main outlets continued with their previous opinion without a word given to Jean’s argument. Notably, Answers in Genesis conintued claiming the species was just an ape and never discussed the fact that this opinion was not a creationist consensus. Jean’s work never came up, despite disagreeing with them from a Biblical foundation.
Until he changed his mind.
As I previously mentioned, Jean’s initial work was based on a comparison of various skulls. In an effort to improve the reliability of this result, he commendably expanded out this analysis. He compared the body of Homo naledi to the body of other hominin species. The results revealed the opposite, suggesting the species was more ape-like than human.
Best creationist research ever
At this point I might usually go through and disect this “research”. Pull up some hopeless inadqucies and critiqe them. I don’t want to suggest that Jean’s new work is somehow perfect. It is still based in the flawed “science” of baraminology after all. But beyond that it’s pretty decent. It seems to come from a genuine quest for improving knowledge and fixing his previous mistakes. It shows a decent grasp of paleoanthropology. And as an added bonus, it doesn’t waste too much time quoting Bible versus or ranting over the evils of evolutionists.
As a little case study, just take a look at how relatively reasonable the conclusion sounds.
There’s unceartainty and caution. Statistical analyses with significance. Beyond the flawed foundation of baraminology, the worst thing you can really say about this research is that it disagrees with paleaonthropological conclusions. Scientists still place Homo naledi within the genus Homo after all. The name kind of gives that away.
Why they got this result
The paper itself hints at why it got a contradictory result. Beyond using a false foundation. Jean notes how the human species Homo naledi’s body is most similar to is Homo erectus.
Yet when it comes time to conduct the analysis, Homo erectus data is nowhere to be found.
Instead, he compares Homo naledi to more modern species like Homo sapiens. But when the Australopithecus comparison occurs, more (relatively) contemporary species are used. In short, the conclusion can be read as “Homo naledi is most like the species that lived nearest to it in time”. And because the nearest species analysed were Australopithecus, it winds up looking like an Australopithecus.
On it’s own, this creationist research isn’t particularly interesting. It’s not wrong enough to be funny, not right enough to have a point. But is curious as the first hint of creationist in-fighting referenced by one of the large YEC organisations. And on it’s own it’s a particularly benign example of in-fighting. One creationist refuting their own work and propping up the publishing organisations’ opinion in the process.
But the benality of it all is what I findi interesting. It looks to me like a clear case of white-washing. Trying to hide the fact that creationism isn’t the hive-mind it pretends to be.