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Book Review - God- or Gorilla?, Chapter 5

This entry is part of a series. For a bit of an introduction and an index of all entries in the series, go here.

God or Gorilla PicThis installment covers Chapter 5, The Gibraltar Man.

Once again, McCann shows that he doesn't like tentativeness.

In this opinion Osborn derives satisfaction for the reason that it is shared by Boule and Schwalbe. As to just how long it will be so shared he is not so sure, for he says: "It is possible, however, that the skeletons discovered at Predmost may modify this conclusion and demonstrate Hrdlicka's theory that the Neanderthals survived and left descendants along the valley of the Danube. " (McCann 70)

This is one thing I just never understood in creationist literature. Why should there be absolute certainty about all conclusions? In areas where evidence is sketchy, we can draw tentative conclusions, but we should be prepared to change them in the light of new evidence. Anything else would be close minded, and worse, would indicate a kind of vanity by assuming that our current conclusions are better than anything anybody else might come up with.

I think the following series of quotes is the section that irritated me the most from McCann. McCann starts off by quoting Karl Frank on the potential difficulties in reconstructing the history of life from the fossil record.

The generosity of Osborn in assigning hundreds of thousands of years to his age periods is worthy of note for the reason that he fixes the beginning of the age of man at some 500,000 years ago. On this point Karl Frank ("Theory of Evolution," London, 1913, pp, 18-21), throws a strong light revealing obstacles that must arrest the unreckoning and impulsive speed of the too eager driver. He says: "It is only when it is known which stratum or layer is older or younger than another that we can also know which organisms are older or younger than others accordingly. This determination of the age of the earth's strata is, however, a very difficult matter, and the course of evidence which led to the generally recognized arrangement of the four (or five) groups of formations, is not far removed from a vicious circle, especially when we consider the mode of expression used by many authors.... (McCann 71)

This detailed explanation goes on for a few pages until Frank's conclusion.

"If the fauna of 'a,' or a group of the same, should not, generally speaking, reappear, and is no longer seen at the present day, then it is 'extinct.' How and when it became so, we are so far ignorant.

"It is therefore seen how difficult it is to make clear the process of evolution for a definite group. Many geologists entirely despaired of the possibility of so exact a definition of the ages of the formations as was needful to that end. Incomplete, very incomplete indeed, must our knowledge ever be." (McCann 73)

And what's McCann's well thought out refutation of this detailed explanation?

The confusion knows no bounds. (McCann 73)

That's such a condescending dismissal of several pages worth of intelligent discussion. It also reminds me of the basic gist of most Intelligent Design arguments - 'It's too complicated for me to understand, therefore God did it.'

On a lark, I looked up one of the quotes of Darwin in the book, just to see what the actual context was. What I discovered, to little surprise, was that creationists were no better at quoting back in the beginning of the last century than they are at the beginning of this century. Here's how McCann quoted Darwin (in reference to the various estimates of the age of the earth at the time, particularly Thomson's younger estimate).

Charles Darwin never ceased to dread these difficulties, which so upset him that at times he was actually ready to abandon the whole theory of evolution as something which got farther and farther away from proof as its followers got farther and farther into difficulties. Writing to Alfred Russell Wallace, July, 1871, he moaned: "I feel sick of everything, and if I could occupy my time I would never publish another word. I can say nothing more about missing-links than what I have said. I should rely much on pre-silurian times; but then comes Sir W. Thomson like an odious spectre." (McCann 74-75)

Here's what Darwin actually wrote, with a bit more from before where McCann chose to start quoting him (source). Starting with the sentence where McCann actually started his quote, I've italicized everything that McCann omitted (with nary an ellipse).

I feel very doubtful how far I shall succeed in answering Mivart, it is so difficult to answer objections to doubtful points, and make the discussion readable. I shall make only a selection. The worst of it is, that I cannot possibly hunt through all my references for isolated points, it would take me three weeks of intolerably hard work. I wish I had your power of arguing clearly. At present I feel sick of everything, and if I could occupy my time and forget my daily discomforts, or rather miseries, I would never publish another word. But I shall cheer up, I dare say, soon, having only just got over a bad attack. Farewell; God knows why I bother you about myself. I can say nothing more about missing-links than what I have said. I should rely much on pre-silurian times; but then comes Sir W. Thomson like an odious spectre. Farewell.

BTW, Sir W. Thomson is now more commonly known as Lord Kelvin. What Darwin is referring to is Kelvin's estimate of the age of the Earth. Kelvin performed some calculations to see how long it would take the Earth to cool to its current surface temperature based on a molten beginning. His initial estimate, from 1864, was 20 to 400 million years. He refined this over the years, and finally settled on 20-40 million years in 1897. He made a few assumptions that his contemporaries were already arguing, but he also had no idea of radioactivity - a heat source which significantly affects the calculation. Ernest Rutherford pointed out the effect of radioactivity in a lecture in the first decade of the 20th century, and people were already beginning to try to use radioactivity to estimate the age of the Earth in the early 1900s. Considering that McCann's book was published in 1922, there's no excuse for him not to have known about the then decade old science.

I mentioned this already, but I wonder what McCann would think if he were to see Lucy. Also, I wonder if he even read Darwin, considering how many lines of evidence apart from fossil evidence Darwin used to support evolution.

We have seen that there have been no "pre-human forms" and that the scientists who continue their eager search for "pre-human forms" have confessed that as far as their efforts have been rewarded there are no "pre-human forms." That is, indeed, an historical fact. It cannot be repeated too often. (McCann 76)

And as long as I'm repeating the mention of Lucy, I might as well repeat the link to hominid fossils on the TalkOrigins site. "Pre-human forms" have been found in abundance.

After as much of a big deal as McCann made in Chapters 1 and 2 about how Neanderthals were nothing more than modern humans that fit into the normal natural variation, it might seem surprising that he would be so happy with the following bit of information. I guess this is an argument that Chapter 3 McCann likes.

Referring to the chief feature of the Jersey surprise Osborn says ("Men of the Old Stone Age," p. 226): "The roots, instead of tapering to a point below, as in modern man, form a broad stout column, supporting the crown, adapted to a sweeping motion of the jaw. THIS SPECIAL FEATURE ALONE WOULD EXCLUDE THE NEADNERTHALS FROM THE ANCESTRY OF THE HIGHER RACES." Here we have confirmation of one of our own surprises and are accordingly surprised all the more.

Thus it would appear that if we moderns are "the higher races" the Neanderthals were not our ancestors at all, and therefore cannot be regarded as the missing links connecting us with the ape. (McCann 77)

It's as almost as if McCann doesn't care if he's making a consistent argument, so long as what he's saying is critical of evolution.

Proceed to Chapter 6

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