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Core Academy of Science

PO Box 1076

Dayton, TN 37321

Author's Biography

Todd Charles Wood is a researcher, teacher, and lecturer with twenty years' experience working in young-age creationism. He is especially known for his studies of created kinds and fossil hominins. He is currently president of Core Academy of Science and resides in Dayton, Tennessee, home of the Scopes Trial.

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Full Paper Presentation


Human baraminology studies have been critiqued in the past for classifying disputed fossils as human and for ignoring character weight. Related to these concerns is an essentialist approach to hominin fossils, wherein a comparison of modern skeletons reveals a potentially small number of characteristics that distinguish human from ape and can be applied to the fossil record. This approach is essentialist because the characteristics that distinguish humans from apes now are assumed to be universally applicable for all time and taxa, and thus are unchanging. Thus, any approach to distinguishing human from ape in the fossil record must give greater weight to such characters to avoid misclassifying fossils.

Essentialism is widely criticized since characters can be lost or modified, and assuming that characters cannot be lost or modified is unwarranted. Two examples can illustrate this problem. First, the mental eminence of the mandible readily distinguishes modern human from modern ape jaws, yet this feature is found in no other fossil hominins, even Neandertals, which are widely accepted as human. Similarly, various adaptations associated with bipedal locomotion, including a forward positioning of the foramen magnum, lumbar lordosis, flared iliac blades, a bicondylar angle >0°, and a roughly flat proximal articular surface on the first metatarsal, also readily distinguish modern human from modern ape but also occur in creatures that no creationist accepts as human, such as Australopithecus africanus. The committed essentialist could dispute these fossils or simply deny that these are actually essential characteristics.

Despite these obvious drawbacks, the question remains whether such essential characteristics might exist and be useful in distinguishing human from nonhuman fossils. To evaluate this possibility, I examined a character set of 391 craniodental characters for character states that differ between known humans and apes. To begin, I failed to find any character states that were shared between all possible human forms but not shared with apes. This could be a problem with poor preservation or failure to sample relevant characteristics. I therefore narrowed my search.

I found 159 character states in extant humans but not in extant gorillas or chimps (sapiens-only characters, SOC). Neandertals, which are widely considered by creationists to be human, shared only 73 of these characters, while the undisputed nonhuman A. afarensis shared 22 of these characters.

Next, I identified 40 character states that were identical in Homo sapiens, Neandertals, and Asian and African Homo erectus but differed from character states found in chimpanzee and gorilla. I refer to this group as the “Lubenow core” characters (LCC) after Marvin Lubenow’s Bones of Contention that identified these taxa as human. Again, when examining other taxa that are clearly not human, we find some of these character states shared. A. afarensis possessed eight of these character states, and A. africanus possessed 17.

Next, I attempted to identify essential characters of apes that could be different from humans. I found 125 character states that were in both chimpanzees and gorillas but not in modern humans (extant ape only characters, EAO). Of these characters, nineteen are found in Neandertals, and only 24 are possessed by Paranthropus robustus.

Finally I identified 32 character states that are identical in chimpanzees, gorillas, A. afarensis, and A. africanus but differ from Homo sapiens (four-ape characters, FAC). Five of them are found in Neandertals, and only fourteen are found in Paranthropus robustus.

Thus we find that none of these sets of characters can absolutely distinguish ape from human in cases where creationists largely agree. I then attempted to utilize each of the four character sets (SOC, LCC, EAO, FAC) in simple baraminic distance correlation analyses and found that three of the sets (SOC, LCC, EAO) clustered obviously human taxa with Paranthropus, which no creationist would accept. The FAC set separated mostly human taxa from mostly ape taxa, with Homo floresiensis clustering with the apes.

Based on these results, I conclude that this particular approach to essentialism is unsuccessful. By focusing only on extant forms, a large number of characters can distinguish human from ape, but these characters do not reliably identify fossil taxa widely accepted as human or ape. Increasing the sample of taxa that we accept as human or ape results in a smaller number of distinguishing characters, but even this smaller number cannot reliably distinguish human from ape in the fossil record. Simple clustering with distance correlation techniques also revealed problems with these samples of characters. While these results do not rule out every possible essentialist scenario, they support the contention that essentialism is unlikely to aid in the identification of humans in the fossil record and that more nuanced approaches like cluster analysis are needed.




hominins, human origins, paleoanthropology, baraminology, essentialism




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