Ann Gauger's latest salvo against Dennis Venema's arguments against an original pair of human beings

Briefly, the authors argue against the commonly received view that the techniques for producing Acheulean handaxes were acquired by social learning and that handaxes are therefore cultural. They argue that language need not have been involved in showing another individual how to make them.

Finally, they write: “A further problem facing the cultural transmission hypothesis is the much more rapid pace of change after Acheulean handaxes disappeared at 300‐200 Ka. If the behaviors involved in the production of both handaxes and post‐Acheulean artifacts were culturally learned, how do we explain this very marked increase in the speed of change?”

Hi Vincent,
I am aware that there are different theories about the Acheulean hand axes, and that they remained essentially unchanged for a very long time. I have considered those things in my evaluation of when humanity might have first appeared, meaning ensouled humanity. I have also considered the rapid burst of culture starting 80K to 70Kya, including jewelry, art, and finally agriculture.

There are three time points to choose for Adam in my opinion: roughly 2 million years ago with Homo erectus, 300 kya with modern man (anatomically speaking), and at the time of our emergence from Africa (70-80 Kya).

The degree of sophistication that goes into making an Acheulean hand axe is greater than it might seem. See this paper. And there is evidence the axes were made in one location then transported long distances, in large numbers. Trade?

Look at this image of a handaxe found at Kathu Pan in South Africa 800 Kya.

A description of the site and other materials found there are from a mitigation report (!):
This site, situated between the town of Kathu and the SIOC airport, is a shallow water pan about 30ha in
extent. The site was extensively studied from 1974 to 1990 by Humpreys and Beaumont, amongst others.
Kathu Pan, which has been nominated for National Heritage status is an extremely significant site as it
represents the major industries of the Stone Age, more specifically two phases of the Earlier Stone Age,
two phases of the Middle Stone Age, and more or less the entire Later Stone Age (Beaumont 1990). The
site yielded large amounts of hand axes and faunal remains, including the concentrated remains of large
mammal remains. As such, the site has produced fossils of animals such as elephants and hippos, as well
as the earliest known evidence of tools used as spears from a level dated to half a million years
ago. Research by Jayne Wilkins revealed a hoard of stone points, each between 4 and 9 centimeters long, that they think belonged to the earliest stone-tipped spears yet found. The stone points are the right shape and size for the hunting, and some have fractured tips that suggest they were used as weapons. Since stone points used on spears had been found only at sites that date back no more than 300 000 years, these discoveries in the 500 000-year-old deposits at Kathu is greatly significant. In addition, the site has yielded what is termed, the ‘Master Hand-Axe’ which dates to approximately 750 000 BP rendering it the oldest artifact which is indisputably aesthetic i.e. worked for beauty and symmetry, perfectly oriented, and worked considerably beyond the functional requirements of the hand-axe, which could have been achieved with half or fewer blows (see Figure 4-2). The technology which produced it is known as the Acheulian, and the artifacts are thought to be made by Homo ergaster (Homo erectus in Africa), a diverse grouping of early humans commonly imagined as small-brained, small-jawed and robustly built, with heavy eyebrow ridges.

When I look at that master handaxe, I see aesthetics, painstaking care, and a joy in the materials. I see mind.

As for brain sizes, I don’t find that all that significant. Brain size does not necessarily determine intelligence. I have also seen different ranges offered. It is the range of sizes that matters. From Ian Tattersall:

The reason I place Adam so far back? It is the problem of ensoulment, of monogenism, and of genetics. It’s pretty clear that Denisovans and Neanderthals are derived from H erectus after he migrated out of Africa. It solves the problem of an huge initial population size, and gives pop gen time to work. No, I don’t think ILS is a problem. The sorting was pretty much done by then. Last, I have difficulty accepting that God would have parallel races derived from the same ancestry, and ensoul some and not others. That’s if I accept common ancestry. With a unique origin that is early, everyone is ensouled.

Just as an aside, is it our brain size that grants us souls? No. There are many disabled individuals with smaller than average brain sizes, some quite small. Does that mean they have no souls? You are Catholic, I think. I am too. At least for me, it is impossible that those disabled individuals would have no souls. And God chooses to ensoul us irrespective of our physical or mental condition

Issues? There’s that long wait for technology to develop, and the fact that most people will want a more recent Adam. Chris, I personally don’t see a need to match Adam’s time to agriculture, when we have cave paintings twice as old.

That is, unless you are comfortable denying a soul to the ones who painted those pictures.


I truly do sympathize. It’s heartbreaking when anyone walks away from the faith because they think they can’t have science AND God, or when they think science has removed the need for God. That happens too, in churches that are not YEC. Science points toward God, not away! But you can’t see that from the way science is taught. Just the opposite. That’s why DI continues to advocate for teaching the controversy.

I’m all in favor of serving the poor, preaching the gospel to them, as long as we shut up and listen to what they have to teach us.

There’s one more thing someone said that I’d like to respond to: Why would you think we would be overturning everything in biology if intelligent design were added to the roster? The vast majority of biology does not rely on evolutionary biology for its work. And in cases where it is justified evolution would still be valuable. But the knee jerk attribution of everything to evolution would stop. And (at least in my dreams) the just so stories would stop, about how this was just coopted into that and now we can explain everything.

ID would not stop research. It probably would fuel whole new avenues of research. I can think of several areas ripe for research that would benefit from an ID perspective.

Finally, it would be nice to be able to talk about design as a possibility without being tossed out.

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Please forgive me for butting into your conversation with Jay here, Ann. Just to submit this thought: This phrasing rubs me the wrong way because it seems to me that science can only “remove the need for God” if God’s only role is to explain things that science hasn’t explained.

Is this how we approach our own individual creation? We know from science that a dad’s sperm and a mom’s egg meet and the DNA recombine and the fertilized embryo grows into a fetus as cells divide, etc. Do we then throw up our hands and say, “Welp, I guess science explained that one, so God must not have had a role in fashioning me in my mother’s womb”? I know I don’t.

I think EC folks like me agree with you on so much here. Yes, science points toward God, and it’s often not taught that way, particularly by anti-theist scientists (a vocal subsection of the atheist community). But I’m afraid that if we needlessly give science the power to “remove the need for God,” why then, it probably will!


Good reply, And sorry I rubbed you the wrong way. But you see, that’s precisely the problem. Students raised in our materialistic world without belief in God, even in a Christian home, see science as explaining everything. And if everything is already explained and the materialistic world is all there is, they don’t need the God hypothesis.

You and I both know that there is much to life that science cannot explain. There is much wonder and awe and fearfulness. There is beauty and truth and goodness, none of which are explicable in evolutionary terms, at least as far as I read them. Maybe if we can’t teach your kids about God in school we can try teaching them about beauty and truth and goodness. The transcendentals, as they’re called, point to transcendence, which is something that God has and science does not.

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Wow, they are still doing that? Surely it would be much better to get on with some actual science.

It would help if anyone from the ID movement could make a solid case explaining what science is missing out on and how it could progress better with ID. For example over the last 100 years which areas of scientific endeavor have suffered the most from lack of application of ID, and which specific endeavors would be improved? Can we use ID to locate mineral resources? Can we use ID to locate fossils? Can we use it to improve our understanding of the human body? Can we use it to design new technology? Can we use it for anything?


Thanks again for your gracious reply.

I don’t see “explaining” as the same thing as “explaining away.” I feel science and theology both explain things on different levels, as @Jay313 has already spoken about at some length, and as I alluded to in my previous response.

For instance, I believe the Bible when it says that “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Because of this, I can believe I am fearfully and wonderfully made, since, while science can give me the mechanics of procreation and embryonic development, it can’t tell me why the particular sperm and particular egg that made me were the ones that met inside my mother and not another sperm or another egg.

And science can tell me that humans die and that resurrection is not possible naturally, but it can’t rule out Jesus’s miraculous resurrection by the power of God. So yes, there are indeed many wondrous things and realms of knowledge to which science cannot speak (these two among many).

What bothers me is when my children, who go to a Christian school, come home and my eldest tells me, “Daddy, my teacher says that humans aren’t mammals.” And I have to un-teach her, at home, the anti-scientism of that statement. “Well, hon, what do you think? Do humans have breasts?” “Yes.” “Do they have hair?” “Yes.” “Do they have warm blood?” “Yes, and they have four limbs!” “Good! Yes. So tell me, why aren’t they mammals?” “Well, my teacher says that only animals are mammals.” “Okay, well, I agree with your teacher that we aren’t only mammals. But I hope you see that we are definitely mammals.”

It worries me that other kids at this Christian school are being ill-prepared to go out into a world where these obvious truths may well be explained to them by anti-theist friends at college and they’ll have to say, “Gosh, I guess Christianity must be false if everything I was taught about science was wrong.” Kind of a Santa Claus effect.

So… I’m with Jay on this one, I guess. I don’t expect to convince you, but I hope you can see our concerns.


Hi Jonathan. Nice to hear from you again. Have you ever heard of Michael Egnor? He is a neurosurgeon working in New York I think . He was an atheist. He was trying to help his patients who had fluid on the brain—that kind of surgery was one of his specialties. So he was trying to figure out the hydrodynamics of the flow of cerebral spinal fluid and he had an idea to go and check how human engineers handle fluid flow. He found that human engineers used the same kind of valves as are present in the human brain for controlling the flow of cerebrospinal fluid. ( I am probably getting some of this wrong because it’s been a while since I heard the story.) He became a Christian.

When we think about the human body as designed, we can gain new insights. When we stop thinking about it as if it was not designed, we can gain further insight. It’s not a Kluge. Read some of the articles by Howard Glicksman on evolution news.
The whole field of biomimicry is based on the idea that we can learn how to engineer things from nature. But it goes both ways. We can use our insight as engineers to understand biological things.
We would also stop wasting money on research that won’t go anywhere because it’s based on evolutionary principles. For example in the world of protein engineering more than one graduate student has failed or come close to failing because they could not engineer the protein they were assigned. I know of one ID friendly professor who had to go to a student‘s defense and say that they should be given their degree despite the fact they could not engineer the desired protein. He explained that it wasn’t possible. And since protein engineering was his field, fortunately the other professors believed him.
I wish I could give you details about projects underway but that’s not wise. All I can say is, those who say intelligent design proponents don’t do science are wrong.

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How is this relevant to ID?

How does this answer my questions?

How is using our insight as engineers to understand biological things, answering the questions I asked? How is this ID?

Is that your only example?

I wish there were ID projects which actually demonstrated the results ID proponents claim (or should I say “cdesignproponentists”). Projects actually published and publicized, like we see in real science.

They certainly do some science. The question is, are they doing ID as science? If they are, where are all the experiments and successful results? And where are the answers to my questions?


Of course I can see your concern. I would not like it if that happened to my child either.
I taught biology to homeschool students before I came to work at discovery Institute. I made my own curriculum because i refused to use Young Earth materials and I didn’t want to use the standard textbooks either because of their bias. We had a mixed curriculum drawn from the main textbooks but with my material added in. We did talk about whether there was an evolutionary explanation as we went along. We’d ask questions about the goodness of creation when we saw things they didn’t look so good. I didn’t preach the gospel to them I just taught them about nature. And I didn’t tell them that we weren’t animals either. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could have such a thing for all students?.

But I see the problem of young people walking away from the other side as well. You have a strong faith. You know that God is working all things. But imagine it from a child’s perspective. They don’t have the wisdom gained from years, nor the experience that lets them know that God is at work in all things, whether seen or unseen. They take whatever they are taught literally as the truth. I agree with you, if your child is taught young earth creationism, there is a strong likelihood that college will badly shake her faith. Or worse. So I understand why you might want to end the relationship between teaching and God and science. And I can understand why you might see me who wants to talk about design and Science in the same breath as a threat to your child’s future.
I guess I am trying to let you know that growing up with a Christian school that teaches evolution will not solve your problems. Going to a church that teaches Theistic Evolution will not guarantee that your children will remain Christian. I know what I speak about because my son who was a believer lost his faith due to atheist friends who told him Science had disproved God. He now considers me to be a disgrace because I am an ID scientist.
Young people walk away from the faith for many reasons. Some of them have to do with being taught young earth creationism and being disillusioned. Some of them walk away because they’ve been taught that evolution explains everything and therefore they decide there is no God. I’ve seen both happen. It’s a heartache and a tragedy.
I hope you know by now that I am not anti-science. I would love to see all of Science taught including evolutionary biology and ID. The arguments for and against. Not that that’s likely to happen.
I wonder-do you see the same danger from ID as you do from YEC? Do you see them both as something that will cause disillusionment down the road, because you think that both are untrue? Then it seems you have conflated the two.
I find that attitude, if it’s true, to be very hard to understand. I see design in nature everywhere, just as it’s everywhere in Scripture. It’s like when you say you see God‘s hand in everything even though you also see how it
all works by material means. I see design in everything even though I know the science underneath it. I know the molecules involved, the pathways they follow, and the way the organ systems come together. I know the scientific explanations for why flowers bloom and bees pollinate. But I still see the design. Maybe you see it too?

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Helpful, searching questions here.

It depends if you mean anti-common-descent ID. I find the common descent of all living things on Earth to be self-evident, supported by several independent, converging lines of evidence. Even I, as a hopeless layman in all things biology-related, can easily understand the relevant arguments for common descent and see that it’s a slam dunk.

So for instance, when I watched your famous green-screen video, I was frankly alarmed to hear you seem to suggest that cladograms were an unproven assumption of evolutionary theory. Perhaps you were referring particularly to human evolution, but the context of that short YouTube clip did not restrict it in that way. I thought, gosh, is this the same Ann Gauger I’ve been talking to??

For ID folks that reject common descent: Yes, I absolutely lump this in with YEC (and this is true even if they accept a timeline of billions of years of cosmic history).

For ID folks that accept common descent: Hey, I’m interested to see what they can learn about genetic information and how it’s created. Why not? Many EC folks here are skeptical, but for me, anyway, the verdict is still out. I do suspect it will be awfully hard to prove a negative (irreducible complexity or impossibility of new information being added or what have you), but if ID folks manage to produce some quality, peer-reviewed examples, I’ll read it — along with its critiques — with an open mind, to the extent that I can understand the arguments.

I see parallels between our approach to theodicy at a personal scale and our understanding of evolution on a larger scale in the biological sciences. In both arenas, I think the operative questions are, what do we choose to focus on, and what metaphors do we use to describe what we see and experience?

In life, horrible things happen to Christians every single day. Despite this, I choose to hang on to my belief in God’s goodness, even where in myself I can find no adequate explanation (despite appeals to varied Christian responses to evil like “pain is God’s megaphone,” “we live in a fallen world,” etc. etc.). Others, meanwhile, find their faith shipwrecked by what seems like God’s lack of power or lack of goodness through such trials. Theodicy has always been one of the thorniest issues for monotheists.

I see the same dynamics of theodicy at work in evolutionary biology. Some say nature is “red in tooth and claw.” They see functioning genes wrecked by mutations, cancers plaguing every kind of life, animals being nastily cruel to other animals, and mass extinctions devastating Earth’s biological history and they say: Surely a good, omnipotent God would not have designed things this way.

Me, I see the wonder of everything that works so beautifully and I thank God for His hand in creating such glorious complexity. I see the beneficial mutation of a giraffe’s long neck as an expression of God’s wondrous provision for some ancient population of okapi-/pronghorn-like giraffid population, and I thank Him for taking care of His creation so elegantly. As with life’s trials, I confess my ignorance to God as to why He would have permitted the bits that seem bad to me (mosquitoes are always near the top of my list! =) ), and I spend my time awestruck at how miraculously well, by and large, His system of creation-by-evolution works. It inspires worship along the lines of Psalm 104: 27–32 — part of my favorite Biblical creation text.

So do I see design everywhere? Absolutely. Does this cancel out my belief in evolution? Not at all — I see the two in cooperation. Do I believe that the design that I observe required God’s periodic, detectable interventionism? Not at this time — but I’m always learning.

Thanks for the probing questions that have helped me to think through and articulate my own beliefs.


I was suffering from hypercalcemia when that video was made due to an overactive parathyroid gland which had not yet been diagnosed. Hypercalcemia affects the nervous system. Basically I should not have made that video at all. I was not functioning on all cylinders. It was all I could do to string a sentence together. If that makes any difference. I actually don’t know what I said in that video. I haven’t watched it in sometime. But it’s too late to take it down.

What are those avenues of research? What areas of research would benefit from an ID perspective? What grants have you or your colleagues written up lately that are based on ID? Do you have research plans for 2017? We can talk about this until the cows come home, but without a robust research program, ID won’t be going anywhere.

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It’s been some time since I read any papers on the subject, but I do remember a lot of work being done on the gene FOXP2. Mutations in the gene result in deficits in language and speech. The chimp gene is different from the human gene in at least one aa residue, but if memory serves the Neanderthal gene is identical to the human gene. Some scientists were even hypothesizing that modern humans may have acquired the Neanderthal FOXP2 gene through interbreeding (along with up to 5% of our genome in some modern populations).

For me, I see this all going back to creationism. Why would any Christian youth, or adult for that matter, believe that finding a natural process disproves the existence of God unless they were taught that as part of creationism? It is creationists who are agreeing with the type of atheist your son spoke to, saying that if evolution is true then there is no God.

Or it could be that I have this all wrong and there are other theological problems with evolution. However, given your ability to potentially reconcile the two I don’t believe this is the case. Anyway, food for thought . . .

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Hi Ann,

I agree with you that any being who can paint has a soul, and I think true human beings must have appeared at least 300,000 years ago. I also think the Neandertals were human.

The blade tools at Kathu Pan look quite impressive, I agree. They appear to date from about 500,000 years ago. The Master Hand Axe, dated to 750,000 years ago, is especially beautiful. However, I can tell you that most hand-axes in the archaeological record don’t look anything like as beautiful, and are pretty easy to make (see here), so I’m not sure what to think.

Finally, I agree that brain size doesn’t settle the matter when it comes to ensoulment, but let me ask you this: do you really believe that Homo erectus possessed all of the spiritual capacities that we do - for art, drama, philosophy, religion and language? If he did, then where’s the evidence for it? If he didn’t, then aren’t you in effect making him some sort of inferior being - in other words, sub-human? Certainly, it’s true that some human individuals lack some or all of these capacities, but I respectfully submit that it makes no sense to say that an entire race of human beings could be lacking them. Cheers.


It’s an interesting question. The only unchallenged Neanderthal symbolic behavior is the famous “hashtag” in Gibraltar, dated to about 40 kya. It is roughly equivalent to the graphic symbols in S. Africa dated to about 77 kya. Based on this, one could argue that Neanderthals were 37,000 years behind us, but on the same trajectory of development. Neanderthal is also (so far) the only other species with a hyoid bone, which is necessary to produce the full range of human speech sounds, particularly vowels.

o> …but let me ask you this: do you really believe that Homo erectus possessed all of the spiritual capacities that we do - for art, drama, philosophy, religion and language? If he did, then where’s the evidence for it? If he didn’t, then aren’t you in effect making him some s>o rt of inferior being - in other words, sub-human?

First of all, our full capacity for art, drama, philosophy, religion and language was not present 300,000 years ago. Nor was it present, it could be argued until the Egyptians, the early Greeks, and the Chinese had their cultural flowering. I don’t know enough archeology to pin point it precisely as to time and place. But it wasn’t 10,000 years ago. Technology and the arts build on top of one another, often exponentially, unless some disaster wipes out a civilization with a particular skill that no one else knows.

I have thought about the long lag. I don’t think it makes Homo erectus subhuman necessarily. There was a lag in culture foe Neanderthals, and one for modern humans at 300,000 years ago. Things didn’t start to accelerate until 100,000 years ago really. From Blombos cave in S Africa 100,000 years ago:

For me, I see this all going back to creationism. Why would any Christian youth, or adult for that matter, believe that finding a natural process disproves the existence of God unless they were taught that as part of creationism?

If they are taught in school that the universe came into being as the result of quantum fluctuations, that the stars and the earth are the result of successive birth of stars and death by supernovas, that all of life can be explained, including the first life, by the assembly of organic molecules, and after the first cell, the process of evolution, then students who are exposed to materialistic, atheist ideas without the tools to cope with them, and even if they come from a non-creationist, science-favorable home, if they have any doubts at all about God, will turn toward atheism of simple agnosticism all to easily. Why would you think it happens only in Creationist homes?

I am not free to tell you. We have a number of scientific research projects going on now, based on ID ideas. I can’t tell you because many of the projects are in mainstream universities, with professors who would lose a great deal if the work was revealed prematurely.

But let me repeat, much work that is being done today comes from an ID perspective–that of expecting function rather than junk, even though the researchers themselves would not say so. The ENCODE project is a prime example, as are those who look for functions for lncRNAs, pseudogenes etc.

I can tell you of one project–the unique human origins project. The papers describing the algorithm have been written and published, and coding is rapidly underway.

I also outlined the basis for another project concerning HLA gene diversity with clear predictions that someone could take up. Just give me credit it if you do.

Just to put this all into context, I am an atheist so I am trying to ask these questions more from an outsider trying to get the opinions of an insider.

I would think it would happen more often in homes where natural explanations are labeled as materialistic, atheistic ideas. At least from my perspective, the Big Bang being caused by a quantum fluctuation is no more problematic for christians than lightning being caused by circulating clouds. If God can use thunderclouds to make lightning, then why not use quantum fluctuations to create universes, or chemistry to create life. Is there some sort of horizon, beyond which there can be no more natural explanations in Christian theology?


“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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