…Then Why Are There Still Monkeys

A commonly encountered creationist argument asks why there are still monkeys if they evolved into apes and humans. This is the stripped down version of an argument by Casey Luskin. Casey has discovered the MSNBC article concerning the recent study of quadrupedalism and bipedalism in chimpanzees and bipedalism in humans. Jason over at EvolutionBlog discussed the first part of Casey’s whine and Chris at NorthState Science has taken Casey to task for the second part (drawing my attention to it in the process) which specifically focuses on anthropology.
Here is Luskin:

The second article, “Why we quit aping around, began walking,” hypothesizes that humans began walking upright because “[t]raveling upright takes a quarter the energy of ‘knuckle-walking’.” It’s a nice anthropocentric story, but if falls into the same predicament as the first article. Our upright-walking species, Homo sapiens comprises one out of about 7 species of the species of the family Hominidae. This means that only 14% of living species of Hominidae were naturally selected to walk upright. So think about this from the apes’ perspective: If upright walking is so energetically favorable, why do apes still “knuckle-walk”? I’m sure that some armchair Darwinian paleoanthropologist would be happy to oblige us with a just-so story as to why living ape species did not evolve bipedal locomotion and instead found knuckle-walking more advantageous for survival. We would then have a theory which can explain both (a) complete bipedal locomotion, and also not (a). In cases like these, one cannot help observe that Neo-Darwinism is like a theory which can explain anything, and therefore actually explains nothing.

This is rather like arguing that Einstein’s theories were wrong because they can explain (a) gravity, and also not (a), or arguing chemistry is wrong because it can explain why some (most) elements can bond to others and not (a) some – such as the “nobles” can’t.

So think about this from the apes’ perspective: If upright walking is so energetically favorable, why do apes still “knuckle-walk”?

Or, if apes evolved into humans why are there still apes?
Primates move about in a wide variety of different ways, there are vertical clingers and leapers, quadrupedal leapers, arboreal quadrupeds, terrestrial quadrupeds, knuckle-walkers, fist-walkers, brachiators, suspensory climbers (some of whom hang by their tails), and bipeds. In reality, no one form of locomotion predominates among a given primate species. Chimpanzees, for example, are terrestrial quadrupeds – most of the time. Unlike some of their primate cousins they do not place their palms flat on the ground, unlike other primates they don’t support their weight on the palmer surface of their fingers (like some baboons) rather they rest their weight on the third and fourth digits of their hand (second row of phalanges to be exact). In the trees they engage in both arboreal quadrupedalism and suspensory behavior. Starting in the Eocence, most primate species were arboreal quadrupeds or quadrupedal leapers. Oligocene primates seem to have been leapers and arboreal quadrupeds as well. We don’t see terrestrial and suspensory species until the Miocene when cercopithecoids and hominoids arrive on the scene. Brachiators and bipeds are Plio-Pleistocene developments. These are some the data points the theory of evolution must explain
Casey seems to be basing his criticism entirely on the MSNBC article, I guess actually reading the PNAS article by Sockol et al he was criticizing makes entirely too much sense. It’s a shame because he could have prevented himself some embarrassment if he had. It’s actually a pretty good paper. Here is what it is about (there is an excellent discussion of the paper at Anthropology.Net):

Here, we compare human and adult chimpanzee locomotor energetics and biomechanics to determine links among anatomy, gait, and cost. Our study focuses on two primary questions. First, do adult chimpanzees follow the pattern of costs found previously for juveniles (6)? Second, do differences in anatomy and
gait between bipedal and quadrupedal walking, as well as between chimpanzees and humans, explain observed differences in cost? Using this biomechanical approach to link differences in anatomy and gait to cost, we then examine what changes, if any, would lower the cost of bipedalism for an early hominin, such that bipedalism would be more economical than the ape-like quadrupedalism of the last common ancestor.

Based on previous research by other workers, the authors were also able to make two predictions, which they then preceded to test by collecting data on metabolic, kinematic, and kinetic variables. They were then able to relate the anatomy and gait of chimps and humans to energetic cost. This allowed them to make a further prediction about the fossil record:

Results of our biomechanical analyses linking anatomy and gait to cost generate two testable predictions for the hominin fossil record. If locomotor economy was a selective force behind hominin bipedalism, then early hominin lower limbs should be longer than those of apes, and the ischia of early hominin pelves should be more dorsally projecting.

Fossils being one thing Luskin neglected to mention (along with all that empirical stuff like data collecting and testing predictions). As I mentioned here and here there is abundant evidence that the hindlimb has been lengthening. There is one more interesting piece of information in the Sockol et al article. One chimp in the sample was able to extend the hindlimb more fully and hence had a smaller energetic cost during bipedal locomotion. This is fascinating and it would be interesting to this type of study carried out on a larger sample of chimps.
Most primates (a) give birth to one offspring. Prosimians, tamarins and marmosets give birth to twins. So any theory that explains (a) no twins and not (a) twins must be wrong…unless you actually consider all the relevant facts, gather data perform experiments and test predictions. What makes this particularly amusing is that Casey seems to be saying that if we explain the fact that humans are bipedal and chimps and gorillas are still quadrupedal then our theory means nothing because it can explain everything. Then he dares us to explain why chimps and gorillas remained quadrupeds and humans became bipeds.
P. S. One of these days I will get back to work on my primate locomotion series. I promise. Scout’s Honor. Really. I’m serious.

16 Responses

  1. Just when you think “nobody can up the stupid”, Casey shows how wrong you are. I’m ashamed to admit that it was stupid of me to think Casey Luskin couldn’t get any stupider. Lord knows past experience shows that it’s likely, no matter how improbable. Must be my optimism getting in the way.

  2. It’s not that he gets stupider, it’s that stupid, unlike smart, goes all the way through. So you dig through one layer of stupid after another, and there’s always more stupid at the bottom of the hole.

  3. I am not sure Old Casey get’s enough credit… Sure, he started out as just another fresh-faced little Lyer For Jesus and DI shill, but don’t you think he’s really grown on the job? Evolved as it were into a fully obnoxious whiney tool?
    To me he has become mcuh more than just a name synonomous with stupidity – he has become useful. For example,
    1. “You can kiss my Luskin”.
    2. He’s been Luskinized!
    3. What the Luskin are you talking about?
    4. Whew! Don’t go in there just yet – I just took a BIG Luskin.
    5. OMG! That’s dumber than a Luskin!
    Yes, he is evolving, and will soon be ready to almost join the human race. Yes, if only Jesus would get his head out of his Luskin, and perform an effing miracle… but don’t hold your breath.

  4. To the “…then why are there still monkeys?” question, I usually respond: “…for the same reason your mother and father didn’t drop dead on the day you were born…” Parental and ancestral are required to go extinct with occurance of speciation; and scientists never claimed that they did.
    It’s a rather childish argument.

  5. In cases like these, one cannot help observe that Neo-Darwinism is like a theory which can explain anything, and therefore actually explains nothing.

    And here I just bought a new irony meter, just last week. Damn.

  6. Hey Bipedal locomotion is not unique to some primates birds do it all the time, what counts is freeing of hands and evolution of large brain. Anyway some ‘monkey’ will always be doing monkey business (with my sincere apologies to my primate cousins if any one reading this reply):)

  7. “Why do you have cousins?” is even better.

  8. About the chimp with the greater leg extension. Which sub-species was he? The four currently recognized are not built the same.

  9. The paper doesn’t say what species it was…

  10. It’s clear that the congenital ignoramus Luskin has never studied ecology. That figures, since wingnuts consider ecology to be an “ideology dedicated to the overthrow of the American way of life” (a John Bircher actually explained this to me). One could just as well ask, How come there are SEDANS + SPORTS CARS or something equally ridiculous.

  11. It’s your arrogance and smugness that is so off-putting. You have to argue as though a creationist is not just wrong but down-right stupid if he doesn’t see it your way. But you’ll never gain ground culturally with this message. So, please, keep calling creationists “stupid” and using their names for scat-play because the more you do, the more hollow you sound. It’s a classic version of the Emperor and his new clothes. Those who don’t believe in macroevolution aren’t intellectually up to snuff enough to hang with you.
    Most creationists are at least willing to debate the issue. They don’t weild ad hominems and arrogance as tools for scientific debate. If you’re argument is right, then tell us why and sit down, but to champion your intellectual superiority demonstrates your insecurity. But as I say, keep it up it’s working to the advantage of the creationist.
    Suppose I argue how much more intelligent I am than the author of this post since he doesn’t know the difference between “to” and “too” when he writes, “I guess actually reading the PNAS article by Sockol et al he was criticizing makes entirely to much sense”. But doing this is just a rhetorical distraction from the issue, even if it plays by your rules.

  12. I hope you are not talking about me, because then I would have to ask where exactly did I use Luskin’s name for “scat-play” and call him stupid? Better yet, where have been arrogant? seems to me I spelled out some the ways Luskin was wrong about the research in question – starting with the fact that he didn’t actually read the paper in question. I also notice that even though you mention our “belief in macroevolution” (a classic case of projection, macroevolution has empirical evidence and doesn’t require belief) you don’t address the substance of the post. One more thing, I will fix the grammatical error, you see unlike creationists I’m not afraid to admit I made a mistake…

  13. Afarensis,
    They’ve been promoted? Gosh, I’m way behind on my chimpanzees. 🙂

  14. RE Guitar Eddie’s comment: I often get “why are there still apes and monkeys” when evolution comes up in my high school history classes. I usually respond by asking the student whether people can forage in trees, live on a diet of fruit and foliage, or climb fast enough to escape a leopard. Since these enviromental conditions, and others equally favorable to nonhuman primates still exist, there are still apes and monkeys. Once our species has succeeded in converting paradise into a parking lot, there won’t be.

  15. Alan – My mistake, should have said subspecies. It has been a long week…

  16. John Frasier wrote:

    Suppose I argue how much more intelligent I am than the author of this post since he doesn’t know the difference between “to” and “too”

    just a couple of short sentences after writing:

    If you’re argument is right, then tell us why

    Pot? Line one. It’s Kettle.

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