Author: James Lippard (email@example.com)
Title: Lucy's knee joint: How creationists deal with their errors
Update: August 11, 1994
LUCY'S KNEE JOINT: A CASE STUDY IN CREATIONISTS' WILLINGNESS TO ADMIT
By Jim Lippard
Last updated: August 11, 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).
They have sometimes gone on to add the claim that "Only under
questioning did [Johanson] admit that the knee was found over a mile
from Lucy. To the best of our knowledge this admission has _not
appeared in print_!" (Willis 1987; emphasis in original; Also see
Brown 1989a, p. 44) The claim is used by creationists to show that (a)
evolutionists are dishonest and (b) "Lucy" did not walk upright. It
successfully shows neither of these things, because it is false.
(Even if it were true, it would not demonstrate (b), for reasons given
in Lippard (1989-90).)
The claim is not only false, it is clearly shown to be false in
Johanson's published writings about "Lucy" (e.g., Johanson and Edey
1981, ch. 7-8) and it has been pointed out repeatedly to its
proponents that it is false. Despite this, none of the major
proponents of the claim has publicly 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 retraction.
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), Donald Chittick (1994), 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. A copy of the then-current version of this
article was sent to Arndts c/o the _Bible-Science News_ on July 13,
* 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).) A copy of the
then-current version of this article was sent to Brown on July 13,
* Chittick was sent a copy of the then-current version of this article
on July 13, 1994. In a letter dated July 29, 1994, Chittick wrote
that "The knee joint found lower and away from the 40% complete
skeleton was the item Johanson used in his claim that 'Lucy' walked
upright." Johanson argues that the 1973 knee joint is of the same
species as "Lucy" on the grounds of anatomical similarity, and points
to it as one of several pieces of evidence that the species, and
therefore "Lucy," walked upright. But this is not a claim that the
1973 knee joint was "Lucy"'s knee, which is what Chittick and others
have claimed or implied. On August 10, 1994, I wrote back to
Chittick asking "what is the evidence that Johanson has ever claimed
the 1973 knee joint as belonging to the individual 'Lucy'?"
* 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. A copy of the
then-current version of this article was sent to Girouard c/o the ICR
on July 13, 1994.
* Hovind was corrected by a letter from Lippard (October 30, 1993) and
agreed to stop using the claim (1993b). A copy of the then-current
version of this article was sent to Hovind on July 13, 1994.
* 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
never did. A copy of the then-current version of this article was sent
to McAllister on July 13, 1994.
* 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. A copy of the then-current
version of this article was sent to Morris on July 13, 1994.
* 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 article, on July 6, 1994.
* The fourth edition of Taylor's book (second printing, June 1993) does
not mention Willis' article or the knee joint claim directly, but part
of reference  in this edition says:
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").
Taylor's description of Mehlert (1987) is misleading in its use of
the name "Lucy" to refer to the species _A. afarensis_, which Mehlert
himself does not do. Mehlert argues that "Lucy" (Site 162) is a
"chimp-like ape" and the "First Family" finds (Site 333) "included
many human bones." He does not claim that the individual "Lucy"
was composed of bones from both sites; Taylor's implication to this
effect is false. A copy of the then-current version of this article
was sent to Taylor on July 13, 1994.
* Willis was corrected by a letter from Lippard in 1989, but never
responded. A copy of the then-current version of this article was
sent to Willis on July 13, 1994.
To date (August 11, 1994) none of the creationists sent letters on
July 13, 1994 except Chittick have responded.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) for
information about Rajca and the ICR radio program. Thanks to Stephen
Watson (email@example.com) for the information about
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.
Chittick, Donald (1994) Public lecture at Bethel Pentecostal Church, Nepean,
Ontario, Canada, May 16.
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.
Johanson, Donald C. and Edey, Maitland A. (1981) _Lucy: The Beginnings
of Humankind_. N.Y.: Simon and Schuster.
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.
Mehlert, Albert (1987) "A Study of Comments by Evolutionist Authorities
on the Alleged Hominids Found in the Hadar/Afar Region of Africa,"
_Contrast: The Creation Evolution Controversy_ (included in the
_Bible-Science Newsletter_) vol. 6, no. 1, January-February, pp. 1-2,4.
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.