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Sunday, 11 May 2008

Blink 5: I ain't no damn dirty ape!

Oh, but you are.

It's another favourite misconception of the anti-evolution crowd that so-called "Darwinism" (a term I strongly object to) claims that we are descended from monkeys. Ironically, their denial of this is accurate but misguided.

We are not descended from monkeys - we share a common ancestor.

The real confusion comes with the terminology, when the uninformed start using the terms "primate", "ape", and "monkey" interchangeably - and also get mixed up over which categories apply to humans.

Humans are not monkeys; we are, however, apes - and indeed primates. So if you were to say "humans are descended from apes", it's a tautology really - like saying John Smith is descended from Smiths. It's necessarily true simply by virtue of his belonging to that family. The same goes for "humans are descended from primates" - except that, in this case, so are monkeys. If the above image (click to enlarge) doesn't explain the difference as clearly as you'd like*, do please check out the very useful Wikipedia entries for monkeys, apes and primates for explicit definitions of each group.

Rebecca Watson put it in beautifully simple terms (SGU #146) with an analogy:

"Basically, we're all a bunch of cousins, grandpa's dead."

Can't top that myself.

* I do actually have an issue with the image - group #6 is captioned "apes and humans", whereas I would have made it "apes (including humans)", because the former implies separation where none exists.

1 comment:

devine_artemis said...

This is not particularly relevent, but is there ever a bad time for Pratchett?!

"The shape of DNA, it is popularly said, owes its discovery to the chance sight of a spiral staircase when the scientist’s mind was just at the right receptive temperature. Had he used the lift, the whole science of genetics might have been a good deal different (although possibly quicker, and only licensed to carry fourteen people)"

Genius.