More Rotten Creationist Arguments

PZ linked to this 25 page pamphlet on creationism. I hadn’t really planned on saying anything about it until I read the – small – section on paleoanthropology. Most of it consists of standard creationist nonsense. But there was one new argument that I will get to in a moment.

Where is the “missing link?” Java man and Peking man, they say, are the best evidences for evolution. Java man is a skeleton found in Indonesia. Zoologists discovered the skull cap to be the knee cap of an elephant so they threw it away and got another one. The discoverer failed to divulge the information that modern man bones were found at the same level of excavation. Peking man had mostly ape-like qualities, and was made from a combination of only fragments of skulls and teeth and jaws. It was lost during WWII, so no one will ever be able to prove or disprove its importance.

When people start talking about “Java” or “Peking” man you know they don’t know what they are talking about. Both terms were dropped when Sinanthropus pekinensis and Pithecanthropus erectus were renamed Homo erectus. Even so, let’s look at this in more detail. First, note there are no sources cited for the elephant patella story (it should be noted that telling the difference between an elephant patella and a cranium is pretty easy), so I’m not sure of what to make of that. What about the claim that we only know of Sinanthropus pekinensis from a combination of fragments of skulls, jaws and teeth? Well, this is from Weidenreich’s Apes, Giants and Man:

The finding of Sinanthropus pekinensis, now represented by fifteen individual skulls and skull fragments…

Weidenreich then sites his masterwork on the subject:
The Skull of Sinanthropus Pekinensis; A Comparative Study on a Primitive Hominid Skull. FRANZ WEIDENREICH. Palaeontologica Sinica, N. S. D., No 10.
It is true that the Sinanthropus pekinensis material was lost during WWII, but before then Weidenreich had made a number of casts. We also know that he made extensive comparisons with the originals to insure the accuracy of the casts. Additionally, Weidenreich published a number of descriptions and comparisons of the material with other fossils. Fortunately, we have more fossils. Fossils similar to Sinanthropus pekinensis have been found elsewhere in Asia and Africa (see Rightmire’s The Evolution of Homo erectus for example)

Neanderthal man was fully erect and very similar to modern humans. He did have a stooped posture, which was later attributed to osteoarthritis.28

This is actually quite funny. The citation refers to the 1972 edition of John Pfeiffer’s The Emergence of Man pages 50-51. I have a copy of that edition so I checked out pages 50-51 and found a discussion of Ramapithecus, Clifford Jolly, and baboons. Pfeiffer actually discusses Neanderthals on pages 180-194. The only mention of slumped posture among Neandethals is in connection with refuting that notion. Contemporary understanding of Neanderthals is somewhat different – just follow the news. The discussion really goes downhill from there. We get Cro=Magnon (an anatomically modern human), Nebraska man, Piltdown and, finally, Lucy

“Lucy” is the most famous of the modern day finds. It is made up of bones from 13 different individuals. “Lucy’s” discoverer finally admitted – 24 years after the fact – that the knee bone was taken from 2 miles away! And because of its long arms and small brain, it seems to greatly resemble a chimp. Do we ever hear about these things? No, you probably remember learning about these “missing links” in school – taught as truth, not fiction.

There is no source for these claims, although the knee argument is pretty common amongst creationists. I haven’t really bothered to look into the claim, but I suspect they are confusing Lucy’s femur and tibia with the femur and tibia found in the first season. I’m not sure what the fuss is about because there are actually a number of proximal and distal femora and proximal tibia found in association with the Australopithecus afarensis material. What interested me was the claim that Lucy (found in the second season) was made up of material from 13 individuals. I’ve never heard that claim before. Coincidentally, the third season at Hadar yielded the remains of 13 individuals – frequently refered to as the “First Family”. Reverend Tim Harlow has apparently conflated the two. Simple fact checking isn’t, apparently, a required skill for a preacher…
Added Later: pough pointed me to the Talk.Origins discussion of the issue, and after a little searching I found this letter from Johanson. Case closed on the knee joint.

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11 Responses

  1. Someone tracked down the Lucy kneebone story. I think it’s at Talk Origins. I’ll see if I can find it. IIRC, it’s a great example of someone hearing what they want to hear and not what was actually said…

  2. Damn! You beat me to it! Once I saw your comment I went to Talk.Origins and found it as well…

  3. Java man and Peking man, they say, are the best evidences for evolution.

    Who says that?

  4. Reverend Tim Harlow says that, that’s who. And he’s a Man of God, so don’t you argue with him!

  5. Afarensis says:

    First, note there are no sources cited for the elephant patella story (it should be noted that telling the difference between an elephant patella and a cranium is pretty easy), so I’m not sure of what to make of that.

    Apparently, there actually was a Java fossil found in 1926 that was an elephant knee-bone but was mistaken by its founder for a bit of Pithecanthropus skull. As far as I can determine, only the discoverer thought so, and the truth was quickly determined (by scientists as always). At no point was it ever part of the evolutionary fossil record of man. But you’d never know that reading Pastor Tim.
    The Creationist lie is to toss off examples like this and Nebraska and Piltdown as if to suggest the modern fossil record contains nothing but frauds and missidentifications.
    HERE’s a drawing of an elephant knee knee (scroll about 1/3 down). It does sorta look like a skull-cap at first glace.

  6. The citation refers to the 1972 edition of John Pfeiffer’s The Emergence of Man pages 50-51. I have a copy of that edition so I checked out pages 50-51 and found a discussion of Ramapithecus, Clifford Jolly, and baboons. Pfeiffer actually discusses Neanderthals on pages 180-194. The only mention of slumped posture among Neandethals is in connection with refuting that notion.

    What notion is refuted, the arthritis claim?

  7. Enough of the rotten Creationist arguments. Why don’t you summarize the good Creationist arguments? I suspect it will be a very short post.

  8. Sorry Ed, your comment got stuck in my junk comment queue for some reason. I guess that was phrased poorly. Both claims (stooped posture, diseased human) are refuted in Pfeiffer. The problem seems to be a general conflation of the condition of the La Chapelle-aux-Saints skeleton (which is that of an older individual who did suffer from osteoarthritis and was edentulous) with Neanderthals period. Two relevant sources are:
    Trinkhaus, Erik (1985) Pathology and the posture of the La Chappelle-aux-Saints Neanderthal. American Journal of Physical Anthropology Vol. 67 pp.19-41
    Pathology and the Posture of Neanderthal Man
    William L. Straus, Jr., A. J. E. Cave
    Quarterly Review of Biology, Vol. 32, No. 4 (Dec., 1957), pp. 348-363
    finally, a confession. Pfeiffer’s discussion of neanderthals runs to page 248 not page 194 as I originally said…

  9. Google ‘Neandertals’ and they come back and ask “Did you mean: Neanderthals?” Actually no, I didn’t.

  10. If you have time, you may want to check out the “Lucy fossil debunked?” thread on the JREF forum at:http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?p=2132660
    They are discussing what may be another example of Lucy being misrepresented by creationists.

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