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Errors Concerning Human Intelligence on the BBC's "Horizon" Programme

The world-famous BBC television is perpetuating an error. It displays a particular sensitivity in disseminating its ideas regarding the theory of evolution. The BBC generally acts in line with emotions aroused by the fact that Darwin was British, and airs evolutionist claims, lacking in any scientific basis, in its programmes. One of these is the programme "Horizon". This time "Horizon" devoted space to evolutionist speculation regarding the artistic explosion which is known to have taken place in the last 50,000 years in pre-historic Homo sapiens settlement areas. The programme, called "The Day We Learned to Think", offered an evolutionist interpretation of the way Homo sapiens exhibited a rapid rise in cave paintings and tool technology and the role played by intellectual power in that rise. The views of a number of evolutionist scientists on the subject were also aired.

Richard Klein's Error That Intelligence Developed Through Mutation

At this point we would like to make a brief evaluation of the evolutionist claims of the researchers in question. The first of these is Richard Klein, an anthropologist from Stanford University. In a rather odd way, Klein bases this cultural leap forward, which manifested itself some 50,000 years ago, on a biological change. While other anthropologists believe, perfectly logically, that this is cultural or demographic (to do with population) in origin, Klein offers an explanation based on mutation. He claims that a mutation which took place some 50,000 years ago during the course of so-called human evolution led to the rapid change observed in art and technology at that time.

In order to see just how bereft of logic that claim is, let us provide a few brief facts about mutations. Mutations are copying errors which occur randomly in our genes. The functions performed by our genes are 'encoded' with nucleotides, described in the letters A, T, G and C, in the genes. The information contained in that code is particularly sensitive. The effects of mutations on this exceedingly sensitive coding system are to a very large extent destructive. Mutations also arise at totally random intervals, and not a single mutation has ever been observed to give one organism an advantage over the other members of its species.

It is flying in the face of the facts to believe that such destructive effects could possibly lead to an increase in human intelligence. In the way that hitting a clock with a hammer will not improve it in any way, so mutations are incapable of improving the organisation within the human brain. In fact, the fundamental error here is attempting to account for a skill based on abstract thought, such as art, in terms of mutations occurring in the brain. Whether subjected to mutation or not, the brain is not the producer of thought. Large or small, more or less convoluted, the brain consists of neurons, and ultimately of unconscious atoms. The idea that a structure comprised of unconscious atoms could possible be the source of an ability connected to abstract thought is, in a word, nonsensical.

The best-known paintings in the world, the most marvellous works of architecture, the most advanced technological devices … All these are the result of the inspiration of their producers. Can an artist inspired by the landscape at which he looks, or an engineer developing a project for a device which nobody else has ever thought of really be indebted to the unconscious atoms in their brains?

Is accounting for the crucial inventions in history (the telephone and the compass for instance) in terms of genetic changes in their inventors' brains, or ascribing the Industrial Revolution which began in Britain to a series of mutations, logical behaviour?

Of course, not. Atoms can neither 'measure and evaluate' the contrast between shades in a painting nor 'know' the details that will improve an electronic circuit. The atoms in the brain of a person looking at a painting cannot take any pleasure in it.

As we have seen, the attempt to explain art in terms of mutation is mistaken from the outset. This error lies in the fact that art is a concept to do with intelligence, and intelligence is irreducible to matter.

Colin McGinn, author of the book Can We Solve the Mind-Body Problem?, admits that mental activities cannot be explained in physical terms:

We have been trying for a long time to solve the mind-body problem. It has stubbornly resisted our best efforts. The mystery persists. I think the time has come to admit candidly that we cannot resolve the mystery. 1

Were Richard Klein to be asked, he would be unable to provide a single piece of scientific evidence with which to support his claim. That is because, as McGinn has stated, there has not been a single observation to demonstrate that human intelligence stems from the body (from the genes, for instance).

Klein's claim is nothing more than speculation. In fact, this claim is no more scientific than claiming that as a result of a mutation it had been subjected to a chimpanzee kept in a zoo could paint a picture of the jungle it felt homesick for on the walls of its pen.

Horizon's Errors Regarding Language and Speech

The BBC's "Horizon" programme also links man's ability to speak to evolution. It discussed professor of anatomy Jeffrey Laitman's studies on the larynx and claimed that the larynx descended from a high position to a lower one in the hominids which are suggested to have played a role in the alleged human evolution. (The larynx plays an important role in speech, and is low down in the throat in human beings and higher up in the great apes.)

In fact however, there is no ordered and gradual difference in the location of the larynx in the fossil record, as suggested on "Horizon". With regard to the position of the larynx, there is a distinct difference between the genus Homo (old and modern human races) and the genus Australopithecus (extinct apes), so frequently resorted to in evolutionist scenarios. As Richard Leakey has stated, in all species before Homo erectus the larynx is in the same position as in great apes.2 In terms of its skeletal structure, walking upright and height, Homo erectus is no different to modern man. The so-called hominids before that, no more than 130 cm tall, with their rather small brain volumes and skeletal structures, were living things no different to apes.

That being the case, Professor Laitman's prejudice is clear for all to see. After setting a number of fossils in order, from his evolutionist perspective, he then imagines that according to that subjective ordering he has proved the alleged evolution of speech. The point which needs to be borne in mind here is that there is absolutely no scientific evidence of any 'evolution' among the fossils thus ordered, and that the scenario put forward rests on nothing more than 'imagination.' In short, these claims regarding the position of the larynx on the BBC's "Horizon" programme are nothing more than preconception.

It remains to say that the structure and position of the larynx can be no more than a 'means' in speech. In fact, that is actually admitted on "Horizon", in the words, 'Of course, physical abilities are no proof of mental abilities.' For example, even if an ape possessed a human larynx it would still be unable to speak. That is because language is an ability based on rules, such as syntax and semantics, and can only be employed and understood by means of intelligence.

Darwinism's Terrible Dilemma: Human Intelligence

As we have seen, these claims regarding activities such as art and speech, which are related to human intelligence, are completely invalid. Contrary to the impression given on "Horizon", these are the products of attempts to overcome the dilemma which human intelligence represents for Darwinism, rather than explanations which actually clarify the issue. Darwinism rests on the materialist philosophy that everything is limited to matter. As we have demonstrated, human intelligence is a trait which cannot be reduced to the matter on which Darwinism is based.

The source of human intelligence is the soul breathed into man by God, our Creator. In the Qur'an, God reveals this truth as follows:

Then [God] formed him [man] and breathed His Spirit into him and gave you hearing, sight and hearts. What little thanks you show! (Qur'an, 32: 9)

Our advice to the BBC is that it accept the fact that human beings are created and that the soul breathed into man by God is the source of human intelligence.


(1) Colin McGinn, “Can We Solve the Mind-Body Problem?” Mind, 98 (1989), p. 349
(2) Richard Leakey, The Origin of Humankind, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, p. 131, 1995

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