Thursday, November 11, 2004

Find of the Century

A great series of articles in the mainstream media recently about Homo floresiensis (nicknamed "Hobbit"), a new species of Homo discovered in 2003 and described in a Nature piece at the end of October. I don't have the chance to read books on the topic as much as I used to, but I love paleoanthropology--the science is amazing, the insights this sort of discovery offers into our ancestral history are rich and complex, and a well-written article or book on even an undramatic find reads like a great detective story.

I can't even begin to understand the full importance of "Hobbit's" discovery, although one of the more salient findings is that her discovery appears to be the first instance of "island dwarfing" discovered in a Homo species, the process by which a species becomes smaller than and gradually distinct from its ancestors as a means of adapting to limited environmental resources. The Hobbit's relatively tender age--about 18,000 years--also places her side by side with Homo sapien (you know, us) on the evolutionary tree--shrub, actually--and she was evolved to such an extent that it's not an overstatement to say we had a lot in common.

A good story like this gets me to thinking about what the Creationists (sorry, "Intelligent Design" advocates) are missing. Findings like these do no damage to their pseudoscientific "theories;" the fundamental construction of their theories leaves them beyond refutation by any kind of scientific evidence, which is to say that they are not scientific theories at all. No doubt floresiensis will be explained away with something along the lines of "When God saw how tiny an island He made in Flores, he decided that it would be best to populate it with very little elephants and very little creatures like the Hobbit."

Which is sad, really. Since I don't take the text of the Bible literally, I'm not forced to choose between Creationism and evolutionary theory, and I have no difficulty accomodating both the concept of a Supreme Being and evolutionary science in my brain. Evidence suggesting that we've been around a lot longer than the Bible tells us doesn't disprove the existence of a Supreme Being; indeed, I kind of like the idea of a deity that puts a living, breathing and freewheeling dynamism like Earth into play. The God I imagine can come up with something a little more sophisticated than a planetary petting zoo.


Blogger bluememe said...

There is a fascinating piece in the current issue of that radical leftist rag, National Geographic, on evolution. I haven't finished it yet, but I have been think a lot about these same issues lately. Expect a longer diatribe soon.

12:46 PM  

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