So read the Wall Street Journal headline Friday, Septemeber 9. 2011(pg A3) and I can't resist but use it as a little segue back to the old issue of evolution. For if true-there is disagreement whether a hoard of fossil finds by scientists in South Africa on Thursday, is in fact part human or not-there could be some interesting implications for the theory of evolution and its detractors.
The new finds all belong to a prehuman species of that time called Austraolopithecus sediba discovered in 2008. From head to toe, the bones reveal an unexpected patchwork of primitive and advanced traits, the researchers reported in the journal Science. The tiny skulls, long arms and diminuitive bodies were all chimp-like: yet the hands, ankles and pelvis were surprisingly modern.
Based on its analysis, the international research team of 80 scientists and technicians, led by Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said the species was the most probable ancestor to which all modern humans belong, the genus Homo.
However, four independent experts in the field of human origins strongly disagreed. The species, which stood about four feet tall, was more likely an evolutionary dead end.
"Just because it shares a bit of anatomical morphology with Homo does not mean it is Homo or ancestral to Homo, " said anthropologist Bernard Wood at George Washington University. "it looks increasingly that these bits of morphology are appearing more than once, independently, it the tree of life."
While I wont even pretend to offer anything like a proper analysis much less any kind of "answer" here which would be regardless, tremendously premature in any case, I can't resist playing Devil's Advocate here and note that if this does prove to be "part human part ape" this would have a some radical implications for the old debate of evolution that has been flaring up in recent years: where some try to argue for "creationism" of some kind or other.
I can't hep but think in particular about the whole debate over "intelligent design" that the creationists have attempted to introduce as they think it represents a serious challenge to belief in the theory of evolution. To be sure, there are different variants of intelligent design and while I would agree most of it is crude Right wing fundamentalism there is some on the Left as well, interestingly. Too recent proponents I can think of right here are Noam Chomsky and Slavoj Zizek, as different as these thinkers are in different ways.
Zizek has argued, especially in his magnum opus, Parallex View of the need for a genuine radical leftist critique to take on the view of creationism rather than evolutionism-which sees there as, among other things, being no first cause. In evolutionism, there are infinite causes and effects but no first cause or first effect or last cause or last effect. In answer to classic paradox of ontology "What came first the chicken or the egg? perhaps the correct evolutionist position is "neither as this is a pseudo question."
My own background to this debate is I was raised in what I think could be accurately called a fundamentalist conservative Christian view. I was raised as a Seventh Day Adventist-for those who don't know much about this faith, a main distinguishing feature by it's own estimation is that while most Christian churches of the last 2000 years since Christ observe Sunday as the day of rest, Seventh Day Adventists effect what they see as a very important and consequential correction on this and go back to the seventh day-as it does say in the 10 commandments, etc-like the Jews observe. It is all tied up with the particular apocalyptic vision of Adventism which sees Sunday worship as the mark of"the Beast" mentioned in the Book of Revelation. In the particular apocalyptic narrative of the Adventists, the Catholic Church and the Pope are seen as the mark of evil as it was the false usurpation of the Church that introduced (pagan) Sunday worship into Christianity.
While my attitude growing up was always skeptical and not credulous towards Adventism or religion in general, it was not till my 20s that I accepted a basic fact of science like evolution, hiding behind illusions like it's just a theory.
However I well remember about 15 years ago, at my mother's urging attending a Friday night church service by some allegedly visionary preacher who was beamed in through satellite. His basic argument was intelligent design and his proof was the concept of "irreducible complexity" the notion that some organisms are so irreducibly complex that they could never had evolved over time but would have had to emerge all at once in a spontaneous act of creation. He used two examples, which were not his own but from Don Behe the modern originator of this theory, a mouse trap and an eye. As the mouse trap and the eye are examples of things which can't operate without all their parts in working order they are irreducibly complex.
Overall this crude idea does not have the respect of most serious scientists but this has not stopped its propenents from having a certain success in forcing some of these theories into certain school curriculums. One error it seems to me of this idea is it is another example of the flawed argument from purposes that has given birth to many philosophical errors. Just because the organism of the eye develops doesn't mean this was the conscious aim of it all through the evolutionary process. This is the erroneous belief called functionalism that cits purposes as explaining things in the area of biology.
Chomsky while presumably believing in evolution in general insists on seeing linguistic development as somehow special. His particular brand of Cartesianism claims that his Universal Grammar-the human language acquisition instinct- could not have happened in an evolutionary way.
There are a lot of questions about this and one could argue that Chomsky goes out on a limb about evolution where in theory we could believe in a Universal Grammar that was achieved through evolution.
Yet philosophically it is clear what Chomsky's agenda is: the Cartesian demand for a special kind of duality, so that the specialness and difference of human beings can be maintained especially ethically.
If this species is proven to be truly "half human half ape"-a big if it must be admitted-this creationist debate-both with regard to Chomsky's UG and more broadly-may be impacted in different ways. Of course if scientists ultimately decide this creature is not "half ape half man" there will still be lots of scientific and philosophic implications. That's the beauty of science.