New Hominin Species Discovered | The BioLogos Forum

Intro by Deb Haarsma: On September 10, the discovery of a new Homo species was announced. This is likely one of the early hominins, ancient species some of which were on the direct lineage to our own. Note that this isn’t just a discovery of more fossils of a species we already knew, but discovery of a new piece of the ancestral family tree. What piece it is remains to be determined, but it will undoubtedly add to our understanding. Darrel Falk sent me a note the same day about the find. Darrel is a wonderful biologist and educator, the past president of BioLogos and currently our Senior Advisor for Dialogue. Here are his initial thoughts on the discovery and recommendations on where you can learn more. Look for more BioLogos coverage of this exciting discovery in the near future.

The new Homo species announced last Thursday is the most extensive hominin find ever in Africa. Based on its characteristics, it appears quite possible that it is a transitional early Homo species at the transition between Australopithicus and Homo. The site of discovery was an isolated cave in South Africa. The find consists of more than 1500 fossil elements from at least 15 individuals. The scientific findings appeared today in the online journal eLife and are summarized here by leading paleoanthropologist, Chris Stringer (with links to the two scientific articles).

Unfortunately, the fossil discovery has not yet been dated. People are surprised and disappointed that there is no discussion of attempts to identify approximate dates of the fossils. The cave has been dated to around 3 million years before present, but the fossils themselves were not located in rock strata that are datable. My guess is that they are working on carbon dating or DNA methods, and they're saving an exciting story yet to be published once all the data is in.

Interestingly, besides all the PR associated with the discovery, it is documented by likely the finest Nova/National Geographic production I have ever seen on human evolution, which is available to view online here. I've watched the first hour of the two hour special which will appear next Wednesday evening (Sept 16) on PBS. I love it because it shows in absolutely exciting detail how the science is done. It also shows how wrong earlier paleontologists were regarding the nature of our early ancestors—they weren't 'killers' as depicted in early film and scientific literature. They were plant eaters with likely the occasional meat meal. The natural forces associated with the evolution of the human body were NOT selection for the fittest killers. Indeed, although not specifically discussed in the film (I've not quite finished it), cooperation was likely a much more important shaper of the distinctively human mind than competition.

The Nova special offers a richer perspective than is commonly understood on how science is done. As a significant bonus, it informs people about what we know of human evolution in a way that will stay with them for a long time.

Further Reading on this topic

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

I think one of the realizations we are coming to is there is not a direct linear link for our evolutionary process. There appears to have been a lot of mixing of divergent groups that may have come back together after having been dispersed for a significant period. Similar to Homo Sapiens reintegrating with other archaic Neanderthals and Denisovans after being separated for perhaps hundreds of thousands of years. This perhaps helped facilitate human evolution even more robustly.
It will be mind blowing if DNA can be extracted.


You like that, Roger? :smiley:

Yes, Christy, I agree with that, but please do not treat this as an argument with winners and losers. This is a search for truth where everyone wins if they are honest seekers.

Thank you, Bro. Darrell, for doing the research on these new findings.

However there are still some serious issues that this statement brings into focus.

First of all the scientific conflict between Christianity and Darwin’s Theory from the beginning was NOT concerning common ancestry. Opposition to common ancestry is based on theology and philosophy, and I should think is pretty well settled new, even though some people still disagree.

Second, the conflict was over related topics: Darwinism entails 1) “continual change, 2) based on unpredictable chance events, 3) fueled by unrelenting struggle for survival among living creatures, with 4) no obvious guidance.” (Strickberger’s Evolution, 4th ed. by Hall and Hallgrimsson, p. 663) This view of life is opposed to the Christian view is some ways.

Third, Darwinism has lost its integrity. While there is some consensus in the area of genetic change and Variation, there seems to be little consensus in the area of adaptation and Natural Selection. As when I asked you, Christy, for documentation for your statement on adaptation, you said you could not give it to me except you based it on science books for children.

Thus Darwin’s Theory is not a theory as it exists today, but a hodgepodge of ideas, many of which have little to do with science in that they have not been objectively tested. Everyone has their own idea, every idea is covered by Darwin’s Theory, and thus every idea is scientific, which for many means is true.

Current research in human evolution indicates that humans survived and flourished based on cooperation, not selfishness and competition. This should mean that Darwin’s Theory needs a thorough revaluation. Is this going to happen?

Will scientists within and outside BioLogos take on Dawkins and neoDarwinism on this question so we have a better understanding of evolution and more importantly who we are as human beings? I hope so, because this is what I have been working for, but his does not seem like going on past experience.

So we have made a step forward, but are we responsible Christians and scientists willing to move forward to come to a positive understanding of humanity on which to build the future?

The New York Times ran an Opinion piece in which the author said that Hitler used fear of an ecological disaster and denial of the ability of science to provide food for a growing population to justify Nazi expansionism and hatred of the Jews.

What I heard him saying was basic Malthus population theory, population grows geometrically, while food production grows arithmetically. That is not denial of science, but the acceptance of Darwinism.

The issue raised was whether another Hitler can use the climate change crisis to create another Reich. It seems to me that the answer to this is not found in technology and science, but in the ability of people to trust and work with others to make the best use of what we have, rather than fighting for a bigger share. This is not really possible if it is a fact that people are basically selfish and life is a zero sum game.

When people quote Dawkins’ statement that our inherent selfishness does not mean that this is how we ought to act, they are not quoting a statement based on science, but philosophy. If Dawkins “scientific” thinking leads him to this that humans are basically selfish, fine. I disagree. If he thinks that he can make a strong case that they have the ability and moral responsibility not to be selfish, that is excellent. Thus far he has not.

One cannot have it both ways, unless you are able to give evidence of how and why this is true. Dawkins & Co spend their efforts “proving” that people are basically selfish, but claim they are not without explanation. if it is true, it is because their initial claim is false.


I wasn’t trying to make something into winners and losers, I just thought you might appreciate the shout out to cooperation.

Are you familiar at all with game theory? I don’t know that much about it, just that my father-in-law did some post-grad work in it, so it came up a lot. When we hang out with my husband’s family, my husband and I are the under-educated black sheep. At my parent’s house at Christmas my brothers and I talk about sports and quote the dialogue from silly movies and show each other YouTube clips. With my husband’s side of the family people discuss how theoretical math relates to political science. So anyway, as I understand it, game theory tries to figure out how much cooperation is necessary to win in a competition. It has all sorts of interesting sociological applications. It makes me wonder if you can really make cooperation and competition into opposite sides of a continuum or if it’s really right to equate cooperation with selflessness and competition with selfishness. I think the reality is more complex. Sometimes we are motivated to compete in one area in order to selflessly provide for others in a different area. Sometimes we cooperate for selfish reasons.

It is going to take a decade of research to figure out what these bones have to say about the evolution of us. There is not even a fossil age yet. Why can’t we just look at the fossils unencumbered by baises and with a totally open mind? I am looking forward to comparing these fossils with fossils that will be discovered next year and the year after. That is what is amazing about scientific research - the results are unpredictable and usually more amazing that what could ever be imagined.

This is a great find. Congrats to Berger and team. Anyone here what to discuss the age of the fossil and its implications? How about if they really were placed there after death by their kind?

We’re working on a post related to those questions. Stay tuned…


Yes, I am familiar with game theory, and have just been reading about it in Sarah Coakley’s Gifford Lectures.

However I really fail to see how the Prisoner’s Dilemma applies to insects, birds, and al.

The only game theory that really applies is the one never used, which says the Life is a Non-Zero Sum Game. Darwinian Malthusian theory indicates that Life Is a Zero Sum Game. A zero sum game is where the size of the pie is fixed, so you need to get yours before it is all gone. A non-zero sum game is where cooperation expands the pie, as in I help you harvest your crops and you help me.

Insects do not understand non-zero sum game theory, but they practice it. They are not rational, but they act in a rational manner. Either they operate on instinct whereby a rational God provides them with the programing they need to survive and thrive or maybe they “learn” to cooperate by living in an ecology where they either have to work together or die out. This what I mean by ecological natural selection.

People do cooperate for various reasons, but if they are basically selfish they will cheat when they think they can get away with it. Unselfish people seek to maximized the benefit for all, even when they do not benefit much in the short term. The important thing is the long range goal, not short range success. Cooperation in order to cheat others is not good.

Competition per se is not bad if it is fair and rightly motivated. We can and should compete in doing good, as long as it is the good that is more important, and not the winning.

Biologos is all about harmonizing faith with science. Here we have a new amazing scientific discovery but all the discussions so far is about the past - pre-discovery, what Darwin thought or didn’t think about. How about we all move our thinking to the present - today Sep 15, 2015. How does this scientific discovery harmonize with your faith? Does it change anything? If it does, how? Science has put another stake in the ground. Is it time to harmonize one’s faith to it? Or ignore it?

I went over to the AIG site. Very predictably, Ken Ham and Elizabeth Mitchell already knows everything there is to know about these bones. According to their weekend read of the news articles, both of these highly skilled paleontologist’s are certain these bones are not older than 6000 years old. They are certain they are not human, but if they were they most certainly are decedent from Adam and Eve. Yes, they are on the side of Adam’s family with the small brains.

So Roger, Christy, Brad and others - what do you think of these fossil finds?


I will probably see if my son wants to watch the Nova special with me. We love our BBC documentaries.

None of my theological commitments lives or dies with the existence or dating of early hominids, so it’s just an interesting news item for me.

I’ve already watched the full episode online via PBS. I’ve also read National Geographic articles. This story has some serious issues regarding how those bones became isolated in such an inaccessibly location. It was extremely difficult for trained and equipped cavers to access this location much less primitive archaic humans if they can be classified as such. There is really no good explanation at this time and so that issue will remain a cloud over this unless come clarity can be determined. Perhaps an “elephants graveyard” may be the best explanation although I don’t know how these beings moved dead bodies through that maze that was 7 inches wide at points without lighting and forms of assistance.

The other issue is the possibility of extracting DNA since the conditions may be cool enough but that’s going to be a long shot until proven otherwise.

I think what will happen is that there will be a cloud over this discovery to a certain extent until further answers are provided and that may be exactly the plan that is being followed to slowly release more details. First someone needs to provide an illustration of how those creatures entered that cave and deposited those dead bodies. Burying the dead might have a possibility if it can be shown how it could have been done realistically.

Your son and you will enjoy it. It is amazing.

Probably a dumb question, but can someone explain to me the difference between hominins and hominids so I can use the terms correctly?

Watch the documentary and tell me that you are not amazed at this find. It is amazing.


I’m not an anthropologist either, but here is a web site that gives useful commentary on the difference.

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