I am a brother to dragons,
and a companion to owls.

(Job 30:29)

The Paleoanthropologist's Tale


By now the Paleoanthropologist
Was holding hands with the Biologist.
They'd whispered back and forth for quite a bit,
And it was clear to everyone they hit
It off real well. The lady, I would gauge,
Was close to being twice the fellow's age.
She wasn't any fossil, though--I'd say
She was a belle. This fellow anyway
Forgot it was his turn. He almost kissed
Her--then he heard the Paleontologist
Say, "Let us hear now of the rise of man."
He gave his gal a smile, then he began.

The Paleoanthropologist's Tale

Man is a mammal, let us start with that.
What is a mammal? Well, to keep things at
A simple level, animals with hair
That feed their young with milk are mammals. (Their
Ancestors were reptilian--but I
Won't deal with that, that's to be covered by
Our Paleontologist.) Now mammals were
Just runty little things that didn't stir
Around much, fearing some big dinosaur
Would grab them. But a visit from afar
Sure changed their future. Every kid knows how
The dinosaurs once ruled the Earth. Then Pow!
An asteroid or comet hit this orb
With more force than those bullies could absorb,
Not killing them at once, it killed them by
Climatic change that took their food supply
(So goes the theory). The asteroid ran
Into the Earth, we think, in Yucatan. 1
In any case, the dinosaurs, we know,
Died out sixty-five million years ago--
And when they did, the mammals threw a party!
They started to diversify, grew hardy,
It was the Age of Mammals. Out to sea
Some went (the whale's a mammal), some would be
High flyers (hence the bat). But quite a few
Preferred the trees, they'd lead to me and you:
These are the primates, highest order in
The class Mammalia. 2 Man's story, then,
Involves a shift from trees to ground, the gain
Of an upright bipedal posture, brain
Enlargement, and technology's emergence. 3
We now believe that man and chimp's divergence
Occurred some seven million years ago
(Both bones and DNA help us to know
When hominid and chimp went branching out). 4

The oldest hominid we know about,
The Toumai skull of Africa, appears
To date back almost seven million years
(Some experts doubt this skull's within the span
Of hominids, or early forms of man);
Sahelanthropus is its genus name. 5
The ape-man australopithecine? He came
Along four million years ago. 6 I hope ya
Remember that in Ethiopia
Decades ago they found bones of his miss,
Australopithecus afarensis,
Called "Lucy" from a Beatles song. 7 (They've found
A. anamensis since, who was around
Before Miss Lucy.) 8 Who precisely were
These creatures? In-betweens, we may infer,
Not ape nor man, but early hominids
Or members of man's family. (No kids
Survive today but man himself. A few
More of the dead I'll introduce to you
In just a minute.) I should point out
A question there is much dispute about:
Were australopithecines (now extinct)
Dead ends, or should they be directly linked
Ancestrally to man? There's no consensus.
And since there is debate, some would convince us
The whole thing is hot air. Creationists
Say, "Look there, even evolutionists
Argue about australopithecines.
The subject isn't worth a hill of beans.
Just apes, that's all those creatures were." 9 That's meant,
Of course, to obfuscate, misrepresent
Just what the squabble's really all about.
Few paleoanthropologists doubt
These creatures were transitional between
Ape forms and man. That doesn't have to mean
Direct descent, though. They may well be creatures
Who shared with man's direct ancestor features
That were transitional though they are not
Themselves ancestral creatures. See, we've got
A spotty fossil record--I don't think
We'll ever find a perfect "missing link,"
Few dead things get preserved. What hominid
Said "Think I'll go get fossilized" and did,
Right where he thought we'd someday dig around?
How many fossils never will be found?
We're lucky that the fossil record's as
Good as it is--with all its gaps, alas. 10

Now some have said Orrorin tugenensis
(Six-million-year-old bones from Kenya) is
Perhaps the oldest hominid. Some call
Orrorin, though, no hominid at all,
And say that Ardipithecus appears
To be the oldest (five-plus million years). 11
There's Kenyanthropus platyops ("flat face
From Kenya"), which is now the second case
Of a known hominid to live between
Three and four million years ago. 12 We've seen
The other case (the famous Lucy), thus
The question: which (if either) led to us? 13

I introduce now Homo habilis
Or "Handy Man," so named because of his
Stone tools. He lived two million years ago.
He looked a lot like Lucy's folks, although
He had a larger brain. 14 Was Handy Man
Just ape? "Yes," say creationists. 15 How can
They ever treat a fossil otherwise
That is transitional? They can't, "their eyes
Do not perceive although indeed they see" 16
(To quote the Bible); to perceive would be
Admitting evolution.

Handy died,
But Homo lived, began to hit his stride
As Java Man and Peking Man (Homo
). 17 Some two million years ago
Man reached Eurasia 18 (from Africa he'd trod
One-third the way to China). 19 He'd get odd
Looks if erectus walked around today. 20
Creationists don't try to get away
With calling him an ape, though. They admit
He may have been a man, but one a bit
"Degenerate," they say, because of poor
Conditions. 21 (See, with them it's either/or,
It's all or none, there's simply no escape:
A fossil is a man or else an ape,
Not "none of the above." Creationists
Insist no intermediate exists.)

The brain of early man was still to grow,
Until, by half a million years ago,
It equaled modern man's in average size. 22
In fact, Neanderthal Man takes the prize,
He had a larger brain than we do now.
He had a stocky build and beetle brow,
But he was not a dumb, stoop-shouldered brute
As stereotyped--that bum rap was the fruit
Of fossil studies made by Dr. Boule
(He based them on arthritic bones, the fool). 23
Neanderthalers may have introduced
Religion, something that may be deduced
From the respectful way it seems their dead
Were buried. (Were a few last words then said?
That's hard to say--or was--since we don't know
If language was invented yet.) 24

Neanderthal Man stayed around as late
As thirty thousand years ago, his fate,
Like that of Handy and of H. erectus,
Would be extinction. That left only us,
The species Homo sapiens, the first
Anatomically modern man. 25 At worst
We killed off the Neanderthalers, but
I'd rather think that we were just a cut
Above them: competition did them in. 26

So here we are. Our closest living kin?
The chimp, which as we heard from mon cherie
Is ninety-six percent genetically
Identical to human beings. 27 Now
Creationists, we've heard, say this is how
God made us, living things were all created
From one big common plan, so they're related
By God's design, no creature has evolved. 28
It seems to me, though, that leaves unresolved
A question posed by Ruse: 29 "Why should God plan
To make such grotesque parodies of man
As baboons and gorillas?" Contemplate
A question asked by Gould: 30 "Would God create
Successive species--Lucy, Handy Man,
Homo erectus, us--to mimic an
Unbroken evolutionary trend?"
Does God deceive his creatures? To what end? 31

What motivates creationists? I must
Conclude it's more than scripture; they aren't just
Insisting God created the first man
Exactly as it's written. (I don't plan
To go into the Bible here; the myth
Of Adam--"Man" in Hebrew--I'll leave with
Our Bible Scholar.) No, they also seem
To suffer from an ailment that I deem
To be acute in humans. Have you heard
Of "pithecophobia"? That's the word,
As Lewin tells us,
32 for this malady:
It means "the fear of apes, especially
As relatives or forebears." If we choose
To think man's some made-over ape, we lose
Our human worth and dignity--that's what
Creationists are saying. 33 But that's not
The case at all. It isn't fair to say
Man's "nothing but an animal" today
Because he and all animals are kin.
Man isn't lowered by that kinship, in
E. O. Wilson's words, rather it has brought
Nonhumans higher status. 34 Abstract thought
And verbal speech are faculties that we
Alone, though, share as humans. 35 I agree
With G. G. Simpson, as I best recall
His statement: 36 "Man has risen, didn't fall,
And, knowing he evolves, can strive to be
The shaper now of his own destiny."

Epilogue to the Paleoanthropologist's Tale

With that, the Paleoanthropologist
Seemed done, the hand of the Biologist
In his. But when he looked at her and smiled,
And she smiled back, he said as if beguiled,
"But I know just how Adam felt when he
First saw his lady. Yes, mythology
I've called it, yet I almost can believe,
Though Man evolved, that God created Eve."

"A pretty thought," said the Astronomer,
"But if Adam and Eve existed, sir--
Among the first life forms, creationism's
Claimed--then they were microorganisms
(As you well know): Bacteria in the Mist.
Let's hear now from our Paleontologist."

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