Saturday, 2 August 2014

James Kidder refutes a YEC attack on his BioLogos 'Human Evolution' series

Evangelical Christian and physical anthropologist James Kidder has written one of the best overviews of the evidence for human evolution. Not only is it authoritative, it comes from a devout Christian, so the usual YEC attempt to link evolution and atheism fail to work. Unsurprisingly, Ken Ham has become greatly agitated over the subject, exhorting the faithful to consult a 2010 article by AiG anatomist David Menton. Kidder has finished a masterly six-part takedown of Menton's post which confirm that Menton's attack on Tiktaalik roseae [1] was not a one-off mistake.
The introduction and six parts can be found here:

Kidder's summary in part six is reproduced below, and shows the depth of Menton's ignorance on the subject of palaeoanthropology:
To recap:
  • He claims that “evolutionists” just accept similarities between fossil bones of living men and fossilized apes as evidence of ancestry. Such a statement betrays a lack of understanding of homology, functional morphology and the modern study of evolutionary systematics. It glosses over important skeletal structures that arose during our ancestry and which separate our direct ancestors from all apes, fossil or otherwise.
  • He massively under-emphasizes the size of the human fossil record and the complexity of it, simply dismissing it with no examination or explanation.
  • He suggests that research projects cannot be undertaken based on pictures and measurements of fossil hominins.  This is absurd.  There is no scientific discipline that does not rely on published reports.  Moreover, this is a peculiar statement coming from a professor of anatomy, who must have, during his tenure as a professor, read countless articles on aspects of anatomy in which there were published measurements and pictures.  What was he to make of those?  Did they not constitute real research on which he based his own?
  • He mistakenly calls a spider monkey an ape, bringing into question his understanding of basic primate taxonomy.  Further, while his anatomical specialty seems to have been at the cellular level, he betrays a peculiar lack of understanding of human morphological functional interrelatedness by suggesting that the carrying angle of hominins can be dissociated from hip, limb and cranial morphology.  While it may be true that some apes have a similar carrying angle to humans, not a one of them has a foramen magnum at the base of the skull, angled femoral condyles, or a flat, wide pelvis.  Further, these derived traits show up in the fossil record around 3.7 million years ago.  How did he miss these things?  When I took gross anatomy and physiology, I was required to learn not just developmental biology, but functional and comparative morphology.  Has he forgotten his?
  • He writes that Ardipithecus, Orrorin, Sahelanthropus, and Kenyanthropus all have “obviously ape skulls, ape pelvises, and ape hands and feet” despite the fact that only one of these finds preserves the skeletal parts he references. This suggests that he never even bothered to look at the reports detailing these finds.  To make such errant, blanket statements about them is incompetent and sloppy. 
  • He cherry-picks quotes that support his position and ignores ones that do not.  While he calls A. afarensis “long-armed knuckle-walkers” and suggests that palaeoanthropologists Stern and Susman argue that it is an ape, he carefully ignores other paragraphs from their article, in which they clearly argue that it is transitional between apes and humans, even using the phrase “missing link.”  He then (again, oddly for an anatomist) ignores other critical morphology of A. afarensis that clearly indicates its transitional status.
  • He writes that Neandertals were considered human but have recently been denigrated to non-human status, when in fact, that is precisely backwards.  From their initial discoveries, Neandertals were considered subhuman and it has only been within the last thirty years that their relationship to modern humans has been reassessed, inviting claims by some that they represent simply an earlier version of us and incorporating new genetic knowledge of interbreeding between Neandertals and modern humans.  
  • Despite Menton's attempts to paint Neandertal/modern human genetic differences as small, they are, in fact, significant enough such that Krings et al. made the front pages of the journal Cell, arguing that Neandertals were “not our ancestors.”  Even now, with the advent of evidence of hybridization, the prevailing opinion among palaeoanthropologists is that Neandertals are not within the taxon Homo sapiens sapiens but represent a sister taxon (like the Denisovans, who he ignores completely) with which we had genetic contact. 
This is a badly written post that shows little in the way of actual research.  He seems to misunderstand basic anatomy, gets fossil descriptions wrong, quote-mines to show only what appears to support his position and seems to show no understanding of basic evolutionary biology.  His demeanor is pompous and contemptuous and his treatment of the subject matter invites scorn.
The bold emphasis is mine, and alone is enough to show why Menton's article is intellectually dishonest.


1. Menton's credibility on palaeontology, as veteran AiG watchers would appreciate, is non-existent. Martin Brazeau's take-down of Menton's attack on the significance of Tiktaalik roseae for evolution alone is enough to show why Menton is not regarded a a credible figure.