Misrepresenting what science says

Glenn R. Morton (grmorton@waymark.net)
Sat, 10 Apr 1999 12:46:06 -0500

This week, I saw the new Connections, put out by Reasons to Believe. I
will merely cite the assertions of the article "Art's Own Big Bang
Affirms Special Creation," Connections, 1st Qtr 1999, p. 2. In this
article Hugh Ross claims,

"If the naturalists and Darwinists were right about the evolution of
humankind, we would expect both the quantity and the quality of human
artwork to increase gradually over time. New research, however, shows
that the opposite is the case. Anthropologists have discovered what they
call the 'big bang' of artistic expression. Previous to about 30,000
years ago, art appears to have been both rare and 'rough,' or
crude.'"(10) Such 'art' (if it can really be called that reflects the
expressive ability we see in some advanced mammalian and avian species.
After that date, art becomes suddenly ubiquitous and intricate, art that
only humans-spiritual creatures-can produce."

Reference 10 is to Tim Appenzeller, "Art: Evolution or Revolution,"
Science 282(1998):1451-1454. Far from proving the existence of an
artistic revolution, Appenzeller is discussing the current debate going
on in anthropological circles questioning the whole idea of an artistic
revolution. Appenzellar quotes anthropologists from both sides of the
debate. Ross does not inform his readers that this is what the article
is about and he acts as if this article only supports his position. For
Ross to act as if this article is a one-sided, conclusive piece about an
artistic explosion is pure mis-representation. I am outraged, appalled,
and saddened that such a misrepresentation of the article would appear
in a Christian apologetical work. Christians have a responsibility to
represent what is actually the case rather than seeing only what they
want to see. God WILL hold us accountable for such misrepresentations.

Here are some quotations from the original article and the introduction
to the special section. You judge if the article has been fairly
represented in Connections:

"To most archaeologists, both art and complex language are part of a
behavioral revolution that swept the Old World some 40,000 years ago.
But the evidence leaves room for debate. As Tim Appenzeller and
Constance Holden describe (pp. 1451 and 1455), a handful of sites and
artifacts, scattered widely in time and space, have convinced some
archaeologists that this was no revolution at all, and that well before
40,000 years ago, humans were already making art and speaking much like
us." Tim Appenzeller, Daniel Clery, and Elizabeth Culotta "Transitions
in Prehistory" Science, 282(1998):1441 also at

"Sometime around 250,000 years ago, an early human living on the Golan
Heights in the Middle East picked up a lump of volcanic tuff the size of
a plum and started scratching at it with a harder stone, deepening its
natural crevices. Not long afterward, a volcanic eruption buried the
soft pebble in a bed of ash, preserving it from erosion. A quarter of a
million years later, in 1980, archaeologists dug it up, and since then,
the pebble has been the object of rapt attention--far more, perhaps,
than it got when it was new. By chance or design, those long-ago
scratchings created what looks like a female figure--and a puzzle for
the archaeologists who study the beginnings of art." Tim Appenzeller,
"Art: Evolution or Revolution?", Science 282(Nov 20, 1998), p. 1451

Of the Berekhat Ram figurine, two former critics tried to disprove it
was made by humans and came to the opposite conclusion.

"It's extremely clear that it's humanly enhanced. It's definitely an
art object,' says Bahn. D'Errico and April Nowell of the University of
Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, actually tested Marshack's claims by going
to the site and comparing the object with hundreds of other bits of
tuff. They, too, are persuaded that it is human handiwork. 'No other
pieces have this kind of modification,' d'Errioc says." Tim Appenzeller,
"Art: Evolution or Revolution?", Science 282(Nov 20, 1998), p.

To fairly represent d'Errico's position, he does not call it art, but
does agree that it was modified by a human.

"As Richard Klein of Stanford University puts it, 'There was a kind of
behavioral revolution [in Africa] 50,000 years ago. Nobody made art
before 50,000 years ago; everybody did afterward.'
"But other developments have raised awkward questions about this 'big
bang' theory of art, as some critics call it, hinting that art and the
sophisticated cognitive abilities it implies may have a longer history.
After years of doubt, most archaeologists accept that the so-called
Berekhat Ram object from the Golan Heights is the work of human hands,
although there is no consensus about what-if anything-it means." Tim
Appenzeller, "Art: Evolution or Revolution?", Science 282(Nov 20, 1998),
p. 1451-1452,
"Perhaps most telling, many archaeologists now think of an array of
grooved teeth and other ornaments from a cave called the Grotte du
Renne, at Arcy-sur-Cure in central France, is the handiwork of
Neandertals. The age of the Arcy deposits is in dispute; most
archaeologists think they date to around 35,000 years, a time when
modern humans were already spreading into Europe and making stunning art
of their own. But the date could be as early as 45,000 years ago, before
modern humans arrived. To some researchers Arcy puts the lie to
arguments that nonmodern humans like the Neandertals did not-perhaps
could not-- express themselves in art and ornament. It supports the view
that artistic habits going back tens or even hundreds of thousands of
years could have prepared the ground on which the ice age explosion took
place." Tim Appenzeller, "Art: Evolution or Revolution?", Science
282(Nov 20, 1998), p. 1452
In last April's Journal of Archaeological Science, Stanley Ambrose of
the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), describes his
excavations at a rock-shelter in the Rift Valley of Kenya, at a site
called Enkapune Ya Muto. There he found a cache of beads made of
ostrich eggshell, blanks, and shell fragments. Some of the beads, says
Ambrose, 'are shiny, obviously worn, as if someone was wearing them as
part of some ornament.' They must have served as symbolic markings, he
says, 'expressing an awareness of the self and how to enhance it.'"
"It's the same phenomenon seen in Europe 38,000 years ago-but it may be
several thousand years earlier at Enkapune Ya Muto, says Ambrose, who
has carbon-dated the shells and come up with an age of at least 40,000
years. 'These early ostrich eggshell beads are perhaps the earliest
indicator' of symbolic behavior anywhere, say Klein. 'And it's very
important that they first appeared in Africa,' just as expected if the
crucial biological innovation had occurred there." Tim Appenzeller,
"Art: Evolution or Revolution?", Science 282(Nov 20, 1998), p. 1452.
"Most archaeologists agree with Mellars about the timing. But some note
that the Neandertal beads aren't direct imitations of what nearby modem
humans were making. The people at Arcy chose different kinds of animal
teeth and used different techniques to work them, which leads these
archaeologists to suggest that the Neandertals were drawing inspiration
from their neighbors rather than simply mimicking them making beads in
their own way, for their own cultural purposes.
"If so, the Arcy deposits could still have unsettling implications for
the idea that art, and the complex culture it implies, is unique to
modem humans. Says Chase, "If this really is symbolism, and taken at
face value it is, then you've got Neandertals who were capable of the
same symbolic behavior as modem humans." Klein is also mystified. "I
want the Neandertals to be biologically incapable of modem behavior. So
[the Chatelperronian] is a real problem." Tim Appenzeller, "Art:
Evolution or Revolution?", Science 282(Nov 20, 1998), p. 1454
"At a 250,000-year-old rock-shelter site in the Czech Republic,
archaeologists found a bed of ochre and the rubbing stone used to make
the powder-not art, but perhaps the means of making it. And there is
the 250,000-year-old carving from Berekhat Ram, which Marshack has
studied closely and interprets as the figure of a woman with an
elaborate coiffure." Tim Appenzeller, "Art: Evolution or Revolution?",
Science 282(Nov 20, 1998), p. 1453

While the article didn't mention it, I would also cite Mary Leakey's
discovery of a phonolite pebble which had a carved face on it. It is
reported in the Olduvai Gorge reports she wrote. It dates at 1.6 myr