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Latest Homo naledi Bones Are Younger than Expected

Jonathan Wells

According to a recent article in The Guardian, “New haul of Homo naledi bones sheds surprising light on human evolution,” but the most important word in the headline is “surprising.” It turns out that the fossils are much younger than evolutionary biologists expected.1

In 1982, paleontologists Niles Eldredge and Ian Tattersall noted that it is a “myth that the evolutionary histories of living beings are essentially a matter of discovery.” If this were really true, they wrote, “one could confidently expect that as more hominid fossils were found the story of human evolution would become clearer. Whereas if anything, the opposite has occurred.” The Homo naledi bones show that Eldredge and Tattersall were right.2

Emory University archaeologist Jessica Thompson (quoted in The Guardian) explains that the discovery makes it clear that human evolution is not as straightforward as it is made out to be. “It doesn’t start out with something that looks like a monkey, and then something that looks like an ape, and then something that looks like a human, and then all of a sudden you’ve got people,” she said. “It’s much more complicated than that.”1

Indeed, human origins are as mysterious now as they have ever been. As Yale paleoanthropologist Misia Landau once wrote, stories of human evolution “far exceed what can be inferred from the study of fossils alone,” so fossils are placed “into preexisting narrative structures.”3 And the overarching narrative structure is materialistic philosophy — the view that matter and physical forces are the only realities and God is an illusion.

Science educators tell materialistic stories about how we are accidental by-products of unguided evolution, and the stories are illustrated with iconic drawings of apes morphing into humans. But the stories come first; fossils such as Homo naledi are plugged in later.

References:

(1) Ian Sample, “New haul of Homo naledi bones sheds surprising light on human evolution,” The Guardian (May 9, 2017).

(2) Niles Eldredge and Ian Tattersall, The Myths of Human Evolution (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 126–127.

(3) Misia Landau, Narratives of Human Evolution (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991), pp. ix-x, 148.

Photo credit: Lee Roger Berger research team (http://elifesciences.org/content/4/e09560) [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Jonathan Wells

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Jonathan Wells has received two Ph.D.s, one in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California at Berkeley, and one in Religious Studies from Yale University. A Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, he has previously worked as a postdoctoral research biologist at the University of California at Berkeley and the supervisor of a medical laboratory in Fairfield, California. He also taught biology at California State University in Hayward and continues to lecture on the subject.

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Homo naledihuman originsIan TattersallMisia LandauNiles EldredgeThe GuardianYale University