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“If Evolution is Real, Why are There Still Monkeys?”

Evolution is under attack more than ever. Only one of the remaining GOP candidates for president will acknowledge believing that it is true; the others openly reject it and most call for our schools to teach “Intelligent Design” or Creationism in its place, or at the very least alongside evolution, so that our youth can make up their minds for themselves. Fortunately, most of the arguments against evolution are pretty flimsy, so it’s easy to counter them.

“It’s just a theory!” may be the most common straw man argument against evolution that gets thrown out in pretty much every discussion of the topic, but it betrays a misunderstanding of what constitutes a theory in the scientific world. In colloquial usage, sure, “theory” just means a guess which may or may not be based on any evidence. Having a theory as to, say, what’s going to happen on “Doctor Who” next season is an entirely different usage of the word. In science, a theory is a hypothesis that has been repeatedly tested and is generally accepted to be true. You know what else is “just” a theory? Gravity. People seem to accept that one without question. Theories are sometimes revised as new information arises, but they are very rarely totally overturned. Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, and while some of the exact mechanisms of evolution are still not fully understood, there has been no evidence that the theory is incorrect and no other scientific explanation has been posited that can explain life on earth as we know it today.

“If evolution is real, why are there still monkeys?” is another favorite. That’s like asking, “If genealogy is real and my cousins and I share the same grandparents, why do my cousins exist?” By that logic, there could only ever be one species of anything on the earth at any given time. Chimpanzees (which are actually apes, not monkeys) are our species’s closest living relative, but chimpanzees didn’t turn into humans. Rather, we shared a common ancestor millions of years ago (that was neither human nor chimp) that split onto different evolutionary paths; one of these paths led to modern chimps and the other led to homo sapiens. Other related species, such as Neanderthals, evolved alongside our ancestors and later went extinct. Every living thing on earth, from humans to monkeys and from daisies to the cold virus, shares a common ancestor at some point in history.

The next question the anti-evolution crowd usually asks is “So, where’s the missing link?” Dozens of transitional fossils have been found that demonstrate the slow change over time from our ape-like ancestors to modern humans, but there is no single smoking gun that explains everything because the process took millions of years. There are still gaps in the fossil record and probably always will be, but every new discovery brings us closer to a complete picture of our history. Fossilization is an incredibly rare event requiring a limited set of circumstances. Even if everything goes right and the remains are preserved, the odds that they aren’t destroyed by geological processes and come to rest in a place where they can be found by modern archaeologists are astronomically small. Scientists are able to use the bones we have found to extrapolate the evolutionary process, and no new discoveries have disproved their assumptions of how we came to exist in our modern form.

“But the Bible says…” may be the hardest counter-argument to combat. Every religion and culture has a creation myth, but none of them stands up to scientific scrutiny. A 2007 Gallup poll found that 39% of Americans definitely believe in “Creationism, that is, the idea that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years,” with another 27% saying they felt that statement is probably true. Only 18% definitely believe that humans evolved over millions of years, with 35% saying that it’s probably true.* If people were willing to keep these beliefs to themselves, it would be one thing, but a growing number of states are teaching “intelligent design” alongside evolution or entirely removing evolution from science curricula. England took a step in the right direction within the last week and will no longer fund free schools that teach Creationism, but the United States is moving in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, no amount of arguing will get most people to concede this point. Logic and facts don’t stand a chance against dogmatic certainty, and pretty much any attempt at refuting biblical “evidence” will be met with even wilder lack of logic. There is no scientific evidence of the Judeo-Christian creation myth, and believe me, people have looked. There’s the same amount of evidence that we’re all living on the back of a giant sea turtle (meaning, precisely none) but no one’s trying to teach that to our children as scientific fact. The Bible is not a scientific document and shouldn’t be treated as such.

*You really want your mind boggled? Add up those numbers. 66% think creationism is definitely or probably true and 53% think the same of evolution, which means, statistically, at least 19% both believe that God created us in our current form within 10,000 years AND that we evolved over millions of years. Yes, those numbers are from the same poll. My head hurts.

By [E] Hillary

Hillary is a giant nerd and former Mathlete. She once read large swaths of "Why Evolution is True" and a geology book aloud to her infant daughter, in the hopes of a) instilling a love of science in her from a very young age and b) boring her to sleep. After escaping the wilds of Waco, Texas and spending the next decade in NYC, she currently lives in upstate New York, where she misses being able to get decent pizza and Chinese takeout delivered to her house. She lost on Jeopardy.

36 replies on ““If Evolution is Real, Why are There Still Monkeys?””

This is a wonderful, thought-provoking article.  However, I find it very disconcerting that so many insist on teaching Judeo-Christian Creationism alongside–or even instead of–evolution.  Intelligent design just doesn’t hold water.  Darwin’s theory of evolution is, perhaps, the best explanation and scientific theory that we have right now, and I find it very interesting that the Catholic Church–which tends to take very archaic positions on things–takes this stance when it comes to evolution versus creationism.

And I cannot believe the arrogant presumption that some Christians take when they say that all the other Creation stories are just that, while theirs is true.  And yet so many of the stories are similar.  And years from now, intelligent design will be considered a story as well.

 

I’m very distressed by the creationists disregard for science. I think maybe some people are very uncomfortable not having a definative, concrete, never changing answer for their questions.

Also, I HATE the disgust some people express at the idea of being related to the apes and other primates. I think it’s pretty cool that we’re related, however distantly, to all other animals. I feel like I have a ginormous family of extended cousins. And I want to hope that humans would take better care of other animals (and the whole planet) if we could realize that we are connected to everything else.  

I used to work with a new-earther. His ‘gottcha’ question to me was “What about the eye?!?” and my response was “What about antibiotic resistance?” We didn’t get along.

this article makes me so happy and so frustrated all at the same time. the “frustrated” is because I still can’t believe that some Christians can be so arrogant about “our” creation myth. I mean, as far as I can tell there aren’t any other religions trying desperately to prove that their myths are scientific fact as if somehow THAT is what will legitimize an entire faith system.
I’m in the “Well, I believe in God, so I figure God probably had a hand in how the world happened, in some way or another. And I believe God made smart people who are good at figuring out stuff about our world. So if pretty much all of these smart people are saying x, then cool! I like learning things.”
I can remember chatting with one of my roommates who was quite insistent that it’s “only fair” that if schools are going to teach evolution then they also need to teach creationism so people can see both sides. I mentioned that if that was going to happen then schools would, for “fairness’ ” sake, need to also teach every other creation myth relevant to students’ faiths and practices (First Nations, Sikh). She didn’t understand why, because “all those other ones are just stories”. As if somehow by some magical reason a creation myth that’s not even original gets to be science.

I would like to present a few definitions to you all that might make discussion easier.

There is a spectrum of creationist belief with different terms to describe people along the spectrum. The type of creationism you reference in your article (humans created in their present form within the past 10,000 years ex nihilo, or out of nothing) is specifically “young-earth” creationism, or YEC for short. This is based on an extremely literal interpretation of the Genesis account which refers to the earth being created in six days. The fact that Genesis 1-3 was written a very long time ago by people who did not think the way we do and did not have a scientific background, not to mention the fact that it bears a lot of similarity to nearby cultures’ creation myths, gets ignored.

Then you have some terms that are harder to differentiate: “old-earth creationism”, “evolutionary creationism”, and “theistic evolution”, with the latter two being practically identical. People in these categories accept evolution to some extent. I use old-earth creationist to describe a person who holds that the world was created at least partially in its present state, but that this happened much longer than 10,000 years ago. (This, by the way, would include a number of people who think there is an incredibly huge gap between the events of Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2, even that an entire lost civilization might have been created and destroyed before the world as we know it came to be–interpretation can get pretty weird in creationist territory!) I use the other two terms to refer to people who accept evolution as basically the mechanism of God creating, or even as a process independent of God while still acknowledging God’s existence. It is important to note, however, that calling yourself a theistic evolutionist in a conservative Christian circle is the equivalent of announcing that you like to eat babies with cranberry chutney.

I hope these definitions are helpful. Just keep in mind that there are plenty of “creationists” who are on the side of real science.

I love drawing reference to the Flying Spaghetti Monster when talking about belief systems.

But really, if a person wants to teach children about Creationism so that schools are fairly representing beliefs, then that person should also be okay with teaching about the creation myths of every prominent religion that is represented by a person in that school. Although the best experience I had was in  an evolutionary biology class in undergrad where we had a class-long discussion about the biological feasibility of dragons (the muscle structure of the classical representation of dragons is all wrong to support flying, by the way).

My senior year English teacher in high school posited that since so many different cultures have dragon myths that they might have been real and had either gone extinct or gone into hiding. Most of my class was positively apoplectic. I freaking loved her class.

You would have loved it! She was so creative and made the class a lot of fun. Like, when we read “Beowulf” she taught us about etymology and made us find one word starting with each letter of the alphabet and write about its origin, and we had to find at least one with its origin from each of a list of languages (Latin, Old English, Norse, etc). Then, after we made the list and turned it in, she had us write a short story that had to include all 26 words. The rest of the class was pissed and grudgingly half-assed it; I wrote a bizarre parody called “Beocoyote” and had a blast. She had us read a goofy mystery novel and then had us write our own mysteries set in London; we watched “Much Ado About Nothing” in class (except the naked scene at the beginning, we had to skip it). I adored her, and the rest of the class were such fucking douches that they had their parents complain that she wasn’t adequately prepping us for the AP test and she wasn’t allowed to teach the section the next year. Heaven forfend that learning should actually be fun! It’s a good thing that it was senior year; I would have killed those smug SOBs if I’d had to put up with them one more year.

Threadjacking my own post and I don’t care!

I relatively recently learned that one of Mini’s friends doesn’t believe in evolution. I was completely gobsmacked as I am friend’s with this child’s family and they didn’t fit my idea of what a family that doesn’t believe in evolution ‘looks like’. I stewed over this for a long time. Perfectly intelligent people! They always seemed so open minded! WTF?

So I was out having a drink with the mom and approached the topic in the kindest way I knew how. After I explained what my question was, the mom laughed and said, ‘I don’t know where she got that from. We’re religious, but we believe in evolution.” Which made me feel a lot better about things.

Tl;dr I will probably judge you if you say you don’t believe in evolution. I will judge you harder if you bust out the ‘earth is only 10,000 years old’ corollary.

all i can think about is the Louis CK skit where he describes most arguments regarding evolution:

creationist: ” WELL I AINT A MONKEY”

LouisCK: ” well, no one said you were…”

creationist: ” WELL MY DADDY WERENT NO MONKEY EITHER”

LouisCK:” Do you just want to keep going back until you find a monkey? is that the point? Did you read the thing?”

The full sketch is here

Edit: Ok, apparently there is a bit about animal rape around 3:50, so Trigger warning for real.

Not totally related, but he has a great anti-gay marriage takedown, too. 

Anti-gay marriage person: “Well, how am I going to explain this to my kid?”

Lewis C.K.: “You don’t want two people who love each other to get married because you might have to explain it to your shitty kid?”

ETA: The whole thing is worth watching, this is just the bit I always remember.

I thoroughly agree with bibliotecha. I just do not understand why it *has* to be one or the other. I took a course in college that was called something like The Bible & Science (I went to a small religious univ.), but it was basically about how to understand science and not look like a big dummy when talking about science and faith (like saying the world came into being in the last 6000 years…?). It was great to be in a class where they were like, “No, it’s actually possible to believe in God AND believe in evolution.”

I just don’t understand why people are so insistent that evolution didn’t happen. I mean…it’s pretty clear that it did? Evolution doesn’t deny creationism, unless you also believe the world was created in six literal days, which I don’t but apparently a LOT of people do. My term paper in the class was about the age of the earth, and one of the major arguments against literal six-day creationism is that the word that, in English, indicates a literal day may actually have been intended to mean an era. There is some dispute over that (and always will be, I’m sure), but from my research and personal understanding, I choose to believe that God did create the earth over millions of years, using evolution. I mean, I feel like leaving all of the evidence behind makes a whole lot more since than poofing humans into existence, but I guess people believe what they want to believe. It just seems that denying the possibility of evolution is putting a limit on an allegedly omnipotent god, which…doesn’t seem to add up.

Great article. Loved it.

I went to a big Baptist university, and in my historical geology classes the professor apologized on the first day because he was going to be teaching us that the earth wasn’t 6000 years old. We didn’t have to believe anything he was teaching us, we just had to memorize it for the tests. It kinda seemed like he was just trying to cover his ass so students didn’t harass him all semester, but it was infuriating that he gave people a free pass to not actually learn anything.

A professor named Denis Lamoureux from the University of Alberta has some of his lectures online. He’s a Dentist turned Theologist turned Evolutionary Biologist, and his lectures are basically on the compatibility of Christianity and Evolution. They are pretty interesting if you have some time to listen to them.

that sounds like an excellent class, mustardampersand.  i’m on the same page as you – why does it have to be either/or?  given a fluid understanding of time, the two concepts can be quite compatible (or at least, in my head they are.)  this is one of the many reasons i like being Episcopalian – we’re allowed to believe in dinosaurs. ;)

I voted angry, because the thought of people using pseudoscience to leverage their beliefs onto others under cover of “teaching the controversy” and “encouraging open minds” incenses me. I mean, it’s really clear that creationism is a very specific kind of creationism: Christian creationism. I’m 99.9999% sure that the people who are advocating intelligent design do not have the nebulous “higher power” of Ovid’s Metamorphoses or the Flying Spaghetti Monster in mind.

The problem is that Creationists view science as indoctrination in atheistic dogma, never mind that no science teacher I know says “okay, boys and girls, we’re going to talk about why evolution proves that God doesn’t exist!”

When I was in a Southern Baptist private school, we had one day where a bunch of students whose fathers were pastors came in for some kind of Bring Your Pastor Dad To School Day event thing. I can’t entirely recall how the discussion came up, but the evolution/creationism controversy reared its ugly head, and of course every single person there thought fossils had been placed in the rocks to lead atheist scientists astray, that because carbon dating only goes back 7,000 years* that’s clearly proof that the earth isn’t billions of years old, and so on. One pastor pointed out that, according to the Bible, a to God a thousand years is like a day and a day is like a thousand years, so who could say for sure that he’d created the world in six 24-hour days? And what if God created life, but instituted evolution as a way to ensure its survival to his greater glory?

You know on those nature shows when the lions all jump on the water buffalo at the same time and drag it down? Well, that’s pretty much what happened. I have never seen a group of people so full of Christ’s love be so utterly savage to another human being who supposedly shared their beliefs. At that point I’d been ostracized as the atheist liberal, but this dude was a pastor! He had a church and everything! And they were ripping into him like he’d just stood up and told them God was a bunch of hooey. Which, in their version of reality, he sort of had.

This is just one item on the list of reasons why I’m no longer religious. The complete lack of respect, coupled with willful intellectual blindness, was too much for me, and I was only fourteen when this happened.

(On the carbon-dating thing, another thing to point out is that anti-evolutionary arguments often rely on outdated science and techniques; unsurprisingly, they betray a stunning lack of knowledge of advancements in the field over the past several decades, in addition to their failure to comprehend scientific terminology and method. I don’t think my 6th-grade “science” book had been updated since the seventies.)

Evolution doesn’t say that G-d doesn’t exist. Darwin wasn’t allowed to say that, and it’s stayed that way. Evolution says that things evolved. So as long as people are ok with that, there’s no reason they couldn’t think that G-d was what put the whole thing in motion. (Just trying to say that it doesn’t have to be Evolution vs. Creationism).

You can’t believe that God placed people on earth in their current form within the last 10,000 years and that we evolved over millions of years. Those positions are mutually incompatible; they can’t both be true. Evolution doesn’t say anything one way or the other about God, because God isn’t a scientific proposition. If people want to believe that there’s an all-powerful deity sitting around causing DNA to mutate in predictable patterns over millions of years, there’s really nothing anyone can do to stop them. There’s no evidence of it, so it shouldn’t be taught in schools.

I didn’t mean to imply that people were placed on earth in their current forms. All I meant was that “something” had to happen to make all the little elements and lightning and molecules come together in the proper way, and if people want to believe that the “something” was G-d or random chance, they can.

And I in no way advocate for teaching this in schools. I was talking about personal choice. I’m sorry if that was not clear, and I hope this clears it up.

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