Creationist Arguments: Java Man

Java Man Many creationists have claimed that Java Man, discovered by Eugene Dubois in 1893, was "bad science". Gish (1985) says that Dubois found two human skulls at nearby Wadjak at about the same level and had kept them secret; that Dubois later decided Java Man was a giant gibbon; and that the bones do not come from the same individual. Most people would find Gish's meaning of "nearby" surprising: the Wadjak skulls were found 65 miles (104 km) of mountainous countryside away from Java Man. Similarly for "at approximately the same level": the Wadjak skulls were found in cave deposits in the mountains, while Java Man was found in river deposits in a flood plain (Fezer 1993). Nor is it true, as is often claimed, that Dubois kept the existence of the Wadjak skulls secret because knowledge of them would have discredited Java Man. Dubois briefly reported the Wadjak skulls in three separate publications in 1890 and 1892. Despite being corrected on this in a debate in 1982 and in print (Brace 1986), Gish has continued to make this claim, even stating, despite not having apparently read Dubois' reports, that they did not mention the Wadjak skulls (Fezer 1993).

Lubenow does acknowledge the existence of Dubois' papers, but argues that since they were bureaucratic reports not intended for the public or the scientific community, Dubois was still guilty of concealing the existence of the Wadjak skulls. This is also incorrect; the journals in which Dubois published, although obscure, were distributed in Europe and America, and are part of the scientific literature. They are available in major libraries and have often been referred to by later researchers (Brace, 1996:pers.comm.).

Based on his own theories about how brains had evolved and wishful thinking, Dubois did claim that Java Man was "a gigantic genus allied to the gibbons", but this was not, as creationists imply, a retraction of his earlier claims that it was an intermediate between apes and humans. Dubois also pointed out that it was bipedal and that its brain size was "very much too large for an anthropoid ape", and he never stopped believing that he had found an ancestor of modern man (Theunissen 1989; Gould 1993; Lubenow 1992). (The creationist organization Answers in Genesis has now abandoned the claim that Dubois dismissed Java Man as a gibbon, and now lists it in their Arguments we think creationists should NOT use web page.)

Creationists are right about one thing. Most modern scientists agree that the femur is more recent than the skullcap, belonging to a modern human. Some of the teeth found nearby are now thought to be from an orang-utan, rather than Homo erectus.

It is instructive to listen to Gish (1993) expounding on the apelike qualities of the skullcap:

"Now we see that the skullcap is very apelike; notice that it has no forehead, it's very flat, very typical of the ape. Notice the massive eyebrow ridges, very typical of the ape".

Despite this, the skullcap definitely does not belong to any ape, and especially not to a gibbon. It is far too large (940 cc, compared to 97 cc for a gibbon), and it is similar to many other Homo erectus fossils that have been found. One of these is Sangiran 17, also found on Java. This skull, which is never mentioned by creationists, is an almost complete cranium and is clearly human, albeit primitive. Others are the Turkana Boy and ER 3733 fossils, both of which creationists recognize as human.

If one is trying to pigeonhole Java Man as either an ape or a human, calling it a human is easily the best choice, but very few creationists seem to have done so until Lubenow in 1992. However he attempts to disqualify Java Man as a primitive human by using faunal evidence to show that it is the same age as the Wadjak skulls. Lubenow gives the following quote from Hooijer (1951):

"Tapirus indicus, supposedly extinct in Java since the Middle Pleistocene, proved to be represented in the Dubois collection from the Wadjak site, central Java, which is late - if not post - Pleistocene in age."
Lubenow is saying that since this species of tapir was found in both the Trinil [the site where Java Man was found] and Wadjak faunas, these fossils may be of the same age. This conclusion is reinforced by three other quotes from Hooijer, all of which describe difficulties in using faunal methods to date Javan fossils. Lubenow's argument fails for a number of reasons.

Even if faunal methods were completely invalid, it would not constitute evidence that Wadjak Man and Java Man were the same age. The most that could be claimed was that the ages of both were unknown. However Hooijer never said that the faunal methods were useless, or that the Wadjak and Trinil faunas were the same.

By far the simplest resolution of the tapir discrepancy is, as Hooijer stated, that Tapirus indicus survived longer than previously thought on Java (Lubenow does admit this possibility). This is consistent with the rest of the evidence. The Wadjak fauna is modern, and hence Wadjak Man is considered to be less than 50,000 years old, and more probably about 10,000 years old. The Trinil fauna contains many more extinct species, and is hence older.

Basically, Lubenow argues that Wadjak Man and Java Man are the same age because a single species of tapir is in both faunas, ignoring that there are many other species not shared between the faunas, and that the extinct species are exclusively in the Trinil fauna.

Lubenow claims that Dubois concealed the Wadjak fossils because the discrepancy of the tapir would have contradicted his claim that Java Man was far older than Wadjak. This seems implausible because Dubois was one of the earliest collectors in Java, and detailed information on the Javan faunas was not compiled until decades later (Hooijer 1951).

Incidentally, the tapir was probably not singled out for mention by Hooijer because it is an anomaly, as Lubenow seems to suspect. It was probably of interest because this species of tapir is still living in South East Asia, and is not, as Lubenow stated, extinct. (Hooijer only stated that it was extinct in Java, not elsewhere.)

Parker (Morris and Parker 1982) expresses puzzlement that Johanson (1981) considers Java Man to be a valid fossil. It is of course a valid fossil because the skullcap had to belong to something, but Parker merely dismisses it as "bad science". (He seems to be of the opinion that it was an ape, but does not say so explicitly.)

As mentioned above Lubenow, publishing in 1992, was one of the first major creationists to conclude that the Java Man skullcap did not belong to an ape. Bill Mehlert came to similar conclusion in a paper published in a creationist journal in 1994:

The finding of ER 3733 and WT 15000 therefore appears to strongly reinforce the validity of Java and Peking Man. The clear similarities shared by all four (where skeletal and cranial material available), render untenable any claims that the two Asian specimens are nothing more than exceptionally large apes. (Mehlert 1994)
Following this many of the better-informed creationists decided that the skullcap which had hitherto belonged to an ape was in fact human, such that Carl Wieland, the CEO of Answers in Genesis was able to write in 1998 (in a review of Richard Milton's book Shattering the myths of Darwinism) that
[Milton's] statement that the Java Man remains are now thought to be simply those of an extinct, giant gibbon-like creature is simply false. He appears to have been misled by the myth (commenced by evolutionists, and perpetuated in both creationist and evolutionist works since) that Eugene Dubois, the discoverer of Java Man, recanted and called his discovery a 'giant gibbon'. Knowledgable creationists do not make this sort of claim anymore. (Wieland 1998)
"Knowledgable creationists" may not claim that Java Man is an ape any more, but there still seem to be quite a few non-knowledgable creationists out there, such as Duane Gish (1995). Old lies die hard, however. An article published in 1991 in Creation, the popular magazine of Weiland's organization Answers in Genesis, suggested that the Java Man skullcap was probably that of an ape. That article is still on the AIG website as of 2005:
'Java man' has been renamed so as to now belong to the category of Homo erectus. However, readers should be aware that though there are indeed reasonable specimens which have been named Homo erectus (of disputed status in this whole question, but that's another matter) there is no reason to believe that 'Java man' necessarily even belonged to this category, nor had any objective existence at all.

The skull-cap may have belonged to a large extinct ape, and the leg bone to an ordinary human.

When Mehlert stated that ER 3733 and WT 15000 had rendered untenable the claim that Java Man skullcap was just a large ape, he was only about 60 years behind the times. Legitimate scientists had come to the same conclusion in the 1930's, when other fossils similar to but more complete than the original Java Man were discovered, showing conclusively that it did not belong to a giant ape. It seems to have taken the discovery of the Turkana Boy fossil WT 15000 in 1985 to make this obvious even to creationists.

Related links

Was Java Man a gibbon?

Compare Java Man with Turkana Boy

Did Dubois hide Wadjak Man?

Duane Gish and Wadjak Man

Creationists and the Pithecanthropines, by C. Loring Brace

This page is part of the Fossil Hominids FAQ at the Archive.

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