by Frank R. Zindler
The Probing Mind, March, 1985
Pyramid power, Bermuda and Devil's triangles, psychokinesis, astrology, flying saucers, the Amityville Horror, reincarnation, and iridology were just a few of the topics covered in the course on pseudoscience I used to teach at a small college in Upstate New York. Many of the students who enrolled in the course were already survivors of my courses in biology, zoology, or psychobiology, and they brought a fair amount of sophistication to the research projects they carried out for the course. Almost every year — at the request of the students — the topic of "creation science" was added to the list of topics to be examined.
The better students rapidly discovered — without any prompting from me — that creationism differs from most of the other pseudosciences in a rather fundamental(ist) way. Whereas most pseudosciences — Velikovskyism, for example — are simply the products of eccentric, quirky minds, creationism appears to be the result of unhealthy amounts of distortion, deceit, and just plain dishonesty on the part of its major proponents. It did not take students long to discover that creationism is just a specialized branch of fundamentalist apologetics
Anyone reading the creationist literature quickly comes to see that deliberate distortion — not just misunderstanding of the facts — is a major characteristic of the genre. Furthermore, unlike real science, which is self-correcting and usually exposes its own hoaxes quickly, creation "science" either corrects its frauds not at all, or only under irresistible pressure from real science. Like cancer, creationist errors and distortions simply metastasize, becoming more widely distributed and more deeply implanted.
A typical example of such metastatic misdirection came to my attention just a short while ago, when a creationist activist criticized me in the letters column of one of the Columbus newspapers. My opinions on fossil men are of low credibility, he wrote, especially my opinions on Peking Man. Making no attempt to obtain up-to-date information concerning recent Chinese studies, and referring to Marcellin Boule (a French paleoanthropologist who died in 1942), he took me to task saying, "Boule, who examined the Peking man site and the fossils, said the fossils were from a monkey that probably was killed for food."
Now I have met this particular critic, and I am of the opinion that he is an honest man who would not himself deliberately fabricate such an absurd claim. Being familiar with the 1957 English edition of Boule's famous paleoanthropology text (FOSSIL MEN, co-authored with Henri Vallois), I knew full well that Boule had never said anything so stupid. Indeed, on page 142 of the text we find the statement:
Morphologically, there is not the slightest doubt. Sinanthropus [Peking Man] confirms and completes the proof that these are creatures with physical characters intermediate between the group of Anthropoid Apes and the group of Hominians [modern man and his closest relatives].
If my critic did not get the idea of monkey-skulls from Boule himself, and if he did not fabricate this preposterosity on his own, where did he get it?
Evolutionists who are experienced in combating the distortions and delusions of creationism have an adage they use when creationist material smells ranker than usual: "cherchez le Gish!" — referring to Duane Gish, the premier performing artist of all creationism.
Predicting that my critic had been led astray by Gish, I reached for Gish's book, EVOLUTION? THE FOSSILS SAY NO! This book, one of the most popular of all books among creationists, is to be found in many high schools for use as an antidote to evolution. The book appears in two versions: the general edition (which contains Gish's actual religious beliefs) and the public school edition (which contains only as much of this as Gish thinks he can get away with). Turning to the section on Peking Man, I found that Gish devotes considerable space to Boule's alleged opinions on this genuine connecting link between ape-like creatures and humans.
On page 123 of EVOLUTION? THE FOSSILS SAY NO! , [Public School Edition, Creation-Life Publishers, San Diego, 1978], Duane Gish says, "In a 1937 publication, Boule referred to the Sinanthropus skulls as "monkey-like'(36)." The reference to this quote reads, "36. M. Boule, L'Anthropologie, 1937, p. 21."
Again on page 129, Gish writes:
In an article published in 1937 in L'Anthropologie (p. 21), Boule wrote: 'To this fantastic hypothesis [of Abbe Breuil and Fr. Teilhard de Chardin], that the owners of the monkey-like skulls were the authors of the large-scale industry, I take the liberty of preferring an opinion more in conformity with the conclusions from my studies, which is that the hunter (who battered the skulls) was a real man and that the cut stones, etc., were his handiwork [the nature of this stone industry will be discussed later].'
A quick glance at page 21 of the Boule article shows nothing like this quotation anywhere on the page. Nothing about monkeys is to be found. Moreover, the complete quotation is not to be found anywhere in the entire article, ruling out the possibility that Gish is merely guilty of sloppy scholarship and twice cited the wrong page number.
On the preceding page, p. 20, we do find a fair portion of the text in question:
"To this hypothesis, as fantastic as it is ingenious, I may be permitted to prefer one which seems to me to be just as satisfactory, being simpler and more in conformity with the totality of what we know: the hunter was a true man, whose stone industry has been found and who made Sinanthropus his victim!"
Assuming the material in square brackets is material inserted by Gish — in conformity with accepted scholarly practice — we still must ask whence came the crucial phrase, "that the owners of the monkey-like skulls were the authors of the large-scale industry"?
That Gish (or a friend who could read French) had indeed seen page 20 is evident from his next paragraph, which gives a reasonable translation for a phrase which I have translated above: "more in conformity with our whole body of knowledge." But where — page 20 or anywhere in the article — does Gish find justification for the conclusion of this paragraph: "... Sinanthropus...must have been a large monkey-like or ape-like creature" [emphasis mine]?
Nowhere does Boule ever suggest that Peking Man was monkey-like. Unlike Gish, Boule actually was an expert in primate anatomy and it is inconceivable that he could have been so stupid as to suggest that the Peking remains belonged to forty monkeys rather than to forty ape-men!
On page 125, we find Gish trying to discredit Davidson Black, the discoverer of Peking Man and the originator of that creature's scientific name, Sinanthropus pekinensis, by indirectly accusing him of dishonesty:
In their discussion of the relationship of Sinanthropus to Pithecanthropus (p. 141), Boule and Vallois almost accuse Black of fraud, and at the very least accuse him of total lack of objectivity and of twisting facts. Specifically, they say:
'Black, who had felt justified in forging the term Sinanthropus to designate one tooth, was naturally concerned to legitimize this creation when he had to describe a skull cap....'
In other words, since Black had stuck his neck out on the basis of a single tooth (remember "Nebraska Man"!) and had erected the Sinanthropus category around that tooth, he felt compelled to color the facts to fit his scheme. What confidence can we have, therefore, in any of the descriptions or models of Sinanthropus from the hand of Dr. Black?
In this passage, Boule is not accusing Black of fraud or of incompetence. What we have here is a typical scholar's quibble — a type of argument repeated thousands of times per year in scientific literature dealing with the classification of plants and animals. The question simply was this: "Does Peking Man differ enough from Java Man to warrant its being classified in its own genus? Black thought yes, Boule thought no. But far from accusing Black of "total lack of objectivity," Boule even points out that Dubois — the discoverer of the first Java Man remains — also did not feel that the two types of ape-men should be classified in the same genus. Boule makes it clear that the clinching argument against Peking Man constituting his own genus separate from Java Man was von Koenigswald's later discoveries of better-preserved Java Man skulls. Gish apparently did not understand the import of Boule's use of the word "forging" in the phrase, "forging the term Sinanthropus." In the French edition, the verb forger is used. According to the fourth meaning for the term given by Cassell's French Dictionary, forger can mean "to coin" a word or term. How sinister of Black to coin a word!
We may wonder if, in the schools where this book is recommended for student reading, one can reasonably suppose that the average — indeed the above-average — student is likely to be able to see through this misrepresentation, or whether the student is going to think that there is an element of fraud behind the subject of Peking Man? Is the average student going to be able to read French and other languages in order to check upon the extravagant claims made in the creationist literature he is given to read as a counterweight to genuine science?
Lest readers think that this complaint about monkey skulls is just another example of a scholar's quibble which is of no great significance in the overall scheme of science education, I must inform them that this type of twisting, misrepresentation, and misunderstanding is the warp and woof of so-called "creation science." If everything were quoted in context, with full understanding of the import of the source material, there would be no such thing as creationism books.
In the Gish quotation above, we are asked to remember "Nebraska Man." Unless one has read Gish's books or the Chick comic bookBIG DADDY, this is not very easy to do, since almost no scientists of my generation have ever heard of the creature.
Nebraska Man is a straw man, since no textbook mentions him, no evolutionary theory is based upon him, and no evolutionist anywhere has considered him to be a primate since Beethoven's Birthday in 1927!
Nevertheless, Gish delights in citing the saga of Nebraska Man as an example of what a bunch of dummies evolutionists are:
In 1922, a tooth was discovered in western Nebraska which was declared by Henry Fairfield Osborn, one of the most eminent paleontologists of that day, and several other authorities, to combine the characteristics of chimpanzee, Pithecanthropus, and Man!...
Osborn and his colleagues could not quite decide whether the original owner of this tooth should be designated as an ape-like man or a man-like ape. He was given the designation Hesperopithecus haroldcookii and became known popularly as Nebraska Man. An illustration of what this creature and his contemporaries supposedly looked like was published in theIllustrated London News... In 1927, after further collecting and studies had been carried out, it was decided thatHesperopithecus was neither a man-like ape nor an ape-like man, but was an extinct peccary, or pig! I believe this is a case in which a scientist made a man out of a pig and the pig made a monkey out of the scientist! [pp. 119-120, Evolution? The Fossils Say No!, pub. schl. ed.]
Space does not permit an examination of the fascinating reasons why a great scientist — who as early as 1907 had noted the deceptive similarity between the molar teeth of certain fossil pigs and those of primates — should have made such a mistake. We may only mention that the tooth in question was extremely worn, and that in 1922 fossil primate and pig teeth with which it could be compared were only slightly more common than hen's teeth!
Suffice it to note that the Illustrated London News was not a science journal, but rather an upper-class version of a supermarket tabloid devoted to the doings of the Prince of Wales, Lord Mountbatten, and the rest of the flapper equivalents of Chuck and Lady Di. Even so, Professor Elliot Smith, the author of the popular article took care to warn his readers concerning the illustration accompanying it:
Mr. Forestier [the artist] has made a remarkable sketch to convey some idea of the possibilities suggested by this discovery. As we know nothing of the creature's form, his reconstruction is merely the expression of an artist's brilliant imaginative genius. But if, as the peculiarities of the tooth suggest, Hesperopithecus was a primitive forerunner of Pithecanthropus, he may have been a creature such as Mr. Forestier has depicted. [Illustrated London News, June 24, 1922, pp. 942-3]
Of course Gish knows all this, and he knows also that Nebraska Man lived in the scientific literature for only five years, that the same scientists who created him were the ones who discovered their error, and that they confessed their error in Science, one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world. Gish knows that the error was not discovered by creationists — since creationists do not make scientific discoveries — and that this is actually an edifying example of the self-correcting nature of realscience and of the integrity and veracity of several of its practitioners. But if Gish had been accurate (let alone fair!) in his account, he would have had no opportunity to make his pig-monkey-scientist quip, and his intended teenage readers might not get the impression that scientists are a bungling bunch of bimbos. Getting back to the letter criticizing me in the paper, my critic also claimed, "The Java man evolutionary link was rejected by such authorities on skulls as Marcellin Boule, who said it was a skull cap of a gibbon."
Now of course, Boule never said this at all. What Boule's textbook actually said [p. 118] was:
"Taken as a whole, these [skull] structures are very similar to those of chimpanzees and gibbons. Dubois has said that the skull of Pithecanthropus might be compared to a Gibbon skull enlarged to twice its size. Figs. 75 and 76 show that, in its principal characters, the Trinil skull-cap is really intermediate between that of an Ape, like the Chimpanzee, and that of a Man of really low status, such as Neanderthal Man." [emphasis mine]
So where did my critic get the gibbon idea?
Gish [p. 115] gives an out-of-context quote of the first part of this passage ("Taken as a whole, these structures are very similar to those of chimpanzees and gibbons"), but conveniently leaves out the last part ("is really intermediate between that of an Ape...and that of a Man..."). Thus my critic drew the logical — but false — conclusion that Boule had diagnosed Java Man as just another ape. My critic, like so many other honest-but-ignorant grass-roots creationists, was just one more innocent person gored by Gish's "bull"!
Gish's treatment of Eugene Dubois, the discoverer of the first Java Man skull, is quite outrageous. On page 114, Gish alleges:
Dubois concealed the fact that he had also discovered at nearby Wadjak and at approximately the same level two human skulls (known as the Wadjak skulls) with a cranial capacity of about 1550-1650 c.c., somewhat above the present human average. To have revealed this fact at that time would have rendered it difficult, if not impossible, for his Java Man to have been accepted as a "missing link." It was not until 1922 [actually 1921, FRZ], when a similar discovery was about to be announced, that Dubois revealed the fact that he had possessed the Wadjak skulls for over 30 years. His failure to reveal this find to the scientific world at the same time he exhibited the Pithecanthropus bones can only be labeled as an act of dishonesty and calculated to obtain acceptance of Pithecanthropus as an ape-man.
The reader has no way of knowing — unless he does a great deal of library work — that the skulls were not at "approximately the same level." The Java Man skull was found at Trinil in Central Java, and the Wadjak skulls were found miles away at Wadjak, near Tulung Agung on the south coast of Java. The geological levels were different. The Wadjak skulls (although highly fossilized) were associated with the remains of a modern Javan fauna, and Java Man was associated with many extinct forms. Dubois was looking for the "missing link," and the Wadjak skulls (which were considered to be intermediate between Neanderthals and Australian aborigines in form) were of little interest at the time.
Moreover, William Howells [Mankind in the Making, 1967, p. 154], in a book cited (and presumably read!) by Gish, tells us:
...a Mr. van Rietschoten found a fossilized skull at Wadjak in neighboring Java. It was passed on by the Royal Society in Batavia to Dubois... He [Dubois] went to Wadjak and found another of the same sort himself! They were interesting and like the living natives of Australia in appearance. But they were no missing links — not what he was seeking.
So if Dubois was guilty of "an act of dishonesty," van Rietschoten was too, along with the Royal Society! But the fact of the matter is there was no conspiracy to suppress the Wadjak skulls. The true story — and it is certainly known to Gish as well as to competent scholars — is actually a rather tragic one: the controversy surrounding his discovery drove Dubois, if not quite mad, at least into a paranoid state of seclusion. Howells (whom Gish supposedly has read) describes the situation on page 155 of his book:
Dubois began to feel an identity with the fossil. Its detractors were his own enemies; his anthropological colleagues all became suspect, and Dubois was not at home to them any longer. And at last he withdrew the bones from scientific contact. He took them to his house at Zijlweg 77, Haarlem; he put them in a box; he took up his dining-room floor and buried the box in the ground below it; he put back boards, liner, and carpet; and he ate his meals above the Java man for many long years. Jealous adversaries, he had come to think, might even steal the precious fossils. For all these years he kept the Wadjak skulls in a glass case, but with newspaper pasted to the inside of the glass, so that the skulls could not see out, and nobody else could see in. Only in the 1920's did he relent and expose the Wadjak crania to science. Later still, he was persuaded to put the remains of Pithecanthropus in the museum at Leiden, in a small safe inside a larger safe.
Gish's mistreatment of this unhappy man is disgraceful. He will stop at nothing, it would seem, for the cause of converting children to creationism.
Should books like this be bought and recommended for student study? If schools are willing to purchase all the source materials quoted in the creationist literature and have students learn to track down the mistakes of creationists, I would be tempted to say "Great! Do it!" But the sober fact is that there is not enough time for such exercises, regardless of how exciting and stimulating they may be. Too little time already is spent on learning the fundamentals of science, and to lose more time in the exposure of pseudoscience cannot be justified.
The deceptions of Gish and his creationist cohorts are not restricted, however, to their printed productions. Their procedures are even more outrageous on the lecture podium and on the debate circuit. Usually their practice of genuine creationism — creating "facts" ex nihilo to support the exigencies of the moment — goes unnoticed and unavenged. But once in a while they get their due.
Robert Schadewald, a talented science writer and debater, and John Patterson, an irrepressible professor of engineering at Iowa State University, published a joint letter in the Spring/Summer 1984 issue of Origins Research (a creationist publication) in which they accused Gish of lying on a 1982 PBS telecast. In that program, Gish was presented with biochemical evidence that human and chimpanzee proteins are extremely similar and, in some cases, identical — the implication being that apes and men are very closely related. Gish countered these data with the claim that there were other proteins which showed that chickens and bullfrogs were closer to men than the corresponding chimpanzee proteins!
Since that PBS program, scientists have pressed Gish incessantly to reveal his sources and identify these marvelous proteins. At a "Bible-Science Conference" held in Cleveland [see my article REPORT FROM THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE, in the November, 1984 issue of American Atheist], Patterson and Schadewald pressed Gish once again for his proteins, only to be told that he has no responsibility to produce them!
We hope that henceforth every scientist who debates Gish begins every speech with a request for the protein sequences: "Come on, Duane! We're interested in bull-frogs! Not just your plain old bull!"