Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Marshall Connolly (Catholic Online)

3/7/2014 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (

It's not always roses in the world of science.

A recent debate erupted in the scientific community that got a bit heated by academic standards. NPR did a feature report on the debate and it underscores the nature of science and how science is done.

The theory of human evolution by natural selection is well beyond debate in credible scientific circles, but the finer points can have scientists sparring for years.

The theory of human evolution by natural selection is well beyond debate in credible scientific circles, but the finer points can have scientists sparring for years.


By Marshall Connolly (Catholic Online)

Catholic Online (

3/7/2014 (1 year ago)

Published in Technology

Keywords: Evolution, science, consensus, debate

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The debate featured by NPR concerned the evolution of humans and whether they evolved on the savannahs of Africa or in the dense woodland jungles of East Africa. Hominid fossils found in Africa have strongly suggested that our human ancestors evolved to walk upright when they migrated out of the forests and onto the savannahs millions of years ago. On the broad grassy plains, there was a natural advantage to being able to walk upright and see father.

However, in recent years, the discovery of older, bipedal hominid fossils found in parts of Africa that were once dense woodland, has challenged this conclusion. In fact, the current "consensus" has changed to the idea that early humans evolved bipedalism in woods and migrated to the savannahs later.

We have a duty to feed the hungry. Oblige here and answer the plea of Pope Francis.

Since the new evidence clashes with the previous paradigm, some adjustment of the specifics of the theory of human evolution needs to be made. This is where scientists make their careers.

To be a contrarian is how to get ahead in science. Running with the heard and accepting the consensus view does little to advance one's career. It's the discovery of new information which is added to the body of knowledge that earns someone a doctorate's degree. It's revolutionary discoveries that get published, become book deals, secure tenure, and sometimes win Nobel Prizes. Scientists are always looking for opportunities to become contrarians.

However, they cannot simply buck the system because they choose to. They first need evidence that challenges the established paradigm.

This is science 101, and the NPR feature reveals that it can sometimes be pretty rough for all involved.

M. Dominguez-Rodrigo, a professor of prehistory in Madrid, Spain, published an article alluding to the growing consensus among scientists that early humans did not evolve on the savannahs, but in the African woodlands instead.

The article was published in the February 2014 issue of Current Anthropology, under the title, "Is the 'Savannah Hypothesis' a Dead Concept for Explaining the Emergence of the Earliest Hominins?"

Dominguez-Rodrigo went on to argue that humans likely evolved in a "mosaic" as NPR put it. In other words, they evolved in both, living on savannah lands that may have contained a good number of trees, a sort of in between area that wasn't entirely grassland.

He was then countered by Professor Tim White, from the University of California, Berkeley. White discovered the fossils that turned the tide against the savannah hypothesis.

In his rebuttal, White offered evidence to show that humans evolved in a wooded, and not on a savannah at all.

That's where the debate became heated.

NPR quoted White, "Without original research or new data, Dominguez-Rodrigo attempts to resurrect 'the spirit of the old savanna hypothesis' via word games and revisionist history ... This attempted resurrection of an obsolete mind-set will stand as a monument to futility."
According to NPR, Dominguez-Rodrigo countered with, "By denying [the] evidence [for the savanna hypothesis], White exemplifies perfectly Kuhn's idea that when a paradigm is assaulted, supporters of the old guard remain intentionally blind to the mounting evidence or selectively utilize data in order to resist change."


White accuses Dominguez-Rodrigo of playing word games, and Dominguez-Rodrigo counters with accusations of ignorance.

Both men have different specific competencies, so there's naturally going to be a different interpretation of the evidence. However, in this case, the two scientists took the paper as well as the critique personally and are not making virtual ad hominem attacks at one another in their commentaries.

This illustrates that science is not always tidy, and there is not always consensus on the fine points of of a hypothesis. Although theories are generally matured to the point they are hardly subject to debate (for example, neither scientist argues that evolution did not occur, the consensus on that is quite firm) they do debate on the details.

Unfortunately, the unlearned will take these debates on details and construe them into "doubt" in an attempt to undermine the soundness of the theory, and thereby undermine what is taught as fact in schools and in society in general.

The reality is that we do not know with extreme precision everything that happened in the past. We weren't there with yardsticks in hand. Data can be interpreted differently. Sometimes emotion interferes, although in the realm of science there is no room for emotion. In science it is all about the data.

READ MORE On the debate between creation and evolution.

Unfortunately, it can be hard to eliminate the human element, which is often the one variable that can taint results. Fortunately, the consensus of cooler heads typically prevails over the long run, and that's what allows us to rely on science as a method for discerning truths about our physical realm.


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'

Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for October 2015
That human trafficking, the modern form of slavery, may be eradicated.
Evangelization: That with a missionary spirit the Christian communities of Asia may announce the Gospel to those who are still awaiting it.


More Technology

Futurist predicts that robots will reside in human brains by 2030 Watch

Image of Futurist and lecturer Ray Kurzweil foresees the day when the human race will transform following  the implantation of nanobots into our brains, connecting us to the Internet.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Futurist and lecturer Ray Kurzweil foresees the day when the human race will transform with the help of nanobots, which will be implanted into our brains to connect us to the Internet. Kurzweil welcomes the day, which he predicts will be in the year 2030. While he is ... continue reading

NASA enlists public help in solving the mystery of Ceres Watch

Image of

By Hannah Marfil (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Scientists from NASA are seeking answers for the mysteries of moon-like dwarf planet Ceres. On Wednesday, the agency announced they are accepting suggestions from the public that they report would be taken "very seriously." LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - After ... continue reading

Breakthrough for short-term memory loss: Brain implant can now encode human memories Watch

Image of Much, if not all human experience resides in the memory. Now, an implant that encodes human memory is giving new hope to Alzheimer's patients and wounded soldiers who have lost their short-term memories.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Much, if not all human experience resides in the memory. Now, an implant that encodes human memory is giving new hope to Alzheimer's patients and wounded soldiers who have lost their short-term memories. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Developed at the ... continue reading

Scammers take advantage of Facebook dislike button Watch

Image of


Online scams are still prevalent, especially with the steady growth of new users. Social media giant Facebook gets new users every single day. However, novice users can pose dangers to themselves and to their Facebook friends by calling for "dislike" button scams. ... continue reading

Breast cancer without chemotherapy? Watch

Image of Chemotherapy may no longer be needed in early-stage breast cancer patients (OneBode).

By Kenya Sinclair (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A major study's results show promise for a gene-activity test that gauges early-stage breast cancer patients' risks. The test can tell who will benefit from chemotherapy treatment and who will not. Those who do not require chemotherapy are not negatively affected by ... continue reading

Good News, Bad News! California scientists discover water --on Mars Watch

Image of Jaded Californians are already having fun with the announcement.

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The good news? Scientists in California have found water! The bad news? It's on Mars. Scientists from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena California have announced through NASA, the finding of recent water flows on Mars, demonstrating the planet still has liquid ... continue reading

Apple watch credited for saving teen's life Watch

Image of Paul Houle was saved by his Apple watch.


A Cape Cod, Massachusetts high school senior almost ran out of luck when he felt ill after a football practice last week. He experienced back and chest pains long after football practices ended and his heart rate seemed irregular. It was then the teen checked his pulse ... continue reading

Will NASA announcement declare LIFE ON MARS? Watch

Image of Some think that the agency could announce that it has discovered microbial life on Earth's near neighbor -- or evidence of flowing water.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Excitement is running high - the National Aeronautic Space Agency or NASA is planning to make a major announcement about the red planet mars. Speculation is that scientists will proclaim either the discovery of life - or earlier evidence of life on Mars. LOS ... continue reading

Young people are 'turning off,' cutting cords to cable TV at rapid rate Watch

Image of Many younger TV viewers are just saying no to cable TV -- to settle for Internet streaming programming instead, which has been described as the

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Younger consumers - as well as those slightly older, have gotten wise to the fact from an old Bruce Springsteen song that went, "500 channels, and nothing on." A new report has confirmed both network and cable TV providers' worst fears... many more people are ... continue reading

Muslim teenager arrested for bringing home-made clock to school Watch

Image of 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for bringing what appeared to be a bomb to school.

By Kenya Sinclair (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed attempted to build his own clock for a school project at MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas. Unfortunately, his brilliant idea landed the teen in juvenile detention. LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA (Catholic Online) - Ibrahim Hooper, a ... continue reading

All Technology News


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 4th, 2015 Image

St. Francis of Assisi
October 4: Founder of the Franciscan Order, born at Assisi in Umbria, in ... Read More