So you think we came from monkeys

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The following retorts usually are derived from the misunderstanding or intentional distortion of scientific conclusions. They are examples of straw man fallacies.

Contents

We came from pond soup

This retort refers to the theory of abiogenesis, the theory that life originated from non-living matter. This theory often is interpreted by the apologist to mean that there existed a single small pond wherein amino acids were formed by electricity, such as from lightning. This description, for reasons that are unclear, condescendingly refers to mixtures of elements and compounds in this hypothetical pool as "soup". Are the ocean, rain puddles, and lakes also comprised of "soup"? Clearly, the phrase "pond soup" is meant as a rhetorical tactic and not a reasonable description of the theory. Also, the notion that there was a single pond that spawned life is probably missing the point of the theory; there would have existed innumerable environments across earth in which different reactions occurred under different conditions, vastly increasing the probability that self-replicating compounds might arise. All the "hopes" for the future of life did not rest in a single pond.

Furthermore, the Miller-Urey experiment on the chemical origins of life demonstrated that organic compounds forming the building blocks for life on Earth can be synthesized naturally through chemical reactions. It provided evidence in support of abiogenesis, because in showed that natural processes facilitate readily-available complex molecules that plausibly form precursors to life. Of course, this does not imply that such molecules were intended to create life, but that any early life arising would necessarily incorporate such molecules. Rejecting the theory of abiogenesis based on the retort, "You think we came from pond soup," utterly misses the evidence for the theory in favor of sloganeering.

We came from dirt/rocks/clay

This retort also refers to the theory of abiogenesis. It suffers from the same shortcomings as the 'pond soup' retort, namely the strong evidence that components for life arise from nonliving matter through purely natural means.

If the theist is a Biblical literalist, the atheist could point out that the book of Genesis says that God made man from dirt. However, such a statement doesn't do much to advance the breadth or depth of the discussion.

We came from nothing

Typically, this version of the retort is in reference to the Big Bang. It has been used by apologists, such as Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron, who featured it in an episode of their television series, "The Way of the Master." The retort is generally used flippantly, without evidence of real understanding. Since science does not yet have any answers about what happened before the Big Bang, the intellectually honest position taken by most atheists and most scientists is, "I don't know." If a fellow atheist does invoke the Big Bang as evidence for something from nothing, it is appropriate to question his or her understanding of the theory.

The Big Bang is often misinterpreted as a "something from nothing" proposition. In fact, the Big Bang doesn't suggest any particular origin for the singularity, the infinitely dense and hot point of matter from which the universe was born. Some physicists, such as Victor Stenger, have developed hypotheses about how the universe could represent "something from nothing", but such hypotheses are not yet tested. In reality, the Big Bang theory 1) is limited to the measurable universe, and makes no claims about "before" the measurable universe, and 2) is based on the uncontroversial observation that the universe appears to be expanding from a point since the beginning of time. Ultimately, it is difficult to argue that something had to exist "before" the big bang, as space and time began with the Big Bang. "Before" and "after" and "cause and effect" are notions necessarily applied within our space-time. Is there a reason to believe such notions as "something can't come from nothing" can be applied effectively to "pre"-Big Bang?

To assert that the Big Bang absurdly represents something from nothing but God reasonably represents something from something is to grossly misunderstand both the Big Bang theory and the philosophical problems of the origins of God. The atheist can point out that all attempts to understand the origin of existence requires "something from nothing", including the existence of God himself.

Abiogenesis and Evolution are also occasionally misunderstood to be "something from nothing" concepts, but they absolutely are not. Any theory that invokes natural/physical explanations and is confined to the matter of the existing universe is not a "something from nothing" proposition.

We came from monkeys/apes

This version of the retort refers to evolution, especially the origins of the human species. A common misconception about evolution is that we evolved from the monkeys and apes we see today. This ignorance forms the basis for the question, "If we evolved from monkeys and apes, then why are there still monkeys and apes?"

Part of the difficulty of this issue is definitional. "Monkeys" and "Apes" describe families on the primate branch of the evolutionary tree of life on Earth. Modern Homo sapiens, along with gorillas, chimpanzees, and other apes, belong to the "Great Ape" family (also known as Hominidae). These species are more closely related to one another than they are to any other species on Earth, based on overwhelming evidence. Therefore, it is clear that all the apes share a common ancestor in the past, and that all the apes plus all the monkeys together share a common ancestor even further back. This common ancestor to apes and monkeys was NOT any of the primates that exist today, but a species that was ancestral to all the modern apes and monkeys.

In essence, the various species of apes and monkeys can be thought of colloquially as "cousins". A person who exists today, upon hearing they are related to their cousins, would not think to retort, "You think I came from my cousins?" Likewise, a person, upon hearing that humans are related to their evolutionary cousins, would be mistaken to retort, "You think I came from my evolutionary cousins?" If a theist wants to challenge the view that humans share a common ancestor with other primates, he or she should first understand the nature of the claim and the evidence available to support it. This retort demonstrates that the claimant understands neither.

Something that creationists are incorrect about is their view that evolutionary change occurs in a straight line of descent, like a ladder of progress from the oldest species to the newest species. In reality, diversification of species is more appropriately seen as a branching process instead of a ladder-like process. Therefore, evolutionary relationships are depicted as "trees" showing the relationships between all the different organisms on Earth. Modern humans, monkeys, and apes evolved from different common ancestors that branched off to form a tree of species, in different families, in which we are included.

There are approximately 5,400 known species of mammals on the planet, all of which can be traced back to original mammal lineages arising and flourishing after the reptiles were apparently decimated by the effects of a comet or asteroid that impacted the earth some 65 million years ago. Primates can be traced to a single lineage that branched off from the other mammal lineages around this time. Over time, the primate lineage diversified, and species went extinct while others didn't. After humans, chimpanzees, and bonobos became distinct groups derived from their shared common ancestor, several additional species of hominids arose in the Homo genus, such as Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens. Out of those nine species, only one avoided extinction: Homo sapiens (humans). Ours is a remarkable story of evolutionary change and survival spanning eras. "You think we came from monkeys/apes" utterly misses out on all that evolutionary biology has shown us about who we are and where we come from.


Similar counter-retorts

The following questions mirror the logic or understanding of this retort. There are two groups of arguments.


Group 1 are those arguments that assume members of a group come from their modern relatives:

  • If I came from cousins, why do my cousins still exist?
  • If the English language came from German, why do people still speak German?


Group 2 are those arguments that imply all members of a group must change in unison:

  • If dogs are domesticated from wolves, why do wolves still exist?
  • If corn is domesticated from a grass, why does grass still exist?
  • If Americans came from Europe, why are there still Europeans?


Further reading:


v · d Common objections to atheism and counter-apologetics
Personal   Why are you trying to tear down other people's faith? · Why can't everyone just have their own beliefs? · What are your qualifications? · Atheists believe in nothing · You are a communist · Why do atheists inspire such hatred? · That's not my God
Religious   That's not in my Bible · They're not true Christians · You just want to sin · Atheists know there is a God · It takes more faith to disbelieve than it does to believe · God doesn't believe in atheists · Science is a faith · Atheism is a religion · Atheists worship materialism · Hypocrisy of celebrating religious holidays · Atheism is based on faith
Science and logic   You can't prove God doesn't exist · Science can't touch god · God can't be defined · So you think we came from nothing / pondsoup / monkeys? · If God didn't create everything, who did? · That might be true for you, but its not true for me · Religion is another way of knowing · God is trying to trick you with dinosaur bones · Satan is trying to trick you with dinosaur bones · Tides come in, tides go out. You can't explain that.
v · d Science
v · d General science
Scientific method   Scientific theory · Hypothesis · Evidence · Examining claims · Skepticism
Scientific Disciplines   Physics · Biology · Chemistry · Psychology · Medical Science · Mathematics
History of science   Library of Alexandria · Aristotle · Dark ages · Renaissance · The enlightenment · Heliocentrism · Newtonian physics · Darwinian evolution · Mendelian genetics · Relativity Theory · Quantum mechanics · Space exploration · Computer sciences · String theory
Champions of reason   Carl Sagan · Karl Kruszelnicki · Julius Sumner Miller · John Allan Paulos · James Randi
v · d Biology
Evolution   Overview of genetics · Genetic mutation · Hereditary change · Natural selection · Adaptation
Abiogenesis   Possible theories of abiogenesis · Building blocks of life · The Urey-Miller experiment
Evolutionary straw men   Life just exploded from nothing · So you think we came from monkeys · How did the first dog find a mate · Crocoducks · Banana argument · 747 Junkyard argument · Irreducible complexity · Chuck Missler's jar of peanut butter · What good is half a wing?
Notable Biologists   Charles Darwin · Alfred Russel Wallace · Thomas Huxley · Gregor Mendel · Stanley Miller · Norman Borlaug · Richard Lenski · Jerry Coyne · Richard Dawkins · PZ Myers
Notable quacks   William Dembski · Michael Behe · Geoffrey Simmons · Ken Ham · Michael Cremo
v · d Physics
Cosmology   Big bang · Relativity theory · The cosmos · Black holes
Quantum mechanics   Heisenberg Principle · Schrödinger's cat · Atomic decay
Physics straw men   Fine-tuning argument · Anthropic principle · Quantum mechanics and free will · Quantum mechanics and the after life · Quantum mechanics and Naturopathy · Something can't come from nothing
Notable Physicists   Plato · Isaac Newton · Albert Einstein · Maxwell Plank · Niels Bohr · Werner Heisenberg · Richard Feynman · Erwin Schrödinger · Freeman Dyson · Roger Penrose · Neil deGrasse Tyson · Stephen Hawking · Micho Kaku
Notable Quacks   Dinesh D'Souza · Ray Comfort
v · d Mathematics
Mathematics   Overview of mathematics · Numbers in reality · History of numbers
Statistics   Sample size · Selection bias · Data mining · Standard divination · Statistical significance · Statistical probability · Meta probability · Gambler's fallacy
Mathematics in nature   Golden ratio · Golden spiral · Fibonacci sequence
Mathematics and religion   Biblical value of pi · Noah's flood
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