if evolution is true, why are there still apes

We’ve just come back from a few glorious days in New Plymouth (arriving home before the change in weather). Had a great time tramping, walking the coastal walkway, eating yummy food – all those nice things you do, holidaying with friends. And as some of the party were driving from Paritutu to meet the rest of us at an outdoor cafe on the coastal walkway, they saw the following sign:

 why are there still apes.jpg

It’s a variant on the old "if men evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys", only slightly more accurate – in the sense that we are much more closely related to apes than we are to monkeys, lol. But both versions are wrong, based on a misunderstanding on the nature of evolution, and I wonder if the sign’s author would be willing to look at the evidence for the real state of affairs.

For we didn’t evolve ‘from’ modern apes. In taxonomic terms, humans are apes: placed in the primate sub-order Anthropoidea along with gorillas, chimpanzees & bonobos, orangutans, & gibbons. Morphological & DNA evidence indicates that our nearest living relatives are the chimpanzees, with whom we last shared a common ancestor around 6 million years ago. At 4.4 million years old, Ardipithecus ramidus is the oldest known hominin – & it wasn’t particularly chimp-like. Which is hardly surprising, as the ancestors of both humans and chimps/bonobos have been following separate evolutionary trajectories for all that time. As the team who discovered and described ‘Ardi’ have commented (White et al., 2009): 

Perhaps the most critical single implication of Ar.ramidus is its reaffirmation of Darwin’s appreciation: humans did not evolve from chimpanzees but rather through a series of progenitors starting from a distant common ancestor that once occupied the ancient forests of the African Miocene. 

T.D.White, B.Asfaw, Y.Beyene, Y.Haile-Selassie, C.Owen Lovejoy, G.Suwa & G.WoldeGabriel (2009) Ardipithecus ramidus and the palaeobiology of early hominids. Science 326: 64 (authors’ summary**) & 75-86. doi: 10.1126/science.1175802

** Teachers – the summary would be a good introductory read for your senior students.

8 thoughts on “if evolution is true, why are there still apes”

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    “If evolution is true, why are there other living apes?” I have read a couple of comments which suggested that living chimps have diverged more from our unique common ancestor than the human lineage has. Interesting speculation, at least.

  • Alison Campbell says:

    Continuing to speculate, I wonder if it might have something to do with our (recent) ability to control our environment to a much greater extent than can our cousins?

  • David Riddell says:

    The argument about what our last common ancestor with chimps looked like is an interesting one. Specifically, how did they get around? Knuckle-walking probably isn’t a transitional stage between quadrupedalism and bipedalism, but an independently derived form of locomotion developed when a lineage that was formerly primarily arboreal started spending more time on the ground. Animals in trees spend much of their time carrying themselves largely erect, and gibbons today, on the rare occasions that they come down to the ground, walk bipedally. It may turn out that bipedalism is the ancestral character, and knuckle-walking is derived from it.
    This would make sense of Sahelanthropus, which is older than the human-ape divergence, but by the position of its foramen magnum appears to have carried itself erect.

  • Iris Riddell says:

    I think what depresses me most about this is the total lack of understanding, or effort to understand… I’ve at least read the Bible (or bits of it, albeit with my dad giving me the ‘annotated’ version) and a fair amount of Christian literature. Is it so much to ask they actually research what they are trying to debunk? Apparently.

  • Alison Campbell says:

    David – yes, there’s good morphological evidence that knuckle-walking isn’t an ancestral trait common across the great ape lineages, but that it evolved independently at least twice (in gorillas & chimps).

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