Evolution and natural selection, two of the most influential scientific discoveries in biology to date, capable of unlocking our past and answering questions of how we became the way we are. However, our understanding of human evolution is hindered when pseudoscientific ideas refuses to yield to legitimate theories. One such idea is the aquatic ape hypothesis (AAH) which attempts to explain a number of human adaptations with the single explanation of a semi-aquatic ancestor. Proponents use incorrect “facts” and logical fallacies such as straw men, appeals to authority, and false comparison in their arguments. The idea appears intuitive and is easily communicated, allowing it to be picked up by a general public and survive for fifty years, making noise and begging to be let into the big kids pool.
On March 5th 1960, respected marine biologist Sir Alister Hardy presented his idea that mankind may have evolved from a “more aquatic ape-like ancestor” (Hardy 1960:642) to the British Sub-Aqua Club, a non-scientific audience. His idea was picked up by the public press and generated immediate controversy in the paleoanthropology community. Hardy was surprised by the attention and sought to correct misleading reports by publishing an explanation of his speech, and thus the aquatic ape hypothesis (AAH) took its' first strokes out into the world (Ellis 2011). Elaine Morgan picked up the reigns in 1972 and championed the theory until her death in July 2013 (Williamson 2013). Morgan's publications updated Hardy's idea and brought the AAH greater recognition from the public but failed to earn the respect of academia.
The AHH suggests that food shortages and predators forced a branch of our primitive ancestors out of the trees and into the shallows. Examples of animals who have evolutionary histories of moving from land into water - whales, polar bears, penguins, turtles - provide plausibility to the idea. Advocates of the AAH argue that humans' ability to swim well compared to other terrestrial mammals, patterns in body hair, our subcutaneous fat layer, and even bipedalism are products of our past aquatic adaptations. Humans then moved to the plains once we learned to use tools that enabled us to outcompete other terrestrial animals, but retained the adaptations we had gained during our time in the water (Ellis 2011; Hardy 1960; Langdon 1997).
Proponents sometimes use the title aquatic ape theory, rather then hypothesis, suggesting greater credibility. However, the idea simply does not have the evidence to be considered a scientific theory. The AAH is still just as it was in 1960, “only a speculation - an hypothesis to be discussed and tested against further lines of evidence” (Hardy 1960:645).
The AAH is considered an umbrella hypothesis, meaning it appears to answer many questions with one simple solution. Morgan brags that it accounts “for more of the difference between man and the other primates than does any alternative theory”...