Anthropology has any number of hidden assumptions and preconceptions that have an impact on our ideas, theories, and conceptions of human evolution. The impact is all the greater for being unrealized. Louis Binford upset the archaeology world by questioning many of the basic assumptions (or what had become basic assumptions) in archaeology. For instance you find tools and bones together, then humans used the tools to butcher the animals the bones came from, animals they had hunted. Or you find hundreds of tools lying around together then it is a human occupation site. Part of what you are arguing is that you must first demonstrate that there is an association caused by human behavior not just a fortuitous collection of objects. When you find a site or fossil or other artifact do not assume that it is an archaeological site, you have to first show that it is an archaeological site (due to human action) or that it is a paleontological site (not due to human action).
Paleoanthropology, as the study of ancient humans is known, is 150 years old, and in that time has gathered, discarded, and modified many ideas, theories, facts, fossils, etc. Not all of the old, wrong ideas and theories are completely gone. Some linger on, unconsciously shaping our ideas for better or worse. Scientists may know that Neandertal was not the slouching, shambling. dull-witted brute that forms the archetypal image of the “cave man.” How many of the public know this is another matter. Yet back of the mind of the scientist lurks this wrong image or another, that throws shadows over our current ideas and theories.
The arguments pro and con have gone back and forth for years. Paleoanthropologists have changed much of what they think, some has filtered through to the public. We have changed an idea here but don’t follow it through all of our theories to form a coherent whole, an internally consistent theory of human evolution. Evolution is a unifying theory, studying evolution should teach you that everything is connected (I hope that I can show you that if only by the diversity of examples I use1). To say that modern Homo sapiens evolved in Africa 125,000-250,000 years ago is not just a fact relevant to the point of origin. It says something about non-African Homo erectus and Neandertal, and perhaps Neandertal evolved from H. erectus
There are any number of inconsistencies in our theories of human evolution. Our helpless slow-growing infants are an effect of our big brain which we need for increasing use of tools and to function effectively in society (even if it was only a small band). The “obstetric dilemma” is related to a biped trying to give birth to a large-brained infant. Lucy didn’t have this problem. A large-brain that cannot taught what it needs to learn is useless. The long human childhood is related to the need for time to learn and an environment and social structure that can provide that reliably and consistently teaches the culture, the technological knowledge to the child.
These are all interrelated and late appearing in our history. There is anatomical and archaeological evidence for this. The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis has a naked female “ape” growing long head hair so that its helpless infant can have something to hang onto and not float off. Elaine Morgan ignores that she is talking about a small-brained ape predecessor of the australopithecines who did not use tools, did not give birth to large-brained slow-maturing infants. She has them act like it but provides no rational. There are other inconsistencies in her theory. There are also inconsistencies in the “Savannah Hypothesis,” as she correctly points out. The point is to weed out the inconsistencies and make the theory closer to the evidence and coherent.
The old ideas form the base on which we construct the new ideas. That this substratum remains in places still shows through, sometimes unaltered and sometimes only partly, like the old coat of paint that shows through the new. I want to synthesize all that we now know and believe into one theory.
In the researching and writing for these postings, I re-read (or used it as an excuse to re-read) much that I had already read and to read previously unread stuff. I also read it critically, paying attention to why they wrote what they did, what it was based on, how it fit into current knowledge, etc. I have found some of my own inconsistencies. What I thought before I started this is not what I think now. My ideas have changed and I have had to go back over what I have written to make other changes to be consistent. Also I tried to eliminate “errors” that are part of the literature. Hopefully this is much more consistent now. This is how it should be. Science is not static, a scientist should change his mind as new facts are found. I do not intend to be the “final” statement, only the latest, and hopefully closer to the truth. I expect my ideas to be changed, they had better be.
In the 1950s and 60s the popular camera was the 35mm SLR (does anybody remember them?). The 35mm replaced the large-format film cameras partly because they were smaller, more convenient, and simpler to use. Once they were introduced natural development led them to being more versatile, more capable. Features were added, they got better, they got larger. In the late 60s a company thought that just maybe they could design an SLR from scratch that had all these added features designed in from the beginning, maybe the entire design could be integrated, not just “tacked on” to an existing design. The result was the Olympus OM-1. It was some 35% smaller, with a cleaner design. They became quite popular, I own four of them.
Current paleoanthropologic theory is like those SLRs, it has changed over the years, new “features” tacked on, some old ones removed. It has gotten bulky. It is time to “redesign” the theory so it is compact, integrated, and consistent.
To some extent I will do as the Creationist’s want (or all they say they want when they talk of Balanced Science)—that is: to give equal time to their theory. I won’t give equal time (or written space in this case), but I will give it more than it warrants. I discuss other alternate theories of human evolution so it is only fair that I include Creation. It will not get equal time with evolution any more than the alternate theories will get equal time. We do not give the Ptolemaic Universe equal time with the current theory (astrology versus astronomy). Neither do we give equal time to alchemy and chemistry. Science is not like politics where we have decided that politicians are of equal value, any difference being a matter of personal choice. In science some ideas are wrong (not in accord to the facts) and wrong ideas do not need to be dealt with, except maybe to refute. They certainly do not deserve equal treatment.
At least at one point while I was writing this I thought it was more like philosophy. Well it partly is, a large part of how I think, how I view and interpret the world, why I act as I do is a product of these ideas. They form my world-view. All of us base our thoughts, ideas, and actions on our world-view. This is mine.
1 I have used examples from all over the animal kingdom both because they are relevant and because I want to emphasize that we are all part of a vast “whole.” Darwinists are not limited to a few examples, there are many. Evolution does not depend on some vague theories, its application to humans is not just some “hope,” the examples are legion and varied. Man is one of the best documented.
Evolution is not based one or two flimsy ideas, it is a large complex interwoven structure of which man is a connected, small but important, part.