Charles Darwin, 1871 The Descent
of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, Chapter 21, page 909.
"False facts are highly injurious
to the progress of science, for they often endure long; but false views,
if supported by some evidence, do little harm, for everyone takes a salutory
pleasure in proving their falseness: and when this is done, one path toward
error is closed and the road to truth is often at the same time opened."
The Aquatic Ape Theory (often referred to as the AAT or AAH -- I'll generally refer to it as the AAT/H on this site)
says humans went through an aquatic or semi-aquatic stage in our evolution and that this accounts for many features seen in human anatomy and physiology.
Using the principle of convergent evolution, it says that life in an aquatic environment explains these features, and that a transition from ape to hominid in a non-aquatic environment cannot.
This web page offers a critical
examination of the Aquatic Ape Theory, treating it as a serious scientific theory.
It is one of the few online sources that does so.
There are many
other web sites which deal with it, but they do not offer the critical
examination which any theory needs to be given.
Why have I done this site?
1) Because AAT/H proponents ask
why don't people take their theory seriously as science, and the way you
take a theory seriously as science is to examine it for accuracy and criticize
it where it falls short, because...
2) "Valid criticism does you
a favor" Carl Sagan, page 32 of The Demon-Haunted World (1995).
I am doing what many AAT/H proponents
-- including its principal proponent, Elaine Morgan -- have repeatedly
claimed they want done: treating the AAT/H as befits a serious scientific
Accepting any new theory uncritically is foolish.
When doing a critique of any theory of human evolution,
you check the facts the authors use to support the theory.
All scientific theories need
to be examined for accuracy; it's an essential component of the process
I'm afraid that when the Aquatic Ape Theory is examined, it
does not fare well.
The AAT/H is built on many supposed facts which, when
examined, do not turn out to be true.
Perhaps the kindest thing would
be to ignore it, but I am not that kind.
Instead I've begun an ongoing
response of pointing out errors of fact, errors in theoretical understanding
(which, though critically important, is more problematic because a lot
of people seem to think this is waffling), and urging the theory's proponents
to respond to valid objections to their theory.
Examining the Facts: A necessary
process of science
It shouldn't have to be pointed
out that when someone produces a theory or hypothesis and calls it science,
it is perfectly legitimate to look at the facts used to support it.
While I've been doing this with the facts which are supposed to support the AAT/H,
I've found some people don't think this is a legitimate thing to do.
Well, it's not only legit, it's absolutely necessary.
That's how science works; without this process, science is simply dueling beliefs, with no
The process of examining evidence and discarding inaccuracies
is crucial to the ongoing process of science.
There are a number of claims
made by AAT/H proponents, and tracking down the source material which supposedly
supports these claims is not always easy.
In a dramatic departure from
the way science is supposed to work, references for specific AAT/H claims
are not always available; many times the author(s) involved simply make
a claim without any reference to a source of evidence for the claim.
For instance, during the period I put together most of the evidence for
this site, chief AAT/H theorizer Elaine Morgan was posting regularly in the
sci.anthropology.paleo newsgroup, and claimed to be willing to supply references
for her written AAT/H claims, but she proved to be reluctant to provide these
references to people who have a past history of actually reading the source
and reporting back what it really says.
Others -- who didn't engage
in this sort of "anti-social" behavior -- reported they have no problem
getting references from Morgan.
Nevertheless, a number of the
claims made by Elaine Morgan and other AAT/H proponents have been tracked down and
The results are not encouraging.
Quite frankly, when I
first read the work done on the AAT/H, I saw some big holes in the reasoning,
but I did think that the evidence which was (sometimes) given was probably
accurately and fully reported.
When I started looking these things up,
however, I found that I was wrong on that count -- the AAT/H has proven to
be a hotbed of those "false facts" Darwin referred to.
What makes me think I know what I'm talking about here?
I don't have any formal credentials
in evolutionary science, so how can I expect you to believe what I tell
you instead of what AAT/H proponents say?
Leaving aside the fact that
all the major AAT/H proponents also lack such credentials, you simply look
at whether or not what I say matches actual, known facts.
On this site I try to provide references for my statements, and appropriate, unaltered
quotes from relevant sources to back up my facts.
The more curious
or enterprising amongst you may wish to read further about some of these
features, and you'll find that easy to do by simply going to a library
and picking up one of the books or journals I mention.
If you try to do the same with most pro-AAT/H accounts, you'll find one of several problems:
they often don't give a reference for a statement or quote at all; when
they do the reference is often incomplete (just a name with no clue as
to what publication or year the info is supposedly from; sometimes even a wrong name).
On this site, I've tried to tie as many of my statements
to specific references as I can; at present this is still incomplete and
will be rectified during my updates.
Pro-AAT/H accounts also
commonly use quotes which are altered to "say" something the quoted person
didn't actually say; they leave out relevant material from the same source
which contradicts the AAT/H position; or they simply claim the source says
the opposite of what that source actually does say.
You won't find those problems here.
If you do find an error on my site, please contact me -- there's a feedback link on most pages.
I got started on this subject
through reading and posting in various science newsgroups during the early
days of the web.
I've got a knack for library research and I like
the detective work that's needed to find an appropriate source of information.
I've also had an informal background in anthropological research, helping
my late wife, Nancy Tanner, with her research on human origins, matriliny,
and social organization.
This entailed finding, reading, and learning
to understand a lot of info that I didn't know, such as molecular studies.
In the process, I've learned that my knack for research also includes an
ability to translate some pretty heavy technical jargon into English, and
explain some complicated subjects in relatively simple terms.
This ability to ferret out information sources from often obscure clues came
in handy when I started to examine the evidence offered for the AAT/H.
The references for AAT/H statements, when they are given at all, are often
maddeningly incomplete or misleading.
For instance, it took some
hunting to find the source for a quote when the quote supposedly came from
a "famous authority during a television programme" (it was actually a 1929
book by Prof. Frederick Wood Jones).
Another time the source
of information for a claim was said to be a 1979 book, with an author mentioned.
Finding the ref then started with finding that book, then finding the one
page out of hundreds (which wasn't given) that referred to the actual
reference which contained the info (a 1956 article), then finding the article
which contained the info, which, it turned out, didn't actually say what
the AAT/H proponent claimed it did.
To complete the critique of that
one AAT/H claim (about seal sweat) also required finding yet another article,
and a total of perhaps 6-8 hours of actual research time.
I'll guarantee you the original one paragraph AAT/H bogus claim didn't take that long to
churn out... and people wonder why anthropologists don't spend their time
and meager research grants chasing down AAT/H claims.
So I guess I'd say my qualifications
for this work are 1) a knack for library detective work, 2) an ability
to learn basic scientific precepts (anyone should be able to do this one),
and 3) being just a little bit nutty, cause those examples I just gave
show you've got to be a little crazy to do it.
As a note, let me state that
I am not the Jim Moore who is a primatologist at UCSD, nor
am I the Jim Moore who wrote and cowrote several books on Darwin, nor the
Jim Moore who's an anthropologist at CUNY.
Although I'm not them,
from what I've seen of their work, I wouldn't be insulted to be mistaken
for any of them.
I hope they feel the same.
I'd like to thank the posters
in the old sci.anthropology.paleo newsgroup, in particular Phil Nicholls
and Alex Duncan, for pointing out many false facts and methodological errors
in the AAT/H's arguments.
Their research was helpful to me many times.
This site is a partial update and redo of a site I had up several years
ago, and I will be continuing to update it whenever I have the chance.
In surfing while rewriting and adding
to this site, I've noticed several AAT/H boosters make the rather odd criticism
that my previous site was old, as if that somehow made the facts therein wrong.
Although many of the facts posted on this site were first
posted on my old site in 1995, they are still valid.
The facts have not changed.
The diving reflex has been present in terrestrial mammals
for centuries, it was in 1995, and it still is, despite the AAT/H claim to the contrary.
Salt hunger has been present in humans for centuries,
it was in 1995, and it still is, despite the AAT/H claim to the contrary.
The infant swimming response has been present in terrestrial mammals for
centuries, it was in 1995, and it still is, despite the AAT/H claim to the contrary.
Hymens have been present in terrestrial mammals for centuries,
they were in 1995, and they still are, despite the AAT/H claim to the contrary.
I could go on, but you'll see all these facts as you go through the site.
Suffice it to say that there have been valid objections to the AAT/H since
its inception, and there still are.
Established facts, as opposed to the AAT/H's many "false facts", do not change.
I've also noticed a criticism
that I simply engage in ad hominem attacks on AAT/H proponents, in
particular Elaine Morgan.
This is a peculiarly funny sort of criticism, since
it is in itself a variation of an ad hominem attack, that is, instead of attacking
the accuracy of what I'm saying, it attacks how I say it.
This is a classic
logical fallacy, one of several that AAT/H proponents often engage in -- there's
a link to a site on logical fallacies on my links page.
The thing is, I go after the accuracy of what these people say, and, yes, I have an aggressive style.
But pointing out that someone made an error, or altered a quote, or said that a scientist said one thing when they actually said the opposite, is not an ad hominem attack.
Frankly, it's doing them an enormous favor, as Carl Sagan stated in that quote.
(This does, of course, assume they're trying to do a good, accurate job at what they're saying.)
It may not sit well with everyone, but quite frankly, I find
it really annoying when good science is taken to task for not accepting
a theory which is so full of holes and mistruths, and which is argued for so dishonestly.
And, by the way, not only are honest scientists harder
on each other than I am on Morgan, Verhaegen et al., any honest scientist is harder
on their own work than I am on Morgan, Verhaegen et al.
Navigation note: You can navigate
through this site's pages by simply following the "Next" button at the
bottom of the pages, or you can use this table of contents to go directly to a page.
I've made the assumption that some of these pages (the linked but indented
pages below) will be reached from here or through the "AAT/H claims and the
facts" page, since they contain info about questions raised there.
Navigating back from those pages must be done with your browser's Back
If you find this to be a problem, let me know.
This is a wide-ranging site, and I want to make navigation through it as sensible
Aquatic Ape Theory: Sink or Swim? (this page)
Why have I done this site?
Examining the Facts: A necessary process of science
What makes me think I know what I'm talking about here?
What is the Aquatic Ape Theory (AAT/H)?
Who thought up the Aquatic Ape Theory?
Vernon Reynolds' Conclusions from the Valkenburg conference and The Aquatic Ape: Fact or Fiction?
What about credentials -- do they matter?
General Problems with the AAT/H
The method of the Aquatic Ape Theory (AAT/H)
Problems with the idea itself
Problems with the presentation and argumentation of the AAT/H:
Definition of savannah
Sexual selection and the AAT/H
Natural and Sexual Selection
ZING!ability, the shifting target
Perhaps the oddest problem with AAT/H proponents' methods
The AAT/H characteristics list
The AAT/H leaflet list
The AAT/H leaflet list...annotated
Relevant Questions for the Aquatic Ape Theory
Actual ubiquitous convergent features of aquatic mammals
AAT/H claims and the facts
Hair and "Hairlessness"
Aldosterone, water, and bipedalism
Fat and the AAT/H
Breath-holding, the diving reflex, the larynx, and the AAT/H
Tears and the AAT/H
Salt and the AAT/H
Mating Postures and the AAT/H
Body Temperature and the AAT/H
The "Swimming Babies" reference
What about predators?
Skin, sweat, and glands
Can AAT/H proponents research be trusted?
Wegener, Continental Drift, and unaccepted theories
Why don't anthropologists mention the AAT/H much?
A brief critique of Morgan's 1997 book, The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis
How to misquote Darwin
Other AAT/H theorists
Alister Hardy's original "Aquatic ape theory"
The Omega-3 gang
Why is the AAT/H so popular?
The unpopular role of luck in evolution
Parsimony and Occam's Razor
Theory leading the data
Objections (to my critiques) and Answers
My response to Elaine Morgan's response to me
Notes on BBC Radio 4 program, "Scars of Evolution" by David Attenborough -- 12 and 19 April 2005
Brain size and EQ (Encephalization Quotient)
Review/Critique of BBC/Discovery Channel documentary The Aquatic Ape
Review/Critique of Elaine Morgan's 2008 book The Naked Darwinist
Review/Critique of Elaine Morgan's 2009 TED Talk
List of Aquatic and Semiaquatic Mammals
Danakil Island and the Baboon Marker: two of the AAT/H's "false facts" which have indeed "endured long"
Excerpts from feedback
Links to other apropos sites