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Review: Who Was Adam?
Among the creationist books that adorn my shelves, Who was Adam? is noteworthy for its fine style and rare candor. Even the introductory section recounting scientific knowledge of human evolution is remarkably well-written, yet nuanced enough to allow a modicum of doubt. And although the authors are irritatingly repetitive as they pound their point home, one can sense their genuine enthusiasm for the subject and their fervent belief in their conclusions. Well-written, however, is not the same as logically sound.
The book revolves around what the authors call the "RTB model." They repeat this term so many times that one easily forgets that RTB means "Reasons To Believe," a Christian apologetics organization of which the authors are president and vice-president. But throughout the book one gets the impression that it could also stand for "Return to Bible," as the authors often do. To wit, "But that's what the Bible says happened" (p 111).
In a sense this is quite refreshing. They do not try to cloak their creationism with the scientific-sounding, yet meaningless, trappings of "intelligent design". They proudly state what others try to hide — that their "science" is strictly guided by the ultimate truths in scripture. Never mind that historical geologists tried to do the same thing until the 1830s, when an embarrassment of riches in fossil discoveries brought an end to William Paley's approach of natural theology, or what we like to call "Paley-ontology".
In reality, Rana and Ross are trying to shoehorn science into the Bible, and vice versa. On the positive side they give science the nod when it comes to the age of the earth. They disagree with the "self-described biblical literalists" (p 24) in favor of "other theologically credible interpretations of Genesis 1" (p 42). That breath of fresh air quickly gives way to the familiarly foul stench of standard creationist arguments, blown by the harsh winds of supposedly "testable" creationism.
For purposes of this review I will focus on my own field of paleoanthropology and dissect the authors' diatribe on human evolution. Most of their approach is to disparage the "notoriously" incomplete fossil record. They are not as harsh on my colleagues and me: "Paleoanthropologists are dedicated and talented scientists who must not be disparaged because their discipline lacks robust data" (p 152). Gosh, thanks, guys. Nevertheless, they use the same fossil record to test the RTB creation model, and amazingly … all of the data fit.
Among the RTB model's predictions are that humanity can be traced back to one woman (Eve) and one man (Noah), with the former having arisen in the Garden of Eden. This fits well with the genetic data that trace human origins to a "mitochondrial Eve" and with the "Out of Africa" hypothesis held in many corners of paleoanthropology. How do they get around the fossil and genetic evidence that point to African origins of Homo sapiens, while acknowledging that most scholars place the Garden of Eden in Mesopotamia? They argue that the boundaries of Mesopotamia may have extended into northern and eastern Africa, particularly Ethiopia — where there are some early Homo sapiens fossils. How convenient!
The authors argue that all other hominin fossil species, such as the Neanderthals or Homo erectus, were not created in God's image because they did not behave as we do. Illustrating a pattern of denial that pervades the whole book, Rana and Ross go to great lengths to distinguish the Neanderthals' tool kit as being very unsophisticated and to deny the existence of intentional burials. Being such primitive brutes, Neanderthals "behaved more like animals than like humans" (p 196). It is true that subsequent peoples had more sophisticated stone tools and art. But by logical extension of the Rana/Ross argument, early Homo sapiens also must not have been made in God's image — they lacked agriculture and permanent shelters, let along MP3 players and nuclear weapons, so they also did not behave like modern humans.
Among the most egregious errors in the book is an argument dealing with the evolution of human brain size. I am not sure whether the authors did not understand statistics or were knowingly deceptive. Nevertheless, they boldly state: "For each hominid species, brain size remains relatively constant through the time it existed" (p 164). They refer to a tidy graph of the average relative brain size for four groups to show the "general pattern of discontinuous leaps." This is curious, because in the same paragraph they document a substantial range of brain sizes within each group, and ignore the fact that later Homo erectus had a larger brain size than early H erectus. Even more perplexing is that they lump three or four different species, with successively greater brain sizes, into Australopithecus, giving one low average brain size over a 3.5–million-year period. My suspicions in this case go with intentional deception.
There are many other gems of illogic, such as an entire chapter devoted to how humans arose at the perfect moment of geological time in terms of the sun's brightness, length of earth days, best solar eclipses, fewest earthquakes, optimal climate, and more. It is enough to tax the credulity of even the most ardent creationists, and give them reason not to believe.
In short, Who was Adam? constitutes a classic case study in the differences between rationality and rationalization. It becomes abundantly clear that rationalizing preconceived ideas is no match for rational science through the testing of legitimate hypotheses.