Re: Talking apes

Glenn Morton (
Wed, 08 May 1996 06:29:37

Braxton Alfred wrote:

>There are a couple of things that have come up in other places that I
>wish to comment on: (1) Is Dick Fischer a talking ape?, (2) Are
>Koko, Washoe, et al talking apes?
>The short answer is no and no.
>Taxonomy is at best, ie when living forms are being observed and
>classified, a black art. Ultimately all classification is arbitrary
>and depends heavily on the biases of the classifier.

Not entirely. One of the distinguishing characteristics between man and
ape is the shape of the jaw. In the apes, (gorilla, chimp, baboon etc)
the sides of the jaw are parallel and the front of the jaw is rounded.
This gives the jaw a u-shaped appearance.

In man, the jaw is parabolic or v-shaped. The sides of the jaw are NOT
parallel. The angle is quite different an anyone with about 5 minutes of
training can tell the two apart. Australopithecus had a jaw like yours,
v-shaped. This is an objective measure of shape not opinion. (See
Johanson and Shreeve, Lucy's Child, p. 110)

Because of this, if Australopithecus is classified as an ape, then so must
H. sapiens be classified. I am not saying that Australopithecus is
identical morphologically to man. He isn't. But the differences are not
that great. Boaz writes:

" The biggest bombshell dropped on the Old Guard, however, came from
Ernst Mayr, a German-trained ornithologist and specialist in the naming
(taxonomy) of species in nature. Using the new yardstick of variability
within populations, he stated that 'after due consideration of the many
differences between Modern man, Java man, and the South African ape-man, I
did not find any morphological characters that would necessitate
separating them into several genera.' He suggested that all the fossil
human-like specimens that anthropologists had discovered after so much
laborious effort over the preceding century be simply ascribed to one
genus, our own--Homo. In other words, the entire 'Age of Description,'
from before Darwin to Cold Spring Harbor, was a waste of time. His
opinion was that the differences were not as great as between genera of
other animals. This assertion meant that the wonderfully diverse lexicon
of human paleontology, a virtual liguistic playground for the classically
educated, with melliferous names such as Plesianthropus trnsvaalensis,
Meganthropus palaeojavanicus, Africanthropus njarensis, Sinanthropus
pekinensis, Pithecanthropus erectus, and so on, were to be replaced.
Everything was now to be simply Homo, with three species: Homo
transvaalensis, Homo erectus, and Homo sapiens."
"Mayr's proposal went so far that even Washburn argued that at least
the South African Australopithecus be retained (instead of Homo
transvaalensis) because it showed such significantly more primitive
anatomy than members of the genus Homo. Mayr simply countered that the
population is what the species designates. How one determines a genus is
arbitrary. The definition is gauged by the relative amount of difference
that one sees between the genera of other animals and, in Mayr's opinion,
hominid fossils don't show very much difference. To anthropologists, this
statement was a bit like telling a new mother that her baby looks like
every other baby. It did not go over well."~Noel Boaz, Quarry, (New York:
The Free Press, 1993), p. 10

Why is it that when we Christians find some piece of data that we don't
really like, we readily decide that the science is really a "black art"?
I have over and over heard Christians say that the data of geology is not
conclusive or is wrong (or is being made up) when that data contradicts
some cherished theological belief. The data is data.

> However, even
>accepting that the legitimacy of a sub-order called Hominidae which
>includes the taxa Homo sapiens and Pan troglodytes only asserts a
>distant relationship.

The suborder is Hominoidea it includes apes and Australopithecus and man.
Hominidae is a family and only includes Australopithecus and Homo.


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