Review: Science of Today and the Problems of Genesis

Science of Today and the Problems of Genesis: a Study of the "Six Days" of Creation, The Origin of Man and the Deluge and Antiquity of Man Based on Science and Sacred Scripture; A Vindication of the Papal Encyclicals and Rulings of the Church on These Questions.
By Fr. Patrick O'Connell, B.D. Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., P.O.Box 424, Rockford, Illinois 61105, 386 pages, 1993. ISBN: 0-89555-438-0. $18.50 (from
Nihil Obstat: James McCormack, Censor Deputatus, April 14, 1959
Imprimatur: Joannes Kyne, Episcopus Midensis, April 16, 1959
2nd Edition, 1969

Reviewed by Colin Groves.


If there is any book that was really pivotal in laying "creation science" before the public, it is surely Duane Gish's Evolution: the Fossils Say No!, first published in 1972. Among other tidbits in this book, there is a a 13-page exposé in which Gish purports to demolish the claims for the very existence of "Peking Man", as based on not merely bad science, but fraud. "Bad science" he justifies by famously misquoting the early 20th-century palaeoanthropologist Marcellin Boule (see Ritchie 1991 and Foley 2000); for his claims of fraud he relies, in the last four and a half pages of the section, on a 1969 book by Father Patrick O'Connell.

Fr. O'Connell's book has been a bit hard to come by up to now; most of us have just had to take Gish's word for it. But now here it is, reprinted and slightly updated as of 1993, available from Now we can check: did Gish misrepresent him, or did a priest, a man devoted to the truth, really say all that?

He really did, I'm afraid; and more. Gish mentions him only in those last few pages, but actually relies heavily on him for the whole of the "Peking Man" segment, and for his "Java Man" section too. Every last libel on anyone involved with Homo erectus, every shabby slur placed on the reputation of these honourable men, is lifted entire, attributed or unattributed, from O'Connell.

Actually, there are four parts to O'Connell's book. In Part I, "The Six Days of Creation", he quotes extensively from Vatican documents, including the Decree of the Second Vatican Council, on what may and may not be believed by a Catholic; and he recounts the history of creation as he sees it, and squares it with the Genesis account (he is a day/age man). Part II, "The Origin of Man", is the meat of the book, and I will return to it. Part III deals with the Deluge which, we learn, intervened between the end of the Mousterian and the beginning of the Aurignacian, and did not cover the entire earth but only those parts of it then inhabited by people; he cites lots of archaeological evidences for "it" (well, for floods, anyway) from the Middle East and elsewhere. Part IV, "The Antiquity of Man", runs quickly through ways of calculating dates, including radiocarbon but mentioning no other radiometric method, and concludes that the human species is about 20,000 years old. There are chapters which are supposed to bring Parts I, III and IV up to date since the first edition - but no such updating on Part II.

And so to "The Origin of Man" part - the bit that has created all the waves. Fr. O'Connell bemoans the way Catholics, both ordained and lay, have not only accepted the evolutionary account but even, like the Abbé Breuil and Fr. Boné, contributed to it; but his chief wrath is directed towards Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the eminent palaeontologist who was also a Jesuit, and was forbidden by his superiors to publish during his lifetime his views reconciling evolution with palaeontology. Wrath? O'Connell detests Teilhard with a vehemence, and his assessment of his brother priest, on pp.149-154, is filled with such venom as I would have hoped never to see on the printed page, let alone from a man charged with spreading the religion of brotherly love.

We get minor matters out of the way in a few pages. O'Connell informs us that "Neanderthal Man" was, of course, fully human but not like modern humans being pre-Deluge, and the human fossils which O'Connell regards as genuine either combine Neanderthal and modern traits (Ehringsdorf, Saccopastore, Steinheim), or are fully modern (Swanscombe and Fontéchevade). The obligatory chapter on Piltdown is mercifully brief. The Australopithecines were, he says, "shown to be just great apes", and kicks off a great and inglorious tradition by citing none other than Sir Solly Zuckerman as proof. That takes care of them, then. Then we turn to Peking Man.

What actually happened at the "Peking Man" discovery site, Choukoutien (now Zhoukoudian), and the nature of the fossils themselves, has been told many times. Jia and Huang (1990) give the full history, in great detail. Shapiro (1974) writes about their disappearance during World War II, and the subsequent search for them. Van Oosterzee (1999) places the story against the background of China under the warlords and the Japanese invasion. But Fr. O'Connell thinks this well documented history is all moonshine, and is anxious to take the lid off what really happened.

While "Peking Man" - "Sinanthropus" - may or may not be actually ancestral to Homo sapiens (and I myself think not), there is absolutely no doubt that it is in every meaningful sense "intermediate" between ape and human. It was vital for Fr. O'Connell to discredit the fossils because they are "the only ones that have the support of great names. Hence they are used by advocates of the theory of evolution to support their contention". And he certainly does his level best to discredit them, in the process accusing all four main protagonists of fraud: Teilhard de Chardin (of course); Davidson Black, who was in charge of the excavations at Zhoukoudian until his death in 1934; Franz Weidenreich, who took his place; and Pei Wen-chung (now spelt Wenzhong), the leading Chinese member of the team. His qualifications for his claims? Only that he was in China, reading the Chinese newspapers, during the 1930s; he never, at any time, visited the discovery site, nor, as will become clear, does he have the slightest expertise in anatomy, geology, or even etymology. Gish repeated a few of O'Connell's claims of fraudulence, but even he does not stoop quite to the same depths; O'Connell's only rival in libel is another Catholic creationist, who repeats the claims in only slightly abbreviated form, and even adds his own commentary about Pei's diabolical cleverness (Johnson, 1982).

I will list O'Connell's main slanders, more or less in order, and follow each one with my own comments, in italics.

After this simply frightening mélange, anything else must surely be an anticlimax. Yet O'Connell has a few more willful distortions up his sleeve in the following chapter. "Java Man", he reports, was discovered at Trinil in the 1890s by Dr Dubois:

"He brought home a great quantity of bones of various animals, two simian teeth, the thigh bone of a man, and the cap of a skull which some say is that of a man, others, that of an ape, and others still, that of a 'missing link'. As the brain case is missing, it is not possible to decide to which category it belongs.

"He brought home at the same time two human skulls, known as the Wadjak skulls, of large brain capacity... Dr Dubois concealed these on his return... He produced them, however, in 1925, 30 years later..." (p.159).

Von Koenigswald, he reports, made a final attempt to find more specimens of Java Man in the 1930s, but all he produced was

"parts of four skulls so broken that the brain capacity could not be determined. Romer, in Man and the Vertebrates, describes these as 'three more skullcaps, a lower jaw and an upper jaw'... As there were only skullcaps, it is impossible to tell what was the brain capacity, but Romer, Vallois and other propagandists from the man-from-ape theory, give the capacity as much the same as that given by Dr Dubois' first specimen - between 800 and 900 cc." (p.161).

Ha! "Skullcaps" again. Had O'Connell ever seen any of them, even photos? All four - Dubois' from Trinil, and Von Koenigswald's from Sangiran - are substantial specimens, from which it is easy to obtain cranial capacities. As it is from at least three of the many, many specimens which have been discovered since then, mainly by Indonesian scholars. As for the Wadjak (now Wajak) skulls, they were not "concealed", but described by Dubois in three separate papers in the 1890s (Brace, 1987).

What do we make of O'Connell? His motives are evident: an old-fashioned Catholic, desperately struggling against the modernizers whose efforts to bring the church, kicking and screaming, into the Enlightment - no, into the Renaissance - finally began to bear fruit in Vatican II. Like some other traditionalists, and even some not-so-traditionalists (see Scharle, 1999), he harbours a deep well of hatred against his opponents - witness his unedifying attacks on the reputation of Teilhard de Chardin. As he has right on his side, he can destroy the reputations of those who incur his detestation without a second thought: fortunate for him, perhaps, that by the time of his first edition all his hate-figures were either dead or, in the case of Pei, alive but isolated from outside contact, in Mao's China. He is aided in his crusade by his astonishing invention of whole new scenarios, his willful disdain for actually reading the books and papers that he disparages, his triumphant ignorance of anatomy - he doesn't even know what the words mean, and quite obviously doesn't want to know.

It says a lot about Gish that he takes this poisonous garbage as his primary, no, his only source on "Peking Man" and "Java Man" - that, non- or even perhaps anti-Catholic though he presumably is, he is willing to lower himself to the level of this unspeakable nastiness. (The same could also be said about Malcolm Bowden, another leading creationist author on human evolution, who also relied heavily on O'Connell -- JF) And let us, perhaps, raise at least one, whispered cheer for Marvin Lubenow who has managed to avoid it - though he must surely know about it, he takes no part in it. But he and others of his ilk might merit some respect from us their critics if they joined forthrightly in its condemnation.

Dr. Colin Groves is a paleoanthropologist and Professor of Biological Anthropology at the Australian National University.

Page numbers are taken from the 1993 printing. The Peking Man chapter runs from pp.124-158 in this edition, and from pp.108 to 138 in the 1969 printing.


Black, D., P.Teilhard de Chardin, C.C.Young & W.C.Pei. 1933. Fossil Man in China. Geological Memoirs, Geological Survey of China, Series A, no.11, 166pp.

Boule, M. 1937. Le Sinanthrope. L'Anthropologie, 47:1-22.

Brace, C.L. 1987. Creationists and the Pithecanthropines. Creation/Evolution, 19:16-23.

Foley, J. 2000. The Monkey Quote (

Jia Lanpo & Huang Weiwen. 1990. The Story of Peking Man. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 270pp.

Johnson, J.W.G. 1982. The Crumbling Theory of Evolution. Brisbane: Queensland Binding Service. Nihil obstat: J.A.Clarke, D.D., D.C.L., Censor Deputatus; Imprimatur: Francis Rush, Archbishop of Brisbane.

Oosterzee, Penny van. 1999. Dragon Bones: the Story of Peking Man. St.Leonards, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin, 198pp.

Ritchie, Alex. 1991. The creation science controversy - a response to deception. Australian Biologist, 4(1):116-21.

Scharle, Tom. 1999. Book review: Did Darwin Get it Right? Catholics and the Theory of Evolution. NCSE Reports, Nov/Dec 1999:42-43.

Shapiro, Harry L. 1974. Peking Man. London: George Allen & Unwin.

Weidenreich, F. 1939. On the earliest representatives of modern mankind recovered on the soil of East Asia. Peking Natural History Bulletin, 13:161-174.

Weidenreich, F. 1943. The skull of Sinanthropus pekinensis. Palaeontologia Sinica, new series D, no. 10, xxi + 298pp., 93 plates.

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