Did humans evolve from apes?

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The next installment of “Everything you Know is Sort of Wrong” will be on the falsehood: “Humans evolved from apes.” Or, if you prefer, “Humans did not evolve from apes.” Either way, you’re wrong. And right.

Confused? Great, then we’re half way there! Here’s the details. (This is part of the Skeptically Speaking broadcast.) Please post your questions and tune in on Friday.

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25 thoughts on “Did humans evolve from apes?

  1. Humans are apes, and share a common ancestor with other living ape species – a common ancestor that itself would be classified as an “ape” is a population survived.

  2. Humans are (one of the kinds of) evolved apes (all from the last common ape ancestor).

    We certainly did not evolve from any modern apes: apes and we are all evolved from earlier groups of apes.

  3. What if the ape species that is the LCA of humans and the nearest living ape was exactly like that nearest living ape, to the extent that it would not be called a different speices? That would be a chimp, obviously. So, then, “We evolved from chimps” would be correct. Right?

  4. Well, the LCA of humans and chimps was not, in fact, close enough to be the same species (so far as I’m aware). But that does happen, with speciation events caused by isolated populations, or (in plants, especially) hybridization speciation.

    Even the original statement is not really wrong, as long as you’re clear that you’re talking about populations, not individuals, IMHO. Organisms do not evolve, populations do. Near the LCA, the boundaries of “species” are, by necessity, a bit hazy.

    Humanity is a population of apes that has evolved separately, without (significant) genetic transfer, from other populations of apes.

  5. “Either way, you’re wrong. And right”

    No. If you say “humans descended from apes” you are not wrong, you are right. Accumulated evidence from Darwin to our days is overwhelming. I’s a scientific fact. Don’t confuse people with this, please.

  6. (Snarkyxanf: I note parenthetically that the best estimate of a chimp-human LCA is a chimp, and there is nothing to contradict the idea that it was not simply a chimp.)

  7. El PaleoFreak: People are already confused, which is why we are talking about this. And that confusion can come from little things, like changing the wording!

    Anyway, there are those who do not like the”from” in “humans evolved FROM apes” in the same way that people don’t like the phrase “Homo erectus LEFT Africa” … Both imply things that didn’t happen or are not true, or reify or verify misconceptions in students.

  8. #6 julfer mantne appears to be a ‘fake participant’ spammer. Their link goes to a ‘health supplement’ page.

  9. So, then, what is the non-trivial of the term “ape” in the phrase “humans are apes”?

    Just as a reminder, the average ape is a monogamous, small bodies monomorphic suspensory fruit eater of Asia. (Most ape species are described this way).

  10. What if we could get in a time machine and go back 8 million years to see the direct ancestors of modern chimps and we found that they hadn’t changed at all physically or behaviorally. Would the modern chimp and the 8 million year old ancestor necessarily even be the same species? What if chromosomal and/or genetic changes left them unable to interbreed?

  11. José: good questions. The species concept was not built to travel across time, so it tends to fall apart when put that that sort of work.

    There may be incompatibilities based entirely on immune system issues or other factors that would make a living species and a very recent ancestor that was otherwise identical to not interbreed. Would that make them not the same species?

  12. I have run across a few articles that suggest the LCA of humans + chimps and bonobos was more human-like than chimp-like. Also that chimps are more derived than humans. So I think arguing the LCA was indistinguishable from a modern chimp is poorly supported speciesism speculation. A Hennigian fundamentalist would insist that the speciation event which initiated the separate human and chimp evolutionary lines resulted in the extinction of the LCA species and the origin of two new species.

  13. Humans evolved from the first vertebrate that appeared during the Cambrian, 590-505 Mya. Always ask a geologist for correct answers, free of confusion.

  14. Jim, I’m famliar with this argument. At face value, this argument conflicts with the PREDICTIONS of our argument, but none of the facts. This leaves us in a difficult situation.

    One explanation (other than a misinterpretation of the anatomy) is that the chimp-human split is earlier than has recently been thought. There is good evidence for this. That maybe easier to believe than that gorill-chimp body plans evolved twice.

    Another explanation is that there was a greater diversity of hominoids than previously thought (not a suprise) and that among them there was a greater diversity of locomotory patterns.

    Along with this last bit, one can note that the difference in the overall anatomy of an early asutralopith and a modern chimp is very modest except in a few areas. The “human like” walking of early austrlopiths pushed by White, Lovejoy and Leakey is believed by a limited range of anatomists and is predicted, frankly, by where one works, what permits are needed, funding sources, (i.e. the usual tribal factors) more than by the measurements of the bones.

    I’m not at all interested in closing off the possibility that the LCA was more human like in locomotion that otherwise thought. I am, in fact, one of those people who suggested this at great risk to myself at conferences, etc., years back. I’m just not convinced of two things: a) That this evidence is being interpreted right and b) that a semi-bipedal positional behavior is all that important in an earl hominoid.

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