Author: James Lippard (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Title: Lucy's knee joint: How creationists deal with their errors
Update: July 7, 1994
LUCY'S KNEE JOINT: A CASE STUDY IN CREATIONISTS' WILLINGNESS TO ADMIT
Last updated: July 6, 1994
Originally posted: June 17, 1994
Creationists have been making the claim that Donald Johanson found the
knee joint of "Lucy," a 40%-complete skeleton of the species _Australopithecus
afarensis_, in a location "Sixty to seventy meters lower in the strata and
two to three kilometers away" (Willis, 1987). This claim is false, and it
has been pointed out repeatedly to those who make the claim that it is false.
None of the major proponents of the claim have retracted it. One major
proponent has privately agreed that it is false, and a few creationists
have agreed to stop repeating it. One minor proponent made a public
The claim originated with Tom Willis, head of the Creation Science
Association for Mid-America, in an article he wrote for the _Bible-Science
Newsletter_ (1987). In his article, Willis reported on a lecture by
Johanson at the University of Missouri on November 20, 1986. Willis
reported that the following exchange occurred during the question-and-answer
session which followed Johanson's lecture:
Q. How far away from Lucy did you find the knee?
A. Sixty to seventy meters lower in the strata and two to three
Either Willis or Johanson (probably Willis) misunderstood the question
being asked. The question was not how far away from Lucy her own knee
joint was found, but rather how far away from Lucy was the knee joint
Johanson found the year before he discovered Lucy. The discoveries of
both the original knee joint (1973) and Lucy (1974) are described in
detail--including the locations of the finds--in Donald C. Johanson
and Maitland E. Edey, _Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind_ (1981) and
in the articles in the April 1982 issue of the _American Journal of
Physical Anthropology_. The creationist misunderstanding would never
have occurred had either of these sources been consulted. Johanson has
always been clear about the fact that his 1973 knee joint was a separate
find from Lucy. All of the bones shown in photographs of Lucy were found
at a single location.
The problem has been compounded by the Institute for Creation Research's
use of the name "Lucy" to refer to both the species _Australopithecus
afarensis_ and the individual "Lucy," as ICR Museum director John Rajca
did on the June 18, 1994 segment of the ICR's "Science, Scripture and
Salvation" radio program. Rajca said:
In the fall of 1973, near Hadar, Dr. Johanson found the fossil
of what is now called Lucy. The reason it is called Lucy is that
the Beatles song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" was playing in the
camp when the fossil was discovered. The first specimen of Lucy to
be uncovered was a knee joint. At first this was judged to be a
monkey; it was later labelled by Johanson as a hominid. Lucy is a
40% complete female skeleton....
The claim that Lucy's knee joint was found separate from the rest of
the skeleton has been made by Russell Arndts (1991), Walter Brown
(1989a), Michael Girouard (1989), Kent Hovind (1993a), David
McAllister (1993a), John Morris (1989), David Nutting (1991, 1993,
1994), Paul Taylor (1989), and Tom Willis (1987). The following is a
brief summary of attempts to get retractions:
* Arndts was corrected by a letter to the editor of the _Bible-Science
Newsletter_ from Lippard (April 12, 1991). The letter was neither
published nor replied to.
* Brown was corrected by Lippard (1989-90 and 1989), quoting from
Johanson (1989). Brown's response (1989b and 1989-90) was to evade
the issue and offer a completely different criticism of Johanson's
"First Family" finds. This was in turn responded to by Lippard (1990),
quoting from Johanson (1990). Brown never responded further. A
letter from Lippard to _Origins Research_ (May 1990) responding to
Brown (1989b) was never published or acknowledged. (The information
in that letter was published in Lippard (1990).)
* Girouard was corrected by Lippard in person immediately after his
presentation, and given a copy of Johanson (1989). Girouard asked
Lippard to write him a letter, and promised to respond. Lippard's
letter of December 5, 1989 provoked no reply.
* Hovind was corrected by a letter from Lippard (October 30, 1993) and
agreed to stop using the claim (1993b).
* McAllister was corrected in person by Lippard and given copies of
Johanson (1989 and 1990). He publicly corrected the mistake during his
lecture, and asked for other criticisms of his lecture and seminar
workbook by letter. Lippard sent a detailed critique (November 7,
1993). McAllister (1993b) responded saying that he did not have time
to reply at the moment, but would do so before the end of the year. He
* Morris (1993) admitted that he had read Lippard (1989-90) and knew
the claim was false, but stated that he did not feel that a retraction
of his 1989 article was necessary.
* Nutting was sent a letter by Jim Foley asking about the claim in January
1994. He has not responded to that letter, and has subsequently repeated
the claim (1994). Foley sent Nutting another letter, including an earlier
version of this FAQ, on July 6, 1994.
* Taylor has not been contacted by me. The fourth edition of his book
(second printing, June 1993) does not mention Willis' article or the
knee joint claim directly, but part of reference  in this
Albert W. Mehlert, "A Study of Comments by Evolutionist Authorities
on the Alleged Hominids Found in the Hadar/Afar region of Africa,"
_Contrast: The Creation Evolution Controversy_ Vol 6, No 1
(Bible-Science Association, January 87), pp1-2,4 (provides evidence
that "Lucy" was made up of fossils from two separate sites and was
an ape, "probably a chimp-like ape").
I have not yet obtained this article (which predates Willis) to see
if it makes the same claim.
* Willis was corrected by a letter from Lippard in 1989, but never
Thanks to Jim Foley (Jim.Foley@FtCollinsCO.NCR.COM) for the
information about the fourth edition of Taylor's book and about David
Nutting. Thanks to KG Anderson (email@example.com) for
information about Rajca and the ICR radio program.
Arndts, Russell (1991) "MinnLogic: The Size of the Burial Site and the
Number of Individuals Buried," _Bible-Science Newsletter_ vol. 29,
no. 4, April, p. 8.
Brown, Walter T. (1989a) "Brown Responds to Lippard," _Creation/Evolution_
vol. 9, no. 1, issue 25, Fall, pp. 35-48.
--- (1989b) "Dr. Brown Responds," _Origins Research_ vol. 12, no. 2,
Fall/Winter, p. 12.
--- (1989-90) "A Second Response to Jim Lippard," _Creation/Evolution_
vol. 9, no. 2, issue 26, Winter, pp. 34-54.
Girouard, Michael (1989) "Ape Men--Monkey Business Falsely Called Science,"
Presentation at the Institute for Creation Research "Back to Genesis"
Conference in Tucson, Arizona, December 1.
Hovind, Kent (1993a) Videotape of lecture in South Carolina (unknown date).
--- (1993b) Personal communication (audiotape) to Jim Lippard, November 5.
Johanson, Donald C. (1989) Personal communication (letter) to Jim Lippard,
--- (1990) Personal communication (letter) to Jim Lippard, May 30.
Lippard, Jim (1989-90) "A Further Examination of the Research of Walter
Brown," _Creation/Evolution_ vol. 9, no. 2, issue 26, Winter, pp. 17-33.
--- (1989) "Johanson Coverup?" _Origins Research_ vol. 12, no. 2,
Fall/Winter, p. 12.
--- (1990) "A Final Response to Walter Brown," _Creation/Evolution_
vol. 10, no. 1, issue 27, Summer, pp. 28-36.
McAllister, David (1993a) _Creation or Evolution: The Real Story_.
Seminar workbook, Christian Life And Service Seminars (C.L.A.S.S.),
Tucson Community Church. Seminar on November 7.
--- (1993b) Personal communication (letter) to Jim Lippard, November 23.
Morris, John D. (1989) "Was 'Lucy' an Ape-man?" _Back to Genesis_.
In _Acts & Facts_, November, p. d.
--- (1993) Personal communication (telephone interview) with Jim Lippard,
Nutting, David I. (1991) _Think and Believe_ vol. 8, no. 1, January/February.
Cited in Nutting (1994).
--- (1993) Personal communication to Jim Foley after public lecture in
Ft. Collins, Colorado, November 14.
--- (1994) "Was Your Great-Great Grandpa An Ape?" _Think and Believe_ vol. 11,
no. 3, May/June, p. 3.
Taylor, Paul S. (1989) _The Illustrated Origins Answer Book_. Mesa,
Ariz.: Films for Christ Association, Inc. First printing.
Willis, Tom (1987) "'Lucy' Goes to College," _Bible-Science Newsletter_
October, pp. 1-3.