Miss­ing links

The Compass - - EDITORIAL -

The one weak­ness of the The­ory of Evo­lu­tion — if there is a weak­ness — has al­ways been the lack of fos­sil ev­i­dence. This paucity of “links” from one species to the next has been the pri­mary tar­get of Cre­ation­ists and other lit­er­al­ists who refuse to ac­cept that God’s crea­tures — in­clud­ing hu­mans — have evolved over time. Evo­lu­tion, how­ever, is as much fact as the­ory, since nu­mer­ous sim­pler bi­o­log­i­cal pro­cesses have proven its premise — an­tibi­otic-re­sis­tant bac­te­ria be­ing a prime ex­am­ple.

Nonethe­less, the sig­nif­i­cance of this week’s an­nounce­ment of a newly dis­cov­ered hu­manoid species can not be over­stated.

Un­til now, the most fa­mous evo­lu­tion­ary link in the hu­man chain has been Lucy, an al­most in­tact skele­ton found in Ethiopia in 1974. Lucy, who’s about 3.18 mil­lion years old, rep­re­sented ground-break­ing proof of early an­ces­tors that were nei­ther ape nor hu­man.

Two years ago, Amer­i­can pa­le­oan­thro­pol­o­gist Lee Berger asked two am­a­teur cavers to look out for fos­sils as they squeezed deep in­side the bow­els of the Cra­dle of Hu­mankind World Her­itage Site in South Africa. The cave sys­tem had al­ready yielded most of its an­cient trea­sures in pre­vi­ous ex­pe­di­tions. But this time ex­plor­ers bur­rowed fur­ther than ever be­fore.

“What they found in Septem­ber 2013,” The Washington Post re­ported last Thurs­day, “nearly took their breath away: fos­sil frag­ments of a rel­a­tive of the hu­man species, and a cache of bones and teeth buried in an­cient clay that would even­tu­ally num­ber more than 1,500 — the largest ho­minin fos­sil dis­cov­ery of its kind in Africa.”

What’s more, the bone frag­ments could be from one of the most prim­i­tive mem­bers of the genus Homo, which in­cludes to­day’s Homo sapi­ens. And there are at least 15 in­di­vid­u­als in the col­lec­tion, from what ap­pears to have been a burial site.

Mean­while, last week’s news in­cluded another link of sorts — one not likely to be cel­e­brated among sci­en­tists.

The Na­tional Ge­o­graphic So­ci­ety, which helped sup­port the ex­pe­di­tion in South Africa, has part­nered with Ru­pert Mur­doch’s 21st Cen­tury Fox. It will no longer be non-profit, and with a 73 per cent share owned by Fox, the es­teemed pub­li­ca­tion will now fall un­der the purview of the world’s most fa­mous anti-sci­en­tific bil­lion­aire.

Mur­doch has railed against cli­mate sci­en­tists and scoffed at “greens” for hin­der­ing eco­nomic growth. Fox News in the U.S. is renowned for cater­ing al­most ex­clu­sively to right-wing voices, in­clud­ing Chris­tian fun­da­men­tal­ists. (It’s not hard to imag­ine what many of the lat­ter think of our new South African rel­a­tive.)

Com­pany ex­ec­u­tives in­sist the part­ner­ship won’t in­trude on Na­tional Ge­o­graphic’s long legacy of rig­or­ous sci­en­tific cov­er­age.

But those are just words. And for peo­ple like Mur­doch, money does the real talk­ing.

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