Creationists and the New “Ape-Man”

Evolutionary science marches on, it seems. The possible discovery of another extinct human species might seem to deflate creationists’ intellectual bubble. How have creationists handled the news?

In the long history of the evolution/creation wars, creationists have always pointed to gaps in the fossil record as proof of evolution’s empty claims. And evolutionists have repeatedly found evidence of “ape-men,” which turned out to be hoaxes as often as not.

Will the REAL ape-man please stand up?

Will the REAL ape-man please stand up?

The latest discovery of a collection of hominin fossils in a cave in South Africa has brought this old argument to the surface again. These days, creationists are more prepared to handle these sorts of scientific revelations.

Some of the scientists involved have claimed that the bones belong to a previously unknown human species, homo naledi. They’re not sure how old they are, and they’re not sure how the bones got into this cave, but they’re confident the bones come from a new sort of old human.

For creationists who accept mainstream evolutionary science, the news is nothing but exciting. But for those who insist on a young earth and an instantaneous creation of modern humans by divine fiat, the existence of other ancient human species would seem to present a pickle.

At Answers In Genesis, the answer is simple: these bones are probably from some form of ape, and if they are from a type of human, then it was a type descended from Adam & Eve. At the Institute for Creation Research, there are fewer ifs. As ICR writer Frank Sherwin reported,

As always, we at the Institute for Creation Research are extremely skeptical, taking such breaking news stories with a little more than a grain of salt. We have found that with more time and research, the preliminary spectacular claims of alleged “human ancestors” dissolve into a footnote, a non-story. We predict, on the basis of the creation model, Homo naledi too will become just one more dead end in the questionable human evolution parade. In fact, the story itself is rife with caution, unanswered questions, and speculation.

For those of us outside the world of creationism looking in, these sorts of distinctions are a source of continuous puzzlement. Why are Neanderthals okay, but more than two human ancestors not? How can young-earth creationists allow for Homo Naledi, but not make room for a necessarily diverse genetic background for our species?

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  1. Anything that conflicts with creationists’ Bible worldview have to be dismissed by them, lest their entire theology comes crashing down around them. They remind me of people putting their fingers in their ears & shouting “la la la” to drown out what they don’t want to acknowledge.

    • But what seems so interesting to me is that those fingers-in-ears now have been replaced, apparently, with more sophisticated selective noise-cancelling headphones. (Sorry for the tortured analogy, but I’m trying to stay with the same image.) In other words, any news of the absolute genetic requirement for a large pool of originators must be absolutely blocked or cancelled. That is, the fact of Adam & Eve as the real historical progenitors of the species must be protected and guarded from counter-evidence. But the evidence for multiple human species seems strangely and surprisingly allowable.

    • True and also a bit superficial and uncharitable. Suppose we see Creationism as a misguided fragment of a larger reaction to western modernity. You could see it as a degraded, populist version of 18th century intellectuals debating Ancients vs. Moderns, received traditions versus empirical data as sources of authoritative knowledge.

      You can still find Platonists and Idealists in the humanities today who think the Romantics were right about something when they said Newton’s optics ruined light (Coleridge said something like that IIRC). Materialism, scientific reductionism, the disenchantment of the world, the loss of the transcendent as a basis for human values and the source of longing for a wholeness that is always lacking — these are the things Creationists have in common with other critics of the modern age, including those of the Left.

      Both the Materialism of the Left and the Idealism of the Right are historic reactions of moral and spiritual protest to the modern diminution of humanity. For Marx the alienation of labor under Capitalism is abhorrent because it dis-embeds people from their communities and turns them into economic quanta — individual labor units, all interchangeable and to be exploited freely by the owners of productive assets. People and cultures transformed in this way are enslaved and degraded. The Creationist experiences a similar alienation and vision of social catastrophe when confronted with a science that says the universe developed, produced life, and will die in the future without any creator or creative intention tending to it.

      • My uncharitable remarks are the result of being born and raised within a Fundamentalist, Bible-only, Creationist, literal heaven-hell-Satan, and the use of fear to keep us in line with the AUTHORITY of the Bible. It has marked me, and shaped my psyche. The bad part of that for me is that the majority of my family still follows such theology, and trust me, when anything is introduced that could challenge that thinking, the fingers go right into the ears. I live with the stuff 24/7. Even though I left it years ago, it still follows me around via my family & a few close friends.

      • I understand that Sheila — I’ve been around the same people, but not so much in my family. It has been imposed on my kids somewhat in some schools, along with other obnoxiousness. I don’t think any excuses should be made for fundamentalism, but I do think it’s worth trying to understand the history and psychology of it. The only way it can be helped, and the only good way out of it for people caught there, is for them to see it is driven by an attempt to deny the alienation they feel and fear being lost into. The problems you bring up follow from that — the clinging to others and attempting to control them with fear and mystified authority.

      • Thank you. My brother, especially, remains in the religion out of fear. He’ll say it’s his love for Jesus, but when you dig down deep, he has a tremendous fear of not being a good person, and disappointing God. He believes that he is subject to severe chastisement, or even judgment, depending on choices he makes on a day to day basis. He is very pushy with his beliefs, firmly believing that a person without Christ is damned to a real, eternal, fiery hell. I actually saw him break down into tears once at a family gathering, bemoaning the fact that he isn’t doing enough to “win the lost” for Jesus. Fear drives him. It’s really sad.

  2. You know the answer to this, don’t you? If sheer rejection of new information is unfeasible, Creationists have one way of coping with it: assimilation/synthesis where new information is harmonized with the existing narrative. Since their pre-existing “biblical” assumptions cannot be seen as changing to fit the data, the data must be interpreted to fit their biblical narrative. That narrative requires that “humans” come into existence at one moment by divine fiat, in the form of Adam and Eve. Any other human-like species must come from the first couple or an alien source (demons, as the Jews speculated). A simultaneous emergence of multiple humanlike species with some interbreeding and extinctions until one “modern human” species emerges does not easily harmonize with the biblical narrative in Christian tradition when it’s taken literally. Jews on the other hand have had an intensely literal evolutionary reading of it for several centuries. Maybe this type of conservative theistic evolution will become more common in the future among Protestants who have tended to accept Creationism.

    The Creationist narrative actually does change over time, but because they focus attention on their resistance to change, like all fundamentalists they are able to maintain the illusion they are in complete fidelity with historic precursors and an ancient orthodoxy that is completely fictional.

  3. “evolutionists have repeatedly found evidence of “ape-men,” which turned out to be hoaxes as often as not”

    As often as not? Yes, there have been hoaxes, but there are a LOT of hominin fossils now. Neandertalensis and Rudolfensis shared DNA with Sapiens. Floresensis and Heidelburgensis have been identified. They overwhelm the number of hoaxes. Setting a place for another cousin at the table is exciting, but not terribly novel.


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