A Greater Evolutionary Ancestral Family

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Recalibration of molecular clock marches ape-human divergence back to encompass a greater evolutionary ancestral family.

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Cover art on this November issue of New Scientist illustrates the evolutionary belief that humans and apes share a common ancestor but the ongoing debate about when their ancestral lines diverged. Image credit artwork by Andreas Preis in New Scientist volume 216, issue 2892, copyright 2012 Reed Business Information Ltd. www.sciencedirect.com.

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Evolutionists agree—without support—that apes and humans share a common ancestor. They consider this “history” to be self-evident: in their attempt to explain life without God they must supply evolutionary ancestors for all living things, and the most “obvious” choice for the immediate ancestor of humans would need to be a beast possessing similar designs—something ape-like. But what they don’t agree on is when the ape-human divergence from this hypothetical ancestor took place. The feature cover story in the November 26, 2012, New Scientist, “Our true dawn: Pinning down human origins,” calls attention to recent studies of the human mutation rate and chimpanzee generation time to deliver a solution to this topic of evolutionary debate. In so doing, evolutionary authors open up the ancestral timetable for practically any extinct ape in Africa.

“Our true dawn: Pinning down human origins” recounts the debate between evolutionary paleoanthropologists and evolutionary geneticists. Molecular clock calculations are based on mutation rates estimated by comparing human, chimpanzee, and orangutan genomic differences. Using that method, evolutionary geneticists have suggested ape and human ancestral lines diverged from their common ancestor about 4 million years ago. However, paleoanthropologists reach deep into the African “cradle of humanity” to point out that australopithecines, the oldest fossil family they currently hold to be ancestral to humans, already had “human features” like bipedality and small teeth around 4 million years ago. Therefore australopithecine evolutionary forebears would have had to split from the ape-like common ancestor many millions of years earlier.

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“The argument over when the human lineage first appeared is on the verge of being settled—with colossal consequences for our evolutionary past,” reported science news editor Catherine Brahic in New Scientist last month. As this diagram illustrates, genetic (molecular clock) estimates of the time human and ape lineages split from their evolutionary common ancestor have up to now been too close to the time paleoanthropologists claim to have fossil evidence of developing human traits. The new estimates are based on observations of chimpanzee and gorilla mutation rates. However, superimposing ape genomic data upon a hypothetical and unverifiable history for humans does not actually demonstrate anything about human history. Image credit: www.sciencedirect.com.

“Geneticists ignored the paleontologists completely,” according to paleoanthropologist Owen Lovejoy, known for his work promoting the idea that “Lucy” was bipedal. “We would get estimates around 4 million years [from the geneticists], and yet there are unmistakable and highly evolved hominins that go back almost 4 million years. To claim a 4 million year divergence date is just silly.”

More recently discoveries of austrolopithecine fossils bearing even older evolutionary dates stretch the envelope backwards even further.

More recently discoveries of austrolopithecine fossils bearing even older evolutionary dates stretch the envelope backwards even further. And the debate has left other even “older” alleged candidates for ancestral hominin without a branch to stand on: Ardipithecus ramidus at 4.4 million, Sahelanthropus tchadensis at 6–7 million, and Orrorin tugenensis at 6 million just didn’t seem to fit anywhere on the human ancestral tree.

Kevin Langergraber and colleagues have now documented that modern chimp and gorilla genomes do not mutate as fast as previously thought. They also found that the generation time—the average time between the birth of parents and the birth of offspring—is longer than previously thought. As John Hawks in a PNAS analysis of their work explains, “Long generations, with few genetic mutations in each, mean that the clock of genetic substitutions has ticked very slowly during the evolution of humans and apes.”1.

“Fossils and molecular data are two independent sources of information that should in principle provide consistent inferences of when evolutionary lineages diverged. Here we use an alternative approach to genetic inference of species split times in recent human and ape evolution that is independent of the fossil record,” Langergraber writes. “We date the human–chimpanzee split to at least 7–8 million years and the population split between Neanderthals and modern humans to 400,000–800,000 y ago. This suggests that molecular divergence dates may not be in conflict with the attribution of 6- to 7-million-y-old fossils to the human lineage and 400,000-y-old fossils to the Neanderthal lineage.”2.

So, is this “case-closed” in favor of human evolutionary ideas? Not at all. The assumptions underlying the interpretations of this data remain as unverifiable and worldview-based as ever. The experimental, observable science cited here reveals that the modern ape genome doesn’t mutate as quickly as previously thought. But the fossils claimed as human ancestors remain as “ape” as ever. We have previously discussed extensively the problems with the claims that these fossils were bipedal and therefore “obviously” evolving toward human-ness. (See below for articles explaining these problems as well as the unverifiable assumptions underlying the evolutionary interpretations of radiometric dating methods and molecular clocks.) Yet calculations of how long it would take to accumulate enough mutations to make a transition from ape-like ancestor to human are no more valid when based on modern chimpanzee mutation rates than they are when based on comparison of modern human and ape genomes. Even the techniques used to compare ape and human genomes are fraught with bias, as detailed in a 2011 Answers Research Journal analysis.

The fact is, nothing in observable experimental science demonstrates a transition from ape-like ancestor to human—not in the fossil record and not in the genome. Similarities, such as they are, are examples of common designs by a Common Designer, our Creator God. Apes and humans were created on the same day, about 6,000 years ago, and like all living things were created to reproduce “after their kinds.” Science shows us that living things, including humans and all sorts of animals and plants, do vary within their created kinds but do not change into new kinds of creatures. Evolutionists may rejoice to welcome a flock of new apes into the human family history, but the real record of history found in the Bible and supported by the science we actually see in the world does not support their interpretations.

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Footnotes

  1. John Hawks, “Longer time scale for human evolution,” PNAS vol 109 no. 39: 15531–15532, www.pnas.org/content/109/39/15531.short.
  2. K. Langergraber et al, “Generation times in wild chimpanzees and gorillas suggest earlier divergence times in great ape and human evolution.” PNAS vol. 109 no. 39: 15716–15721, www.pnas.org/content/109/39/15716.short.

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