Saturday, March 23, 2013

Book Review: Science and Human Origins

If humans did evolve from ape-like ancestors, the process by which it happened is shrouded in mystery. This isn’t because evolutionary biologists, paleontologists, anthropologists, and geneticists have not been working hard to understand it. Instead, the mystery that surrounds the process stems from the data themselves. As Science and Human Origins makes very clear, what little data we have on the supposed evolution of man is fragmentary and contradictory. The book’s five chapters each discuss a different set of data related to the subject, and when they are all put together, they produce a devastating case against the oft-heard claim that human evolution is well supported by the scientific evidence.

Chapter 1 is written by Dr. Ann Gauger, a developmental biologist who did postdoctoral research at Harvard University. She is now a research scientist at the Biologic Institute, an organization that spearheads original research using the Intelligent Design paradigm. In this chapter, she attempts to make the case against the assumption that common genetic characteristics must be the result of common ancestry via an unguided, neo-Darwinian process.

While she does succeed in casting doubt on the assumption, her argument is weak. She highlights an experiment she and Dr. Douglas Axe did in which they studied two bacterial proteins that are very similar but perform different functions. They then tried to see if they could convert one of those proteins into the other. Their idea was simple: evolutionists would say that the similarities between the two genes that produce the proteins come from a common ancestor. It that were true, Gauger and Axe should be able to convert one of those genes into the other one. However, their experiment showed that it would take at least seven mutations to get the job done, and as other studies have shown, that is beyond the reach of blind, neo-Darwinian processes.

This argument is weak, however, since the only certain way you could convert one gene to the other (within an evolutionary framework) would be to first convert one gene back to the ancestral gene, and then convert that ancestral gene into the other gene. However, that at least doubles the number of needed mutations. In addition, it is hard to believe that Gauger and Axe explored all possible scenarios in their research. Those who believe in evolution are willing to believe in fortuitous events happening as a matter of course throughout the history of life. Unless their experiment covered all possible scenarios, there is no way they could exclude such a fortuitous event.

Dr. Gauger does end her chapter with more compelling evidence. She details the enormous gulf between apes and humans, highlighting how much evolution would have to accomplish in order to do what most evolutionists credit it with doing.

The second chapter is by Dr. Douglas Axe, who holds a PhD in chemical engineering. He did postdoctoral research at Cambridge and is currently the director of the Biologic Institute. Disappointingly, he also discusses the protein experiment highlighted by Dr. Gauger, giving the impression that they are milking their experiment for all it is worth. However, once that is out of the way, he gives some compelling evidence against the idea that humans could have evolved from a common ancestor.

He discusses the “fitness landscape” that exists for any evolutionary process. In this model, there are peaks and valleys that run throughout all possible evolutionary pathways. Peaks represent instances of increased fitness, and if an evolutionary process can reach such a peak, it will produce a new species. If it runs through a valley, the result will probably go extinct unless the evolutionary process can quickly reach another peak. He demonstrates that neo-Darwinian processes simply don’t have the power to negotiate any realistic fitness landscape.

The strength of this book rests in Chapter 3, which is written by Casey Luskin, who holds a Master’s degree in earth science and is currently the director of research at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. He starts his chapter with a quote from Dr. Ronald Wetherington, which claims that the human evolutionary process is very well documented in the fossil record. Luskin then goes on to show how utterly false such a claim is. As the chapter summary says:
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. (45)
Luskin demonstrates this in no uncertain terms by discussing each relevant fossil group in the supposed human evolutionary line and simply pointing out its characteristics. As Luskin guides the reader through the pitiful array of partial skeletons, smashed skeletons, and bone fragments, it becomes very clear that the fossil record shows nothing close to what is proposed by most evolutionists.

Perhaps the most compelling data are shown in Figure 3-8 on page 71, where the cranial capacities of the relevant fossils are listed. Rather than showing any evolutionary progression, they show a cluster of fossils that fit well into the range that exists in modern chimpanzees, and another cluster of fossils that fall well within the range of modern humans. There is simply nothing in between.

Chapter 4 is also written by Casey Luskin, and he takes on Dr. Francis Collins’s two main genetic arguments for common ancestry between apes and humans: “shared mistakes” in junk DNA and the fusion of chromosome 2. He demonstrates (even without the now-famous ENCODE results) that the “junk DNA” paradigm is simply false and that any argument which depends on it has no merit.

When it comes to Collins’s second argument, Luskin demonstrates that when you actually look at the second chromosome in humans, it’s not completely clear that it is the result of a fusion between two chromosomes, as most evolutionists proclaim. He then goes on to make the rather obvious point (which seems lost on most evolutionists) that even if chromosome 2 is the result of a fusion event, it only shows that the human race experienced a fusion event in the past and then went through a genetic bottleneck. There is absolutely no reason to assume that the fusion had to occur in some hypothetical human ancestor. The same processes that would produce the chromosome fusion in a population of hypothetical human ancestors would also produce it in the “modern” human population.

The final chapter is written by Dr. Gauger, and she takes on the claim that the genetic diversity seen in modern humans could never be explained by the idea that all people descended from an original pair of modern humans, such as Adam and Eve. After going through the scientific evidence in detail, she shows quite clearly that there is simply no problem in understanding how the human genome could be so diverse today even if it had originated in a single pair of human beings.

In conclusion, Science and Human Origins is probably the best and most up-to-date summary (for the general audience) of the evidence related to human evolution. Despite the fact that it is reasonably comprehensive in its coverage of the subject, it is rather short. The book version, which is reviewed here, contains less than 120 pages of content. While it is not perfect, it makes a very strong case against the concept that blind neo-Darwinian processes produced human beings from some hypothetical ape-like ancestor. Indeed, the fossil evidence currently indicates that no such evolution took place.

Apologetics 315 Book Reviewer Dr. Jay L. Wile is an author who holds a PhD in Nuclear Chemistry from the University of Rochester. He is best known for his "Exploring Creation with..." series of science textbooks written for junior high and high school students who are being educated at home. You can read more of his thoughts at


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