Post Author: Bill Pratt
In a recent USA Today article, the headline read “Scientist: Evolution debate will soon be history.” The first line of the article is, “Noted paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey predicts skepticism over evolution will soon be history.” What do we make of this article?
The first thought that should come to your mind when you read this headline is the following: “Which definition of evolution is Leakey using?” As I pointed out in a blog post a few weeks ago, there are at least 6 definitions of evolution that are commonly employed.
Unfortunately, you have to read about 10 paragraphs before getting to the answer, and even here the reporter barely covers it. Perhaps this is because Leakey failed to provide a definition, or maybe the reporter saw no need to clearly define the term (both of these are problematic since the whole article is talking about the evolution debate ending).
So which definition of evolution is it? Here is Leakey, quoted in the article:
If you don’t like the word evolution, I don’t care what you call it, but life has changed. You can lay out all the fossils that have been collected and establish lineages that even a fool could work up. So the question is why, how does this happen? It’s not covered by Genesis. There’s no explanation for this change going back 500 million years in any book I’ve read from the lips of any God.
The best I can tell is that we’re talking about definition 3 from the previous blog post: limited common descent: the idea that particular groups of organisms have descended from a common ancestor. It is possible Leakey is referring to other definitions, but he never makes himself clear, and so we are left to guess. He makes no mention of natural selection, universal common descent, or genetic mutations.
If Leakey is referring to limited common descent, then there is no debate at all, and he is arguing against imaginary skeptics. Virtually every creationist accepts limited common descent.
If, however, Leakey is specifically talking about human evolution (since that is what he is an expert in), then there are several different takes from the creationist community.
Theistic evolutionists would have no problem saying that hominid (pre-human) fossils represent human ancestors. For them, God placed a soul in the first modern humans, but planned for the process of evolution to provide the bodies.
For old earth creationists, the pre-human hominids were created by divine special creation hundreds of thousands, and even millions, of years ago. They deny a direct evolutionary link between these hominids and modern humans.
For young earth creationists, hominid fossils represent either extinct offshoots of humans, or extinct apes, these two groups not being evolutionarily related. Remember that for them, God specially created all major kinds of animals recently in the earth’s history (6,000 to 20,000 years ago). Since that time, animal life has been rapidly evolving. Therefore, there is a direct evolutionary link between some of the hominid fossils and humans (such as Neanderthal), but there is no direct evolutionary link between the ape-like hominids and humans.
Those in the intelligent design community may fall into any of these three groups, or they may have even other interpretations of the hominid fossil data.
The point of all this is that there are numerous definitions of evolution and there are numerous views about human evolution. Before any debate about evolution can end, there is going to have to be a clear definition of terms and then strong evidence marshaled. This article fails to do either.
As a footnote, Leakey says his reason for wanting the evolution debate to end is the following:
If you get to the stage where you can persuade people on the evidence, that it’s solid, that we are all African, that color is superficial, that stages of development of culture are all interactive, then I think we have a chance of a world that will respond better to global challenges.
What is truly bizarre about this statement is that I’m not aware of anyone from the creationist community who denies any of this. Certainly Christian creationists have no problem affirming that all humans are descended from the same place, and would even go one further and say that we are descended from the same two people. We would also affirm that all human races are equal in the eyes of God, and nobody disputes that development of culture is interactive. I have no idea who Leakey is arguing against in these remarks, and so the main thrust of Leakey’s thoughts are completely lost on me.