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ID’s Top Six — The Origin of Humans

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Editor’s note: In the past we’ve offered the top 10 problems with Darwinian evolution (see here for a fuller elaboration), and the top five problems with origin-of-life theories. But somehow we neglected to offer a parallel listing of the top evidence supporting intelligent design. Many different sources pointing to design in nature could be adduced, but we decided to distill it all down to six major lines of evidence. Sure, five or ten would have been more conventional, but when did ID advocates start playing to expectations?

So here they are, their order simply reflecting that in which they must logically have occurred within our universe. Material is adapted from the textbook Discovering Intelligent Design, which is an excellent resource for introducing the evidence for ID, along with Stephen Meyer’s books Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt.

6. The Origin of Humans

There are many aspects of humanity that point to intelligent design. As discussed in the book Science and Human Origins, the human body plan appears abruptly in the fossil record, challenging an evolutionary explanation:

Hominin fossils generally fall into one of two groups: ape-like species and human-like species, with a large, unbridged gap between them. Despite the hype promoted by many evolutionary paleoanthropologists, the fragmented hominin fossil record does not document the evolution of humans from ape-like precursors.

(Science and Human Origins, p. 45)

The book further explains the many unique anatomical features of humans that point to intelligent design:

How many mutations would it take to evolve the anatomical changes necessary for walking and running? Dozens if not hundreds or thousands — if it could happen by random mutation at all. If the time span available for human evolution from a chimp-like ancestor is six million years, the effective population size is ten thousand, the mutation rate is 10-8 per nucleotide per generation and the generation time is five to ten years (for a chimp-like ancestor), only a single change to a particular DNA binding site could be expected to arise. It strains credibility to think that all sixteen anatomical features evolved fortuitously in that same time frame, especially if each required multiple mutations. Given these numbers, it is extremely improbable, if not absolutely impossible, for us to have evolved from hominin ancestors by a gradual, unguided process. (p. 26)

But it isn’t just our anatomy that points to design:

The above argument was based solely on the anatomical changes required for fully upright, bipedal posture and efficient long-distance travel. But I cannot leave this discussion without pointing out the many other things that distinguish us from apes. At the fine motor level, we have many abilities that require anatomical features that apes lack — we have many more finely controlled muscles in our hands, face, and tongues, for example. Without them our dexterity as artists or craftsmen, our ability to converse, and our ability to express fine distinctions in emotion by our facial expressions would be impossible.

But even more significant are our cognitive and communicative abilities. We are much more than upright apes with fine motor control. Our capacity for abstract thought, self-conscious reflection, and ability to communicate put us in another category entirely. These attributes are orders of magnitude more complex than anything animals can do. For example, language requires both anatomical features (the position of our larynx and language centers in our brains), and a mysterious innate knowledge of the rules of grammar that appears to be hard-wired into our brain. Three-year-olds know these rules instinctively. Apes don’t. True language requires the ability to think abstractly. Words are symbols that stand in for things and ideas. We communicate by arranging words into complex symbolic utterances. We think new thoughts and convey new ideas to others. We reflect on ourselves. We discuss our origins, write sonnets, and describe both imaginary worlds and the real one we inhabit. Language both reflects and enriches our capacity for abstract thinking and creativity.

Where did these massive increases in fine-motor dexterity, and the quantum leaps of language, art, and abstract thought come from? Our uniquely human attributes constitute a quantum leap, not just an innovation, a leap that cannot have arisen without guidance. We are not souped-up apes.

Explaining our origin requires a new way of approaching things. There is no strictly neo-Darwinian path from a chimp-like ancestor to us, no matter how similar we appear to be. (pp. 26-27)

Discovering Intelligent Design similarly explains that humans have unique moral and cognitive abilities:

It should be obvious that there are significant differences between humans and apes. For one, humans are the only primates that always walk upright, have relatively hairless bodies, and wear clothing. But the differences go far beyond physical traits and appearances.

Humans are the only species that uses fire and technology. Humans are the only species that composes music, writes poetry, and practices religion. When it comes to morality, bioethicist Wesley J. Smith observes that:

“[W]e are unquestionably a unique species — the only species capable of even contemplating ethical issues and assuming responsibilities — we uniquely are capable of apprehending the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, proper and improper conduct…”

Humans are also the only species that seeks to investigate the natural world through science. Additionally, humans are distinguished by their use of complex language. As MIT professor and linguist Noam Chomsky observes:

“Human language appears to be a unique phenomenon, without significant analogue in the animal world.… There is no reason to suppose that the ‘gaps’ are bridgeable.”

Other linguists have suggested that this finding would imply “a cognitive equivalent of the Big Bang.”

Because of this evidence, some scholars have argued that humans are exceptional.

Human Exceptionalism: A view holding that the human race has unique and unparalleled moral, intellectual, and creative abilities.

Materialists often oppose human exceptionalism because it challenges their belief that we are little more than just another animal. The next time someone tries to minimize the differences between humans and apes, remind him that it’s humans who write scientific papers studying apes, not the other way around.

(Discovering Intelligent Design, pp. 190-191)

Some of our moral abilities cannot be explained by natural selection. On the contrary, they suggest that human life is about higher purposes, not simply survival and reproduction:

While evolutionary accounts of human language face great obstacles, there is no doubt that complex language would provide a great survival advantage once it came to exist. But some of humanity’s most cherished activities don’t appear to offer any evolutionary benefit at all.

The requirements of Darwinian selection are simple: organisms must survive and spread their genes. Michael Ruse and E.O. Wilson thus explain that under Darwinism, “ethics… is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate.” In other words, in a strictly Darwinian world, there is no such thing as objective morality, true selflessness, or pure altruism.

Altruism: Unselfish regard for the welfare of others.

Altruistic behavior appears to run counter to natural selection and should have been eliminated long ago. But here we are, and humans exhibit astounding examples of altruism. The field of evolutionary psychology purports to solve this conundrum by claiming that seemingly unselfish behavior actually gives kickbacks to your selfish genes.

For example, if I share food with my neighbor, perhaps later he’ll return the favor. This is called reciprocal altruism. Similarly, if I neglect my own reproductive success to help my sister raise her kids, some of my genes might still be passed on. This is called kin selection.

In recent years, such theories have captured the minds of journalists. In 2006, the New York Times gave a glowing review to the book Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong, promoting the hypothesis that “people are born with a moral grammar wired into their neural circuits by evolution.

Humans do appear hard-wired for morality, but were we programmed by unguided evolutionary processes?

Natural selection cannot explain extreme acts of human kindness. Regardless of background or beliefs, upon finding strangers trapped inside a burning vehicle, people will risk their own lives to help them escape — with no evolutionary benefit to themselves.

Evolutionary biologist Jeffrey Schloss explains that Holocaust rescuers took great risks that offered no personal biological benefits:

“The rescuer’s family, extended family and friends were all in jeopardy, and they were recognized to be in jeopardy by the rescuer. Moreover, even if the family escaped death, they often experienced deprivation of food, space and social commerce; extreme emotional distress; and forfeiture of the rescuer’s attention.”

Francis Collins elaborates on this theme, using the example of Oskar Schindler, who risked his life “to save more than a thousand Jews from the gas chambers. That’s the opposite of saving his genes.” Schloss adds other examples of “radically sacrificial” behavior that “reduces reproductive success” and offers no evolutionary benefit, such as voluntary poverty, celibacy, and martyrdom.

In spite of the claims of evolutionary psychologists, many of humanity’s most impressive charitable, artistic, and intellectual abilities outstrip the basic requirements of natural selection.

If life is simply about survival and reproduction, why do humans compose symphonies, investigate quantum mechanics, and build cathedrals?

Natural Academy of Sciences member Philip Skell explained why evolutionary psychology does not adequately predict human behavior:

“Darwinian explanations for such things are often too supple: Natural selection makes humans self-centered and aggressive — except when it makes them altruistic and peaceable. Or natural selection produces virile men who eagerly spread their seed — except when it prefers men who are faithful protectors and providers. When an explanation is so supple that it can explain any behavior, it is difficult to test it experimentally, much less use it as a catalyst for scientific discovery.”

Contrary to Darwinism, the evidence indicates that human life isn’t about mere survival and reproduction. (pp. 191-192)

Humanity’s unique physical, behavioral, and cognitive abilities collectively show the design of our species.

This documentary featuring Michael Denton explains some of humanity’s unique mental abilities:

Image source: “Fire-Maker,” via Discovery Institute.