The Greatest Show on Earth: Dawkins

QUESTION: The Greatest Show on Earth by Dawkins – What about the Missing Link?


Richard Dawkins defines the concept of “the missing link” as “the alleged gap between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom.” He spends much of the rest of his chapter on the fossil record taking on some of the pseudoscientific claims made by some in the name of creationism, for instance, the weak (to put it mildly) argument, ‘I’ll believe in evolution when I see a monkey give birth to a human baby.’ There are plenty of well-meaning creationists out there who utilise this level of argumentation -- but to suggest or imply that such reasoning is ‘mainstream’ is very misleading indeed. There are many sophisticated and well-informed critiques of Darwinian orthodoxy in the scientific literature. Richard Dawkins should be responding to them, rather than the under-informed laypeople, who, perhaps should be spending less time teaching apologetics, more time getting their facts straight! (For the record, Darwinists do not believe that humans are descended from modern monkeys, but that modern monkeys and humans shared a common ancestor.)

The Greatest Show on Earth: Dawkins - Lucy
In the proceeding chapter (chapter 7), Richard Dawkins outlines several fossil organisms which he deems to be feasible intermediates between humans and the common ancestor we share with chimpanzees. One example to which Dawkins alludes is ‘Lucy’. Dawkins remarks,
    The most famous fossil…is ‘Lucy’, classified by her discoverer in Ethiopia, Donald Johanson, as Australopithecus afarensis. Unfortunately we have only fragments of Lucy’s cranium, but her lower jaw is unusually well preserved. She was small by modern standards, although not as small as Homo floresiensis, the tiny creature the newspapers have irritatingly dubbed ‘the Hobbit’, which died out tantalisingly recently on the island of Flores in Indonesia. Lucy’s skeleton is complete enough to suggest that she walked upright on the ground, but probably also sought refuge in trees, where she was an agile climber. There is good evidence that the bones attributed to Lucy really did all come from a single individual…The conclusion from studies of Lucy and her king is that they had brains about the same size as chimpanzees’ but, unlike chimpanzees, they walked upright on their hind legs…
Indeed, Lucy’s skeleton is very incomplete. Only 40% was found, and a significant percentage of the known bones are rib fragments. As Dawkins notes, very little useful material from the skull was recovered. Ironically, Lucy still represents the most complete pre-Homo known hominid skeleton to date. Dawkins’ assertion that “There is good evidence that the bones attributed to Lucy really did all come from a single individual” is highly precarious. Given the fragmentary nature of many of the bones and the highly incomplete nature of the skeleton, the argument seems highly suspect. Consider, for example, Lucy’s femur or the pelvis, the most prized parts of her skeleton. It is an extremely difficult case to state that all Lucy’s bones are clearly from one individual of one species, and it requires some heavy assumptions.

Leaving the fragmentary nature of Lucy’s skeleton aside, let us assume for the moment that Lucy was a fully bipedal ape – would that necessarily qualify her as a human ancestor? Given that the much earlier fossil record from the Miocene yields bipedal apes that supposedly evolved upright-walking completely independently from the line that supposedly led to humans, it would seem that the answer is emphatically no.

Even if we concede that Lucy walked upright, there is strong evidence to suggest that her mode of locomotion was, in significant ways, very different from that of modern humans. For example, it is almost certain that A. afarensis and other australopithecines were not adapted to a striding gait and running, as humans are. It doesn’t seem very advantageous, and therefore likely, to use bipedality as one’s primary mode of locomotion if one cannot use it to quickly run from predators.

As Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin write in their book, Origins Reconsidered – In Search of What Makes us Human:
    “We were sent a cast of the Lucy skeleton, and I was asked to assemble it for display,” remembers Peter Schmid, a paleontologist at the Anthropological Institute in Zurich. … “When I started to put [Lucy’s] skeleton together, I expected it to look human,” Schmid continues. “Everyone had talked about Lucy as being very modern, very human, so I was surprised by what I saw.” … “What you see in Australopithecus is not what you’d want in an efficient bipedal running animal,” says Peter. “The shoulders were high, and, combined with the funnel-shaped chest, would have made arm swinging very improbable in the human sense. It wouldn’t have been able to lift its thorax for the kind of deep breathing that we do when we run. The abdomen was potbellied, and there was no waste, so that would have restricted the flexibility that’s essential to human running.”
Richard Dawkins’ contention, then, that “[Lucy] walked upright on [her] hind legs, as we do…” ignores large volumes of skeletal evidence that Lucy did not in fact walk upright. The only real reason to discard Lucy’s clear anatomical evidence that she climbed trees and knuckle-walked is the Darwinist preference for her to be a fully-bipedal ape that was on her way toward evolving into a modern human. But this is circular.

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