The Real Facts of Human Evolution

by Laurence D Smart B.Sc.Agr., Dip.Ed., Grad.Dip.Ed



[Free to print and distribute. Copy must be in full.]

This drawing should be very familiar. It is found in many science and evolution textbooks, and is exhibited at museum displays about human evolution. But...... is it really factual?

What are the facts that scientists really know about human evolution? A useful resource to find an answer to this question is Ian Tattersall's book, "The Fossil Trail: How we know what we think we know about human evolution". The book describes the facts and the fiction surrounding human origins while providing an overview of discoveries since Darwin's time.

These are the general facts that can be gleaned from the book:-

(1) Human-like fossils have been found in rocks, caves, dry lakes, glaciers, and other sites

(2) Some fossils have been found inside caves, while others have been found near building remains

(3) These fossils have been found in different spots around the world

(4) These fossils have been found in a variety of rock types and at varying depths

(5) Most fossils have been found as scattered bits and pieces

(6) Only a tiny number of complete skeletons have been found

(7) There is a great deal of variety in these human-like fossils

(8) Tools that could have been made by humans have been found with many of these fossils

(9) The tools have been constructed of various materials - stone, bone, wood, antler and metal

(10) The age of fossils and materials older than recorded history (about 2,500 years) are not known

(11) Fossils and materials of unknown age have dates estimated using indirect methods

These are the general facts of human evolution. There are many instances of specific facts describing isolated instances, but these do not lend weight to the overall picture.

Everything else that is said to be 'known' about human evolution is based on scientist's interpretation of this archaeological and fossil evidence. It is obvious then, that, most of what is said to be fact is informed speculation.

Much of this speculative interpretation is coloured by the evolutionary biases of the experts. The back cover of Tattersall's book describes the book as revealing "the insidious ways that received wisdom can shape how we interpret fossil findings, and how what we expect to find colours our understanding of what we do find."

Despite knowing this, TV documentaries, journal articles, news media and school textbooks fill out the few facts with scientist's interpretations, and the whole lot is presented as indisputable fact. Small wonder that students think that scientists have proved that humans evolved and that they know everything about how that evolution happened. John Gribbin and Jeremy Cherfas make this point:-

"Many ordinary people, reading the works of a single popularizer, believe that the riddle of human origins has been solved. In no case is this true, and all the ideas in print today - including our own - are more or less naked speculation." (1982) "The Monkey Puzzle", Bodley Head: London, p:160

Ian Tattersall's book is revealing because it outlines both the facts and the fiction - a rare event indeed. Unfortunately, Tattersall like all evolutionists, regularly slips into the mistake of describing guesses as fact. Despite this lapse, the book reveals the truth very candidly.

The table below lists some of the expressions used throughout the 250 pages of the book. They are the words and phrases that he uses to describe the scientific developments that other books and journals describe as "facts". Notice that they are all ways of saying, "This is what we guess".

a big if

highly implausible


a consensus emerged

highly probable

persuasive paradigm

a debateable point

his view


a well-argued alternative

historical interpretation


a wide margin of error


prefers the idea

almost a foregone conclusion


prepared to accept

alternative scenario

I shall argue


anybody's guess





probably an accurate belief






rather bushy




cause an outcry


reading the evidence



reasonable to accept it

circumstantial evidence

it's a bit early to say for sure

recent speculations

cogent reasons

it's reasonable to believe

reluctant to conclude

coloured interpretation

it does seem

remains possible




considered to be

lend strong support to the idea

school of thought

contentious subject

less likely

scientific farrago


little doubt

seems fairly well established


may be due

seems most likely


may have

seems probable

depending on how you interpret


seems to have been

developed a model

maybe even show

seems to have prevailed



seems virtually certain


might well correlate

squeeze in

does not predict

might well have

subject to speculation




doubts were voiced

more palatable choice



must have been

the most conservative assumption


naive effort

the most convincing explanation


new interpretation

the plot thickens

factors argue against this view

no clearly evident reason



not everyone will agree

thought he had the answer

felt it most likely


thought so


one possibility

various suggestions

hard not to conclude

one school of thought

virtually certain

hard to avoid the conclusion

other inferences

was a little iffy

has been disputed


we can be pretty sure





So what should we regard as the real facts of human evolution? Only those things that can be directly observed can be considered to be facts, not the interpretation of those facts.

Remember, human evolution is an historical hypothesis, and history cannot be proven without an observer's or witnesses' input. Human evolution has no observer's or witnesses' record, so it cannot be scientifically proven. Tattersall agrees, and makes this point:-

"It's not actually possible to prove ancestry" Ian Tattersall (1995), "The Fossil Trail: How we know what we think we know about human evolution", Oxford University Press: New York p:169

Modern 'proofs' of human evolution using cladograms are not proofs in the true sense of the word - ie the type that comes from an examination of the facts using the scientific method. Instead, they are statistical probability diagrams that lend weight to a theory. They can never prove a theory in the way that applying a universal law to a scenario can produce proof.

It is true to say that the foundation of scientific development is the formulation of hypotheses and theories. This activity must never be stifled as any restrictions on speculation would stifle scientific progress. However, it is the regard of hypotheses and theories as absolute fact that flies in the face of the scientific method and true scientific research.

Hypotheses are OK - so long as they are spoken of, taught as, propagated as, and written about, as hypotheses - not FACT.


Human evolution, therefore, remains unproven -

the facts just aren't there.


NOTE: As a scientist, formerly involved in research, I know that claims of fact without indisputable proof would not be tolerated in most branches of experimental science. In medicine, health and nutrition, for example, scientists would be deregistered, de-frocked, disbarred and sued for propagating theory as fact. Paleoanthropology (the study of ancient humans) appears to be one field where such rules of factual integrity are deliberately and universally ignored.




SOURCE: Ian Tattersall (1995), "The Fossil Trail: How we know what we think we know about human evolution", Oxford University Press: New York