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Piltdown man was a hoax (Talk.Origins)

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Response Article
This article (Piltdown man was a hoax (Talk.Origins)) is a response to a rebuttal of a creationist claim published by Talk.Origins Archive under the title Index to Creationist Claims.


Claim CC001:

In 1912, Charles Dawson and Arthur Smith Woodward announced the discovery of a mandible and part of a skull from a gravel pit near Piltdown, England. The mandible was apelike except for humanlike wear on the teeth; the skull was like a modern human. These bones became the basis for Eoanthropus dawsoni, commonly known as Piltdown Man, interpreted as a 500,000-year-old British ape-man. But in the early 1950s, it was found that the jawbone was stained and filed down to give its appearance and that the skull was a recent human fossil. In short, Piltdown Man was a fraud. British scientists believed it because they wanted to. The failure to expose it sooner shows that scientists tend to be guided by their preconceptions.

Source: Gish, Duane T., 1985. Evolution: The Challenge of the Fossil Record. El Cajon, CA: Creation-Life Publishers, pp. 188-190.


CreationWiki response: (Talk.Origins quotes in blue)

1. Piltdown man was exposed by scientists. The fact that it took forty years is certainly no shining example of science in action, but it does show that science corrects errors.

Piltdown man serves as an illustration of how erroneous and even fraudulent evidence can persist for a long time. If it were not for the more recent example called Archaeoraptor, Piltdown man could be dropped, but Archaeoraptor shows that little has changed in 100 years. While Archaeoraptor was exposed quickly, it was only because of the chance discovery of the opposite slab of the microraptor bottom.

Preconceptions are an unavoidable problem in just about any investigation, but they are less so in science because first, different scientists often have different preconceptions, and second, the physical evidence must always be accounted for. Many scientists from America and Europe did not accept Piltdown Man uncritically, and the hoax unraveled when the fossils could not be reconciled with other hominid fossil finds.

However in the case of Evolution the preconception of Evolution is universal among the scientific establishment. Since Creationists have seldom had access to major fossils, they are examined only by scientists with a preconception of Evolution, thus it remains a problem.

In both Piltdown Man and Archaeoraptor the evidence of the hoax was right there all the time. If evolutionists had just looked critically, they would have found both before publishing. Instead both hoaxes had to wait for future finds for the hoax to discovered.

One hoax cannot indicate the inferiority of conventional archeology, because creationists have several of their own, including Paluxy footprints, the Calaveras skull, Moab and Malachite Man, and others. More telling is how people deal with these hoaxes. When Piltdown was exposed, it stopped being used as evidence. The creationist hoaxes, however, can still be found cited as if they were real. Piltdown has been over and done with for decades, but the dishonesty of creationist hoaxes continues.

This is a total misrepresentation of the facts. Talk Origins implies that all four were hoaxes and that the hoaxes were perpetrated by Creationists. First of all, of the four examples only Calaveras skull is actually a hoax and then it was not perpetrated by a creationist, rather it was a practical joke done by a worker on the site. It was published in Readers Digest as legitimate before ever being used by a creationist. The Calaveras skull has since been dropped.

Moab man, Malachite man and the Paluxy footprints are not hoaxes, but are at worst errors. All three of these have been dropped by most creationists as being uncertain at best. Furthermore those creationists that still cite these examples are not being dishonest but are convinced that they are legitimate, not being convinced by evolutionist arguments to the contrary.

Talk Origins is itself being dishonest here by making it look as though creationists are perpetrating hoaxes, when they are not. There is a big difference between perpetrating a hoax and not being convinced by a contrary argument.

Whether a claim is disproved by creationist or evolutionist, it does not always matter. Evolutionists scorn creationists for skepticism regarding claims of evidence. Yet when evidence is overturned (fraud, hoax, or error) this further justifies creationists' skepticism of fossil evidence, and evolutionists can only respond that this proves the self-correcting nature of science, or put forth a retroactive confession.

See Also