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The Antiquity of Man: Artefactual, fossil and gene records explored
by Michael Brass
Published by America House Book Publishers, Baltimore.
Price $19.95

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Review by Richard Milton
September 9, 2001

When, a dozen years ago, I first published my view that Darwinism is scientifically flawed, I immediately encountered a kind of opponent who was to become very familiar to me over the next decade. I mean the kind who (quite sincerely) believes that anyone who challenges the conventional Darwinist view must be someone who is simply ignorant of the scientific facts. Such an opponent thus sets out to cure the ignorance he meets by the simple expedient of rehashing over and over again the tenets of the received wisdom, as found in the pages of Nature and Scientific American.

These guardians of Darwinian truth find it literally impossible to believe that anyone could actually have conducted some research and analysis that has led them to conclude rationally that Darwinism is scientifically flawed and think that -- like an Englishman abroad -- if only they shout a little louder, the dimwit foreigner might finally get the Darwinist message.

Michael Brass is such an upholder of the received wisdom on Darwinism, and his book, The Antiquity of Man, is just such a rehashing of that received wisdom. There is nothing new here. No new facts, no new scientific discoveries, not even a new interpretation or new analysis, merely the repetition of all the same old stuff that anyone who has ever spent time in a dentist's waiting room, leafing through old copies of National Geographic, is already thoroughly familiar with.

But in his book, Brass is not merely sounding off about anti-Darwinists in general -- he has some specific targets in his sights. From the outset he attacks scientific creationists for their views and he singles out the book 'Forbidden Archaeology' by Michael Cremo and Richard Thompson.

As I'm not a creationist, and I don't have any religious beliefs, I don't intend to try to speak for Cremo, Thompson or anyone else, and I'm sure they are well able to look after themselves. But I am concerned, as a secular critic of the scientific content of Darwinism, that writers like Brass are getting away with obscuring the real scientific issues under the guise of 'debunking' what they pretend is merely 'creationist propaganda', a pretext that enables them to continue to dodge engaging in real scientific debate.

I've read Cremo and Thomson's book. I didn't find any religious propaganda or creationist messages, but I did find a mountain of carefully compiled scientific observations and reports that uniformly tend to undermine the conventional view that people like Brass hold so tightly and are unwilling even to debate openly and honestly. Certainly there are a few geological and palaeontological observations in Forbidden Archaeology that I found weak or questionable. That is hardly surprising since the book is 1000 pages long and contains thousands of references.

What a book like Forbidden Archaeology shows, in my view, is that if even a half (or even a tenth) of the objections raised by its authors are valid scientific objections, then Darwinism is a theory that is in deep, irremediable trouble. And the best that Brass can do in the way of rebuttal is to question a handful of their cases as unproven or badly chosen. His preferred method of rebuttal in almost all cases is that described earlier: he simply recites again, more loudly, the accepted Darwinist view.

We get an early glimpse of Brass's fundamentalist stance on the evidence claimed to support Darwinism such as dating of fossils. On page 38 he presents a table of two kinds of fossil dating. He labels the first as 'relative dating' and the second, radiometric dating by the potassium-argon method, he calls 'absolute dating'. Now, as his degrees are in history and archaeology, it is perfectly possible that Brass is completely unaware of the important scientific error he is making in describing radiometric dating of fossils as 'absolute' dating, and is merely taking it on trust from his physicist colleagues that his belief is correct -- as most scientists do. But the fact remains that the words 'absolute dating' can never be used in connection with the radiometric dating of fossils of any kind. (For background to dating fossils, see 'Shattering the myths of Darwinism' chapters 3, 4, and 5.)

To be fair, I should add that Brass is far from being the only professional scientist who is confused about this question. Most Darwinists are. Even Gavin de Beer, director of the British Museum of Natural History, wrote in the museum's Guide to Evolution, first published in 1970, that the rocks forming the geological column and the fossils in them had been directly dated by radiometric methods -- a claim which is scientific nonsense and based solely on ignorance of the real facts.

In the same passage, Brass tries to make his claims for the potassium-argon method seem credible by pointing out that '0.01% of all natural potassium is radiopotassium.' To the uninitiated, this rarity must make the method seem special. But Brass forgets to mention that the substance this radioactive potassium turns into, the end product that is measured, is argon-40. Argon is the twelfth most abundant element on earth, and more than 99 per cent of it is argon-40. And there is no physical or chemical way to tell whether a given sample of argon-40 is the residue of radioactive potassium or was present in the rocks when they formed.

There are many other places where Brass shows he has swallowed Darwinist urban scientific myths hook, line and sinker. On the very first page of his introduction he repeats the commonly-made claim that Darwinian evolution is supported by observed speciation, when the true scientific facts are that there is not a single real case of observed Darwinian speciation (the cases listed in the talk-origin "FAQ" being entirely bogus [more information available here]).

Whenever he encounters scientific evidence that he is unable to rebut, Brass appeals to authorities who, in his mind, are so grand as to be unimpeachable. Yet these 'authorities' and their words often turn out on closer inspection to have no more substance than Brass himself.

For example, the work of zoologist Solly Zuckermann, has long been a thorn in the side of Darwinists because Zuckermann conducted a study which concluded that Australopithecines (like 'Lucy') were predominantly ape-like and not human-like creatures and thus not ancestral to humans. Brass dismisses the work of Zuckermann, one of Britain's most distinguished zoologists, by reference to a quote from Jim Foley. Who is Jim Foley? He is the author of the talk-origins "FAQ" on human origins, which is as badly-researched and bogus as the rest of the talk-origins "FAQs" [more information available here].

In writing this book, Michael Brass has put on his arms and armour, chosen a cause about which he feels passionately, selected a battleground and engaged those he perceives as the enemies of science. Unfortunately, his armour doesn't fit him, his weapons are blunt, his passionate cause is already lost and, worst of all, he has chosen the wrong battle. For instead of attacking the real enemies of science -- the brain-dead pedlars of urban scientific myths -- he is attacking the few people who are making an honest attempt to question a theory that is long past its sell-by date.

This book is designed to bring aid and comfort to the excrement-hurling howler monkeys that infest Internet groups such as talk-origins, by reaffirming once more the oft-told Darwinist tale of human origins. It does not advance the cause of scientific investigation nor, despite its title, does it shed any light on the antiquity of mankind.

Richard Milton is the author of Shattering the Myths of Darwinism and 'Alternative Science'.


UPDATE from the Editor

Michael Brass has responded to Richard Milton's review, prompting the following response by Milton.


Ten Challenges to Michael Brass
October 29, 2002

In attempting to criticise my review of his book, 'The antiquity of man', Michael Brass has called to his aid a series of false claims to get himself off the hook. Below I point out these errors and challenge Brass to substantiate his bogus claims or withdraw them.

Error

Milton has, in conjunction with the creationist fringe, serious problems with evolution.

There is no sense in which I am "in conjunction with the creationist fringe." This is a crude attempt to smear my objections to Darwinism as being religiously motivated.

And I have no problem at all with evolution. In the preface to my book Shattering the Myths of Darwinism I say; "I accept that there is persuasive circumstantial evidence for evolution, but I do not accept that there is any significant evidence that the mechanism driving that evolution is the neo-Darwinian mechanism of chance mutation coupled with natural selection."

Challenge #1 to Brass:

Produce any evidence that there is any conceivable sense in which I am "in conjunction with" any religious believers. When you fail to do so, withdraw this false allegation.

Produce any evidence that I am in any sense 'anti-evolution,' as you claim, or that I have "problems with evolution." When you fail to do so, withdraw this silly claim.

Error

Milton makes an error by conflating the theory of evolution with "Darwinism."

It is not I who makes an error but Brass. I have not conflated evolution and Darwinism, since, as noted above, I accept that there is persuasive circumstantial evidence for evolution, while rejecting that there is any evidence for Darwinism.

Challenge #2 to Brass:

Produce evidence that I have conflated evolution and Darwinism or withdraw your claim.

Error

In perhaps the most damaging and inaccurate statement of his review, Milton fails to produce any evidence to backup his assertion [that "AOM rehashes old information whilst failing to contribute anything new."].

I agree with Brass that this is a damaging assessment. But far from being inaccurate it is wholly accurate. Moreover, it is not for me to produce evidence -- it is for Brass to do so. And that is precisely what he has failed to do.

It is true that Brass has referred to recently newsworthy material from the pages of National Geographic and Nature (as I said in my review). But this is the same kind of stuff that we have been regaled with by convinced Darwinists for the last fifty years. It merely supports the same old interpretation. What Brass has not done anywhere in his book is produce a single piece of evidence that would make an intelligent, well-informed person say, "This strongly confirms the Darwinist interpretation of human evolution," or even "This sheds new light on the antiquity of humanity."

Had Brass entitled his book, "A Rant Against People I Disagree With," I would have no objection. But he has called it "The Antiquity of Man" and tried to pass it off as having some scientific merit. That is where my objection lies.

Challenge #3 to Brass:

Give us the page reference in your book to one single piece of scientific evidence, or analysis, or even interpretation, that in any way advances our understanding of evolutionary biology or the antiquity of mankind beyond the state of that understanding before the publication of your book. Show us the passage that is going to make an educated, open-minded person think "Well, that's pretty convincing. I'd better look again more closely at modern Darwinian theory."

Error

Nowhere is it stated that a new theory on human evolution is being proposed in AOM and therefore Milton is constructing a strawman argument instead of dealing with the specifics of what my book covers.

Neither I nor anyone else expects Brass to come up with "a new theory on human evolution," and Brass knows this perfectly well. He is merely trying to deflect attention from his embarrassment because I have pointed out that his book contains nothing of any scientific value.

I have not criticised Brass for failing to come up with "a new theory on human evolution." I have criticised Brass for failing to deliver what he promises in the title of his book -- some new information or insight into "the antiquity of man."

Error

Milton states that the work of Michael Cremo and Richard Thompson does not contain "religious propaganda or creationist messages." In making this erroneous claim Milton has ignored what is written on pages 14-5 of AOM....

On page 13 his book, Brass makes the unequivocal and highly damaging claim that Forbidden Archaeology, by Cremo and Thompson, is a "creationist tract." I replied to this claim by saying;

I've read Cremo and Thomson's book. I didn't find any religious propaganda or creationist messages, but I did find a mountain of carefully compiled scientific observations and reports that uniformly tend to undermine the conventional view that people like Brass hold so tightly and are unwilling even to debate openly and honestly.

Brass has been unable to refute what I said in my review so he has instead tried to throw dust in our eyes by referring to what Cremo and Thompson have said about their religious convictions elsewhere, on a web site, rather than in their fully referenced scientific work.

Challenge #4 to Brass:

Produce page references to the creationist propaganda that you allege exists in Cremo and Thompson's book, "Forbidden Archaeology." When you fail to do so, admit your careless misreading of other people's texts, and your careless, superficial handling of facts.

Error

Contrary to Milton's claim that AOM questions "a handful of their cases as unproven or badly chosen," I either prove directly, or provide details of where refutations can be found of, all of Cremo & Thompson's creationist claims for events, artifacts and fossils within the mainstream time period of hominin evolution as both badly chosen and inaccurate.

It is frankly absurd for Brass to boast that he has refuted "all of Cremo & Thomson's...claims." Cremo and Thompson's book, Forbidden Archaeology, is a thousand pages long and contains thousands of scientific references. As I said in my review, no doubt some of these are weak or misguided, but Brass hasn't even begun to attempt to deal with the body of evidence that they have marshaled and for him to pretend that he has is insulting.

Challenge #5 to Brass:

Tell us again -- with page references -- exactly how and where you have rebutted "all" the thousands of examples in Cremo and Thompson's book, Forbidden Archaeology.

When you fail to do so, admit that you wildly over-stated your case to try to get yourself off the hook of having made a foolish claim that you can't back up.

Error

This is a serious accusation [that "the author of AOM has adopted a fundamentalist stance"] which for once Milton attempts to back up....However, this is undermined generally by the discussions of various contrasting scientific viewpoints discussed within the text body, and specifically by the contents of Chapter 4 which indepedently weighs up contrasting hypotheses and reaches a conclusion based solely upon my own interpretation of the evidence to date on the origins of modern human behaviour.

For Brass to make the claim, in all seriousness, that he has included "contrasting scientific viewpoints" in his book merely confirms what I said in my review -- that he is such a prisoner of the Darwinist paradigm he cannot even conceive that there could be alternative scientific views to his own.

Error

To be honest, I am at a loss as to where Milton came up with the statement that "now, as his degrees are in history and archaeology, it is perfectly possible that Brass is completely unaware of the important scientific error he is making in describing radiometric dating of fossils as 'absolute' dating..." Such a view displays a severe lack of fundamental knowledge regarding the archaeological discipline. Every archaeologist receives training in the basics of relative and absolute dating techniques as an undergraduate.... Furthermore, radiometric dating yields a specific date or date range such as, for example, 200 000 years before the present which can easily be translated into 200 000 BC for the general public. The only dating technique which does not by its nature yield a series of absolute dates for geological layers is sequence dating, otherwise known as relative dating.

Since Brass is here honest enough to admit that he still doesn't understand the scientific error he has committed, even after I have pointed it out, I had better spell it out for him.

Sedimentary rocks -- the rocks that contain fossils -- do not contain radioactive elements that would enable the age of the sediment or fossil to be directly determined by radiometric methods in any possible sense of the word "absolute" (the only exceptions are glauconitic sandstones and Illite shales -- but these are a trivially small part of the geological column -- less than a thousandth of one percent of the rocks of the earth's crust).

No rocks of organic origin contain any radioactive material. This includes all limestones, calcareous shales and dolomites, which comprise much of the geological record including, for example, the rocks in South Africa in which Australopithecine remains have been found.

Derived rocks such as sandstones contain volcanic rocks that can be dated, but they will give only the date of the formation of the original rock from which the sand grains were derived, not the date of the formation of the sediments -- still less the date of the fossils they contain.

So when Brass speaks of the "absolute" dating of fossils or the sediments containing them, he is simply betraying his ignorance of the true scientific facts. Radiometric dating can be used only to date sedimentary rocks and fossils in relation to volcanic intrusions and is thus a technique for "relative" dating or "inferential" dating -- not "absolute" dating.

It is not surprising that Brass doesn't understand this, because most people, including most Darwinists, do not understand it.

Challenge #6 to Brass:

Produce a single example of the "absolute" dating of a fossil by direct radiometric dating. When you fail to do so, admit that you are mis-using terms you don't understand and have naively bought into a persuasive urban scientific myth because you haven't thought through the real science behind it or understood the limitations of that science.

Error

[That "AOM provides an inaccurate summary of legitimacy of potassium-argon dating"] is an important accusation which cuts to the heart of one of the mainstays of radiometric dating:
[Milton:] In the same passage, Brass tries to make his claims for the potassium-argon method seem credible by pointing out that '0.01% of all natural potassium is radiopotassium.' To the uninitiated, this rarity must make the method seem special. But Brass forgets to mention that the substance this radioactive potassium turns into, the end product that is measured, is argon-40. Argon is the twelfth most abundant element on earth, and more than 99 per cent of it is argon-40. And there is no physical or chemical way to tell whether a given sample of argon-40 is the residue of radioactive potassium or was present in the rocks when they formed."
But how does this contrast to what is actual written on AOM's page 38?
Roughly 0.01% of all the natural potassium (K) is radiopotassium, or 40K. 40K decays into 40Ar (argon-40). With the decay ratio having been calculated, this dating method has been applied with enormous success to volcanic rock. In human evolutionary terms, it has its greatest application in East Africa, which saw a great deal of volcanic activity in its geological past.

It is almost unbelievable that Brass has sought to rebut my criticism by claiming that...

This dating method has been applied with enormous success to volcanic rock. In human evolutionary terms it has its greatest application in East Africa . . .

because the true facts about potassium-argon dating in East Africa are virtually the opposite of what he claims. Much condensed, the facts are these:

Paleontologists have made many important discoveries of human bones and tools at Lake Turkana (formerly Lake Rudolph) in Kenya marked by a layer of volcanic ash or tuff identified by Kay Behrensmeyer of Harvard and known as the KBS (Kay Behrensmeyer Site) Tuff.

In 1969, F.J. Fitch of Cambridge and J.A. Miller of Birkbeck College, London, dated the KBS Tuff using the potassium-argon method as "very close to 2.6 million years old." This had important implications later because when Richard Leakey found a very rare human skull below the KBS Tuff, he was able to say that it was found below rock that was "securely dated" at 2.6 million years ago.

In 1976 Nature carried a second article by Fitch, Miller and Hooker. They had refined their 1969 date using a more accurate constant of decay and found an age of 2.42 million years ago. In the same paper, the authors referred to "a small programme of conventional total fusion potassium-argon age determinations on East Rudolf pumice samples undertaken at Berkeley."

The experiments they referred to were conducted by G.H. Curtis and colleagues at the University of California at Berkeley who, using potassium-argon dating, came up with dates of 1.6 and 1.82 million years for the KBS Tuff - a discrepancy with Fitch's results ranging from half a million years to close to a million years.

Commenting on the discordant dating, Fitch said, "... potassium-argon apparent ages in the range 1.6 - 1.8 million years obtained from the KBS Tuff by other workers are regarded as discrepant, and may have been obtained from samples affected by argon loss."

Perhaps because the issue of discordance had become public, Fitch went even further in his Nature paper and disclosed that the Berkeley group reported "scatter" in their dates ranging from 1.5 to 6.9 million years, a range large enough to cast some doubts on the accuracy of their work. By comparison, in their own experiments, Fitch and his colleagues claimed much lower "scatter" in apparent ages ranging from 0.5 to 2.4 million years, implying that their measurements were more accurate.

The controversy was brought to a close in 1981 by an argon 40 to argon 39 study by Ian McDougall, of the Australian National University, giving a date of 1.88 million years. As this was halfway between the two previous discordant studies, the combatants decided to call it a day - even though it meant they were both wrong by a large margin. In his paper McDougall frankly confessed that, "Conventional potassium-argon, argon-argon and fission track dating of pumice clasts within this tuff have yielded a distressingly large range of ages."

Indeed, McDougall went even further than this rare emotive statement, because he revealed that the "scatter" referred to by Fitch was in reality even greater than that of Curtis. Fitch and Miller actually reported results ranging from 0.52 to 2.64 million years for one set of samples and ages from 8.43 to 17.5 million years on another sample before eventually settling on their 2.6 million year date.

So the scientific reality is the exact opposite of what Brass claims; potassium-argon dating has been applied with notable lack of success in East Africa, producing dates ranging from half a million years to 17.5 million years, and a discrepancy of close to a million years even in the "settled" dates. This lack of success calls into question its utility anywhere.

Challenge #7 to Brass:

If my criticism of potassium argon dating is a "strawman argument" and I have "failed to recognise how potassium argon dating is applied," as Brass claims, then perhaps he will explain to us exactly how the potassium-argon method can be reliable if it produced the discrepancies (close to a million years) that arose between the university teams described above?

Perhaps he will also explain why we should place any confidence at all in the dating method?

Error

...in his choice to focus upon the talkorigins archive of observed speciations, Milton neglects to discuss ring species (pages 12-3 of AOM) and what the observed, documented genic mechanism is that prevents accumulated allele frequency changes from eventually resulting in a new species over the course of tens of thousands of years. As if that was not neglectful enough, the link Milton provides to his own webpage entitled "Observed instances of speciation" fails to address the specific examples of documented speciation addressed by talkorigins....

All the claimed examples of speciation offered by both Brass and talk-origins are false, for reasons explained on my site.

They fall into a few simple errors -- most frequently the false identification of species status through semantic ruses such as whether or not fruit flies choose of their own volition to mate even when they are genetically identical. In the fossil record, the commonest error is to bestow different 'species' status on different fossils without being able to apply any real species test, and without having a complete chain of physical evidence linking them.

Challenge #8 to Brass:

Produce direct evidence for one single example of speciation. When you fail to do so, admit that speciation remains a hypothetical mechanism, not so far observed or demonstrated either in the fossil record or in the living world.

Error

Whilst it is true I deal with the claims of Zuckerman by means of quoting Jim Foley's talkorigins australopith page, Milton neglects to mention the reason provided on AOM's page 81, namely that it is the best readily available and easily accessible reply.

I had to read this twice to make sure that it wasn't an attempt at humour. Brass is seriously telling us that my criticism is not valid because Jim Foley's is the "best readily available and easily accessible reply." But that is the very reason why I have criticised it! Foley's reasoning and logic are trivial and his content non-existent. There is no scientific rebuttal of Zuckermann -- merely the conviction of scientific fundamentalists like Foley that he must be wrong! The one and only reason that Brass has quoted Foley is because he couldn't find a real scientifically-based criticism.

Nor does Milton deal with the details raised by Foley, namely Wilfred Le Gros Clark's 1950 paper which demonstrates that the australopiths were not apes.

I'll deal with it here.

Le Gros Clark was professor of anatomy at Oxford who was the 1950s equivalent of Jim Foley and Mike Brass -- that is, a scientific fundamentalist who pronounced anyone who disagreed with Darwinism wrong on purely doctrinal grounds. If Zuckermann's study was scientifically flawed then where is Brass and Foley's point by point scientific rebuttal?

Zuckermann concluded that Australopithecines such as Lucy were ape-like and not human-like on three scientific grounds: That Lucy's head was balanced on the spine like an ape's, not like a human's; that her brain was the same size as modern ape's, like a gorilla; and that her jaws and teeth are predominantly ape-like, not human-like.

Challenge #9 to Brass:

Rebut Zuckermanns's study findings by means of scientific facts, rather than bogus authorities. That is, deal with Zuckermann's three points listed above, scientifically. When you fail to do so, admit that you (and Jim Foley) are evading the scientific issue by trying to argue from authority rather than fact -- the usual tactic of Darwinists when challenged on scientific issues.

Error

Leaving aside Milton's unfortunate turn of phrase ["This book is designed to bring aid and comfort to the excrement-hurling howler monkeys that infest Internet groups such as talk-origins"]....

Brass appears to be unaware that the scientific fundamentalists who infest talk-origins and some other newsgroups refer to themselves as "howler monkeys." He may also be unaware that howler monkeys (Allouetta species) do, in fact, hurl excrement at those they wish to abuse. It may well be disappointing for him to find that the people with whom he associates and for whom he is writing are such self-deluding individuals, but that is hardly a fault he can lay at my door.

I rarely frequent talk-origins' Usenet post group

On the very first page of the introduction his book Brass writes, "Readers are encouraged to visit the http://www.talkorigins.org website where various creationist arguments are listed, explained and rebutted in great detail." One naturally wonders why Brass gives such unique prominence to this site if he "rarely frequents" it or does not wholeheartedly support it.

Challenge #10 to Brass:

In my review of his book, I said that I frequently encounter a convinced type of Darwinist who, when they meet opposition, merely repeat the Darwinist creed more loudly in the hope that the dimwit they have encountered will get the message, rather than addressing the scientific issues raised. Everything Brass has written here confirms what I originally said. He has produced nothing new here -- simply trotted out the same old Darwinist urban myths once more, expecting us to uncritically swallow them whole, just as he has himself.

To take just one example, I have conclusively rebutted on my site the claims of talk-origins to have given examples of speciation. Brass "rebuts" this by referring to -- the "examples" of speciation given on talk-origins!

Here is my final challenge to Brass, and it is a very simple one:

Produce a single conclusive scientific fact that confirms the Darwinist interpretation of evolution.

When you fail to do so, publicly admit that Darwinism is nothing more than a theory, lacking experimental confirmation and supported by nothing more than weak circumstantial evidence.

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