Evolving Thoughts

Why are there still monkeys?

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Once upon a time, a Roman author named Quintus Ennius wrote: “how like us is that very ugly beast, the ape!” It was quoted by Cicero, and from him Bacon, Montaigne and various others. But always it was thought that apes (simia, literally “the similar ones”), which in that time include monkeys and what we now call apes indifferently, were distinct from humans in every meaningful way. As Cicero said after citing Ennius, the character is different.

But then along came a Swedish botanist turned generalist, Carolus Linnaeus, in the 18th century, and despite being a creationist, he put apes, monkeys and humans in the same group (Primata, literally, “the first ones”), and worse, apes and humans into a single genus, Homo. He wrote to Johann Georg Gmelin

It is not pleasing that I placed humans among the primates, but man knows himself. Let us get the words out of the way. It will be equal to me by whatever name they are treated. But I ask you and the whole world a generic difference between men and simians in accordance with the principles of Natural History. I certainly know none. If only someone would tell me one! If I called man an ape or vice versa I would bring together all the theologians against me. Perhaps I ought to have, in accordance with the law of the discipline [of Natural History].

Nevertheless the theologians objected to humans and apes being placed into the same class no matter what the reason, and in 1775, Blumenbach revised the classification so that Humans were the sole members of Homo and Chimps the sole members of Pan. No real reason was given, as this was both intuitively (read: “religiously”) obvious, and the period in which Authorities got to make classifications based on what seemed best to them, stated or unstated.

Which brings me to the continuous Creationist canard (no, it’s not a duck): Why are there still monkeys if humans evolved from monkeys?

There are two sides to this question: one is whether any modern view of evolution requires that there only be one instance of a “type” and once it has been evolved out of, it should go extinct. This is a silly belief that itself is based on ideas that predate even Linnaeus – that each “position” on the “scale of nature” once occupied by a lineage, must become empty when that lineage moves upward. No theory of evolution has held this view for at least 200 years, even before Darwin. If we did evolve from monkeys, then monkeys do not all have to go extinct just because another kind of monkey (i.e., us) has evolved.

The second side to the question though is this: were our ancestors monkeys at all? And the answer to this is subtle.

There are basically two ways to classify things in biology. One is by identity – if group X is the same in some important manner to Y, then X + Y form a group based on that identity. The biological term for identity of characters here is homology, a term proposed by Richard Owen in 1843. It means the same organ under all variations of form and function. All organisms that have a heart form a single group – no matter if the hearts are single chambered, double chambered, or four-chambered. But organisms that have some kind of pump that is not “the same” as the heart are not in that way homologous – if, say, the “heart” in that species develops out of the anus or something, and not in the thoracic part of the body.

The other way is to classify by similarity. Something is in the same class as another thing if it resembles the other. Similarity is not identity – the anus-heart would be classified as similar to the thoracic heart in virtue of a similar task or even activity and structure. To say that humans are not like beasts is to classify by what seems important to use as a similarity measure to us. The biological term for a trait that resembles others because of form or structure is homoplasy. Bats’, birds’ and insects’ wings are homoplasious – similar because of what they do, not because they are the same parts used.

Something can be the same even if it is not very similar, and groups made by identity are called taxa (singular taxon), whereas groups made by similarity are types. Classifications of taxa are called, naturally, a taxonomy. A classification based on types is a typology. These are often confused, even by scientists.

So were our ancestors monkeys? Each way of classifying gives a different answer. On the identity criterion, humans fall naturally into several increasingly larger groups: Homo is in Hominini, which includes several now extinct Homo species and chimps; Homininae, which includes hominids as well as gorillas; Hominidae, which also includes orangutans, and Hominoidea, which includes gibbons. Hominoidea is referred to as the African Great Apes, although the gibbon and orangutan live in Asia. It a part of Catarrhini, or the Old World (African and Eurasian) monkeys.

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So, if you classify by taxa, any immediate ancestor of our species was a member of Homo, Hominoidea (and hence the apes), and Catarrhini (or the Old World Monkeys). Hence our ancestor was a monkey, because we are monkeys (and apes).

But “monkey” is typically understood to mean a Primate that has a tail, and so it includes also the New World (American) monkeys: the Platyrrhini. But apes do not have tails, so “monkey” defined by similarity as a type is basically Primate minus Hominoidea. This is like saying that a cookie (or biscuit in the sensible English speaking part of the world) is whatever is left after a bite has been taken out of it. It is what taxonomists call a paraphyletic group: a group that is everything left over by some exclusion of a part that would normally be included.

Now, our ancestors were never New World monkeys. The term “monkey” therefore refers to animals that include organisms that don’t share our ancestry further down the tree. It’s a type, not a taxon.

Ordinary language is typical. That is, ordinary terms like “monkey” refer to things that resemble each other is ways that may not even be scientifically natural. It’s best when making a scientific claim to use scientific terms, because they refer to natural things, natural classes. So a scientist would say “humans evolved from hominoids, which evolved from catarrhines, which evolved from an ancestral primate.” An ordinary speaker would throw their hands up in despair and say “Just tell me, did we evolve from monkeys or not?!” They are speaking past each other. “Monkey” has no scientific meaning.

Some scientists, though, think that this is just logic and language chopping. Of course whatever it is that humans have as their distant ancestor would have been called a “monkey” in ordinary (that is, typical) terms. Geogre Simpson once said exactly that:

On this subject, by the way, there has been way too much pussyfooting. Apologists emphasize that man cannot be the descendant of any living ape?a statement that is obvious to the verge of imbecility?and go on to state or imply that man is not really descended from an ape or monkey at all, but from an earlier common ancestor. In fact, that earlier ancestor would certainly be called an ape or monkey in popular speech by anyone who saw it. Since the terms ape and monkey are defined by popular usage, man?s ancestors were apes or monkeys (or successively both). It is pusillanimous if not dishonest for an informed investigator to say otherwise (1964, p. 12).

This passage is much beloved of creationists, for it seems to be an obvious contradiction to the view that evolution does not say that our ancestors were monkeys. Simpson in fact was of the old school (note that this is written in 1964, before the form of classification I call “by taxa” was developed – it’s known professionally as “phylogenetic taxonomy”, or “cladistics”). But even so, read what he says carefully: No living ape is our ancestor (or even very much like our ancestor to an anatomist). So if by “ape” (or “monkey”) you mean a chimp or a macaque or an orangutan, no, we are not evolved from these ugly beasts.

So when someone asks if we evolved from monkeys, tell them “Yes, if by “monkey” you mean a primate; no, if you mean Primate minus Hominoid”. Of course at some very early and distant time our ancestors were monkeys, but not recently.

Now, back to the “why are there still monkeys?” part of the question: on the older view of evolution that was the common idea of evolution for a century prior to Darwin (both the evolution of organisms, or languages, and of social institutions), if a lineage had evolved, it moved “up” the ladder as a whole. On the Darwinian view, only one part of a species evolves into the next (and there’s no “next step” – a species evolves into whatever suits the local conditions of the population it evolves from; it may be bigger brained or smaller brained, or for that matter bigger or smaller). The rest of the species remains. So we end up with an increase in the diversity of life, which is, I think, the single most important point Darwin ever made. Monkeys remain because we are monkeys, and so are chimps, orangs, and all those other primates. All of them remain because they evolved by the multiplication of taxa.

Comments

  1. #1 theropod-x
    July 23, 2008

    this sentence a typo? I don’t get it:

    “Of course at some remove our ancestors were monkeys, but not recently.”

  2. #2 John S. Wilkins
    July 23, 2008

    I changed it to be easier to read. The locution “at a remove” means “at a distance” (in this case, of time).

  3. #3 Ian Tindale
    July 23, 2008

    Serendipitously, ‘Jocko Homo’ by Devo was at some remove from the currently playing position in my iTunes party shuffle, so I shoved it up to the next play position, then it appeared again, causing me to realise that I have two versions of it.

  4. #4 El PaleoFreak
    July 23, 2008

    When someone asks me if we evolved from monkeys, I tell them: Yes, because phylogeny studies show that we descend from hairy, four-handed, arboreal primates with monkey faces, monkey skeletons, monkey brains and monkey everything. They were our ancestors and also the ancestors of extant monkeys. And there is not any reasons to avoid calling this ancestors monkeys, monkeys, monkeys!

  5. #5 Thony C.
    July 23, 2008

    Remove: noun;

    c.1300, from O.Fr. remouvoir, from L. removere “move back or away,” from re- “back, away” + movere “to move” (see move). The noun is first recorded 1553, “act of removing;” sense of “space or interval by which one thing is distant from another” is attested from 1628.

    Why d’ya have to use these newfangl’d for’en words Wilkins? Why can’t ya stick to good plain English?

  6. #6 Thony C.
    July 23, 2008

    On a more serious note a superb little essay “wot ya wrote there” Mr Wilkins. Informative and erudite as ever.

  7. #7 Alan
    July 23, 2008

    Excellent post, thanks very much.

    Bookmarked for future bafflement of Creationists.

  8. #8 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    July 23, 2008

    Further definitions of “remove” that fit quite nicely into The Philospher’s usage:

    13. the distance by which one person, place, or thing is separated from another: to see something at a remove.
    14. a mental distance from the reality of something as a result of psychological detachment or lack of experience: to criticize something at a remove.
    15. a degree of difference, as that due to descent, transmission, etc.: a folk survival, at many removes, of a druidic rite.
    16. a step or degree, as in a graded scale.
    17. British. a promotion of a pupil to a higher class or division at school.

    Modern Language Association (MLA):
    “remove.” Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 23 Jul. 2008. .

    Helpful essay, John. I am going to remove the Linnaeus quote for my sidebar.

  9. #9 J-Dog
    July 23, 2008

    I trust that you do tell anyone that asks this question that anyone that is a creationist is NOT fully evolved? Therefore all creationists are Homo homo, whereas everyone else is Homo sapiens?

  10. #10 bonobohead
    July 23, 2008

    The term monkey does have scientific meaning – they are the clade including all the cercopithecoidea. This is why we didn’t come from monkeys, the cercopithecoids are our cousins, not our ancestors. The platyrrhines are New World “monkeys”, with the quotes because they are not true monkeys for the reasons you describe. So our ancestors were “monkeys”, but not monkeys.

    The common name for the Hominoidea is “apes”, not African Great Apes (those are the hominids). The Hominini does not include chimps (which are Panini), but only Homo and what were formerly known as the hominids (i.e. Australopithecus, etc. – now considered hominins because hominids is the common name for everything in the Hominidae).

  11. #11 John S. Wilkins
    July 23, 2008

    Thanks for the corrections, bonobohead – this field is too fluid and complex for a mere philosopher. I went by the Wikipedia article, which was a mistake I see.

    How do you support the claim that only cercopithecoids are monkeys? They look to me like a paraphyletic group. Am I (likely) wrong?

  12. #12 El PaleoFreak
    July 23, 2008

    New Old monkeys are perfect monkeys. They don’t need quotes.
    I’ve never seen the term “monkey” limited to Cercopithecoidea.
    And the common name for Hominoidea is not “apes”, despite the Wikipedia campaign. Hominoidea doesn’t have a common name. Often we don’t have a common name for every clade. And it’s absurd to change the meaning of common names, forcing them to match one clade or other.

  13. #13 bonobohead
    July 23, 2008

    it is indeed fluid, which makes a lot of anthropologists grumpy. it’s hard to get old timers to switch to “hominins” from “hominids”.

    the cercopithecoids (Old World monkeys) are indeed monophyletic. They split from the apes in the early Miocene. They are monkeys based on history – they were the first to be called “monkeys”, and the platyrrhines were later given that name based on phenetic similarity, but we know now the cercopithecoids are more closely related to apes than to New World primates. So “monkey” is paraphyletic, which is why it doesn’t mean anything scientific in it’s common usage, but the true monkeys are monophyletic.

    i made a mistake above, the Hominids are the great apes, but the African apes are the Hominines (Homininae – as you said).

  14. #14 John S. Wilkins
    July 23, 2008

    Thank the gods. I was worried I had gone even further into senility. I must do some reading up on primate phylogeny – it’s going to matter in my next project.

  15. #15 Todd Sayre
    July 23, 2008

    Why is it always monkeys?

    There’s a whole evolutionary tree out there to pick on. Come on creationists, make some new bad arguments for once.

    If eukaryotes evolved from prokaryotes, why are there still prokaryotes?
    If multicellular organisms evolved from unicellular organisms, why are there still unicellular organisims?
    If amphibians evolved from fish, why are there still fish?
    If snakes evolved from creatures with legs, why are there still creatures with legs?
    etc.

  16. #16 bonobohead
    July 23, 2008

    Estimado El PaleoFreak – Fleagle in his 1999 book refers to them as “monkeys” in quotes at one point, explaining that they are monkeys only in that they are anthropoids with a tail. you are right that there is nothing wrong with calling them monkeys as the word is commonly used. The problem, as was pointed out by the Sr. Wilkins, is that when the term is used in this way it has no scientific meaning (because it is a grade and not a clade). You are also right that not all taxa have common names, but “apes” is a common name and it does apply to all species assigned to the hominoidea, and nothing has to be changed to accomodate this (unless you don’t think people should be called apes).

  17. #17 GuLi
    July 23, 2008

    Nice post Mr. Wilkins.
    One thing though, I think you make a little light of the obvious Teilhardism in the creationists’ mythology. For instance,

    This is a silly belief that itself is based on ideas that predate even Linnaeus – that each “position” on the “scale of nature” once occupied by a lineage, must become empty when that lineage moves upward.

    I’d have expected this upward in quotes (in a sentence already rife with them).

    You eventually get to that point with

    (and there’s no “next step” – a species evolves into whatever suits the local conditions of the population it evolves from; [...])

    but it comes as an afterthought, whereas, to me, the idea that species should want to evolve – and hence if monkeys found “the” way, why didn’t they all – is the major epistemological break at play.

  18. #18 GuLi
    July 23, 2008

    Should be
    “if some monkeys found “the” way, why didn’t they all?”.
    Sorry.

  19. #19 C. Sullivan
    July 23, 2008

    Bonobohead — Interesting that cercopithecoids are monophyletic. I had always assumed they were paraphyletic with respect to apes. However, I assume that platyrrhines are still the sister-taxon of cercopithecoids plus apes (including humans). I think it would be logical to apply the term “monkey” to this larger clade, rather than just to cercopithecoids. Otherwise biologists will have to devote unreasonable amounts of time and effort to explaining to an outraged public why spider monkeys, howler monkeys and night monkeys are no longer monkeys at all.

    Under the usage I’m proposing, we would still have monkey ancestors in both the taxonomic and the typological senses – they would just precede our ape ancestors in time and in phylogenetic position (along the sequence of ancestral nodes leading to H. sapiens). I personally never hesitate to tell people that we’re descended from monkeys, although obviously not from LIVING monkeys.

  20. #20 boomer0127
    July 23, 2008

    The real answer to the question “Why are there still monkeys?”:

    Because our viruses haven’t killed them yet and our penchant for destroying their habitat isn’t completely fulfilled. Just give us time and we will soon have destroyed them all (and maybe ourselves in the process).

    Of course this assumes they do not launch a full-scale attack with their viruses and destructive capabilities.

  21. #21 Ian
    July 23, 2008

    So bonobohead, what are Homilies…?

    John – You should never have shown me the “Best of ET” button. I’ve been spending far too much time pulling articles out of there to read.

    I got reading most of your species stuff in there, only some of which I’d read before, and thinking about things not entirely unrelated to what you’re writing here.

    I was sleepy yesterday and so may have no understood or may have entirely missed any references to what I’m going into here, but I got to wondering if both species (or perhaps not species, but genera) and niches are a really a sort of quantum thing.

    Since niches are rather limited in availability, does this drive species/genera into the discrete quanta in which we typical see them and prevent them from displaying continuous spectra linking one grouping to another?

    For example (and I’m sure I’ll be snappily corrected if I’m seeing this wrongly!) we don’t see a complete range of organisms between two taxonomic classifications, we see kindred groupings with little or nothing in between.

    If we could trace the lineage backwards through time we would see the intermediates at some point, but the intermediates tend not to survive long, leaving the quantum groups which we label species and genera.

    Does this make any sense at all? If so, where do I collect my Nobel prize? If not, where do I hide?!

  22. #22 El PaleoFreak
    July 23, 2008

    “The problem, as was pointed out by the Sr. Wilkins, is that when the term is used in this way it has no scientific meaning (because it is a grade and not a clade)”

    No problem; let’s use the strict scientific terms (Catarrhini, Cercopithecoidea, etc.) when you want a strict scientific meaning.

    “”apes” is a common name and it does apply to all species assigned to the hominoidea”, and nothing has to be changed to accomodate this (unless you don’t think people should be called apes).

    I am talking about the real meaning of the common and scientific terms, not about what people “should” be called. Yes, you need to change the meaning of the common word “ape” if you want it to include humans. The word “ape” has never pointed to humans seriously, until some recent attempts to reformulate it and impose it.

  23. #23 bonobohead
    July 23, 2008

    sullivan-
    cercopithecoids are a clade, with their most distinguishing characteristic being the exciting bilophodonty of the molars. platyrrhines indeed are the sister taxon of catarrhines (old world monkeys plus apes). it’s fine to use the term monkeys for the new world monkeys. i study capuchin monkeys and i always refer to them as monkeys. the problem is that the “larger clade” you refer to includes old world monkeys, new world monkeys, as well as apes. and calling apes monkeys will piss off the primatologists. biologists try to name things based on their evolutionary relationships, and the term monkeys doesn’t refer to an evolutionary group. so in the spirit of the original purpose of this post – we did not come from monkeys if you mean it in the cladistic sense. but we did come from monkeys if you mean it in the gradistic sense, since the common ancestor of apes, old world monkeys, and new world monkeys would have definitely been a monkey in this sense.

  24. #24 bonobohead
    July 23, 2008

    Why shouldn’t the meaning of words change as our understanding of the world changes? Until relatively recently, it was thought that non-human apes were a clade and humans were the sister group. We now know differently – so why shouldn’t the word “ape” include people? Language shapes the way people think, and a word that refers to apes minus humans reinforces the evolutionary ignorance that we all think sucks.

  25. #25 Mark Pallen
    July 23, 2008

    My dictionary gives the etymology of “simian” as related to the Greek for “snub-nosed” rather than Latin for “the similar ones”.

    Anyhow, the best words on this subject are sung rather than spoken:
    http://www.emeraldrose.com/monkeys.htm
    http://www.emeraldrose.com/archivesages/wecomefrommonkeys.htm
    And note their priceless caveat:
    [For you science purists, yes, we considered the title "We Come From Genetic Precursors To Monkeys" but it was rejected on artistic grounds.]

  26. #26 El PaleoFreak
    July 23, 2008

    I think it’s not a matter of new discoveries or better understanding of the world. It’s a tendency to impose cladistic nomenclature rules not only to scientific names but also to common words. There’s also some kind of anti-creationism “activism” involved. Some people want us to be called “apes” because they think it would help us fighting anti-science. Others are motivated by great ape conservationism and the Great Ape project. They are not so interested when it comes to insects, or plants…

    I don’t see any anti-evolution “ignorance” in a word that refers to apes but not to humans. I use hominoid when I want to refer to all the members of Hominoidea, and “ape” when I want to refer to those hairy, four-handed, broad chested and tail-less primates that are genetically so close to us.

  27. #27 Spike
    July 23, 2008

    Why are there still my parents after I’m born?

    Taxonomy is where biologists get to act like lawyers!

  28. #28 Jaime A. Headden
    July 23, 2008

    It is further neccessary to note that the gradation of groups into segments of some sort of “progressive” lineage is to endorse a paraphyletic argument.

    Take this progression:

    Lemurs — Monkeys — Apes — Humans

    To isolate one of these from the whole as being parallel in its origin and development from the others is to argue for paraphyletic origins, something which has been shown to be biologically untenable, and simply confusing systematically.

    On the other hand, applying the terms helps create a form of “concept” or “bubble” around which one can use the term freely for a stage in overall progressive development, even if that progression is an artefact of our systematics.

    The means I always had in countering the “why are there still monkeys” argument was that because not all of a previous group need to develop to create a new group; such can happen with only a “family” of animals breeding, and isolating themselves. Relative fitness, survivability, effects on predation or resources can claim their place as a competitive element, and allow selection to occur. This is fairly simple and can be experimented with flies, so there is no hard line here for a creationist to cross. The real trick comes from trying to teach the creationist arguers that blindly stating “why are there still monkeys” without understanding what they are asking will make it hard for any of us to actually understand what they are saying.

    In their views, they think if one organism “changes”, the entire group or grade must assemble ranks and do the same. Evolution in this sense only seems to be logical to some people if the entire rank and file join suit, thus reflecting “why are there still monkeys” if “monkeys evolved into man”. The logic of the last simply argues that ALL monkeys evolved into man, thus there should be no monkeys.

    So the correct phrase may be “man evolved from monkeys,” so that it assumes there are still members of the latter category to do more rank and file shuffling toward the “pinnacle.”

  29. #29 Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth
    July 23, 2008

    We are great apes, who should support the Great Ape Project to extend more protections to the other great apes as Spain will soon do.

  30. #30 El PaleoFreak
    July 23, 2008

    Quod erat demostrandum.

    :oD

  31. #31 Opisthokont
    July 23, 2008

    Hominoidea is referred to as the African Great Apes, although the gibbon and orangutan live in Asia.

    Um, no. Hominoidea is referred to as the Apes, period. Hylobatidae comprise the Lesser Apes, and Hominidae the Great Apes. The only group that I have ever heard of being called African Great Apes is Homininae, which are the Great Apes that are endemic to or originated in Africa.

    As for the “we evolved from monkeys” question, I suspect that the common ancestor of apes and monkeys may well have resembled monkeys enough to be itself called a monkey. As such, I have no issue with that assertion. It could be argued (and parsimony would support) that “monkey” is a grade, a common condition from which apes evolved; cladistically speaking, we are apes, monkeys, primates, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. How much of a point one wishes to make of this, however, should depend on the attention span and respect of one’s audience.

  32. #32 El PaleoFreak
    July 23, 2008

    “cladistically speaking, we are apes, monkeys, primates, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish”

    Cladistically speaking, we are Hominoidea, Anthropoidea (or maybe Simiiformes), Primates, Mammalia, Amniota, Tetrapoda, Vertebrata…
    But cladistics don’t tell us to make the synonyms: Hominoidea = apes, Anthropoidea = monkeys, etc.

  33. #33 Ross
    July 23, 2008

    If (most) Americans are descended from Europeans, why are there still Europeans?

    The “why are there still monkeys” query betrays ignorance of what evolution is. Evolution results from fitness to survive in a specific environment. For example, there is a sense in which monkeys can be considered more highly evolved than us humans (instead of equally highly evolved as humans and E. coli)- how long would YOU last naked in the middle of a jungle?

  34. #34 Allen Hazen
    July 23, 2008

    Are they REALLY called “simia” because they are similar to humans? I thought the etymology involved “simus”, snubnosed, rather than “similis”. (I quibble with minor points when I can’t criticize major ones!)

  35. #35 Jeremy
    July 23, 2008

    “cladistically speaking, we are apes, monkeys, primates, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish”
    Well, actually, the last common ancestor of mammals and reptiles wasn’t a reptile but a creature similar to the extinct casineria. The mammal and reptile lines separated before either had evolved into forms which people would recognise today.

  36. #36 John S. Wilkins
    July 23, 2008

    Allen, I was going by my trusty but not very scholarly Teach Yourself Books: Latin Dictionary, and presumed it derived from similis. However, if you know any sources that suggest otherwise, do let me know – I’d be very happy to find that out.

  37. #37 John S. Wilkins
    July 23, 2008

    A quick it of netting gives me this:

    Lewis and Short say “etym. dub.; perh. akin with similis” from

    A Latin Dictionary. Founded on Andrews’ edition of Freund’s Latin dictionary. revised, enlarged, and in great part rewritten by. Charlton T. Lewis, Ph.D. and. Charles Short, LL.D. Oxford. Clarendon Press. 1879.

    while Dictionary, English and Latin (1773) by Ainsworth and Morell say that simia means “(l) An ape, or jackanapes. (2) Met, He that endeavoureth to be like another, an imitator” and then cite Ennius.

    Got to love the Perseus Project and the Internet Archive…

  38. #38 Adrian Morgan
    July 24, 2008

    http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=simian supports the “stub nose” etymology. Dammit, if it had been unambiguously from “similis” then it would have easily been at the top of the “most interesting trivia I learned today” list. I’m disappointed.

    Incidentally, I can’t remember ever actually talking to a creationist who used the “why are there still monkeys” line, but I do distinctly remember talking to people who would split hairs over whether Darwin claimed that humans descended from apes, or merely ape-like beings, in the deranged belief that they were making some sort of profound point.

    An idea for answering the line has just occured to me; don’t know how it would go in the field. Step one, find wooden object. Step two, say (with hint of sarcasm) “This was made from a tree, right? So why do we still have trees?”. Step three, hit creationist over head with wooden object. (Incidentally, following Jesus we may refer to the wooden object as the plank in the creationist’s eye.)

  39. #39 Ian
    July 24, 2008

    Adrian – at the rate of deforestation we’re seeing, we may not have trees much longer! :[

  40. #40 Abel Pharmboy
    July 24, 2008

    Thank you, John – I’ve been looking for a good essay to address this question amongst folks in my neck of the woods and find yours to be executed expertly. Thank you for putting such an effort into this post – I greatly appreciate it.

  41. #41 DDeden
    July 24, 2008

    Jeez John, you’re a smart guy (even a Brit forgodssakes!) but you really managed to mess this up. (I apologize for the seemingly disrespectful tone, but not for the statement).

    To say “humans are monkeys” is exactly as incorrect, irrelevant and meaningless as saying “humans are rats” or “humans are fish”.

    Humans derive from previous ancestors. The last common link of Human and Chimp was a Hump, and I’m quite certain that this Hump occurred along a tropical tidal shore.

    Of course, I could be wrong. I’m only human.

  42. #42 AJS
    July 25, 2008

    @ Todd Sayre (#15),

    Creationists only care to draw a distinction between humans and non-human animals. Distinctions within “other animals” are less important.

    Also, no-one who knows enough biology to understand the difference between a eukaryote and a prokaryote could possibly be a creationist.

  43. #43 El PaleoFreak
    July 25, 2008

    “The last common link of Human and Chimp was a Hump”

    Yes, but that Hump was a perfect ape.
    And the last common ancestor of humans and macaques (call it “humaque” if you want) was a perfect monkey.

  44. #44 Zippy the Pinhead
    July 29, 2008

    Humans did not descend from monkeys. Humans, non-human apes, and monkeys all descended from a common ancestor species which was probably quite monkey-like. That ancestor species certainly did go extinct a long time ago.

  45. #45 Betul
    July 30, 2008

    Actually, one does not have to go that far. We can modify the question as follows: If evolution is correct, why are there still black people? (Since we know that first human being was African descendant)

    As Jared Diamond also stated in one of his books (I suppose it was “Why sex is fun?”), we know that estrogen was on earth before testosterone, then lets try to be more idiocrat by combining these two informations: “if evolution is right, why are there still black women?”

    I agree with Zippy the Pinhead. Yet I don’t like that fact that evolution is only reflected as “humans coming from monkeys”, in public. If only we as scientists could be more careful about the way we educate society… I believe these misconceptions are our fault.

  46. #46 DDeden
    August 9, 2008

    “The last common link of Human and Chimp was a Hump”

    Post-Hump Homo left the tidal mangroves and hit the pocket beaches and went diving and improved bipedalism, Pan hit the rainforests and went climbing and reduced bipedalism.

    ‘Humans are monkeys’ is as perfectly incorrect/correct as ‘humans are fish’, no difference except timescale and local adaptation with mutation.

  47. #47 Campbell
    August 26, 2008

    With all due respect, I think you are missing a basic understanding of evolution, and I would caution any “filing” or “quoting” of this explanation by your readers. Evolution DOES NOT EQUAL progression; this is an extremely outdated way of describing the phenomenon. It is not that every extinct species fostered those we see today and then died off due to their “inferiority” (the unfortunate comment about African-Americans is evidence that this misguided notion, so popular in the “science” of the early 20th century, is still being perpetuated). The entire basis of evolution implies a massive amount of variated life, followed by die-off, followed by differentiation. I’d like to refer you to Stephen Jay Gould’s book entitled WONDERFUL LIFE — a detailed look not only at the Burgess Shale and its evolutionary implications, but also at what Gould calls the “nature of history” and how even well-intentioned scientists (nevermind laypersons!) can be so severely misguided that they can unintentionally — but falsely — rewrite the truth of history. Of course, he explains all this far better than I could ever aspire to — I’d ask you to please give it a look-see if you’re sincerely interested in the subject, and then perhaps tackle this question again. Cheers.

    Here’s the Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Wonderful-Life-Burgess-Nature-History/dp/039330700X/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1219727096&sr=8-1

  48. #48 John S. Wilkins
    August 26, 2008

    Campbell, I read Gould’s Wonderful Life the year it was published. If you read carefully, you will see that I actually deny that evolution is progressive. Try again…

  49. #49 Jeremy
    August 26, 2008

    Could you cite some source of mainstream creationist thought wherein this argument (why are there still monkeys) is used? I know of none. This is a classic attempt to belittle creationist thought with argumentum ad hominem. Argumentum ad hominem: to “argue against the man” rather than his ideas.
    As for knowing individual people who do say these things, it is true that they need to be informed about evolutionary theory’s argument in regard to evolution and extinction. However, a few uninformed people do not make an excuse to belittle all of creationist ideas.

    I guess that my whole point is that if you want to make a valid case, stop belittling people’s ideas as ignorance (comment #41 sardonically derides creationists as lacking scientific background enough to know the difference between an eukaryote and a prokaryote. Hmm, I just read a creationist authored article that contained a lengthy discussion comparing evolutionary theory (with cited sources) with creationist theory (also with cited sources) on the very subject of prokaryote and eukaryote lineage/evolution through history).

    At the risk of being labeled a fool, if I were you, I would check out Answers in Genesis or the Institute for Creation Research and find out what their arguments really are BEFORE trying to refute creationist positions. Then you can actually make an informed and source-cited argumnent.

    I think your readers would find such an article much more interesting and informative. Plus, this discussion about monkeys is an old argument. Let’s here something new!

  50. #50 Jeremy
    August 26, 2008

    Could you cite some source of mainstream creationist thought wherein this argument (why are their still monkeys) is used? I know of none. This is a classic attempt to belittle creationist thought with argumentum ad hominem. Argumentum ad hominem: to “argue against the man” rather than his ideas.
    As for knowing individual people who do say these things, it is true that they need to be informed about evolutionary theory’s argument in regard to evolution and extinction. However, a few uninformed people do not make an excuse to belittle all of creationist ideas.

    I guess that my whole point is that if you want to make a valid case, stop belittling people’s ideas as ignorance (a comment #41 sardonically derides creationists as lacking scientific background enough to know the difference between an eukaryote and a prokaryote. Hmm, I just read a creationist authored article that contained a lengthy discussion comparing evolutionary theory (with cited sources) with creationist theory (also with cited sources) on the very subject of prokaryote and eukaryote lineage/evolution through history.

    At the risk of being labeled a fool, if I were you, I would check out Answers in Genesis or the Institute for Creation Research and find out what their arguments really are BEFORE trying to refute creationist positions. Then you can actually make an informed and source-cited argumnent.

    I think your readers would find such an article much more interesting and informative. Plus, this discussion about monkeys is an old argument. Let’s here something new!

  51. #51 Jeremy
    August 26, 2008

    Sorry. I meant “HEAR” not “here” something new.

  52. #52 Simon7
    August 27, 2008

    Could you cite some source of mainstream creationist thought

    Heh. Creationists and thought don’t go together.

    This is a classic attempt to belittle creationist thought with argumentum ad hominem.

    No it isn’t. If someone misrepresents someone else’s viewpoint then it’s a Strawman argument. An ad hominem argument is “John Smith is an idiot. Don’t listen to him”.

    I would check out Answers in Genesis or the Institute for Creation Research and find out what their arguments really are BEFORE trying to refute creationist positions

    …been there. Done that. Laughed at the play-science that they think they’re doing.

    Plus, this discussion about monkeys is an old argument. Let’s here something new!

    …sure. But how about creationists start first? surely it’s their time to come up with a new idea rather than spouting the tired old canards (“God did it” being the ultimate in tired old canards).

    –Simon

  53. #53 Jeremy
    August 27, 2008

    1. Simon7, “Creationists and thought don’t go together” = argumentum ad hominem. You just attacked the Creationist rather than what arguments he uses by belittling his mental capacity.

    2. Simon7, I concede on your statement about the straw-man vs ad hominem. I guess I was focusing on more of the points made in comments (like yours) than the article. But by saying that it is a strawman argument do you agree with me that it’s not a valid argument to be making? That’s my whole point, if you want to win the argument, then make your case more accurately.

    3. Whether you think AIG and ICR practice play-science or not, the discussions on this subject here would certainly be elevated by being more academic in the approach to the argument. Even if you laugh at them, it is important to counter another person’s argument point by point rather than by simply making up your own points on their behalf to argue against.

    4. Go to their sites. They say a lot more than “God did it.” That would be a short and sweet website, three words. Pick any article, post it here and argue it point by point. I would be very interested to see how many times the discussion of the article attacks the creationist mental capacity etc. vs. how many actual arguments are made and or countered.

    5. If you want people to believe your view, why do you think it is up to Creationists to disprove it by coming up with new arguments? Obviously they must have many arguments with which you are unfamiliar if you think the only thing they have to say is that “God did it.” There are lots of tired, outdated arguments that neither evolution or creation theorists use in their arsenal. Some are still being used.

    Lastly, in summation of all of my points, if you think it is important to educate people with your viewpoint on science, you really should know accurately the countering views, so that when people are told something that you believe to be false, you know how to counter it. Trust me, that is what the creation side is doing! They comb the news daily looking for evolution in the news so that they can inform their supporters of the Creationist interpretation of that news.

    btw: thank you for the civil dialogue. It seems to be easy for people to wage flame wars on this topic

  54. #54 offgrid
    February 12, 2009

    Ok if we evolved from monkey’s and apes over thousands of years how come no apes or monkeys have learned to speak english – or maybe they have ? How come none of our brothers locked in cages at zoos have evolved to the point where they start yelling “Let me outa here. I am not a monkey I am a human being …. I want a job, I want a bonus.” Oh yeah that’s those guys down on Wall street – they are all monkey’s.