A Common Ancestor: Humans and Chimpanzees Are Cousins

Humans and Chimpanzees share a common ancestor.  We’re cousins.  This occurred roughly between 5 to 8 million years ago. The common ancestor almost certainly resembled a chimpanzee more than a human.  This single bit of knowledge is important when entering into a conversation with someone who is affronted by the false idea that we ‘evolved from monkeys’.  This is a common misconception among those that do not understand evolution and thus do not believe in the science behind the Theory.

From Our Common Ancestor To Modern Humans: 

The Jigsaw Puzzle With Missing Pieces

Over a dozen hominid species have been discovered by anthropologists through fossil findings, and simple observation of the inhabitants of our planet will tell us that these ancestors, these pioneers of the bipedal lifestyle of a hominid have gone extinct.

‘What about the missing link?’ An all too common challenge by the creationist or Intelligent Design proponent.  This concept of a ‘missing link’ is misleading and intellectually bankrupt.  There will always be missing links in the fossil record. It’s incredible that we have fossils at all, as most animal species that have existed on this planet have left no such remains for us to study, given the process of fossilization requires rare circumstances that allow the bones to be preserved, and not simply decay into dust.

We didn't evolve from Chimpanzees, we share a common ancestor
“For the record, you humans didn’t evolve from us. We’re cousins, we came from a common ancestor. Evolution, embrace it, and for all of our sake.. Hurry the fuck up.” – A wise chimp.

The answer as to why we there’s no ‘missing link’, and paradoxically there will always be missing links, can be explained as follows: every time we find a fossil of a new hominid species, Homo Floresiensis for example, it still leaves a gap between that hominid and the next. And evolution does not always move in a straight line; there are hominid ancestors that we have evolved from, and others whose lines died off, killed by competing hominids, or simply due to their inability to adapt well enough to environments to flourish.

‘Doesn’t that still constitute as a missing link?’ one might ask. Well yes and no. Not in the manner that a creationist would argue. This would infer that there’s too vast a gap between us and our ancestors to account for our evolution, leaving the only other explanation that we were put here by a creator god.  We could find a thousand transitional fossils and always there would be gaps between them, and always the creationist could argue that each one of these is a species in and of itself, and that it in no way proves that we’re a product of evolution.

Stop Monkeying Around And Be Civilized

There is an argument theists make that if we came from ‘monkeys’ that we have no moral foundation, and if people believed that our origins were such we would act like base creatures with nothing to separate us from other animals. Forget the fact that humans are the most violent species on the planet for a moment, and just consider your own actions. If you’re a believer in god, and that you derive your moral foundation from god, and were suddenly convinced – miraculously perhaps by this article, though I would be shocked – that you are a product of evolution, would that change the way you behave towards your fellow man? Would you start slaughtering others for their wares, raping and pillaging as you please? I do not think so. I give you more credit than that. We have evolved as social animals and we benefit from working together.

The reason why violence remains so prevalent despite this fact is the divisions we create in our minds. The infamous ‘Other’. Religion is a strong tool of divisiveness, but it is not the root of evil or division.  Tribalism, identifying yourself with a group based on race, beliefs, or imaginary lines on a map are all, evidently, reasons for us to kill one another. Not to mention our appetite for greed, power, or simply requiring another group’s resources to survive.

Natural Selection, Not Blind Chance

A particularly insidious misconception about evolution is that it all hinges on random chance.  Nothing could be further from the truth, and if that’s the basis for your understanding of evolution, who could blame you for doubting its validity. There is a mechanism involved; natural selection. There are some biologists who believe another mechanism could be at play, but for the purposes of this article we’ll focus on the prevailing scientific opinion of the day.

There are random mutations in genes, but whether or not these lead to new species, or incremental steps towards a new species, depends upon many variables, most notably environmental pressures. Mutations that give a being advantages to better adapt to their habitats and to procreate will propagate, and over a great stretch of time lead to ever more complex beings.

Richard Dawkins’ book, ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’, which focuses solely on evolution and does not delve into religion – as to encompass a wider audience – is an excellent read that puts forth one scientific argument after another that if read honestly, will leave the reader with a clear understanding of the process of evolution through natural selection.

Is Life A Once Off Miracle Or An Inevitability?

It’s a well established fact that we share roughly 98-99% of our DNA with chimpanzees. In that gap the physical differences as well as the mental differences are established. Neil DeGrasse Tyson has pointed out that there could well be creatures out there in the cosmos with such a mere ‘advantage’ over us, as we have over chimpanzees regarding the development of our brains – most notably the neo-frontal cortex.  If that’s the case, such an alien species would regard our intellect with the same condescension that we regard our fellow primates.  Or perhaps not, perhaps that difference in evolution would give them the empathy and wisdom to see past our differences and to seek a kinship and better understanding of us and our world.  Let us hope so, for if they ever stumble upon our humble pale blue dot,  if they treat us as we have treated our fellow inhabitants on this planet, a terrible fate would await us.

With 100 billion stars in our galaxy, and 100 billion galaxies in the observable Universe, and the fact we’re made of the most common elements to be found throughout the Universe – and with recent advances in telescopes we’ve learned Earth like planets, living in the ‘goldilocks zone’ – not too hot, not too cold – are rather common, we can well imagine our Universe is teeming with life and that it is not a miracle, but inevitable, ingrained into the fabric of our Universe.

This is a beautiful realization, for how lonely it would be, one rock circling one star, populated by a god to be the only conscious beings in the Universe on a planet that we’re destroying.  Take too into consideration that the inevitable death of the Sun in 4 to 5 billion years will mean the death of Earth, or prior to that, perhaps the collision of the Andromeda galaxy, which is on a collision course with us in roughly 2 billion years.

Ignorance Is A Dark Substitute For A Beautiful Truth

Evolution is not the explanation of how life appeared, that is abiogenesis.  Evolution is the explanation of the diversity of species, and to deny this fact, to turn away from it, is to starve yourself from one of nature’s greatest wonders, and to miss out on what could almost be called a spiritual recognition of how truly miraculous life is when we don’t confine our explanations of the Cosmos and our origins to books written in an age of absolute ignorance of science. For me, the more I learn about evolution, the more I come to appreciate the sacredness of all life and of my fellow Man.

There’s far more informative Richard Dawkins pieces out there on the internet, but this is partly relevant to the above post, and entertaining enough.  

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