Tonight on PBS, you can watch the latest NOVA/National Geographic co-production, Dawn of Humanity, focusing primarily on the Homo naledi discovery. Or you can visit the NOVA website to stream it right now, or you can get it on Amazon and stream it there.
I just wanted to share a few thoughts about the special, because the film stirred up all sorts of excitement in me (again). First of all, a disclaimer is in order: this movie is thoroughly, unabashedly evolutionary. I know that should go without saying, but I continue to be surprised by folks who are surprised by how conventional science is so thoroughly evolutionary. Newsflash: These fossils are interpreted in terms of human evolution on this program. Human evolution means ape-like creatures evolving into human-like creatures. Don't expect anything better than that.
Second, this film really communicates the thrill of discovery. Key points in the discovery and excavation were filmed from the beginning. We get to see footage of the first two guys going into the cave and finding the bones. We get to see fossils being unwrapped and declared, "It's Homo!" We even see the tears of joy in the eyes of one of the young scientists as she watches these discoveries unfolding right in front of her. Even though I don't think they're right about their evolutionary conclusions, I can relate to the thrill they feel.
Third, we get a look at a body reconstruction of Homo naledi, and they look really weird. Here is a still from the special that I grabbed. It's copyright NOVA/National Geographic and whatever researcher made it (and if some official person wants me to take it down, say the word, and it's gone).
On first glance, it's the limb proportions that jump out at me. Those gangly arms hang all the way down to the knees! What kind of a creature was this?
Now if you're a young-age creationist, you might be wondering what to make of all this. The best I can tell you right now is to think of this as something that lived after the Flood, in the wreckage of a world struggling to recover from the worst disaster in history. Life was not easy for these creatures that God made, whatever they were.
Creationists also might like to read about other creationist reactions. AIG's Elizabeth Mitchell downplays the evidence of burial and argues that the fossils are not human. Paleontologist Kurt Wise thinks otherwise, as he shares in this World magazine article. In the same article, old earth creationist Fuz Rana of Reasons to Believe sides with Mitchell and claims H. naledi is not human (no surprise there). ICR's Frank Sherwin cautiously suggests it might be human (UPDATE: Someone at ICR has updated the page with a cryptic bit about primate characteristics and shortcomings of the burial interpretation, and it's not clear if Sherwin would continue to stand behind his initial impression). Ken Ham wisely notes that creationists will likely disagree on Homo naledi because of the fragmentary nature of the fossils and our limited ability to examine the fossils firsthand.
However this turns out, I would like to publicly thank God for putting me here at this point in history. Within three months, I've seen high resolution images of the surface of Pluto and now Homo naledi. As a kid growing up in the 80s, I could only imagine such wonders, and God gave me life and eyes to see them!
How great thou art!
Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science.