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3.8M-year-old skull of an early ape-like human ancestor discovered in Ethiopia (bbc.co.uk)
296 points by iamben 19 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 128 comments



>The reason for this likely elevated status is because we can now say that anamensis and afarensis actually overlapped in time.

This seems to be the rule, rather than the other exception, at least in human evolution. Erectus overlapped with more modern archaics, for example. Habilis overlapped with afarensis.

A lot of these are more about the semantics than the substance. Words like "species" get tricky, when you're dealing with chronspecies, introgression and such.

In any case, our evolution since speciating from chimps is extremely bushy. There are lots of species, and several families. The process involved lots of innovation/speciation and extinctions. Ie, The australopithecine family that this species may have founded produced many species, including at least two that formed their own families with multiple species of their own (paranthropous & homo).

I think this is characteristic of fast evolutionary processes.


My impression is that we just don't have enough data to draw an accurate timeline, much less a tree, and are an order of magnitude away from being able to study second-order phenomenon like introgression. I think fewer than 10,000 early hominid individuals have been found, most with very partial skeletons. And they aren't distributed uniformly across time and space; you might find a dozen in one cave, then nothing for thousands of years, or nothing on an entire continent.

"You could fit it all into the back of a pickup truck if you didn't mind how much you jumbled everything up." - Ian Tattersall

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/6578939-since-the-dawn-of-t...

It also seems like every time they find a new fossil, they change their mind about how everything fits together. I am not an expert in this field, but if I had a small dataset and I fit a very complex model to it with literally hundreds of free parameters and I found that the model completely changed every time I added a few new data points and re-fit, then I would conclude I was dealing with a high-variance model that was overfitting the data and either use a simpler model or wait until I had collected much more data before trying to fit such a complex model.


Definitely not enough to draw an accurate timeline, but enough for educated guesses. As you say, guestimates shift with major discoveries, but not quite as much as pop-science press would have you think.

This species is now the oldest known australopithecine, by a hair. It is a contemporary and possible ancestor of afarensis. It's true that we don't know (and probably won't because it's too old for DNA) if these fossils just represent diversity in a species, subspecies or several species. We do know that they're similar to each other. We also know that they existed 4mya. Divergence from chimps is thought to have happened around 6-7mya (also controversial, and subject to change). So... all the australopithecines at that time were probably genetically compatible, considering apes slow breeding and how long it takes most large mammals to completely speciate.

Considering how different they are from chimps and similar they are to each other, it's a decent guess that they are closely related. We know that the genus had at least 5 types/subspecies/species, 6 if we include habilis.

Baboons occupy a similar niche to australopithecines. There are 5 closely related species. They hybridize often, but still maintain these separate species/types, probably because it's adaptive in their respective ecosystems. It's meaningful that australopithecines had a similar pattern.

An interesting side point is that there's some speculation that baboons emerged once australopithecines (inc habilis) declined, homo (erectus) emerged and the ecological niche became free.

So yes, we can't tell exactly which of these extremely closely related types represent distinct "species" and which of these is our immediate ancestor. But, that's more semantics than substance. We have pretty strong evidence that early homo was an australopithecine type, within a closely related (recently emerged) genus.. and that there was probably a lot of hybridization within the genus.

There's a lot to the difference between definitive knowledge and no knowledge.


Is it wrong to believe at this point that instead of macro evolution, we could be looking at several differing extinction points?


I believe "macro evolution" is a bit of a controversial term, as it that term and the corresponding "micro evolution" have been co-opted by creationists, who obtusely claim that there is no evidence for macro evolution, but that they accept micro evolution.

I'm reading "The Greatest Show on Earth" (which is a fantastic book for a broad overview of the evidence for evolution. The evidence is truly astounding and awesome). Dawkins spends a bit of time arguing that the distinction between micro and macro isn't that meaningful. However, I just skimmed the Wikipedia pages and it seems the terms may have some legitimate usage? Perhaps his unfortunate dealings with creationists have simply spoiled the terms for him.


I think the point is that we know so little that we might look at a huge number of wildly different scenarios.

So... keep digging!


Or..that we need more faith to believe in evolution than to believe in creation


Maybe, but creation has zero evidence in its favor


Regarding the multiple human ancestors aspect, here is an diagram of human species or groups if you want to avoid the "what is a species discussion" : https://imgur.com/a/AfrYjqF It is from a recent symposium [1] on human evolution The vertical axis is the age. The horizontal axis represent the geographical spread and the color represents the continent.

We can see multiples things:

- Disregard the 2010, it is indeed up-to-date. These past few years new bars have been added regularly.

- A single homo species is a new development and is an exception and not the rule

- Not only did different species live at the same time they sometimes lived in the same places

- There is no edges between the groups to represent ancestors as a simple "single ancestor" link is not easy to establish.

[1] https://www.college-de-france.fr/media/jean-jacques-hublin/U...


Wow, that is an amazing chart!


is the poster from, or for* the symposium? If it's the later, it'd not be useful without the resulting discussion.


The impression I got from a recent PBS Eons video on the non-existing missing link[0] is that interbreeding happened all the time and that a very realistic possibility for the answer is "most, possibly all of them".

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwW40Dj5Sro


At >4mybp, this species may have been genetically close enough to interbreed with chimp ancestors. If it overlapped with afarensis and other australopithecines, hybridisation almost certainly would have been possible. These guys were as closely related (at least in the earliest periods) to eachother as we were to Neanderthals, denisovans and the other undiscovered species who we know our ancestors mixed with.

Homo habilis started its career as an australapithicine, and could probably reproduce with "non-homo" species.

A lot of the classification only makes sense after the fact. If habilis hadn't produced the homo genus, it would just be an australapithicine, and we wouldn't consider it separate from them.


To what extent does number of chromosomes matter, here? I'm still confused about how species with different number of chromosomes can successfully interbreed without major problems in their offspring and thus I am still confused about the process of how a species can change its number of chromosomes (since the genetic problems that might occur with such crossbreeding would not likely be terribly helpful in survival). Is there any really good explanation for this that someone can point me to?


Having a different number of chromosomes is a hurdle, but not an absolute barrier to offspring reproductive viability. It's not necessarily an issue for animal health.

Horses & donkeys have a different number of chromosomes. They're also separated by an estimated 4m years of evolution, which is around the rule of thumb limit for large mammal hybridization so it makes sense that they're borderline hybridizable. They have shorter generations than us apes.

Anyway, mules are healthy. No survival issues. They are mostly infertile, but not 100% of the time.


PBS Eons is an amazing show! Their other episodes on Purple Earth, the Devil Hogs, etc are great!

I love my boy Steve!


Yes, if they overlapped in time and location, they probably interbred. With everything that ~looked like them. Or at least tried to. As we're seeing with Neandertals and contemporaries.


A PBS show was my first though too.

It seems pretty clear that rather than various "species" and isolated lines that there is all sort of mingling of the lines and trees, and to some extent you can expect it happened in places that you otherwise might not have assumed before.


How do {archaeologists?, paleoanthropologists?} even know where to look for these things?

"There's a whole bunch of land, let's dig... [throws dart at map] here."


Neil Shubin's Your inner fish (a pretty cool book, I might add) discusses this briefly in the introduction. From memory, it's a question of combining geological knowledge with knowledge of what you want to find. Basically, you're looking for rocks that are likely to preserve fossils and of the correct environment (no use looking for deep sea sediments when looking for humanoids, for example) and the correct age for the fossils you're interested in. Now that you know more or less what kind of rocks are relevant, you can look at geological maps and find places where these rocks are exposed (and not, say, buried 2000 metres below the surface).


Geologists have been studying and codifying various layers of rock and the types of fossils within them across the world for centuries. So it’s well established how old the exposed rock layers are in any particular part of the world long before they had any idea how old things are. Then as dating methods have improved we can make correspondences between these rocks and their age. So as mentioned by another commenter, paleontologists can take that knowledge of how old the rocks are, and what environment they were laid down in, and how they were formed, along with our existing knowledge of the age of various species, and their locations, and then find a likely spot with easily accessible layers from the right location and time period and conditions and they might get lucky.


Almost all of the discoveries are in the Great Rift Valley in river basins or old river basins. The combination of the geologic upheaval and erosion from the water have literally left fossils sticking out of the ground. Likewise, discoveries are found in quarries and mines. This is how the first hominid discovery was found, A. africanus in a South Africa.

The discoveries also make it seem like they just found a hominid skull, but in actuality they find hundreds of fossils (animals mostly, a few hominids) and it takes years to sort and identify the fossils. It always amazes me that the expert can take a small bone fragment and determine hominid vs deer vs monkey. Even further, which type of hominid they found, even from something like a skull fragment.


This skull was found by a goat herder, albeit a paleontology enthusiast, while digging a goat pen:

At the time, an expedition co-led by Haile-Selassie was digging at Woranso-Mille, a field site in Ethiopia’s Afar region less than three miles from Miro Dora, where Bereino was herding. According to Haile-Selassie, Bereino had tried for years to get himself hired on Haile-Selassie’s team. He sometimes claimed that fossils emerged from eroded rock; when Haile-Selassie had visited in the past, he hadn’t see any.

On this particular day, Bereino was digging an addition to a temporary goat pen when he noticed a bone exposed in the sandstone surface. Bereino got in touch with a local government official, who agreed that it might be something Haile-Selassie would find interesting.

When the official called Haile-Selassie, he remained skeptical, replying that Bereino should mark where he found the fossil and walk it over to his camp. When Bereino and the official arrived, Haile-Selassie soon realized the magnitude of the find. Bereino had found a maxilla, or upper jawbone, belonging to an ancient hominin.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2019/08/unprecede...


The corollary of this is pretty awe inspiring - we find only a fraction of a percent of the fossil record that exists, and the fossil record that exists is only a fraction of a percent of everything that happened, all the species that existed, etc.

The fact that we can still derive meaningful knowledge out of that compounded fraction of fraction of a percent is amazing; and the quantity of mind blowing things that happened that we will never get to know because they weren't "recorded" is humbling.


It also seems to imply that as discoveries on the surface dry up, we could make many more with deeper excavations.


Geologists/geology can be useful in identifying promising sediments with particular characteristics, like dried lake beds, of particular ages.


My archaeologist friend started getting into flying drones to take photos of an area of land, and then running analysis of of the imagery to pinpoint potential digging spots.


Bio Anthropologists normally in conjunction with archaeologists


brute-force is one way to find these things


Why does it have to be only one ancestor ape, and not several that evolved human-like features simultaneously in the same environment?

We have Neanderthal DNA, that we inherited through interbreeding.

Why can't both we and the Neanderthals be descendent from a varied group of very similar apes that interbred as well? Isn't this the most likely scenario?

Sometimes I think scientists fall for the same simplistic patterns of thinking that the men on the street fall for every day.

Like, there is only one solution, there is only one cause, there is only one reason, when in fact reality is much more complex than that.


> Sometimes I think scientists fall for the same simplistic patterns of thinking that the men on the street fall for every day.

Sometimes I think that BBC articles don't do a perfect job of precisely explaining the patterns of thinking of scientists.


> Why does it have to be only one ancestor ape

It doesn’t. That is the crux of this article and almost all the scholarship I’ve encountered on the question over the past few decades.

> Isn't this the most likely scenario?

No. The human genome is unusually homogenous, in part thanks to recent Ice Ages inducing bottlenecks. The simplest explanation, to our proximate evolution, is linear. (The simplest explanation is wrong.)

The fossil evidence, for that matter, while it shows significant overlap, does, broadly, present a remarkably-linear path over about 4 million years, with a series of branching-then-consolidating phases.


>Sometimes I think scientists fall for the same simplistic patterns of thinking that the men on the street fall for every day.

Practising scientists are loath to speculate without good evidence; it lays them open to criticism by peers, and damages their credibility with reviewers. Unfortunately this means that there is often a lot of inertia that slows the change of focus and means that there is some waste as the wrong work gets done (work that is known to be irrelevant by most of the community, but passes review). On the other hand this reticence does mean that there is less flailing around and hype than you see in other areas - such as business IT fads (Big Data, ML, AI, Serverless, Microservices...)


>Sometimes I think scientists fall for the same simplistic patterns of thinking that the men on the street fall for every day.

From the article:

>The term "missing link" drives anthropologists crazy when they hear anyone, especially journalists, use it to describe a fossil that is part-ape and part-human.

>Indeed Dr Henry Gee, a senior editor at Nature, once threatened to "rip my liver out and eat it with onions, borlotti beans and a glass of claret" if I did so when reporting a previous discovery.

>There are many reasons for Henry's irritation, but chief among them is the recognition that there are many links in the chain of human evolution and most if not nearly all of them are still missing.


This is your own painting with a massive brush. Obviously people who devote a lot of their lives to figuring this stuff out know there is not one solution. It's important to at least create a hierarchy of species that we've evolved from and something will inevitably be closest to our genetic makeup.


> a varied group of very similar apes that interbred

Such a group would simply be one species. Having many different species as ancestors also wouldn't explain the exceptional homogeneity of the human genome.

The present discovery though doesn't change things as much as the article tries to imply. It just means the speciation (from the appearance of A. afarensis to the disappearance of A. anamensis) lasted longer than previously thought, or at least that the A. afarensis species appeared earlier than we thought.

All the rest is complete speculation and the discovery doesn't really give any reason to think our ancestry tree might be different than previously thought.


Is it a metaphor problem? That in the language there's still an underlying assumption of a tree-like shape, where a trunk diversifies into many little branches... but of course if you look at an individual and trace backwards, the further you get, the more ancestors you have.


Yeah, it's a blegg/rube error. The lines between species are a lot blurrier than our nice neat taxonomy would have you believe.


> Why does it have to be only one ancestor ape, and not several that evolved human-like features simultaneously in the same environment?

They have first to geographically split to live and evolve in two separate similar environments and then merge while still being compatible.


HN is such an amazing community. Where else could you find commenters that know better than the scientists authoring the Nature article in question, and can then identify exactly why their own thinking is so much deeper than of most other people?


Every online newspaper's comment section?


> Where else could you find commenters that know better than the scientists authoring the Nature article in question,

They don't know better, they try to understand better. Why not?


When someone talks about how "scientists fall for the same simplistic patterns of thinking that the men on the street fall for every day", while explaining how "in fact reality is much more complex than that", does it feel like they're humbly trying to better understand the world?

To me it sounds like someone who clearly has a deeper understanding of the topic than those scientists. And I love that.


Does the comment strike you as "understanding" or even "trying to understand"?

It paints a blanket picture, with no qualifications (read a few articles at best), and belittles what the scientists in general "do".


Also the point the commenter thinks they're original in making is the main point of the actual article.


Prof Haile-Selassie? Is Haile-Selassie a common last name or has he anything to do with the other Haile Selassie?


The naming conventions in Ethiopia are different than the western world. My Ethiopian friend explained it to me that the first name is their name, second is father's name, third grandfather's. I'm not sure about the hyphen though. See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naming_conventions_in_Ethiopia...


The parts of the name seem relatively common. There's a distance runner Haile Gebrselassie [1], and a soccer player Theodor Gebre Selassie [2], and others with no obvious connection to Haile Selassie.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haile_Gebrselassie

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodor_Gebre_Selassie


Haile Selassie means 'Power of the trinity' in Ethiopic. Given Ethiopia is quite religious (Orthodox Christian), it seems like it'd be common enough.


> The truth is far more complex and far more interesting. It tells a story of evolution "trying out" different "prototype" human ancestors in different places until some of them were resilient and clever enough to withstand the pressures wrought by changes in climate, habitat and food scarcity - and evolve into us.

To me this is the gist of the article as well of the stream of recent discoveries and papers released. It's also a pattern that permeates computer science nowadays, applying to different realms, from system design to DevOps to team collaboration.


Is there any type of ultrasound-like equipment used by archaeologists that scans below ground and allows some crude-resolution view of whats below?


Yes, but it's "crude", and therefore not very high resolution. I've never seen anything high enough resolution to discover bone fragments. The same technology is used for oil and gas exploration.

See:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ground-penetrating_radar

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reflection_seismology

https://corporate.exxonmobil.com/energy-and-environment/tool...

https://www.pgs.com/imaging/


I wonder if it is possible to extract some DNA from the artifact and use it for cloning?


I don't think it's possible unless the fossil is well-preserved in a way that some cells retain intact genetic materials[1].

[1] - https://youtu.be/cQR5P_C2ElE?t=2373


Interesting to see the intermediate nose shape as it evolved from ape to human.


How did they determine its age?


I'm not sure about this specific case, but they can use uranium-lead dating, looking at its isotopes, to determine stones several million years old. They examine the rock the fossil is in to determine the fossil's age. They also combine that technique with some confirmation techniques: examining the bones of the other animals found with the homonids, knowing the time period those animals were alive; looking at the plants in the same stone layers and knowing those time periods; they also look at the stone tools (or lack thereof) knowing how tools evolved to help confirm the age.

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uranium%E2%80%93lead_dating


> A fossil hominin cranium was discovered in mid-Pliocene deltaic strata in the Godaya Valley of the northwestern Woranso-Mille study area in Ethiopia. Here we show that analyses of chemically correlated volcanic layers and the palaeomagnetic stratigraphy, combined with Bayesian modelling of dated tuffs, yield an age range of 3.804 ± 0.013 to 3.777 ± 0.014 million years old (mean ± 1σ) for the deltaic strata and the fossils that they contain.

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1514-7


ELI5


They found the bone in the rock. Scientists look at the rock and can tell the rocks age. They assume that the bone is about the same age as the rock it was found inside.


And how did they determine the age of the rock?


There are many methods of determining rock age. A common one is finding signature fossils that are known to only exist between certain ages. Putting the rock in a machine to record its magnetic field and correlating this with pole reversals on earth. Using isotope ratios (not just radiocarbon dating), chemical composition, identifying how the sediment was laid down by rivers or the sea etc.


This may be as close to ELI5 as it can be. https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiometric_dating


Scientists look at the bone and can tell the bones age. ((Just kidding))


[flagged]


We basically have common ancestors with all animals, but:

* We are way closer to a bird than to an amoeba, so our shared ancestors with birds are closer in time than our shared ancestors with amoebas.

* We are way closer to a cat than to a bird, so our shared ancestors with cats are closer in time than our shared ancestors with birds.

* We are way closer to an ape than to a cat, so our shared ancestors with apes are closer in time than our shared ancestors with cats.


'Closeness' (whatever you mean by that) doesn't really imply ancestry without some hefty presuppositions.


> 'Closeness' (whatever you mean by that) doesn't really imply ancestry without some hefty presuppositions

Of course it does. It doesn't prove ancestry. But genetic similarity implies proximate shared ancestry.

We can take microbes (or fruit flies), subject them to stress, let the survivors reproduce, and watch the genotypes branch into a diverse population. We can then take the observed path of genetic variation and compare it to the relative closeness of the population at the end of the experiment. That's one way we validate the statistical techniques used to relate genetic similarity to probable ancestry.


> It doesn't prove ancestry.

...And science isn't really about proof, it's about predictive models that are falsifiable but which have resisted falsification. While it hopes to reach or approximate truth, ultimately it's about pragmatic utility.


You're making a whole lot of unfounded and unproven assumptions here!

For example: what if the current genetic diversity on Earth is the result of genetic engineering by ancient aliums?

That's a facile example, but there are serious deeper issues here. The mechanisms of gene transfer are too complex for us to explain presently, including things like viruses, horizontal transfer, etc.

You're assuming a simplistic darwinist model that we already know isn't true.


> You're making a whole lot of unfounded and unproven assumptions here!

The grandparent post makes no unfounded assumptions. It makes unproven ones for a strict definition of “proven”, but that's trivially true since no statements about physical reality can actually be proven, only statements about the relation of abstract concepts can be proven, and then only within a given system of axioms.

> For example: what if the current genetic diversity on Earth is the result of genetic engineering by ancient aliums?

That is indeed an example of an assumption that is not merely unproven but actually unfounded, but it's not an example of one made in the grandparent post so I don't know how it is relevant.

> The mechanisms of gene transfer are too complex for us to explain presently, including things like viruses, horizontal transfer, etc.

There are aspects that lack complete explanation, but that doesn't diminish the power of what we do understand (also, viruses and horizontal gene transfer aren't two things we can't explain, viruses are one of the main mechanisms of horizontal gene transfer.)

> You're assuming a simplistic darwinist model that we already know isn't true.

I see no evidence that that is the case; modern models are not simplistic Darwinism models of the type that involve only transfer by descent.


> what if the current genetic diversity on Earth is the result of genetic engineering by ancient aliums? [sic]

For purposes of explaining the last 4 million years of human evolution, it’s irrelevant whether conscious or unguided phenomena created forms even as recent as mammals.

> You're assuming a simplistic darwinist model that we already know isn't true

No, nobody is.

Retroviral horizontal transfer is fascinating, but it’s one of many mutation vectors. At the scale of speciation, the specific way a mutation arises can be largely ignored. (Creationism aside.)


> what if the current genetic diversity on Earth is the result of genetic engineering by ancient aliums?

What if? Obviously they must have engineered it such that current evolution theories have the best predictive value for their achievement. A clever bunch, no doubt, but unfortunately outside of the realm of science because it can't be falsified.


But that's the point: current evolution theories have no predictive value and are based on circular logic.

We assume species have a common ancestor because they have similar DNA, and similar DNA is supposed to be proof of a common ancestry.


so? That still doesn't make an ape my ancestor. Or are you saying that every specie I see is ending up being a human? Or is it only when a specie has been 'a good boy'?

I am a software developer, dealing with logic all day. This idea is flawed all over. Because we don't know how and why Earth and the ecosystem were created doesn't mean we have to come up with some theory because we need one. Especially not build upon a theory that originated in a time when people believed there was an end to the earth where you could fall off.

Simply say to the kids at school that this is something we still don't know. Nothing to be ashamed of.


> are you saying that every specie I see is ending up being a human?

No scientist argues this. Nor does any scientist argue that humans evolved from modern apes.

If you're arguing in good faith, an introductory text on microbial evolution is where you'll find approachable answers. They're on human time scales and adequately describes the multi-path mechanism by which mutation and natural selection lead to speciation and evolution.


Are you implying that if we don't know all the details of something, then we just don't know it? That is, are you implying that if we don't know all the details about our evolution, then we should just say that we know nothing and ignore all the things we actually do know are very very likely?

That would leave you without any empirical sciences, because there has always something we do not know. When Newtonian mechanics where the best we had, they were incomplete, but they are still extremely useful even now that we know they are incomplete. All empirical sciences are essentially some theory that fits the empirical evidenc, but never completely and perfectly.

In my post I'm assuming acceptance of what is commonly accepted in the theory of evolution. If you don't accept that, there is absolutely no point in continuing this discussion.


> if we don't know all the details about our evolution, then we should just say that we know nothing and ignore all the things we actually do know are very very likely?

Nothing wrong with studying and figuring out how things work, you should not look at it with an all or nothing attitude. But assuming from the very start that all human species ancestors are some kind of ape is just so ridiculous that it can only sink in when you are properly conditioned(at school) or properly brainwashed. And teaching it to the kids on school is almost criminal IMHO. You want proof, me too, but we don't have it yet. But I promise you it will not be apes, just as we don't fall of the end of the earth.

> In my post I'm assuming acceptance of what is commonly accepted in the theory of evolution. If you don't accept that, there is absolutely no point in continuing this discussion.

Many things that are commonly accepted are wrong, not? I do have a point and there is a general discussion about this you cannot stop fortunately.


> assuming from the very start that all human species ancestors are some kind of ape

No one makes that assumption. We know from copious hard evidence that humans and modern apes are closely related, and from more limited hard evidence that there were other animals with features similar to both humans and apes long ago. More recent human ancestors were not apes (they were more human-like), and way distant past ancestors were not apes (they were before even prehistoric apes existed), and none of our ancestors were modern apes (which have evolved into their modern forms since our last common ancestors with them, and those common ancestors were not apes as we know them today). Some human ancestors were prehistoric ape-like animals.

Teaching well-established scientific knowledge in schools is essential, and about as far from criminal as it's possible to get. Your "all human species ancestors are some kind of ape" is not well-established scientific knowledge, but your faulty assumption of how you imagine others' knowledge to work.

You seem to be starting with the assumption that evolution isn't real (based on a primary school reaction?!), rather than deriving the knowledge that it is real from the evidence. (Yes, I have actually done this. I had a summer job deriving evolutionary relationships directly from genetic data. It's not difficult, and the connections between species just pop out of the DNA sequences with a bit of maths.) Evolution wasn't just made up, it was figured out from the evidence, just like gravity, electricity, chemistry, etc. Like all scientific fields, our knowledge of it is not complete (and never will be).


> Teaching well-established scientific knowledge in schools is essential

Well established? It's simply not proven, period. You should only teach kids what you are 100% sure about, and when you're not than you have to honestly say that it's an assumption. Otherwise it is not teaching but conditioning.

> Evolution wasn't just made up, it was figured out from the evidence, just like gravity, electricity, chemistry, etc.

Gravity, electricity, etc.. are things you can prove, not the evolution of an ape into a human. I have no clue why so many people desire to believe that our ancestors were apes, I think it's rather pathetic, and most likely due to conditioning.


> Well established? It's simply not proven, period. You should only teach kids what you are 100% sure about

Forget teaching science at all, then. That's not how scientific knowledge works.

Evolution is not "proven". No empirical science theories are ever "proven". But evolution as a theory is pretty much as good as it gets. Yes, some details get reworked from time to time, but the fundamentals are our best bet.

> Gravity, electricity, etc.. are things you can prove

No. How do you "prove" gravity or electricity?

> not the evolution of an ape into a human

Other people have told you multiple times no-one believes apes evolved into humans, so please stop arguing against this strawman. Modern apes and humans share a common ancestor which was neither ape nor human, and the evidence for this is pretty strong.


> Other people have told you multiple times no-one believes apes evolved into humans

You're kidding me? That's what I see with most ape -> human believers, they are 100% sure about things they assume or cannot know. Typical example, thx for that.


Me:

> Other people have told you multiple times no-one believes apes evolved into humans, so please stop arguing against this strawman

You:

> That's what I see with most ape -> human believers

Do you see the problem in this exchange?


> I have no clue why so many people desire to believe that our ancestors were apes

Technically, we are apes, you and me. Hominids, Great apes.

The degree of certainty we have about that and about core concepts of evolution is such that there's simply no room left for an honest discussion. If we look for places to explore alternative ideas, there're: sci-fi, comics and religion.


Gravity is a great example. Newtons and Einstein's models for gravity are now known to be incorrect. There exists no correct,complete, and complete model of how gravity works.

We still teach what we DO know about gravity especially newtons much simpler but incomplete model.


There is no notable and credible alternative theory that doesn't involve rearranging a graph of apelike creatures.

How about you come clean and admit you aren't advocating for a different theory about the shape of life's family tree but the abdication of the need to make one to a "higher power", an unscientific theory that literally possess the most notable flaw you are ascribing to biology. That one must indoctrinate kids at a young age in order to convince anyone.


But then you would also need to explain things like vestigal elements in humans, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_vestigiality. This is all neatly explained by evolution.

For eample, why do humans have a tail bone? Why have muscles attached to the ear that can not move it? Why have wisdom teeth? And there is about a dozen of these things in humans that have no discernable purpose in humans but have a similarity with things in other animals that do serve a purpose.

Evolution gives a model to explain this. Humans evolved from ape-like creatures that had a tail, humans have evolved not to grow the tail but have not quite lost the tail bone. Humans evolved from ape-like creatures that could move their ears. Humans didn't need that and so ears have become fixed without detriment, but have not yet lost the muscles. etc.


Do you mean as opposed to humans and contemporary apes sharing common ancestors?


I mean we are a very different species, we have not evolved from apes, nor have apes evolved from fish. It is an idiot theory that doesn't serve us at all. These apes are not our ancestors fortunately, we are very fortunate to be real humans.

I believe all species DNA are designed by our true ancestors. Imagine what is possible if technology evolves another 1000 years what we would be capable of! And it is incredibly naive to think we are the first and only life in the universe and build an evolution theory upon that..


It's a shame that you're being downvoted, although I'm hoping it's more because of your tone and language than for discussing alternative viewpoints.

The fact of the matter is that the theory of evolution is the best fit for the evidence we currently have available. It doesn't mean that it's "true", and of course scientific theories have been overturned in the past as new evidence has become available. So while the theory you put forward is certainly possible, I'm not familiar with any actual evidence for it. Can you point us to any?

(I'm genuinely curious and trying not to come across as facetious - apologies if it seems that way)


He doesn't want to discuss alternative viewpoints. He wants to throw mud because he can't go right out and say he's a creationist because historically this has probably hasn't gone well for him in prior discussions.

Creationism is a intellectually bankrupt dead end that gives a boring answer of "god did it" to any and all interesting questions and requires no further proof or analysis because god isn't subject to any particular rules and can in fact do it however he pleases whereas scientific theories always have edges you can pick on where things could be improved upon.

Since god did it needs no correction or analysis and provides no useful topics for discussion creationists pick at any flaw they can find in the scientific method or particular theories.

Since they rarely understand the scientific method or the thing they are criticizing in the first place such critiques are often not even wrong.

People like this are huge time wasters that will never learn anything from such discussion and rarely provide any useful data other than practice dealing with bad arguments. This is true even when the poster themselves is by other measures actually a smart person. They just create much more complicated insane models of the world that require more effort to refute.

The actually intelligent religious people have long since realized they could say "god did IT" where it is the universe rather than insisting he sit on earth creating thousands of slightly improved models of snails over the epochs in a way that looks really convincingly like evolution because this either implies he's imperfect because he didn't create the snail right in the first place or that he really likes jerking biology students chains.


I downvoted because of tone: "It is an idiot theory that doesn't serve us at all."

I don't believe the user you are responding to is discussing in good faith, but I admire the work of you and others who are trying to educate (I'm being sincere here).


The details might vary (and occasionally a major mechanism may be questioned too), but the fundamentals of evolution form the core of how we think about biology, and at this point it's extremely unlikely we will find a completely alternative theory that completely discards this one.


So our DNA is engineered and then bestowed upon us by some sort of Promethean figure.

Someone should make a movie about this!


I know you're probably joking, but in case you're not, this is the plot of prequels to the Alien franchise (i.e. Prometheus et al)


And they just happened to engineer our DNA to be almost exactly like that of great apes.


What happened then?


Sad find this type of comment here.


Nature be damned, this has hoax written all over it.


The concept of species is a construct of language.


Yes, but if you look at it that way, to humans, almost everything except direct experience, is a construct of language.

What's the point?


The point is that there’s a continuum in reality. Biological tradition developed around classification of life into categories but life doesn’t come in neat packages.


Just because there is a continuum does not mean specific points along the continuum cannot be identified and tagged as distinct from all other points. There are humans and there are dolphins two different species. It is analogous to the colour spectrum, there is red and there is blue two different colours.


Absolutely. The Smithsonian has an amazing display of skulls arranged in a grid which shows the subtle changes over time. It's amazing. (Sorry, quick search doesn't reveal a pic.)

--

I'd love a layperson's identification guide.

Why is a homo floresiensis (aka "hobbit") not just a small person? Surely there are people alive today that could mistaken for "hobbits".

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homo_floresiensis#Anatomy

Maybe a visual diff tool.

I did just found some charts showing the evolution of select skulls. Hmmm. I guess I want more.


Neat packages of life are called "organisms". We're not all just one big undifferentiated pulsating vat full of chicken flesh.

http://wutheringexpectations.blogspot.com/2012/08/this-is-he...

That’s the one great invention, I think: Chicken Little, the giant pulsing living blobs of meat that feed the planet. Pohl and Kornbluth understand the value of their own idea well enough to know that just talking about Chicken Little is not enough. They have to rig the plot so we meet it. Sensitive eaters, avert your gaze:

He swung open her door. “This is her nest,” he said proudly. I looked and gulped.

It was a great concrete dome, concrete-floored. Chicken Little filled most of it. She was a gray-brown, rubbery hemisphere some fifteen yards in diameter. Dozens of pipes ran into her pulsating flesh. You could see that she was alive.

Herrera said to me: “All day I walk around her. I see a part growing fast, it looks good and tender, I slice.” His two-handed blade screamed again. This time it shaved off an inch-thick Chicken Little steak. (Ch. 9)

http://www.technovelgy.com/ct/content.asp?Bnum=1002

Chicken Little, a huge mass of cultured chicken breast, was kept alive by algae skimmed by nearly-slave labor from multistory towers of ponds surrounded by mirrors to focus the sunlight onto the ponds.

"Scum-skimming wasn't hard to learn. You got up at dawn. You gulped a breakfast sliced not long ago from Chicken Little and washed it down with Coffiest. You put on your coveralls and took the cargo net up to your tier. In blazing noon from sunrise to sunset you walked your acres of shallow tanks crusted with algae. If you walked slowly, every thirty seconds or so you spotted a patch at maturity, bursting with yummy carbohydrates. You skimmed the patch with your skimmer and slung it down the well, where it would be baled, or processed into glucose to feed Chicken Little, who would be sliced and packed to feed people from Baffinland to Little America."

-From The Space Merchants, by Frederik Pohl (w/CM Kornbluth). Published by St. Martin's Press in 1952.


Yet if I take a penguin and an aardvark, they just won't breed. Reality must have something to do with it, surely.


Not with that attitude


Not exactly. Our brains like to put things into separate categories because it makes it easier to think about things being in the same category having same properties. We do this to a fault because otherwise we would be overloaded with complexity of the Universe.


It's the educated person's way of saying "This thing looks different from this other thing."


It's a bit more specific actually: this thing can't mate with that thing and produce viable offspring.


In practice, that is often not the case. Most species haven't been tested to see whether they can produce viable offspring with each other(it's usually impractical), and there are plenty of different species known to breed successfully with one another. Mules, horse-donkey hybrids, while the vast majority of them are infertile, are considered different species. Camels and Llamas can produce viable offspring even though they evolved on two different continents.


Most species don't really need to be tested because their chromosomes are different enough to make it obvious their offspring would be infertile, right?

Of course if hybrids are infertile they would be considered different species.

If hybrids are fertile, like your example of camels and llamas, then according to what reason would they be considered the same species? Did their evolution diverge and then reconverge?

I guess it depends on your definition of "often".


Members of the same species can procreate fertile offspring. In some edge cases this definition becomes a little fuzzy, but it is clearly more than just a linguistic construct. A mouse and an elephant won't be able to procreate even if the word "species" didn't exist.


It's true the same species implies fertile offspring, but it does not go the other way as you seem to be implying. In other words fertile offspring does not imply same species. For some examples, chihuahuas and wolves can produce fertile offspring, as can lions/tigers, killer whales/dolphins, and many more peculiar pairings.

It's quite difficult to pin down a precise definition for species. Even genetic definitions don't work so well. Depending on how it is measured chimps hit around 99% genetic similarity with humans. Nature isn't so kind as to provide clean and concrete delineations for us, at least not that we're currently capable of measuring.


Of course it is "just" a linguistic construct. Those distinct entities do not exist in the real world. We come up with definitions for things we experience as distinct entities. Definitions merely good enough for us to reason about their effects on the rest of the world.


As opposed to what concept that is concrete objective reality?


Sure, this isn’t a popular opinion around here but I find all of these theories such nonsense. Creationism, to me, is a lot kore logical than a random big bang - fast fwd apes / fast fwd humans. So many random events with hardly any logic attached to it. Humans have grown to be so full of themselves, especially in this tech age, where a lot of us find it hard to believe there’s a more intelligent being out there that could have placed us here in the first place. Human arrogance is destroying us from the inside.


What bugs me is the concept of "one point origin". Are we even exploring different angles? Also, how a 4m year old bone is so prestine? African ancestory hoaxes are so common that i just read such news for the sake of it. Doesnt chamge anything even if it were true. But i like the idea that we are sobriety special, even tho the opposite is also just as amazing.


Evolution is simply not sufficient. Dr. David Gelertner, a CS professor from Yale, penned an essay in May that lays out the high level argument against Darwin/Evolution, including references to background material.

https://www.claremont.org/crb/article/giving-up-darwin/


Ugh, no. Intelligent Design strikes again I see. Almost everything in that article is wrong (and also, the same tired pseudoscientific arguments), starting from the fact he claims "Darwinism" is a "credo". Also, Stephen Meyer is not brilliant and he is a quack.

Also, a Computer Science professor has no business arguing about evolution. Or rather, his opinion is as informed as yours or mine, i.e. not very.


Sometimes it's no harm to have eyes from outside a discipline have a look at things.


But this guy mostly took a look at things from widely discredited and dishonest Intelligent Design and Creationist sources (every single person he mentions in his article). ID organizations like the Discovery Institute (of which he quotes people related to) is known to be fundamentally dishonest in trying to hide religious beliefs and pass them as science.

So it's fundamentally dishonest. If this CS professor said "I'm a conservative religious guy [as is the case], I fundamentally believe in Creationism and mainstream science gets in the way of my beliefs" it'd be one thing. We could safely disregard his beliefs in evolution while acknowledging he was honest about choosing his religious beliefs over current science.

It should be noted that another lie of Intelligent Design is that it constantly re-invents itself as the "new thing" but it's as old as the science of evolution. It's essentially Creationism wrapped in new language, but even in this guise it's pretty old. It has been discredited again, and again, and again.

For someone "outside a discipline" to be worth paying attention to, he/she must:

- Accurately describe the current state of the art in said discipline, and explain why they chose to pursue a line of thought at odds with it.

- Take pains not to misrepresent the field they are talking about, and accurately address current beliefs and not outdated views. They must not engage in demolishing strawmen.

- Explain how their current expertise relate to the field they are talking about.

- Be honest about their intentions. If it's about religion, they should say so upfront, so people interested about science can decide whether they find religious arguments relevant.

- Be honest about how they represent the fringe views purportedly backing their own opinion. For example, he claims "Stephen Meyer demolished Darwinism", but Meyer did nothing of the sort -- he is widely thought of as a fringe creationist quack, with no scientific reputation at all within the field of biology. He could instead have argued "Stephen Meyer, contrary to mainstream scientific thought, argues that [something]" instead of saying he "demolished" something (which a cursory search would reveal he didn't). This is a huge red flag.


Let me get this straight... a noteworthy CS professor points out some obvious and undeniable flaws in the current theory or protein 'evolution.' He also points out that is difficult to get serious researchers to grapple with this issue because Darwinism has turned into a dogma where people are viciously attacked if they point out some fundamental flaws with the idea.

Your response:

"Almost everything in that article is wrong "

"pseudoscientific arguments"

"Stephen Meyer is not brilliant and he is a quack"

" Computer Science professor has no business arguing about evolution"

"widely discredited and dishonest "

"known to be fundamentally dishonest"

"So it's fundamentally dishonest."

"another lie"

"fringe views"

"fringe creationist quack"

In short, you've proved his point. Your comments -- in any other area of discussion on HN -- would probably get you flagged.


> points out some obvious and undeniable flaws in the current theory or protein 'evolution.'

He doesn't. He showcases his lack of knowledge of biochemistry.

> that is difficult to get serious researchers to grapple with this issue

It is difficult because serious researchers have found out that explaining these issues doesn't lead to understanding for those who refuse to understand these issues.

If I would illustrate that "Nonsense sequences are essentially random" is not true or that "Your task is to invent a new gene by mutation" is a thought experiment completely unrelated to the discussion, would you change your mind, or would you ignore it and focus on some other "obvious and undeniable flaw"?

At this point, why would any serious biologist bother explaining something to people who feel their very existence depends on that something not being true?


> a noteworthy CS professor points out some obvious and undeniable flaws in the current theory or protein 'evolution.' He also points out that is difficult to get serious researchers to grapple with this issue because Darwinism has turned into a dogma where people are viciously attacked if they point out some fundamental flaws with the idea.

All of this is wrong.

A noteworthy CS professor has zero relevance in a discussion about evolution or biology, particularly when he quotes people who aren't notable in the relevant field and tries to "demolish" strawmen. The word "demolish" is itself a huge red flag.

The sources he quoted are creationist crackpots linked to the Discovery Institute, a notoriously dishonest organization who disguises religion as science.

It is a mistake for the scientific community to engage with crackpots.

> Your comments -- in any other area of discussion on HN -- would probably get you flagged.

No, calling crackpots crackpots -- the mainstream consensus -- won't get me flagged. A big indicator of quackery is a persecution complex ("everyone is against me because of dogma", "they want to suppress dissenting views"). I think it's even in Carl Sagan's baloney detection kit. Sometimes people will call someone a crackpot because they've heard their arguments again and again, debunked them, and still that person insists, with a heavy dose of "the world is conspiring against me". It's ok to call that person a crackpot.

One last thing: in the US the term "Darwinism" (which the article uses) is almost always used by Creationists, and in a pejorative way. From Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darwinism#Other_uses):

"The term Darwinism is often used in the United States by promoters of creationism, notably by leading members of the intelligent design movement, as an epithet to attack evolution as though it were an ideology (an "ism") of philosophical naturalism, or atheism. For example, UC Berkeley law professor and author Phillip E. Johnson makes this accusation of atheism with reference to Charles Hodge's book What Is Darwinism? (1874). However, unlike Johnson, Hodge confined the term to exclude those like American botanist Asa Gray who combined Christian faith with support for Darwin's natural selection theory, before answering the question posed in the book's title by concluding: "It is Atheism." Creationists use the term Darwinism, often pejoratively, to imply that the theory has been held as true only by Darwin and a core group of his followers, whom they cast as dogmatic and inflexible in their belief."


[flagged]


What did I miss?

I argued that:

- The author of TFA is not a subject matter expert.

- He relies on the opinions of people known to hold fringe, debunked opinions on the subject matter, like Stephen Meyer.

- Said people belong to the Discovery Institute, known to promote religion as science.

- It is a pointless exercise for the scientific community to engage with crackpots and people dishonest about their actual goals (e.g. promoting religious views, fighting atheism, whatever it is they believe they are doing).

- A persecution complex ("they want to suppress dissenting views") is usually a sign of crackpottery.

I believe this is substantive, don't you?

> way to do a lot of arguing without actually arguing about anything substantive, A+

If you meant to say "I disagree with you" just say so.


- It is a pointless exercise for the scientific community to engage with crackpots and people dishonest about their actual goals (e.g. promoting religious views, fighting atheism, whatever it is they believe they are doing).

You haven't touched on one single aspect of any of the actual ideas being discussed. All you've offered is ad hominem attacks on the purveyors of the ideas.


His ideas are fringe pseudoscientific ideas at odds with mainstream biology, and he misrepresents the current knowledge he claims to "demolish". He relies on pop culture books from discredited people who are not subject matter experts and who have a religious agenda.

What aspect is there to touch?


This refutes your position utterly by proving it isn't a scientific one but, instead, a political dogma:

https://ncse.com/creationism/legal/cdesign-proponentsists

> For years, "intelligent design" (ID) proponents denied that ID is just a new label for creationism. However, it is now well-known that the first intelligent design "textbook," Of Pandas and People, is just a revised version of a classic "two-model' creationism vs. evolution book named Creation Biology. As Barbara Forrest showed during her testimony in Kitzmiller v. Dover, Pandas was remade into an intelligent design textbook in 1987, in a few months after the Supreme Court ruling against creation science in Edwards v. Aguillard came down.

> The most striking example of the transition was discovered by Dr. Forrest as she compared the drafts of Creation Biology and Of Pandas and People. Not only had "creationism" and "creationist" literally been replaced, apparently via a word processor, with "intelligent design" and "design proponent" in passages that were otherwise unchanged, but she even found a transitional form between the two labels!




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