Re: paleoanthropology

Glenn Morton (
Tue, 15 Jul 1997 21:34:08 -0500

At 02:49 PM 7/15/97 -0500, Paul Arveson wrote:

>I have noticed all my life that several times per year, a new discovery
>is made in this field, and it causes a sensation in the press, and
>among theologians and other communities. Then it is refuted by a new
>discovery the next year.
You are going to make me try to defend my beloved Neanderthals and other
ancient men. What makes this different from physics? While controversies in
physics don't often make the papers, there are lots of dead ends and
disproved discoveries there.

I remember an fascinating article which did make the papers. It suggested
that rapidly rotating gyroscope doing right rotations around the earth's
axis would lower the weight of the object. It was an anti-gravity machine.
No, it was not published in the Star or Globe, it was H. Hayasaka and S.
Takeuchi, "Anomalous Weight Reduction on a Gyroscope's Right Rotations
around the Vertical Axis on the Earth," Physical Review Letters, 63:25, p
2701-2704. It was later disproven. Shucks. It would have been a cheap way
into orbit.

I also remember Einstein's Cosmological constant, which was rejected through
the 30's through the 80's but has recently been revived for other purposes.

I remember cold fusion (made big headlines and then was rejected)

How about tachyons (proposed by Gell-Mann, I believe), which have never been

Then there was the big flap in the late 80's about the "fifth force", (see
"The stimulation of the fifth force," Nature, 335(Sept. 29, 1988) p. 393 and
"Turbulence assails fifth force," nature 323, (Oct 23, 1986), p. 665.

I recall the idea from astronomy that the sun was shrinking. The
creationists still use this as a young-earth argument but it has been
demonstrated conclusively that the sun isn't shrinking. (See Science 208,
pp 51ff)

Or the concept that quasar redshifts are quantized, (New Scientist (shucks
my copy doesn't have the year so see, Alton Harp, Quasars,Redshifts and

To paraphrase you,

Theory in physics must be very frustrating, like building sand castles on
the beach. As soon as you have a nice structure, a new wave comes along and
destroys it. I must admit that theologians and laity are probably not
watching physics as close as anthropology though.

>Theory in paleoanthropology must be very frustrating, like building
>sand castles on the beach. As soon as you have a nice structure,
>a new wave comes along and destroys it. And all the lay people and
>theologians are always standing around watching you.
>The reason this happens, of course, is that the database is so thin.
>(One piece of a jawbone here, one bit of DNA there, etc.)

Same for physics? Actually the database is not as thin as you might think,
or as thin as most creationists try to portray it. Lubenow, who does a
pretty good job from a factual point of view, says this about the number of
fossil men.

"Africa--1390 fossil individuals discovered through 1976
Europe and the U.S.S.R. --1516 fossil individuals discovered through 1970
(the figure for France, one of the most prolific fossil areas, goes only
through 1969).
The Americas, Asia, and Australasia--1092 fossil individuals discovered
through 1974." Lubenow, Bones of contention, p. 29

The number of sites would range into the hundreds maybe the low thousands.
Certainly the number of artifacts found would be far in excess of the
numbers of individuals cited above. I don't know any counts on these things

>I'm tired of getting jerked around by all the conjectures and refutations
>in this field, and I suspect the field workers are too. I therefore
>suggest that we give them a break. I urge secular scientists not to
>be grandiose with their data, such as by creating a new species every
>time they discover a new fossil, or claiming to retell the whole human
>story on the basis of a bit of DNA. I urge Christians not to attack
>or criticize these man-made theories as though they were real; and
>that everyone should support EMPIRICAL field research, while suspending
>judgement on their findings until around the year 2100.

I will do it for anthro, if you will do it for physics.

>If someone goes out in the field and discovers something, let him
>or her describe it and date it -- put 3D pictures on the internet, even.
>Let's build up the database and fill in all the gaps and not
>expend so much mental effort on putting together a puzzle for which
>we have only perhaps 1 per cent of the pieces.

Sorry to come back at you like this, but one must defend a beloved field of
study. :-)

What is happening with the Neanderthal DNA is that this is a brand new
field, only a few years old--paleomolecular biology. There are going to be
surprises from a new field. The list of creatures from which ancient DNA
have been recovered are probably no more than 10. Controversy is to be expected.


Foundation, Fall and Flood