Faith and Doubt

Skeptical Me on “Going Ape”

Recently I have watched a series on the National Geographic Channel entitled, “Going Ape”. It is a fascinating observation of the comparisons between humans and apes. In watching this series I have been left with an increased awareness of the similarities between the two species which are quite compelling, and thus making it easy to understand why evolution theory is so broadly received by the rationally minded and why creationists are losing credibility in a modern age. The series highlights behaviors such as mating instincts, emotional responses and social interactions that are parallel behaviors between humans and apes. As I watched I also observed the physical likeness between humans and apes. Remove the head and hair from a chimp body and the physique is remarkably comparable to that of a human, right down to shape and muscular structure.

But oh, skeptical me! As with everything I have questions, and as is my custom I began questioning – What am I really seeing here, are these similar characteristics due to biological causes? Or, are they the result of social dynamics necessary to form a tribe?

English: Illustration comparing the skeletons ...

English: Illustration comparing the skeletons of various apes to that of man (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It seemed apparent that the intent of the series is to promote and solidify the idea that the human species evolved from a common ancestor primate as evidenced through relatable biological and emotional characteristics. Yet, as I watched I realized that the parallels in the behavior seem more the result of tribal interactions. Although compelling, the resemblance of behaviors did not convince me that humans and apes are so biologically intertwined that it should become obvious that there is no intelligent designer, and both man and ape are just the product of universal happenstance through the process of evolution.

My skepticism about such things is not unordinary. My mother informs me that as a child my most dreaded conversations with her always began with the words, “but why?” Since the time that I was able to form my own conclusions from reason, logic and curiosity I have been resistant to the slanted view of others. I am skeptical of ulterior motives in advertising, or the news, or the opinions of the academically educated, politically minded and religiously devoted. I guess you could say that I am an equal opportunity skeptic regarding the opinions and preferences of others and how they should affect my own perspectives. I look for the fringe of the presentation, or as my mother would say, the fly in the soup.

Watching this series I can say that the evolution hammer pounded a few nails into the Creationist’s coffin. But I can also say that I see the fly in the soup- a big ole self-aware fly.

I consider that there remain pieces to the puzzle, and unanswered questions. Why are humans, rather than apes, driving cars, launching space shuttles or curing diseases? In the millions of years that evolution has occurred, why is it that apes are not further along in intellectual development? Will a day ever come when an ape becomes capable of cloning itself?

I feel the need to reiterate that I am not a Creationist. I see the Adam and Eve story as symbolic myth attempting to explain the beginning of self-awareness. So I am not someone prone to deny that humans and apes did not evolve from a common ancestor. But there is that pesky fly, the unexplained reason why humans are self-aware, and my curiosity as to how humans became self-aware, and why no other species has come close to the intellectual abilities of man.


7 thoughts on “Skeptical Me on “Going Ape”

  1. I do like the way you question all sides of any issue–particularly the religious/scientific/cultural issues.
    I’m a biologist who was raised in a non-religious family, so I’ve had to come at “truth” from the opposite direction–finding a place for the sacredness I experience personally in the rational dogmatism that sometimes poses as science.
    For me as a biologist, the main evidence in favor of evolution lies in the surprising similarity in genetic composition of important cellular organelles and of closely related organisms such as humans and chimps. Indeed, a female human is about as genetically different from a female chimp as she is from a male human.
    But you seem to think that the issue is one of self-awareness (are you thinking about the soul?). I would go farther than most by suggesting that most living organisms have some degree of self-awareness (a soul?) through which they connect to the great “All-That-Is” surrounding them.
    This, of course, would allow an entire zoo into company with the heavenly hosts. Maybe this menagerie already exists, here on this amazing earth. Let’s not destroy them all before we realize we’re in this together already in what could be heaven on earth.

    • Self-awareness is something that causes me to question evolution, not in its entirety but rather to consider that there is still much to learn about it which causes me to be unable to draw the conclusion that evolution dispels the possibility of a creator/force/source.

      I do consider that all thinking creatures have a soul, which I think of as being a sense of existence. I still consider that humans may have a spirit in addition to the soul, and tend to think of the spirit as the super consciousness or a higher awareness and intelligence that permits us to function well advanced of basic instinct, like having the ability to contemplate, fore plan, weigh options and draw conclusions about the present, past and future. Where does it come from and why do only humans seem to possess it…that seems to be my real question. Why are we so very different than other species?
      I do appreciate that as a scientist you seem to understand that I am exploring and questioning rather than defining and asserting. I am trying to better understand and embrace science while grappling with spiritual strings.

  2. Awesome post that makes you think. (; I really liked this – “I see the Adam and Eve story as symbolic myth attempting to explain the beginning of self-awareness.” I completely agree that the story is neither the complete truth that Christians like to paint it as, nor is it complete idiocy and nonsense like many “intellectually-minded” people see it as.

    Everybody has something to learn. (:

  3. Wow … I had never considered the A&E story as being about the beginning of self-awareness. I’ll have to think on that for awhile. Very thoughtful posting.

  4. There are some pretty good evolution answers to the questions you pose, so you might want to look those up. Still, evolution has always had a weird relationship with me. My degree was Biochem (although I haven’t really used it hah), so it’s hard for me to doubt any of its claims with an severity given me knowledge, but I would prefer us humans to be “special” so to speak. Biologically, there’s no reason to believe it really. In terms of the mind, perhaps. For instance, I might argue that one thing that would not seem quite so sensible for us to have evolved was the sense of aesthetics. But then again there’s this weird little bird (i forgot it’s name) that literally decorates a house it builds for its made. Oh well.

    • I may be aware of some the evolution answers you reference. The other night I watched a documentary about the intelligence of apes. The explanation suggested for why apes have failed to intellectually advance along the same path as a human is that they are incapable of controlling their impulses, whereas humans can and that this difference led to humans being able to exercise patience and develop rational decision making.
      The documentary then explanined that dogs exhibit the ability to control impulses and seemingly react more patiently and may have more aptitude to reason possibilties.
      Apes are the most like humans but it is dogs which seem to more possess the factors that allowed humans to develop higher intelligence. Perhaps in thousands of years from now either dogs or apes may approach human intelligence, but for now, evidently humans got the lucky roll of the dice where intelligence and advancing species is concerned.
      The religious claim that God ordained man with dominance over all species, while alien speculaters suggest that ancient astronauts fast tracked human DNA to establish intelligence.
      Meanwhile, I am staring at my dog wondering if she is aware that I know that she dug up that cabbage in the garden, and perhaps an ape genius may eventually be as smart as she is, lol.

      • Dogs can be ridiculously smart. That just makes the more annoying when they do things you don’t like though (to me hah).

        As I understand (and I could be blatantly wrong), the idea is that “apes” DID evolves higher-functioning (a la us), and that there were more variants than Homo Sapiens. Then we, er…. well, we killed them. I’d assume the remaining ones probably got amalgamated into our own species via interbreeding.

        Considering the human race is so good at killing things, sounds plausible.
        I wouldn’t be too surprised about aliens quasi-engineering us either though. I just hope if they did then they actually found some way to leave us a message, in our own genetics or otherwise, and that we find it. But then we’d have to account for Prometheus’s Xenomorph and maybe I wish otherwise.

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