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Junk Science at Smithsonian’s Hall of Human Origins


This past week I was in Washington, DC (no, not to see the Pope) and had the opportunity to spend a couple hours at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. I had long looked forward to seeing its David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins.

Ever since the hall opened in 2010, I’d been hearing that the exhibit was not just biased in favor of evolution, but had an unabashed evangelical motive to promote evolution to the public. In fact, in 2010 I heard Rick Potts (director of the Smithsonian’s Human Origins Program) speak at an American Scientific Affiliation conference where he essentially admitted just that. He more or less told the audience that the purpose of the Smithsonian’s human origins displays was to encourage the public — especially religious communities — to accept evolution.

Marvin Olasky recently reviewed the museum in World Magazine, but I needed to see it for myself. I love museums, and I love fossils, and I don’t mind at all when museums talk about evolution. What I found is that the Hall of Human Origins is so zealous in its agenda that it was willing to promote junk science to achieve its goals.

One thing that really struck me is how the exhibit repeatedly called early hominins “early humans” even though they’re very far from humanlike. This apparently is an effort to make you think that these creatures are really “us” and we are “them.”

For example, early on I watched an interactive video display that showed a young paleoanthropologist discussing “early humans.” I thought I heard her mention Paranthropus robustus as an example of an “early human,” but I wasn’t sure I heard that correctly. Surely, I mused, nobody would call Paranthropus robustus an “early human” when it’s thought, even by mainstream paleoanthropologists, to belong to a distant side branch that was far removed from human origins. So I stuck around to listen to the whole video over again to make sure I hadn’t misheard.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t misheard.

So why was the exhibit calling Paranthropus robustus an “early human” — when its very name means “parallel to man” because it’s not thought to be in our line of ancestry, but was a distinct creature that probably lived alongside early Homo? The rest of my visit helped explain what was going on.

This same pattern repeated throughout the exhibit. Again and again, it promotes as “ancient humans” fossils that virtually no scientist would call “human” — and clearly don’t belong in the genus “Homo.” Here’s one example:



  • Another display said, “From at least 6 to 3 million years ago, early humans combined apelike and humanlike ways of moving around.” These must be really early humans because there were no humans around back then, and nothing that looked human or walked or thought or behaved like humans. Yet the exhibit calls these “early humans” apparently so visitors will think that these non-human species are connected to us.
  • Another display says “For the first several million years of human evolution, early humans lived only in Africa.” The display makes it clear they’re talking about species prior to 1.8 million years ago. But again, prior to that time it’s not clear that Homo existed. The species from that period were not human.
  • Yet another display shows a chimp, an australopithecine, and a modern young lady and calls the australopithecine “early human.” A similar display portrays an “early human” that is 3 million years old next to a “modern human” eating a slice of pizza. The problem, of course, is that 3 million years ago there was nothing around that should be called “human,” whether “early ” or otherwise.
  • Finally, one panel calls Sahelanthropus tchadensis an “early human” though it is from about 6 million years ago, and all we have of this species is a skull that some have said resembles a gorilla.

It’s simple: The Smithsonian’s Human Origins hall is overwhelmingly animated by the desire to sell Darwinism. That isn’t surprising. After all, during the California Science Center case, we discovered that internal Smithsonian emails said ID is officially “against SI/MNH policy.” And that’s true enough. The Smithsonian punished evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg just for publishing a peer-reviewed article by Stephen Meyer in a technical biological journal.

As an institution, the Smithsonian is zealous for Darwinism — so much so that it is willing to promote claims that are obviously bad science.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



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