Say Hello to Ardi
It is time to introduce everyone to the latest and greatest, if you believe all the hype, in a long line of ape-to-human evolution. Before we can actually examine this alleged patriarch of the hominid species, Ardipithecus ramidus, we should review the storyline for those who have not been indoctrinated into the world of human development visa vie Darwinian evolution.
The discovery of these fossils has been heralded by an unprecedented number of scientific papers (White et al. 2008) as well as being showcased in a special issue of prestigious journal Science (AAAS 2008). It is therefore imperative that we examine the history behind this highly publicized discovery.
Ardipithecus ramidus, or as we have come to know her Ardi, is supposed to represent the oldest fossilized specimen or the earliest of the so-called missing links in ape-to-man evolution. She is said to predate the discovery of other hominids, e.g. the australopithecines. These precursors to man, e.g. Lucy and her australopithecine relatives refer to the discoveries of the renowned Kenyan archeologists Louis and Mary Leakey. And if we consider the publicity, Ardi is the “Rosetta stone for understanding bipedalism.”
Since their initial discovery, the australopithecines have been divided into sub-categories, some removed and others expanded, e.g. Australopithecus is a genus of extinct hominids, made up of the gracile australopiths, and formerly also included their larger relatives, the robust australopiths which are now given their own genus. The genus Australopithecus is closely related to the human genus Homo, and as the story goes, may be ancestral to it.
Here is a common description of these alleged precursors to the newly discovered Ardipithecus ramidus a.k.a. Ardi. Most species of Australopithecus were not any more adept at tool use than modern non-human primates, yet modern African apes, chimpanzees, and most recently gorillas, have been known to use simple tools, e.g. cracking open nuts with stones and using long sticks to dig for termites in mounds, and chimpanzees have been observed using spears, not thrown, for hunting. These alleged ancestors to modern man were omnivores, but mainly ate fruit, vegetables and tubers.
If all of this sounds like it could be describing modern apes and chimpanzees, well that’s the problem and perhaps the point of this article. Let’s do a quick comparison based on brain size, a generally reliable and easily measured statistic among hominids.
Brain size is often used to compare different relatives in the ape-to-human continuum from an evolutionary perspective. The brains of most species of Australopithecus were roughly 35% of the size of that of a modern human brain. Most species of Australopithecus were diminutive and gracile, usually standing between 1.2 to 1.4 m tall or approx. 4 to 4.5 feet. In several variations of Australopithecus, there is a considerable degree of sexual dimorphism, meaning that males are larger than females. Modern hominids do not appear to display sexual dimorphism to the same degree — particularly modern humans display a low degree of sexual dimorphism, with males being only 15% larger than females, on average. In australopiths, however, males can be up to 50% larger than females. New research suggests that sexual dimorphism may be far less pronounced than this, but there is still much debate on the subject (Beck et al. 1999).
Did anyone notice that Beck et al. included humans in this dimorphic comparison tending to deemphasize the fact that modern apes still show a much higher degree of sexual dimorphism than humans? If the brain sizes of these so-called primitive hominids reflect the exact same capacities as their modern primate counterparts, what makes them such good candidates for the family tree of human beings? Should not this evidence also indicate that there are no substantive differences between ancient and modern hominids other than their overall size? That virtually no significant evolutionary changes have really occurred, other than a reduction in the size of their mandibles and canines, and by virtue of extrapolation, their overall size? Is this not an indication of stasis in support of Special Creation and not Darwinian evolution? We will discuss this further when we actually examine Ardi later in this article.
Intelligence can be a very difficult parameter to measure. In times past, brain size was thought to be a reasonable indicator of overall intelligence. The use of tools is also a variable that can be measured and is linked to the brain (Kiwanuka 2007).
The use of tools in the wild by chimpanzees has been observed and well established for some time now and in fact, recently chimps have also been observed successfully hunting lemurs with crude yet self-crafted spears. On the other hand, tool use by gorillas in the wild has been little observed and certainly not to the same extent or sophistication as their more rambunctious cousins, the chimpanzee. So then, do these observations lay to rest once and for all the age old quandary about “which species of ape is second to man in intelligence” (Kiwanuka 2007)?
When examining the writings of the evolutionary faithful, it is fitting that the reader realizes that these writers have already assumed that Darwinian evolution explains the appearance of every living organism including man. The evolutionary establishment takes it as a matter of faith that inorganic molecules over time morphed themselves into organic substances that in turn morphed themselves into everything that has ever lived or ever will live. I say that evolutionists rely on faith because the fossil evidence indicates that every living creature appears abruptly in the fossil record, fully formed. Rather than supporting Darwin’s Theory, the fossil record tends to falsify the Theory of Evolution and give evidence in support of Special Creation and/or Intelligent Design.
Evolutionary scientists assume apes and chimpanzees, depending on who you ask, splintered off in the far-distant past and have given rise to modern man. They continue to promote these extraordinary changes from microorganisms to man as a scientific fact, even though it has not been observed to happen in the past, is not now happening presently and the evidence at hand indicates it is not likely to happen in the future. In fact, the actual observable and measurable data appears to be nearly identical when comparing the fossil evidence of primitive apes and chimps to their modern day counterparts. Even with the exception of size differences, apes remain apes and humans, dare I say it, remain humans. Once we examine the actual fossil data concerning Ardi, the evidence that this primate is really the so-called missing link becomes ever so tenuous.
Another legitimate way of looking at these similarities can be made from the argument for design. Apes and other primates were created with special anatomy and physiology to insure the propagation of their species. Remembering the commandment to “be fruitful and multiply” in the book of Genesis is completely consistent with the fact that God preprogrammed every living organism genetically using DNA to insure the continuation of those same organisms. The fact that these so-called primitive hominids are virtually identical, with minor differences if any, to their modern day counterparts is evidence of Special Creation and/or Intelligent Design, but not necessarily nor exclusively Darwinian Theory.
Similarities in organisms can legitimately be explained as a function of design, e.g. prehensile tails and elongated toes for tree climbing were designed for that purpose just as the anatomy and physiology of birds were designed for flight. The only criticism that evolutionist throw at us is that this interpretation infers a Designer or Creator. Because our observations may or may not infer a conclusion inconsistent with the religion of naturalism, secular humanism and/or atheism, it does not mean it should be excluded automatically from consideration. The reason that secular science attempts to exclude these lines of reasoning is due to their own materialistic and naturalistic bias. Rather than debate and discuss the actual observations, they prefer to demonize those who raise the questions and brush all criticism away by labeling it religion rather than science. This is as if to say religion and science are mutually exclusive, which they clearly are not.
One of the ways that science has estimated intelligence is brain size. This is a generally reliable and easily measured statistic among hominids. The following figures are mean values generated from varying size samples of both female and male specimens of the various great apes: Humans: 1400cc; Gorillas: 500cc; Chimpanzee: 405cc; Orangutan: 355; Gibbons: 104cc. From these figures you can see that the brain volume of the human being is almost 3x the size of the nearest contender, the gorilla. With regards to those figures, what is of particular note is that the cranial capacity of the gorilla apparently exceeds that of the chimpanzee, yet all observed evidence tends to indicate that the chimpanzee is more intelligent than the gorilla (Kiwanuka 2007).
We can chalk one up for the chimps, if we are going to buy into the ape-to-human account of Darwinian evolution. Are we really just hairless apes (or chimps, remember this aspect of the science isn’t settled)? Can it be that humans are just exceptionally intelligent primates, the latest and greatest edition in the world of human evolution? The evolutionary community certainly believes that we are indeed the next installment in the hominid series, the result of a series of beneficial mutations coupled with the nearly all-powerful dynamic of Darwinian evolution known as natural selection.
Now back to Ardi. As we have previously noted, Ardi is supposed to predate the earliest alleged ancestors to modern man, the Australopithecines. The unique morphology of these fossils is much touted by their discoverers. The account of the discovery of this alleged missing link is a stunning, if not nearly miraculous, story rivaling the discovery of the remnants of blood and collagen tissue inside the femur of a 65 million year old T. Rex (Schweitzer et al. 1997). Here is an excerpt from a National Geographic article concerning Ardi.
The first, fragmentary specimens of Ardipithecus were found at Aramis in 1992 and published in 1994. The skeleton announced today was discovered that same year and excavated with the bones of the other individuals over the next three field seasons. But it took 15 years before the research team could fully analyze and publish the skeleton, because the fossils were in such bad shape.
After Ardi died, her remains apparently were trampled down into mud by hippos and other passing herbivores. Millions of years later, erosion brought the badly crushed and distorted bones back to the surface.
They were so fragile they would turn to dust at a touch. To save the precious fragments, White and colleagues removed the fossils along with their surrounding rock. Then, in a lab in Addis, the researchers carefully tweaked out the bones from the rocky matrix using a needle under a microscope, proceeding “millimeter by submillimeter,” as the team puts it in Science. This process alone took several years.
Pieces of the crushed skull were then CT-scanned and digitally fit back together by Gen Suwa, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Tokyo.
In the end, the research team recovered more than 125 pieces of the skeleton, including much of the feet and virtually all of the hands—an extreme rarity among hominid fossils of any age, let alone one so very ancient.
“Finding this skeleton was more than luck,” said White. “It was against all odds.” (Shreeve 2009)
This description leaves many questions unanswered. We are being told that 90 fragments were discovered. How many of these (90 to 125 by different accounts) “fragmentary specimens” that were “badly crushed and distorted” were used in the reconstruction. We assume all that could be recovered and everyone knows that the reconstruction of ancient fossils is not exactly a precise science. Evidence of this can be seen in the changes in the artistic renditions of dinosaurs over the years.
Let’s not get carried away with National Geographic’s second hand description. Let’s go right to the lead paleoanthropologist, Dr. Tim White, and his account of the excavation of this newest in a long line of so-called missing links.
A member [of the team] Yohannes Haile-Selassie found the first of more than 100 fragments that make up about half of a single skeleton of this species, including a pelvis, leg, ankle and foot bones, wrist and hand bones, a lower jaw with teeth—and a skull. But in the past 8 years no details have been published on this skeleton. Why the delay? In part because the bones are so soft and crushed that preparing them requires a Herculean effort, says White. The skull is “squished,” he says, “and the bone is so chalky that when I clean an edge it erodes, so I have to mold every one of the broken pieces to reconstruct it.” The team hopes to publish in a year or so, and White claims that the skeleton is worth the wait, calling it a “phenomenal individual” that will be the “Rosetta stone for understanding bipedalism.”
Aside from the incredible hyperbole of referring to the discovery of Ardi as the Rosetta stone for understanding bipedalism, the admission by Dr. White that the skull was “squished” and in a continuing state of erosion can only serve to raise even more concerns about the reconstruction of Ardi. Here is yet another characterization of the condition of this specimen excerpted from Time magazine.
One problem is that some portions of Ardi’s skeleton were found crushed nearly to smithereens and needed extensive digital reconstruction. “Tim [White] showed me pictures of the pelvis in the ground, and it looked like an Irish stew,” says Walker. Indeed, looking at the evidence, different paleoanthropologists may have different interpretations of how Ardi moved or what she reveals about the last common ancestor of humans and chimps (Lemonick and Dorfman 2009).
So now we have even more disturbing information about the original discovery. Reconstructions of specimens in fair condition are difficult and can be somewhat arbitrary. You can easily have differences of opinion among scientists concerning the placement, range of motion and/or function of certain skeletal configurations, etc. How then can Ardi be characterized as “the Rosetta stone for bipedalism” when by the discoverer’s own admission, “different paleoanthropologists may have different interpretations of how Ardi moved or what she reveals?” Combine this with the fact that these fossils were still eroding, soft to the touch, pliable, etc. and I guess you could make them into just about anything you want them to be.
Should we be skeptical of this, the latest in the long line of missing links? This is a fossil lineage that is strewn with several debunked and notorious fakes such as Piltdown man and Nebraska man. The amount of speculation surrounding this discovery is indeed breathtaking. We are being told that the lack of elongated canines indicate that Ardi’s relatives are indeed the branch in the evolutionary tree that gave rise to modern man. I hesitate to report the incredible amount of imagination coupled with conjecture that is being used to promote this as evidence, however, let’s just say that the researchers are speculating that these poor males lost their canines because their females began to trade sex for food rather than succumb to the usual storyline of male dominance as seen in virtually every other primate group, past and present (Lovejoy 2009).
It is important to place all fossil discoveries in context. While the scientific community prides itself by saying it is open to revision as new data becomes available, that it welcomes innovative interpretations, etc., the reality concerning evolutionary science is often the opposite. Evolutionary science remains intolerant of any criticism of its most vigorously, and I might add tenaciously, held worldview, e.g. naturalism.* While the evolutionary faithful bicker about the implications of this latest in a long line of alleged missing links and continue to stifle any criticism from those who do not swear allegiance to the god of naturalism, I am confident that Ardi will go down in history an extinct species of primate and not the ever-illusive missing link between man and monkey.
If we have learned anything from recent history, including the lessons learned concerning Ida the extinct lemur, whose discovery was also was compared to Rosetta stone, it is that the hype rarely lives up to lofty expectations. Whether it is an extinct lemur named Ida or an extinct primate named Ardi, these highly touted discoveries are in reality evidence of stasis in support of Special Creation not Darwinian Evolution.
Steven Rowitt, Th.M., Ph.D.(c)
Chief Technical Advisor
Creation Studies Institute
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* For a complete discussion of the subject of naturalism see. “The Dawkins Confusion:
Naturalism ad absurdum” by Alvin Plantinga Reposted from Christianity Today at