Review by Greg Neyman
© 2006, Old Earth Ministries
The Toumai skull has recently received a lot of attention from the
scientific community, and now young earth creationists have taken aim at
this skull. To give you some background, the Toumai skull was found in the
African country of Chad, and is thought to be about seven million years old
(to read more, see
tchadensis). Some have called it a human ancestor, while others urge
caution in its classification.
Young earth creationist Marvin Lubenow wrote an article for the 30 August 2006 daily feature on the Answers in Genesis website.1 Lubenow is known in young earth circles as an expert on fossil hominids. The main theme of this article is that the secular scientists cannot decide what Toumai is…is it a hominid, who is an ancestor of modern man…or is it an ape.
The first thing to consider is the theological implications of a seven million year old hominid. How would an old earth creationist approach this issue? If a believer chooses to believe in evolution, and that this fossil is indeed a seven million year old ancestor, that is perfectly acceptable. One can believe in evolution if one chooses to, and believe in the Bible’s account of creation. There is no conflict between evolution and the Bible (the words of Billy Graham sum it up best). Secondly, the old earth progressive creationist would see this fossil as evidence of a distinct species of hominids, not evolved from a previously existing species. Again, the fossil would present no problems for the believer.
However, for the young earth creationist, they have no choice but to discredit this fossil as an ape. There is a fine line that they must draw when considering fossil hominid evidence. Any fossils that have a majority of ape features are called apes, and dismissed as extinct, with the extinction occurring during the last 6,000 to 10,000 years. Any fossils with a majority of human features are called human, and the dating of the fossils is normally attacked. They must classify this way, not based on the scientific evidence, but based upon their necessity to dismiss the fossil. It is not an argument based on evidence, but upon need. The scientific facts are then shaped in such a way as to support their conclusions.
Lubenow shows a lack of creativity when it comes to this fossil’s implications for creation science. As is typical of young earth claims, this fossil is merely seen as an extinct ape from only thousands of years ago. Lubenow claims that if it was hominid, “it would disqualify many famous fossils that are not nearly as old and whose discoverers have claimed their human ancestry.”
This is not the case. There is an easy solution. Toumai may indeed be considered a hominid, but not an ancestor of modern man. For the theistic evolutionist, he may be an extinct line of hominids which branched off from the hominid ancestor at some point greater than seven million years ago. In this sense, he does not disqualify any of the later fossil finds. For the progressive creationist, he was a unique creation, and naturally provides no problems for belief.
Lubenow goes on to say, “if “Toumaï” is a hominid, the inferred age of “Toumaï” would place the beginning of the human evolutionary line much earlier than molecular studies have allegedly indicated.” Lubenow is assuming that Toumai is a part of the human evolutionary line. If he is an extinct line, then this presents no problems at all...hominid or not.
Finally, Lubenow considers the issue of whether or not Toumai was bipedal. This issue is still debated, but the issue is not really important from a creationist perspective. As an early hominid ancestor, it would not be a problem either way.
Lubenow makes light of the fact that there are controversies such as this within evolutionary circles. I agree, and it is a wonderful thing. Scientific debate over such issues is a healthy way of the scientific community policing itself. As ideas are debated, usually a consensus is reached after several rounds. Young earth creationists love to point out these disagreements as evidence that secular scientists cannot agree (implying that you should listen to the young earth side instead). However, given the complete lack of support for a young earth, that is not a viable option.
The author points out that the definition of “hominid” is disputed. That is interesting to know, but has nothing to do with disproving whether a fossil is a human ancestor or not. Lubenow does bring up one valid point…the finding of a human ancestor “guarantees celebrity status for the discoverer.” I agree, and this no doubt has led to some false claims over the years. However, if you consider the fact that the debates within the scientific community eventually weed these out, this is really not an issue.
Lubenow claims that funding is a problem, because it goes to those who have previously found hominid fossils. When you are considering grant money, an organization is much more likely to fund someone with a proven track record than someone who is new. This is merely being a good steward of money. And while some may falsely claim a fossil is a hominid in order to obtain funding, the scientific community in the end will, through scientific debate, determine the correct classification for the fossil.
The Science Channel aired a show called Pre-Human: Riddle of the Skull, which was about this fossil. I recommend this show to everyone as a general introduction to this fossil. It may be rebroadcast periodically on either the Science or Discovery Channels.
There is no reason to assume that the Toumai skull presents any problems for old earth belief. There are simple solutions to the problems presented by Lubenow. His words are merely "young earth spin.
Sources / For More Reading
1 "The Toumai Skull: Ape or Human Ancestor?", published at http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs2006/0830skull.asp
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