Why the Least Evolved Reject Evolution

by Charles Lyell on July 10, 2011

I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man's reasoning powers are not above the monkey's. – Mark Twain

In his 1998 book Next of Kin: My Conversations with Chimpanzees, primatologist Roger Fouts recalls his experiences teaching American Sign Language (ASL) to chimpanzees. Among his many findings was an unexpected revelation. When “civilized” chimpanzees, who were raised in middle-class homes, were introduced to their peers living in zoos, the home schooled chimps couldn’t understand that they were members of the same species. The “educated” chimpanzees identified with the people raising them and they shared their utter disdain by signing mean-spirited insults at their less fortunate kin. It took a while, but Fouts managed to correct his students’ misconception to the point where the educated chimpanzees started teaching their new friends ASL.

The signing chimpanzees help explain our species’ initial reluctance to notice the undeniable physical, behavioral, and psychological similarities we share with other primates. What Fouts’ discovery doesn’t explain is why so many people, who believe they’re smarter than chimpanzees, still manage to deny the possibility that we all share a common origin with chimpanzees.

This is where a modicum of dopamine awareness comes in handy. A majority of evolution-deniers are safety, peer-approval, and/or esteem addicts looking to score as much dopamine as they can. They’re already in the throes of dopamine withdrawal and not interested in increasing the pain. It’s not the information they’re against, it’s just that the information turns off the dopamine. If believing in evolution made them feel better about themselves the dopamine would be flowing and they would be embracing the information.

It’s interesting to note that in addition to being the most likely to dismiss the theory of evolution, the least evolved among us also behave the most like chimpanzees. Primatologists have determined that chimpanzees are extremely clever, deceitful, manipulative, and vindictive political animals who obsess over gaining power, approval, attention, and social status. Male chimpanzees are especially adept at throwing temper tantrums, bullying weaker males, and clubbing defiant females.

What could be more clever than getting away with behaving like self-deceptive, venal, wrathful chimps while vehemently denying that they share a heritage with lowly chimpanzees? And what could be more primitive, vindictive, and self-deceptive than getting outraged, throwing tantrums, and attacking real and imagined threats the way chimpanzees do?

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