Piltdown Man: The Creationists’ Savior

WE encounter frequent references to Piltdown Man in creationist literature. The constant mantra they recite asserts that: (a) this fossil was heralded by scientists as the “missing link” that proves man’s descent from monkeys; and (b) its subsequent exposure as a hoax has forever discredited Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Creationists’ acceptance of their mantra causes them to believe that the mere mention of Piltdown Man is sufficient to uphold The Truth of creationism and to send the “Darwinists” scurrying back into their burrows.

This post isn’t going to persuade creationists that their faith in the saving power of Piltdown Man is misguided. Rather, our purpose is merely to gather into one place all our previous comments and links on this topic, so that when faced with the inevitable necessity of dealing with this subject again, we’ll have a much easier task.

This comes from here: Where’s the Proof — Evolution’s “Smoking Gun”?

Although there’s no one smoking gun that proves evolution, there can be a smoking gun that disproves it … . A good example would have been Piltdown Man. Creationists constantly cite this famous hoax as a “typical” example of the fraud that sustains evolution. In their supreme ignorance, they imagine that it was universally hailed as “proof” of evolution in hundreds of papers in the scientific journals — until some plucky creationist (never named) dared to challenge the scientific orthodoxy and showed that it was a fake. All of this “history” is wrong.

What the creationists don’t understand is that virtually no competent evolutionary biologist knew what to make of Piltdown Man, because it contradicted the theory of evolution. It was scientists — not creationists — who demonstrated that it was bogus. Evolutionary biologists thought that evidence of man’s ancestors would probably be found in Africa, because that’s where so many non-human primates are found. There are no non-human primates native to England, so it’s quite impossible for man to have evolved there, or on any other island with no ancestral candidates. If Piltdown man were real, Darwin would have been decisively proven wrong.

This comes from here: Advice for Creationists:

[T]o completely overturn a theory, the new evidence (or newly-discredited old evidence) must be essential to the theory, so that without it, the theory collapses. Merely pointing out that some unneeded datapoint is wrong — even a famous one like Piltdown Man — doesn’t bring a well-established theory crashing down in ruins — especially if (as with Piltdown Man) the theory never depended on such evidence in the first place. At most, such discredited evidence might require a footnote, or perhaps a minor correction in the next edition of a textbook. Corrections occur all the time as our observations improve. Such matters are rarely of any genuine importance; but people outside the profession often lack the perspective that comes from knowing the full range of evidence that supports a theory, and therefore assign a disproportionate significance to relatively trivial matters.


A theory is not disproven by pointing out occasional acts of academic misconduct, or even outright fraud. There are tens of thousands of [evolutionary] scientists, and a few have disgraced themselves. (Similarly, a religion is not discredited because of the personal flaws of a few clergymen.) A demonstration of fraud could be a successful attack on a theory, but only if the theory can’t survive without the fraudulent material. … But be careful here; well-supported theories usually don’t collapse because of one faulty data point.

That’s enough of our own writing. Here’s a very good article at the TalkOrigins website: Piltdown Man — The Bogus Bones Caper. It may not be exhaustive, but it has all the information you could reasonably want on this subject. One excerpt:

In the period 1930-1950 Piltdown man was increasingly marginalized and by 1950 was, by and large, simply ignored. It was carried in the books as a fossil hominid. From time to time it was puzzled over and then dismissed again. The American Museum of Natural History quietly classified it as a mixture of ape and man fossils. Over the years it had become an anomaly; some prominent authors did not even bother to list it.

And consider this: If a temporarily misidentified bit of evidence discredits all of evolution, then — by the same logic — how can religion survive all the hysterical peasant women who mistakenly see holy images in their tortillas?

Further, what are we to say about the substantial number of false claims that are continuously used by creationist as evidence for their “science”? Want some examples? How about the Paluxy River man and dinosaur tracks, or the old favorite that Louis Pasteur proved that life only comes from life, and then there are endless allegations of the continuing fraud in using Haeckel’s drawings. There’s no need to mention creationists’ constant claim that there are no transitional fossils. And while we’re discussing Piltdown Man, we may as well toss in Nebraska Man.

So there you are. The great irony is that while creationists are constantly screaming that Piltdown Man was a fraud — which it was — they should really be screaming that it was real. If it were, then they’d have — for the first time in The Controversy — some genuine evidence to use against Darwin’s theory.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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6 responses to “Piltdown Man: The Creationists’ Savior

  1. The only thing that was discredited was the individual who perpetrated the hoax!

  2. “…how can religion survive all the hysterical peasant women who mistakenly see holy images in their tortillas?”

    but…but…those are TRUE miracles!

  3. Curm: I draw your attention to a spectacular article in the March “Scientific American” on organic processes involved in the evolution of minerals as we know them today. The summary paragraph brilliantly asserts, “…we live in a universe primed for complexification…”.

  4. J Meyers says:

    I draw your attention to a spectacular article in the March “Scientific American” …

    Thanks. All I could see is the online preview. I dropped my subscription to SciAm a few years back. I’ll have to wait for some other reports on it.

  5. Gabriel Hanna

    SC, how close are you to a state university? If you actually go into their library, they will sure have a SciAm subscription. Alternatively, see if you can get an ID for that university, and then you might get access to their subscriptions from home.

    My university allows that; so when I’m in Alaska I can still read journals and such, as long as I log into the university library system first with my ID.

  6. Gabriel Hanna asks: “SC, how close are you to a state university?”

    Quite far. I can get it at the local library.