Home > Chapter 10

A bone of contention

"Ah! Mr Loh, do come in," CT Lee gestured expansively indicating the armchair opposite him. "I would like you to meet my cousin from the States, Dr Cyril Cheng, a visiting lecturer in anthropology."

Dr Cheng smiled broadly. Sun-tanned, in open-neck blue short sleeves and denims he got up to shake Uncle Loh’s hand vigorously.

"Pleased to meet you," he said enthusiastically. "CT has been telling me about the interesting discussions you both have had. Specifically I would like to talk to you, if I may, about the origin of man."

"Of course," Uncle Loh beamed. He set his briefcase on a table nearby.

"Cyril is a Christian," chipped in CT.

"Let me modify that a bit," Dr Cheng explained, somewhat apologetically. "I attend church whenever I can. Does that make me a Christian? Anyway I majored in anthropology because of my interest in man’s origin. I have visited several of the South African sites where the original Australopithecine (southern apes) fossils were found. Places like Taung, Sterkontein, Makapangsat and so on, you know. Not to mention recent finds of human remains at the Blombos Cave, in South Africa. And I would have gone to Ethiopia on this trip if conditions there were more peaceful. Right now, I guess I’ll stick around this part of the world visiting South-East Asian sites. But there’s nothing comparable in importance to those on the African continent."

"How interesting. You must have come up with some answers on man’s origin," commented Uncle Loh.

"I have. And they contradict what the Bible says."

"Is that a problem with you?"

"Not to me personally. I’m an evolutionist… what I mean is, I have a twelve year old son in Sunday School. He has been asking me questions." Dr Cheng laughed. "The kind of questions I asked when I was a kid his age. Should I tell him what I think are the answers? He is too young to understand."

CT leaned forward. "What questions does your son ask?"

"Oh, the usual. The Bible says that God made Adam and Eve. Time and Newsweek magazines say that man came from ape-like ancestors. There is a conflict of views. Which is true?"

"The problem, then, is that you agree with Time, Newsweek and the rest," said Uncle Loh gently, "and you are afraid that this may disturb your son’s faith in the Bible."

Cyril nodded.

"Dr Cheng - Cyril - do you mind if I ask whether there is really firm evidence that man evolved from an ape-like ancestor? What’s the story?"

Cyril settled back in his chair and placing his finger tips together, spoke deliberately.

"The Australopithecines are thought to be important links. Barring some more recent discoveries, and to keep the picture simple, there are three species - Australopithecines africanus, robustus and afarenis."

"Which of these animals is the best candidate for man’s ancestor?" Uncle Loh queried.

Cyril frowned quizzically. "Why do you refer to them as animals? They are hominids, members of the family Hominidae which includes fossil and modern man as well as fossil ape-men."

Uncle Loh raised his eyebrows in amusement. "Aren’t they animals? ‘Australopithecines’ means ‘southern apes’ and apes are animals."

"Well, if you choose to look at it that way," murmured Cyril. "The best known specimen is called ‘Lucy’, an Australopithecus afarensis. It was discovered in 1974 in Ethiopia by Carl Johanson. It stands at the very beginning of the chain of human evolution. What comes after afarensis is debated hotly by palaeoanthropologists. Afarensis is the oldest of the three Australopithecine species, you see, living 3.4 million years ago. What’s more, afarensis could walk!"

"By ‘walk’ do you mean upright posture with arms swinging freely like human beings," asked Uncle Loh, "or shambling like apes?"

"The anatomy of the hip, thigh and foot bones showed that it could walk," replied Cyril, "but I doubt anyone can vouch that afarensis could walk like human beings. Anyway, you wouldn’t expect that. Remember, these were primitive pre-humans."

Uncle Loh laughed. "You are assuming that afarensis is a primitive pre-human when it is anatomically an ape. Assumption is not proof, you will agree."

Cyril grinned and threw up his hands in resignation as he retorted, "Mr Loh, it’s a central evolutionary assumption that man is derived from an ape-like ancestor. Christians assume God created Adam and Eve. That, too, is an assumption."

"Pardon me," interjected Uncle Loh, "it’s not quite the same thing. The Christian believes what he is told by the Bible. (Genesis 1:26; 2:7-8, 18-25) He doesn’t assume it. It is something he would not otherwise know.

The evolutionist assumes that the general theory of evolution of life on earth is true and from that constructs the special theory of the evolution of man. He presumes the general theory is true. Since the general theory is by no means proven it follows that the special theory is without scientific foundation." (1)

"Ah, but how do you know that what the Christian is told is the truth?"

"That depends on whether the Bible is a reliable source of information. Have you investigated that?" pursued Uncle Loh.

Cyril shook his head as Uncle Loh continued.

"Let’s get back on track. You said that Australopithecus afarensis could walk. Why is this so crucial?"

"That’s obvious, isn’t it?" Cyril replied, "Humans walk, animals don’t."

"Not quite true," exclaimed Uncle Loh. "There is alive today a pygmy chimpanzee, Pan paniscus. It spends a fair amount of its time walking upright. Is there any chance that afarensis is related to the pygmy chimpanzee rather than man?"

"You are suggesting that afarensis is the ancestor to Pan paniscus? It is unlikely."


"I can’t explain," replied Cyril with a strained smile, "it’s not been entertained as a possibility."

Uncle Loh pressed on. "You mentioned Carl Johanson as the discoverer of Lucy, the best known afarensis specimen. From the same site where Lucy was found he recovered the fossil bones of many animals. These included elephants, hippos, impalas, giraffes, pigs, rodents and even monkeys. But no apes. Could it be that Lucy was really an ape?"

"Johanson and his colleagues did a careful study comparing Lucy’s bones with those of chimps and gorillas and they concluded that Lucy was something special. I know because I have read Johanson’s personal account so your criticism is not justified." (2)

"I have read that account, too. My impression is that Johanson liked to call every ape-like bone a hominid bone. Both he and Dr Timothy White declared there were many features in Lucy’s incomplete skeleton which were clearly ape-like and ‘primitive’. They persisted in believing they have in hand a hominid rather than an ape. They did so because they believed Lucy could ‘walk’. As I said earlier, living chimpanzees, especially the pygmy variety, can shuffle along some of the time. In 1985 further analysis of their bones reveal that afarensis, which have small brains, could also swing from tree to tree like apes. (3) I think I am justified in asking you whether afarensis is, after all, only an ape."

"Excuse me for interrupting," CT said, "I understand that afarensis is rather important. Are there not other fossils we can talk about?"

"There are, indeed," Cyril said, relieved to move away from afarensis. "But they are clearly human. Homo habilis is next in line after the Australopithecines. His name means ‘able, handy man’ because he could use tools. Homo erectus after him means ‘erect man’. He could use fire. Homo neanderthalensis, neanderthal man, buried his dead with gifts and flowers. That’s very human."

CT clapped his hands once, raised himself from his armchair and strode across the floor apparently to look at the traffic far below.

"We really have very little hard evidence of man’s descent from an ape-like ancestor," he finally murmured, narrowing his eyes. "We have fossil bones, yes. But unless one is a believer in evolution…" His voice trailed off.

"Come now, CT! You can’t ignore the work of so many eminent palaeoanthropologists," Cyril chided.

CT turned round to face his cousin.

"The function of a lawyer is to examine the evidence impartially, the eminence of the witness notwithstanding. Let us suppose I have in my hand a fossil bone. If the bone is so obviously human, it is not interesting because it is human. It does not tell me anything about my alleged ancestor. If the bone is not so obviously human it becomes interesting. Could it be the bone of my alleged ancestor? If I say it is an ancestor, am I not assuming what needs to be proved?" He held out his hand enquiringly to Cyril.

"My dear CT," protested Cyril, "molecular biologists using the latest techniques have shown that man and apes are closely related."

"I don’t need a molecular biologist to tell me that. I can see that for myself by going to the zoo," CT smirked. Uncle Loh could not help chuckling.

"Descent, Cyril!" exclaimed CT, wagging a finger imperiously. "Descent, that’s the problem. Not relatedness. Relatedness does not prove descent by evolution. It could be used to support the theory of a Creator using a common plan for his creatures."

"Gentlemen," Uncle Loh said, "we are back to the general theory of evolution again. It is the basis why Cyril insists that man and apes are related by descent."

Cyril looked piqued.

"Frankly, I don’t see why you two can’t understand how evolution works. Look at a Boeing 747 Megatop. That came from the older Boeing 747 which in turn evolved from the 707. We can go all the way back in the evolution of the Boeing passenger plane to the first flying machine made by the Wright brothers in 1903. It is analogous to the origin of man from ape."

"Not quite, Cyril," explained Uncle Loh, "The continual improvement in Boeing aircraft is due to the deliberate exercise of human intelligence in planning and execution. You cannot call this evolution by chance mutation and natural selection. The two are poles apart."

Cyril was silent.

Then he said, "Alright. I am willing to concede that a Being called God could have actively directed the evolution of ape to man."

Uncle Loh replied, "God could have done that. He could have done it in any way he wanted. (Luke 18:27) He can even raise up children from stones for Abraham, as the Bible says. (Matthew 3:9) But the Bible says He did not use evolution. He made an original pair called Adam and Eve." (Genesis 1:26; 2:7-8, 18-25)

"Is that your own interpretation?" asked CT.

"No. That is the straightforward interpretation of the Genesis account of the creation of man. It has been the view of Christians from the earliest times until the rise of evolution which made it fashionable to disbelieve it."

"Do you suppose the Biblical account, as you call it, can explain things any better than evolution?" Cyril retorted.

"Many years ago, I recall reading a Straits Times article entitled ‘First Men on Earth’. (4) It was reprinted from the US News and World Report. The caption pointed out significantly that scientists now realise that early man was a ‘very human being’. That is what one would expect if the Genesis account is true. You must be aware of the Dmanisi skulls, brought to the public eye in 1999, but discovered earlier in 1983 at Dmanisi, in the Republic of Georgia in the Caucasus Mountains. The excavations at Dmanisi show that the first wave of human expansion from Africa, if indeed there was one, took place at an earlier date than previously thought. The Dmanisi people were already using simple tools long before their supposed African forebears reached that area.

God made man a fully functioning human being. Man has always been man. No matter how ‘old’ his bones may seem to be they will always look human. On the other hand in trying to force the idea of an ancestor into the Genesis account what is the result? You end up with several species of Australopithecines, obviously apes, over which palaeoanthropologists bicker and quarrel. Furthermore there are some aspects of man that evolution cannot explain.

The Bible says that God made man in His own image (Genesis 1:26-27; 2:16, 20) enabling him to communicate with language from the start. Evolution has to postulate that language was slowly acquired over thousands of years beginning with the grunts of animals. That is pure guessing. Scientists who have studied the subject say that children have an in-built ‘feel’ for grammar and syntax and they learn languages of their own cultures at about the same age. (5, 6) Furthermore, all languages appear to have a common origin. (7) Is this not consistent with the Genesis account? Being made in God’s image, man can think abstractly. He uses symbols in mathematics, music and logic. How does an ape acquire the ability to think abstractly? Evolutionists glibly answer, ‘Well - here we are, therefore these human traits must somehow have evolved along with the physical evolution.’"

"By the way, I have noticed evolutionists go easy on themselves when they can’t explain things," said CT.

"I still can’t understand why God cannot use evolution to create man," Cyril reiterated. "You shouldn’t limit God. You shouldn’t tell God what he can or cannot do."

"You are right, Cyril," replied Uncle Loh, "indeed we should not. When you insist that God uses evolution you are doing just that. You are not listening to the Bible. You are setting up the ape-man model and trying to make the Bible fit that."

There was silence for a while. CT Lee then said, "I know Christians who hold the evolution view and they are just as keen as you are, Mr Loh. It is, I suppose, a matter of correct interpretation. As for me, being an agnostic, I am not that keen on ancestor worship - ape ancestor worship, that is."

Uncle Loh replied, "As for me I hold on to what the Bible says about the way God works.

By the word of the Lord, the heavens were made
And by the breath of His mouth all their host.
For He spoke, and it was done,
He commanded, and it stood fast.
’ (Psalm 33:6-9)

This quotation from the Psalms together with the Genesis account leave no room for a long drawn out process over millions of years. It leaves no ground for trial and error so characteristic of evolution. It demonstrates the wisdom and the power of our God who creates at once by command."

"Well, Cyril," CT asked, "what about you?"

Cyril grimaced ruefully. "I remain unconvinced," he declared.

"Unconvinced of what?" retorted his cousin.

"Unconvinced that the labours of so many palaeoanthropologists should come to nought."

An uneasy silence followed.

Uncle Loh asked rather cheerfully, "And what are you going to tell your son?"

Cyril got up and shrugged his shoulders.

"I hope it will be a long time before he asks me again," he smiled as he took his leave.


  1. Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, 1985
  2. Science 81, Vol 2, March 1981, pp 48-55
  3. Senut B and Tardieu C (1985), "Functional aspects of Plio-Pleistocene, hominid limbbones: Implications for taxonomy and phylogeny" In Ancestors 193-201 (ed) E Delson, Alan Riss
  4. The Straits Times, 10th April 1989
  5. Noam Chomsky, Language and Mind, pp 67-68, 1972
  6. Gunther S Stent "Limits to the Scientific Understanding of Man" Science 187:1054, 1975
  7. Merrit Ruhlen. The Origin of Language. 1994


Next chapter: Face to face with a New Ager