We've all seen those lineups of our evolutionary roots...a parade of characters emerging from the slime. The first figure’s barely slithering with butt yet in the water, but each successive fellow is more and more erect, till finally, there’s the guy in the front with briefcase and tie. Sometimes, when satirists are illustrating the backward evolution of something, say….the American school system, they turn the whole troupe around and march them back into the muck.
But the ancestors in the lineup aren’t so orderly as they appear. Since the parade’s inception, for example, the apelike homo habilis has been faithfully tailing the manlike homo erectus, and heaven help you if you were to question that order. But in 2005, scientists in Kenya found fossil specimensof each within walking distance of the other. Moreover, they were dated equally ancient. They weren’t ancestor-descendent at all, but contemporaries, more like Clint Eastwood and his orangutan!Evolutionists muttered about it some in scientific journals, but I never saw a word in the popular media. Ah well, they seem to say….if it wasn’t that slobbering ancestor, then it must have been some other.
The marcher who really takes the cake, though, is Piltdown man. He snuck into the lineup in 1912 and remained for forty years before he was unmasked as a fraud in 1953 and kicked out!
It was a laborer who discovered the bones at the small English village of Piltdown. In time, the place would yield forty separate discoveries. He turned them over to Charles Dawson, a local lawyer, who trotted them off to the museum. They sure looked old. Yes, they represented the missing link, proof that Darwin’s fifty year old theory applied even to humans! The find was announced to the scientific world, which swooned in ecstasy.
But forty years later they began to smell a rat. Weren’t those bones merely chemically stained so as to look old? And hadn’t they been filed here and there in order to mimic the passage of time? More tests were made and…..sonuvagun….it was just a pile of old bones, largely a run-of-the-mill contemporary ape with some other critters fused in! Someone had made asses of the world’s most respected evolutionists! “It really was a horrible, nasty, vicious piece of work!” grouses Andy Currant, featured on the NOVA documentarychronicling the farce.
Who would play such a mean trick?
Suspects were not few. Even Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator Sherlock Holmes, was considered! He lived nearby, he was a medical doctor, he collected fossils, and he was a showman. He even had motive. See….he believed one could communicate with the dead. He took photographs of ghosts, but when he showed them to scientists, they laughed at him. “Frauds, double exposures,” they declared, “easily faked!” “I’ll show you what a fraud is,” he supposedly schemed, and so planted evidence that would give him the last laugh for forty years!
(This better not happen again, Romulus Crowe, If it does, I’m on to you!)
The lawyer Charles Dawson also emerges as a suspicious character. When his Piltdown man was revealed as phony, researchers tested his other ancient treasures on display at museums. They were all forgeries!
Still another fellow comes to light….were they all in cahoots? Martin Hinton, a staff scientist at the British Natural History Museum (where Piltdown was housed) died in 1961. When they found his trunk decades later in a museum storage room, it contained all the chemicals and tools required to create the hoax. Moreover, there were bones doctored similarly, as if he were practicing for the great joke. (or was he only recreating the deception?) Mr. Hinton’s motive? He was peeved at toiling in obscurity, annoyed that his Museum superior passed him over for promotion, denying him fame and money! “I’ll plant a phony caveman,” he supposedly reasoned. “The ass will discover it, parade it as genuine. Scientists will see right through it, and laugh him into oblivion” What he didn’t reckon on was that evolutionists, desperate for any scrap proving human evolution, would lap it all up uncritically….just as they have in modern times with homos habilis and erectus!
Says Giles Oakley, son of the man who uncovered the fraud, “Egotism, pride, ambition, rivalry, these things affect [gasp!] even scientific judgments.”
Incredibly, nationalism even played a part in fooling the “great men,” as the NOVA documentary makes clear. British evolutionists were frustrated in the early 1900’s. The Germans had discovered Neanderthal man. “Prehistoric” men had also been found in France and Spain, and yet the Brits had squat. But these were the days of the British empire, on which the sun never set. Surely they must also be the cradle of civilization! Piltdown man put the Brits on the map scientifically, and British scientists were the last to acknowledge that they had been duped.
Sigh…..how to sum up? Shouldn’t we really defer to the words of Malcolm Muggeridge:
Posterity will surely be amazed, and I hope vastly amused, that such slipshod and unconvincing theorizing should have so easily captivated twentieth-century minds and been so widely and recklessly applied.
Alas, there is little sign as yet that anyone's amazed.