Has the Missing Link been disproved? And has Lucy (the link between the Missing Link and us) been cast aside?

This is the headline of the article in the National Geographic magazine:

Oldest “Human” Skeleton Found—Disproves “Missing Link”
Move over, Lucy. And kiss the missing link goodbye.

Here, based on my reading of the article, are what seem to be the main conclusions that are being drawn from the announcement of the discovery of the 4.4 million year old (a million years older than Lucy) female fossil of the species Ardipithecus ramidus:

  • Ardi, as the scientists are calling her, had human like features, including bipedality, that mark her as an ancestor of homo sapiens.

  • But Ardi also had primitive features, more primitive than and very different from those of chimpanzees and gorillas. This shows that Ardi was not descended from the long theorized chimp-like common ancestor of chimps and humans, known as the Missing Link, which is thought to have lived about seven million years ago. Indeed, it means that the Missing Link did not exist, i.e., that humans are not descended from a chimp-like ancestor. The last common ancestor of chimps and humans had to have lived much farther back in the past, and the relationship between humans and chimps must be much more distant than previously believed.

However some of the claims made in the connection with the finding are puzzling. One paleontologist has said:

“This find is far more important than Lucy. It shows that the last common ancestor with chimps didn’t look like a chimp, or a human, or some funny thing in between.”

I understand the second sentence, but not the first. Why is Lucy (who, by the way, is on display in New York City as I write this) made far less important by this discovery—unless they are saying that Lucy’s species, Australopithecus afarensis, is not an ancestor of humans? That would make sense, since Lucy has often been described as a chimp that walked upright, meaning that Lucy is a descendent of the chimp-like Missing Link, which, we’re now told, didn’t exist. Or rather it would mean that the Missing Link / common ancestor was the common ancestor of chimps on one side and of Australopithecines on the other, and that the latter died out without leading to humans.

But if the scientists are indeed claiming that Ardi is an ancestor of humans, and that Lucy is not, what are their grounds for saying so?

One possible reason found in the article, though it is not presented explicitly as a basis for the idea that humans are descended from Ardi and not from Lucy, is that while chimps and gorillas have very rigid wrist bones, “the wrists and finger joints of Ardipithecus were highly flexible,” i.e., more like those of humans.

In any case, if humans are descended from Ardi and not from Lucy, then pre-human evolution preceded along totally didfferent lines from those that have been thought to be the case ever since Darwin.

But wait. The article’s own claims are thrown into question near the end. A scientist is quoted saying:

“This is a fascinating skeleton, but based on what they present, the evidence for bipedality is limited at best.”


Further, one of the co-leaders of the Ardi study, Tim White, is quoted, at the very end of the article, saying:

Study co-leader White sees nothing about the skeleton “that would exclude it from ancestral status.”


So they’re not saying that Ardi is an ancestor of humans. They’re saying that nothing “excludes” her from being an ancestor of humans.

White also says that “more fossils are needed to resolve the issue.”


So, if you believe that the Missing Link is hype and that this story disproves it, please understand that this story is also hype.

- end of initial entry -

Chuck Ross writes:

I believe they’re saying that chimps and apes are merely cousins of ours rather than ancestors. We diverged from a common ancestor that predates Lucy. Although Ardi may merely be another “cousin” who died off before leading directly to humans, she is closer to the “Missing Link” than Lucy was. This link may provide insight.

So, if you’re saying that this Nat’l Geo article is bunk based upon the title asserting that the Missing Link is disproved, then I’d agree. But it does prove that Lucy is not that Missing Link. It’s unclear which way Nat’l Geo intended it.

I’m curious, though, what are the intentions of your post? Are you trying to assert that this undermines Darwinism?

LA replies:

“I’m curious, though, what are the intentions of your post? Are you trying to assert that this undermines Darwinism?”

I am of course a total opponent of Darwinism. But please indicate where in this post I’m saying anything that tends to disprove Darwinism. The question of Darwinism is not broached in my post at all. Yes, I mention Darwin, because the article says that the idea of the ape ancestry of humans began with Darwin. But Darwin’s belief as to the ape ancestry of humans is not Darwin’s theory of evolution. Humans could have been descended from some unknown cousin of apes, and the theory of evolution still be true.

As for my intention in writing the post, it is simply to try to understand what the article is saying. I know that that must seem strange and shocking to many people today.

LA continues:

Also, you make a couple of incorrect assumptions in your comment.

“I believe they’re saying that chimps and apes are merely cousins of ours rather than ancestors.”

No one has has said that chimps are ancestors of ours. The accepted view has been that chimps and humans are descended from a common ancestor, known as the missing link.

“[The article says that we] diverged from a common ancestor that predates Lucy.”

But that has been the accepted view all along. So if that’s what the article is saying, the article is not departing from the accepted view.

Chuck Ross writes:

I made the assumption that you would be using this to somehow show that Darwinism rests on faulty foundation. If that wasn’t your intent then I jumped to conclusions. From here on out I’ll read your posts literally rather than deconstructively.

LA replies:

“I made the assumption that you would be using this to somehow show that Darwinism rests on faulty foundation.”

That was not an unreasonable assumption, since I often criticize Darwinism. But I wasn’t doing that here. I was simply trying to figure out what this new finding was about.

As for my posts, I think I generally make my main intention pretty clear. You should not read hidden purposes into my writings. There may be allusions and passing references to things, but they tend to relate to side issues, not to the main issue.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 01, 2009 05:34 PM | Send

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