Darwin-L Message Log 5:19 (January 1994)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.

<5:19>From hantuo@utu.fi  Wed Jan  5 12:32:50 1994

To: Darwin-L@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
From: hantuo@utu.fi (Hanna Tuomisto)
Subject: Re: Linguistics controversy
Date: 	Wed, 5 Jan 1994 20:36:00 +0200

John Langdon wrote:

>This discussion on historical linguistics sounds a lot like discussions in my
>field of paleoanthropology (among others): mainline researchers plagued by a
>nonsensical theory that won't go away because "proof" and "disproof" are
>impossible, if not meaningless. I spent much of last semester in an extended
>email discussion of the aquatic ape hypothesis, for example.

I admit that I was one of the other persons involved in those discussions.
And after all the argumentation, it still is not clear to me why the
aquatic ape theory is called a "nonsensical theory". There is nothing
inherently impossible in an ecological transition between land and water.
There are examples of animals that have made the transition from land to
water, there are animals that have made the transition the other way round,
and there are animals that exploit successfully both habitats. There are
even primates that do so. And since humans do have quite a few anatomical
and physiological characteristics that are otherwise found only among
aquatic or semiaquatic animals, I see nothing unsound in proposing that the
environment that shaped them has to some extent shaped us.

If we cannot prove or disprove either theory, and neither of them
contradicts any natural laws, on what basis is one of them called nonsense?
Why not just admit that there are two rival theories?

>How can we expect the general public, who is still unable to separate science
>From mysticism, to evaluate such controversies?  Usually we don't. We tell
>them what to believe. That is the sense in these recent comments on Renfrew
>and in my own messages about aquatic apes.

That's not the way how the aquatic ape theory has been promoted, though.
Especially Elaine Morgan has made a considerable effort in collecting and
presenting evidence from many different fields ranging from anatomy,
physiology and medicine to paleontology and geology. Her evidence is all
there, for anyone to evaluate. Most of the counterarguments are also found
in her books, which makes the evaluation even easier. This is in striking
contrast to the mainstream articles on human evolution, which typically do
not even care to mention that an alternative theory has been proposed. The
only printed critiques I have seen against the aquatic theory were one book
(extended congress abstracts) and a couple of book reviews. They mainly
concentrated on ridiculizing the theory, not on presenting evidence.

There might be a parallel between the cases of Renfrew/Greenberg and Morgan
(I know nothing about linguistics and cannot evaluate the science in that
debate), but from some recent postings I have understood that the linguists
at least have considered R/G seriously enough to write articles in which
those views are argued against.

Hanna Tuomisto                  e-mail  hantuo@utu.fi
Department of Biology           Fax     +358-21-6335564
University of Turku             Phone   +358-21-6335634
FIN-20500 Turku, FINLAND

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