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!
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