More Controversy Over Homo Naledi

We’ve already seen the strong reaction of creationists to the recent discovery of Homo naledi. A good example is Ken Ham Ain’t No Kin to Homo Naledi. They despise the idea of evolution, and they fly into a rage whenever any intermediate species is discovered — especially when it’s evidence of human evolution. Such things aren’t supposed to exist!

But now we’ve learned of a completely unexpected negative reaction. You can read about it at PhysOrg: South Africa’s new human ancestor sparks racial row.

Racial row? How is that possible? Homo naledi doesn’t have any racial implications. What’s going on? You’re about to find out, dear reader. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

Some prominent South Africans have dismissed the discovery of a new human ancestor as a racist theory designed to cast Africans as “subhuman”, an opinion that resonates in a country deeply bruised by apartheid.

We’ve become accustomed to creationists claiming that evolution is an atheist theory, formulated as a Satanic attack on their religion. But a racist theory? That’s the claim, and it’s different from the usual nonsense we see from the Discoveroids and others that Darwin was a racist. Stay with us, you may find this interesting:

“No one will dig old monkey bones to back up a theory that I was once a baboon. Sorry,” said Zwelinzima Vavi, former general secretary of the powerful trade union group Cosatu, a faithful ally of the ruling African National Congress (ANC). “I am no grandchild of any ape, monkey or baboon — finish en klaar (Afrikaans for “that’s it”),” he said on his Twitter account, which is followed by more than 300,000 people.

Whoa — that is a wild reaction! Let’s read on:

His comments were backed by the South African Council of Churches (SACC), which was historically involved in the fight against apartheid. Vavi recalled that when South Africa was under apartheid rule he was a target of racist remarks: “I been also called a baboon all my life so did my father and his fathers.”

All of that is certainly regrettable, but it’s difficult to see how the discovery of Homo naledi could be taken as a personal offense. We continue:

[T]he South African backlash has perplexed people around the world at a time when Darwin’s theory of evolution is widely accepted as fact. It “breathes new life into paranoia,” said prominent British biologist Richard Dawkins on his Twitter account this week. “Whole point is we’re all African apes.”

That’s how we understand it. But perceptions in South Africa are different. Here’s more:

Lee Berger, an American working at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand and overseeing the Homo naledi dig, tried to keep his distance from the charged debate, though he did specifically clarify that man doesn’t descend from baboons.

“For our scientists the search for human origins is one that celebrates all of humankind’s common origins on the continent of Africa,” he told AFP [unknown acronym]. “The science is not asking questions of religion nor challenging anyone’s belief systems, it is simply exploring the fossil evidence for the origins of our species.”

But that doesn’t help to suppress the outrage. Moving along:

The discovery of the new ancestor supports the West’s “story that we are subhumans,” said ANC member of parliament and former chief whip Mathole Motshekga. “That is why today no African is respected anywhere in the world because of this type of theory,” he said in an interview with television network ENCA.

Okay, that’s enough. We don’t know what to make of this. We can understand the reaction of creationists — they’re struggling to maintain their religious view of things. But this latest development leaves us confused.

Oh, wait — the PhysOrg article ends on a better note:

The official government reaction to the Homo naledi find was, however, positive, with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa saying “our common umbilical cord is buried” in Africa. Homo naledi underlines that “we are bound by a common ancestor,” he declared.

So there you are. The opposition to science suddenly seems to have a whole new dimension. But we shall carry on. As we’ve said before, reality is a harsh mistress, but she’s the only girl in town.

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27 responses to “More Controversy Over Homo Naledi

  1. Christine Janis

    I have a friend who taught (or at least tried to teach) primate evolution in South Africa — which the black Africans completely rejected. This is a very old problem — the notion that because the hominid fossils are African it feeds into the old racist issue of African people being considered closer to monkeys.

  2. See, the reality is that all humans arose from a last common ancestor that gave rise to other apes. (Yes, humans are apes). I can understand how that perhaps upsets Southern white supremacists in the USA and other bigots, as well as creationists, but tough — that’s reality. Get over it!

  3. Holding The Line In Florida

    @abeastwood. Since when has reality mattered?

  4. I haven’t seen any news articles before this that reported outrage at previous findings aside from the sources S.C.’s blog deals with. What makes this find different? Is it the degree of empowerment fringe Christians are feeling?

    Maybe some folks need to be informed about species becoming different when geographically isolated from one another and that evolution doesn’t imply superiority. The sense of superiority is possibly an emotional or tribal response.

    I wonder how many others besides myself feel that the phrase “survival of the fittest” needs to be abandoned. Some peoples grasp of language leads them to attach meanings that aren’t intended.

  5. “Survival of the Fittest” was an unfortunate phrase from “social Darwinism”. it was coined by Herbert Spencer and was used to argue against the poor in times gone by. It was misused to infer that truly terrible concepts; ideas very different from the theory of Darwin himself.

  6. SC quoted:

    he told AFP [unknown acronym]

    AFP = Agence France-Presse.

  7. Perhaps Mr. Zwelinzima Vavi isn’t a grandson of apes, but this white Dutchman totally is and isn’t ashamed of it at all.

  8. “No one will dig old monkey bones to back up a theory that I was once a baboon. Sorry,” said Zwelinzima Vavi, former general secretary of the powerful trade union group Cosatu, a faithful ally of the ruling African National Congress (ANC). “I am no grandchild of any ape, monkey or baboon — finish en klaar (Afrikaans for “that’s it”),” he said on his Twitter account, which is followed by more than 300,000 people.
    Or in other words, “I ain’t no kin to no monkey!”

    How encouraging to know that this sort of foolishness is heard everywhere, not just in the good old United States of Amnesia.

  9. I had not heard of this Black Africaan sensitivity concerning primate evolution before, but their concerns are understandable. Life under apartheid rule in South Africa was much worse than the worst of racism and segregation in the US South. It was a total obsession of the South African government.

  10. Dean writes: “I wonder how many others besides myself feel that the phrase “survival of the fittest” needs to be abandoned. Some peoples grasp of language leads them to attach meanings that aren’t intended.”

    I agree, that phrase should be abandoned.

    “Survival of the barely adequate” is much more appropriate, though it doesn’t come as trippingly on the tongue, nor is it as popularly ingrained in our language.

  11. For some reason, “survival of the fittest” means to some people that we should determine who are the fittest, and insure their survival. They imagine that some people (invariably, of course, it is people not like us) who are not fit are thriving, and we ought to do something about that. It never occurs to them that if “those people” are thriving, it means that they are fit. They think that goal-oriented intervention is needed to avoid the natural tendency to deterioration (sort of like the 2nd law of thermodynamics).

    BTW, the various social/political movements of the early 20th century who are lumped together under the label “social Darwinism” happen to have been popular just during the “eclipse of Darwinism”, when natural selection and survival of the fittest were out of favor. I don’t think that any of those “social Darwinists” referred to themselves as “Darwinist”. They were just applying the age-old lore of animal breeders and aristocrats.

  12. I agree with Coyote: “I agree, that phrase should be abandoned.”
    Natural selection is much better for several reasons, one being that it also includes Kropotkin’s mutual aid.

  13. Many have said that creationists are horrified by any data that links them to the great apes.
    Personally, I think those of lesser education who see a link between themselves and the physical appearance of homo ancestors are going to
    rebel as the post SC gives. This is a natural gut reaction that has to be overcome with logic, reason and knowledge, things that may be in short supply in some areas of the world, such as well, S Africa.

  14. Terms like ”survival of the fittest’, ”selfish gene”, and Stringers latest ”nature experimenting” will always be used to distract attention from the general argument and focus it on unrelated particulars, but the facts will be the final guide. Ironically creationism has proven the most efficacious method for the dissemination of evolution, time and again the undeniable facts are having to be spread out for all to see, every court case in America involving ID is resulting in creationism having its dirty laundry washed in public. Evolution scientists couldn’t have found a better medium for educating the masses.

  15. Most people don’t know what Darwinian fitness is all about. Fitness is just differential reproduction. There’s no value judgement. I’m a Ph.D and teach genetics but have no biological children of my own, so my fitness is ZERO. My wife has nine siblings so her parents have a fitness of TEN as it were. Those that have more kids contribute more of their genes to the future gene pool than those who have few or no kids. That’s all it is.

  16. Coyote says:

    I agree, that phrase [“survival of the fittest”] should be abandoned.

    It never was Darwin’s phrase. By the way, Megalonyx prefers “eat or be eaten!” He uses it as a pick-up line. Rumor (or rumour) is that it’s never worked for him.

  17. Biokid states,
    “Those that have more kids contribute more of their genes to the future gene pool than those who have few or no kids. That’s all it is.”

    So true. And in that regard, it would seem that the all-time champs are felonious doctors who run fertility clinics. If you google “”doctor sperm donor” you will find these interesting accounts (among many others):

    Dr. Kirk Maxey fathered, by his count, some 400 children.

    Dr. Cecil Byran Jacobson, suspected of fathering as many as 75 children by impregnating patients with his own sperm.

    Bertold Wiesner and his wife Mary Barton founded a fertility clinic in London in the 1940s and helped women conceive 1,500 babies.
    It has emerged that around 600 of the babies were conceived using sperm from Mr Wiesner himself.

    Might not be as much fun as doing things naturally, but it’s a lot less work.

  18. Our Curmudgeon promulgates yet another false rumour, overlooking the fact that a man in possession of the divine Olivia has no need of any ‘pick-up’ lines.

    Our Curmudgeon’s own favourite (but utterly inefficacious) ‘pick-up line’ only ranks as number 96 of the Worst 100 Pick-Up Lines of All Time, viz.:

    “Your eyes are like limpid pools of primordial ooze, and I am the protozoa that wish to swim in their depths.”

  19. Pope Retiredsciguy reports

    Might not be as much fun as doing things naturally, but it’s a lot less work.

    I’m sure you’re right about the first part, but are you sure about the second?

    I mean, were you there?

  20. I have done our Curmudgeon a terrible misservice.

    Apparently, all of the afore-linked ‘100 Worst Pick-Up Lines of All Time’ are in fact his, not just number 96…

  21. I just wasted minutes off my life reading bad pick-up lines. Thanks!

  22. TomS wrote:
    They imagine that some people (invariably, of course, it is people not like us) who are not fit are thriving, and we ought to do something about that.

    That reminds me of that interview that Richard Dawkins did with that clueless lady who was head of Concerned Women of America, was it? She kept bringing up the daughter of a friend who was developmentally disabled and said that “Her life is valuable too!” It was almost surreal because the lady clearly believed that Dawkins and all “evolutionists” wanted to kill off disabled people. It goes to show how all of that propaganda about Hitler learning from Darwin does all sorts of damage.

    I’ve always found it interesting that people hear “survival of the fittest” and they think carnivory rather than the many organisms which survive by cooperation, herd behaviors, colony organization, and synergistic relationships. (Too many of those old Disney wilderness films and “Life on the Serengeti” documentaries??)

    The Argument from Negative Consequences fallacy is so common, as if The Theory of Evolution must be wrong because some of the outcomes of evolutionary processes strike someone as unpleasant. Yet I’ve never heard anyone deny any theory of gravity based on gravity’s role in atomic bomb drops.

  23. It is the is/ought problem. Why is this so hard for some to understand?

  24. Yes, the is/ought problem.
    That is enough.
    But there is more.

    There is the belief that without purposeful intervention, things will go to ruin. (Just think of the creationists and the “2nd law of thermodynamics”.)
    In the early decades of the 20th century, natural selection was not understood, even by most scientists, and something like the “elan vital” of Henri Bergson was thought to be the cat’s pajamas, so that he got the 1927 Nobel Prize in literature. The era has been called the “eclipse of Darwinism”.

    And more, but I will not go on. But I want to make it clear that I am not saying that creationism bears any responsibility for any of those early 20th century movements. It’s just that lots of different people shared the same ignorance of nature which separates them from evolutionary biology.

  25. Christine Janis

    @ Ashley
    There are so many whoppers in that article that they must have ordered the super-sized meal.

  26. Some further commentary – stemming apparently from the same ‘backlash’ story flagged in this blog:
    http://www.news24.com/MyNews24/Science-and-religious-faith-are-not-compatible-the-one-negates-the-other-20150916