The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

Human Evolution and "Mysterious Origins of Man"
Copyright © 1996 by Jim Foley
[Last Update: March 13, 1996]

"Mysterious Origins of Man" briefly touched on the subject of human evolution. This file discusses the dishonest treatment it received. The quoted statements are transcribed from the show.

Charlton Heston: "In the model of the evolutionary tree, man and ape are said to share a common ancestor. However, evidence of that common ancestor is highly contested. That is why it is still called the missing link."
This show aggravates the general confusion over the term "missing link". By the above definition, there was only ever one missing link. It would be very difficult to confidently identify which species was the common ancestor without a much better fossil record than we have. And that ancestor, even if we knew which species it was, would not be a convincing ape-human intermediate because it would have been very ape-like; there may not have been anything obviously "human" about it.

More often, "missing link" refers to something intermediate between apes and humans: either apes with some human features, or humans with primitive features. These could be either direct human ancestors, or just more closely related to us than to modern apes. (None of these creatures would be the "common ancestor" of apes and humans; they would have lived after it.) If evolution occurred, there would have been many "missing links" fitting this definition, and, sure enough, many of them have been found.

Richard Milton, author of Shattering the Myths of Evolution: "Darwinists have promised us a missing link. So they've got to deliver. They have got to come up with one. Any missing link will do, it seems. Every so often a skeleton is found in Africa. Its discoverers describe it as being the missing link, the headlines comes and go. And then, later on, that skeleton, those bones, are reclassified either as human or ape. And so far the missing link is still missing."
Milton adds to the confusion. Some of these sentences only make sense using one of the above definitions of "missing link", some only make sense using the other (and some don't make sense using either definition).

Many fossils have been classified as ape-men. The "reclassified as human or ape" refers only to the creationist tactic of trying to decide whether fossils are most like an ape or a human, and then pigeon-holing them that way. Most of the fossils which have been classified as hominid by scientists are still classified that way. Examples are Australopithecus africanus, Homo habilis, and Homo erectus, none of which MOM saw fit to discuss.

Most hominid fossils, including the two discussed by MOM (Lucy and Java Man), have never been claimed to be the "missing link" in the sense of a common ancestor of apes and humans. They have been, and still are, considered to be ancestors or close relatives of modern humans.

"Mysterious Origins" then moved on to discuss Java Man:

One of the most classic examples of this [reclassification] is the story of Java Man, discovered by Eugene Dubois in 1892.
Richard Thompson, co-author of Forbidden Archaeology: "Dubois discovered a very primitive looking ape-like skullcap. And, he discovered this thigh bone about 40 feet away. He said, "Well, obviously they must belong to the same creature and that creature walked erect like a human being and had an ape-like skull". So that must be a missing link, the Pithecanthropus ape-man. So maybe you had a big ape and human being living together in Java about a million years ago. The important point to make about the Java Man discovery is that it's based upon a speculative leap in which two pieces of evidence are put together in a way that is not really warranted."
Not really. Most modern scientists do not assume that the two bones are related. Even so, the skullcap is a very significant find on its own. It is extremely flat, thick, and small-brained compared to modern humans. But it is also far more human-like, and far larger, than any ape's skull. (Java Man is 900-940 cc in volume. Chimps average 400 cc, 500 cc max. Gorillas average 500 cc, 750 cc max. Modern humans average about 1350-1400 cc.)

The claim that the femur and skullcap belonged together was, as MOM claims, speculative and quite probably incorrect. However it affected the interpretation of Java Man very little, because the femur is actually very similar to the femur that would have belonged to the skullcap. This is known from later finds of Homo erectus, the species to which Java Man belongs. For example, the Turkana Boy skeleton discovered in 1984 in Kenya has a skullcap almost identical to that of Java Man, but it was also a fully erect biped with a femur similar to that of modern man.

(Further information on creationist claims about Java Man)

Charlton Heston: "At the end of his life, Dubois realized that the skullcap belonged to a large ape and the leg bone was from a man. Nevertheless, the Java Man was prominently displayed at the Museum of Natural History in New York until 1984. Since then it has been removed."
Totally false. Although he did emphasise the ape-like features of the skullcap, Dubois did not say it came from a giant gibbon. He always believed that it was an intermediate between ape and human (correctly), and that the skullcap and thigh bone belonged to the same creature (probably incorrect). Java Man is still recognized as a member of Homo erectus by all competent modern scientists (and as an ape by almost all creationists).

The earlier implication that Java Man has been reclassified as an ape is false, as is the claim that it was belatedly removed from the American Museum of Natural History.

According to Phil Nicholls (, Java Man was never removed from the American Museum of Natural History, and is still in their human evolution hall, as it should be. It is also mentioned in "The Human Odyssey", a 1993 book based on the AMNH's human evolution exhibit by its curator, Ian Tattersall)

Michael Cremo, co-author of Forbidden Archaeology: "Lucy the famous australopithecine. Discovered by Donald Johanson. He says she was very human-like. But I was at a conference of anthropologists where many of them were making the case that she was hardly distinguishable from an ape or a monkey."
Johanson claimed that Lucy's locomotion was very human-like, but not Lucy as a whole. Many scientists now believe that Australopithecus afarensis ("Lucy") spent a significant amount of time in the trees; their hands and feet seem adapted to climbing. That does not mean she was "hardly distinguishable from an ape or monkey", and I would be very surprised if any reputable scientist has said any such thing. The pelvis of Lucy, for example, looks a lot more like a human pelvis than a chimp pelvis. There appears to be near universal agreement that when on the ground, Lucy was predominantly bipedal, to a far greater extent than any living ape or monkey.
Richard Milton: "These bones have been restored to resemble a missing link. Part human, part ape. And Lucy is now thought of as being our long lost ancestor. But this is merely an interpretation. An interpretation of one group. Those same bones can be, and have been, taken by scientists and identified as simply an extinct ape. Nothing to do with us at all."
Milton has not actually presented any evidence in favor of his claim that Lucy is just an extinct ape, except for the fact that some scientists supposedly agree with him. Arguing from authority seems a strange tactic to support an viewpoint that is strongly rejected by scientists. Few scientists would agree that Lucy was no more closely related to humans than chimps are, and even fewer, if any, would say that Lucy was "just an extinct ape". The large majority accept, on the basis of physical similarities, that Lucy was an ancestor of Homo sapiens, or a close relative of an ancestor.

MOM's treatment of the evidence for human evolution consists of a dubious interpretation of Lucy, and outright falsehoods about Java Man. The rest of the abundant evidence has been ignored. See the Fossil Hominids FAQ for a synopsys of the evidence for human evolution, and creationist responses to it.

[Return to the MOM page]

Thanks to Paul Heinrich for transcribing this portion of "The Mysterious Origins of Man".

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