Re: Savanna: a slow demise

Phil Nicholls (
Tue, 26 Sep 1995 02:26:38 GMT (Mrdubious) graced us with the following words:

>Phil Nicholls sez:
>The "savannah theory" is a straw man of your own construction. There
>is no savanna theory. There are a number of hypotheses about human
>evolution and the savanna figures into most of them because the best
>available evidence shows that early hominids occupied savanna
>habitates and because at the time hominids appear in the fossil record
>savanna biomes were replacing forest biomes.<<<

>It is hard to take some of these quasi-religious diatribes seriously when
>this kind of word game is played. Most of the hypotheses involve the
>savannah because the evidence indicates that early hominids occupied the
>savannah and (many of) these theories involve evolutionary changes in
>hominids due to conditions on the savannah, but there is no savannah
>theory. Did I get this right?

No, you didn't. First of all, that early hominids occupied savanna
habitats is not a theory. It is a fact. Therefore talking about a
"savannah theory" is a bit like discussing the evolution of flight in
birds and lumping all of them into something called a "aerial theory."

I am not playing a word game. I am simply calling something that is
obviously a strawman argument a strawman argument.

Nor is there anything "quasi-religious" about my opposition to the
AAH. I have a very simple standard that I believe all scientist use
-- evidence. Show me the evidence. I have now read all of Elaine
Morgan's books except for her most recent one and I have read her

Fact: Pre-hominids were forest dwellers
Fact: Early hominids were savanna dwellers

The difference between Elaine and most of her critics is how the
transition took place. Obviously they just didn't walk out onto the
grasslands one day and say "Boy! What a great place! Think I'll stand
on two legs now and pick up some tools with my free hands." Yet
this is what Elaine calls the "Savannah Theory."

The transition is critical. I believe it took place in the zone at
which forests border on savannas. This is because some of the
earliest hominids clearly retained arboreal adaptations. It makes a
great deal of sense.

Morgan argues that the transtion took place in the water as a result
of a group of apes becoming isolated from the African mainland. The
evidence she cites is based entirely on observations of differences
between modern apes and modern humans and relies entirely on soft
tissues. Therefore, even if we find the fossils of such apes we have
no way to know they are aquatic apes.

So you see, this is not just posturing about definitions and words.

>Sometimes I get the feeling that much of this childish name-calling and
>nitpicking has more to do with a dislike of Elaine Morgan than any
>scientific debate. Mr. Moore's comments leave one wishing he had taken a
>high-school debate class (with emphasis on AD HOMINEM arguments), or that
>he had learned the basic rules of bureaucratic discussion: (1) It's not
>what you say, it's how you say it; and (2) If you think someone is an
>idiot, and you call them an idiot, 9 times out of 10 people will think YOU
>are an idiot; you have to point out logically and drily how you arrived at
>the conclusion that the person is an idiot, and let others make the
>decision. I call this passive-aggressive debate.

I have followed Mr. Moore's comments and at no time has he ever
engaged in ad hominem arguments. All of his arguments have stuck to
the evidence or lack of evidence. It is not argumentum ad hominem to
question the way in which someone presents the evidence.

>Some of you sound like heavy metal fans writing to a newspaper to protest
>an unfavorable review (your reviewer SUCKS, man).
>I don't accept AAT fully, but frankly, the alternatives don't seem any
>better. Every argument I've heard against AAT can be used on the
>alternatives discussed in this group.

Really? Could you demonstrate how any of my arguments or those of Mr.
Moore or Dunbar can be used against the "alternatives?"

Finally, if you are really annoyed, there is something called a kill
file. As a network admininstrator I am sure you know what it is and
how to use it.

>Stuart Dubois
>Network Administrator
>I only tune in because I don't have time to get an anthropology degree,
>and there's no universities here.

Phil Nicholls
"To ask a question you must first know most of the answer"
-Robert Sheckley