“So We Make Up Stories” About Human Evolution

Posted by Chris Parker
Feb 23 2009

Richard Lewontin is the Alexander Agassiz Research Professor at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University.

As such, he is internationally recognized as one of the foremost “evolutionist” , Atheist and Materialist in the world. We haven’t read a fraction of all that he has said, but he is apparently given to occasional bouts of blatant honesty.

He was previously and famously quoted for saying:

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.

It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. “….Billions and Billions of Demons, The New York Review, p. 31, January 9, 1997.

As reported in the following article, he began verbally thrashing around again at an address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in which he delivered some remarks that (unintentionally?) struck some severe blows against the Darwinist religion:

“So We Make Up Stories” About Human Evolution
by Kyle Butt, M.A.
Apologetic’s Press

Dr. Richard Lewontin is the Alexander Agassiz Research Professor at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. Harvard University Press describes him as one of their “most brilliant evolutionary biologists.” A Harvard professor since 1973, he has impeccable academic credentials, and has gained worldwide notoriety for authoring several books, including The Triple Helix, The Genetic Basis of Evolutionary Change, and Biology as Ideology.

During the week of February 14-18, Dr. Lewontin was invited to speak at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting held in Boston, Massachusetts. Michale Balter, writing for Science magazine, reported briefly on Lewontin’s comments that caused quite a stir in the evolutionary community. Balter titled his article “How Human Intelligence Evolved—Is It Science or ‘Paleofantasy’?” (2008). In the first paragraph, Balter quipped that Lewontin really “knows how to grab an audience’s attention.”

What did Lewontin say that was so noteworthy and attention-grabbing? Lewontin “led off a session titled ‘The Mind of a Toolmaker’ by announcing that scientists know next to nothing about how humans got so smart. ‘We are missing the fossil record of human cognition,’ Lewontin said at the meeting. ‘So we make up stories’” (Balter, 2008, emp. added). While Balter spent the rest of his article scrambling to show that Lewontin’s conclusions are not recognized by all in the scientific community, Lewontin’s devastating blow to evolution’s long-cherished scenario of human development could not be papered over so easily.

James Randerson, science correspondent for the United Kingdom’s Guardian, wrote an article titled “We Know Nothing About Brain Evolution” in which he, too, reported on Lewontin’s speech. Lewontin titled his speech, “Why We Know Nothing About the Evolution of Cognition.” Randerson reported that, in the lecture, the eminent Harvard professor “systematically dismissed every assumption about the evolution of human thought, reaching the conclusion that scientists are still completely in the dark about how natural selection prompted the massive hike in human brain size in the human line” (2008, emp. added).

Lewontin then turned his attention to the fossil record. Randerson summarized Dr. Lewontin’s statements by saying: “The main problem is the poor fossil record. Despite a handful of hominid fossils stretching back 4m [million—KB] years or so, we can’t be sure that any of them are on the main ancestral line to us. Many or all of them could have been evolutionary side branches” (2008). Randerson continued, stating: “Worse, the fossils we do have are difficult to interpret. ‘I don’t have the faintest idea what the cranial capacity [of a fossil hominid] means,’ Lewontin confessed. What does a particular brain size tell us about the capabilities of the animal attached to it?” (2008).

Of course, Lewontin’s comments fly in the face of everything the general population has been led to believe about human evolution. The beautiful drawings showing ape-like creatures gradually evolving in a straight line into humans have been plastered on science-lab walls, in science textbooks, and in popular science magazines for the last five decades. We have been told that the hominid fossil record is so complete that it provides irrefutable evidence verifying human evolution. We have been told that our “ancestral” fossils indicate exactly when our ancient great-grandparents began to walk upright, when they evolved greater cognitive skills, and when they evolved into us.

Lewontin was not finished tearing into the standard evolutionary party line about hominid fossils. Randerson noted that Lewontin “is even skeptical that palaeoanthropologists can be sure which species walked upright and which dragged their knuckles. Upright posture is crucial for freeing up the hands to do other useful things” (2008).

What, then, did Lewontin conclude regarding the prevailing status of ignorance that pervades the scientific community regarding the supposed evolution of humans? He said: “We are in very serious difficulties in trying to reconstruct the evolution of cognition. I’m not even sure what we mean by the problem” (as quoted in Randerson, 2008).

The bombshell that Lewontin dropped on the 2008 AAAS annual meeting will leave devastating and lasting carnage in its wake in the evolutionary community. He debunked 50 years of orchestrated evolutionary propaganda. Randerson concluded his summary of Lewontin’s statements by observing: “All in all, despite thousands of scientific papers and countless National Geographic front covers, we have not made much progress in understanding how our most complicated and mysterious organ [brain—KB] came about” (2008).

After reviewing Lewontin’s statements and the various journal articles describing them, the writers of Creation/Evolution Headlines appropriately admonished the reader:

Remember this entry the next time you get a National Geographic cover story of a hominid with a philosopher’s gaze. Remember it when you are told stories about hominids walking upright, their hands now freed to scratch their chins and think. Remember it when you are shown a chimpanzee on NOVA performing memory tricks for a banana or smashing bugs with a rock. Remember it when a stack of erudite scientific papers on human evolution is placed on the witness table at a trial over whether students should be allowed to think critically about evolution in science class (“Paleofantasy…,” 2008).

To comment on this entry, email s8intcom@comcast.net

REFERENCES
Balter, Michael (2008), “How Human Intelligence Evolved—Is It Science or ‘Paleofantasy’?” Science, 319 [5866]:1028, [On-line], URL: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/319/5866/1028a.

“Paleofantasy: Brain Evolution is Mere Storytelling” (2008), Creation/Evolution Headlines, February 22, [On-line], URL: http://www.creationsafaris.com/crev200802.htm.

Randerson, James (2008), “We Know Nothing About Brain Evolution,” Guardian, [On-line], URL: http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/science/2008/02/the_distinguished_biologist _pr.html.

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3 Responses

  1. Administrator says:

    POSTED FOR FAISAL A.

    I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you simply did not understand Lewontin’s views of the evolution of human cognition described in the above article, and did not deliberately misrepresent them (as so many creationists are wont to do).

    However, even from the limited extracts you present it is clear that Lewontin is not questioning, in any way, the fundamental ideas of common descent and evolution thru natural selection.

    He is merely stating that the precise mechanism thru which cognition evolved may not be something that we will ever be able to determine. That does not mean that it did not arise thru evolution, and it certainly does not mean that humans did not evolve from common ancestors with other primates.

    If you wish, you can read Lewontin’s own writings on the topic at the link below. Any doubts you may have regarding his true views on the subject should be dispelled by the very first sentence: “It is trivially true that human cognition has evolved.”

    http://www3.isrl.uiuc.edu/%7Ejunwang4/langev/localcopy/pdf/lewontin98theEvolution.pdf

    At this point you can either retract the article, or leave it up on your website unmodified. If you do the latter, however, in the full knowledge that it misrepresents Dr. Lewontin’s views, then the only conclusion to be drawn is that you are not merely stupid or ignorant, but an outright liar as well.

    Sincerely,

    Faizal A

  2. Administrator says:

    Dear Faisal,

    Ahh, at first I thought that you intended to merely politely point out how you believed that I had misrepresented Dr. Lewontin’s views. I see by the end though that you are no doubt from the Richard Dawkins’ school of intellectual discourse. No matter. You deserve a response and here it is. I’m quite comfortable leaving it up to you thereafter as to whether you believe I am a liar, ignorant ,stupid or some combination of all three.

    Now, dear Mr. A., do you believe that the article either states or implies that Dr. Lewontin has abandoned Darwinism? Do you believe that the article either states or implies that Dr. Lewontin does not continue to accept “the fundamental ideas of common descent and evolution thru natural selection”?

    I believe that up until this day, Dr. Lewontin remains the Alexander Agassiz Research Professor at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, at Harvard, and that he remains an ardent evolutionist and a materialist. In fact, as I quoted him in the article, his committment to materialism and materialist causes is “absolute”.

    What Dr. Lewontin does seem to have though, is a penchant for “speaking out of school”. He says the kinds of things in public that the professional class of evolutionists usually don’t say–that is, expressing some kind of doubt or criticism of Darwinism that “creationists” are likely to overhear and repeat. The kind of thing that got Stephen Jay Gould, (also from Harvard) in trouble with the Materialist community when he gave the famous “lack of transitional fossils” being a “trade secret of paleontology” quote.

    The point in either case is and was not that these man had abandoned evolution–it was that they had made public “private doubts” about the theory. Private doubts is my terminology but I suppose that if there were no Christians or God believers in the world, evolutionists would be free to discuss their quibbles with certain “just so” evolution stories or problems with certain conclusions reached or with certain ideas expressed etc..

    Dr. Lewontin does; it seems have a problem with certain “just so stories” and he seems to enjoy shaking up a meeting now and then. Now in this particular case, despite the seeming confidence expressed by some in your community about the evolution of “human cognition” Dr. Lewontin is expressing that in his mind there is no basis for such confidence.

    Michale Balter, writing for Science magazine, and probably not a Creationist, reported that Lewontin’s comments “caused quite a stir in the evolutionary community”. Why? If his comments were essentially meaningless as you suggest in terms of his views on human brain evolution, why did they cause a stir among the evolutionary community?

    The title of Mr. Balter’s article “How Human Intelligence Evolved—Is It Science or ‘Paleofantasy’?” tells the tale.

    What did Dr. Lewontin say; we are missing the fossil record (trade secret”) on human cognition–”so we make up stories”.

    Despite not even having fossil’s to study; scientists have speculated that among other things; “social pressure”, environmental factors” the need to manipulate others or “weak jaw muscles” led to the evolution of larger brains. Maybe Lewontin alone understands that this is not “science” but is nothing more than story telling. Literally. Dreaming up a scenario or a hypothesis which can not be tested –why do you need a PH’d for that?

    James Randerson, science correspondent for the United Kingdom’s Guardian, wrote an article titled “We Know Nothing About Brain Evolution” in which he reported along similar lines and further stated that Lewontin “systematically dismissed every assumption about the evolution of human thought, reaching the conclusion that scientists are still completely in the dark about how natural selection prompted the massive hike in human brain size in the human line”.

    Don’t you agree, Mr. A., that Lewontin’s comments stand in sharp contrast and stark opposition to those other assumptions that he has systematically dismissed”?

    Now, sure Dr. Lewontin no doubt continues to believe that natural selection DID prompt a massive hike in brain size–despite his distaste for the “just so” stories that suggest how it could have happened, despite the lack of fossil evidence, despite all the asumptions out there that he dismisses.

    The point of the article is and was that Dr. Lewontin said some things at the 2008 AAAS annual meeting that “caused a stir” among evolutionist and that he appeared to be unusually frank in airing some of the difficulties with the theory and the “evidence”. As you must know, that was not the party line and I’m pretty sure that one can find evidence online that the evolutionary community is not so happy about what he said–belying the thrust of your letter to me.

    I certainly don’t agree that Dr. Lewontin’s comments have been taken out of context. Depite his comments at the AAAS he no doubt remains committed to Materialism. As we previously quoted him;

    We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. ”

    However, he is still alive and he still has a little time to put the shortcomings that he has noted in the proper context.

    I’ll pray for him.

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