Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tropical Shire

It is unfortunate that so much talk of evolution by atheists appears to revolve around the question of just how much veracity evolution has. This detracts from the fact that the history of evolution tells a multitude of stories; the most recent stanzas of which are written in flesh and blood. There is a complex verse that sings the tune of the hominids to which we all sing harmony.

I’ve casually asked questions about the basic theory of evolution. I was first insulted by the false assertions of the Creation Research Society, and more recently by IDiocity. Is there a question to be asked? Is there a story to be told? Even the most detailed modern creation myths contain fewer extensible details than a Dr. Seuss book, and they lack the catchy rhymes. These myth tat strong questions exist about the basic theory of evolution tries to shout down productive and interesting discussions about the details of how evolution actually occurred.  I find this state of affairs irritating.

Recently, while trying to watch a visually captivating film clip in the enterence to the Hall of Human Origins in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, a young man pushed past me, exclaimed that some "THEY" was ignoring god's truth, and stormed out.  I almost followed him to get details about his "THEY", but there are fewer hours in the day than there are self-righteous fools.Instead I ventured further into the Hall of Human Origins.

The evolution of man is an unfolding narrative. Details help us understand who we are, and the details are wonderful. There are questions to be asked, and enticing mysteries. I was introduced to one of these mysteries recently.

People who are forced to defend the veracity of hominid evolution rarely talk about the enigma of the Australian aboriginal peoples. This is because the stories of the culture and descent of these peoples are hidden behind seemingly intractable enigmas. There is no clear line of evidence that does not stumble over some important detail. I think this makes their stories all the more amazing.

The IDiots avoid talking about the aboriginal peoples of Australia because what is known of their stories makes hash out of all creationist arguments.

The aboriginal peoples of Australia are the surviving members of the oldest continuous civilization on the planet. Their civilization is often estimated to be over 65,000 years old. This number is huge. Homo sapiens is believed to have descended around 250,000 years ago. The Australian aboriginal peoples have been a coherent culture for a length of time on the same magnitude of scale as Homo sapiens has been a coherent species.

Much of this time the aboriginal peoples have been isolated. They are thought to be descendants of people who migrated down the chain of islands that is now Indonesia to New Guinea. Once in New Guinea they crossed to the tip of Australia, and stayed.

Here is a picture of a likely migration path for the aboriginal peoples of Australia:

Possible Migration Path

Some of the multiple water crossings shown in the map might have been dry land during the migration. It is believed that ocean levels were low enough to dry out some, but not all, of the water crossings. Migrating people would have needed some way to cross over water in mass in order to migrate to Australia. The modern aboriginal people of Australia have no water-crossing technology; there is also no hint of such technology as far back as their history is documented. As far as modern aboriginal peoples of Australia are concerned they were never able to cross water en-mass.

If they had made even very primitive boats for the migration the technological advancement would have put them light-years ahead of any other people on the planet. Instead of that technology shaping human destiny they apparently forgot how to do it.

The widely accepted story is that the loss of seafaring ability was the cultural equivalent of blind cave fish losing their eyesight. Like caves Australia and the Indonesian islands have a unique variety of flora and fauna.

Australia is home to the kangaroo, the duck-billed platypus, the Koala, and way too many other specially adapted animals for me to comprehensively list here.

In the map I have colored the Indonesian island of Flores green. It is also home to a multitude of specially-adapted creatures including the spectacular Komodo Dragon. The fossil record of Flores speaks of a long history of unique animal forms. There was a dwarf elephant-like animal, and giant rats (there is still at least one species of giant rat living on the island). The fossil record of Flores has also yielded up many dwarf human remains.

Homo floresiensis (aka Hobbit-man) is the name given to the diminutive human remains uncovered on Flores. On average H. floresiensis was only about a meter tall. Dating the various remains suggests that H. floresiensis may have existed as a coherent population from around 100,000 years ago to perhaps as recently as 10,000 years ago. This means that H. floresiensis existed when the Australian aboriginal peoples migrated to Australia, or they were an offshoot of that migration event and developed their diminutive size due to isolation on Flores Island.

When species are isolated they often quickly (many generations fast) develop unique traits. Deviant size appears as a common early-acquired trait. Gigantism or dwarfism are often signature features of this so-called “island effect”. It is commonly held that the small size of H. floresiensis was due to a hominid island effect.

Why would H. floresiensis be isolated? Surrounding islands are close enough to see. Flores itself is so small as to exert some kind of migration pressure on its inhabitants. Local migrations of people occurred within the span of H. floresiensis existence. At some point H. floresiensis migrated, at some point they witnessed migration, the island was not nearly as difficult to migrate from as Australia, and there would have been regular reasons to at least partially migrate. How could island effect so effectively mold H. floresiensis?

As far as I know they have not uncovered any seafaring apparatus (like a boat) from the H. floresiensis finds. Did they also come by boat, and then forget what a boat was?

Was the isolation caused by cultural traits? Was there a belief system that caused these peoples to lose their tremendously advanced capabilities? Because these are relatively recent hominids the path of their development speaks more directly to specific features of our own abilities to create societies than most other narratives of natural selection, and how cool is that?


Atheist Kittens said...

"Tropical Shire" - cute :)
Interesting topic too, I will have to learn more about the aboriginal people. I just recently started reading "The Greatest Show on Earth" ... I have so much to learn!

adult onset atheist said...

I loved “The Greatest Show on Earth”. It was the first popular-science book on evolution I have ever read where the purpose was not to “teach” evolution, but to argue for it. This allowed the presentation of wonderful datasets rather than simply instructive ones. I have heard that Dawkins's book “Climbing Mount Improbable” is a good one for teaching evolution, but I have not read it.