Thursday, August 09, 2007

Bad Homo! Bad, Bad Homo!

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" We'll bet that title has you wondering, eh?

Okay, we're not going to talk about homosexuals. Our subject today is the genus Homo, which is us and some other critters that have gone extinct.

When I was in college, studying human evolution pretty closely, my professors were excited by fossil finds of a bipedal hominid they called Homo habilis. This hominid walked upright the way we do and used its hands the way we do. It had a small brain, but that brain was still bigger than some of the other hominids that were contemporary with it, called Australopithecines. Homo habilis looked like a prime candidate for human ancestry, especially since it appeared in the fossil record before a critter we're sure is a human ancestor. That critter is named Homo erectus. (For some reason I've always loved that particular hominid name.)

Today, fresh out of Tanzania, comes news that the celebrated Leakey family has found both Homo habilis and Homo erectus living in the same environment at roughly the same time. Ergo, Homo habilis and Homo erectus probably have a common ancestor, but the one is not grandma to the other.

Well, dear ones, we are sure to get a tidal wave of "I told you so" from the Intelligent Design contingent. A hypothesis of human evolution, held by peer-reviewed scientists for 25 years, suddenly deemed wrong! New evidence proves this hypothesis wrong, wrong, wrong!

Ahem. Discovery Institute dudes? Sorry to spoil your party, but finds like this actually work against you. Finds like this show that as new evidence becomes available, scientists will alter their views. Let them come pouring from the ground, these fossils that confound the pretty progress of human evolution! Because, tsk tsk tsk. They still don't prove that the world was made in six days by an Intelligent Designer.

Science starts with a proposition and seeks evidence to prove it. If the evidence doesn't prove the proposition, science moves on to a new proposition.

Intelligent Design starts with a certainty and seeks evidence to prove it. Any evidence that disproves the certainty is either skewed, ignored, or downright falsified.

For the record, we at "The Gods Are Bored" are not paleontologists or anthropologists. (In order to study human evolution as a graduate student, you have to take Gross Anatomy. Trust me, we at "The Gods Are Bored" would rather write blurb copy for K-Mart circulars than cut up a dead person, so that was that.)

No one on the staff of "The Gods Are Bored" is an expert on the genus Homo. However, in our humble, unscientific, but perhaps provable opinion, many species both gone and among us are probably really Homo. Herein, a sampling:

Genus Homo Should Include

Australopithecines, including Afarensis and Robustus.
Pan, and that would be your chimps.
Us, and that would be Homo erectus, Neanderthals, and Homo sapiens.

One final puzzlement for today. Who named us Homo sapiens, "Thinking human?" The majority of us don't think worth a rat's ass. I don't have enough Latin to coin the name we ought to have, Homo crap on the world and call it progress.

FROM ANNE
THE MERLIN OF BERKELEY SPRINGS

6 comments:

Aquila ka Hecate said...

Homo planto somes attero in orbis terrarum quod dico is progressio

I had to translate 'crap' rather idiomatically, I'm afraid.

Love,
Terri in Joburg

Paul said...

I agree the genus Homo ought to be extended to our nearest relatives, living and dead. That it's not seems to me to be more a matter of taste than of science.

JaAnBe said...

I think I think, therefore I am thinking.

Anne Johnson said...

My comments section rocks.

Thomas said...

I may be a bit out of date here. It's been eight years since I took my last anthropology class in college but weren't habilis the ones with sagital crests? I don't remember them being considered in the direct sapien lineage.

It's been a while, though.

Anne Johnson said...

robustus has the sagital crest. much less pronounced in habilis.