Conservapedia and Piltdown

Conservapedia has finally gotten around to saying something on human evolution. Specifically, they have an entry on Piltdown.

In the entry we are informed that Piltdown “…was one of many frauds perpetrated by promoters of the theory of evolution.” and that:

Real science consists of rigorous testing to verify or falsify theories, but the scientific method was ignored with respect to the Piltdown Man and many artifacts like “him” such as Nebraska Man, Java Man, Ocre Man, and Neanderthals

I have written some stuff on Piltdown, however, if you really want to see how scientists analyzed the fossil you can consult Richard Harter’s Piltdown Man Website or The Clark University Piltdown Plot Project. The latter website has links to scanned copies of the relevant research papers. For example, the paper announcing the find is located here.
I bring this up because of the statement about the scientific method being ignored in the case of Piltdown and other finds. How accurate is this statement? Leaving aside the fact that we now now that Piltdown was a fraud, how scientific were some of the protagonists being in regard to Piltdown? I will leave you to read some of the papers collected at the above website, basically you can judge for yourself. I would like to look at a few of the other fossils in Conservapedias litany of frauds.
I would like to point out, again, that when you here someone talking about Nebraska “Man” or Orce “Man” or any other type of “man” you can be sure they do not know the first thing about paleoanthropology.
I have already mentioned Hesperopithecus in several posts. So how scientific was the examination of that particular tooth? Here is Gregory:

A careful consideration of the characters afforded by the badly
eroded and worn type, an upper molar, leads us to distribute them under
the following categories.
(a) Extreme rounding of all angles margins, ridges, and projections of crown
and roots.
(b) Breaking off of postero-external (disto-buccal) root and smoothing of site
of root.
(c) Loss of enamel on entire external and half of posterior surface.
(d) Presence of numerous large and small cracks and fissures and rounding of
the margins of the cracks, causing them to simulate the natural
fissures between cusps.
(a) Extreme shortness or apparent brachyodonty of crown and loss of all
main cusps.
(b) Close apparent approximation of hypocone to protocone.
(c) Evenly concave wearing surface.
(d) Deposition of secondary dentine on roof of pulp cavity, beneath wearing
(e) Diminished size of root canals.
(a) Upper molar crown conforming to the general type that is common to the
anthropoids and man.
(b) Evenly concave masticating surface, as in Pithecanthropus, certain chimpanzees’
and Australian aborigines.
(c) Very large divergent roots, a primitive character retained in the gorilla,
in Pithecanthropus, and in certain human teeth.
(d) Transverse diameter of antero-external root smaller than in human molars.
(e) Floor of pulp-cavity raised well above bifurcation of roots, as in man (Fig.
(f) Form of floor of pulp-cavity resembling that of anthropoids and man.

Over and above that, the tooth was subjected to a wide variety of metric and radiographic analyses. Here for example is the conclusion based on radiographic analyses:

Radiographic examination of the type molar tooth of Hesperopithecus
reveals a triangular outline of the floor of the pulp chamber. At the
angles of this triangle corresponding to the position of the roots there are
three openings corresponding with the root canals. The floor of the
pulp-cavity is well raised above the bifurcation of the roots, as in man
(cf. Fig. 5). The floor of the pulp-cavity resembles that of anthropoids
and man.

It is clear to me, after reading a number of the papers on the subject, that they performed the best analysis they could, given the eroded condition of the find. More importantly, they did not stop their analysis. A few years later Gregory would positively ID the tooth as belonging to a peccary. So far from giving Hesperopithecus a pass, scientist spent a lot of time trying to determine exactly what the tooth was. A secondary question. If scientists wrongly identify a tooth or bone as being human – or in this case an ape – and the identification later turns out to be incorrect is this fraud? In 1923 Gregory said that the tooth:

… of Hesperopithecus haroldcookii
represents an hitherto unknown form of the higher primates. It combines
characters seen in the molars of the chimpanzee, of Pithecanthropus,
and of man, but, in view of the extremely worn and eroded state of the
crown, it is hardly safe to affirm more than that Hesperopithecus was
structurally related to all three.

Yet a few years later he correctly identified as that of a peccary. So where is the fraud here? What about Orce? I, personally, am not too familiar with the Orce find. I had to look it up on Talk Origins The story concerns some fragmentary bone found in Spain that is, apparently, 1.8 million years old. Part of the problem is that the material seems to be from the parietal area, as this picture from Talk Origins demonstrates:
and here is a picture of the real thing:
The problem being that this is a relatively featureless part of the skull. As a matter of fact there is some doubt that it comes from the parietal rather than the frontal. At any rate, it has been suggested that the bone belongs to an equid of some sort. In order to settle the question the find has been subjected to a number of examinations including radiographic exams and examination of the albumin Immunospecificity. So, who suggested that the fragment belonged to an equid? Salvador Moya-Sola and Meike Kohler better known as two of the discoverers of Pierolapithecus catalaunicus. So, where is the fraud here? Clearly there is some question as to the species the bone belongs too, and just as clearly evolutionists are the ones voicing doubts and trying to scientifically prove their case one way or the other
Getting back to Piltdown, Conservapedia asks:

If evolutionists knew that there were problems with the Piltdown Man, why did they keep it secret from the public until 1953? Such silence begs more questions than it answers.

Actually, most evolutionists familiar with Piltdown did go public with their doubts. For example, Weidenreich had this to say about Piltdown:

“The sooner the chimaera ‘Eoanthropus’ is erased from the list of human fossils, the better for science.”

Quite a few other evolutionists were skeptical of Piltdown as well. As far as why it wasn’t finally laid to rest until 1953, the answer is simple: Proof. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that we had sufficient technology to conclusively prove Piltdown a fraud.
There is more absurdity in Conservapedia’s article but I will leave that to the reader…

10 Responses

  1. Why is it that Creationists always point out a 100 year old fraud that was proven to be a fraud, admitted to being a fraud and thoroughly debunked as a fraud as evidence that the 2000 year old fraud they are perpetrating is true? At least when evolutionary biologists are studying these things they are constantly testing them for accuracy.
    I can see them now:
    Creationist: “reams of data! hah. Piltdown. Scientific consensus! hah. Piltdown. Observable evidence of micro and macro evolution! hah. Piltdown.”
    Creationist: “This book here says godidit.”
    Scientist: “but this version of your story is different than your version, and this other version is different than your version and this part contradicts that part and..”
    Creationist: “ummm….Piltdown?”

  2. I’m curious. How did you come across this Conservapedia in the first place? Who are they? I can see why they are putting together a “Conservapedia”; I suppose they think “conservatives”(whatever they mean by this)need a web encyclopedia of their own. But aren’t “conservatives” supposed to be factual and truthful? It’s hard to believe that they would *still* be trotting out Piltdown and “Nebraska Man” as evidence of the the insufficiency of evolutionary theory in human evolution. It’s basically laughable.
    Anne G

  3. I dont want to believe for a second that site is anything but a brilliant parody, for the sake of the human race, please let it be a parody!!!
    This site, however, does look like they are being really serious

  4. Anne – I first heard about it from John Lynch at Stranger Fruit. The main person behind the site is Andy Schlafly son of conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum (probably most widely known during the Reagan years).

  5. Excellent post, and timely for me as I’m getting some text on Piltdown ready to post at my blog. One of the most frustrating misunderstandings about the whole Piltdown affair is the notion that Eoanthropus dawsoni was accepted with open arms by scientists, and furthermore that scientists were shocked and taken by surprise when it was finally revealed to be a hoax. In fact such workers as Ales Hrdlicka and Gerrit Miller strongly doubted the idea that the human cranium and ape-like jaw of Eoanthropus belonged together (Miller published this ‘dualist’ opinion as early as 1915); many other workers also expressed strong scepticism about the find long prior to the 1950s, and some who looked at the fossils did not come away satisfied with Woodward’s views that the finds represented a single species of proto-human.
    So, as you note, it is very misleading to imply that scientists was happy with Woodward’s initial interpretation, least of all that they accepted it without question.

  6. I’m having the dickens of a time trying to access “conservapedia,” no matter what. The site just won’t load.
    I wonder if the “.edu” in my location address has something to do with it? ;^> Of course it may just be rank incompetence on Andy Schlafly’s part. Back in ought zero I tried to participate in the discussion BBS he ran at Eagle Forum – and I swear he ran everything through a single 14.4K modem.
    James 2:24

  7. I can see why they are putting together a “Conservapedia”; I suppose they think “conservatives”(whatever they mean by this)need a web encyclopedia of their own. But aren’t “conservatives” supposed to be factual and truthful?

    Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

  8. Darren – Have you checked the An Annotated Bibliography of the Piltdown Man Forgery, 1953-2005? The Clark University site is also an excellent source. Based on the quality of your blog I am eagerly looking forward to reading what you have to say on Piltdown. Oh, I almost forgot Weidenreich and Keith got into quite a few heated debates over Piltdown – Weidendreich thought it was a fraud almost from the beginning.

  9. So the occurence of a fraud at any time in the past invalidates an entire enterprise?
    by Andrew Dickson White
    (C) 1896


    Then it was that Lorenzo Valla brought to bear on biblical research, for the first time, the spirit of modern criticism. By truly scientific methods he proved the famous “Letter of Christ to Abgarus” a forgery; the “Donation of Constantine,” one of the great foundations of the ecclesiastical power in temporal things, a fraud; and the “Apostles’ Creed” a creation which post-dated the apostles by several centuries. Of even more permanent influence was his work upon the New Testament, in which he initiated the modern method of comparing manuscripts to find what the sacred text really is. At an earlier or later period he would doubtless have paid for his temerity with his life; fortunately, just at that time the ruling pontiff and his Contemporaries cared much for literature and little for orthodoxy, and from their palaces he could bid defiance to the Inquisition.
    While Valla thus initiated biblical criticism south of the Alps, a much greater man began a more fruitful work in northern Europe. Erasmus, with his edition of the New Testament, stands at the source of that great stream of modern research and thought which is doing so much to undermine and dissolve away the vast fabric of patristic and scholastic interpretation.
    Yet his efforts to purify the scriptural text seemed at first to encounter insurmountable difficulties, and one of these may stimulate reflection. He had found, what some others had found before him, that the famous verse in the fifth chapter of the First Epistle General of St. John, regarding the “three witnesses,” was an interpolation. Careful research through all the really important early manuscripts showed that it appeared in none of them. Even after the Bible had been corrected, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, by Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury, and by Nicholas, cardinal and librarian of the Roman Church, “in accordance with the orthodox faith,” the passage was still wanting in the more authoritative Latin manuscripts. There was not the slightest tenable ground for believing in the authenticity of the text; on the contrary, it has been demonstrated that, after a universal silence of the orthodox fathers of the Church, of the ancient versions of the Scriptures, and of all really important manuscripts, the verse first appeared in a Confession of Faith drawn up by an obscure zealot toward the end of the fifth century. In a very mild exercise, then, of critical judgment, Erasmus omitted this text from the first two editions of his Greek Testament as evidently spurious. A storm arose at once. In England, Lee, afterward Archbishop of York; in Spain, Stunica, one of the editors of the Complutensian Polyglot; and in France, Bude, Syndic of the Sorbonne, together with a vast army of monks in England and on the Continent, attacked him ferociously. He was condemned by the University of Paris, and various propositions of his were declared to be heretical and impious. Fortunately, the worst persecutors could not reach him; otherwise they might have treated him as they treated his disciple, Berquin, whom in 1529 they burned at Paris.
    The fate of this spurious text throws light into the workings of human nature in its relations to sacred literature. Although Luther omitted it from his translation of the New Testament, and kept it out of every copy published during his lifetime, and although at a later period the most eminent Christian scholars showed that it had no right to a place in the Bible, it was, after Luther’s death, replaced in the German translation, and has been incorporated into all important editions of it, save one, since the beginning of the seventeenth century. So essential was it found in maintaining the dominant theology that, despite the fact that Sir Isaac Newton, Richard Porson, the nineteenth-century revisers, and all other eminent authorities have rejected it, the Anglican Church still retains it in its Lectionary, and the Scotch Church continues to use it in the Westminster Catechism, as a main support of the doctrine of the Trinity.
    Nor were other new truths presented by Erasmus better received. His statement that “some of the epistles ascribed to St. Paul are certainly not his,” which is to-day universally acknowledged as a truism, also aroused a storm. For generations, then, his work seemed vain.

  10. But aren’t “conservatives” supposed to be factual and truthful?
    You forgot the sacasm tags.
    There are still a few paleoconservatives wandering around who are familiar with the concepts of honesty and reality, but they are rapidly being hunted to extinction by the new species of conservatives, Wingnuttius rectocranium, W. fundifuctardiae, Corruptus haliburtonii and Thinctancia fasces

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