Jim Moore's "AAT Sink or Swim?" Web Site
Alister Hardy's original "Aquatic ape theory"


Moore claims to try to answer allegations that he does not properly address Hardy's original mild hypothesis but, actually, he adds to the evidence for this by avoiding the parts of Hardy's paper that are difficult to refute and, instead uses his usual tactic of picking out a medley of quotes which, he feels, he can dismiss easily. Even these points, however, do not stand up to scrutiny.

Alister Hardy's original "Aquatic ape theory"
Moore begins this page by claiming that several proponents of the AAH have recently been arguing that most criticisms of the AAH are due to a parodying of Hardy's original hypothesis.
He quotes several of my own comments in this regard and, consequently, gave me a refreshing feeling that this was a page should provide a bit more of a challenge.
Moore seems to think the same way and says that he likes a challenge too.

Moore writes "These folks get away with this [that aquasceptics parody Hardy] because they assume, usually correctly, that the critics haven't read Hardy's original articles and they're generally right about that." This is quite an admission. Indeed, there is a remarkable amount of ignorance about what Hardy actually wrote and I have spoken to academics who were convinced that Hardy's original ideas were actually meant as a joke.
No such ignorance on Moore's part, though, as he writes "I have read Hardy's work, and as I said, I like a challenge, so let's dive into Hardy's 'irrefutable' version of the AAT."

Alister Hardy
Moore begins with a brief pen portrait of the man in question. He says that "I'm not trying to tar his AAT version by association" but nevertheless spends two thirds of this mini-biography focusing in on Hardy's interest in religious experiences and telepathy.
Moore, rightly, takes AAH proponents to task for tending to "skip his spirituality work, even though it was a lifelong interest for him and consumed much of his retirement years."  I must plead guilty to this myself. As an atheist I do find it rather an uncomfortable that Hardy found religious experience more interesting than the neo-Darwinian adaptationism suggested by the AAH and, I admit, I didn't really want to publicise it because I feared it might damage his reputation in some people's eyes. Anyway, I stand corrected. Thanks to Jim Moore, I've now included a paragraph about this episode of his life on my Hardy web page. and a link to the Alister Hardy Trust web site so that you can more easily go and dig as far into this area as you like.
It seems to me that whereas I, and other proponents, have been guilty of skipping over this subject, Moore does rather seem to exaggerate it. Perhaps we're both being over sensitive. Hardy's earlier work in marine biology is not tainted with this episode so, as his AAH ideas were formulated, apparently, as early as 1930, neither should his 'more aquatic' human ancestors ideas.

Critique of Hardy's version of the AAT
Moore then starts out on his Hardy critique. I have to say that he does so with refreshing openness and even writes that Hardy's paper is "an easy to find source so you can check out what he said as well as checking up on me to see if I'm accurate about what he said. [My emphasis]".
Unfortunately, in the very next paragraph we're returned to the patronising tone of the rest of the web site. "There are some things that Hardy definitely did better than his successors," he tells us, "his science background didn't desert him completely" but then "... he made a series of whopping mistakes in his statements, seemingly because he didn't do much, if any, actual research at the library."

Moore credits Hardy with...

1) Giving a fairly specific time span for the suggested aquatic period

2) Giving some idea of how many hours he thought these hominids would be in the water,

3) Recognizing that they would have to be in neck-deep water much of the time for his theory to work.

4) Recognizing that aquatic predators exist.

Moore says "these not so insignificant details were largely overlooked or glossed over by later proponents of the theory."

It is interesting that Moore chooses to credit Hardy with the aspects he then takes to task but does not credit Hardy with parts which he then ignores (presumably because he cannot do so.)

The specific time scale Hardy referred to in 1960 was the best available guess at the time but it is one which many AAH proponents would now argue is not correct.
The number of hours Hardy suggested human went in the water was relatively modest and yet it did not stop Moore, Langdon and other aquasceptics from re-interpreting the hypothesis to mean 'aquatic.'
It is not clear, however, either where Hardy suggested they would have to have been in water that was 'neck deep' or why Moore thinks that this is necessary for the idea to work.
Finally, all AAH proponents are well aware of predators both aquatic and terrestrial ones.

Moore then picks out eight statements from Hardy's statements quoted in Morgan's (1990) book (although he doesn't direct you to each one specifically) and tries to pull them apart.

1) "The extent to which sponge and pearl divers can hold their breath under water is perhaps another outcome of such past adaptation."
Moore dismisses this on the grounds that humans can do lots of things when they're trained. True, but can apes do them? Has any primate been observed to dive under water? Moore's response that we can withstand G forces and zero gravity and can hit balls 100mph are facile in the extreme. Can we also climb trees like chimpanzees do? No, no-one would expect that. There are some substrates on this planet that, clearly, humans are less able to move in than our closest relatives and there are other substrates that we are clearly better at moving in, without the aid of any technology and even from the earliest age.

2) "It may be objected that children have to be taught to swim; but the same is true of young otters, and I should regard them as more aquatic than Man has been. Further, I have been told that babies put into water before they have learnt to walk will, in fact, go through the motions of swimming at once, but not after they have walked."
This quote is significant in that it shows that Hardy's original hypothesis was never that humans were actually very aquatic. Moore counters this by pointing out that otters and other similarly aquatic mammals do not share the traits Hardy is citing in humans as evidence of a more aquatic past.
Here we have perhaps the biggest area of confusion in the AAH. Proponents use otters, seals etc as analogies but humans are actually quite different from them. Why do they use such animals as analogies? Because there are simply no candidates available in the primate order. The hypothesis is that we alone, out of the primates, became more aquatic than the norm. Therefore of course there are no blatantly obvious examples to compare with.
Humans did not evolve from otter-like mammals in temperate, wet climates, we probably evolved from apes in equatorial, hot dry ones. What Hardy was asking was merely 'if a group of apes had become adapted to a more aquatic lifestyle, couldn't some of the traits associated with disparate mammalian orders have been found in our ancestors for similar reasons.

Moore then challenges Hardy's baby reference, again alluding to the same paper as he did earlier - although Hardy cites no such paper. The undisputable fact is that, as human infants are significantly fatter than their chimpanzee cousins they are certainly more buoyant and on that basis alone are clearly better adapted to surviving water immersion.


3) "Does the idea perhaps explain the satisfaction that so many people feel in going to the seaside, in bathing, and in indulging in various forms of aquatic sport? Does not the vogue of the aqua-lung indicate a latent urge in Man to swim below the surface?"
Moore dismisses this 'race memory' idea on the basis that we also like lawns and like to fly. Fair points, but it remains a fact that the great majority of the world's population live close to water sources.

4) "Whilst not invariably so, the loss of hair is a characteristic of a number of aquatic mammals, for example, the whales, the Sirenia (that is, the dugongs and manatees) and the hippopotamus. Aquatic animals which come out of the water in cold and temperate climates have retained their fur for warmth on land, as have the seals, otters, beavers, etc. Man has lost his hair all except on the head, that part of him sticking out of the water as he swims; such hair is possibly retained as a guard against the rays of the tropical sun, and its loss from the face of the female is, of course, the result of sexual selection."
Moore attacks Hardy for sidestepping this issue by claiming that  almost all aquatic mammals, even in warm areas, have retained their hair.
It seems to me here that Hardy didn't make clear enough his idea that man lived at the water's edge. It is in such a habitat in hot, dry climates where nakedness makes most sense. Going for a dip is the simplest and most effective way of cooling down and sweat cooling is the perfect adjunct to that, as long as the water lost through evaporation can be reliably replaced. The fact that nakedness also has clear benefits in drag reduction helping in the speed, efficiency and duration of swimming give the water-side arguments for nakedness unique advantages, in my view.

Moore claims that Hardy contradicted himself by pointing out that the hairlessness in humans is more apparent than real. But, surely, no one would claim that even the hairiest man is anywhere near as hairy as an ape.

Moore then does make some pretty good counter points about the hair-tract arguments which Hardy and Morgan have supported.

Let's tackle them individually:

  • if the body hair is curly, as it often is in hairy people, does the direction of the hair tract actually reduce drag, since the hair is not lying flat along the body anyway?
    Good point. One can only suggest that the genes that code for curly hair only arrived in the genotype after the more aquatic phases that led to hair reduction.

  • Head hair and beards don't seem to fit the theory.
    Head hair does, in my view. Look at a female from the side of the head with her hair tied back. The hair line goes from the top of the forehead, with a bit of a deviation for the ear, almost linearly to the back of the neck. This line would appear to be quite close to the water line whilst swimming several types of stroke.
    The beard is a problem, granted. However, as Hardy pointed out, it is clearly a result of sexual selection. It could be that it is a Zahavi & Zahavi style example of the handicap principle. Males grew beards to show  that they could swim even with a visible handicap.

  • Hardy suggests that head hair was retained to guard against the sun and yet suggests that hominids only spent some small amount of time in the water.
    Good point. You can't have it both ways. I suggest that hair was lost where it was needed to be lost, to reduce drag in water and to maximise the effect of sweat cooling. Head hair seems to have been retained as an adornment to faces, important in social species,  and for sexual selection.

  • Erector pili muscles, which make human hair stand on end, are absent in seals and sea otters.
    Moore claims that AAH proponents counter this by arguing that 'there wasn't time' even though they claim there was time for us to gain other traits common in aquatic mammals like sebaceous glands.
    It's a fair point. My view on this issues is that as we are hominoids we should not expect to find very much in the way of analogies but that we should be sensitive to the differences between humans and other African apes and see if we can find anything analogous elsewhere which might help account for those differences.

5) "The graceful shape of Man-or woman! -- is most striking when compared with the clumsy form of the ape. All the curves of the human body have the beauty of a well-designed boat Man is indeed streamlined." 
Moore refutes this suggestion arguing, rightly, that this is often said by AAH but never with any hard evidence to back it up. He also criticises one of Morgan's books which contrasts a photo of a slick-looking, diving competitive swimmer diving into a pool with a hunched up full-square-on chimpanzee (Morgan 1997:96 plates.)
The fact is that there appears to have been very little serious study done in this area. The Sharp & Costill (1983) paper shows clearly that male competitive swimmer can significantly reduce drag in water by shaving off their (already rather slight) body hair. It is interesting to speculate about how much drag reduction a chimpanzee might gain from doing so.
The shape of the nose and the body in general does seem more 'built' for streamlining in humans than in chimpanzees but, on this score, the jury is still very much out.

Moore then goes on to praise Hardy for, at least, seeing that wading would have to be in deep water to support body weight. He writes that this "puts him far ahead of many AAT proponents now, who seem to want their hominid to be in shallow water at the edge, water which will somehow support them and somehow cause them to lose their body hair (well, some of it, in some people but not others, at some ages, but not other ages)." Moore seems to think that 'support' of the body in water is the only argument in favour of the wading hypothesis and appears to be ignorant of the fact that chimpanzees and bonobos tend to move bipedally even in very shallow water.

6) "It seems likely that Man learnt his tool-making on the shore."
Moore criticises Hardy's timing in proposing this, as his original hypothesis was that a distinct 'more aquatic' phase happenned several millions of years ago. On this Moore has a point. However if we modify that hypothesis and take away the part that argues for a distinct, early phase, that object has to be removed.
The point remains: It is on beaches and shore lines where pebbles are most easily found. It is the smashing open of shellfish which offers perhaps the simplest and most beneficial early use of stone tools and therefore, again, a water-side habitat appears to make most sense for early toolmaking  hominids.

7) "My thesis is, of course, only a speculation - an hypothesis to be discussed and tested against further lines of evidence. Such ideas are useful only if they stimulate fresh inquiries which may bring us nearer to the truth."
Moore gives Hardy 'points' for this but fails to mention that no-one bothered to start up any such fresh enquiries. 
Instead he implies that Hardy could, but didn't check the evidence. He implies that he'd just thrown together a talk assuming it was only for uncritical scuba-divers and only bothered to write it up after newspapers had exaggerated his claims. Moore fails to mention that Hardy had first had the idea thirty years before the New Scientist article was published and had kept the idea 'in the dark' for so long because he was ambitious and wanted to become a Fellow of the Royal Society. 

8) Several people have asked me why, if Man has had a long enough evolution in the water to produce such characters as loss of hair and subcutaneous fat, he has not also got webbed hands and feet. Regarding the development of hands, I am sure that selection would not favour such mutations, for his separated fingers would be of greater value in finding and dealing with marine food.

But regarding the feet, the truth is that some people have their toes webbed but they do not like to talk about it!"
This webbing argument is often brought up by aquasceptics. Hardy provides a the perfect answer to the no-webbing-on the-hand problem: other factors would have selected against webbing.
About the lack of webbing on the feet, I find Hardy's response hear rather unnecessary. The human foot is rather flat and paddle-like anyway, it appears to me that webbing of toes would not greatly contribute to the propulsion through water in any case.

Next Hardy pulls together a long list of the dodgiest-looking quotes from an article he wrote in the the Oxford University magazine for undergraduates, called Zenith. Moore certainly catches Hardy with his guard down, speculating openly about the hypothesis but not doing so in a very rigorous way. Reading this piece today, it does feel very naive, highly speculative and easy for someone to criticise.
I'll not try to defend it further here but I want to make the point, again, that Moore is looking for the dirt on this hypothesis and not the strong points - for instance why humans can swim but apes can't.

So much, Moore triumphantly concludes, "for Hardy's original 'mild', 'modest', 'irrefutable' version of the theory." The theory turns out to be neither mild nor modest and especially not to be irrefutable. "Sorry", he says.

I think he should apologise because what he has done again here, like with his treatment of Morgan's writings, is to pick out the bits of the arguments he thinks are easiest to dismiss and parade them one after the other. This is not an honest and scientific approach.

The 1960 paper is the only one Hardy wrote specifically to promote and clarify his idea in a scientific journal and therefore it is the one which has most importance in this debate.

Moore chose a few  comments from this paper to criticise. As we have seen here, even these points do not really stand up to close scrutiny.

It's a very short paper. People should read it all in its original context to decide for themselves whether Hardy's original idea was extreme or modest. See this link for a copy of the original paper and not rely on Moore's processed packaged points.

The main counterpoint that was being made about Hardy's hypothesis, that Moore said this page was trying to address but that he all but ignored, was that Hardy's original hypothesis was merely that man had been 'more aquatic'. It was the title of his paper and he spells it out clearly enough... 'otters... more aquatic than man has been.'

Moore all but ignores this point, though. He is too busy collecting bits of sentences that can be dissected out and reassembled to look ridiculous.

On the otter comparison, he just wishes it away with a facile 'otters don't show the features supposedly seen in humans' - as if they would.
The main point of the criticism of the aquasceptic position is this kind of distortion of Hardy's original paper and a refusal to engage in a debate with it on it's moderate terms. Moore assures us he is trying to address it but here he is doing the same thing again.

Moore has never, at any point in this page or anywhere in his web site, taken in the main, simple but powerful question: 'Was man more aquatic in the past?' And, by more, we should mean 'more aquatic than an ape'.

Moore ends the page with another set of selective quotations from AAH proponents who make this argument, that aquasceptics refuse to take the AAH on in its originally defined moderate (water-side, only 'more aquatic') sense. He probably thought that having demonstrated how wild and crazy even Hardy's original hypothesis was, with his use of selective quotations, readers would dismiss the proponents' arguments too.

He quotes three from Marc Verhaegen, Marcel Williams and myself. They're all good points (especially mine!)

My favourite is quite an appropriate way of closing this topic down.

I wrote "the question Hardy posed was merely 'was man more aquatic in the past?' It is people like you who refuse to consider it in the modest, boringly obvious, sense - because then you'd have to concede that there can be no serious objection to it at all."

This is exactly right and, is clearly shown by this very page which Moore has, apparently written to counter this kind of claim.

The discussion which  is most strikingly absent on the web site called www.aquaticape.org is that surrounding the question of why humans can swim but our nearest relatives, chimpanzees, cannot.

Anyone who thinks in Darwinian terms and who is not influenced by the huge peer pressure in anthropology to conform and dismiss the 'crazy' AAH would surely conclude that, perhaps our ancestors were exposed to the risk of drowning more than theirs were.

Hardy wrote:

 "Let us now consider a number of points which such a conception might explain. First and foremost, perhaps, is the exceptional ability of Man to swim, to swim like a frog, and his great endurance at it. The fact that some men can swim the English Channel (albeit with training), indeed that they race across it, indicates to my mind that there must have been a long period of natural selection improving man's qualities for such feats. Many animals can swim at the surface but few terrestrial mammals can rival Man in swimming below the surface and gracefully turning this way and that in search of what he may be looking for."

Notice that when Hardy decides to start listing the human features which might be explained by this 'more aquatic' past, the very first one he mentions is swimming ability.
Notice too that Hardy didn't even mention apes. It certainly is a major pillar of the argument that chimps are very poor swimmers and it adds great strength to this very important point
Finally, and most significantly, notice that Moore didn't select this quote in his critique.

When one considers this striking difference in abilities and considers Hardy's original hypothesis that our ancestors were simply 'more aquatic' I suggest that it is indeed rather boringly obvious and impossible to refute. After all 'more' could mean 'only slightly more'.