I came across this gem recently. This little “gotcha!” question is just one of many that those who oppose the theory of evolution use in their arsenal of irrelevant arguments against the theory. Every time I hear one of these arguments, I just cringe inside for two reasons: 1) The arguments are almost always just as ludicrous to those who support evolution as to those who oppose the theory, and 2) these are the kinds of arguments that, as a used-to-be evolution-denier, I used to make myself. Rather than call names, though, I’d like to actually address these arguments in an intellectual manner. It was educating myself on the actual theory that led me to change my mind, so perhaps if I can shed some light on these arguments and attempt to educate people, they will come to realize why these arguments sound so absurd to me.
First and foremost, it needs to be mentioned that there are currently two versions to the theory of evolution, namely the actual theory of evolution and the version perpetuated by those who deny it. I grew up learning what I liked to call the “church version of evolution.” This version has been skewed and warped into absurdity, until it sounds like something tantamount to insanity. The version of evolution that I learned at home, in school, etc. was presented in a way that made it sound completely rediculous.
Then, in college, I learned that actual theory, and that’s when things began clicking into place. The two versions bear a passing resemblance, but are functionally incompatible. Where one version tells a tale of animals growing appendages they think they need by random chance, the other explains how genetic mutations and natural pressures caused the most fit species to survive. I will not get into the thick of it in this post, but the two different ways of explaining the theory are polar opposites.
That being said, let’s get right into the core of the question: If we evolved from monkeys, then why are there still monkeys? Another similar question evolution-deniers will use is: If man evolved from monkeys, then why aren’t monkeys currently evolving into humans? I will address each rediculous question in turn.
IF WE EVOLVED FROM MONKEYS, WHY ARE THERE STILL MONKEYS?
The first misconception that needs to be crushed at this point is the incorrect statement, “Man evolved from monkeys.” This is a phrase anti-evolutionists love, because it sounds absurd. Sure, we bear a resemblance to them, but we’re so different from them that it sounds stupid to suggest that they’re our ancestors.
Well, it is stupid to suggest that. Man did not evolve from monkeys. Monkeys (as we know them today) are not our acenstors; they are more like our cousins. Man did not evolve from monkeys; man and monkeys evolved from a common primate ancestor. Therefore, we did not “come from” them; rather, we evolved side by side.
The second giant problem with this particular question is that the assumption is made that just because one species branched off from another, the original species must necessarily go extinct. Again, man did not evolve from monkeys, but for just a moment, let’s assume that in this case the word “monkey” refers to our common ancestors and run with it. By even asking this question, we are implying that once one species branches off from another, the original species must be ubiquitously terminated. This is not, in fact, the case.
While it is true that evolution shows a gradual transition from species to species, linear evolution is not the only evolution that takes place. Otherwise, evolution would explain nothing: If linear evolution were the only type of evolution that took place, how could we account for the multitude of primates in the world today? There would only be one kind. Indeed, if evolution were only linear in nature, we would have an incredibly limited number of species in the world today… If any at all. (Without a diversity of species, there would be no respectable food chain.)
To put it into perspective: If you’re driving down Monkey Street and there’s a road that branches off from it (Human Street), just because Human Street has begun, that doesn’t mean that Monkey Street has to end right there.
No, one of the features of the theory of evolution is that one species can branch outward into multiple different species. Due to geographical isolation, or social isolation, or whatever type of isolation, two separated groups of the same species can evolve at the same time into completely different species. To bring it home: for whatever reason, our distant ancestors would, at times, split into different groups and lose contact with one another. No longer mixing genes, and each group facing its own distinct challenges, these groups would evolve differently, and eventually produce completely distinct species. Some of them may have evolved faster, others slower. In the end, we have not one species, but two. (And this repeated all throughout history: this is why we have so many different species of primates.)
In summary, not only did we not evolve from monkeys, but even if we did, the rise of our species in no way necessitates the fall of the other.
The other similar tact anti-evolutionists like to deploy is a little more tricky:
IF WE EVOLVED FROM MONKEYS, WHY AREN’T MONKEYS TODAY EVOLVING INTO HUMANS?
I don’t even know where to start on this one, so I’ll just pick a path and run with it.
First of all, the basic implication here is that monkeys should be evolving into humans, which is just plain absurd. To say such a thing is to suggest that there is some kind of “target species” that a species should be “evolving toward.” This is not only irrational, it’s a bit narcissistic: why should monkeys be evolving towards humanity, as if we are the only logical end-result of evolution?
The key piece of information to absorb here is that there is no “goal” or “end result” of evolution. When certain animals began changing into primates, it was without intention, or any sense of “progress toward a goal.” Our distant primate ancestors were not, in their day and age, evolving towards humanity; they were simply evolving. There was no “goal” or “end result” they were moving towards; they were simply responding to the selective pressures of their time, and this just happened to be the current result. By all means, if there were some kind of a “goal” in evolution, we could really do with a much better goal than these faulty bodies we wear today.
This question is absurd because it assumes that monkeys should naturally evolve into humans, when in actual fact they are no more evolving towards humanity than humanity is evolving towards dinosaurs. Monkeys will simply become what they eventually become, just as we will eventually become what we become.
Secondly, this question absolutely misses the point when you consider the temporal aspect of it on a relative scale. A question such as this suggests that if evolution were true, we should be seeing changes in monkeys (or other species). The problem here is that evolution and speciation takes place not on the scale of years, or decades, or even centuries (in many cases). Evolution takes places on the scale of millions of years. Even if monkeys were, in fact, evolving towards humanity, we wouldn’t be witnessing any of that progress in our lifetimes. Perhaps monkeys might be the tiniest bit different for our children, but not noticeably. They might be a tiny bit different to our childrens’ children, but again, not noticeably. These things do not happen quickly; it takes an amount of time we are unaccustomed to processing.
So no, even if monkeys did have humanity as a goal to evolve to, we would not be seeing the changes in our lifetimes.
All this being said, I’ve only scratched the surface of all the meaningless arguments against evolution, but hopefully I’ve shed light on these two irrelevant questions. Hopefully anyone reading this who makes these kind of arguments now sees that these questions seem just as insane to me as it does to them.