An Overdose Of Chicken Giblets: A Critical Appraisal Of Anthropology

copyright 1983 by lawngren

When a Roman senator or emperor wanted a bill passed or a friend appointed to office, he would often hire or bribe an “auger”  –  one who had acquired a priestly office and a reputation for discerning the will of the gods, the weather, etc., by brutally murdering a hapless hen and gazing into its, ahhh, entrails.

(The hen’s opinion of this sordid business was not solicited.)

My opinion of anthropology is that we might as well go back to consulting chicken innards to determine pre-history. I’m very much afraid that we, like the common man in Rome, have been awed into reverence by the priestly robes and rituals. Our priests sport Ph.D.’s and three-piece suits, scholarly-sounding phrases have replaced prayers, and electronic instruments have supplanted icons. I don’t think we have paid enough attention to whether the assumptions of anthropologists are valid, logical, and likely. I don’t believe we’ve examined the evidence with sufficient thoroughness.

Are you a “True Believer” in anthropology or a truth-seeker? I hope to convince you that anthropology is too shaky to put your trust in. If I can do that, with the words of anthropologists themselves, then I will offer an alternative cosmogony for your consideration.

To keep this simple, let’s limit this paper to just a couple of chapters from one anthropology text. The text I have chosen is People of the Earth, an Introduction to World Prehistory, Brian Fagan, 4th ed., Little, Brown, and Co., 1983. According to the author, this text is in use in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and Africa, as well as the U.S. And it is in its fourth edition. Pretty solid acceptance by the academic community, wouldn’t you say?

Fagan’s basic assumption is stated on p. 2, second paragraph, and again on p. 26, first paragraph: “This account is founded on the basic assumption that the theory of biological evolution and natural selection provides a viable framework for the study of world prehistory.” Fagan also subscribes to the usual laws of association and superposition. On p. 1, Fagan quotes Sir Mortimer Wheeler: “We are concerned here with methodical digging for systematic information, not with…a hunt for the bones of saints.” On p. viii, second paragraph, Fagan further states, “This book is an account based on scientific research, NOT religious belief or WILD SPECULATION.” (Emphasis mine.) REMEMBER THOSE WORDS  –  Fagan is denying priesthood and, by implication, inviting us to examine his assumptions, theories, and data from a rational, scientific point of view.

Let’s begin by examining the “no wild speculation” claim. Following are partial quotes with the pages on which they occur. Check the context if you like.

  1. 31: no one knows whyPerhaps
  2. 34: He believed…He was convinced
  3. 35: too many uncontrollable variables
  4. 59: Pillbeam assumes…he feels…he believesprobably used tools…
  5. 60: many experts are less inclined than they were…they believe
  6. 61: probably walking upright…possibly the end product of…
  7. 63: may have…could have…
  8. 64 He believes…He thinks
  9. 66 may have
  10. 67 We may assume

Enough already. You get the idea, right? I assure you that I can easily double that list if you like. The abundance of “weasel words” allows all sorts of sweeping statements without tying one down to anything. Let’s look at specific problems now.

  1. p. 68, par. 2: “We cannot tell from fossil bones when human speech first appeared, for detailed relationships between skeletal structure and soft tissue are lost forever.”

THE NEXT SENTENCE says: “Charles F. Hockett, a linguist at Cornell University, speculates that…bipedal movement…may have opened up the…vocal sounds…”

Not only does Fagan indulge the speculation he denounced, but he speculates on a subject he himself admits is “lost forever”. And what is the use of quoting a linguist on the relation between the origin of speech and the origin of bipedal movement? Fagan also notes that “many scholars disagree” with Hockett’s speculation. Fagan gives no indication of his own position. He is merely recording rumors.

  1. Read again the above quote about soft tissue. Now read the following:
  2. p. 71 par. 2: “These…were powerful, heavily muscled individuals, thought to be as strong as chimpanzees.”
  3. p. 75 par. 2: “..the…Hands were characterized by…muscularity in the fingers, perhaps attributable to…”
  4. p. 89 fig. 5.2: “It is probable that their vision was excellent and that they were capable of extensive thought.”

What Fagan the scientist, the non-priest, has done is to vigorously denounce a heresy and then indulge it to the limit. In religious circles they call this hypocrisy.

III. p. 61 par. 5: “The only way in which we can obtain insights into the evolution of human behavior is by studying living apes to identify the kinds of behavior that distinguished early human populations from their ape relatives.”

Sounds logical, no? But wait:

p.35 par.3: “Archaeologists have been comparing prehistoric societies with living peoples for over a century…Such direct comparisons…are no longer made…there are too many uncontrollable variables…”

This is known as a direct contradiction. It is fatal to any argument:

“No, Mama, I was not in the jam jar.”

“Then, my son, why is there jam all over your lying little face?”

  1. p. 60 par. 3: “…two biochemists…developed a means of dating primate evolution. They believe that the albumin protein substance found in primate blood has evolved at a constant rate.”

Prehistoric blood, like other prehistoric soft tissue, is lost forever. Therefore, it’s safe ground for speculation  –  there’s that word again  –  since no one can offer contradictory evidence. If you have, a priori, accepted the theory of uniform evolution, then you might build a hypothesis on this. Rephrase the statement, though, and its silliness becomes obvious:

“I believe that blood albumin has evolved at a constant rate.”

WHY  DO  YOU  BELIEVE  THIS?

“Because this agrees with the theory of uniform evolution.”

WHY  DO  YOU  BELIEVE  IN  UNIFORM  EVOLUTION?

“Because my blood-albumin dating method shows…”

This is known as circular reasoning. Try it in court some time. While we’re talking about dating artifacts, let’s look at carbon-14 dating, widely known as the most accurate method:

  1. p. 16 par. 3: “…the rate at which C14 is produced in the atmosphere has fluctuated considerably…correction charts are likely to alter all C14 chronologies radically within the next decade.”

Radically is right. Do you know that the corrections they are admitting right now run as high as 20%? And if the last set of dates was wrong, how can we be sure they’re right this time? Maybe we’d better try a different dating method. How about potassium argon?

  1. p. 79 par. 1: the 1470 skull from East Turkana, which was originally dated to 2.9 million B.C….has now been reassigned to 1.8 million B.C., a date that leaves much more time for the evolution of the human line…”

That’s a change of 38%! And did you notice, it changed in the direction that favors the hypothesis? Once again, if the original was off that much, how do we know that the latest guess isn’t off by even more? This is especially so with potassium argon dating  –  that skull was not dated, only some lava fragments in the same area  –  an area notable for earth movements. Incidentally, the “laws” of association and superposition are hypotheses, not laws. We don’t know that uniform evolution is a fact; that’s what we’re seeking evidence for. If you assume uniformity to “prove” the dating method that supports uniformity, you’re reasoning in circles again. Remember the blood albumin example?

But I’m not the only one who thinks the evidence is very poor  –  so does Fagan!  Look:

VII p. 68 par. 6:This evidence is fragmentary at best and a veritable battleground between paleoanthropological titans.” (Emphasis mine.)

  1. 79 par. 2: “It should be stressed that…all these evolutionary schemes are tentative interpretations at best, based on the thinnest of paleontological evidence.” (Emphasis mine.)

Have you noticed that the experts keep fighting among themselves?  Look:

VIII p. 77 par. 2: “…the question of how the first humans evolved generates arguments so fiery that no two specialists can agree on the answer…”

I have to wonder if Fagan isn’t a closet creationist, trying to undermine anthropology and evolution from within.

Ahhh, and I’ve saved the best for last. Are you ready?

IX. p. 61 par. 4: “On savannah plains other primates were flourishing in small bands, probably walking upright, and, conceivably, making tools.”

Now consider: we have described these primates’ geography (“On savannah plains”), their sociology (“small bands”), their physiology (“primates”, “probably walking upright”), their economy (“flourishing”), and their technology (“making tools”).

THE NEXT SENTENCE: “No fossil remains of these creatures have been found…”