A Fascinating Study of How Creationists Understand Early Human Fossils

Young-earth creationists don't ignore science. Instead, they reinterpret it to fit their belief system. One paleontologist was curious to find out what they teach about human ancestry, and how they interpret early human fossils. Here's what he found out.

Prior to the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate, BuzzFeed invited creationists to submit questions, and a couple of contributors specifically asked, "Why is there only one Lucy?"

A Fascinating Study of How Creationists Understand Early Human Fossils

That caught the attention of paleoanthropologist blogger Adam Benton. Lucy—the fossil of a hominin species, Australopithecus afarensis, which lived 3.9 to 2.9 million years ago—should be strong evidence of human evolution. But, instead, young-earth creationist literature cites Lucy as "proof" that there are no "transitional forms" in human evolution. Some treatises go to great lengths to explain how anthropologists have misinterpreted or misrepresented their findings, to "falsely" suggest that Lucy was capable of bipedal locomotion. Other articles claim (incorrectly) that only one set of bones representing Lucy's species exists—further implying that this was just a fringe monkey species, as opposed to a human ancestor.

Still, this made Benton wonder. Why did these creationists only mention Lucy? There are plenty of other homin species in the fossil record. What were young-earth creationists teaching about them?

To explore the question, he decided to examine how prominent creationist websites are representing the hominin fossil record. Benton searched for mentions of five other hominid species that accrued a similar number of citations to Lucy, demonstrating that they are just as scientifically important and so should be receiving a significant amount of coverage.

One example is, Sahelanthropus tchadensis (photo at top of page), which Benton says "is notable for being the oldest known hominin, dating to 6–7 million years ago….Its age places it shortly after the chimp and human lineages diverged…. so it can provide valuable insight into what some of the first members of the human family looked like."

The results of his study are produced in the table below, which quantifies the number of web pages discussing each of the fossils under consideration.

A Fascinating Study of How Creationists Understand Early Human Fossils

His conclusions:

It is apparent that Answers in Genesis (AiG), the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), and Creation Ministries International (CMI) are presenting a distorted view of human evolution, glossing over critical fossils and creating the false impression that there is little evidence for human evolution. In fact, the evidence is voluminous.

I do not mean to argue that this distortion is intentional deception; writers at these organizations may simply be unaware of the vast majority of paleoanthropological literature, or perhaps prefer to discuss Lucy, as it is the example with which they are most familiar.

Regardless of the ultimate cause, the end result is clear: people who rely on AiG, CMI, and/ or the ICR for information on human evolution will wind up woefully underestimating the hominin fossil record.