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Science and Human Origins: An Important New Book by Ann Gauger, Douglas Axe and Casey Luskin


Lurking behind the evolution debate is a question that is smaller than evolution as a whole, having encompassed only an exceedingly brief span of time in the more than 3-billion-year history of life. Yet in emotional terms, for Darwinists and Darwin doubters alike, this question -- the mystery of human origins -- drives the controversy around Darwinian theory as does no other point of contention.

Intensely personal in a way the bacterial flagellum never will be, it is the subject of an important new book just published by Discovery Institute Press. You will hear a lot about it from us in coming days, including from the book's scientist authors, Ann Gauger, Douglas Axe and Casey Luskin.

Science and Human Origins is a book about science yet its importance lies no less in anthropology. Not anthropology the social-science field, but the ageless enigma of what a man is. Are you a clever animal, or something incomparably other? In his Introduction, John West cites G.K. Chesterton who wrote that, "Man is not merely an evolution but rather a revolution." That frames the subject concisely.

If the book's message can be crystalized in brief, it is that the scientific mystery of man's origins remains very much a mystery. Aggressive advocates of scientism -- and some equally aggressive theistic evolutionists who claim to disavow scientism -- insist that evolutionary biology has got us all figured out. But this is a huge bluff. The highlights of Science and Human Origins include:

  • Dr. Gauger and Dr. Axe lay out the sobering evidence showing how far beyond Darwinian evolution's power the task of building a human being actually lies.
  • Ann Gauger and Casey Luskin interrogate the fossil and genetic evidence on offer that claims to trace a smooth evolutionary path from earlier primates many million years ago to Koko and Bonzo on one hand and to Bach, Beethoven and Brahms on the other.
  • Finally Dr. Gauger considers a controversy swirling in the religious and evolutionary communities: whether the origin of the first human beings could potentially go back to a single pair, or whether a "bottleneck" of 10,000 or more individuals seems required by population genetics.
Of concern to the authors of Science and Human Origins is the attempt by dogmatic Big Science to insist on a simplistic and false account of where we came from, an account to be spat back automatically upon request by all students and adults. With parents, teachers and legislators pressing successfully for academic freedom in public schools, the book could hardly be more timely.

There's a kind of person, increasingly influential in the media and academia, who revels in driving home the message, eagerly rubbing our faces in it, that people are no better than just another species of animal.

"Seeing too much of ourselves in other animals might not be the problem we think it is," a physician wrote in the New York Times the other day. "Underappreciating our own animal natures may be the greater limitation."

Why would a class of mostly high-prestige media folks and academicians be drawn to degrading their own image of themselves? I won't speculate other than to observe how many other otherwise thoughtful people in our culture, with no interest in self-degradation but who serve in an enabling roll to the degraders, have given up on trying to understand the science of human origins and simply conceded to Darwinism.

Evolutionary biology in its public presentation makes a great show of having figured everything out. We are told that humans share a common ancestral heritage with apes and emerged from an undistinguished primate past through an unguided process of random genetic variations winnowed by natural selection. Simple!

"Evolution is a game of chance," as the New Scientist assured its readers in a cover story this month that purported to identify "some of the winning mutations that helped us hit the jackpot."

These evolutionary accidents took us on a 6-million year journey from something similar to a great ape to us, Homo sapiens.
It's remarkable how thin the evidence for this uncomplicated assertion turns out to be. Today at his website Why Evolution Is True, University of Chicago evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne tells of having his impacted wisdom tooth pulled. As the title of his blog promises, this "vestigial" tooth demonstrates our human evolutionary past. Wisdom teeth
are a remnant of the time when our ancestors had larger jaws and needed the full set of 32 teeth to process a diet consisting largely of vegetation. Our jaws are smaller now and can't fit those four back teeth, with the result that they are often impacted -- that is, they don't erupt properly. This can cause a whole host of problems, including infections, cysts, and even tumors.
Even if this story is true, it shows only a physiological development within a species. It's our human ancestors who required all 32 teeth for their diet whereas, in this telling, we can get away with fewer. Yet we are no less human than they were. No one denies that minor variations rise and fall in a species over time. This is not "evolution" in any sense that's actually up for debate.

The paucity of evidence for human evolution has, however, failed to deter a lot of people from drawing any conclusion from it that they wish. Yesterday I happened to follow a series of links that led me to a term, still in use, that I didn't remember coming across before: "evolcons," conservatives who take inspiration for their political and social ideas from the scientific study of human evolution.

My old National Review colleague John O'Sullivan, a very smart man, originated the term back in 1999 when he sympathetically described evolcons for NR's readers:

This is an almost wholly intellectual group (e.g., Steve Sailer, John McGinnis, Charles Murray) -- not a politician brave enough to stand with them -- who have realized two things: first, that lessons of the new science of evolutionary psychology are largely conservative ones about an adamantine human nature, the natural basis of sex roles, and so on; second, that the knowledge gained from the Human Genome Project and the rise of genetic engineering will throw up some fascinating and contentious political issues in the increasingly near future.
Steve Sailer, another National Review writer at the time, adopted the label with pleasure, adding that it referred to "'conservatives who actually know something about the science of human nature. 'Cool,' I thought."

But if the science behind human evolution turns out to be fluffed-up bunk at worst, and at best highly speculative extrapolations from meager paleontological, genetic, and other data, then we'll have to derive the principles of our political, social and religious views from other sources. Science can't help us there.

In fact, in just the 13 years since John coined the term "evolcon," "evolutionary psychology" has come to be mocked even by many Darwinists while the disappointments of the Human Genome Project, which James Le Fanu describes mordantly in Why Us?, are now well known. We are not our genes. O'Sullivan's "evolutionary conservatism" is already quaint.

Science and Human Origins gives a preview of how what currently passes for the scientific account of human evolution will, in the near future, appear creaky, outdated and quaint. Far from having it all figured out, science points to ever more causes for doubting the standard evolutionary story, for those willing to see. It also gives us reasons to look in new directions, to the way the evidence gestures to purpose and design in our own nature.

ENV will have much more to say on this, including excerpts from the book, reviews and comments. But if you are impatient for the real deal itself, the text between paper or electronic covers, your best bet is to go and buy a copy.