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.

As a number of people have pointed out to me, creationists are unlikely to change their mind no matter what the evidence is, or how often they are refuted. However, there are plenty of neutral bystanders who can be persuaded if they are shown how flawed creation "science" is.

Why is creationism more of a threat than other equally silly pseudosciences such as astrology? The difference is that astrologers aren't engaged in a highly organised and well-funded campaign to have their pseudoscience taught in schools. Ignoring creationism doesn't work and won't make it go away. Of course, creationists won't go away if they are opposed either, but it is possible to prevent them getting their religious beliefs taught as science. Organisations such as the National Center for Science Education have been very effective at this - please consider supporting them!

Jeff Shallit makes the same point very effectively in one of his essays:

"... the creation/evolution debate is not about convincing the creationists. One might as well argue with squid. The debate is about educating the public at large -- the same public whose elected representatives pass laws, select textbooks, set curriculums, and fund research."

If we evolved from apes, why are there still apes today?

Huh?? Scientists think that one group of apes, in response to their environment, started evolving in a way that would eventually lead to humanity (and many other now-extinct hominids). Why on earth should that cause the rest of the apes to go extinct? It's as silly as saying "If I am descended from Irish ancestors [which I am], why are there still Irish people around?" (Yes, I'm aware that I haven't evolved from my Irish forebears; the point is that whatever happened to my ancestors, it didn't affect the rest of the Irish population.)

If you don't believe me, please note that the leading creationist organization Answers in Genesis agrees with me, and now lists this argument in their Arguments we think creationists should NOT use web page.

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.

Where did you go for your summer vacation?

Actually, no one's ever asked this, but let me tell you about it anyway, since it's relevant to what this website is about.

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 (and even tattooed!). A copy of the original drawing can be found here (click on the small image there to see a full-sized one).

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).

Ape to Man to Nerd

Will you do my homework for me?

No one's ever put it quite so baldly (though a few people come 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 Malta 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?

Homework cartoon

Can you identify this skull/fossil/footprint I've found?

Nope. I have no anatomical training. And even if I did I doubt that I could identify something from a grainy photograph. Your best bet is to take it to a major museum, or a university geology/paleontology department.

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 thought 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. A stand-up debate doesn't permit the time needed to investigate issues in any depth, or to show how utterly worthless and dishonest Hovind's arguments are. Even Answers in Genesis considers Hovind to be something of an embarrassment to the creationist cause.

The question of debating Hovind is now moot in any case, as he is currently serving a 10 year prison sentence for tax fraud.

Following are some websites about Hovind's 'offer', his 'scientific' claims, and his sham 'doctorate':

Why don't you take up Walter Brown's challenge to a written debate?

For many reasons. One: I'm not sufficiently knowledgeable about many of the areas Brown wants to debate in (not that I think Brown is either, I should add). Two: his proposed debate terms entail a ridiculous amount of work and overhead. Brown is retired and might have that much time; I don't. Three: even if I had the time, Brown isn't worth that much effort. Even most creationists think his 'hydroplate theory' is bunk. Four: I have responded to Brown's material on human evolution, on a mailing list which used to be at his website, and Brown never responded. Brown seems to be all talk and no action when it comes to debating. Others I know have had similar experiences. See: More on Walter Brown's debate offer

Technical details

As of September 2008, the Fossil Hominids website contains 410 files, occupying about 5,700,000 bytes. There are 172 html files; most of the other files are graphical images.

As this is an informational site, I try to avoid the use of advanced html, sticking to tags that virtually all browsers should be able to handle. There are no animations, no Flash material, and no frames (they are a poorly-designed kludge). Graphics files are used only where they are useful, and I try to keep their size down. I keep display details out of the html code, using a style sheet to control the presentation of all html pages in the site.

I edit html files by hand, very occasionally using Perl to make global changes. I use text editors that show me raw html, because many html editors (such as IE's FrontPage or Netscape Composer) do horrible things to carefully formatted html and add all sorts of junk in. I used to use Emacs as my editor, but have recently been using Arachnophilia, a free ('careware') html editor which I can thoroughly recommend.

I use Xenu Link Sleuth to check the validity of internal and external links.

I occasionally use the Web Design Group's HTML Validator to check that my html is valid.

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

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