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Review: Science of Today and the Problems of Genesis
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 13-page exposé in which Gish purports to demolish the claims for the very existence of "Peking Man", arguing that the conclusions supporting this human fossil are based on not merely bad science, but fraud. The charge of bad science"he substantiates by famously misquoting the early 20th-century paleoanthropologist Marcellin Boule (see Ritchie 1991); 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. 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 through Amazon.com. Now we can check: Did Gish misrepresent O'Connell, or did a priest, a man devoted to the truth, really say all that?
He really did say all that, I fear, and more. Gish mentions O'Connell 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 on the reputation of these honorable men, is lifted entire, attributed or unattributed, from O'Connell.
O'Connell's book is divided into four parts. 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 Roman Catholic. O'Connell 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 for a detailed treatment below. Part III deals with the Deluge, which, we learn, intervened between the end of the Mousterian and the beginning of the Aurignacian cultures and did not cover the entire earth but only those parts of it then inhabited by people. O'Connell cites lots of archaeological "evidences" for the Deluge (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 no other radiometric method, and concludes that the human species is about 20 000 years old. There are chapters that are supposed to bring Parts I, III, and IV up to date — but there is no such updating for Part II.
And so to "The Origin of Man" part — the bit that has created all the waves. O'Connell bemoans the way Roman Catholics, both ordained and lay, have not only accepted the evolutionary account but even, like the Abbé Breuil and Fr Boné, contributed to it. His chief wrath, however, is directed towards Fr Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the eminent paleontologist who was also a Jesuit, and was forbidden by his superiors to publish during his lifetime his views reconciling evolution with paleontology. Wrath? O'Connell vehemently detests Teilhard, and his assessment of his brother priest, on pages 149–54, 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.
Minor matters are dispatched in a few pages. O'Connell informs us that "Neanderthal Man" was, of course, fully human but not like modern humans, being pre-Deluge. The human fossils that 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"; that takes care of them, then. O'Connell kicks off a great and inglorious tradition by citing none other than Sir Solly Zuckerman as authority. So now we turn to Peking Man.
What actually happened at the "Peking Man" discovery site, Choukoutien (now Zhoukoudian), 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 O'Connell thinks that this well-documented history is all moonshine and is eager to take the lid off what really happened.
Although "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 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 spelled Wenzhong), the leading Chinese member of the team.
O'Connell's 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, even adding 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.
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.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 for 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)."Skullcaps" again! Had O'Connell ever seen any of them, even photographs? All four — Dubois's from Trinil, and von Koenigswald's from Sangiran — are substantial specimens, from which it is easy to obtain cranial capacities. This is also the case for 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 Enlightenment — 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 harbors a deep well of hatred against his opponents (witness his unedifying attacks on the reputation of Teilhard de Chardin). Because 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 targets 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 does not even know what the words mean, and quite obviously he does not 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 he is willing to lower himself to the level of this unspeakable nastiness. And let us, perhaps, raise at least one, whispered cheer for Marvin Lubenow who has managed to avoid it — although he must surely know about it, he never endorses it. But he and others of his sort might merit some respect from us, their critics, if they joined forthrightly in its condemnation.
ReferencesBlack D, Teilhard de Chardin P, Young CC, Pei WC. Fossil man in China. Geological Memoirs, Geological Survey of China, 1933; Series A, nr 11.
Boule M. Le Sinanthrope. L'Anthropologie, 1937; 47: 1–22.
Brace CL. Creationists and the Pithecanthropines. Creation/Evolution 1987; nr 19: 16–23.
Jia L, Huang W. The Story of Peking Man. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1990.
Johnson JWG. The Crumbling Theory of Evolution. Brisbane: Queensland Binding Service. 1982.
van Oosterzee P. Dragon Bones: The Story of Peking Man. St. Leonards, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin, 1999.
Ritchie A. The creation science controversy — a response to deception. Australian Biologist, 1991; 4 (1): 116–21.
Scharle T. Book review: Did Darwin Get it Right? Catholics and the Theory of Evolution. RNCSE 1999 Nov/Dec; 19 (6): 42–3.
Shapiro HL. Peking Man. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1974.
Weidenreich F. On the earliest representatives of modern mankind recovered on the soil of East Asia. Peking Natural History Bulletin 1939; 13: 161–74.
Weidenreich F. The skull of Sinanthropus pekinensis. Palaeontologia Sinica 1943, new series D, nr 10.