Adam, Eve and Population Genetics: A Reply to Dr. Richard Buggs (Part 1)

It’s a gap that has already been partially filled by A. sediba. At one time, there was a massive gap filled by no hominid fossils. Now we have many different hominid transitional species that fill those gaps. It would seem that the demarcation between Homo and Australopithecus is a subjective and arbitrary one that is a product of our ignorance more than knowledge.

In fact, I did not say that they said “language probably emerged with a discontinuous group.” I said they find no evidence for it. They have very strict requirements for what language is and what must be accounted for in any evolutionary explanation. This is described in a fairly lengthy section. And nothing they see in current research comes close to explaining it.

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I agree. Where the line is drawn is influenced to some extent by point of view.



I’d like to see references about LD 350-1. I have no problems with Homo at 2 mya. Does sediba differ much in morphology from erectus or could they be variants of the same species? From what I read, early erectus had considerable variation in its skull, for example. What do you think of the fossils found at Dminisi?

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@Jay313, I have read that but don’t remember where. Can you give me the citation please?

Of course they do not take that position, because they think everything is less than 10 ky old. Rather, they do usually think that Homo genus is “human”. That is very well established, even by links you’ve offered here.

This is an open question about which there are strong opinions and little evidence. Strong opinions are not findings. We’d do better to just say we do not know for sure, even though we are opinionated about it.

Agreed. Another case of strong opinions and little evidence.

I do not know if there is a good recent citation to it. I though the great ape language experiments put that hypothesis to bed a long time ago. Even 1 year old children can have more advanced language than a chimp (both articulated and comprehension). Yes, chimps can practice deception, but so can 1 year olds; that is not an indicator of a full theory of mind. Chimps cannot even use sign language in full sentences or handle counterfactuals, but at least some 1 year olds can. It seems to have become well established that there is very large differences between the human mind and that of all other animals. Of course, there are similarities, but there are also large differences.

You are reading me incorrectly. I never said that, nor do I believe that. My point is exactly the opposite.

Quite a bit. I think you are misreading me.

That in no way is what I have said. I would hope you would be able to draw distinctions between Ken Ham and me should possible. If that is really the comparison you think is appropriate, I suppose there is not really any place for continued engagement.

Actually, there is a pretty wide array of positions on that matter within the YEC community. This is what Answers in Genesis has to say on the subject:

"The Javan and Peking forms of erectus in particular came under considerable attack by creationists in the 1970s and 1980s.8-10 The thrust of these critiques was that all erectus forms were extremely ape-like and even possibly fraudulent."

I think it would be fair to say that attitudes towards H. erectus have changed quite a bit over time.


Yes that is true.

However, right now, among YECs that are scientists trying to formulate their view, they almost uniformly say Homo genus = human. They do not say human = sapiens. In that one point, they are more aligned with the Natural History museum than EC writers.

The article you site, keep in mind is from 1994, nearly 25 years ago. That change happened, past tense.

That is part of the equation. The other part is putting Adam and Eve 250,000+ years in the past as part of a population that was entirely H. erectus. AiG and other YECs are arguing that H. erectus is essentially H. sapiens, and that they were all part of the same population as recently as 4,000 years ago. I’m not sure how that can be squared with the model that others are putting forward.

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Here are two:


What Swamidass seems to miss is that ToM involves more than one layer of understanding. The first is understanding false beliefs, i.e. I know you believe something that is false. From the second article:

The consensus of such studies is that, through a progression of stages starting at around 2 years, normally developing children have acquired full competence on first-order ToM tasks by 5 years of age (WELLMAN et al., 2001).

Researchers working on adults, however, have developed more demanding tasks by probing recursive ToM understanding (second level: inferences about a belief about a belief; third level: inferences about a belief about a belief about a belief, and so on, up to fifth or in one case, eighth, level; KINDERMAN, DUNBAR, and BENTALL, 1998; STILLER and DUNBAR, in press). Such tasks involve reading or hearing multi-character stories, and inferring what one character believes about another character’s belief, etc. Most adults perform much better than chance up to fourth level, but the error rate increases dramatically above this point (KINDERMAN et al., 1998).


Okay, I see the confusion. You are mixing up language development with Theory of Mind. Second-, third-, and fourth-order ToM virtually requires recursive language, but first-order ToM does not. Again, in order to practice deception, which chimps do every day as part of their social order, a chimp must understand false belief, even if it cannot express the concept.

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If cooperation implies the existence of a theory of mind, then many mammals, including non-primates, possess a theory of mind.

EDIT: Ravens, which practice deception, seem to possess a theory of mind as well.


No. You are mistaking a theory of mind, for a full theory of mind, which is often thought to presuppose language. The two are intertwined.

Moreover, there is a pervasive equivocation between the development of language and the ontogeny of language.

Hi Joshua, could you provide some references? I would love to read further.


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Not in the way you think. But, I’ve said enough for now. Sorry for steering you in the right direction … haha. Enjoy the journey!

You said:

And then you went on to say we can’t know anything for sure.

“The first couple with symbolic thought and a theory of mind; the first couple with language” is not plausible based on any definition of language that I am aware of. There is just no such thing as a “theoretical first couple with language” unless your “theories” about how language works are wacky. It’s not a plausible “maybe.” You should strike it from your list. I’m really pretty amused that you are sticking by it.


For this conversation, this article is an excellent must read. Notably, its authors include the great Noam Chomsky, essentially making the main point I’ve been making here. Likewise, acquisition of language does not necessarily mirror the origin of language. There is a great deal of mystery in the origin of language, very little evidence, and a lot of ungrounded but strong opinions.

Regarding the failure of the great apes in language experiments, this article is really good, quantitative and recent. A key point is that they cannot even achieve the point of forming sentences, but only two word phrases. My son at 12 months was far beyond Nim Chimpsky in acquisition of language, knowing at least 125 words (like chimpsky) but also putting them together occasionally into 5 word sentences (he was advanced). It also took much less effort for my son to acquire this competency than Chimpsky.

No matter how you cut it, chimps are quantitatively and qualitatively very far from human language. I had the privilege of talking about this with Ajit Varki on stage at UCSD a couple years back too. I wrote an article up about it, but the video is worth watching too.

Regarding theory of mind, it was a common theme in my january Veritas forums.

In particular, the talk I gave at UCSB with a grief counselor, just following the mudslides in SB, on how humans grieve differently than animals is germaine to this conversation. Grief is one area the distinctions between human and animals is incomparable, partly because we have a full theory of mind, and they do not.

As for the surprising resistance to explaining the limits of scientific knowledge, it’s remarkable how quickly things devolve…

(I did not say that).

(no, I am not making Ken Ham’s argument)

(just like is the case for all scientific theories,–Quine_thesis)

(yet we have been unable to socially transmit language or theory of mind to the great apes)

(no, we are talking about linguistic origin, not linguistic evolution, which is intertwined with biological evolution)

It is ironic that the first time I was similarly accused of pseudoscience and other such things on this forum was almost exactly a year ago, about genealogical science and the genealogical Adam. I ended up making my case in spades on that one.

Perhaps consider backing off the heated rhetoric, and realize that I’ve solidly justified several theses that, on face value, seemed absurd to this forum. I have a track record of demonstrating surprising things like this. Maybe lets not accuse me of total ignorance from the get go. Moreover, as a professor at a secular institution, I have much more at stake here than does almost everyone else (with some notable exceptions). I would not make claims here I could not justify thoroughly to my secular colleagues.

Right now you’re throwing out half a dozen theses which you haven’t demonstrated, and which you say may not be demonstrable at all. You’re explicitly saying “Maybe”, “We don’t know”, and “I’m not arguing that any of these events happened”. So I doubt you’re going to be demonstrating any of these “surprising things” any time soon, especially since you say you are not actually arguing for them.

You are very concerned about communication and how your readers “hear” you, so you need to consider what they hear when they read statements such as this.

  • “We do not know how quickly these things progressed. Do we? You are putting forward rationale for why it might be gradual, but there is rationale for why it might not be gradual too, at least at points. As far as a I know, from evidence, we cannot discriminate which one is correct.”

  • “Taking theology into account, maybe they are the first with souls and know it. Maybe they see the others around them as non-human, and do not want to interbreed with them. Who knows.”

  • “Maybe all hominids die across the globe and God resurrects two of them. Who knows. Not science, but possible and not ruled out by evidence.”

  • “Does not have to be global. All it has to be is a natural disaster that locally reduces a population to a single couple. As long as there is enough time to sufficiently differentiated, and they become the only surviving lineage, that would do it.”

  • “It is possible, also, that there were jumps or leaps in abilities. That is a live possibility. We do not know exactly how a theory of mind arose, at it has only arisen once.”

  • I’m saying that it looks like we share common ancestry, not that we actually do. Taking into account God’s action we cannot be sure.” [emphasis mine]

It should be clear to you that more than one person has “heard” these statements as ad hoc arguments aimed at supporting a specific concordist reading of Scripture. Ironically (given yesterday’s performance), Christy herself even “heard” you as advancing the same argument as Ken Ham.

The fact that several individuals sharing different views (including different views on Adam; I believe in a historical Adam less than 10,000 years ago, for example), are “hearing” the same message from what you write, should give you pause to consider how effectively you’re communicating.


See @Jay313’s clarification on theory of mind, above. We face much the same difficulty in language studies. Animals have been represented as having rudimentary language, but when compared to what even two year old humans are capable of, it is clear there are significant gaps. A distinctive feature of both language and theory of mind is recursiveness, it would seem. David Premack, now deceased eminent psychologist, gave this example of recursiveness in human language:

“Language evolved, it is conjectured, at a time when humans or protohumans were hunting mastodons…
Would it be a great advantage for one of our ancestors squatting alongside the embers to be able to remark,
Beware of the short beast whose front hoof Bob cracked when, having forgotten his own spear back at camp, he got in a glancing blow with the dull spear he borrowed from Jack”? He goes on to say, “Human language is an embarrassment for evolutionary theory because it is vastly more powerful than one can account for in terms of selective fitness.”

Quoted in Pinker, The Language Instinct, 387

Thank goodness no one usually speaks or writes like that, but we are capable of handling it, just as adults can follow the beliefs of characters about other characters to the fourth level.

I submit that such a quantum level jump in language, theory of mind, and abstract thought requires guided evolution at a minimum to explain things, or the possibility of sudden jumps, also guided. But not testable at this time, if ever. Maybe it will come down to models, as they discuss in the Hauser et al paper. Wouldn’t that be interesting–population genetics models that cannot rule out a first pair, language and theory of mind models that can’t rule out a jump, and inconclusive fossil evidence. Let’s work toward positive evidence.

But I submit, though this discussion is limited to scientific materialism, that nonmaterial explanations may be what we are left with. That’s the elephant in the room in this discussion. When material explanations have failed, but we have a nonmaterial cause known to be able to produce the phenomena in question, it is a reasonable inference to make. The inference would be held in the same manner as all scientific hypotheses, that is, provisionally, and always subject to revision.

Given that this is BioLogos and most people are Christian (yes?) is this such an impossible answer?

Don’t all jump on me at once.:slightly_smiling_face:

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Hello Joshua,

I hope all is well with you.

First of all, let me say, I don’t actually like piling on. And I can agree with you that it’s hard to say anything about the origin of language definitively, because language doesn’t leave fossils, and we can’t experiment with a Neanderthal called Neanderm Neandersky. :slight_smile:

That said, you should know that quoting Hauser and Chomsky (and particularly calling him “great”) is probably going to lose you ground with a lot of linguists, right out of the gate. You probably are aware that lead author Hauser was disgraced for scientific misconduct some years back. And Chomsky’s linguistic theorizing is considered very poor-quality science by a great many linguists (not just Dan Everett of recent Forum mention). Folks in the functionalist-typological school (or working in Cognitive Linguistics or construction grammar), and anyone at, for instance, the Max Planck Institute, are generally much more solid scientifically, despite what Chomskian linguists may tell you to the contrary. Now, you can continue to quote Hauser and Chomsky, but just know that there will be lots of folks in the back snickering and wondering when you might get around to quoting linguists who do real science. Sorry… Just being honest, again, not particularly wanting to pile on. And perhaps the paper is quite relevant and error-free. I didn’t actually spend time in the article. But sources matter.

Pardon me, but this is a non sequitur of a comment. The development of language was (at least) a two-step process. First, we had to develop the capacity for language. Then, we had to develop language itself. You’re saying that creatures that are without the capacity for language can’t develop (or learn) language when we teach it to them. How is this germane? You might as well say that we’ve been unable to transmit language to rabbits, or lichen. The question is how language first developed among hominins with highly developed brains, not among Pan or Gorilla or Pongo.

I sometimes agree with your detractors here, but I appreciate your voice and trust you’ll continue to stick it out here. It’s helpful for all of us when we have contrarian voices in the mix.



Yes. But first we must demonstrate all material explanations have failed. Medieval Christian writers made this point repeatedly. Behold their methodological naturalism.

Adelard of Bath.

“Adelard’s emphasis on the use of reason is rather remarkable. His message is clear. He firmly believed that God was the creator of the world, and that God provided the world with a rational structure and a capacity to operate by its own laws. In this well-ordered world, natural philosophers must always seek a rational explanation for phenomena. They must search for a natural cause and not resort to God, the ultimate cause of all things, unless the secondary cause seems unattainable.”, Grant, ‘God and Reason in the Middle Ages’, (2001), 72.

Gerald of Wales.

“The spectacle of leaping salmons in the rivers of Wales and Ireland was dissected in similar fashion, Gerald observing that this behaviour may seem hard to believe but it is from the nature (ex natura) of this fish to perform such feats. He was also reluctant to accept the beliefs of Welsh villagers who held that the groaning of a lake in winter was miraculous. Dismissing their claims, Gerald offered an alternative physical explanation, ascribing the noises to air trapped beneath its frozen surface and being violently released.", Watkins, ‘History and the Supernatural in Medieval England’ (2007), 30.

William of Conches.

William thought it improper to invoke God’s omnipotence as an explanation for natural phenomena. Like all natural philosophers in the Middle Ages, William of Conches believed that God was the ultimate cause of everything, but, like Adelard of Bath, he believed that God had empowered nature to produce effects and that one should therefore seek the cause of those effects in nature.”, Grant, ‘God and Reason in the Middle Ages’ (2001), 73.

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