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Home » Richard Dawkins says he’s an African ape–yes we are.

Richard Dawkins says he’s an African ape–yes we are.

Whenever I read statements from the anti-evolution/creationist crowd, I often wonder if they’re satisfied with their intellect and knowledge.  Their level of denialism is so high that they cannot even get basic science right.  In Vasko Kohlmayer’s Washington Times article, Is Richard Dawkins an ape?, decides to deny most basic biological knowledge just to make some point that humans are somehow “better” than an ape, and use it to “disprove” evolution.  Kohlmayer’s logic, if you can call it that, is so fallacious, I’m not sure which fallacy would fit.  Maybe I’ll just use them all.

Before we start, you should know a little bit about The Washington Times. It was founded by the Unification Church (better known as Moonies, from their namesake, Sun Myung Moon) as a competitor to the Washington Post, a rather progressive newspaper in Washington, DC.  The Post had written some negative articles about Moonies back in the late 70’s, while it was the only newspaper in the US Capital.  The Washington Times has a very conservative editorial bias, based upon anti-communism and “Judeo-Christian values.”  Of course, the paper is generally a mouthpiece for the conservative movement in the US, with its preference for climate change and evolution denialism.  

So with that background, let’s get back to the article.  In an interview with an African bishop, Richard Dawkins says:

I am an ape. I am an African ape. I am very proud to be an African ape and so you should be.

Then Kohlmayer responds to that statement:

Even though he did not intend it, Dawkins’ statement brings out starkly the intuitive implausibility of evolutionary theory.  When hearing those words, one is immediately struck by the obvious falsity of the claim: No matter what he may choose to call himself, Richard Dawkins is certainly is no African ape.

To give an idea of the distance separating the two creatures, below are some things that Richard Dawkins can do, but which an ape – African or otherwise – could never do:

  • Read a novel
  • Reflect on his own existence
  • Enjoy a Shakespeare play
  • Wonder about the meaning of life
  • Appreciate a Beethoven symphony
  • Think about the theory of evolution
  • Dream about his future
  • Perceive right and wrong
  • Complete a crossword puzzle
  • Contemplate the size of the universe
  • Form a mental concept of God

Richard Dawkins can do all this and more while even the brightest of apes is incapable of even grasping the point behind these mental activities.

There’s just so much to which we need to respond.  First of all, whenever some says “theory of evolution” or “evolutionary theory” when making a point, in general, it’s a strawman fallacy that’s used to make evolution sound like some unsupported guess by a bunch of drunk biologists.  A real biologist or scientist, just calls it evolution, since, it is generally accepted as fact by almost every single real scientist.

There is also an implication by Kohlmayer that evolution should produce the “perfect being”, that is a human.  Although the creationists deny evolution, they  think that evolution should meet their biased view of biology.  Yes, the cognitive dissonances by the creationists can give you headache.  Obviously, Kohlmayer lived way too long under the communists in the Soviet Union, so he has absolutely no critical thinking skills.  I can just hear Kohlmayer say to his buddies in Moscow, “how dare this English bolshevik claim that humans are mere animals.”  The fact is that humans are animals, by any definition.

The “great apes,” or Hominidae, are a clade of Old World tailless catarrhine primates, which include orangutansgorillascommon chimpanzeesbonobos and humans.  In modern cladistic theory, organisms are arranged by their location in the evolutionary tree.  For example, though birds do not look anything like our Jurassic Park imagination of dinosaurs, they are a distinct branch of dinosaurs, and are considered to be the only clade of dinosaurs to survive the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event 65.5 million years ago.  In other words, based on genetics, fossils, anatomy, behavior, and numerous other characteristics, scientists group organisms according to their evolutionary relationship.

Genetics alone show the similarity between humans and other apes.  There is only a 2% difference between chimpanzees and humans; this compares to approximately a 0.1% difference between any two random humans.  Moreover, chimps are more closely related to humans than they are to gorillas.  In fact, humans and chimps diverged from gorillas about 7.2 million years ago, while humans and chimps diverged from each other about 4.7 million years ago.  On the geologic timescale, this is like a week ago.

And to presume that intelligence is some endpoint for evolution, it isn’t.  It’s natural selection favoring certain traits in one group of organisms and different traits in others.   Intelligence is a great trait to evolve, since it allows humans to basically convert their environment to their own needs.  Fire and clothing, for example, allows us to survive in cold environments.  Otherwise, humans would be forced to live along the equator.

Then Kohlmayer then states, “to suggest that there is some kind of fundamental equivalence between Professor Dawkins and an ape is not only demeaning, it is outright incredible. It is also indecent, since there is something almost blasphemous about a person putting himself on the same level as an animal.”  Evolution is science, and the evidence is the evidence.  Yes, we are animals, and it’s kind of cool that all of us are related so closely to the great apes.  The rest of Kohlmayer’s rants are about how some magical sky being made us, which, of course, is unsupported by even a tiny bit of evidence.

Jerry Coyne writes more about this annoying article in his Why Evolution is True blog in Washington Times denies that Richard Dawkins is an ape.  He’s about as patient as I am about this story.

Michael Simpson

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