Crowley's post to

Alex Duncan (
15 Nov 1995 01:25:35 GMT

Crowley has been ranging far afield, and has now posted to For those of you who weren't aware of the existence
of that group, I've copied Paul's post and my response to it here.
Paul's comments are the ones following the >'s.

To be fair to Paul, I must say I've snipped some of what he wrote, and I
urge all to go to to see the original. For example,
Paul accuses me of not responding to his "expectations for a XXT" post.
He's correct, I didn't respond, largely because I think Paul's ideas of
what we can know about the past are so different from mine that further
discussion is almost pointless until we get the little issue cleared up.

To the moderator: now you've really done it.

[moderator's note: It wasn't me! It was John Snagge! - JAH]

>I agree with Alex that there is some crap in s.a.p. and some of it
>derives from the Aquatic Ape Theory (AAT). But the debate *is* serious.
>If moderators were to follow such advice from professionals every time
>then every discussion of a mould-breaking theory would be banned. They
>would not have allowed a debate on "that lunatic Copernicus" (the words
>of Martin Luther). They would have killed the debate on Continental
>Drift, on the Cretaceous Extinction, on the theory of Germs, on Ice
>Ages, on Genetics, on those ludicrous theories put forward by some minor
>clerk in the patent office in Bern, on . . . . . . . . etc., etc.

First, a comment on Paul's claim that the debate is "serious". It is
not. There are several folks in s.a.p. that find the debate moderately
interesting, mostly as an exercise in argument. However, the aquatic ape
theory is simply not plausible. It consists of a list of supposedly
unique human features that [according to AAT supporters] could only have
evolved in an aquatic environment. Unfortunately, the majority of the
features are not unique, but are found in other primates, and often
non-primate mammals as well. Other features, such as bipedalism, have an
evolutionary history that is well-documented by the fossil record. The
fossil record provides no evidence that bipedalism evolved in an aquatic

>The current state of Paleoanthropology is one of crisis (as described by
>Thomas S. Kuhn in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd Ed, p.
>66-91). There is no remotely agreed account as to how or why bipedalism
>developed - just a multitude of incredibly bad ones. To quote from a
>recent posting in the Bipedalism thread (quoted by Jim Moore from Phil
>Nichols - both paleoanthropologists):

Again, here I have to disagree with Paul. As in any healthy science,
there is a lot of disagreement and debate in paleoanthropology. And,
contrary to what Paul says, there is a lot of agreement about how
bipedalism developed. There is also a lot of agreement about the
potential adaptive advantages of bipedalism. Paul has pretty severely
mangled the ideas in his list below. I haven't seen either Jim Moore or
Phil Nichols suggest that bipedalism might prove adaptive for a
population that "jumps across small brooks". And "treat displays"...?
Paul must mean "trick-or-treat displays". Well, ok, obviously he means
threat displays. However, by the fact that he includes this on his list,
he obviously finds it implausible that threat displays could have
anything to do with the evolution of bipedalism. This despite the fact
that chimps and gorillas often adopt bipedal postures during threat

> > - when hands are need to carry food.
> > - to obtain a better view of the surrounding area.
> > - jumping across small brooks
> > - treat displays.
> > - when watching an unusual part of the surroundings
> > - when locating another member of the group
> > - greeting and courtship displays.

The fact that Paul has produced this as his list leads to the suspicion
that, like most of the supporters of the AAT, he hasn't read much in the
way of "standard" paleoanthropology, and thus has no concrete idea what
it is that he's arguing against.


>The discipline cannot tell us what our animal ancestors were.

Wrong. The fossil record for the evolution of hominids is one of the
best fossil records for a major evolutionary transition in existence.
There maybe some minor disagreements over phylogenetic issues, but for
the most part we have a very good idea what our ancestors were like.

Paul, however, says "animal ancestors" [as opposed to...?], leading me to
believe he expects a healthy subdiscipline of paleontology should be able
to tell us, e.g., what the common ancestor of chimps and humans looked
like, etc. Well, the fact is that we have a pretty good idea. As good
(if not better), for instance, than ideas about what the common ancestor
of crocodylians and birds might have looked like. It is informative that
when the first remains of Ardipithecus ramidus were described, "no one
was surprised" (paraphrasing one commentator).

>It has no explanation whatever for obvious features of our anatomy.

Again, just plain wrong. We've urged Paul and other AAT supporters to do
some basic reading, and as far as I can tell from the above statement,
Paul has not.

>It cannot tell us how we spent the last five million years.

Frankly, I can't even begin to conceive how to respond to this. Most of
paleoanthropology revolves around telling us how we spent the last five
million years.

>It does not know how our hominid ancestors survived two billion freezing >nights on the African heartland, surrounded by lions, leopards and hyenas.

These issues have been discussed repeatedly in s.a.p. Somehow the fact
that other primates are capable of doing exactly what Paul describes
above is not considered to be relevant.

>Did they spend them naked in the trees holding on with the bipedal feet that >they had for at least 3.5 Myr? Did they sleep holding onto their naked
>howling infants all night?

Naked? How does Paul know that? Bipedal feet? Well... the earliest
hominids were bipedal, but they also retained significant grasping
capabilities of the hindlimb, and there are many other indications that
they were capable tree climbers. These inconvenient ideas have been
pointed out to Paul again and again, but he seems to think that if he
denies them frequently enough they will go away.

>The discipline has no theory whatever that accounts for the evolution of
>the human brain, nor one for growth of language, nor one for the
>development of any culture.

Again, just plain wrong. However, I must raise a question -- what is it
that Paul means by "theory" here? There are lots of ideas about the
development of these features, and to the extent that they are testable,
they have been and are being tested. Paul seems to 1) not be familiar
with the literature, and 2) expect more of historical science than
historical science can deliver.

>There are hardly more important issues in the whole of science. We
>need to know WHAT WE ARE. What do we get from the professionals?
>Nothing! - Except demands that their critics be silenced.

No one demanded AAT be silenced. I suggested it holds no more
intellectual worth than creationism, and thus isn't worthy of discussion
in a serious newsgroup (you don't allow creationism here, do you? [note: is a moderated group, and screeds on creationism are
generally not posted]). I've seen no evidence to the contrary.

>They spend their time running from theory, praying that the next fossil
>will tell them something - *anything*. But they don't know what they're
>looking for.

The statement above displays an appalling breadth and depth of ignorance.
It is also incredibly vague. I know exactly what I'm looking for, and
of course I "pray" for more fossils, because they make the field
exciting, and tell us more about our ancestors. Most of the most
recently discovered fossils happened to nicely fit our theoretical
preconceptions of what they "should" look like.


Alex Duncan
Dept. of Anthropology
University of Texas at Austin
Austin, TX 78712-1086