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Author Topic:   "If I descended from an ape, how come apes are still here?"
Tangle
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Posts: 4878
From: UK
Joined: 10-07-2011
Member Rating: 4.0


Message 1 of 286 (636915)
10-12-2011 5:37 AM


I've been puzzling over how to better answer this question.

it's an infuriating question because once you understand the answer it's obvious and simple but it's a perennial - it just won't go away. The reason it won't is because evolution is not understood by most people and ignorant religionists repeat this supposedly slam dunk question over and over.

I read on a thread on this site what I thought was a really good start to an answer that can be understood by anyone - I just wanted to flesh it out and develop the full picture.

Edit - this is the latest version, May 2012.

“If we descended from apes, how come apes are still here?”

What’s wrong with this picture?

Well nothing or pretty much everything – depending on what you think it shows.

If you see it as man evolving over millions of years from ape-like ancestors, you’re right. But if you see it as a picture of how modern monkeys change into people, that’s probably why you may ask the question:

“If we descended from apes, how come apes are still here?”

To ask that question means that there’s a vital piece of information missing from the questioner’s understanding of what evolution is. That vital piece of information is the concept of the tree of life, that all things are related to each other.

An evolution scientist on hearing that question might ask you a question back. Such as:

"if I'm descended from my grandfather, how come he still exists?"

or

“If dogs are descended from wolves, how come there are still wolves?”

Here’s fuller explanation.

Chimpanzees are apes and one of our closest animal relatives - their scientific name is Pan troglodytes.

Now, imagine that you are standing face to face with a female chimpanzee - let’s call her Pan. With your left hand you are holding the hand of your mother and your mother is holding the right hand of her mother and so on for thousands of generations back into the past. By doing this, you know as an absolute certainty that you are descended directly on your mother’s side to everyone in the chain.

Imagine that Pan is doing the same but with her right hand.

You now have two imaginary lines of women and female chimps holding hands going backwards in time - like a railway track with women and chimps lining each side.

You can now walk down the centre of the rails and look carefully at your mother's family line and the chimp's family line going back millions of years.

So what would do you see?

Walking back about 200,000 years on the human side you see a mother who’s husband was a chap science named Heidelberg Man (Homo heidelbergensis ) she’s distinctly human, using tools and standing upright, probably hairless and very tall – the males are up to 7 feet tall. This is the first different species that we’ve come across in our chain. But you wouldn’t be able to tell exactly when Homo sapiens (people) merged into Heidelberg because each mother would look almost identical to the next – you can’t see the join. The changes from mother to mother are so gradual that you only see a change by comparing mothers thousands or millions of years apart. We only now know that Heidelberg is different from us because we’ve found his fossilised remains and we can compare it to ourselves today.

This is why there’s no such thing as a transitional fossil or a missing link; every fossil is a transitional fossil and every living species is in transition to the next – if we had a fossil for every mother in the lines, even the experts wouldn’t be able to say where a separate species had been formed. We can only guess with hindsight.

If you find this hard to grasp or you think it’s impossible for one species to change slowly into another we can see it happening today. For example, we call species that change slowly over geographic areas rather than over time, ring species.

Here in the UK the Herring Gull and the Lesser Black-backed Gull are distinct and non-interbreeding species. But if you physically follow the Herring Gull west towards North America it gradually blurs into something more like a Lesser Black-backed Gull. It carries on changing towards Siberia and when it finally returns to Western Europe the Herring Gull has become a Lesser Black-backed Gull and the two species don’t interbreed. At no point in the ring can you say exactly where it changed species – it’s a gradual merging of characteristics over distance.

As you walk back further, at about 500,000 years ago, you’d see a branch form and go off sideways from our human line, these are the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis). They lived along side us but developed separately. There may even be Neanderthal mothers in our line, because we think that for some time there was interbreeding.

And so on down the line of mothers through increasingly apelike creatures until at about 2.5 million years ago we reach an animal called the Southern African ape (Australopithecus africanis). This creature is small – around 4 feet, with a brain a third the size of ours and although she stands upright like us, she’s covered in hair and is distinctly apelike. We used to think that this is roughly where chimps split from the human line but modern molecular genetics tells us that it was earlier.

We have to walk much farther down the lines to get to where most evolution scientists think chimps branch off - somewhere about 7m years ago. This mother would have looked something like a chap called ‘Taumai’ (Sahelanthropus tchadensis). He has the same brain size as a modern chimp but his face is a little more like a human than a chimp.

No one knows for sure whether Taumai is the point where chimps start off on their own line but we do know one thing for certain:

Wherever the split actually happened, at this point in the two lines of human and chimp descendants you would see that the right hand of a mother from the chimp line is now holding the left hand of a mother from the human line.
The lines have met – the ancient chimp and the ancient human have the same mother.

This mother starts the lines to both Pan and you, so Pan is your distant cousin. And both you, the human, and Pan, the ape are still here.

So the apes developed along one line and we humans along another. We were in competition with each other whilst in the forest but the reason that there wasn’t only one final surviving winner is because our ancestors moved from the trees onto the open savannah grasslands whilst the apes stayed in the forest.

Once in the open we HAD to adapt to survive in the new environment; walking upright in order to run quickly and for long durations, losing hair to keep cool, developing tool use in order to hunt. The apes in the forest were already adapted to their environment so they developed along their own arboreal paths.

Edited by Tangle, : Providing most recent story


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Message 2 of 286 (636917)
10-12-2011 7:17 AM


Thread Copied from Proposed New Topics Forum
Thread copied here from the "If I descended from an ape, how come apes are still here?" thread in the Proposed New Topics forum.
    
Dr Adequate
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Message 3 of 286 (636918)
10-12-2011 7:35 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Tangle
10-12-2011 5:37 AM


My reply usually goes something like this:

"If Iceland was colonized by Scandinavians, why are there still Scandinavians?"

Obviously just because one branch of the primates started to occupy a new niche, that doesn't make the old niche uninhabitable any more than some Scandinavians moving to Iceland made Scandinavia uninhabitable. Why should it?

---

Of course, one could always talk about the actual meaning of the word "ape" and about cladistics but I think there's a time and a place for everything and that probably isn't it.


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PaulK
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Message 4 of 286 (636919)
10-12-2011 7:39 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Tangle
10-12-2011 5:37 AM


My answer is "if I'm descended from my grandfather, how can I have cousins?"
This message is a reply to:
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Tangle
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Posts: 4878
From: UK
Joined: 10-07-2011
Member Rating: 4.0


Message 5 of 286 (636928)
10-12-2011 9:58 AM


Both the 'why do I still have cousins?' and 'why are there still Scandinavians?' questions help generally as opening comments, but they really only impress those of us that already get it.

I'm trying to pull together a more complete explanation so that someone for whom the idea is both new and difficult can understand. There are plenty of people that are entirely puzzled by it but are prepared to try.

One obvious thing you'd see straight away as you walked down the human line would be the height and age of the mothers - they would get progressively shorter and younger wouldn't they?

On the chimp line, nothing much would change except over millennium.

Anyone know off-hand where the parallel lines meet - pan prior? - what it would look like and where it would live? (Meanwhile, Google is my friend..)

abe

What we can surmise about Pan Prior:

It lived in African forests more than 6 million years ago.
When the Ice Age made forests shrink about 7 million years ago, Pan Prior was split into two subgroups. The subgroup that spread to the grasslands became man.
It may have been tool-using, as both species to evolve from it are. (On the other hand, Chimp tool use might be geologically recent, say the past 4,300 years or so)
It was probably rather smaller than modern humans.
It was generally a very adaptable species, willing to switch up it's behavior to survive in new environments.

http://arcana.wikidot.com/pan-prior

Edited by Tangle, : Updated with Pan Prior info.


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caffeine
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Message 6 of 286 (636932)
10-12-2011 11:37 AM
Reply to: Message 5 by Tangle
10-12-2011 9:58 AM


One obvious thing you'd see straight away as you walked down the human line would be the height and age of the mothers - they would get progressively shorter and younger wouldn't they?

Well, this depends who you are and what time period you're speaking. Given that you contrasted it to millenia for the chimps, I guess you mean a time span of centuries. Not all populations of humans have gotten bigger over the last century or so, and the change isn't going to continue indefinitely into the past. You'd probably find a fluctuating height, due to individual variation, changes in nutrition as lifestyle changes, and changing ethnicity.

The idea that humans were all shorter, then 20th century nutrition suddenly shot them up in height is dubious. An analysis of the 43 people buried at a mass grave near the Battle of Towton (1461, for those whose British history isn't so hot) showed that their height varied from 1.5 to 1.8 metres tall. This puts them in the range of average height for English men today, and leaves the average a bit taller than men in 18th century England. These things vary.

On the chimp line, nothing much would change except over millennium.

I think a lot more would change than you think. We have a tendency to underestimate the level of diversity in other apes, but not all chimps are the same size, and their skin varies in colour. You'd probably find racial shifts in the chimp population as much as in the human one.

Anyone know off-hand where the parallel lines meet - pan prior? - what it would look like and where it would live? (Meanwhile, Google is my friend..)

Now that's a difficult question to answer, except for the 'where would it live' bit, and there I have no idea except 'Africa'.

Not sure any of this helps!


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Replies to this message:
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Taq
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(1)
Message 7 of 286 (636934)
10-12-2011 11:42 AM
Reply to: Message 5 by Tangle
10-12-2011 9:58 AM


I'm trying to pull together a more complete explanation so that someone for whom the idea is both new and difficult can understand. There are plenty of people that are entirely puzzled by it but are prepared to try.

This goes hand in hand with another creationist misconception which I will talk about further at the bottom of the post. It all comes down to not understanding the implications of descent with modification.

It might help to go further down the clade and walk them down the evolutionary timeline along with a link to tolweb.org (which I think is a good resource for these types of debates).

Humans and chimps share a common ancestor that was an ape, and they are both still apes.
http://tolweb.org/Hominidae/16299

Humans and lemurs share a common ancestor that was a primate, and they are both still primates.
http://tolweb.org/Primates/15963

Humans and bears share a common ancestor that was a mammal, and they are both still mammals.
http://tolweb.org/Eutheria/15997

Humans and trout share a common ancestor that was a vertebrate, and they are both still vertebrates.
http://tolweb.org/Gnathostomata/14843

Humans and amoeba share a common ancestor that was a eukaryote, and they are both still eukaryotes.
http://tolweb.org/Eukaryotes/3

You could even slice it up even more, showing the relationships within bilateria, deuterosomes, etc. Each tolweb page has a link for the containing group which is something you can always point to.

The important point is that evolution does not produce something totally different as many creationists think. Too often I have seen creationists asking why we do not observe the evolution of a completely different species. The answer is that this is not how evolution works. You are what your ancestors were, PLUS MODIFICATIONS. Evolution is descent with modification, not evolution of something completely different.


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NoNukes
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Message 8 of 286 (636936)
10-12-2011 12:02 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Tangle
10-12-2011 5:37 AM


That's not the explanation; it's the cause of the confusion.

Wrong.

The cause of the confusion is that the questioner is an easily confused idiot. "How come apes are still here?" is an inane question on many levels. First, humans are apes. Second, the particular ape that is the actual common ancestor of humans and chimps is extinct. Third, even a fool can see that humans don't compete with other with other primates by trying to fill the same niche.

The flip responses given by Dr. Adequate, PaulK, and others in this thread ought to be sufficient to see that the question misses the mark. Someone who cannot see that the question is facially ridiculous given those answers is never going to understand a more detailed answer. Don't waste your time.


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Tangle
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Message 9 of 286 (636941)
10-12-2011 12:10 PM
Reply to: Message 6 by caffeine
10-12-2011 11:37 AM


The idea that humans were all shorter, then 20th century nutrition suddenly shot them up in height is dubious. An analysis of the 43 people buried at a mass grave near the Battle of Towton (1461, for those whose British history isn't so hot) showed that their height varied from 1.5 to 1.8 metres tall. This puts them in the range of average height for English men today, and leaves the average a bit taller than men in 18th century England. These things vary.

Hmm - that's interesting and a little disappointing :-)

Could it be that those involved in the battle were warriors and therefore larger? I really don't want to believe that all those medieval buildings had doorways too small for the people living in them!

Is there any evidence that modern man gets taller with improved nutrition? Are Asians in fast developing countries like India and China getting taller?


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Tangle
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Posts: 4878
From: UK
Joined: 10-07-2011
Member Rating: 4.0


Message 10 of 286 (636942)
10-12-2011 12:17 PM
Reply to: Message 8 by NoNukes
10-12-2011 12:02 PM


The flip responses given by Dr. Adequate, PaulK, and others in this thread ought to be sufficient to see that the question misses the mark. Someone who cannot see that the question is facially ridiculous given those answers is never going to understand a more detailed answer. Don't waste your time.

Ah, but you've grown cynical and case hardened; I'm new here and haven't had to give the same answer a thousand times yet ;-)

I've also seen the genuine puzzlement and and also interest when they're presented with the argument for the first time. Some of them have never heard the other side of this at all or even given it a thought before.

And, bless 'em, a lot aren't very bright or used to thinking about ideas and concepts. They deserve a proper answer.


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Son
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Posts: 346
From: France,Paris
Joined: 03-11-2009


Message 11 of 286 (636944)
10-12-2011 12:20 PM
Reply to: Message 9 by Tangle
10-12-2011 12:10 PM


Well, I didn't look for studies but I'm Vietnames as is most of my family, those who stayed back in Vietnam are much shorter than me, my brother or the cousins who live in France. I'm 1.75 meter tall and my family members that are born in France are around this height whereas those who live in Vietnam are around 10-20 centimeters shorter.
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NoNukes
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Joined: 08-13-2010
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Message 12 of 286 (636946)
10-12-2011 12:37 PM
Reply to: Message 10 by Tangle
10-12-2011 12:17 PM


Ah, but you've grown cynical and case hardened; I'm new here and haven't had to give the same answer a thousand times yet ;-)

Perhaps becoming hardened does not take overly long.

I generally agree that proper answers are best. But this particular question, (and the question of how Venus and Neptune can have retrograde rotation if all matter was created in the big bang) really irk me.


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PaulK
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Message 13 of 286 (636947)
10-12-2011 12:41 PM
Reply to: Message 5 by Tangle
10-12-2011 9:58 AM


The point of the answer is partly to indicate how silly the question is and partly to draw the questioner out. You can't answer the misconceptions underlying the question until you know what they are. And then you can explain that the evolutionary tree is very like a patrilineal (or matrilineal) family tree, with branches constantly splitting off.
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Coragyps
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Message 14 of 286 (636950)
10-12-2011 1:07 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Tangle
10-12-2011 5:37 AM


A couple of points:
- We don't know much about the details of what we would see down the chimp line. They were forest-dwellers, and things don't fossilize as well in forests as they do in the savannahs where the human line largely lived.
- Your picture doesn't make explicit that the far-end mommies on each line are holding hands with their single mommy. This little bit may well be best saved for after you already have your correspondent agreeing that the lines each change as you go back in time, but it does need to be stated emphatically at some point in the conversation.
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Tangle
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From: UK
Joined: 10-07-2011
Member Rating: 4.0


Message 15 of 286 (636957)
10-12-2011 1:36 PM
Reply to: Message 14 by Coragyps
10-12-2011 1:07 PM


- We don't know much about the details of what we would see down the chimp line. They were forest-dwellers, and things don't fossilize as well in forests as they do in the savannahs where the human line largely lived.

Yeh, that's disappointing. It leaves my argument a little naked. Then I hit the imaginary Pan prior and I have to explain a bloody 'missing link'.

The two final offspring holding the hands of the same mother where the two parallel lines cross is, of course, the punchline. But I'm missing the actual mother....


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