Evolution Icon Evolution
Human Origins Icon Human Origins

Not Enough Evidence: Casey Luskin on Recent Homo naledi Claims

Photo: A femur, by John Hawks, Marina Elliott, Peter Schmid, Steven E. Churchill, Darryl J. de Ruiter, Eric M. Roberts, Hannah Hilbert-Wolf, Heather M. Garvin, Scott A. Williams, Lucas K. Delezene, Elen M. Feuerriegel, Patrick Randolph-Quinney, Tracy L. Kivell, Myra F. Laird, Gaokgatlhe Tawane, Jeremy M. DeSilva, Shara E. Bailey, Juliet K. Brophy, Marc R. Meyer, Matthew M. Skinner, Matthew W. Tocheri, Caroline VanSickle, Christopher S. Walker, Timothy L. Campbell, Brian Kuhn, Ashley Kruger, Steven Tucker, Alia Gurtov, Nompumelelo Hlophe, Rick Hunter, Hannah Morris, Becca Peixotto, Maropeng Ramalepa, Dirk van Rooyen, Mathabela Tsikoane, Pedro Boshoff, Paul H.G.M. Dirks, Lee R. Berger, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

A recent ABC News article says the latest research about the hominid species Homo naledi “erases the idea of human exceptionalism.” A new Netflix documentary suggests that humans are not that special after all. Should we believe the media hype? Or is there more to the story? On a new episode of ID the Future, I talked with Dr. Casey Luskin to get an update on the Homo naledi controversy.

In June 2023, three new preprint papers were posted from the team that discovered Homo naledi in 2015. They claim that the small-brained species had high intelligence and engaged in activities like burying their dead, using fire, and engaging in cave wall art. At the time of publication the papers had not been peer reviewed. This didn’t stop the scientists from embarking on a massive media marketing campaign to promote their findings. A few months later, though, the critical reviews from other scientists in the field came in. Their colleagues didn’t buy it. “There just wasn’t any science in the paper ultimately,” said one paleoarchaeologist. Another reviewer called the preprints “incomplete and inadequate, and should not be viewed as finalized scholarship.”

In this episode, Dr. Luskin reviews each of the three main claims about Homo naledi made by Dr. Lee Berger and his team and gives us a summary of the strongest counterarguments. He also gives his thoughts on the recent Netflix film. “It’s very important to communicate scientific ideas to the public,” says Luskin. “And I think it’s great when scientists do that, when they do it carefully and responsibly and they’re making sure that the evidence has been thoroughly worked out…in this case, there was a sense that they had sort of put the cart before the horse.”

Luskin credits Berger and his team as respected professionals who did some amazing physical feats in their recent discoveries. But he also notes that in this case, the standards of evidence were just not met. “I think it’s important not to hype your claims. To make sure that you’re being careful with your science. And this is a lesson for everybody in science…for all of us who do science, let’s be careful with our arguments and careful with our claims.” Download the podcast or listen to it here.

Dig Deeper

Read Casey’s chapter on hominid fossils, including Homo naledi, in the recent peer-reviewed academic book Science and Faith in Dialogue.

Follow our coverage of Homo naledi at Evolution News.