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, 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 humans raising them and they shared their disdain by signing mean-spirited insults at the 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 apes, still manage to deny the possibility that we all share an 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 possible. They’re already in the throes of dopamine withdrawal and not interested in more pain. It’s not the information they’re against, it’s just that the information turns the dopamine flow off. If believing in evolution inflated their esteem, the dopamine would be flowing and their minds would open wide.

It’s interesting to note, in addition to being the most likely to dismiss the theory of evolution, the least evolved also behave the most like apes. Primatologists have determined that chimpanzees are extremely clever, deceitful, manipulative, and vindictive political animals who obsess over gaining power, approval, attention, and social status. Chimpanzee males 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 apes while vehemently denying sharing 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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