Monday, June 15, 2009

A YouTube Creationist: Geerup - and a question for my readers near the end.

The fellow in the above video is called Geerup. He's the guy who took over VenomFangX's channel. Surprisingly, in this video, "The Lame Link Lemur," he says a lot of things I agree with concerning all the hype about the Ida fossil, Darwinius masillae, and the subsequent TV shows and book being promoted.

He's right, all the Ida hype is about making money with over inflated claims. Several of the claims made are clearly impossible to justify. For example, he captures a quote from some promoter/narrator saying: "She could re-write science... She could confirm Darwinian theory and debunk creationism. She could also question religion itself."

Re-write science? Well, maybe a tiny, rather uncontroversial, chapter in the huge story of primate evolution. Confirm Darwinian theory? I thought that theory had been solidly confirmed back in the 1950s when Francis Crick and James Watson discovered DNA? Debunk creationism? If anyone thinks Ida will get creationists or anyone else to question their religion they have seriously underestimated the stubborn ignorance of creationists and the hold of religion on people's minds.

Geerup wasn't the only one slamming these guys for over-hyping Ida. Some of my favorite atheist and scientist bloggers were saying similar things, that includes Carl Zimmer, PZ Myers (twice), and John Wilkins.

All of the science bloggers attacked the idea that there was a single fossil that was THE missing link. There is no missing link. There are missing branches. The link metaphor is all wrong. To have a missing link you must think of evolution as a chain. If there's a gap in the chain, then you have a missing link. But evolution is more of a tree. However, reporters and television producers are obsessed with the link idea. Newly discovered fossils help to resolve the order in which traits evolved, and how groups of species are related, and the more fossils discovered, the clearer the picture becomes, but no one fossil can tell the complete story.

The most Ida can tell is about going from a Lemur-like primate to a more monkey-like primate and that is not going to mean any more to a creationist than claims about whales having once been land animals. When it comes to human evolution the creationists have a problem with other fossils of which there are plenty:

We have hundreds of fossils of pre-human, near human, primates: Australopithecus robustus, Australpithecus boisei, Homo habilis, Homo erectus, etc. etc.. If Ida is so important, then what are these fossils, chopped liver:

Consider what we know about the Paleolithic and Neolithic age just from the stone tools. That's the prehistoric period when people made stone tools only by chipping and flaking rocks, before they moved to polishing and grinding. There is a contradiction with Genesis right there. In Genesis chapter 4 we are told that Eve, who knows how long after they're out of the Garden of Eden and its Idyllic conditions, bore Cain and his brother Abel and that Abel became a keeper of flocks, and Cain a tiller of the soil. Remember, Cain's offering to God was "from the fruit of the soil," while Abel brought one of the best of his flock. The overwhelming evidence of anthropology clearly contradict this story. The first proto-humans didn't have farming, they were hunter/gatherers with very crude stone tools. There is even some serious doubt as to whether early humans had a controlled use of fire for those altars and the "offering up a sheep on an altar of sacrifice."

The Paleolithic Age, when the development of the first stone tools took place, covers about 99 percent of human history. It starts with the introduction of stone tools by hominids such as Homo habilis, about a million years ago, and ends with the introduction of agriculture. Genesis would have us believe man had farming and controlled use of fire soon after Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden.

During the Paleolithic, humans grouped together in small societies and subsisted by gathering plants and hunting or scavenging wild animals. They had only crude stone tools, with perhaps a bit of wood and bone used also. Humankind only gradually evolved from early members of the genus Homo, such as Homo habilis, who used simple stone tools and into the fully behaviorally and anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens sapiens, depicted in Genesis.

Homo habilis lived in tribes entirely by hunting and gathering, before plant and animal domestication were introduced. The time interval between the earliest appearance of stone tools, more than 2 million years before present and the end of the last glacial period, 12,000–10,000 years ago is longer than recorded human history. But Genesis depicts a time when man had domesticated both animals and plants. There are also altars with fires. Yet the first evidence for human use of fire comes from the Peking man at Zhoukoudian in north China, 500,000–240,000 years ago.

If there was ever a "most important" fossil find that should have gotten creationists to question the Genesis story it was Lucy. But where was the big hype and news story when they found another Lucy-like fossil?

Lucy was discovered in 1974 by anthropologist Donald Johanson. She was an Australopithecus afarensis that lived only about 3.2 millions years ago and almost half of her skeleton was found. That find really did transform our views of how we became human. Like a chimpanzee, Lucy was small in size and had a small brain, long, dangly arms, short legs and a cone-shaped thorax with a large belly. But the structure of her knee and pelvis showed that she walked upright on two legs, like us. That is an important difference between humans and apes, making Lucy part of the human family. A transition between an earlier monkey-like species and man. Thus bipedalism became the most distinctive, apparently earliest, defining characteristic of humans.

If Lucy or other fossil evidence of Ausrtalopithicus afarenis and africanus don't convince creationists that humans evolved from a more monkey-like primate then how can anyone expect the lemur-like fossil of Ida to convince them?

So, how do creationists deal with this kind of evidence? Well, one creationist on youtube simply declared that Lucy and all the Neandertals were frauds and hoaxes. I wonder, does he also think the moon landings were faked? Another youtuber creationist said "scientists are just atheists." And what happens when a youtube creationist reads a scientific journal?

All the over-inflated hype for Ida was just fuel for the creationist propaganda machine. If you want to change minds you're not going to do it that way. In fact, that hype is going to erode some necessary trust it takes to change minds.

What I don't know is if the hype worked for selling books and TV shows. How were the ratings on that show "The Link." I don't know. I didn't bother to watch it. That's not the area of evolution that interests me. What I fear is that the hype did work and made these guys a lot of money and they're not going to stop using it until it stops working.

My guess is that it works precisely because it does get all the creationist sites buzzing and that stimulates conversations here on my blog and others. Thus were all talking and curious enough to see what they've got. No publicity is bad publicity.

Here's my question for my readers:

What convinced you that Darwinian evolution was true?

I'll answer that question for myself in my next post, but I can sum it up by listing the essentials: 1) Deep fossil evidence. 2) Genetic algorithms and evolutionary programming point to the mathematical inevitability of evolution. 3) Our DNA has ancient viruses in it.


I made a video response to Geerup:


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