Evolution is not an insult against humanity

Hominid skullsOf all the great battlefields of science, the debate between creationists and people who accept the theory of evolution is the most fraught with emotional obstacles. And how could it be otherwise? These are two diametrically opposed ideas about the origin of life on Earth. (*Evolution does not deal with the first appearance of life, that is a separate concept called abiogenesis – the formation of life from non-life.)

On the one side we have the scientific community (and those who support the scientific community) who accept the evidence of fossil and genetic data and do not add any supernatural explanation to the origin of life (*or the descent of all species from that point).

On the other side we have the proponents of a faith-based idea of how man arose to walk the planet. This is a religious standpoint based on the writings of a holy book of some denomination it is not revised or based on evidence.

I’m not going to get into much more of the rigorous debate than that (unless you really want me to!). What I want to do is look at some of the uncommon claims, made by proponents of either camp, to see whether or not these ideas hold water.

I’m going to cull these nuggets from discussion boards and comment threads whenever I find them, and then take them apart carefully here.

The first lady for a shave is August, who posted the following gem on Athiest, Agnostic and Non-religious, a facebook group I participate in. August says:

I really didn’t understand that either. And I had a suspicion that August was just trolling, so I went rolling on over to his/her profile and found a note with a slightly more… “thought out” version:

August’s comment displays one of the most staggering misunderstandings of the theory of evolution that I have ever come across (which is why it inspired this post). August believes that when we die our bodies will return to the form from which they were created. This is really quite a bizarre idea. But cremation is not a natural process, and can’t possibly be a useful way of determining anything to do with the origin of our species.

When we die, our bodies decay into their constituent elements, assisted by time and the digestive tracts of numerous scavengers. By August’s tortured reasoning, when we are buried we would turn to dust as well. But what we do is more akin to turning into plants and worms and other things that harvest the nutrients we have been hogging for so long.

What happens to our bodies after death has less than nothing to do with the theory of evolution. It would be like claiming that gravity doesn’t exist because the sky is blue. The two concepts are completely unrelated. This is a beautiful example of a non sequiteur, a conclusion that does not follow from the premises.

The theory of evolution states that all the life forms that are alive on the planet today, and all those species that have gone extinct after a brief flurry of activity, are descended from many generations of species that came before them. That’s the abridged version.

August is so wrong that he/she isn’t even wrong.

August’s comment on the AANR group states that evolution is insulting to humans because it suggests that we are descended from apes. This is also wrong. The theory of evolution states that humans and apes have a common ancestor. About 6 million years ago, the ancestors of humans, chimpanzees and bonobos were the same grassland dwelling creatures. Neither human, nor chimpanzee but some magnificent forbearer who gave rise to all the species of humans and chimpanzees that have existed since that time. (Owen has pointed out an omission, humans are apes.)

Knowing this is not an insult, it is a glorious moment when you realise that you are not separate from your fellow creatures. You are not better, somehow remote and above them. You are, in a sense, connected to every ape, monkey, mouse, frog, tree, mushroom… everything. And that connection is in every cell that makes up every part of your body.

This is the deepest kind of connection possible, and we all share it. Without the theory of evolution, and the hard work of geneticists, we would never know this.


12 responses to “Evolution is not an insult against humanity

  1. Pingback: Challenge Evolution With Legitimate Questions – Not With Semantics « The Neosecularist·

  2. Hold on a second, Sceptic Detective.
    The word “evolution” in the context of life is shorthand for the change of life over time. Evolution is a fact because animals did change radically over time. Natural selection is the theory in science for explaining how evolution occurred, and the theory is accepted based on a range of evidence from fossil morphology and stratigraphy through to DNA and the operation of living cells and species.
    Natural selection as proposed by Darwin sought to explain how life changed over time. It does not in any way posit an explanation for the origin of life. It was called “The Origin of Species” for exactly that reason: not an origin of all life.

    There are only two basic categories of candidates for the origin of life: natural or supernatural.
    Natural origin (abiogenesis) hypotheses are split into the terrestrial and extraterrestrial camps.
    Supernatural origin hypotheses are split into… well one for every religion that ever existed past or present.

    For example, the friction between Christian creationism and scientific Natural Selection is not about the origin of life but rather stems from the incompatibility of at least two creationist claims: 1) the Earth is less than 12,000 years old, and 2) their God created the world and all the animals in it pretty much as it is today. These are the two most obvious features of Christian creationism that are disproved by careful study of nature and evidence. Neither of these hypotheses says anything about how the first self-replicating life arrived on Earth.

    Evolution of novel features has been demonstrated at least once in the laboratory with E.coli responses to a chemical stressor. Abiogenesis has never been demonstrated under controlled conditions. The fact is that nobody knows how life began, it is all speculation and balance-of-probability arguments. The fact we don’t know may not be very comforting, but the moment we start pretending science has given us more confidence than the certainty it actually provides is the moment we start abusing science. Science ceases to be a process and becomes a trendy product brand label.

    Evolution by natural selection says absolutely nothing about the origin of life, and to claim it does is either disingenuous or a sign of not understanding Darwin’s great idea.

    • Yes, absolutely. I see two places in the text where I may have inadvertently given the impression that I am talking about abiogenesis and, as you rightly point out, I am not.

      Thank you.

  3. It’s also a bit twisted that coming from other living things should be considered worse than coming from mud. I’ve got nothing against mud, but how is that superior to non-human life?

  4. I’m kinda confused about this part:

    “August’s comment on the AANR group states that evolution is insulting to humans because it suggests that we are descended from apes. This is also wrong. The theory of evolution states that humans and apes have a common ancestor.”

    As I understand it (and my grasp of cladistics is tenuous at best) humans are apes. We’re not descended from chimpanzees, gorillas or any other modern apes, but both we, and the common ancestors we share with other modern apes would be considered to be part of the Great Apes family.

    I mean, Chimps and Gorillas are both classified as apes, yet Chimps are more closely related to Humans than to Gorillas… surely if Chimps and Bonobos are apes, we are too?

  5. I also find the idea of evolution inspiring and it leaves me with a deep feeling of connectedness with the rest of humanity and the rest of the animal kingdom. I can’t understand why anyone would find the idea repulsive? It makes you realise that we are all responsible for this Pale Blue Dot, the only home we currently have, and we should share it responsibly.

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