Sunday, May 21, 2006

Flores hobbit was sick human: scientists, etc

Because of lack of time, now that I am working full-time on my `Evolution Quotes Book', I am reverting to normally posting brief excerpts and comments in shorter, hopefully daily, composite posts.

[Graphic: "Homo Floresiensis, Left, and Homo Sapiens", Discovery Channel]

Flores hobbit was sick human: scientists, ABC, May 19, 2006, Anna Salleh ... Scientists who argue the "hobbit" is really just a modern human with a small brain have published evidence for the first time in a major scientific journal. Today's issue of the journal Science carries a paper led by primate evolution expert, Dr Bob Martin of the Field Museum in Chicago. It says Homo floresiensis is likely to have been a modern human, who suffered from microcephaly - a condition that causes a small brain. This reignites the debate about whether the remains of the small hominid from the Indonesian island of Flores is really H. sapiens or a dwarf version of H. erectus that evolved after becoming isolated on the island, as was originally suggested. ... [Martin has been a longtime proponent of H. floresiensis being a microencephalic H. sapiens. However, I think Martin, and indeed the dwarf H. erectus proponents, are both wrong! As previously posted, my view is that H. floresiensis is a direct descendent species from Australopithecus via a lineage separate from H. erectus and H. sapiens.

But if Martin is right, it will be a public relations disaster for Human Evolution, so confident have been the claims via the media that this `Hobbit' was a dwarf species of Homo erectus . This is the problem of transacting science via the media and not through scientific journals. Every time the claim turns out to be wrong, on the principle of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," the public will further distrust science.]

Apes prove to be forward thinking, ABC, May 19, 2006, Helen Carter ... Apes plan for the future, according to new research that questions whether humans are the only animals to think ahead. German research published today in the journal Science says apes can choose an appropriate tool to reach a treat and save the tool for the future instead of using it immediately. The researchers, from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, say that planning for future, not just current, needs is one of the most formidable human cognitive achievements. This is because it imposes a long delay between performing an action and being rewarded for it. The researchers let bonobo chimpanzees and orangutans select tools to reach grapes and juice bottles. They chose appropriate tools half of the time, took them to their sleeping rooms then used them up to 14 hours later when retrieving the treats. Both species show the skill, the researchers say, suggesting it evolved at least 14 million years ago, when all great ape species shared a common ancestor. "Our results suggest that future planning is not a uniquely human ability, contradicting the notion that it emerged in hominids only within the past 2.5 to 1.6 million years," they write. ... [Note that "They chose appropriate tools" only "half of the time"! Sounds like that is what would be expected to happen randomly? Anyway, it doesn't say much for these apes' "forward planning"! How do the researchers know that the apes haven't merely formed a weak conditioned association between the tools and the treats?

More generally I regard these attempts to prove that "X ... is not a uniquely human ability" as flawed (if not delusional) because it compares the highest of a particular ape's (or other animal's) ability with the lowest human ability. That way they could `prove', as Betrand Russell pointed out, that there should be "Votes for Oysters":

"There is a further consequence of the theory of evolution, which is independent of the particular mechanism suggested by Darwin. If men and animals have a common ancestry, and if men developed by such slow stages that there were creatures which we should not know whether to classify as human or not, the question arises: at what stage in evolution did men, or their semi-human ancestors begin to be all equal? Would Pithecanthropus erectus , if he had been properly educated, have done work as good as Newton's? Would the Piltdown Man have written Shakespeare's poetry if there had been anybody to convict him of poaching? A resolute egalitarian who answers these questions in the affirmative will find himself forced to regard apes as the equals of human beings. And why stop with apes? I do not see how he is to resist an argument in favour of Votes for Oysters. An adherent of evolution should maintain that not only the doctrine of the equality of all men, but also that of the rights of man, must be condemned as unbiological since it makes too emphatic a distinction between men and other animals." (Russell, B., "History of Western Philosophy," George Allen & Unwin: London, 1961, pp.697-698)

They should compare `apples with apples', i.e. the highest ability in both apes and humans. Then it will be seen that there is a vast gulf between ape and human forward planning.

Another, related, problem is the vague terminology. What is "forward planning" and "thinking ahead"? One could argue that a dog which buries a bone and later digs it up and eats it, is planning ahead. Is that "forward planning"? If not, why not (without committing the fallacy of special pleading)? But if so, then what is so special about apes chosing "appropriate tools half of the time" taking "them to their sleeping rooms" and then using "them up to 14 hours later when retrieving the treats" (my emphasis)?

And also why, on Darwinian principles, is human forward planning and thinking ahead so vastly superior to that of apes, given that: "Natural selection" (i.e. the differential reproduction of random micromutations) "tends only to make each organic being as perfect as, or slightly more perfect than, the other inhabitants of the same country with which it comes into competition" (my emphasis):

"Natural selection tends only to make each organic being as perfect as, or slightly more perfect than, the other inhabitants of the same country with which it comes into competition. And we see that this is the standard of perfection attained under nature." (Darwin, C.R., "The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection" 1872, Sixth Edition, 1994, Senate: London, pp.162-163)]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
`Evolution Quotes Book,'

"Of course, there have been many who have clearly shown that they are not Darwinians. Bateson, in 1914, wrote: `We go to Darwin for his incomparable collection of facts. But to us he speaks no more with philosophical authority. We read his scheme of evolution as we would that of Lucretius, or of Lamarck, delighting in their simplicity and their courage.' Watson, in 1929, wrote: `The only two ` theories of evolution ' which have gained any currency, those of Lamarck and of Darwin, rest on a most insecure basis ; the validity of the assumptions on which they rest has seldom been seriously examined, and they do not interest most of the younger zoologists.' J.B.S. Haldane wrote of Darwinism in 1925: `This is still only a working 'hypothesis.' Many probably hold the opinion of Sir D'Arcy Thompson, who wrote in 1925 : `How species are actually produced remains an unsolved riddle, it is a great mystery.' It is rather interesting to note that T.H. Huxley, who fought the battle for Natural Selection and came out victorious, while an enthusiastic evolutionist, was never an out-and-out Darwinian. Poulton, in 1908, wrote: `Huxley was at no time a convinced believer in the theory he protected." (Broom R., "Finding the Missing Link," [1950], Greenwood Press: Westport CT, Second edition, 1951, Reprinted, 1975, p.103)


Edward T. Babinski said...


You mention the human "hobbits" being a possible "public relations disaster for human evolution," yet the abandonment of "Paluxy" man who "walked with dinosaurs" has been a far worse disaster for creationists.

An even greater public relations disaster for creationists and I.D.ists is the fact that they cannot AGREE on which side of the "ape-human" line many ape-human species fall.

"Creationists... assert that apes and humans are separated by a wide gap. If this is true, deciding on which side of that gap individual fossils lie should be trivially easy. Clearly, that is not the case [especially when you study the disagreements among creationists themselves].

"ER 1813 (H. habilis?, 510 cc) is almost totally ignored by creationists, but it is safe to say that they would all classify it as an ape. Few mention ER 3733 (H. erectus, 850 cc) either, but those who do seem to consider it human (although it's hard to be sure in Bowden's case). As one would expect given its essentially human skeleton, virtually all creationists consider the Turkana Boy to be human, although Cuozzo has been a recent exception. (Cuozzo recognizes that it is different from any modern ape, of course; he believes that apes have degenerated from Homo erectus, just as he believes that modern humans have degenerated from Neandertals.)

"It would be fascinating to know what creationists think about fossils such as OH 12 (H. erectus, 750 cc), Sangiran 2 (H. erectus, 815 cc), OH 7 (H. habilis, 680 cc), OH 13 (H. habilis, 650 cc), but unfortunately few creationists even mention these fossils, let alone discuss them in any depth. The recently-discovered Dmanisi skulls overlap the erectus/habilis boundary so perfectly that creationists have almost totally ignored it - and when they have mentioned it, they've carefully avoided making any judgement as to what those skulls might be.

Here are those species again with a brief discussion of their remains in slow motion...

"Homo habilis
H. habilis, "handy man", was so called because of evidence of tools found with its remains. Habilis existed between 2.4 and 1.5 million years ago. It is very similar to australopithecines in many ways. The face is still primitive, but it projects less than in A. africanus. The back teeth are smaller, but still considerably larger than in modern humans. The average brain size, at 650 cc, is considerably larger than in australopithecines. Brain size varies between 500 and 800 cc, overlapping the australopithecines at the low end and H. erectus at the high end. The brain shape is also more humanlike. The bulge of Broca's area, essential for speech, is visible in one habilis brain cast, and indicates it was possibly capable of rudimentary speech. Habilis is thought to have been about 127 cm (5'0") tall, and about 45 kg (100 lb) in weight, although females may have been smaller.

"Habilis has been a controversial species. Originally, some scientists did not accept its validity, believing that all habilis specimens should be assigned to either the australopithecines or Homo erectus. H. habilis is now fully accepted as a species, but it is widely thought that the 'habilis' specimens have too wide a range of variation for a single species, and that some of the specimens should be placed in one or more other species. One suggested species which is accepted by many scientists is Homo rudolfensis, which would contain fossils such as ER 1470.

"Homo georgicus
This species was named in 2002 to contain fossils found in Dmanisi, Georgia, which seem intermediate between H. habilis and H. erectus. The fossils are about 1.8 million years old, consisting of three partial skulls and three lower jaws. The brain sizes of the skulls vary from 600 to 680 cc. The height, as estimated from a foot bone, would have been about 1.5 m (4'11"). A partial skeleton was also discovered in 2001 but no details are available on it yet. (Vekua et al. 2002, Gabunia et al. 2002)

"Homo erectus
H. erectus existed between 1.8 million and 300,000 years ago. Like habilis, the face has protruding jaws with large molars, no chin, thick brow ridges, and a long low skull, with a brain size varying between 750 and 1225 cc. Early erectus specimens average about 900 cc, while late ones have an average of about 1100 cc (Leakey 1994). The skeleton is more robust than those of modern humans, implying greater strength. Body proportions vary; the Turkana Boy is tall and slender (though still extraordinarily strong), like modern humans from the same area, while the few limb bones found of Peking Man indicate a shorter, sturdier build. Study of the Turkana Boy skeleton indicates that erectus may have been more efficient at walking than modern humans, whose skeletons have had to adapt to allow for the birth of larger-brained infants (Willis 1989). Homo habilis and all the australopithecines are found only in Africa, but erectus was wide-ranging, and has been found in Africa, Asia, and Europe. There is evidence that erectus probably used fire, and their stone tools are more sophisticated than those of habilis.

"Homo ergaster
Some scientists classify some African erectus specimens as belonging to a separate species, Homo ergaster, which differs from the Asian H. erectus fossils in some details of the skull (e.g. the brow ridges differ in shape, and erectus would have a larger brain size). Under this scheme, H. ergaster would include fossils such as the Turkana boy and ER 3733." From the Talk Origin Archive

Stephen E. Jones said...


>Edward T. Babinski said...
>You mention the human "hobbits" being a possible "public relations disaster for human evolution," yet the abandonment of "Paluxy" man who "walked with dinosaurs" has been a far worse disaster for creationists.


I presume you are just trying to waste my time, by your usual practice of posting masses of irrelevant (e.g. I am not a YEC-as you well know) quotes.

As you are presumably aware [if not see], I am working full-time, six days a week, in classifying my ~10,000 online quotes to be published as an ebook in about a year.

About a month or so ago, Blogger announced a new feature of comment moderation. I decided that I would switch that on, if a time-wasting comments poster (like yourself) turned up on CED.

I have now done that. From now on, any comments that I consider merely an attempt to waste my time, I will reject, usually without comment.

Since this policy affects not just you, I will post an announcement to this effect on CED.

Stephen E. Jones