Ape-men and the Media

There are a number of things with which people of all ages seem to have a fascination. Dinosaurs are one of them. I rarely do a presentation on dinosaurs without having several people from a wide range of the human spectrum come up and tell me how enthralled they are with dinosaurs. Hearing three-year-olds rattle off the names of dinosaurs and seeingT-Rex dinosaur 80-year-olds filling their houses with Jurassic Park memorabilia is a common experience these days. A major contributor to this phenomena is the media. Not only do we have movies and cartoons with great special effects, but television documentaries by the dozen seem to fill a disproportionate percentage of television time of all channels. Magazines like National Geographic, Discover, Popular Science, Smithsonian, and Reader's Digest also feed us a constant diet of dinosaur pictures and narratives.

A similar situation exists in the media's handling of ape-men or cavemen. Our children are saturated with everything from "Fred Flintstone" to Alien, and media articles flow at an incredible rate. One of the leaders in this flood of information and misinformation is Time. In the August, 1999, issue, the cover story was titled "How Man Evolved" and featured a speciman named Ardipithecus ramidus. More recently, in the July 23, 2001, issue of the magazine, the cover story was titled "How Apes Became Human."

The problem with presentations of this kind is not that such a news item is presented to the public. The problem is that the media engages in a sell job, not a news report. The ape-man reported in the July 23, 2001, issue of Time is named Ardipithecus ramidus Kadabba. When you open to the story, you are greeted with a painting of the specimen as the artist imagines it may have looked and the heading "Meet your newfound ancestor." When you start reading the article, you are flooded with glowing descriptions of how manlike the specimen must have been. The singular evidence that the specimen walked in an erect position is a toe bone that appears to be arched and structured in such a way that it would have allowed the animal to have erect posture.

Diagram showing positions of bones when unearthed When the authors of the article display a picture of the fossil remains that have been used to reconstruct Ardipithecus ramidus Kadabba, they imply that what they found was a spread of bones arranged as shown in the picture to the right. There are several significant points that need to be made about the fossil shown in this picture, but notice that the bones are laid out in a way that at least lets you feel there is a good chance that they all come from the same specimen. The skull fragments are on the very top, the mandible (or lower jaw bone) is below the skull cap, there are arm bones below the jaw, and the sacrum and hip bones are below the arm bones. Leg bones are located below the hip.

The most important bone in the Ardipithecus ramidus Kadabba specimen is a toe bone. The toe structure is one way of telling whether a specimen stood erect or not. Arched toes are very useful to retain balance when walking erect so a lot of attention is paid to these bones. Another way of determining erectness is by the opening to the skull call the foramen magnon. An erect animal will have this opening through which the spinal column enters the brain at the bottom center of the skull. Animals that walk on four legs will have this opening on the back of the skull so the head is in front of the rest of the body. To really tell if this specimen walked in an erect fashion, both toe and complete skull remains should be found, but only skull fragments are available and they are scattered over an area of about a square mile. The toe fragment, however, was found 10 miles away from the other bones. It is highly unlikely that the toe bones came from the specimen the other bones came from, and the pictures of what this ape looked like are pure fiction in terms of the actual evidence.

Media exaggeration and distortion takes place on many levels. The fossil shown in the picture is the actual bone spread for Lucy, a specimen which has been claimed to be a missing link. When an anthropology student considers the bones, a very different picture emerges. The brain case is 421cc--smaller than a chimpanzee. The shape of the mandible is V--not box-shaped like an ape or C-shaped like man. The size of the femur is very close too the size of the humerous. All of these characteristics suggest a monkey--none of them a human. As displayed, it appears that the sacrum and the hip may have gone together in a vertical position, indicating erectness, but nothing else does. Many evolutionary theorists believe that apes became erect and that this led to larger brain size and ultimately to man. It is also postulated by other scientists that brain size came first and that erectness came later. Finding a small-brained primate that is erect would support the former argument.

The problem in this situation is not a scientific one. Proposing a theory and looking for evidence that will either support or counter that theory is the way science works. Because scientists are human beings, there will occasionally be frauds and mistaken claims, but the media takes its own belief system and publicizes data they think supports those claims before science has had a chance to really study it. Look at the abbreviated history:

Skull and Ape head 1912: New York Times ran an article titled "Darwin Theory Proved True" based upon a find made by British scientists, including Grafton Elliot Smith, Sir Arthur Keith, and Arthur Smith Woodward, all of the British Museum.

The fact is that the skull had not been studied scientifically; and when it was, the jaw turned out to be from a modern orangutan which had been been stained to look old and with the teeth filed down to make them more human looking.

1922: Illustrated London News printed a two-page spread showing two brutish, naked ape-persons, the male with a club and the female gathering roots. The media made all kinds of claims about the specimen, claiming it to be "the herald of anthropoid apes in America." It turned out that the entire construction had been made from a single tooth, and tooth turned out to be from a peccary--a close relative of the pig.

November, 1999: National Geographic ran a 10-page color spread on Archaeoraptor as a "true missing link" between the birds and the dinosaurs. It turned out to be a fake made by gluing fragments of bird and dinosaur fossils.

All of these examples (and many others could be given) are cases where the media exaggerated the find or made its claim before adequate scientific study had been made of the specimen. In the 1999 case, both of those things have been done. The beauty of science is that, in spite of the media and its claims, eventually the real situation will be found and explained. The biblical explanation of man focuses on man's spiritual makeup and not the history of the makeup of the body in which we are housed. When our young people are confused by claims like the recent Time article, we need to show them the facts and emphasize the important thing about their makeup as being in God's image.

--John N. Clayton

Back to Contents Does God Exist?, NovDec01.