Anthropology: Understanding Human Adaptation

by Michael C. Howard
& Janet Dunaif-Hattis

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This introductory textbook is intended to be a challenging presentation of the evolutionary view of anthropology directed at the freshmen student level. At the onset the authors state that their treatment of evolutionary anthropology will be, "concerned with systematically observing and classifying facts and establishing verifiable laws" (p. 7). The purpose of this review is to consider the kind of "facts" and "verifiable laws" that are offered in this textbook from a Biblical creation view of origins.

Presentation of Scientific Concepts

For these authors the first step in the process of scientific inquiry begins with the assumption of naturalism without recognition of the foundational importance of their choice: "What natural force could lead to the enormous complexity and diversity of life? What natural force could explain the existence of such different forms of life as mushrooms, dogwood trees, giraffes, and humans? The answer to this ultimate biological question is evolution" (pp. 23-24, emphasis added). As the authors go on to consider the mechanisms of evolution they leave no room for doubt about their allegiance to the evolutionary view of origins: "We must emphasize that it is not evolution per se that is being questioned, but the processes by which it proceeds" (p. 46). The authors do, however, give reason to doubt the depth of their understanding of the nature of science when they assert that, the theory of "evolution is a scientific fact" (p. 117), or that there may be a "proof" for a theory (p. 156), since the idea of a "proof" can only be properly applied in reference to mathematics or logic. The authors also make it clear that they will not tolerate any alternative conceptions of origins when they dedicate major portions of the text to the marginalization of a creation view of origins which they conclude is, "based on faulty logic and on the misuse of scientific research" (p. 48).


Another fundamental assumption of the text is found in its alternative definition of the scientific method which was not adequately explained, in spite of its dependence on this "important recent trend" in anthropology (pp. 7, 219). The trend followed by the text involves the improper use of an "inference by analogy" as the means to allow science to address historical events and processes. Through the use of analogies they hope to allow observations of events and processes in the present to test hypotheses about the past. When correctly utilized an analogy can allow scientists to make an inference based on the similarity of natural processes. An example of the proper use of an analogy is the use of animals studies for prediction of the effects of drugs in humans. It is crucial to recognize that in order to correctly make an inference by analogy there must be careful observation of the degree of correlation between the processes speculated to be analogous which can only be accomplished by observing them simultaneously in the present.


The most important problem with the use of an inference by analogy to allow science to address historical events or processes is seen by contrasting the standard definition of science with the alternative the text offers.

The Standard Scientific Method
: Applies to naturally recurring processes in the present.

1. Observation: Direct or indirect in the present.
2. Problem: Question posed about natural process that is relevant and testable in the present.
3. Hypothesis: An educated proposal for an explanation of naturally recurring processes in the present and for the future.
4. Experiment: Direct test of hypothesis in the present which is possible to repeat in the future.
5. Theory: Scientific theories are hypotheses about the present and future confirmed by experiments in the present. They will be judged by their predictive value in the future.

The alternative scientific method is an attempt to explain singular events and processes in the past through "historical theories" which are hypotheses about the past inferred by observations or experiments in the present. These may or may not be applicable for prediction of future events. The important distinction to be made between the standard scientific method of inquiry and the alternative, is that in confirmation we are able to observe the actual processes themselves; however, when we take observations in the present to infer that processes or events may have occurred in the past we must recognize that this is mere speculation and not logically guaranteed or necessarily reasonable. The text finally acknowledges the problem with their alternative through an example of an "ethnographic analogy."

For example, Thor Heyerdahl's (1950) Kon-Tiki expedition was an attempt to support his theory that the Polynesian islands were populated from the Americas (the predominant scientific view is that the South Pacific islands were populated from Southeast Asia). To prove his point [through analogy], Heyerdahl constructed a large balsa raft, which he used to make the long and perilous voyage from the coast of Peru to the Tuamotu Islands. However, while this successful journey did demonstrate the durability of the raft, it did not positively prove Hyerdahl's theory (p. 220).

In the end this perfectly successful analogy was unable to positively prove, confirm, or infer anything except that it could have happened "just-so" (p. 147).


Evolutionary Evidence

The most common error in this text relates to the imprecise use of the word "evolution." The authors use the single word "evolution" to describe any and all forms of change: a change due to recombination through sexual reproduction (p. 39), a change due to mutation (p. 53), a change due to natural selection (p. 32), a change due to artificial selection (p. 36), and even a change due to "matter in motion" (pp. 27-28, 49). One of the consequences of the author's loose application of the word "evolution" arises in discussion of specific cases of "micro" or "macro" evolution where the imprecision results in the confounding of these intrinsically different processes.


The textbook also offers a handful of the standard "proofs" for evolution such as: industrial melanism in the peppered moth, mosquito resistance to DDT, and sickle cell anemia. The first two cases are merely instances of microevolution, a mechanism that allows the expression of latent information pre-encoded for the survival of the organism, which is fully in accord with the creation view of origins. However, the text incorrectly refers to the peppered moth variation as a mutation (p. 59) without justification, when it is, in fact, a polymorphic variation due to the expression of genetic information already present. The last case relates to a genetic defect in the hemoglobin of the red blood cells known as sickle cell anemia. When a person is homozygous for this defect, there is a much lower risk of survival, but when a person is heterozygous there is no personal risk to survival and there is also an increased resistance to malaria. Therefore, natural selection has increased the gene frequency for heterozygous carriers of sickle cell anemia in a balance between the deadly effects of sickle cell anemia and the deadly effects of malaria. Of course this defect must be considered a very special case of "positive" mutation, since if taken as the model for the innumerable mutations required for macroevolution, the probability of being homozygous for any one of these fatal mutations would be astronomically large, rapidly approaching zero probability of survival. Because of this there has been a great deal of effort expended in the search for an indisputably positive mutation (increased complexity) as "proof" that macroevolution may occur.


The section that dealt with human evolution was extremely weak, in large part due to the vague manner with which it presented the facts. There were many instances where fossil evidence was mentioned without giving the fossil reference code by which it could be evaluated (pp. 161, 166). Also missing was an overall assessment of the morphological features with ranges for the various fossil categories. Further, only a small group of fossil skull photographs, taken at diverse angles, were given which made comparison difficult for anyone not already familiar with these particular fossils. This section did offer four vague and contradictory diagrams of schemes for human evolution (p. 159), but there was no overall time chart that recorded the relevant fossils based on their morphological features. Of course, this is to be expected, since if any of this information were made available to the unbiased student, human evolution would require much "clearer proof" (p. 156) than what is presented in this text.


It would be hard to ignore the extent of evolutionary racism throughout history; however, the authors attempt to soften the justified criticism by merely acknowledging the "ethnocentrism" of the early evolutionists (pp. 360-362). Many people assume that one of the strongest evidences for evolution is the existence of racial variation, but it may surprise them to hear these evolutionists agree with creationists that "no fundamental biological differences have been found among contemporary races" (p. 491). In an effort to address the racist excesses of evolutionism the authors appear to use a political standard rather than the evolutionary standard of survival of the fittest, "As we have noted, the validity of race as a biological concept has come into doubt, particularly because of its strong political, sociological, and emotional significance" (p. 198). It may not be too surprising to hear the authors admit that evolutionary, "anthropological ideas reflect the social climate of the times" (p. 359).


Philosophical/Religious Viewpoint

Early in the textbook the authors revealed their preference for pagan polytheism and against Biblical monotheism when they quoted Ernst Mayr's explanation of the virtues of polytheism, "No powerful single God [existed] with a 'revealed' book that would make it a sacrilege to think about natural causes" (p. 25). It appears they are not aware that the founders of the key disciplines of natural science were in the majority Christian creationists, or at least working on the foundation of the Biblical view of creation. Later, in the chapter titled, "Religious Belief, Behavior, and Symbolism," the authors give fuller expression to their preferences. But an important step toward that goal was a defective definition of religion that excluded philosophy, even though it fulfills the role of religion for its followers. The advantage of this side-stepping maneuver is that the author's assumption of naturalism did not have to be justified. Even so, the devastating effects of the many nineteenth and twentieth century philosophies such as: atheism, imperialism, communism, Nazism, Social Darwinism, and evolutionism, surely warrant more than the few words found in this section that claims to deal with "society's view of the world" (p. 546). A proper definition of religion is given in Webster's New World Dictionary (1960), "Any specific system of belief, worship, conduct, etc., often involving a code of ethics and a philosophy."


Under the pretense of cultural relativity, this chapter deals gingerly with each of the extreme cases chosen to illustrate religion (Rastafarians, Cargo Cults, Voodoo, etc.), however in the case of Christianity every opportunity is taken to mock, criticize, and condemn both its teachings and practice. I have noted at least 28 separate cases of this bias throughout the text, plus the many other instances within some of the extended sections. This chapter actually goes so far as to allege that the Wycliffe Bible Translators organization has "links" with the CIA (p. 562). This is all justified based on the case that the authors attempt to make that Christianity is "ethnocentric;" a term used in such a way that it appears primarily contrived to stigmatize Christians. With the consistent anti-Christian theme of this text one might expect this section to identify some Christian teaching that could explain the root cause for their concerns. Instead they simply make one allegation after another that Christianity supports racism, imperialism, economic injustice, etc., without any scriptural support for such assertions (p. 564). That is not to say that there are no references made to the Bible in this chapter, but in each case they are given so that it might appear that the Rastafarian cult has originated from Biblical teachings (pp. 546, 549, 558).



In conclusion, this textbook is a thoroughgoing indoctrination in the naturalistic evolutionary world view and therefore it does not attempt to honestly inform the student about any of the alternative views of anthropological origins--particularly special creation. One lesson that can be learned from this textbook is how the understanding of the typically young, unprepared, and vulnerable freshmen will be channeled as they strive to learn the truth about anthropology. Though evolutionists are usually optimistic about the potential for such secular education, when these authors consider the purpose of education their optimism turns sour. The summary of their view is given by reference to another "scholar" without qualification, "The function of education has never been to free the mind and the spirit of man, but to bind them" (p. 476 emphasis added). A creationist would naturally prefer the teachings of Jesus Christ who said, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).

1. Michael C. Howard & Janet Dunaif-Hattis. Anthropology: Understanding Human Adaptation.  (Harper Collins Publishers: New York, 1992.) 673 pages.


Tim Nordgren, 6-1-96