Science: Manning Up

How many fundamental science errors can you spot in this one short article on different fossil pre-humans? How about in that last sentence?

Piltdown Skull

Here’s a couple to get you going:

But 50 years ago, researchers discovered an even older and more primitive species of human called Homo habilis that may have coexisted with H. erectus. Now it seems H. rudolfensis was around too and raises the distinct possibility that many other species of human also existed at the time

“…raises the distinct possibility that many other species of human also existed at the time”  Really? How is it any more a possibility that there are “many” undiscovered species now than there were before this latest discovery?  Why does this find not raise the distinct possibility that, nope, this is it, last new find. What is the author trying to say here? This may be more of a basic logic error than a basic science error, but you don’t get far in science without logic.

In other groups of animals many different species evolve, each with new traits, such as plumage, or webbed feet. If the new trait is better suited to the environment then the new species thrives, if not it becomes extinct.

No, that’s not it, exactly. In other groups of animals, it sometimes happens that many different species arise from a common stock, thereby changing the environment of evolutionary adaptation in which they exist (didn’t have the new species before, now it does!), or, sometimes, moving into completely different environments.  Survival depends on the big picture, which includes not only closely-related ‘competitors’ but the whole ecosystem over time. Rarely do new traits arise in isolation or in such a way that anyone can say “That’s why it survived!”  Does the giraffe with the longest neck or the Australopithecus with the biggest brain win? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s that whole extended phenotype thing. As so often the case, Mike Flynn has covered this.

“Humans seem to have been evolving in different ways in different regions. It was almost as if nature was developing different human prototypes with different attributes, only one of which, an ancestor of our species, was ultimately successful in evolutionary terms,”

Let’s see: modern humans have been around a couple hundred thousand years. Homo Erectus was around for well over a million years, and Neanderthals were around for half a million years. In fact, Sapiens represents one of the shortest-lived species in the Homo genus.  Are we just betting that we’re going to make it through another million years, here?

But the most egregious error is the word “successful” – what? Is a species that just merely hangs around more “successful” than one that was exquisitely fitted for an environment that changed on them and wiped them out after a few hundred thousand years? We’re making metaphysical value judgements here, which I’m fine with except they ain’t science as moderns think they understand the term.

Finally:

March of progress
The march of progress had many dead ends (that’s their caption)

Nope – ain’t no ‘progress’ in the theory of natural selection. We are merely different than slime mold, mushrooms and cockroaches.  No species represents ‘progress’ because the process, by definition, is undirected – the word progress doesn’t mean anything unless you are going somewhere, a point I wish Progressives would grasp, so they could tell us where they are hoping to go so that the rest of us could decide if we want to go there. But, alas! progress as a content-free concept is an easier sell than yet another worker’s paradise.

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Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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