Re: AAT Theory

Mike Reid (
29 Aug 1995 16:41:00 GMT (David L Burkhead ) wrote:

> In article <41st3s$> Mike Reid <> writes:
> >Why is there such vehemence against the Aquatic Ape Theory?
> >It's true that it's far out and lacks strong fossil evidence to
> >support it, but that does not mean that it's wrong! In the early years
> >of this century, Wegner proposed the idea of continental drift based
> >solely on his observation that the Earth's continents, if rearranged,
> >could fit together like a jig-saw puzzle. This was purely
> >circumstantial evidence. Most Earth scientists of that time dismissed
> >his idea as foolish and far out. It was not until the 1960's when
> >seafloor spreading was discovered that Wegner's idea was born out.
> Incorrect. Wegner had a _lot_ more data to work with than just
> the physical shapes of the continents. He had, among other things,
> rock types where a layer would end at one continent, and begin again
> where the other continent "fit" into it. The same types of fossiles
> would be found on both continents. That kind of thing.

True. I omitted the part about matching rock and fossil types for the
sake of brevity. I should not have used the word "solely,"
my mistake. Actually, Wegner was not the first person to notice the
jigsaw fit of the continents, to correlate the rock and fossil types,
or to speculated that the continents were once united. This idea can
be traced as far back as the mid-nineteenth century.

> The reason most scientists dismissed his ideas was that he
> claimed the the continents floated through the sea-floor basalts,
> plowing their way through solid rock. That criticism was entirely
> valid at the time. It remains valid today. It was not until further
> evidence in Earthquake zones, sea floor spreading, careful
> measurements that actually showed continental motion, and such that
> the later theory of plate tectonics could be formulated.
Also true. This is essentially my point. In spite of the obvious
matching shape of the continents and the fact that distant rock
formations and fossil types could be correlated, Wegner€s
contemporaries focused primarily on that part of his theory which was
problematic. Namely, his suggestion that the continents move by
plowing through solid rock. This part of his theory, as you quite
correctly pointed-out, is wrong. However because they could not
accept Wegner€s explanation of how continents move, those scientists
also rejected his entire theory. In effect, they "threw the baby out
with the bathwater." I am suggesting that today€s scientists not
make the same mistake regarding the AAT that Wegner€s contemporaries
made regarding continental drift. Point-out problems with the AAT,
but don€t reject it utterly simply because some aspects of it are
problematic (and probably wrong).
> IOW, Wegner was _wrong_. His theory was wrong. It remains wrong
> today. It was a _new_ theory, which happened to have some features in
> common with continental drift, one which did not have continental
> drift's fatal flaws, that was accepted by geologists.
Most textbooks mention Wegner when introducing the modern theory of
plate tectonics. Our modern theory is a major extension of and
improvement upon Wegner€s idea, but its fundamental premise that the
continents are not fixed in position and that they were once united
is not new. The modern theory of plate tectonics illustrates well
how an older theory which was once rejected can be revived when new
discoveries allow for it to be modified such that its original
problems are resolved. Wegner's theory was partially wrong, but
correct in its most important point.

> >Today, scarcely anyone doubts the truth of continental drift. Until
> >more fossil evidence is discovered, I doubt that it will be possible
> >to either prove or disprove the AAT. Until such time, why can't more
> >"mainstream" scientists at least view it as a plausible theory
> >worthy of respect, whether they agree with it or not? Remember the
> >lessons learned by those mainstream scientists who originally
> >ridiculed the idea of continental drift.
> Actually, the AAH folk have as much as admitted that fossil proof
> or disproof of their theory is impossible. Not just unlikely, but
> impossible. The idea that AAH might predict skeletal differences in
> early hominids in comparison with other hypotheses has been dismissed
> by AAH proponents.
Where a fossil is found is just as important as what is found. What
if fossils of a proto-hominid creature were found in late Miocene
nearshore marine deposits? Wouldn€t such fossils provide solid
evidence to support the AAT, even if they don€t exhibit any
morphologic features which are clearly identifiable as aquatic
> Also, unlike the proponents of plate tectonics, who _dealt with_
> and _resolved_ the complaints about continental drift as a theory, the
> AAH people have shown a remarkable lack of willingness to respond
> meaningfully to criticisms of AAH. We see the same straw men about
> "mainstream" theories again and again. We see tactics like
> complaining about hominids being "odd man out" as a savannah creature,
> but criticism about hominids being "odd man out" as an _aquatic_
> creature is ignored. When aquatic development is noted as a way for
> small, defensless proto-hominids to escape land predators, questions
> about how they dealt with _aquatic_ predators are ignored.
Is this a criticism of the AAT itself or just of the way that some of
its advocates have presented the theory?

> As a theory it makes no predictions, answers no questions (net
> anyway--at least as many questions are "raised" as "answered"), and
> is built on ad hoc assumptions--hardly the earmarks of a scientific
> theory.
Our subcutaneous fat layer, the fact that human infants can swim, the
ability to hold our breath, etc. are very peculiar features for a
purely land dwelling animal. The AAT provides an explanation for
them -- not the only explanation perhaps, but a plausible one. Not
all theories make testable predictions. And as far as raising as
many questions as it answers, well don€t most new theories do that?

I€m not arguing for or against the Aquatic Ape Theory
(or "hypothesis," if you prefer). I€m simply encouraging
open-mindedness and cautioning against zealous adherence to
established orthodoxies. As any historian of science knows, today€s
folly can become tomorrow€s fact.

Thanks for your very interesting response to my append,

Mike Reid