God - Or Gorilla? Archive

Friday, February 25, 2011

Book Review - God- or Gorilla?, Introduction & Chapter 1

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 PicI said that I'd do a post a week in this series, but I don't think that introduction counts as much of a post. So today, I'm also going to post the first real review entry, which will cover the introduction and Chapter 1 - Making the Piltdown Man.


Right off in the introduction, McCann gives us a taste of the longest running falsehood in creationism, implying that evolution had already peaked and was on its way out of the scientific establishment.

Reaching its climax in 1921, the ape-man hoax took the form of a seemingly spontaneous movement to reestablish the theory of man's monkey-origin. (McCann, vii)

It's been nearly 9 decades since McCann penned this book, and I think we can see how well the various theories of evolution are doing.

We also get an admission right up front that he was going to quote mine (though I don't think it was known by that term back in the '20s).

Many scientific men will be angry of course, but as they, themselves ared oing [sic, jrl] the talking and as they, themselves, are quoted by chapter, verse and page, they cannot be angry, except with themselves. (McCann, ix)

Of course, anyone who's followed creationism is aware that this a common tactic of creationists today (for example, see my entry, Ray Comfort - Quote Miner Extraordinaire). This shows that it has a long history.

Chapter 1

McCann really seemed to have it in for Henry Fairfield Osborn. In the opening line of the opening chapter, "Making the Piltdown Man," McCann mentioned him by name.

In four glass cases in the Hall of the Age of Man, American Museum of Natural History, New York City, Professor Henry Fairfield Osborn exhibits "evidence" of man's ape origin.

McCann went on to criticize Osborn throughout the book. Admittedly, the Wikipedia entry for Osborn quotes The American Historical Review, describing Osborn as "a first-rate science administrator and a third-rate scientist." But McCann focused on Osborn so much that many sections of the book became more of a personal attack on Osborn rather than a criticism of evolution, in general. Anyway, I didn't want to get into too much detail on this, but the personal vendetta against Osborn was very obvious and worth mentioning.

McCann didn't seem to like conditional statements:

...(note the persistence of that if, if,if, even though no sense of shame accompanies it)... (McCann, 12)

and just a little later on the same page:

In spite of all the evidence to the contrary, they start all over again, fresh and undismayed, with a new premise of if, if, if, and immediately in the same sentence the conclusion drawn from the "if" shoots itself like a projectile from a gun, "This discovery is most valuable!!!" (McCann, 12)

What's wrong with conditional statements? That's just how deductive reasoning works. You lay out your premises, and if all those premises are true, then the conclusion follows. Maybe we're just more used to these types of statements in the age of computers, thanks to all the If Then statements we use in programming. But deductive reasoning has been around for a long time.

In this specific example, though, McCann got the gist of Osborn's argument completely wrong. McCann went on to quote Osborn in the very next paragraph:

But it appears rather that we have here two types of man which lived in Chellean times...

In other words, Osborn was saying something to the effect of, 'If Boule's interpretation were right, it would be an incredible discovery, but it appears that his interpretation is wrong.'

Stay tuned for next week's review of Chapter 2 - The Trinil Ape-man.

Proceed to Chapter 2

Friday, February 25, 2011

Book Review - God- or Gorilla?, First Part of a Series

God or Gorilla PicMy parents bought me an interesting present for Christmas a couple years ago. It was an old book published in 1922, titled God- or Gorilla? How the Monkey Theory of Evolution Exposes Its Own Methods, Refutes Its Own Principles, Denies Its Own Inferences, Disproves Its own Case. As you can guess, the author, Alfred W. McCann, was not a big fan of universal common descent. (For those of you who may be wondering, my parents aren't creationists - they bought the book because they knew I'd find it interesting.)

After reading the book, I knew I wanted to do a review of it on this blog, but I wasn't exactly sure how. McCann's not really a household name, so I didn't feel like he had a strong influence that needed to be countered. I also do have a bit of sympathy for his position, in that the evidence for evolution wasn't quite as strong in the '20s as it is today (it was still pretty strong, though). He also spent a good deal of time debunking the Piltdown Man, which is now widely acknowledged as a hoax. However, one of the things that struck me about the book is that many of the arguments that McCann used are still being used by creationists today, so refuting those arguments is still relevant.

I'd originally intended to quote just a few passages to give the flavor of the book, with a little commentary and links to the relevant entries in the Index to Creationist Claims where appropriate. However, once I started skimming through the book and pulling out interesting quotes, I ended up with 40 pages worth of excerpts! So, I decided to turn this into a series. I'll try to post a new installment to the series every Friday.

McCann's writing style was a bit, shall we say, flamboyant. In fact, it is eerily similar to the kook style you see on Internet forums today. I can only imagine what the book would have looked like if the publisher had allowed multiple fonts, or had the ability to do color printing. I've tried to quote the book faithfully throughout this review. Any italics, bold, or other forms of emphasis, unless specifically noted, were done by McCann himself. On a similar note, McCann was very fond of using '(sic)' in the quotes in his book. To avoid confusion, I'll use '[sic, jrl]' whenever I use the term.

This book is available online through The Internet Archive and Google Books, though without the musty smell and incoherent scribbles in the margins that you get from the real deal. Actually, that's not quite true - the Google copy does have a few scribbles, but not nearly as many as my copy. The Internet Archive edition appears to match the edition I read, while the Google edition lacks the appendices.

Obviously, I'm going to criticize creationism quite a bit in this series of entries, so, let me make the necessary disclaimer right up front. I realize that around half the people in this country are creationists. For most of them, I think it's simply ignorance. I don't mean that as an insult - it's a failure of our country's education system. So, if you're a creationist who's never been exposed to a good discussion of evolution, don't take offense to my comments here. My frustration is directed mainly at people like McCann and his modern day counterparts like Ken Ham or Ray Comfort, who despite being so ignorant of evolution, are actively spreading their misinformation to others. (For a fuller version of this disclaimer, read my entry, Run of the Mill vs. Big Name Creationists.)

To make sure that I didn't stall out mid-book, I actually completed most of the review before I started posting entries. So, I have the advantage of seeing how the entire review turned out, which you readers won't know for a few months. I do think it's interesting, and I hope you enjoy it, but looking back, I'm not sure it was worth the effort I put into it. Had I put the same effort into writing something a little more organized, I probably could have created a better resource for learning about evolution. So, I doubt I'll ever do another review of this depth (I'm no Slacktivist). If you do enjoy this review, savor it.

As one last introductory note, I'll be using this entry as a table of contents for the series. I will make updates here with links to all of the subsequent entries in this review.

Added 2013-01-22 I've slightly reorganized this site, putting all of these entries into their own section. So, if you want to just browse through them all, you can read them at:
God - Or Gorilla? Archive

Proceed to Introduction & Chapter 1


Selling Out