Thursday, 29 June 2017

Cancer, pain, and suffering before The Fall

Two things that YECs claim to be true, namely recent human creation and the absence of disease and suffering before Adam's sin are of course impossible to honestly defend given the overwhelming evidence against these assumptions. Further demonstration of this fact would not unreasonably be seen as redundant. However, given my medical background, a recent fossil discovery in South Africa of bone cancer in a 1.7 million year old hominin fossil caught my attention as a particularly powerful demonstration of facts of human antiquity and human suffering well before the earliest possible date for Adam in one powerful image.

Edward Odes and his colleagues published in March 2016 a paper detailing the re-examination of a left fifth metatarsal of an unidentified hominin species, dating to around 1.7 million years, which was found at Swartkrans cave site 40km north-west of Johannesburg, South Africa. [1] When originally examined [2] by one of the authors, it was thought that a mass on the fossil was a benign lesion. [3] However, when re-examined using a CT scanner, they found that what they saw was more consistent with osteosarcoma, an aggressive primary cancer of bones.
After commenting on this ancient example of histopathology, the authors moved to a discussion of the relative paucity of malignancy in pre-modern humans, noting that "whilst the explosion of malignancy incidence is clearly correlated with the hazards of the modern world and increased life expectancy, primary bone tumours evidently occurred throughout history." [4] One of the drawbacks of living to a ripe old age of 85 is that you are more likely to pick up some form of cancer, so it is not unexpected that when human (or hominin to be precise) life expectancy was around 20-30, they were less likely to die from cancer if only because they would have more likely died from starvation, infectious disease, or big cat predation well before then.

However, as this re-examination of the fossil shows, malignancy was not completely non-existent, and as the authors point out, given that cancer occurs in almost all forms of complex animal life, this suggests

that the mechanisms of malignancy have an extremely old evolutionary history. For example, neoplasms have been recorded in dinosaurs and other fossil forebears. A number of oncogenes are particularly archaic, with their antecedents exhibited in some form in primitive common ancestor metazoans of chordates and arthropods. Thus, the capacity for malignancy is ancient... [5]
Far from being part of an Edenic curse, cancer is an ancient disease that stretches back hundreds of millions of years in time. One of the references cited by the authors in the previous paragraph detailed evidence for bone cancer in a dinosaur fossil (species unknown) from the Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation.

Rothschild, Witzke, and Hershkovitz, writing in The Lancet in 1999 commented
The appearance is that of a lytic zone that seems to have resulted from an expansile mass. Such a phenomenon characterises lesions that originally contained a mass of soft tissue or other non-osseous material, and thus results from a space-occupying process. The lytic lesion is slightly ellipsoid in shape, penetrated by irregular, minimally remodelled trabeculae. Surrounding cortical bone is invaded leaving only a thin residual cortical shell at the outermost margins. There is a zone of transition between normal bone and the tumorous space, characterised by a pattern of bone destruction, which ranges in thickness from 2 cm to 1 mm. The appearance of CM 72656 resembles that of metastatic cancer.
Cancer it seems has affected both hominin and non-hominin for considerably more than 6000 years.

As I stated at the start, yet another demonstration of the fact that humans, their ancestors, and other forms of animal life have been suffering for millions of years would appear to be superfluous given that the very fossil record itself stands as mute witness to the fact YEC views about the origin of suffering and death are completely, totally, and utterly false. However, something as simple as a foot bone with osteosarcoma, a particularly aggressive and nasty malignancy drives this point home with mute eloquence.


1. Odes EJ, Randolph-Quinney PS, Steyn M, Throckmorton Z, Smilg JS, Zipfel B, et al. Earliest hominin cancer: 1.7-million-year- old osteosarcoma from Swartkrans Cave, South Africa. S Afr J Sci. 2016;112(7/8)
2. ibid, p 2
3. Specifically, an osteoid osteoma
4. Odes, op cit, p 4
5. ibid, p 4
6. Rothschild BM, Witzke BJ, Hershkovitz I. Metastatic cancer in the Jurassic. Lancet. 1999;354. p. 398.