A Response to Joseph Kuhn’s Dissecting Darwinism

I was alerted to creationist article published in the Proceedings of the Baylor University Medical Center via Why Evolution Is True. The author of the paper is Joseph Kuhn, MD who claims that “…surgeons are uniquely capable of gathering information, making observations, and reaching conclusions about scientific discoveries.” For the most part it is your standard ID mumbo jumbo and has been ably dissected elsewhere. One part, however, caught my eye:

The transitional species from primitive primates to man have been illustrated in textbooks for over 100 years. These drawings form the visual imagery that supports Darwinian evolution for high school students, university students, medical students, and the public. However, honest dissent exists in the accuracy of most of the transitional prehominoids, with many found to be frauds or animal species. Reconstructions based on fragmentary and scattered bones, surface bones, and gross morphologic features are limited. Anomalous findings of stone tools, bones, and hundreds of other artifacts have suggested that Homo sapiens were actually present 2 to 7 million years ago (at the same time as early proposed transitional species)…(reference omitted – afarensis) Certainly, there has been no additional transitional mutant or species change from the first generally accepted Homo sapiens over 200,000 years ago.

This quote is a muddle of misinformation and ignorance of paleoanthropology, so, let’s take it a sentence or two at a time.

The transitional species from primitive primates to man have been illustrated in textbooks for over 100 years. These drawings form the visual imagery that supports Darwinian evolution for high school students, university students, medical students, and the public.

Yes, quite a number of illustrations have been used in textbooks over the years, however, with the rise of photography photographs of the actual fossils have, by and large, taken the place illustrations. To be sure, line drawings and such still have their place in paleoanthropology textbooks, illustrating morphology and such. Even so, this is not the only “visual imagery” that one will find, most frequently one will have access to fossil casts and primate and human skeletons. Why should the limit be “visual imagery”? What about the fossils themselves? What about data that can be derived from those fossils? What about the archaeological and stratigraphic context of those fossils? What about the environmental data that can be derived from the fossils of associated fauna and flora?

However, honest dissent exists in the accuracy of most of the transitional prehominoids, with many found to be frauds or animal species.

It has been my experience that most creationist, outside of the top tier, tend to get their information 2nd or 3rd hand, at which point the information is so garbled that it is hard to tell what the original argument was. My guess is that the author is referring to Piltdown (a fraud) and Hesperopithecus (an animal), or maybe he just doesn’t know what he is talking about. I don’t know of anyone, other than creationist who doubt that the australopithecines, Paranthropus, Homo habilis, Homo erectus, or neanderthals are anything other than what they are claimed to be. The last part of the sentence implies that paleoanthropologists are unable to tell the difference between hominins and animals. I have discussed the use of comparative material in paleoanthropology here.

Reconstructions based on fragmentary and scattered bones, surface bones, and gross morphologic features are limited.

I have discussed the number of fossils relating to human evolution here. In that post I also mentioned a number of complete, or partial skeletons, so I won’t expand on this point further. I will say though, that four more partial skeletons can be added to the ones I mentioned. These are: DIK-1-1, KSD-VP-1/1 (both are referable to Australopithecus afarensis), MH1, and MH2 (these latter two are referable to Australopithecus sediba). I have also discussed in several posts what can be learned from fragmentary bones, these posts can be found here. Apparently, Kuhn has never heard of comparative morphology. What about all those scattered bones and surface bones? The implication here is that paleoanthopologists wander about the landscape collecting bones and artifacts without regard to context. Since a fossil, or artifact, sans context lacks scientific value every effort is made to understand the geological history and stratigraphy of the find site. Additionally, the find is carefully excavated and rigorously documented using some variant of archaeological field technique. If it is a surface find, there are a number of techniques that can be used to trace the fossil back to the strata it came from, although I won’t go into that here, since a lot of this material can be found in the paleoanthropological literature.

Anomalous findings of stone tools, bones, and hundreds of other artifacts have suggested that Homo sapiens were actually present 2 to 7 million years ago (at the same time as early proposed transitional species)…

(reference omitted – afarensis)

This is a somewhat muddled version of a standard creationist argument. The claim is that skeletal material or artifacts indicative of humans have been found in strata predating human evolution. A discussion of some of these claims by creationists can be found here in particular, the discussions of Calveras Man, Meister Man, Guadeloupe Man, Malachite Man, Moab Man, and the Freiburg Skull. For artifacts, a good example would be here. When not outright frauds, the one thing these claims have in common is that, in contrast to proper paleoanthropological fieldwork, these claims lack any kind of geological or archaeological context. There was no proper excavation and documentation is poor at best. In addition, some come from sources so far removed that they can not be tracked down. A good example of this is the claim of giant skeletons found in Italian mines. The best way to characterize these creationist arguments is to quote Dean Yeager from Ghostbusters:

Your theories are the worst kind of popular tripe, your methods are sloppy, and your conclusions are highly questionable! You are a poor scientist…

The final sentence:

Certainly, there has been no additional transitional mutant or species change from the first generally accepted Homo sapiens over 200,000 years ago.

I’m not exactly sure what Kuhn means by this. Does he mean that Homo sapiens hasn’t speciated in 200,000 years? If so, so what? I fail to see how that somehow disproves human evolution. Does he mean that there have been no mutations in the human genome in the last 200,000 years? A clearly ludicrous idea, so I hope not. Or does he mean that there have been no changes to human cranial and post-cranial anatomy in the last 200,000 years? If so this is incorrect as well. There are a number of cranial differences between, say, Herto and modern Homo sapiens. Which is why the discoverers gave it a subspecific designation. I discussed a change in postcranial anatomy here.

Finally, a word about sources. The entire paragraph of Kuhn’s, quoted in full above, cited one source to dismiss all of paleoanthropology. That source was Cremo and Thompson’s Forbidden Archaeology (a review of which can be found here). Similarly, in a confused and muddled discussion of Tiktaalik roseae Kuhn relies entirely on Discovery Institute’s attack gerbil Casey Luskin. Kuhn does not cite any of the scientific literature on Tiktaalik roseae or on early tetrapod evolution, nor does he cite any papers from the paleoanthropological literature, which explains why his understanding of both subjects is so faulty.

Note: this post has been edited to correct a few typos.

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5 Responses

  1. Thanks for this. It’s a very good complement to Coyne’s and others’ critiques.

  2. …And the audience claps for reason.

  3. I have posted

    http://stonesnbones.blogspot.com/2012/02/joseph-kuhn-md-part-1.html

    http://stonesnbones.blogspot.com/2012/02/joseph-kuhn-md-part-2.html

    I hope to post Part 3 (of 5) today.

    My goal is to boil it down to a 3-5 page article to send to Baylor’s house journal. Want to be the paleoanthro guy?

  4. I would love too

  5. Cool. They are already to run a (weak) rebuttal, that in an example of extraordinary back-peddling, is already linked from the BUMC Proceedings Table of Contents. http://www.baylorhealth.edu/Documents/BUMC%20Proceedings/2012%20Vol%2025/No.%202/25_i2_Dimijian_bapr.pdf

    I think that there is much more to say.

    I think you have my email.

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