Mamabeth refuses to give me a straight answer to the following question:
Astyanax: if the Bible had nothing to say on the matter and it was left up to you to believe it or not, how would you feel about having
been descended from apes?
I'm not really surprised at her evasiveness. Answering me truthfully would mean acknowledging that, for her as for many other Christians, religious
grounds are merely an excuse to deny evolution. The real reason why they reject it is because they cannot bear to accept that they are animals. From
this root springs all their defiance of science and reason. It isn't about faith, about God's word versus Darwin's--it's about viscerally
rejecting the thought that Great-Grandmother was an ape.
I believe the trouble people have with the concept of the common ancestor also has its origin in these feelings. Confused by their anxieties over
carrying the taint of chimpanzee or monkey in their blood, they fail to make the distinction between ancestry and consanguinity.
The truth, of course, is that chimps and monkeys are not links preceding us on some imaginary Great Chain of Being; they are our cousins, more or less
The chart below may help clear up the confusion. Think of it as a family tree, but one read from left to right instead of top to bottom.
The black line that enters the figure at top left represents one line of descent from the common ancestor of all simians (also known as 'the higher
primates'). This line ends in the catarrhines, an order that includes the apes and all the Old World monkeys. The monkeys (baboons and the rest) then
go off in one direction, the apes in another. The ape line splits and splits again, giving rise to the ancestors of chimps, gorillas and so on, as
well as to our own ancestors. The monkey line splits over and over again too, but that branch of the tree isn't shown in the picture.
The animals listed on the extreme right of the tree are cousins, not ancestors and descendents.
The above chart is taken from an excellent page on human evolution
, which also contains a
detailed diagram of the human family tree as we know it today. A good look at this will clear up many of the misunderstandings people have about human
Acknowledging our animal origins is not easy. It takes maturity and moral courage to do so. It shows that we have evolved sufficient humanity to be
able to look back on our beginnings without fear and disgust. By contrast, those who continue to insist on our superiority to the brutes unwittingly
emphasize our proximity to them instead.
[edit on 26/7/10 by Astyanax]