Sunday, September 18, 2005

Bones of contention

In 1857 a beetle-browed skull cap was found in a cave in Germany's Neanderthal valley, and soon other "cave man" relics began turning up all over continental Europe. These so-called Neanderthals were anatomically different than modern humans, and British anthropologists pined to have a "cave man" of their own

Then, near end of the 19th century, fossils that were claimed to be Neanderthal turn up in a gravel pit at Galley Hill, on the banks of the Thames River. The much ballyhooed Galley Hill Man was subsequently shown to be a modern woman, perhaps a victim of the gallows from which the hill takes its name.

If one does an internet search for "Galley Hill Man," most of the hits will be sites maintained by creationists. Nothing more delights these folks than evolutionists making mistakes. If scientists were wrong about Galley Hill Man, they crow, then they could be wrong about other things too. But of course scientists are human and as prone to folly as the rest of us. What the Galley Hill -- and Piltdown Man -- stories demonstrate, if anything, is the willingness of scientists to change their minds when a preponderance of evidence goes against them, a characteristic decidedly lacking among those who believe that truth has been revealed once and for all by divine communication.

See this week's Musing.