Saturday, 18 July 2015

New Darwinian Fable: “The Human Hand is Primitive”

Chimps prefer to live in the trees. Image courtesy of Delphine Bruyere, Wikipedia.

Joel Kontinen

The opening sentences in an article in Science on the human hand might not prepare you for the rest of the text. Introducing a new paper published in Nature Communications, Michael Balter writes:

The human hand is a marvel of dexterity. It can thread a needle, coax intricate melodies from the keys of a piano, and create lasting works of art with a pen or a paintbrush.

Next comes the Darwinian just-story about our assumed cousinhood with chimps. Balter acknowledges that chimps “have much longer fingers and shorter thumbs, perfect for swinging in trees but much less handy for precision grasping.”

The most logical explanation for this is that chimps were designed to live in trees, whereas we were not.

But this is not something evolutionists would agree with. They seem to dislike anything that resembles a razor that might be associated with Ockham.

In other words, they almost always reject the most obvious explanation. This gives rise to intriguing storytelling that has next to nothing to do with empirical science:

For decades the dominant view among researchers was that the common ancestor of chimps and humans had chimplike hands, and that the human hand changed in response to the pressures of natural selection to make us better toolmakers.

But recently some researchers have begun to challenge the idea that the human hand fundamentally changed its proportions after the evolutionary split with chimps

Then article brings up some of the poster boys – or girls – of evolution, such as Ardipithecus ramidus and Australopithecus sediba, but remains mum on the huge genetic gap that separates us from chimps. As biomedical researcher David Page put it, we are “horrendously different from each other.”

The latest estimate puts the difference at around 30 per cent.

While some researchers welcome the idea that our hands are primitive, others disagree. Balter includes the view of one dissenter:

Adrienne Zihlman, a primatologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz … argues that the hands alone provide researchers with only a very limited view of what the common ancestor was like. `This paper serves as a poster child for what is wrong with a lot of work in paleoanthropology.`

Actually, our hands do not say anything about a mythical common ancestor. Instead, they suggest that we were created to use our hands in creative ways. An ape could never become a concert pianist, for instance. Or a science writer.


Balter, Michael. 2015. Humans have more primitive hands than chimpanzees. Science (14 July).