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New Skull-Hole Study Is No Evidence for Evolution

Jonathan Witt

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A Science Daily headline exclaims, “Human skull evolved along with two-legged walking, study confirms.” Actually, the study confirmed no such thing. The headline is a pro-evolution gloss unwarranted by the findings.

They were reporting the publication of a scholarly paper in the Journal of Human Evolution. The paper itself waits until the first sentence of the Abstract to start overselling the evolutionary implications: “A more anteriorly positioned foramen magnum evolved in concert with bipedalism at least four times within Mammalia.” The paper doesn’t so much fail to show this; it never seriously attempts to do so. Its aims are elsewhere.

The study looked at various bipedal mammals, compared them to some quadruped relatives, and found that the foramen magnum — the hole for the spinal column in the base of the skull — tends to sit farther forward on the bipeds.

The findings aren’t revolutionary. They confirm a longstanding view. But if they hold up, they will give fossil hunters an improved diagnostic for deciding if a mammalian fossil skull was from a biped.

That’s interesting and useful, but it’s not evidence of evolution. That is the case for multiple reasons.

Engineering Logic vs. Darwinian Illogic

Having the foramen magnum closer to the front of the skull’s base makes good engineering sense in the case of mammalian bipeds. The features, in other words, appear to come as a matched set for good design reasons.

The matched set finding isn’t weird-world engineering either. The matched set phenomenon is commonplace in engineering. Bicycles have one kind of axle and four-wheeled vehicles another. On a car or wagon, those long axle shafts and the four-wheel architecture appear together because they make engineering sense.

There are also good engineering reasons to doubt the Darwinian evolution of quadruped to biped. Vast oceans of reduced fitness lie between a well-integrated quadruped design and a well-integrated biped design. Ann Gauger goes into some detail about this on pages 21-25 of Science and Human Origins. Here, suffice to say that evolving one tiny step at a time from quadruped to biped — gradually re-engineering all the numerous integrated details by random mutations — would force our aspiring quadruped to spend many generations distinctly less fit than he was before.

That’s a problem for evolution because natural selection doesn’t back less functional cripples generation after generation for the mere hope of a glorious upright and striding biped somewhere in the distant future. Natural selection is all about the here and now.

Finally, the study doesn’t describe a finely graded series of fossils moving from quadruped to various intermediates to bipeds. The study is all about the two distinct groups — biped and quadruped.

As for the misleading claims that the study confirms evolution, there is a quick fix at least for the opening words of the Science Daily article. The fix involves a deletion of information rather than the creation of new information (fitting since Darwinism’s verified success stories involve loss of biological information).

In this case, just cut the first three words, thus: “The evolution of bipedalism in fossil humans can be detected using a key feature of the skull — a claim that was previously contested but now has been further validated by researchers at Stony Brook University and the University of Texas at Austin.”

Photo credit: Russo and Kirk, Journal of Human Evolution, via University of Texas at Austin.