Monkeys under the skin

Angelica asked:

Do you believe that the origin of people was a monkey?

Answer by Geoffrey Klempner

I don’t ‘believe’ any scientific theory — that’s not what theories are for. Science is not religion. Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is the best theory on the table, which means that it is there to discuss, to use, to test (to destruction, if necessary) but above all to guide research. And that is something the theory of evolution has done magnificently.

Darwin aroused a storm of controversy when he asserted, on the evidence he had gathered, that human beings were descended from apes. More precisely, humans, apes, and monkeys are divergent evolutionary paths from a common primate ancestor. (We are closer to apes than to monkeys.)

Would there have been the same fuss if Darwin had claimed that humans were descended from an a more noble species, such as the lion? I’m sure some of the protestors would be mollified — quite happy to think of themselves as having lion ancestors!

How about you? Do you have a favourite animal species that you would like to have descended from?

As much as one might like to believe it, the evidence doesn’t support the theory of human lion ancestry. It is not on the table. To the best of my knowledge, there’s no empirical basis for the view that human beings are lions under the skin — except perhaps in a metaphorical sense.

That’s the thing about science. You don’t go by what you would like to believe, you go by the evidence.


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