Fossil Hominids: Frequently Asked Questions

Why have you written these pages?

In mid-1994, I realized that despite fairly wide popular interest in human origins, the archive contained almost no information on the topic. The archive also lacked responses to creationist arguments about human evolution, a serious omission considering the importance of human evolution in the creationism/evolution debate. Although there are quite a few books on human evolution written for the general public, these generally mention only a few of the major fossils, scattered throughout the book and often incompletely described. I felt there was a need for a concise list of the most important hominid fossils.

Compiling such a list was harder than it sounds. Although there were many popular books on human evolution, none of them contained details of most of the important fossils, so it was necessary to use many sources. (The new book From Lucy to language (Johanson and Edgar, 1996) largely solves this problem, and also contains a gallery of superb photos of many important fossils.)

The first version of these pages was placed in the archive in November 1994, and has grown steadily in size and completeness since then. It is, I believe, the most comprehensive treatment of creationism and human evolution to be found on or off the web, and I am committed to keeping it that way.

Why bother refuting creationist arguments about human evolution?

Because creationism is dreadful science. In fact it's not science so much as a campaign to evangelize fundamentalist religion. Creationists are running scared from the evidence for human evolution, as well they should be. They have no good explanation for the fossils, and human evolution is a topic on which the creationists are especially vulnerable because they can't afford any compromise. If humans evolved, then the whole rationale for creationism collapses.

Anything else?

Well, since you ask, let me show you where I went on my summer vacation. No really, it's relevant to this site.

Here are some other Frequently Asked Questions I receive:

What are your qualifications?

A number of people have wanted to know what my qualifications are for writing on human evolution and maintaining these web pages. In a word: none. (I do have qualifications, but they are totally unrelated to paleoanthropology.) These pages, and the effort that went into writing them, will have to serve as their own qualifications. I have read a lot of both scientific and popular literature to make them as accurate as possible. Many people, including university professors and even some paleoanthropologists, have made positive comments about them, so I am confident that my summary of human evolution is generally accurate. If you find any errors (sigh), let me know.

Do you know Richard Leakey's email address?

Well, I have an email address that I have been told is his, but I've never used it. I won't give it out because he is a busy man and probably doesn't want to hear from everyone who would like to drop him an email. If you have a good reason to get in contact with him, take the time to write by normal mail (P.O. Box 24926, Nairobi, Kenya, according to one website).

Is there a copy of that "March of Progress" image on the web?

This famous graphic shows a sequence of primates walking from left to right, starting with small knuckle-walking apes, graduating through a series of ape-men, and finishing with a modern Cro-Magnon male. It was drawn by Rudy Zallinger and first published in Early Man, a 1970 Time-Life book written by paleoanthropologist F. Clark Howell. It has become a cultural icon, endlessly copied and parodied. However, the original drawing is not on the web as far as I know, although some derivations of it are (for example, here, or here, or here).

The drawing often creates a misleading impression of human evolution as a steady progression from apes to humans. It has always been known that not all the species in that series were human ancestors (for example, the robust australopithecines).

Will you do my homework for me?

No one's ever put it quite so baldly (though one person came close), but that's the gist of some messages I get. The answer is, of course, no. Most of the information I have readily available is already on my web pages. If you want detailed information that's not in my pages, I'm not able or willing to spend hours collating it for you, especially since it is probably already in your local library. If all you need is a pointer to get started in the right direction, or have a question that you haven't been able to find an answer to, I might be able to help (but check my Further reading page first). Precise questions that can be answered quickly have a far greater chance of getting a response than do than vague, broad-ranging ones. Here's a perfect example of how not to do it:
I am a student within the University of ***** and am reading a course in BA. With History of Civilisation. One of my topics is the evolution of man, the stages that he might have gone through and the evidence left thereafter.

I would be very grateful if you could help me out and I thank you for your time and interest,

(sigh) How does someone this stupid get to university?

Why don't you debate Kent Hovind and/or claim his $250,000 reward for evidence of evolution?

Because the offer is as bogus as a $3 bill, and designed to be unmeetable. It's unclear whether Hovind wants "evidence" or "proof" of evolution. He mentions both, but they're entirely different things. Moreover, Hovind's requirement for proof (showing that there is no other possible definition for the evidence) is ridiculous. I can't think of anything that I could prove to that level of certainty. Hovind is also very coy about how the evidence would be judged. He has claimed that the judging committee is not composed of creationists, but he refuses to say who they are.

A friend of mine was interested in Hovind's offer, and found out from him exactly what would be involved in meeting the "challenge":

I talked to Hovind about his $250,000 offer late this afternoon. He made it quite clear that he would only give up the money if someone could reproduce the Big Bang in a laboratory, produce matter from nothing, or life from non-life.
Presumably Hovind also thinks that astronomy isn't a science unless we can create a star in a lab!

I'd be happy to debate with Hovind on human evolution via web pages. There hardly seems much point however, since much of what he says is already refuted in my web site. I have seen Hovind talking about human evolution, and he definitely falls into the more incompetent end of the creationist spectrum. He even believes in the Paluxy footprints, which most of the "respectable" creationists abandoned over a decade ago.

But, interestingly, Hovind refuses to debate on the web, apparently claiming it's a waste of his time. (I would have though that the potential audience is so large it would be a far more effective use of his time than traipsing all over the USA is.)

The reason for his refusal is probably that Hovind's drive-by shooting style of debate, consisting of a barrage of unsubstantiated scientific nonsense, glib patter, and corny jokes, wouldn't translate well to the written word. Scientists don't decide issues by seeing who has the slickest patter.

Following are some websites about Hovind's 'offer' and his claims:

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

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