Monday, October 3, 2016

The March of Perfidy: Collapse of a Creationist Trope

I would be most surprised indeed if any of my readers has never seen the famous "March of Progress" illustration from Time-Life Books volume Early Man (1965).  Drawn by master scientific illustrator Rudolph Zallinger, it depicts, in an unfortunately misleading linear fashion, 15 species of primates beginning with Pliopithecus on the left and ending with Homo sapiens on the right.

Yes, we know evolution isn't linear, and yes this illustration has been misunderstood - unfairly so, since the authors of the book clearly understood the nature of evolutionary process and commented in the text that it was not a linear progression, and that several of the species were evolutionary dead ends rather than direct human ancestors.  But that isn't what this essay is about.

Those of us engaged in the debate with Young Earth Creationists have come to be familiar with a similar, but radically different version of the March of Progress created by by Jack Chick for his infamous 1972 Creationist tract, Big Daddy, which can be seen by clicking here.

Presented as a linear illustration in the original Chick Tract, it depicts nine primate species supposedly relied upon by paleontologists and paleoanthropologists to bolster their claim that humans evolved from primate ancestors.  I call this the March of Perifidy in recognition of the deception and inaccuracy it represents.

It most often is seen today stacked as the illustration at left, to better fit into the ubiquitous meme format and in website layouts.

We cringe when we see it, for each and every one of the images is a misrepresentation.  What is of considerable interest is trying to trace where Creationists got the misinformation that fills this graphic.  In most cases, we can trace it back - to earlier Creationist claims, and ultimately to the kernel of truth which lies at the beginning.

Left to right (or perhaps left to wrong would be more appropriate here) they are listed below in Table 1, showing the commentary under each picture, and the status  of that species or subspecies as understood today.

Name in Chart
Claim by Creationists
Modern Disposition
Nearly all experts agree Lucy was just a 3-foot tall chimpanzee.
Australopithecus afarensis
Heidelberg Man
Built from a jaw bone that was conceded by many to be quite human
Homo heidelbergensis
Nebraska Man
Scientifically built up from one tooth, later found to be the tooth of an extinct pig.
Misidentification of a fossil peccary tooth of Prosthennops crassigenus
Piltdown Man
The jaw bone turned out to belong to a modern ape.
Peking Man
Supposedly 500,000 years old, but all evidence has disappeared.
Homo erectus
Neanderthal Man
At the Int'l. Congress of Zoology (1958), Dr. A.J.E. Carr said his examination showed that this famous skeleton found in France over 50 years ago is that of an old man who suffered from arthritis
Homo neanderthalensis
New Guinea Man
Dates way back to 1970.  This species has been found in a region just north of Australia.
Archaic Homo sapiens
Cro-Magnon Man
One of the earliest and best established fossils is at least equal in physique and brain capacity to modern what's the difference?
Anatomically modern Homo sapiens
Modern Man
This genius thinks we came from a monkey.
Homo sapiens

 Let's look at the accurate story for each of these.


"Lucy is the common name of AL 288-1, several hundred pieces of bone fossils representing 40 percent of the skeleton of a female of the hominin species Australopithecus afarensis. In Ethiopia, the assembly is also known as Dinkinesh, which means "you are marvelous" in the Amharic language. Lucy was discovered in 1974 near the village Hadar in the Awash Valley of the Afar Triangle in Ethiopia by paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson.(Source)

Lucy is not the only specimen known of her species or of her genus.  Abundant remains have been recovered.

Now, as to claims that Lucy is just a chimp, I have been unable to find any such claims by a paleontologist or paleoanthropologist. The claim appears frequently on the Internet, but only on Creationist websites, and never with any referenced quotation.  Until Creationists can supply such a reference, their claim is empty gesturing and nothing more.

Just to anticipate a "But what about..." response from Creationists, if you are interested in Lucy's knee, click here.

Heidelberg Man

Based initially on a lower jaw from a gravel pit at Mauer, Germany, near Heidelberg, it was initially described as close to modern humans, but with a few differences, especially in the robustness of the body of the mandible compared to the relatively small size of the teeth.  Otto Schoetensack placed the fossil in the same genus as modern humans, when he described the species in 1907 as Homo heidelbergensis.  Although there is still lively debate about its exact phylogenetic relationships, it is consistently placed somewhere between Homo erectus and Anatomically Modern Humans.  The discovery of Sima de los Huesos in Spain, with more than 5,000 bones from at least 32 individuals has added greatly to our knowledge of Heidelberg Man.  Is it really surprising that Heidelberg Man is "conceded by many to be quite human"?

Nebraska Man

 Hesperopithecus haroldcookii was described by Henry Fairfield Osborn from a single worn molar found in northwest Nebraska on the ranch of geologist Harold Cook.  Cook sent the tooth to Osborn in March of 1922. In April of 1922, Osborn named the species and announced it as the first anthropoid ape from America.  Far from being accepted by the scientific community, many leading scholars expressed their doubts.  within 5 years, further collecting at the locality where the tooth was found revealed that it was in fact a worn molar of the peccary Prosthennops crassigenus.  A correction was published in Science in 1927 by William K. Gregory, Osborn's colleague. 

The famous reconstruction of Nebraska Man was done by artist Amedee Forestier for the Illustrated London News; it was not done under Osborn's direction.  Osborn and his colleagues in fact called it "a drawing or 'reconstruction' .... doubtless... only a figment of the imagination of no scientific value, and undoubtedly inaccurate."

Nebraska Man was based on a mistaken identification of a peccary tooth.  It was neither a hoax nor a fraud.  It was corrected in print within 5 years, and never referred to again as a valid human ancestor.  In spite of frequent Creationist claims that it is still featured in textbooks today as a human ancestor, no such textbook has ever been produced by the Creationists in evidence of that claim.

The full story of Nebraska Man can be read here.  

Piltdown Man

Perhaps the most famous hoax in all of 20th Century science was the discovery of Piltdown Man, a partial skull found in a gravel pit near East Sussex, England.  Found by a local amateur archaeologist, Charles Dawson, Arthur Smith Woodward, of the Natural History Museum in London, helped Dawson excavate addition parts of the same skull and the lower jaw, and published the find as Eoanthropus dawsoni in 1912.  Almost immediately Piltdown Man was heavily criticized, by, among others, Sir Arthur Keith, David Waterson, American mammalogist Gerrit S. Miller and Franz Weidenreich.  Many others, particularly European scientists, accepted Piltdown Man uncritically.  It took more than 40 years for a definitive statement to be published, based largely on the new fluorine absorption dating developed by Kenneth Oakley.    The fossil was confirmed to be a modern human skull, a 500 year-old orangutan lower jaw, and some chimpanzee teeth, all modified by various methods including filing with a steel file and chemical staining.  A study released in 2016 which took 8 years to conduct, confirmed that Dawson was the forger, and that neither Teilhard de Chardin nor Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were involved, as had been previously proposed. (Reference here)

Piltdown was a hoax.  It was accepted, at least by some parts of the scientific community, for an unfortunately long period of time.  It is one of the few hoaxes or forgeries so often quoted by Creationists that actually was a fraud.  It was, as is the case for the few other hoaxes or mistakes, revealed to be such by other researchers questioning and investigating the evidence.

Peking Man

Peking Man, now known as Homo erectus pekinensis, was discovered at Choukoutien Cave between 1929 and 1937.  15 partial skulls, 11 mandibles, many teeth and a few postcranial bones were found.  Good photographs and casts of most of the material were made and shared around the world; the American Museum of Natural History has a complete set of the casts in their collection.  All the material but a few teeth was lost when the bones were removed from Peking prior to the outbreak of hostilities at the beginning of World War II.  Despite intensive efforts to find them, including monetary inducement, they were never seen again.  Rumors and not a few conspiracy theories have swirled around ever since.

We now know that the deposits at Choukoutien Cave in which the hominid fossils were found date to somewhere between 680,000 and 780,000 years old.

Even with the loss of the original fossils, Homo erectus is well known from numerous other finds from northern, eastern and southern Africa, western Asia, and Indonesia.  It rightfully has a place on the hominid family tree.

Neanderthal Man

This particular bit of nonsense is completely fabricated.  Rudolf Virchow first made the claim that the original Neanderthal skull represented a pathological modern human in 1872.  It was later repeated by Rush K. Acton in an article for the Institute for Creation Research's Impact Series. In his paper  Creationists and Neanderthals, Ernest Conrad (Creation Evolution Journal, Volume 6(3):24-33) notes that he asked British anatomist A. J. E. Cave about claims that the original specimen was pathological, specifically evidencing syphilis, and Cave wrote to him, probably in 1984, that "No competent morphologist could confuse the frontal bossing of the congenitally syphilitic cranium with the distinctive configuration of the Neandertal skull.  Neandertal was a morpholgically distinct type of rational human being, which appeared and disappeared when and why, we know not."  Other comments traceable to Cave indicate that he accepted Neanderthal Man as a valid species of hominid.

I was not been able to find any reference to Cave's supposed presentation at the 1958 Congress of Zoology.  In fact, there doesn't appear to be any "Congress of Zoology" anywhere, in any year. Checking Evan Shute's book Flaws in the Theory of Evolution, from which it appears that Jack Chick cribbed much of his information,  I found this mention of Cave's work: "Cave (155) told the International Congress of Zoology in 1958 that Neaderthal man did not stoop."  Footnote 155 says "Cave, A.J. E. -- Quoted in Time, July 28, 1958 p. 46".  Chick apparently just omitted the "International" as unimportant.  Checking that issue of Time, the following short article was found:

"A missing link got demoted at last week's London meeting of the International Congress of Zoology. The chimp-size fossil primate Proconsul africanus, which lived in east Africa 30 million years ago, had been described as sitting in the family tree of both ape and man. Its skull, though primitive, is not conclusively apelike, so there seemed to be a good possibility that its descendants could be humans or apes or both.

The recently found bones of Proconsul's forearm and hand spoiled this theory. According to Anatomists John Napier and Peter Davis of the University of London, they clearly belonged to a brachiator, a creature that swung by its hands from bough to bough. So Proconsul must have been an ape, perhaps an ancestor of modern apes but not of non-brachiating man. The true missing link is still to be found.

Another long-established notion got its comeuppance at the same congress. Dr. A. J. E. Cave of London's St. Bartholomew's Hospital told the zoologists that the stooping, bent-kneed, apelike stance of Neanderthal man was a libelous misconstruction. About 1911, said Dr. Cave, French Paleontologist Pierre Marcelin Boule fitted together a Neanderthal skeleton found in France. He did not allow for the fact that the bones belonged to an old Neanderthaler who suffered from arthritis. Recently Dr. Cave himself examined those same bones. With age and arthritis properly allowed for, the Neanderthaler looked better. His face may have been brutish, and his body a trifle too hairy for modern tastes, but he probably walked like modern men and stood as straight."  (Time, July 28, 1958: online archive)
So, while Chick has portrayed Cave as saying that Neanderthal was a modern man, he said nothing of the sort.  While Jack Chick tried to make it appear that Cave said Nedanderthal Man is simply an old, arthritic modern human, that is not what he said.  In fact, his latter comment quoted above shows that he considered it a valid species similar to modern man in some aspects, but distinct.

While there is still some controversy as to if Neanderthal man should be considered a separate species, H. neanderthalensis, or a subspecies of Homo sapiens, H. s. neanderthalensis, the phylogenetic hypothesis best supported by the data, including the most recent DNA analyses, places H. neaderthalensis as a separate species not directly ancestral to modern man.  Its position on the hominid tree is secure.  

New Guinea Man

In an analysis of the Chick tract which appears in the TalkOrigins archive, New Guinea Man is mentioned:

"The real oddity in Chick's list is "New Guinea Man". As far as I know, no one has ever proposed this as any sort of transitional form. It presumably refers to fragments of a fossil modern human skull thought to be about 5000 years old found at Aitape (now Eitape) about 60 years ago. This is the only human fossil ever found in New Guinea, and is very obscure; I have never seen it even mentioned in any mainstream scientific or popular literature on human origins. The only place (other than Big Daddy) I have ever seen it referred to is a 1961 book by Canadian creationist Evan Shute, Flaws in the Theory of Evolution. Shute merely mentions the existence of this fossil in a list of many other fossils and does not discuss it individually, so Chick may have found out about this fossil from another unknown source." (Source)

Checking Shute's book, the only further information given is that the "sponsor" of the fossil was the Australian Geological Survey.  Fortunately, I have been able to find additional information concerning the identity of New Guinea Man. The find was published in the Records of the South Australian Museum, Volume 6, Number 4, in 1941.  Frank J. Fenner authored the article entitled "Fossil  Human Skull Fragments of Probable Pleistocene Age from Aitape, New Guinea."

The Aitape fossils were discovered in 1929 by a petroleum prospecting operation in the Barida Range in northern New Guinea.

The fossil, which consists of some con-joined fragments of a human skull (nearly complete frontal bone, the anterior portion of both parietal bones) as well as a separate fragment of the frontal joined to the sphenoid.  The original describer of the fossil, Frank. J. Fenner, determined it to be from a female about 45 years of age and found "no evidence that it belonged to an individual differing greatly from the modern Australian aboriginal (southern type)" (Fenner, 1941).  A later study (Durband and Creel, 2011) with larger samples for comparison (13 Late Pleistocene or Early Holocene Australian fossils, 101 modern Australian and 126 modern New Guinea skulls) found that the Aitape skull shared some traits (a longer, flatter frontal bone) with ancient Australian skeletal material which are not shared with modern Australian and New Guinea samples.

The Aitape bones were at first allocated to the Late Pleistocene, presumably because of their stained, dark brown coloration, slight mineralization, and geological context in a deposit of blue clay.  Later radiocarbon dating provided an age of about 5,000 years BP.  A date on coconut shell fragments recovered in a 1962 re-examination of the site gave a date of 4,555 + 80 PB, while carbonized wood gave dates of 4915 + 65 and 5070

 So, New Guinea Woman, as we now know her to be, was an anatomically modern Homo sapiens who lived about 5,000 years ago, and who shared a few primitive characteristics with much older Australian Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene populations.

New Guinea Man has never  figured in any review of the evolution of man except in Creationist writings.

Cro-Magnon Man

Cro-Manon Man is a name given to a group of European skeletal fossils of Homo sapiens.  It is a term that has no taxonomic equivalence or standing. The preferred term today is European early modern humans (EEMH).  Since they are the same species as modern humans, they differ very little - being a bit more robust and with slightly larger cranial capacity.  DNA analysis indicates that some Cro-Magnons had blue eyes, dark hair and an olive complexion.  So Cro-Magnon Man is not different from modern man - his and her remains are separated out on the basis of their age, being the earliest Anatomically Modern Humans found in Europe.

Modern Man

The comment under Modern Man in the Chick Tract echos the common Creationist challenge "If we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?"  Evolutionary biologists do not claim that humans evolved from monkeys.  Humans and the other great apes had a common ancestor, and if you go back far enough, the apes, including us, had a common ancestor with the monkeys.

Incidentally, the type specimen of Homo sapiens is Carolus Linnaeus (1701-1778), the famous classifier of living plants and animals, and not Edward Drinker Cope as wrongly claimed and unethically paraded by Psihoyos (1994).See Spamer 1999 for details Here).

I certainly would like to think this will put an end to the parading of the March of Perfidy on Creationist websites, and its uncritical use by Creationist crusaders on Facebook and other internet forums, but I am realistic enough to suspect that it won't.  They'll continue to use it, knowing that it is wrong.

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