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On Human Fire Use, Anthropologists Miss the Point


If you follow popular and scholarly writing on anything to do with evolution, the massive gaps in what these people say, what they allow themselves to see, are unsurprising. At the NPR blog 13.7, anthropologist Barbara J. King highlights a supplement published by the journal Current Anthropology on humans and our use of fire. Guess what gets left out?

If you’re been around the block with evolutionists, you’d likely predict: This will largely be about the timing of our primordial fire use. There will be comparisons with chimps. Nothing will be said about the remarkable set of circumstances – from chemical, to anatomical, to planetary – that make our use of fire possible in the first place and that biologist Michael Denton identifies in his work. There will be nothing about how fire, the key to the rise of civilization and modern technology, gives every evidence of being intended, carefully planned, for our discovery.

Judging from Dr. King’s post, we find this prediction to be correct. She is fascinated by questions of timing and comparisons with chimps. We learn that archaeological evidence can be misleading because scientists might confuse deliberate fire use with natural fires. Chimps who live in an area with frequent fires show an impressive ability to maneuver around it, suggesting insights about our evolutionary past. There’s nothing about the startling evidence of design that Dr. Denton identifies.

On the timing question:

While acknowledging the possibility that the site of Gesher Benot Ya’akov in Israel indicates the first repeated fire use by our ancestors at around 800,000 years ago, Sandgathe concludes that “the earliest unquestionable examples” of continuous, long-term fire use come later, between 350,000 and 200,000 at the cave sites of Hayonim, Qesem, and Tabun, also in Israel. There, hearths and burned lithics occur in such abundance as to reasonably preclude other explanations. Sandgathe notes, however, that “continuous” doesn’t necessarily mean “habitual,” that is, “there may still be decades, centuries, or in some cases even millennia between fire-use events.”

We can, Sandgathe says, take the date of 400,000 years ago as a kind of milestone in our ancestors’ use of fire. But even then, fire use wasn’t anything like a key behavioral adaptation for a long while…

Fine. Interesting. On chimps:

A non-human primate model may help us understand the evolution of fire behavior, too. Jill Pruetz of Iowa State University and Nicole Herzog of the University of Utah in their paper Savanna Chimpanzees at Fongoli, Senegal, Navigate a Fire Landscape explain why Fongoli is an unusual site for wild chimpanzees: There, in a savanna-woodland setting with environmental pressures quite similar to those our early ancestors may have faced, chimpanzees encounter wildfires quite regularly, some extensive in size.

The data collection that Pruetz and Herzog carried out shows, first, that the Fongoli chimpanzees spent more time foraging and traveling in burned areas compared to unburned areas. That’s smart thinking on the apes’ part, because it’s an efficient use of their energy. Second, the primatologists conclude that the apes “can accurately predict the leading edges of fire and assess other aspects of fire behavior” such that they seem to be quite unconcerned with smoldering fires or even early flaming fires, but avoid more serious fires.

Fine, though less interesting. We already knew chimps are “smart.”

Dr. King enthuses: “As the headline to a recent post of mine here suggests, new evidence in human evolution is being announced at a ‘dizzying’ rate.” What’s really dizzying is the consistency with which mainstream science blinkers itself to hard, factual evidence of design in nature.

As Michael Denton explains in a brilliant monograph, Fire-Maker Book: How Humans Were Designed to Harness Fire and Transform Our Planet, and in an excellent video that summarizes his thinking (see it above), we and the world we live in appear deliberately contrived to make the use of fire possible, by humans and only humans. The “path” to this development in our history was “already built into nature.”

He summarizes:

And not only does the path appear to be unique, but only biological beings similar to modern humans, possessed of our android design and conscious creative agency on a planet similar to the Earth, could ever have exploited the wonderful fitness of nature for fire and for metallurgy.

There are good reasons why chimps may cleverly avoid harm from fire, but they do not make human-like use of it, and never will. Denton echoes the thinking of Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer with Charles Darwin of the theory of evolution by natural selection. Wallace was ahead of his time in, ultimately, arriving at a conclusion that anticipates the modern theory of intelligent design.

Is it…a pure accident that these metals, with their special physical qualities which render them so useful to us, should have existed on the earth for so many millions of years for no apparent or possible use; but becoming so supremely useful when Man appeared and began to rise towards civilization?

To miss these things requires a special kind of blindness that seems to affect academics in our culture almost universally.