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,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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.