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The human brain evolved because early humans developed technology?

A Lund University study appearing in this month’s Journal of Human Evolution claims that the earliest Homo sapiens sapiens “wandered across Africa” for over 100,000 years “looking like us anatomically but not thinking the way we do today.” They believe these poor ignorant creatures evolved better brain power because they figured out how to think abstractly and work together to develop technology.

Making the usual claim that the present human species evolved in Africa 200,000 years ago, the archaeological team draws its conclusions based on spearheads excavated from a South African cave called Hollow Rock Shelter. Those artifacts date from only 80,000 years ago, by their reckoning. They say that these spearheads show an advancing level of technology requiring step by step processes.

The archaeologists do not believe that any single person or even any single generation could have developed this level of technological advancement. “When the technology was passed from one generation to the next, from adults to children, it became part of a cultural learning process which created a socially more advanced society than before. This affected the development of the human brain and cognitive ability”, says Dr. Anders Högberg.

The usual list of unverifiable assumptions (common ancestry, molecular clock, and evolutionary timetable) which are explored in “‘The Search for the Historical Adam’ and Population Genomics” form the background for this study. The original article1 does cite other studies showing that the process of learning causes more complete expression of genes, enabling an individual to reach his potential. But some of the biases expressed have implications that make us shudder.

First of all, the authors assume that a low-tech society consists of people who are mentally inferior. Then they assume that such mentally inferior individuals could not possibly figure out how to think abstractly. Problem-solving abilities would require a gargantuan multigenerational society-wide effort.

The media release implies that working hard to think more effectively over time will somehow cause parents to develop some smart genes to pass onto the offspring, facilitating brain evolution. We would concede that the authors did not mean that. The original article states, “By changing the social environment, each generation changes the brains of the next.” In other words, the smarter people would survive to reproduce and produce a smarter population.

Having a lack of technology does not mean that individuals are mentally deficient.

The cultural bias present in this article is disturbing. People in low-tech societies may choose to live a simpler life, have limited time to figure out technological advancements, or have a society in which division of labor and specialization of skills is impractical. Furthermore, individuals today are able to develop problem-solving skills. Why should we assume that the same abstract thinking was out of reach for earlier humans? To be blunt, having a lack of technology does not mean that individuals are mentally deficient.

The Bible provides an eyewitness account of early man. Adam possessed the linguistic ability to name the animals and commune with the Lord God. Adam’s son Cain built a city. And just a few generations later we learn the names of pioneers in animal husbandry, metallurgy, and music. Early man was not backwards. He was created in the image of God with a full set of mental faculties and the ability to learn.

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  1. Anders Högberg, “Lithic Technology and Behavioural Modernity: New Results from the Still Bay Site, Hollow Rock Shelter, Western Cape Province, South Africa,” Journal of Human Evolution 61, no. 2 (August 2011): 133–155, doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2011.02.006.


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