Re: Sub-human

Bill Hamilton (
Tue, 15 Jul 1997 09:12:59 -0400

At 4:45 PM -0500 7/14/97, Dick Fischer wrote:
>Bill Hamilton wrote:
>>I'm with Glenn and Burgy on this one. Plenty of mischief has already been
>>worked in the past by virtue of one race or ethnic group deciding that
>>another is "backward", "primitive", "less-evolved" etc. I'm loathe to
>>repeat those mistakes. Since we are not now in possession of objective,
>>replicable criteria for differentiating human from nonhuman or subhuman in
>>the fossil record, why not just give _all_ potential ancestors of modern
>>day humans the benefit of the doubt? If such criteria ever become
>>available, we can change our minds, but like Burgy I am doubtful they will.
>After reflection, count me in. Now what is Lucy, human, sub-human or
After some reflection, I decided that what I said above could lead to
claims -- in jest or otherwise -- that some fossil no one would consider
that of a human should be considered human because strictly speaking it's
the fossil of a human ancestor. An extreme example might be a trilobite
:-). So obviously there are limits. Dick's question is a reasonable one
that I can't answer. Based on Glenn's behaviorial criteria -- which seem
reasonable to me -- I'd have to ask whether we have any evidence that she
and her contemporaries did some of the following: made tools, built
dwellings, cultivated plants for food, were social (i.e. lived in groups
with division of labor), worshipped, created works of art, ...
If the answer to enough of these questions was yes, I'd say she was human.
If it wasn't, I'd be reluctant to say she wasn't. Maybe that's not
scientific, but science has its limits.

Bill Hamilton
William E. Hamilton, Jr, Ph.D. | Staff Research Engineer
Chassis and Vehicle Systems | General Motors R&D Center | Warren, MI
810 986 1474 (voice) | 810 986 3003 (FAX) | (home email)