Why the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis doesn't hold water

Among this week’s new videos from TED, was a talk given by Elaine Morgan – the chief promoter of the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis (AAH). The AAH was first formulated by Alister Hardy and is the idea that human evolution went through an aquatic stage, which in turn explains many of the features of the human physiology. For anybody with a poor understanding of evolutionary biology the AAH arguments can seem quite compelling. Instead of repeating the numerous reasons why the AAH fails (Jim Moore has an entire website dedicated to this), I wish to address some of the specific arguments made in this video.

Morgan starts off my stating that "… there's one aspect of this story which they [evolutionists] have thrown no light on and they seem anxious to skirt around and step over it and talk about something else. So I'm going to talk about it. It's the question of why are we so different from the chimpanzees?". Either Morgan has not been reading the hundreds of research papers that have addressed these important questions or she is trying to hoodwink her audience. Palaeoanthropologists and primatologists have long recognised the value of studying human and chimp differences in order to understand our shared evolutionary history. In fact, it is impossible to talk about functional anatomy and phylogenetic history in humans without reference to our closest extinct and living hominin relatives. Read More...

Beware the Spinal Trap

Bristol Spine
Today, numerous blogs and magazines from all around the world will publish Simon Singh’s article on chiropractic from April 2008, with the libellous part removed. The Guardian withdrew the article after the British Chiropractic Association sued for libel (please reblog).


Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results – and can even be lethal, says Simon Singh.

You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

Darwinism: The creationist straw man

If you visit the ironically entitled creationist website Evolution News and Views, try finding a single post that doesn't mention the word “Darwinist” or “Darwinism”. You’ll have to dig deep… very deep. If you were completely ignorant of biology you might even be fooled into thinking that these were terms cheerfully embraced by the scientific community. After all, an evolution news outlet is hardly in the business of obfuscation, now is it?

Outside of intelligent design (i.e., creationism warmed-over), Darwinism is used primarily to refer to the theory of the evolution of species by natural selection, as formulated by Darwin, not to the modern and more complete understanding of evolution. As things tend to be in science, evolutionary theory hasn’t stood still since 1859, when Darwin communicated his ideas to the world in On the origins of species. While natural selection is indeed a principle driving force in evolution, it is not the whole story. Charles Darwin would no doubt be astonished by the such discoveries of genes and DNA, the reworking of evolutionary theory to accommodate evo-devo and neutral theory, as well as the plethora of evidence that has confirmed the basic tenets of his original ideas. To use the term Darwinism is an insult to the hard work of the thousands of scientists who have helped refine evolutionary theory. It implies that the wheels of scientific research ground to a halt some 150 years ago and serves to confuse the public’s already poor understanding of evolution. Read More...

Argumentum ad hominem

As I noted in an earlier post, this blog was partly named as a misspelt pun on the ad hominem argument. Argumentum ad hominem (Latin: "argument to the man") involves attacking the character or circumstances of one's opponent in order to undermine them, instead of addressing the substance of their argument. Ad hominem arguments are generally regarded as fallacious, since they do not address the opponent’s argument itself.

This argument comes in the following forms:

The tactic is to portray the opponent as a bad or immoral person, and conclude based on this, that their argument should not be accepted, e.g.

Ann says that anthropological research needs more funding. This is coming from a woman who divorced her husband.

Is craniometry scientific?

Craniometry is the measurement of the bones of the skull. The technique is primarily used to determine ancestry, population distances and sex. It differs greatly from the psuedoscientific fields of phrenology and physiognomy, although in the general populace the distinction is not so clear. The book Postmodernism and Race has the following definition: "Craniometry is the measurement of human skulls as an indication of intelligence", while a recent blog article on craniometry states that it "claims to be able to predict the intelligence and nature of human being." Craniometry says nothing about intelligence or human nature. Read More...

Ad Hominin. What's in a name?

Until quite recently humans and their ancestors were referred to as hominids. This was a reflection of taxonomy of the time: the family Hominidae consisted of humans, while the family Pongidae consisted of orangutans, chimpanzees, gorillas and bonobos. However, molecular studies showed humans, chimpanzees and bonobos to be more closely related than previously thought. The current consensus taxonomy for the family Hominidae consists of the following subfamilies: Ponginae (orangutans), Gorillinae (gorillas) and Homininae (chimpanzees, bonobos, humans). Strictly speaking chimps, bonobos and humans are all hominids. However, we still need a way to talk about ourselves and our ancestors. The Homininae subfamily is divided into two tribes: Panini (chimpanzee, bonobo) and Hominini (humans). Thus, in recent years there has been a growing trend of referring to humans and their ancestors as hominins. Read More...