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Human Evolution - Why Are There Still Apes?

Updated on January 17, 2017
Titen-Sxull profile image

Titen-Sxull writes articles on topics such as religion and skepticism - original poetry and short-stories - and film/tv/book/game reviews.

Introduction

One of the most common and comical rebuttals offered by Creationists against Evolution is the question “if human beings evolved from apes, then why are there still apes?”. This question is so aggravating because it marks a fundamental misunderstanding of what evolution is and how evolution takes place. The person asking the question does not understand Evolution on a basic level and thus is repeating a question that he/she thinks is a big GOTCHYA moment against the proponent of evolution.

In this hub I hope to briefly discuss human evolution and the misunderstandings and misapprehensions Creationists and the general public sometimes have. One does not have to be a scientist to achieve a basic understanding of the way evolution works and if you genuinely believe Creation to be the correct answer you should have nothing to fear from considering evolution.

Titular Question

So why are there still apes? Well because Evolution is not ACTUALLY like this famous image here depicts. At no point in history was there only a single extant species of ape (extant is the opposite of extinct) that later descended/evolved into human beings. Rather human beings evolved from a common ancestor to all other extant apes and, in fact, humans are largely considered apes themselves by many in the scientific community.

What does that mean if you're a Creationist reading this? It means that Evolution is more like a bush, with many branches all stemming from the same central branches, spiraling out from a common ancestry. It means that Evolution is not like a steady progression from ape to man with no other branches beside us to carry the other ape lines forward.

Lions and Tigers and Tabby Cats

Human beings did not evolve from any currently living species of apes, we didn't evolve from chimps, we share a common ancestor with them. To form a family analogy we are cousins to chimpanzees, we might share the same evolutionary grandparents (in a sense) but we aren't directly linked. To say that we evolved from something is a bit like saying it was our evolutionary parent but chimps and the other ape species that still survive today are not our evolutionary parents, they are our cousins and some are more distant cousins than others.

I think the main point of contention here is actually the idea that human beings evolved from other animals at all. So to explain with an example that has nothing to do with humans I'm sure we're all familiar with the big species of cats. Lions, Tigers, Jaguars, Lynx, etc. Yet I've never encountered a Creationist confused by the fact that there are still Lions despite there being Siberian Tigers as well. Obviously there are differently evolutionary lines of the Family Felidae (cats) and the same holds true for humans and our fellow apes.

Aron Ra explains cat evolution

How Do We Know Humans Evolved?

Hopefully the example of cats helped clear up any confusion about how there are still apes if human beings evolved from apes. There can be many species in a genus of animals. But how do we know that human beings indeed DO share an ancestor with modern extant ape species? Well the answer actually comes from every corner of the study of biology.

For example we have dozens of transitional fossils showing animals very much like ourselves but also very much like our ape relatives. The fossils alone could confirm common descent from ape ancestors but they are just one line of evidence.

Source

Blurred Lines

While none of the transitional hominids we've found are homo sapiens (that's the scientific name for our species) many of them are human, that's because human refers to any of these species that belong to the Genus homo. If we traveled back in time to observe the emergence of homo sapien's from their earlier ancestors there would not be a specific generation we could point to and say, 'this generation is not homo sapiens and this next generation IS'.

This is because evolution doesn't work within what I call 'hard lines'. That is to say the changes from a single generation to the next make it difficult to establish where one species begins and another ends it is only when viewed on a larger time scale that the macroevolutionary changes become apparent. All species are in a constant state of transition, even the ones that seem stuck in an evolutionary time warp (sharks, crocodiles, etc).

We have evidence in behavioral studies which show that apes, such as humans and chimps, share a great deal in common as far as behavior. Chimpanzees, for example, are often territorial and tribal, they even launch preemptive strikes against their neighbors or pick off the members of rival tribes when they are alone. They can form simple tools, recognize themselves in mirrors, recognize words and language and engage in a host of other behaviors that used to be considered exclusively human. Of course this by itself doesn't confirm ancestry, it is just one line of evidence.

DNA

By far the strongest evidence comes from DNA comparisons which prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that human beings and apes are blood related. We're not talking about something that the supernatural excuses of yesteryear can explain away here, we're talking about the kind of evidence that convicts murderers. We're talking about the kind of evidence that can exonerate someone convicted of murder so that they are set free. DNA shows us that Chimpanzees, humans, gorillas and all other “Great” Apes share a common evolutionary parentage – we are related.

No Creationist I've ever seen would argue that this isn't the case with cats. I've never seen a Creationist argue that a Tabby and a Tiger could never share a common ancestor because Creationists can see just by looking at the shape of each creature that they are related. Yet when they look at a Chimpanzee somehow they do not see the similarities of appearance with human beings.

And yet even if they ignore the physical similarities, the behavioral similarities, the skeletal similarities and the fossils there is still, at base level, the DNA. The evidence of human evolution is coursing through all of us right now.

Human Beings ARE Apes

Remember earlier when we talked about hard lines? Every species is in a constant state of change, including our own.

Take, for example, the superficial differences that human beings refer to as race. These differences are tiny on a genetic level and they emerged only in the last 80,000 years since our ancestors starting leaving Africa. On an evolutionary scale 80,000 years is a short while and yet in that short time human beings have come to look pretty damn diverse as a single species. YET, we can all still interbreed, meaning we are indeed the same species.

Species is one of the more permanent lines for scientists to draw because it has to do with interbreeding. Even if two populations have diverged and changed for a long time if they can still interbreed they are typically considered the same species. After that however the classification system moves forward only tentatively. Over the years scientists have amassed data on human beings and other apes, including DNA tests and this eventually led to the admission that human beings themselves are a subset of apes.

If you don't accept genetics as valid science and thus dismiss the DNA I encourage you to make a list of the biological attributes of apes in one column with humans in another. We share a great deal in common with Chimps but we are also quite different because we diverged millions of years ago. In fact DNA studies suggest our last common ancestor with Chimps may have been as much 13 million years ago.

If you can admit that a tiger, lion, cheetah, leopard and house cat are all evolutionary relatives than you can admit that all of these are as well.
If you can admit that a tiger, lion, cheetah, leopard and house cat are all evolutionary relatives than you can admit that all of these are as well.

Conclusion

When I was a Creationist I was afraid to admit that I was an animal. Despite needing food like an animal, having the reproductive system of an animal, having to rely on fallible senses tied to a central nervous system and brain like an animal I wanted to believe there was something supernatural at work in human beings. Of course science can never fully disprove the supernatural, there will always be unanswered questions, dark spots of ignorance into which people will put ghosts and gods.

The fear I harbored about admitting that I was an animal turned out to be completely unfounded. In fact it seems utterly silly to me that I was ever so afraid so simply look at the facts or look in the mirror. All of us are animals, that much is obvious and even many Creationists might agree with that assessment. But just as we fit into the classification of being animals human beings also fit without issue into the Primate order and the Family known as Hominids. We meet all the criteria of being apes.

The denial of evolution carries with it a price but it is one that is lost on many who identify as believers. To them they are safeguarding their rock-founded faith from the shifting sands of human science. Some even see evolution as atheistic or inherently anti-God because it seeks to explore and explain human origins by following evidence and the scientific method rather than by trusting in the authoritarian edicts of the Church, the Bible or their God.

Admitting that you are a member of the animal kingdom and that you are a PART of nature, not apart from it, need not stir fear of nihilism or the threat of hellfire. All it requires is an open mind and the ability to look at and accept the evidence that scientists have uncovered. From all corners of biology the evidence has mounted and mounted including the strength of DNA evidence.

There is no other issue I can think of where Christians would be so quick to deny the weight of DNA evidence. Yet here, when it comes to the reality of their own ancestry, they cover their eyes, cup their mouths or plug their ears like the monkeys of old.

Those who believe most fervently in the reality of magic often miss out on the magic of reality.
Those who believe most fervently in the reality of magic often miss out on the magic of reality. | Source

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    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 5 months ago from Auburn, WA

      Great job. Very easy to understand (we hope for most...). Sharing everywhere.

    • Paladin_ profile image

      Paladin_ 5 months ago from Michigan, USA

      A good take on what can be a very complex and controversial topic, Titen. I like how you stayed on your general theme without straying too deeply into the 'nuts and bolts' details of evolutionary theory.

      As you suggested above, it's also been my experience that the vast majority of criticisms leveled at evolutionary theory by creationists are actually directed at a straw man version of the theory -- not the real thing. The tricky part is trying to discern if they're purposely being disingenuous or simply parroting the lies and deceptions of some creationist website they (unfortunately) trust. I suspect it's the latter in most cases.

      As for humans, apes and DNA, I highly recommend a short video from a lecture by biologist Ken Miller (who helped eviscerate the creationists at the Dover trial). It explains how evolutionary theory actually PREDICTS a particular variation between chimp and human genomes (something intelligent design "theory" dare not do!), and how the actual genome sequences bear it out:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dK3O6KYPmEw&in...

    • Titen-Sxull profile image
      Author

      Titen-Sxull 5 months ago from back in the lab again

      Thanks Paladin, I've seen that Ken Miller lecture video before, you'd think the debate would be over after a discovery like that.

      I definitely wanted to stick to my topic on this one and not get side-tracked into bashing Creationists too harshly or talking about anything too complicated. As I said in the intro the argument that there shouldn't be any apes but us if we evolved from apes marks a misunderstanding of the very basics of evolution.

      The result, I hope, is something that might educate any Creationists as to how evolution works on a very basic level, slight variations over time lead to diverging lines and a bush or tree of life rather than a ladder of progression.

      "The tricky part is trying to discern if they're purposely being disingenuous or simply parroting the lies and deceptions of some creationist website they (unfortunately) trust. I suspect it's the latter in most cases."

      Yes indeed. I think someone like Ray Comfort is probably doing it for disingenuous financial reasons but the average internet Creationist is just repeating what they've been told. I should know, I used to be one of those average internet Creationists!

    • Maria Dorland profile image

      Maria Dorland 5 months ago from Johannesburg

      Hi, thank you for this nice explained hub. I understand where you are coming from...but perhaps creation and evolution should not clash that badly. It is how we interpret the bible and how the science frames the findings. Without going very deeply on the topic, which I am not as familiar as you are, one of the things that make me doubt about the evolution theory is that my high school teachers taught me about the relationship between races and the places where they appeared. They argued for example that the physical features of humans beings are related to things as latitude, altitude, and other geographical conditions, So, what you say here is very convenient but the Christian websites are not the only ones to blame! It also depends on how science is taught. Off course theories also advance with time and get polished.

      Now, the creationists appeal to design for explaining the similitudes between species created by God.

    • profile image

      Proximus 5 months ago

      I'm muslim and evolution does not contradict Islamic Creationism. Why?

      In the Holy Quran God says "And certainly did We create man from an extract of clay".(Al-Mu'minun) 23:12). We all know that every living being came from Earth. Evolution is about common ancestry. Apes and Humans had common ancestors but if we look more deeply we can find that even wolf and Human had common ancestors. Finally, all living beings on Earth came from soil(clay). It could take billions of years, but in God's eyes it's nothing.

      "And indeed, a day with your Lord is like a thousand years of those which you count".(22:47 Al-Haj).

      "The angels and the Spirit will ascend to Him during a Day the extent of which is fifty thousand years".(70:1 AL-Ma-arij)

    • Titen-Sxull profile image
      Author

      Titen-Sxull 5 months ago from back in the lab again

      We are in agreement that all life on Earth is made up of the same elements that the Earth is made of. If there is a higher power it would seem that evolution was the mechanism that power used to bring about life. Unfortunately many believers want to force a literal interpretation of the ancient stories in their holy book rather than look at it as allegory.

      Thank you for your comment Proximus, it is good to know there are Muslims out there who are open minded on this subject!

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 4 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Titen

      Really enjoyed this. What you seem to be talking of here is 'micro evolution' as in variations within a species right?

      That type of evolution has been demonstrated, but 'macro evolution' (the changes that occur enabling one species to change into another like the horse and dog with their common ancestor) still hasn't been proved and at the moment, DNA research argues it's highly improbable because no 'mutation by adding new information' has ever been observed!

      Yes there has been mutations by substituting one base pair in a sequence, but those pairs already existed, it wasn't new information!

      Micro evolution, no problem, I've used that argument to explain how Noah got all the variety of animals on the Ark!

      Blessings

      Lawrence

    • Titen-Sxull profile image
      Author

      Titen-Sxull 4 months ago from back in the lab again

      Lawrence,

      Chimpanzees and humans share a common ancestor, this has been proved genetically. We share common ancestry with all other apes as well. This would not be microevolution because it actually involves diverging species. When we're dealing with cats they're actually an entire family of species called Felidae. So we're not dealing with microevolution.

      "still hasn't been proved and at the moment, DNA research argues it's highly improbable because no 'mutation by adding new information' has ever been observed!"

      Actually there are tons of confirmed observations of Speciation, the change from one species into another. As for new information, here is a great video on just one of the known ways that it can be added:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlhpvcgK_28

      More information can obviously be found with a simple internet search.

      "Micro evolution, no problem, I've used that argument to explain how Noah got all the variety of animals on the Ark!"

      For Noah's Ark to be a true story evolution would have to be kicked into super mega ultra overdrive immediately after the animals were offloaded from the Ark. Of course the story is an absurd one that flies in the face of everything we know about geology, meteorology and biology, etc. The simplest refutation is the plant problem. There are species of plant that can only grow in very specific climates, for example, all of which would have been wiped out in a global flood. I don't recall any part to the story where Noah disseminated the seeds of every type of rare rainforest plant. Something tells me it would have been an interesting part of the story, Noah visiting every continent to make sure plants got back to where they needed to go. Surely

      Noah would have had a lot of grazing animals on the Ark, all of which would have shortly starved due to a world without vegetation. A lot of animals can only eat a certain type of food.

      Of course Noah's Ark was never meant to be broken down into logistics, after all it's a story about a fantastic supernatural event. Best not to take those literally.

      To put it bluntly there is no major difference between micro and macroevolution except for what time scale we are viewing. If we zoom in on a piece of the tree of life we might see minor changes, such as the genes Tibetans have for surviving better at high altitudes. But zoom out far enough and it reveals that we are related to chimps and all apes and indeed when we zoom out far enough ALL life on Earth shares a common ancestor at some point.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 4 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Titen

      Interesting video. I haven't had time to look up the other information you sent through, but the video clip backs up what I was saying that no new information, no new nucleotides were created!

      In the video it shows a re-arranging of the nucleotides that results in a new ability, it shows 'micro evolution' not macro!

      Recently I watched a news program here in New Zealand about research being done to try and find the gene that enables birds to fly, they said the reason for the research is because "All evolution happens by deleting from the gene pool" and the birds that can't fly are actually more highly evolved!

      They were researching two birds that look identical but one can fly and the other can't

      The Takahe can't fly and was thought extinct until they were found in the central North island.

      The Pukeko looks almost identical to the Takahe but can fly.

      As for cats, the same applies, no new nucleotides, just a re-arranging of what's already there.

      As I said before, enjoyed this hub.

      Lawrence

    • Titen-Sxull profile image
      Author

      Titen-Sxull 4 months ago from back in the lab again

      Lawrence,

      "In the video it shows a re-arranging of the nucleotides that results in a new ability, it shows 'micro evolution' not macro!"

      All DNA is a rearrangement of the four basic nucleotides. Why would we assume that evolution is going to create a fifth as yet undiscovered nucleotide? One of the ways new information is added to the genome is when copying errors create an extra copy of a gene through a duplication error. You might say that this duplicate gene isn't 'new information' but that's actually not the case as genes duplicated too many times in error can develop entirely new functions. From wikipedia:

      "Gene duplications are an essential source of genetic novelty that can lead to evolutionary innovation. Duplication creates genetic redundancy, where the second copy of the gene is often free from selective pressure — that is, mutations of it have no deleterious effects to its host organism. If one copy of a gene experiences a mutation that affects its original function, the second copy can serve as a 'spare part' and continue to function correctly. Thus, duplicate genes accumulate mutations faster than a functional single-copy gene, over generations of organisms, and it is possible for one of the two copies to develop a new and different function."

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene_duplication

      As I said above micro and macroevolution are the same thing viewed at different time scales. It depends on how far in we're zoomed in on the tree of life, how long a period of time we're looking at. As an example studies show that people who live at high altitudes in Tibet have genes that allow them to thrive at these extreme altitudes that other humans do not. This is new information as well as an example of the fact that humans are still evolving. When viewed on a short time scale we see small changes like these genes and the slight variations that make up what humans call "race".

      But now imagine that millions of years go by bringing with them hundreds of these sorts of changes. The organism we get at the end is not going to be the same as the one we started with. This is just as much a fact as microevolution because the two are the exact same thing just viewed from different time scales.

      " and the birds that can't fly are actually more highly evolved!"

      Well that's what happens when you get your science from a local news report. There isn't such a thing as "more highly evolved", at least not in the sense they seem to be suggesting based on what you're saying.

      "As for cats, the same applies, no new nucleotides, just a re-arranging of what's already there."

      If you break down a tiger and a tabby cat you're not going to find their genomes are identical but yes you will find the four basic nucleotides that make up DNA. You will also find that all cats are related, just as humans are related to the other apes. This is why genetics provides the strongest evidence of evolution.

    • GalaxyRat profile image

      GalaxyRat 8 weeks ago from The Crazy Rat Lady's House

      Ugh...like really? I know this going to mark as spam when you come to check what frickin' comment ya got, but I could go on & on... evolution is not true. How could animals like shrews survive during the halfway point of their evolution to bats? How could our internal body systems evolve and us still be alive? How could a 2-chambered-heart -circulation-system evolve to a 3 or 4 chambered heart? How could the heart move from the side of the body to the middle? Look at diagrams of 2,3, & 4 chambered hearts if you can't answer this and that'll help.

    • Titen-Sxull profile image
      Author

      Titen-Sxull 8 weeks ago from back in the lab again

      @Gemini

      Luckily science isn't in the business of proving that things to be "true" but rather in collecting data, testing hypotheses and coming to the conclusions that best fit the evidence.

      Have you ever seen a bat skeleton or fossil? They have finger bones. In fact so do birds. This would only make sense if they had both evolved the ability to fly. A God would have no reason to give them these appendages (or to give whales HIP BONE REMNANTS for that matter).

      It's actually quite easy to imagine a scenario where skin flaps or membranes that aid in jumping eventually lead to the ability to fly through natural selection. Just look at flying squirrels. It doesn't make much sense to deny that they are related to other squirrels.

      "How could the heart move from the side of the body to the middle?"

      The evolution of chambered hearts is still being researched, as is the rest of evolution. Amphibians like frogs tend to have three chambered hearts while certain reptiles have a three chambered heart that has a wall (the beginnings of a four chambered heart). Birds and humans have four chambered hearts and so do crocodiles. Birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs.

      So amphibians have three chambered hearts, some reptiles have the beginnings of four chambered hearts while birds and likely their dinosaur ancestors had full fledged four-chambered hearts. So the 4 chambered heart appears to have evolved in an ancestor that is common to crocs, dinosaurs, birds and humans but NOT an ancestor of frogs and other amphibians.

      You can research all of this yourself if you like. I only know so much. I'm not a scientist.

      Evolution is one of the best attested scientific theories in existence and is confirmed by DNA evidence. You can deny it if you like but DNA can't lie, all life on planet Earth is genetically related, meaning biological evolution is a reality.

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