Hominid hoaxes – Misguided Mondays

The Truth is What Matters  is a show and associated website promoting various Christian ideas, including creationism. It’s run by a couple of people which makes it a refreshing change from lone cranks/large money making businesses we often see. On top of that one of their recent episodes dealt with “hominid hoaxes,” a topic I enjoy discussing because some real fossils tend to make their way onto “hoax” lists providing an opportunity for education.

So I thought I’d offer a response to the show, titled “three reasons to reject evolution,” one of which being “hominid hoaxes.” Typically I avoid talking about videos as they contain so many claims (so I can’t respond line by line as I like doing) is a very different format to writing and transitioning between the two can be somewhat jarring. However, here I’m making an exception, let me know how it goes and maybe I’ll discuss their other 2 reasons to reject evolution.

Reason 2 – Homonids (sp) are a hoax

The second reason they give to reject evolution is because hominids are hoaxes. Broadly speaking their argument has 3 main prongs: Nebraska man was a pig, Piltdown man was a hoax and Java man was a gibbon. From this we can conclude that the entire hominin/hominid record is fraudulent and so should be dismissed.

Nebraska man

They open with a discussion of Nebraska man, a “hominin” known from a single tooth discovered in Nebraska. Found in 1917 by a farmer and identified in 1922 by a scientist called Obsorn, it was believed to belong to Pithecanthropus a half man/half monkey transitional form.

According to TTIWM  this was such strong evidence for human evolution it presented during the Scopes monkey trial. Its role in the monkey trial is debated, with some arguing Nebraska man was not mentioned during the trial. I neither know nor care about the trial so will, for the sake of argument, assume that TTIWM  is correct on this point. Nebraska man was an important piece of evidence for human evolution!

The infamous Nebraska man reconstruction

So, after setting up Nebraska man as this key piece of evidence – so powerful it was even presented in court – they give the big reveal: the Nebraska man tooth didn’t belong to a hominin! Dun dun dunnnn. It actually came from a peccary and, as if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, those silly scientists had already concocted a picture of Nebraska man with a wife! An imagined picture built on top of a hoaxed fossil. Damning proof of the vapidity of the fossil record.

However, they fail to mention the single fact that would topple this tale: Nebraska “man” wasn’t considered to be a human ancestor by the majority of scientists. It was originally defined as an ape, Hesperopithecus, not Pithecanthropus  (the hypothesised man/ape ancestor) and most people in the scientific community agreed with this designation. In other words most scientists believed it wasn’t a human ancestor (and people were  skeptical it was even an actual new species since only a tooth had been found).

The only scientist I can find to argue it was a human ancestor was a man by the name of Smith, believing that “Hesperopithecus was a primitive forerunner of Pithecanthropus“. He wrote a piece in a newspaper expounding this vision and it is the newspaper which drew up the reconstruction the hosts lambaste, not scientists. However, within a few years even Smith had retreated from this position admitting it was “wholly tentative.”

So yes, Nebraska “man” was originally misidentified. However it wasn’t misidentified as a human ancestor (by most) making the revelation it was actually a form of pig wholly irrelevant to the study of human evolution.

Piltdown man

By 4:15 into the video we’ve arrived at that staple of creationist literature: Piltdown man. Unlike Nebraska man this was an actual fraud and was actually believed to be a human ancestor by most scientists. This state of affairs continued for over 3 decades before it was revealed to be a human and orang-utan skull manipulated to look like they were from the same individual.

Piltdown man

So this is a genuinely embarrassing moment for human evolution but also a very good one. A lot like forgetting to put on clothes before you leave the house, revealing that you look positively stunning in the nude. Allow me to elaborate, with less bad analogies.

In 1925 the first Australopith was found in Africa and over the subsequent years many more hominin specimens were recovered. All of them disagreed with the model of human evolution Piltdown presented. They had a completely different anatomy (contrast the Piltdown skull with this and this, for example) and were from a completely different part of the world. This made Piltdown seem like an anomaly and many queried whether it was a human ancestor.

Ultimately Piltdown was a genuine fraud but it reveals the coherency of the rest of the fossil record and the self-correcting nature of science.

Java man

Our discussion of Piltdown only lasts a few seconds and we’re onto Java man. A set of bones from Java, most of which have since been found to not be of any relevance to human evolution. Except for the skull cap which is a rather nice example of Homo erectus, one of the first hominins to really resemble modern humans (although it was still very distinct from us). However, TTWIM would have you believe differently.

They suggest that Dubois, the discoverer of the skull cap confessed on his deathbed that it was actually a gibbon. They also imply that he concocted the whole thing as a way of getting more funding. The reference to a deathbed confession is a new one to me (what is the creationist obsession with deathbed confessions?) but the claim that the Java skull cap is a just a gibbon is not. It seems to arise from the following quote from Dubois:

Pithecanthropus [Java Man] was not a man, but a gigantic genus allied to the gibbons

Note that he is not claiming it was a gibbon but a species related to gibbons. Further, this claim was made in 1935 years before his death. Firstly this refutes the notion there was a deathbed confession but also that it was a fraud to get more funding. If he was attempting to manufacture a human ancestor for the money why deny it was a human ancestor?

Now we know that he was wrong Java man was indeed a human ancestor , a member of Homo erectus (note how well the skull cap fits onto a complete Homo erectus skull). They were the first to leave Africa and spread across the world using their highly advanced bipedal ability to stride forth! Their brain size also rapidly increased during their time on earth, making them the “foundation” on which modern humans are built

Conclusion

From these three examples it would seem we can dismiss the entire hominin fossil record as hoaxes. Putting aside the fact that only one of the cited finds was a genuine hoax we’re still left with an extraordinary case of cherry picking. There are over 800 hominin finds and not a single other one is mentioned in the video. Their entire case is constructed from three old, (mostly) outdated finds so it can hardly be counted as an argument against modern evolutionary anthropology.

Maybe their point would’ve carried some weight in then 1920s, when all of these finds were considered valid, but now it just does not reflect the current science. We know so much more and it is all completely ignored in an effort to argue that hominins are hoaxes.

Their case rests upon three finds. Mine rests upon everything else.

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28 thoughts on “Hominid hoaxes – Misguided Mondays

  1. Adam,

    Thanks for your review. It was not completely slaming us for our viewpoint. And it shows good journalism. You clarify some things that we did not clarlify. You handle your objection to the way we presented the topic in a well thought out manner.

    We would like to invite you as a call in guest on a future program when we have Dr. Harold McCarthy back with us for a followup. We would like to have good clean, honest debate at our site.

    We are low budget but we also want to not have a high powered presentation that is overpowering.We were hoping our chat’s would seem refreshing. They are unscripted so they will always seem uprofessional but so are conversations in day to day life between friends.

    I am also following your site.

    Ray Luff,

  2. As I recall, it was Osborn, the original describer, who later identified the tooth as a peccary tooth. The point of those three stories is not what the creationists think; but rather that science is based on evidence, and when better evidence is found, scientists correct their understanding on the better evidence. I’m not aware of creationists following this process.

    • On a related note I’m beginning to notice the peculiar absence of “surprised” from creationist literature. Many science articles start with “fantastical discovery shocks/surprises/befuddles scientists.” Whilst this is often an exaggeration to make the discovery seem extra interesting it does not change the fact that there are several instances where results scientists do genuinely not expect.

      This is because they’re actually making predictions about what should happen so that, when something happens, it might disagree with this and thus be “surprising.” It’s a natural side effect of doing real, testable science.

      Since creationists are engaging in almost entirely post-hoc reasoning they can’t be surprised since there’s no real expectation of what should happen. Everything is jammed into the creationist paradigm after the fact. As such you won’t see a creation “scientist” be “surprised” because they aren’t doing science. There’s no real scientific hypothesis for them to discover is wrong.

  3. you claimed “Everything is jammed into the creationist paradigm after the fact… There’s no real scientific hypothesis for them to discover is wrong.” ——- sorry, but this jumpy claim of yours is desperate, and incomplete, so I cannot accept it. The claims of all atheists stand to be proven wrong with new findings: I am surprised all the time: for instance: January 2013: The finding of the Huge-LQG shatters the limits set by the “Cosmological Principle” (Accepted by Einstein, on which he based his work) – thus, Creationists are capable of being surprised, you idiot. The only way your claim could be true is if THE DEBATE WERE COMPLETELY OVER. and Its not. You are just throwing around incomplete wisdom, based in shaky empirical finding and headstrong theories, and all you do here is aim your best ideas in a misconstrued attack against Creationism. And yet, these principles came before evolution; evolution only arose after and Out of it; through it, essentially. I just think you have thought yourself into a corner; whereby ONLY your self-fulfilling atheists facts seem inevitable when they’re just overboard.

    • You’re right, my statement was only applicable under certain circumstances. And if you’ll note, me and Jim were talking about a particular set of circumstances. I was not attempting to suggest that creationists cannot be surprised by anything, ever; but that the vast majority of creationist discussion/research into human origins consists of retrodicting findings; rather than predicting them.

  4. I think you have been fair in your comments Adam in regards to evolution and creationism.
    I also think the comment
    “Science is always correcting itself”
    ,is a bit of a cop out for when it gets cornered on something it proclaimed as fact then is shown not to be fact.
    Example… Piltdown man– can you imagine the amount of people who changed their personal beliefs,went to the Grave, thinking the missing Link had been found !!!
    Haeckels drawings (which can still be found in School biology text books), and what will science say when more information comes in about the Higgs-Boson Particle.

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  6. Hominids were real, I have some pretty good evidence, but my conclusion is that man has little to do with them, apart from a few bad liaisons, that probebly resulted in prehistoric flooding :-)

    I have found a persitant culture that may date back 3 million years, and between me and you it wasn’t of ‘ape men’.

    • Do you mean the stuff on the site your name links to? It’s difficult to say if there’s actually anything of note there, given the limited number of angles photographed. The point of impact on most flint artefacts is on a different side to the scar they create, so you need to document all of their sides, not just the ones with elephants.

          • Just taking pictures of every side would be a good start. Varying the light source can also help alter shadows, making any marks clearer.

            That said, I don’t think any amount of photographs or additional lighting is going to make these discoveries compelling. There’s nothing about them that suggests they are artificial, rather than natural.

            • I find and recognise flint tools, many have been submitted to the museums services, and recorded in the PAS database.
              Not all of these artifacts show clear human agency, but I can recognise it in most of them.

            • It would certainly be interesting to hear the reasoning behind these claims, since based on the photos the suggestion of human influence is suspect at best

    • Is this friend of yours the only peer review your work is getting. Even then, it doesn’t sound like they’re doing much of what would classically be called peer review.

      • I have very few peers as such, seeing as though I claim I have found prehistoric language and can prove it, and nobody else is claiming to have found prehistoric language….
        How can I make these claims? 95℅ of my finds come from one smallish area, almost every stone on the site is one of these artifacts, many of my artifacts are the same shape and form, all of my artifacts have the same set of motifs, ie. Elephant, bird, ape, seal, horse etc.I have track record for identifying human agency in flint.
        There is more……… but maybe you will have to buy the book :-) At least its written by a Christian :-)

      • But there are loads of people who’re studying early claims of artefacts, art and symbolism who would be more than capable of cross-examining your discoveries. Even ignoring these experts, pretty much every university archaeology department would contain many people who are very familiar with this topic. If I were you I’d take the photos of every side of the artefacts as I suggested and then send them every archaeology department you can get in contact with, asking them to double check your evidence of artificial modification.

        And I’d start recording this site of yours, with particular focus on the stratigraphic context of the artefacts. That’ll be the linchpin of it all.

        Only then would I start writing something, and even at that point a book would not be my first port of call.

        • Yes, well I have more of a brute force approach, I know I can prove many of my finds in person, but the net is where the people are.
          And if only my life was so simple, and I had a masters in geology, archeology, anth…… etc and people or money to pay people to help me decode the site more.

      • OK some good advice, thank you. I’m not brilliant academically, which is sort of a bonus, in a strange way. My mind is not full of the Bs that the authorities have been putting about. You actually seem interested, so if you are, maybe you could review one or two of my more anthropology led chapters? Just a thought…

        • An individual may develop their own pet theories, but that’s why cross-examination by several people is important. It ensures that whatever gets published has more evidence than the whim of someone with authority. It’s also why I suggested you contact as many departments as you can. One might have a bias, but they won’t all possess the exact same one. Consensus is key, because that bypasses individual desires.

          I’m more focused on evolution than traditional anthropology, but I’ll have a look at some stuff if you want. The contact me button at the top of the page is there for a reason

      • Archaeology has a proud amateur tradition and most full time researchers are more than willing to help those for whom it is a hobby. As I said, contact University departments and most will be more than willing to listen to you.

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