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Evolutionary Researchers: Human Hand Evolved for Dual Abilities

by Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell on January 12, 2013
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BBC: “Fighting may have shaped evolution of human handThe human hand had to evolve for both fighting and finesse, say evolutionary researchers.

The need to punch out rivals may have driven the evolution of the human hand, according to a study just published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. University of Utah researchers measured the strike force of martial artists striking with fists and with open palms and found that the applied force was the same. A clenched fist applies that violent force to a smaller surface area, however, and therefore can do more damage. But why can humans clench their fists when chimpanzees and bonobos don’t?

punchThe bones of the human hand are perfectly proportioned for making a fist, creating an arch-like buttressed support to protect the delicate bones while transmitting the force of a punch efficiently to a target. Image credit: www.bbc.co.uk

Analysis of the way the force is channeled through the human fist to a target and the way the hand’s anatomy supports the bones during such a punch was the main thrust of the study. Clenching the fist buttresses and supports our delicate hand bones. The proportions of the human hand’s anatomy are just right for providing this protective architecture. In addition, making a fist quadruples the stiffness of the knuckle joints, making them a more effective battering ram, as well as doubling the ability of the proximal finger bones to transmit the force of a punch.

Researchers note that there are multiple engineering possibilities that could have made the human hand able to manipulate objects with great precision, but only the actual design of the hand is suitable for both punching and precise manipulation.

Making a fist may seem trivial, but apes generally don’t to it. Chimpanzee “fists” are more like donuts. The human hand seems designed to deliver a damaging punch. But the human hand is also optimized for manual dexterity. The researchers note that there are multiple engineering possibilities that could have made the human hand able to manipulate objects with great precision, but only the actual design of the hand is suitable for both punching and precise manipulation.

“There may, however, be only one set of skeletal proportions that allows the hand to function both as a mechanism for precise manipulation and as a club for striking,” the researchers write. “Ultimately, the evolutionary significance of the human hand may lie in its remarkable ability to serve two seemingly incompatible, but intrinsically human, functions.”

The researchers note that no one else has presented this sort of evolutionary analysis before and speculate the reason may be our reluctance to admit to our violent nature. Co-author David Carrier says, “I think there is a lot of . . . resistance to the idea that, at some level humans are by nature aggressive animals. I actually think that attitude, and the people who have tried to make the case that we don't have a nature - those people have not served us well. I think we would be better off if we faced the reality that we have these strong emotions and sometimes they prime us to behave in violent ways. I think if we acknowledged that we'd be better able to prevent violence in future.”

While this study highlights the fine multipurpose design of the human hand, it does not lend support to the notion of human evolution from ape-like ancestors. The human hand can do things no animal hand can because God designed it that way. Nothing in the study demonstrates evolutionary transitional designs en route from ape-like hands to ours. The study analyzes human anatomy as it exists. The researchers, like all who try to explain the existence of life without God, only assume without any scientific support that because our excellent hands exist, they must have evolved from inferior simpler forms.

Adam’s decision to rebel against our Creator brought the Curse and resulting violence into the world, and it probably wasn’t long before humans started using their fists on each other.

Why do we punch? The evolutionary writer presumes we humans are violent animals by nature who just don’t like to admit it. But God reports in the Bible that He created human beings as perfectly good people who then chose to rebel against Him. Adam’s decision to rebel against our Creator brought the Curse and resulting violence into the world, and it probably wasn’t long before humans started using their fists on each other. Many aspects of human anatomy render a person more vulnerable than animals to physical violence, so we could speculate that God provided a bit more protection to the multi-functional hand of the human, who needs to preserve functional hand anatomy to be able to manipulate objects with precision. But nothing about having the ability to punch somebody means God primarily intended the fist to be used that way or that it evolved for such a purpose. A hand that is protected when clenched is simply a good design. And a clenched fist is very useful in crushing nuts, kneading bread dough, or packing dirt around a newly planted bush. So there is no reason to think that God designed it for punching one another.

Humans do have a violent and sinful nature and have had it since Adam sinned. Cain’s murder of Abel demonstrates that rebellion against God gave way to human violence very soon. But while our violent nature is evident in our history, it did not drive the evolution of our anatomy. God designed our hand anatomy from the beginning. Nothing about the hand’s design demonstrates how it came to be. The complex anatomy of the hand also cannot be reduced to a simple and crude combination of two essential qualities—precision and punching—for every subtle anatomical feature of the hand is uniquely functional for human life. Read more about God’s design for the human hand at Our Index Finger.


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