Stupid Creationist Quote of the Week: Ben Carson on Evolution

This quote is rather shocking. It comes from Ben Carson and, as you can see from the wiki page, Carson is a top notch neurosurgeon. You would think that that would make him do a little research before talking about evolution in general and human evolution in particular. However:


Even if you accept evolutionary theory–developing a more sophisticated organism in this theoretically “logical” fashion, then there should be a continuum of organisms. And why did evolution divert in so many directions–birds, fish, elephants, apes, humans–if there is some force evolving to the maximum? Why isn’t everything a human–a superior human? Darwin specifically stated that his theory hung on the discovery of intermediate forms, and was sure that we would find them. More than a hundred years later we still haven’t found them. Even the earliest fossils don’t show such intermediates.
Take the simple case of ape to human. It should be easy to find abundant fossil remains since, according to evolutionary theory, this is the most recent transition. If we can find so many fossils of dinosaurs, which are further back in the evolutionary scheme, we should have plenty of evidence of intermediates between apes and humans. But we don’t have them. We have very few supposed intermediates–like “Lucy,” based on fanciful reconstruction with a lot of filling in. Today we have people with significant congenital abnormalities whose skeletal remains would seem like a missing link. So “Lucy” does not make the case, and there should be multiple “Lucys” if the transition from ape to human were true.

The above quote appeared in the Adventist Review (I’m not sure of the date of publication) and is such a conflicting mass of baffle-gab and gobbledegook (which seems to be par for the course for surgeons) that I will take it sentence by sentence.

Even if you accept evolutionary theory–developing a more sophisticated organism in this theoretically “logical” fashion, then there should be a continuum of organisms.

Okay, nothing objectionable here. Evolution – the theory – is an attempt to explain the diversity, both past and present, of life on earth part of that explanation is that some lifeforms are related to each other by descent and that there is morphological change through time among those related species.

And why did evolution divert in so many directions–birds, fish, elephants, apes, humans–if there is some force evolving to the maximum? Why isn’t everything a human–a superior human?

What the…um…okaaay…so, evolution isn’t true because of a) the diversity of life on earth and b) the fact that life on earth is not composed entirely of superhumans? This quote seems to be some warped mutant crossing of the great chain of being (see also here) and/or orthogenesis. Apparently, Carson thinks that humans should be the pinnacle, goal, and sole product of evolution. As stated above, evolutionary theory seeks to explain the diversity of life on earth. It does this through a variety of mechanisms (natural selection, sexual selection, genetic drift, to name a few) that allow organisms to survive and reproduce at a slightly higher rate than their fellow organisms. Given that, I’m not exactly sure how one ends up with a lack of species diversity and an overabundance of superhumans.

Darwin specifically stated that his theory hung on the discovery of intermediate forms, and was sure that we would find them. More than a hundred years later we still haven’t found them. Even the earliest fossils don’t show such intermediates.

More than one hundred years later we have found quite a few intermediate fossils, although given the statement that “Even the earliest fossils don’t show such intermediates” one has to wonder how Carson would define an “intermediate” fossil. It has been my experience that creationists quite make the claim that their are no intermediate or transitional fossils but are incapable of defining the term(s). For the creationist transitional fossils are, apparently, like pornography – they knows it when the sees it.

Take the simple case of ape to human. It should be easy to find abundant fossil remains since, according to evolutionary theory, this is the most recent transition. If we can find so many fossils of dinosaurs, which are further back in the evolutionary scheme, we should have plenty of evidence of intermediates between apes and humans.

Evolutionary theory does not say that the ape-human transition is the most recent. Be that as it may, the number of fossils pertaining to human evolution numbers in the tens of thousands (see here and here for more on the numbers).

But we don’t have them. We have very few supposed intermediates–like “Lucy,” based on fanciful reconstruction with a lot of filling in.

Lucy, for those who do not know much about paleoanthropology, is a fossil belonging to the species Australopithecus afarensis. To date there are over 400 specimens from 6-8 sites. These specimens encompass almost the entire range of Au. afarensis anatomy so very little “filling in” is needed. Reconstruction, at least in skeletal terms, involves putting the fragmented pieces of a bone or skeleton back together. This requires a good knowledge of skeletal anatomy – something paleoanthropologists spend a lot of time studying. The larger point, that there are very few transitional fossils in human evolution is also incorrect. We have a wide variety of specimens ranging from early in the hominid record up to anatomically modern humans. Here is a small list:

Ardipithecus ramidus ramidus
Ardipthecus ramidus kadabba
Australopithecus anamensis
Au. afarensis
Au. garhi
Au. sediba
Au. barelgazeli
Au. aethiopicus
Au. robustus
Au. africanus
Au. boisei

[Note: Some palaeoanthropologists consider A. aethiopicus, A. robustus and A. boisei to be in the genus Paranthropus - afarensis]
Additionally,
Kenyanthropus platyops
Orrorin tugenensis
Sahelanthropus tchadensis
Homo habilis
H. erectus/ergaster
H. floresiensis

Not to mention the Neanderthals. Now some of these species, such as Au. boisei or Au. robustus, are collateral relatives and for others, such as Kenyanthropus platyops, Orrorin tugenensis, and Sahelanthropus tchadensis the exact placement in hominid phylogeny is still being debated.

Today we have people with significant congenital abnormalities whose skeletal remains would seem like a missing link.

Paleontologists have identified pathology in dinosaurs. Bioarchaeologists have identified pathology in skeletons recovered in archaeological contexts but apparently paleoanthropologists are not capable of doing the same! There are two problems with dismissing the hominid fossil record in this fashion. First, how does one explain the disease process that affects populations across far flung geographical regions? What about the time element? Homo erectus, for example, is found in Africa, Java, and China and dates for the species range from 1.8 mya to about 300,000 years ago. Yet some congenital disorder created the same morphology in these specimens, who, it should be added survived and reproduced. Over and above that, the morphology displayed by the specimens in the above list is distinctive enough to create clear cut categories, we call them species) so we would need as many congenital disorders as there are species in the above list in order to explain these fossils. Right? Second, the idea that the morphology of these fossils is caused by some sort of pathology goes back to the discovery of the Neanderthals. The problem is that, despite Carson’s claims, there is no disease process, congenital or otherwise, that couldn’t be recognized as such, that is capable of creating the morphology seen in Au. boisei or Ar. ramidus or Au. afarensis or H. erectus, or any of the other hominid fossils.

So “Lucy” does not make the case, and there should be multiple “Lucys” if the transition from ape to human were true.

There are, see the list above.

Hat Tip to Jerry Coyne

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3 Responses

  1. You say “Carson is a top notch neurosurgeon. You would think that that would make him do a little research before talking about evolution in general and human evolution in particular. ” Then, you reference the source of Dr. Carson’s quote as the Adventist Review. Ordinarily I’d avoid the ad hominem fallacy, but according to his Wikipedia entry, Carson is afterall a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Indeed, creationism is a fundamental tenet of Seventh-day Adventism. The Wikipedia entry on the church says:

    Seventh-day Adventist doctrine is based on a literal interpretation of the Bible’s account of a six day creation.[96] Adventist belief holds that all Earthly life originated during a six day period some 6000 years ago, and a global flood destroyed all land based animals and humans except for those saved on Noah’s Ark. Traditional Adventists oppose theories which propose interpreting the days of creation symbolically.[97] Adventists reject the naturalistic views of abiogenesis and evolution.

    We may conclude that Carson is an Adventist first, and a scientist second.

  2. This really made me giggle. Even the most hurried of Google searches would have provided enough information for him to realise that his thoughts on the hominin fossil record were absolutely absurd. On the subject of doctors though, and for that matter pharmacists, you would be surprised how many of them are creationists. Studying medicine or pharmacy is more so about obtaining a skill set for a job than being a scientist per se, so it’s not uncommon for them to have a pretty abysmal understanding of how evolution or even basic inheritance works. After a few years of working in the health industry I have come to reluctantly accept that initiating an evolutionary biology based conversation with a health professional is just as likely to be met with a frown as interest.

  3. Dr. Carson is just another in a long line of medical folks who spout creationist nonsense. Dr. Kuhn and Dr. Egnor being several recent purveyors of creationist nonsense.

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