NOVA = NO Viable Answers (on Human Origins)

A Review of Part 1 of the NOVA/PBS TV Series on Human Evolution

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A new NOVA series claims to uncover human origins, but as Mark Looy points out, the series relies more on speculation and imagination than fact.

In a web article we posted a few days ago, Answers in Genesis reviewed a new TV documentary on human origins and mentioned that we would be commenting further on this NOVA series from the Public Broadcasting System (PBS TV). Becoming Human is a three-part documentary that attempts to make a case for an ape-like ancestry of humans and to explain how that transition purportedly happened. The high-production quality of the series (including its computer animation) makes what ultimately is highly speculative seem quite conclusive.

Now that we have viewed part one, there is not too much to add to our Tuesday posting (or to our News to Note comment over the weekend). What was shown on TV last week was largely a summary of man’s supposed evolutionary ancestry that is already found in textbooks, science museums, and recent TV documentaries (and which we have analyzed often on this site). We will point out once more that, with this program, the majority of the ape-man fossils that are showcased are very similar to the apes of today—and not to people.

The NOVA series begins with the statement: “Humans. Without a doubt, the smartest animal on earth. Yet we’re unmistakably tied to our ape origins.” In the segment, entitled “First Steps,” NOVA looked at the supposed evolutionary split of humans from apes, including the rise of bipedalism and the differences in brain capacity (which are not new themes in evolution studies).

Regarding how humans started to walk upright, the program stated that bipedalism permitted ape-men to “see over tall grass” and “pick fruit off of the low branches of trees.” But the researchers who are interviewed do not offer an explanation as to how the genetic information to walk upright (including a change in the skeletons of ape-men) could have been placed in the DNA of these creatures. It’s not surprising that the narrator asks—but never really answers—the question: “What powered our evolution?

In addition, the program acknowledges that there is little fossil evidence of ape-men with larger brains: “From Toumaï to Selam, both bipeds, brains stayed small. And they weren’t the only ones. Over millions of years, there was a profusion of upright walkers with complicated names and chimp-sized brains.” One of the scientists also admitted that the bipeds had “more or less chimp-sized brains.”

What producers of this series describe as new territory to be explored is an examination of the supposed effect that climate instability had on the brain during humankind’s evolution. The suggestion is that the large brain of modern-day humans arose through cycles of drought and rain: “It is a simple but revolutionary idea: human evolution is nature’s experiment with versatility,” NOVA declares; then it adds: “We’re not adapted to any one environment or climate, but to many; we are creatures of climate change.”

While these climatic changes somehow made our ape-like ancestors more adaptable, all while other creatures became extinct along the way, the program does not present a direct cause-and-effect relationship for this change. How could climate change have enhanced the DNA of our supposed ape-like ancestors to produce new genetic material that could lead to the bigger and more complex brain now seen in modern humans?

The evolutionists involved in producing Becoming Human probably do not believe that climate directly changed the DNA and added new genetic information to the genome, so they argue instead that the climate favored certain characteristics encoded by the DNA. As previously observed by creationist researcher Dr. Georgia Purdom (PhD, molecular genetics), while mutations in the DNA could have made creatures more or less suited for their environment, “[t]his itself is still a problem because mutations either do not make a significant enough change in the individual that would be selected for or against, or they are detrimental.”

As we expected (and as we mentioned in our Tuesday web article), speculation runs rampant in this first segment on human origins. Words such as may, somehow, believes, perhaps—and also phrases like “some scientists still question [the Toumai skull],” “the fossil record is virtually silent [in the leap to humans from ape-like creatures],” and “debates rage,” all show just how weak the case really is for an ape-like ancestry of man. (By the way, perhaps because of the relative newness of the fossil Ardipithecus, or Ardi, it was not acknowledged in part one; last month we dealt with Ardi.)

A few minutes are devoted to “Selam,” a proposed ape-man similar to the famous “Lucy” (the latter is considered by creationists as an extinct ape). NOVA admits, though, that the bones of Selam “would fit in a shoebox”—not substantial evidence at all and highly dubious.

Becoming Human also considers the Toumaï skull, which creationists also believe belonged to an ape. In the TV program, paleontologists state that Toumaï walked upright because its skull would not fit on the frame of a quadrupedal ape. But because there is no full skeleton for Toumaï, this kind of belief in its transitional significance is just speculation. In fact, the dubious nature of Toumaï even prompted the narrator to say: “Some scientists still question whether Toumaï was really a biped.”

In other instances in the program, our supposed ancestors are reconstructions of crushed and incomplete bones. With evolutionary scientists’ a priori beliefs regarding evolution, it is easy for them to interpret the bones in the way they want.

In part 2, to air tonight (Tuesday), the series will look at the earliest species of humans; in segment three, the question as to why we as humans survived over all the other alleged species will be examined. (We may choose not to comment further on this series, though, since the programs do not appear to be exploring many new areas of evolutionary thought.)

For an excellent summary of human origins from a creationist perspective, go to Did Humans Really Evolve from Apelike Creatures?


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