Human Exceptionalism

Chimps More Evolved Than Humans?

It is a continuing source of astonishment and concern to me that so many “scientists” so fervently wish to knock human beings off of the pedestal of exceptionalism, and transform us into merely another animal in the forest, just one of the fauna, if you will. I bring this up because of the reaction to a paper presented to the National Academy of Sciences, as described in Technology Review, that claims chimps to be more evolved than humans:

With our big brains, capacity for speech, and upright stance, humans have long assumed that our species must have hit the genetic jackpot. But a controversial new study challenges the idea that we sprinted along on the evolutionary fast track while our chimp brethren were left swinging in the trees.

A comparison of thousands of human and chimpanzee genes suggests that chimps have actually evolved more since the two species parted from a common ancestor approximately five million years ago, according to Jianzhi Zhang, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who led the research.

Mutations happen spontaneously, and most are neutral or bad, says Zhang. But sometimes a beneficial mutation occurs in an individual and spreads throughout the population over time, a process known as positive selection: the genes carrying these good mutations confer evolutionary advantages that allow organisms to adapt and thrive. The changes thus become “fixed” in the genome…Chimps had 233 positively selected genes while humans had just 154, implying that chimps have adapted more to their environment than humans have to theirs.

I beg your pardon? Do chimps live and thrive in the Sahara Desert, Antarctica, the tundra, the rain forest, and the Himalayas? To claim that chimpanzees have adapted more to their environment than we have is ridiculous on its face. But here is the reason I bring this up. Note the gleeful reaction by a scientist who is more than eager to knock humans off the pedestal of exceptionalism:

“It’s human egotism to put us on a pedestal,” says molecular anthropologist Morris Goodman of Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit. “I was attracted to the paper because it seemed to be chipping away at this desire to make us all that extra-special. At the molecular level, humans are not necessarily exceptional in terms of the adaptive changes.”

Who cares? At the carbon molecule level we are not more exceptional than carrots. This desire to destroy our self-perception will not redound to the benefit of the world, but to its detriment. After all, if we are not exceptional, why should we act beneficially toward the planet, other species, and each other as if we are?

HT: Mere Orthodoxy

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