|This page is a transcript of comments by Stephen J. Gould on Winslow and Meyer’s September 1983 article in Science 83 and the reply of the authors. It appeared in the October 1983 issue of Science 83. Other correspondence on this subject has been deleted as being of no great interest.|
Stephen Jay Gould wrote:
May I object to the careless and inaccurate attempt by Winslow and Meyer to refute my hypothesis that Teilhard de Chardin participated in the Piltdown fraud. I had said that Teilhard claimed knowledge of bones at the Piltdown II site but that, according to the “official” chronology, he could not have seen these since he had been mustered into the French army before their “discovery.” He could not, that is, unless he was involved in the hoax at Piltdown I. Winslow and Meyer claim that Teilhard simply mixed up Piltdown II with another discovery that he could have seen – the Barcombe Mills site, since, according to them, “Barcombe Mills closely resembled Piltdown II.” But this makes no sense precisely because Barcombe Mills does not resemble Piltdown II and Teilhard would not have made such an obvious error. The Barcombe Mills bones were thin compared with the distinctive, thick-skulled Piltdown remains, and neither Dawson nor SMith Woodward ever paid them much attention or published anything about them since they so clearly represented modern man.
Against my second major claim – Teilhard’s silence about Piltdown in his voluminous publications on human fossils – Winslow and Meyer claim the discovery of a Piltdown reference in a 1952 Teilhard paper and thus refute my argument. But if they had read my article carefully, they would see that I formulated my argument differently from their false presentation of it. Of course Teilhard occasionally mentioned Piltdown in his publications. He could scarcely avoid it since he wrote so many review articles summarizing all known human fossil remains. I claimed only that he restricted comments to a barest minimum, a curious stance for a man who had participated so fully in the joy of discovery and supposedly accepted the skull’s validity as a human fossil (though he attributed the jaw to an ape.) I wrote in my article that “references to Piltdown are fleeting and exceedingly sparse throughout Teilhard’s writing.” I documented some half dozen of these references in my article, including the ]1952 citation that Winslow and Meyer claim as a refutation.
As to their case for Conan Doyle, what can one say of an evidence-free argument based on speculatins about motive? At least the cases against Teilhard and Dawson are backed with specific times, dates, access, and abundant opportunity. Dawson remains very much a suspect on the basis of the carefully reasoned evidence in J. S. Weiner’s 1955 book The Piltdown Forgery.
Winslow, Meyer reply:
Regarding Gould’s comments, we did not argue that Teilhard confused the site of Barcombe Mills with that of Piltdown II but that he mixed up the two sets of finds from those places. While Teilhard was visiting with Dawson in 1913 at what would become Piltdown II, Dawson told him of fossils that we now know were discovered at the other site, Barcombe Mills. It makes perfect sense that later he might have confused the two sets of fossils since hew only told about the fossils in 1913. He never saw them, as Gould claimed in his 1980 Natural History article.
In his recent book, Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes, Gould states his bafflement as to the origin of a frontal bone that Dawson described in a 1913 letter only recently brought to light by Teilhard’s biographer, Mary Lukas. In fact, the frontal bone that Dawson found at Barcombe Mills corresponds, particular by particular, with this “mysterious” bone. We feel certain it is part of the find Dawson described to Teilhard in 1913. Since the publication of our article we have learned that Kenneth Oakley, one of the three scientists who uncovered the hoax, changed his mind about the support he had formerly given Gould’s theory implicating Teilhard. In an August 1981 letter to Lukas, he wrote: “… the discovery by Dawson of another human frontal bone … in 1913 … is a total refutation of Gould’s interpretation….”
We have never disputed that Teilhard’s references to Piltdown Man after 1920 are sparse. We do dispute Gould’s assertion in both his 1980 and 1981 Natural History articles that Teilhard never invoked Piltdown Man to suport his scientific philosophy. He did just that in his 1952 paper to the International Symposium on Anthropology.
We are puzzled by Gould’s efforts to create an aura of infallibility around the conclusions of J.S. Weiner, who not believed that Teilhard was innocent but also wrote in his book that his verdict against Dawson “… must rest on suspicion and not proof.” Similarly, in 1981 Gould wrote that his own case against Teilhard “is to be sure, circumstantial….”
Could it be that history is repeating itself? That the deep-seated animosity held by leading evolutionist Ray Lankester toward the Spiritualists finds a parallel in the case of Gould, the no-nonsense evolutionist, vs. Teilhard, the evolutionary mystic?
This page was last updated October 18, 1998.