The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

Jehovah's Witnesses and Evolution
Alan M. Feuerbacher

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A subject such as evolution versus creation can only be discussed by getting deeply into specific questions. The Life book does get into specifics occasionally, but only when it can cite details that support its position. Whenever the details get too hot to handle it resorts to vague generalities.

A specific instance of this is discussed in excruciating detail below, by analyzing one paragraph from Life. Note particularly that Life selected a 1976 version Encyclopedia Britannica to support its position, because the 1983-84 versions did not say what Life's author wanted. Life was published in 1985.

The following is extracted from a general commentary on the Watchtower Society book Life - How Did It Get Here? By Evolution Or By Creation?.

Paragraph 33 of the Life book discusses the creature called Homo erectus. The paragraph is distinguished more by what it does not say than by what it does. For example:

"Its brain size and shape do fall into the lower range of modern man's."

While true, this statement leaves out a number of significant points. The cranial capacity of H. erectus skulls averaged about three quarters that of modern man. The shape of the skull was very different. The skull was so different that no one would mistake its skull for that of a modern human. The skull bones were much thicker, it had huge brow ridges, the face was much more massive, and the dome of the skull was much smaller. One has only to examine a series of photos of skulls to see this. See for example, National Geographic, [1] for a comparison of Australopithecine and Homo skulls. It does not take an expert to see a structural sequence from H. habilis to H. erectus to archaic H. sapiens and Neanderthal to the modern form of skull. See also Human Evolution: An Illustrated Introduction, [2] pages 47, 53, 56, 71, 75-77, and compare the gross differences in skull shape among the above fossils. See also the drawings of skulls in The Myths of Human Evolution, [3] on pages 70, 84, 107, 110, 138, 147-149, and 153. Also see any Encyclopedia Britannica version after 1980, under the subjects "Homo erectus" and "Evolution, Human." Life does not mention the gross differences in skull shape between H. erectus and modern man.

Next, paragraph 33 refers to Encyclopedia Britannica, which said that "the limb bones thus far discovered have been indistinguishable from those of H[omo] sapiens." As shown above, this assessment has been superceded by newer information. By comparison with other species, the skeleton is very much like modern man's. But it was much more massive and had far more substantial muscle attachment points. Blueprints [4] commented that

"these were extremely powerful people, if indeed they were people. They made the brutish Neanderthalers seem positively effete by comparison."

It is interesting to note that Life used the 1976 Encyclopedia Britannica for the above quotation, rather than the latest edition available before Life's 1985 publication date. The following parallel quotation from a similar article appearing in the 1984 edition shows why. Note that the 1981 through 1985 edition articles were identical. Under the subject "Homo Erectus" it said: [5]

"the limb bones thus far discovered have been similar to (although more robust than) those of H. sapiens."

Note that the quotation Life used said the limb bones were indistinguishable from, rather than similar to those of H. sapiens. I was not able to locate a 1976 Britannica,* but a 1974 edition said the same thing as quoted in Life. The article was virtually identical to the 1984 article, except for the above quotation. Very little had changed between 1974 and 1984 concerning H. erectus except the assessment of the limb bones, and Life selected a quotation from the edition that happened to be the most advantageous to its argument. Is this not yet another example of selective use of quotations and of arguing as a literary critic to support a preexisting point of view?

The 1992 Britannica said much the same as the 1984 edition. Under the subject "Homo erectus" it said: [6]

"Most of the anatomical differences between H. erectus and H. sapiens concern the skulls and teeth. The limb bones of H. erectus that have been found so far have been similar to H. sapiens, leading to the inference that H. erectus was a creature of medium stature who walked upright."

What did Britannica mean when it said the limb bones were similar? The 1992 edition Macropaedia, Vol. 18, expanded upon this under the subject "Evolution, Human" on pages 827-828:

"The form of these [femur] bones resembles that of modern humans, and H. erectus must have walked upright efficiently. On the other hand, the construction of the bones is robust, a condition also seen in other skeletal members. This robusticity suggests that the life-style of Homo erectus was physically demanding.... The total pattern of the bodily structure of H. erectus, as preserved in the bones, is rather different from that of H. sapiens. Parts of the postcranial skeleton are robust but otherwise generally comparable to those of modern humans. The brain is relatively small, though not so small as that of Australopithecus and H. habilis. In addition, in this hominid's thick skull bones and extraordinarily developed eyebrow ridges and occipital torus, some investigators say they see unique, specialized features, not characteristic either of its presumed ancestors or of apes and not pointing to H. sapiens as the direction of subsequent evolution...."

Britannica then discussed various theories of descent from early hominids through H. erectus to modern man, showing there is much evidence that is difficult to interpret, and there are several possibilities for reasonable explanations, including one that H. erectus was an evolutionary side branch that did not lead to modern man. It comments that much work needs to be done to sort out all the evidence. Finally it says:

"In the meantime, another hypothesis that meets most of the available evidence is that H. erectus was in the process of evolving from pre-Homo erectus--probably Australopithecus and Homo habilis--to post-Homo erectus; that is, to Homo sapiens. In most details, the bodily structure of H. erectus fulfills what might have been predicted for an intermediate between Australopithecus and H. sapiens."

The Myths of Human Evolution gave an alternative view: [7]

"In sum, during the period that lasted from about 1.6 million to 0.4 or 0.5 million B.P., nonrobust hominids [referring to A. robustus] seem to be represented by a single species which is both geographically and locally variable, but which has an instantly recognizable gestalt. The major cranial characteristics of this species, Homo erectus, have already been enumerated, and postcranially it is clear that Homo erectus was robust but an erect biped in the manner of ourselves. What many have found remarkable is that over this long span of time, well over a million years and perhaps as long as 1.2 million, Homo erectus shows virtually no change; local and geographical variations are at least as striking as differences between older and younger members of the lineage. Some scholars have suggested that brain size does show an increase over time, pointing to the fact that ER-3733 had a brain of under 900 cc., while the largest of the late Choukoutien population had a brain volume of over 1,200 cc. One should point out, however, that after the East Turkana specimens the oldest firmly dated Homo erectus is the Olduvai skullcap, dated at about 1.2 million years and which has a capacity of almost 1,100 cc., larger than all but two of the Choukoutien specimens, which are the best part of a million years younger. Indeed, a recent attempt to quantify variation in Homo erectus over time has failed to show significant trends that would convincingly suggest that the species was undergoing any gradual transformation."

Paragraph 33 next says of H. erectus:

"However, it is unclear whether it was human or not."

This is only in the judgement of Life's author. He leaves it vague simply because the Watchtower Society does not want to commit itself on evidence that so clearly could cause difficulties for the Biblical viewpoint. The Society probably feels the chances of getting burned are too great. Paleontologists judge that it was not a modern human, but was a member of the human family. This is fairly well confirmed by the presence of cultural artifacts, such as tools and the remains of hearths found in association with H. erectus.** The point is whether H. erectus was a member of the human family, since it is obvious that it was not a modern human. That it was not quite fully human is suggested by the fact that no remains have been found in an obvious burial, in contrast with the later Neanderthals.

As the expression says, a picture is worth a thousand words. National Geographic contains a picture of a skeleton discovered in 1984, of a Homo erectus boy about twelve years old at the time of death 1.6 million years ago. [1] It is the most complete H. erectus skeleton ever unearthed. The skeleton is virtually human, but the skull is something else again. The accompanying article comments:

"This spectacular find dramatically confirms the antiquity of the human form. In its parts and proportion only the skull of the Lake Turkana boy would look odd to someone untrained in anatomy. The rest of his skeleton, essentially human, differs only subtly from that of a modern boy.

"And too, because it is a youth's skeleton and so complete, it offers us a unique glimpse of growth and development in early humans. At five feet four inches tall, the boy from Turkana was surprisingly large compared with modern boys his age; he could well have grown to six feet. Suitably clothed and with a cap to obscure his low forehead and beetle brow, he would probably go unnoticed in a crowd today."

A later report on this find said: [8]

"In 1985 Richard Leakey and his colleagues reported the recovery of the remains of a remarkably complete skeleton of an approximately 12-year-old Homo erectus youth, which revealed some surprising anatomy. For instance, in the cervical and thoracic vertebrae, the hole through which the spinal cord runs is significantly smaller than in modern humans--presumably indicating a smaller demand for nerve signal traffic. In addition, the spines on all the vertebrae are longer and do not point as far back as in modern humans, the significance of which is puzzling.

"The thigh bone is unusual, in that the femoral neck is relatively long while the femoral head--which is part of the ball-and-socket joint with the pelvis--is large. This combination is something of a mix between modern human and australopithecine anatomy: modern humans have a short femoral neck attached to a large head, while in australopithecines the neck is long and the head is small.

"The pelvis itself indicates that the birth canal was smaller than in modern humans, which implies that infants born to Homo erectus mothers would have needed to continue fetal growth rates after birth. This so-called secondary altricial condition means that a more extended period of child care was inevitable, which might well have had important social consequences.

"The Homo erectus youth, which came from 1.6 million- year-old deposits on the west side of Lake Turkana in Kenya, is `the first [early fossil hominid] in which brain and body size can be measured accurately on the same individual', note Leakey and his colleagues."

After paragraph 33 says it is unclear whether Homo erectus was human or not, we finally read:

"If so, then it was merely a branch of the human family and died off."

This statement is so absurdly obvious as to be disingenuous, since Homo erectus is clearly not alive today. It is rem- iniscent of a statement made in 1799 by one Charles White, a British physician. He tried to show the gradation of life forms inherent in the "Great Chain of Being" concept popular at the time. In describing this idea Roger Lewin quoted him and said: [9]

"Ascending the line of gradation, we come at last to the white European; who being most removed from the brute creation, may, on that account, be considered as the most beautiful of the human race," opined Charles White.... White concluded a panegyric on the supposedly superior qualities of the European form with the following: "Where, except on the bosom of the European woman, [can one find] two such plump and snow white hemispheres, tipt with vermillian?" Quite so.

It is obvious that the Life book does not want to burden its readers with the unnecessary details of specific information.

* Encyclopedia Britannica. 1974, Macropaedia. Vol. 8, p. 1032.

** Some people have attributed the cultural artifacts to modern men that lived alongside H. erectus and hunted it, but whose fossil remains have never been found. See, for example, Ape-Men--Fact or Fallacy?, by Malcolm Bowden, 1981, sections on Java man and Peking Man; The Bone Peddlers: Selling Evolution, by William Fix, 1984, pp. 117-122; and Evolution: The Challenge of the Fossil Record, by Duane T. Gish, 1985, pp. 180-204. These books must, of course, be taken with a large grain of salt because they, too, leave out whatever evidence does not support their ideas.


  1. "The Search for Our Ancestors," National Geographic Magazine, pp. 568-573, Washington, D.C., November, 1985.

  2. Roger Lewin, Human Evolution: An Illustrated IntroductionI, W. H. Freeman and Company, New York, 1984.

  3. Niles Eldredge & Ian Tattersal, The Myths of Human Evolution, Columbia University Press, New York, 1982.

  4. Maitland A. Edey and Donald C. Johanson, Blueprints, p. 329, Penguin Books, New York, 1989.

  5. Encyclopedia Britannica, Macropaedia, Vol. 8, p. 1032, 1984.

  6. Encyclopedia Britannica, Micropaedia, Vol. 6, p. 27, 1992.

  7. Niles Eldredge & Ian Tattersall, op cit, pp. 144-145.

  8. Roger Lewin, Human Evolution: An Illustrated Introduction, Second Edition, pp. 99-100, Blackwell Scientific Publications, Boston, 1989.

  9. Roger Lewin, Bones of Contention, pp. 303-304, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1987.

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