I still think that explanation holds water: creationists (at least some of them) see the existence of giants as a key component in their case for a literal Bible. If you can find one skeleton of an ancient human that is significantly larger than any person we know of today, you’ve proven your case: the Bible would account for that but evolutionary theory could not. That’s the main idea, anyway.
As I’ve explored the question more, however, I think I have come to a better understanding of why some creationists really love giants. While it seems clear to me in retrospect, it wasn’t obvious when I first started seriously thinking about this issue a few months ago. I’m guessing that it is probably also not obvious to many others out there who also were not raised with a creationist belief system. So I thought it would be worthwhile to write it out, as I think this provides some context for understanding some dimensions of the current fascination with giants.
The love affair that some creationists have with giants stems not only from the desire to demonstrate that a few isolated (possibly mistranslated) passages in the Old Testament are literally true, but from what is actually a more-or-less coherent theory of prehistory. Using a very broad brush, I will call this the “Biblical theory of prehistory” (BTOP). The BTOP is based on a creationist understanding of the meaning and implications of Genesis. It explains changes through time in the natural world (following a supernatural creation) as the result of a “devolutionary” process of degeneration. Here is my paraphrase of the tenets of the BTOP as I understand it (advocates of this view of the world should feel free to comment and tell me if I’m misstating something):
- God’s original creation was perfect
- As time has passed since creation, that original perfection has naturally degenerated
- The world we see today, and the creatures in it, are less than perfect as a result of a long process of “devolution”
Giant enthusiasts applying the BTOP link together the existence of large extinct animals (that we can understand via the fossil record), the long human lifespans reported in the Old Testament, and the Biblical mentions of “giants” as in Genesis 6:4. In this case, bigger is better: humans and that existed closer to the time of creation were larger in size and closer to perfection than the humans of today. The running down of the clock since creation has resulted in humans and animals that are smaller, simpler, and farther from perfection.
Joe Taylor, author of the book Giants Against Evolution and sculptor of a 47” femur, spells it out in this interview (about 21:40 minutes in):
“They [scientists and museums] want to keep up this story that we evolved from some fish that turned into a monkey and then turned into Man. The giants just mess that whole story up. And whether they agree that these giants were fathered by angels – they can’t have that because angels are spirits, God is a spirit, demons are spirits . . . they can’t believe any of that stuff. Well then they have to attribute it to people growing larger back then. Well, wouldn’t that go against the theory of evolution? That people used to get bigger and better and more hands, more toes, more teeth and fingers? So evolutionists cannot account for giantism, so they just ignore it or destroy the information.”
There are several things of interest in that statement.
First, Taylor clearly says that things going from bigger to smaller would “go against the theory of evolution.” I had an “ah-ha” moment (or maybe it was an “oh duh” moment) when I heard him say that, because I remembered reading a similar statement expressed in Richard Dewhurst’s awful book (The Ancient Giants Who Ruled America, pg. 8):
“We are shown charts of man becoming bipedal and each “new” man being bigger and smarter than the last. This is in direct contradiction to the charts we use for every other animal we study. We have only to look at a bird and be told that it was once a dinosaur to know how false this paradigm of man’s growth is. Look at the evolution of most animals, and the record says they got smaller over time, not bigger. However, with all the modern edifices of education built on the theory of evolution and the growing stature of humanity, we can’t very well have the Smithsonian running around telling people that we have degenerated from an ancient race of giants who once ruled America, now can we?”
Once you start to look, it is easy to find examples of creationists stating that: (1) the big-to-small sequence of change is common (even universal) among animals in the fossil record; (2) that pattern is a result of degeneration or “devolution;” and (3) that pattern is the opposite of what the theory of evolution predicts.
Second, Taylor ties the presence of “more toes, more teeth and fingers” (I’m going to assume that he misspoke when he said “more hands”) of humans in the past to those humans being closer to perfection. This was another “ah-ha” moment for me because it is a clear expression of why giant enthusiasts are so uncritically fascinated with “double rows of teeth:” more teeth equals better human. It is only logical that these larger, longer-lived, more perfect humans had more teeth than us, right, because that would be more “complex.” The incredible shrinking of humanity also included losing features of our anatomy that were present when we were perfect.
(I have written numerous posts now about the “double rows of teeth” issue as it pertains to the accounts of skeletons unearthed in 19th century and early 20th century America: see my “Ancient Giants” page. There are more on the way).
In essence, the BTOP purports to challenge the theory of evolution by asking “if evolution predicts that things get bigger and more complicated over time, why do we have so many examples of things getting smaller and less complicated?” The BTOP is presented as a “devolutionary” theory, naturally opposed to an “evolutionary” theory.
Anyone familiar with modern evolutionary thinking will immediately recognize what is going on here: the BTOP is presented as counterpoint to a kind of evolutionary thinking that doesn’t really exist among scientists today. Creationists who love giants are attacking a windmill. Let me explain.
Use of the term “devolution” implies that evolution has a direction. That alone signals a fundamental misunderstanding of the tenets of evolutionary theory and the mechanisms and results of evolutionary change. The vast majority of scientists today who employ evolutionary theory as a framework for understanding the natural world probably define “evolution” as something along the lines of “a change in gene frequencies over time” or even simply “change over time.” Notice what is missing from those definitions: any notion of “progress” or “direction.” Evolution is not goal-seeking and does not strive to produce something “better.” Over large scales of time and space, evolution has produced a diverse array of plant and animal species and a natural world that is complex (in that it has many different but inter-related parts), but evolutionary theory does not specify that every plant and animal goes from “simple to complex” or “primitive to advanced” or "small to big." It doesn’t work that way and no evolutionist will tell you that it does. Do some things have bigger ancestors? Sure. Do some things have smaller ancestors? Sure. So what?
The “theory of evolution” that advocates of the BTOP are positioning themselves in opposition to is actually a 19th century conception of evolution as a “progressive” process. This view has largely gone extinct, and we should all be happy for its demise. Why? Because it had no scientific merit and was employed politically to inflict great misery on many peoples of the world.
Nineteenth century Euroamerican ideas about the “progressive” biological and social evolution of humans mixed Darwin’s ideas about “survival of the fittest” with the classification of humans based on their observable physical characteristics (skin color, hair texture, facial structure, etc.) and the technological “advancement” of their societies (savagery, barbarism, civilization). (For a taste, have a look at The Origin of Civilisation and the Primitive Condition of Man by Sir John Lubbock). Peoples and societies were ranked based on the notion that those that were more “advanced” were inherently superior. Guess which peoples came out on top of these rankings? The misapplication of Darwin’s ideas about biological natural selection to the physical and cultural variation that was apparent among living human groups provided a convenient justification for the subjugation of non-European peoples across the globe: fans of colonialism, imperialism, and slavery were fans of progressive evolution, Scientific Racism, and polygenism. So were the eugenicists. And the Nazis. Notions of “progressive” evolution were applied in political contexts, often with incredible negative and tragic outcomes.
It should go without saying, but the topic of this post makes it obvious that it doesn’t: these 19th century notions that human biological/social variation is the result of some kind of “progressive” evolution are not part of modern, mainstream evolutionary thought. There - I even put it in bold so that it's easy to see. Anyone who takes a moment to try to understand what modern evolutionary theory actually is will quickly understand what it's not.
Creationists, at least those who love giants, have apparently chosen to ignore what evolutionary theory actually is and instead wage a war against some Frankenstein 19th century notion of “progressive” evolution. Consider the following passage from creationwiki.org:
“Charles Darwin theorized that evolution was a process of getting to perfection, where Christian creationists understand that the original sin of the first man Adam has brought degeneration, disease, and essentially [devolution] into the world.”
Getting to perfection? Okey dokey then.
That’s like me trying to mount an argument against the usefulness of modern medical practice by refuting the Hippocratic theory of the four bodily humors.
People who understand what “evolution” actually means in the modern sense will spot an irony here: the BTOP is itself essentially an evolutionary theory. It is evolutionary because it recognizes that plants and animals have changed through time, and specifies mechanisms that explain patterns of change. In other words, the BTOP provides a general explanation of the way the world has changed that acknowledges that the plants and animals that are present today are not the same ones that were present earlier in prehistory.
To be clear, just because I call the BTOP a “theory” does not mean it is a scientific theory or that its advocates are scientists. The opposite is true. The BTOP is a belief system masquerading as science: in science we use theories about the world to generate expectations which can be falsified based on observations. That is not what advocates of the BTOP do. They are simply looking for evidence to support an answer that they think they already have. They say they are doing science, but in the absence of any attempt at testing or falsifying, they are most certainly not. You can say you are doing science all you want, and you can display your “evidence” in a building and call it a museum, but without some kind of attempt to determine if your answers about the world are correct or incorrect, you’re not doing science.
Joe Taylor’s 47” femur sculpture based on an anonymous letter? Not evidence.
Chris Lesley’s imagination-based “replica” skull with three rows of teeth? Not evidence.
The strategy seems to be to just keep throwing pieces of baloney at the wall until one of them sticks.
Good luck with selling that as a scientific approach to understanding the past.
The eagerness to accept, prop-up, and even manufacture any piece of “evidence” that seems to support the existence of ancient giants is consistent not with a desire to understand the world scientifically but with a desire to demonstrate a “known” (what the Bible says) by assembling evidence that supports it. There is a real lack of critical thinking here and a real reluctance to ask “what part of this idea could be wrong?” If I ask you the question “what evidence would you accept that your idea is wrong?” and you answer “there isn't any,” you’re not doing science. Read that sentence twice.
This is a broad brush essay. There is much more to talk about on this topic with regard to how the BTOP deals with human/primate fossil remains (especially those that are considered to be “large”) and the diversity of opinions about what these imaginary ancient giants actually were. Once you get past the commonality of “giants in those days” you will find little coherence or agreement among the spectrum of individuals that are spinning tales about the Nephilim, antediluvian giants, evolution/devolution, etc. Were these pre-Flood giant humans “perfection” or were they the product of corruption? Did they continue to exist after the Flood? If so, how and why? Were they natural or supernatural? How do you reconcile the chronology provided by archaeology with that of the Bible? These are all great things for giantologists to discuss amongst friends who take it as a given that giants existed because it is written in the Bible.
There is one other thread that unites these folks: the desire to sell books and DVDs.
The lack of agreement among giant enthusiasts about the particulars of the story doesn’t by itself mean that a BTOP is wrong, of course. But it does resonate with an approach that combines a great emphasis on collecting and interpreting “evidence” with a nearly complete lack of interest in testing any components of the BTOP by using that evidence. It explains why creationists love giants, but by itself does nothing to strengthen the argument that there actually were giants. For that you would need evidence and some will to evaluate that evidence in light of the expectations generated by the theory. So far I haven’t seen a speck of evidence that convinces me that there is any need for a theory other than that of evolution to account for the history of life on earth and the fossil record as it relates to human origins.