Discoveroids — Human Footprints on Crete

We’ve been waiting for the inevitable creationist reaction to the news reported by PhysOrg a few days ago: Controversial footprint discovery suggests human-like creatures may have roamed Crete nearly 6m years ago. They say:

The human foot is distinctive. Our five toes lack claws, we normally present the sole of our foot flat to the ground, and our first and second toes are longer than the smaller ones. In comparison to our fellow primates, our big toes are in line with the long axis of the foot – they don’t stick out to one side.

In fact, some would argue that one of the defining characteristics of being part of the human clade is the shape of our foot. So imagine our surprise when we discovered fossil footprints with remarkable, human-like characteristics at Trachilos, Crete, that are 5.7m years old. This research, published in the Proceedings of the Geologist Association, is controversial as it suggests that the earliest human ancestors may have wandered around southern Europe as well as East Africa.

[…]

If – and for many it is a big if – the tracks of Trachilos were indeed made by an early human ancestor, then the biogeographical range of our early ancestors would increase to encompass the eastern Mediterranean. Crete was not an island at this time but attached to the Greek mainland, and the environment of the Mediterranean region was very different from now.

This is the published paper they’re talking about: Possible hominin footprints from the late Miocene (c. 5.7 Ma) of Crete? You can read it online without a subscription.

We’ve seen all kinds of crazy headlines in the press, some saying that this “disproves” the theory of human evolution, but we’ve been waiting for a good creationist reaction. Now we’ve got one at the Discovery Institute’s creationist blog: Fossil Footprints from Crete Deepen Controversy on Human Origins. It was written by Günter Bechly, about whom we know nothing. Wikipedia has a write-up on him which says:

In 2015 Bechly criticised Neo-Darwinism and expressed his support for Intelligent Design theory on a new private webpage and blog. Bechly is a convert to philosophical theism. He emphasizes on his website that he strictly separates his private activities for Intelligent Design and theistic apologetics from his former professional work as museum scientist and in his paleontological publications.

They also say he’s a Discoveroid senior fellow. Here are some excerpts from his post, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

It looks like 2017 could become some kind of genuine annus horribilis for the established scientific consensus on human evolution. It all began with five discoveries that made worldwide headlines earlier this year:

He mentions some earlier findings, none of which have been very significant, and then he says:

So five previously “undisputable facts” of human evolution turned out to be nothing but bogus claims this year. But of course evolutionary storytelling is flexible enough to accommodate all these new “facts” in a revised just-so story. … But 2017 is not done with human evolution yet.

Then he mentions the footprint discovery on Crete and tells us:

The fossil footprints are out of place because they are much too old: even though radiometric datings seem to be lacking, the biostratigraphic dating is very well established by marine microfossils called foraminifera as index fossils in the layers above and below the horizon with the footprints … . With an age of 5.7 million years, these footprints are 2.5 million years older than the iconic Lucy fossil and even 1.3 million years older than Ardi.

[*Begin Drool Mode*] Ooooooooooooh! [*End Drool Mode*] Evolution is in big trouble! He continues:

The fossil footprints are out of place because they occur in the wrong geographical region: all of the early hominins that are older than 1.8 million years have only been found in Africa, which led to the well-known standard textbook knowledge that humans originated in Africa and only after the advent of our own genus Homo migrated to other continents in several “Out of Africa” events. A European hominin at such an early age simply does not fit the common narrative and refutes the beautiful “Out of Africa” story.

Bechly then asks:

When the oldest known evidence for hominin feet predates the alleged African ancestors such as Ardi and Lucy but already shows relatively modern human footprints, what is more congruent with this new evidence when looked at without bias: a gradual Darwinian evolution, or rather a saltational origin that requires intelligent design?

[*Begin Drool Mode*] Ooooooooooooh! [*End Drool Mode*] It’s evidence of intelligent design!

The Discoveroid article is very long, so we’ll skip a lot. This is our last excerpt:

Given the fact that the evolutionary trees are built on only a few characters, which have weak support because of incongruent (homoplastic) distribution, these trees do not justify the often bold claims about the allegedly well-established lineage of intermediate hominin fossils bridging the gap between chimps and modern humans. At the very least, after the dramatic experiences of the 2017 discoveries, paleoanthropologists should be more humble and admit that we know far less than we thought and what we know is much less certain than what is still taught to pupils and students as well as presented to the general public by science popularizers in the media. Human evolution is still a highly controversial field, and given the large number of data studied with the most modern methods, this might give some reason for pause.

So there you are, dear reader. Evolution or intelligent design? Teach the controversy!

Copyright © 2017. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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13 responses to “Discoveroids — Human Footprints on Crete

  1. Christine Janis

    When such a potentially startling and important new find is published in such a relatively obscure journal, one has to wonder how many other journals were tried first. Just sayin’.

    Günter Bechly is/was a German insect paleontologist at the national museum at Stuttgardt —- he was hanging out with the DI folks at the Royal Society meeting last fall. Bechly claims to have been converted to ID by the nature of the science he studied itself, and not motivated by religion at all. (Somehow I’m skeptical). He now seems to be based in the US — I wonder if the DI have picked up his former museum salary.

  2. I kind of missed the part why a discovery that an earlier cousin or ancestor also migrated out of Africa somehow refutes the “out of Africa” theory. And what does any of this have to do with ID?

  3. What does anything have to do with ID?
    As long as there is no description of ID – the most that can be said is that there is a puzzle.And solving puzzles is what attracts people to science.

  4. Given the fact that the evolutionary trees are built on only a few characters, which have weak support because of incongruent (homoplastic) distribution, these trees do not justify the often bold claims about the allegedly well-established lineage of intermediate hominin fossils bridging the gap between chimps and modern humans.

    Between chimps and modern humans? Don’t tell me the DI pinheads actually think evolutionary biologists believe humans evolved from chimpanzees!

    At the very least, after the dramatic experiences of the 2017 discoveries, paleoanthropologists should be more humble and admit that we know far less than we thought and what we know is much less certain than what is still taught to pupils and students as well as presented to the general public by science popularizers in the media. Human evolution is still a highly controversial field, and given the large number of data studied with the most modern methods, this might give some reason for pause.

    “Controversial” when it comes to details, certainly, but that doesn’t mean, as the Institutionalized suggest, that evolution itself is controversial among scientists. I can’t decide whether the folks at DI are just plain ignorant or instead are deliberately trying to deceive people. Or both.

  5. James St. John

    A supposed paleontologist who doesn’t accept evolutionary theory is like a chemist who doesn’t accept atomic theory. It’s a non-starter.

  6. Michael Fugate

    You have to read Bechly’s commentary on his conversion – he tries to make out it was some intellectual exercise based on evidence. Comic.

  7. The part that I enjoy most is that he is quite happy to accept that this could be 5+ million years old. I wonder what ol’Hambo’s crew of reprobates would make of the same report?

  8. Ted, the DI are Old Earth creationists, so no problem for them with the dates.

    Christine, The Phys Org discussion is a pop version ( no harm in that) of the Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association original. How does Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association rank for significance and appropriateness for such a finding? The lead author of both versions is Per Erik Ahlberg, who seems real enough to my uninformed scrutiny though better known for work on fish-to-tetrapod.

    The Discoveroid piece gives a usefu list of 5 other examples of significant discoveries this year regarding human evolution,although ofc in no case would I trust the DI’s description of the find. Their argument is exactly the one used by Pence in response to Sahelanthropus; the evolutionary account is changeable, gtherefore it is unreliable, therefore the more those silly scientists find out the less reason we have for believing them

  9. Christine Janis

    Ahlberg is certainly real enough, although not a footprint expert, and he himself admits it was difficult to get the study published.

    Check here for discussion by hominin footprint expert Robin Crompton about what else might have made those footprints

    https://theconversation.com/ancient-footprints-in-crete-challenge-theory-of-human-evolution-but-what-actually-made-them-83412

  10. Christine Janis

    “Their argument is exactly the one used by Pence in response to Sahelanthropus; the evolutionary account is changeable, gtherefore it is unreliable,”
    It’s funny how creationists never seem to feel this way about medical advances

  11. Thanks, Christine. Looks, to put it politely, like pushing rather hard against the limits of what can confidently be inferred from the incompletely presented data

  12. Michael Fugate

    This would be front page on Science or Nature – if experts thought they were human, no? Something must be holding the editors back. As Crompton points out:
    If all 50 of the Trachilos prints were made freely available to other scientists as high resolution laser scans, we would have a decent sample to assess their variability and compare them to other fossil and recent footprints and foot pressure records. And indeed, the researchers behind the study told The Conversation they are aiming to release all their data at some point.

    This would give us a good chance of saying who made them. As it stands, they could as well be those of gorillas – which separated from us over 10m years ago – as those of a member of our own human lineage such as Oreopithecus or Orrorin.

  13. I did come across an example on a FaceBook thread of a creationist arguing just that from the changing advice on fats v. carbs.