Category Archives: Science

Defending My Atheism

“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” – this statement is hard to fault when used in the right context, however it resolutely does not work as an argument against atheism, or a means to shift the burden of proof. Why is this so? Because my assertion as an atheist is not “the absence of evidence for God is evidence of God’s absence”, rather it is; “the absence of evidence for God is all the justification I need not to believe in it”. In other words, I don’t have to prove that there is not a God because I do not make that assertion.

 

I’ve spoken in recent posts about the null hypothesis – which is the default position on any claim. When postulating the existence of a God, the null hypothesis is as follows; God does not exist. This is not a dogmatic statement, it is the starting block for any claim, a statement which you seek to disprove under experiment or observation. As yet, no one has provided any credible evidence to refute the statement God does not exist so my atheism is perfectly justified. It’s that simple.

 

Apologists of various stripes will claim that their arguments resolutely do refute the null hypothesis, however their arguments do not meet the standards of evidence required to falsify a scientific hypothesis. Logical arguments cannot be enough to disprove a null hypothesis. Take the Higgs Boson for example, there is quite a sound and reasonable argument that says; in order to make sense of everything we know about particle physics something with the properties of the Higgs particle must exist. This is not enough to prove that it does exist however. Scientists at CERN didn’t hear this then switch off their particle accelerators satisfied that their job was done. This is because no matter how sound, the argument itself cannot prove the existence of the particle, and so the search goes on (which is heating up of late incidentally). Furthermore, the argument for the Higgs particle is far better than any argument put forth in favour of the existence of God. There are no logical arguments for the existence of God which are not contestable or flawed in their premises or conclusions.

 

So having said all that, I am perfectly justified to disbelieve in the existence of God. I am not asserting that the null hypothesis has been proven correct (that can’t happen), what I am asserting is that the lack of convincing refutation of the null hypothesis is all the justification I need for my atheism. I don’t use absence of evidence as evidence of absence, I use the absence of evidence as a good enough reason not to believe. If you say that you have a pet elephant in your garden – the absence of any convincing evidence does not prove with any certainty that you do not have an elephant in your garden, but it is good enough justification for my not believing you…

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A Bias Toward Naturalism?

In my own personal discussions with theists, and in those I have observed involving others, one accusation that seems to come up frequently is that atheism presupposes or is biased towards naturalism, and averse to the supernatural. This accusation is made so that the atheist will appear to have made a closed-minded and dogmatic denial of the supernatural based only on their commitment to naturalism. This portrayal is inaccurate and deliberately misleading, and in this post I shall attempt to explain why.

 

One thing which I do presuppose is the null hypothesis – which is the default position. When testing a treatment for example, the hypothesis would state that ‘this treatment will have an effect’ whereas the null hypothesis would state that ‘this treatment will have no effect’ (an analogous concept would be ‘innocent until proven guilty’). Why should I be justified in presupposing the null hypothesis? Because it’s important to start at the default position and seeing whether that is falsified before drawing conclusions. You assume a defendant is innocent until the evidence presented in the trail falsifies that hypothesis. It would be completely unworkable if you assumed their guilt before seeing the evidence, just as it would be dangerous to assume that a treatment works before testing it.

 

From this perspective naturalism can be redefined as that which has been shown to falsify the null hypothesis. I don’t presuppose that, I can demonstrate that. Supernaturalism on the other hand has not falsified the null hypothesis – there has not been any evidence put forth to demonstrate that the assumption ‘supernatural phenomena do not occur’ is false. For that reason I maintain the default position. Not out of presupposition or bias, but because there is no good reason not to.

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Sceptical Thinking 2 : The Scientific Method

In my introductory post, I explained a couple of reasons why I think that we could all benefit from being sceptical. In this post I shall begin to look at one of the main ways you can begin to engage in sceptical thinking. Being a sceptic isn’t something that you can do a degree in (at least not that I’m aware of), its something that you have to teach yourself. It’s not something that becomes instantly apparent either; I am a self professed sceptic, yet I still catch myself thinking irrationally and believing things on insufficient evidence. Learning to be a sceptic is not about instantly purging your mind of all false beliefs, it merely provides a good means of spotting them, and examining them.

One of the cornerstones of scepticism is the scientific method. Learning about what science is and how it works, familiarizing yourself with what is and what is not scientific will automatically give you some valuable methods of sceptical thinking. So without further a do, I shall introduce the scientific method, and explain how science works.

Hypotheses/Null Hypotheses

When a scientist has an idea they begin by formulating a hypothesis. A hypothesis gives a concise statement of what you should expect to find if your idea is true. They follow a simple formula – which you’d do well to memorize – a hypothesis is an ‘if…..then….’ statement.  For example you might think that pH levels will affect the growth of plants, so in order to make this idea a hypothesis, you’d write it as follows: if pH levels affect the growth of plants then plants grown in soil of a different pH will show differences in growth.  A null hypothesis is quite simply the opposite of the hypothesis, so in this case the null hypothesis would be: if pH levels do not affect the growth of plants then plants grown in soil of a different pH will show no significant differences in growth.

Hypotheses help us think sceptically because it helps us to understand what kinds of evidence we might expect to find for a particular claim. Its a useful starting point when thinking about claims. If you formulate them into hypotheses then you can start to get an idea of the kinds of evidence you’d need to support them. Try it out for yourself, take a sheet of paper and write various claims on it, ‘if aliens really are abducting humans then… (followed by what you’d expect to find if this were true)’ for example (you can come up with more than one hypothesis for the same claim) – this is a good exercise in both scientific and sceptical thinking.

Experiments

The hypothesis/null hypothesis form the backbone of one of the most important aspects of science; the experiment. Once you have come up with your hypotheses (you can test more than one in the same experiment) you can then use them to build an experiment. Continuing with with example of the effect of pH on plant growth you could take a number of different plant pots, fill them with a range of different soils all with a different pH level (making sure to record them!), then grow a plant in each of them. Now you need to make sure that all of the plants are the same, and that they are grown under the same conditions (the same levels of light and so on) – this is important because you are only measuring the effect of pH, so you don’t want any other variables effecting your results. Keeping the conditions the same, apart from the thing that you are measuring the effect of is important – and it is something you need to bear in mind when analysing evidence. Did they conduct their experiment accurately? Is there some other factor that might influence the results?

Once you’ve conducted your experiment, you collect your results, in this case measurements of leaf area, and plant height/width and so on. You then conduct various analyses on your results, such as making graphs to show any trends, or performing statistical analyses (which I shall not bore you with here, although it is useful to know a bit about stats as a sceptic).

Once you’ve analysed your results you should be able to see whether your experiment disproved (or falsified) the null hypothesis. Why do we attempt to falsify the null hypothesis rather than prove the hypothesis correct? Because there is no way to conclusively prove something right, you can only ever say that it hasn’t yet been proven wrong, you can prove something wrong however, so therefore, your experiment (if you do notice that pH affects how plants grow) will have falsified the null hypothesis (if pH levels do not affect the growth of plants then plants grown in soil of a different pH will show no significant differences in growth) and provided evidential support to your hypothesis.

We learn from how experiments are set up, the ways in which we control them teach us about how we should meticulously scrutinize all the factors which might affect an outcome, the ways in which we analyse the results tell us what is and what is not a reasonable deduction from a certain set of data. Scientific experiments are a way of putting our ideas to the test – which is what scepticism is all about. If your experiment fails to support your hypothesis then it’s back to the drawing board.

So if you did write a list of hypotheses, underneath them try to devise a way in which you might be able to test them with an experiment (you don’t actually have to do the experiment, so it can be as wild and expensive as you like) bearing in mind what it is you’re trying to test, and how you’d account for and eliminate other factors which might affect your results. If you really struggle with some then you might well have posited an un-testable claim – which isn’t a bad thing it’s really handy to know what one of those looks like. If a claim cannot be tested scientifically then it is essentially worthless, and the best you can say of it is ‘it might be true, or it might not, there is no way of finding out’.

Peer Review

Once you’ve conducted your experiment and you wish to publish it, the publisher will send your paper off to be scrutinized by experts in the relevant fields. So in our case it might be sent to a botanist, a soil expert, a biochemist etc. They would then meticulously go through your paper looking for mistakes and errors which you may have overlooked. You may for example, have chosen a species of  plant which is unusually sensitive to pH, or overly insensitive to it, or perhaps you missed off an important part of your method which may have affected your results; such as neglecting to mention how you watered the plants, and whether it was done at the same time for all the plants, with the same amount of water.  The purpose of peer review is to spot things that you may have missed, to look for errors etc.

This teaches us two important lessons. Firstly you should be very weary of people putting forth scientific papers that have not gone through peer review, go and check out the journal and see whether or not they are peer reviewed, if not then there is reason to doubt the legitimacy of the paper. Secondly, you should always remember that a second opinion is extremely valuable, and that you should welcome open critiques of your ideas, if you don’t do so, you might overlook something rather important.

Theories

Once many papers have been published on a particular subject – in this instance the effect of pH on plant growth, the evidence in these papers can be used to formulate a theory. Data might come from biochemists analysing the effect of pH on plant cells, from ecologists studying the pH of soils out in the field, etc. Once this data is collected, scientists start to think of a theory for how pH affects plants. A theory is a coherent explanation of a set of related facts and observations.

A theory will then provide a framework for future experiments because they make certain predictions which can be tested with new hypotheses. A theory’s strength is tested by how consistently it meets predictions. The theory of evolution by natural selection for example, has been tested by new evidence for over 150 years now, and it has consistently met all it’s major predictions. A theory of this stature is as close as we can come to truth in science.

When people state ‘that’s just a theory’ in relation to some scientific idea or other, they simply do not understand, or rather are dishonestly mistaking the meaning of theory in a scientific context. Whilst it is true that ‘theory’ in a colloquial sense implies a guess, a scientific theory is anything but. The theory of evolution was not dreamed up as a vague guess, it is an extremely coherent explanation of all the facts that we have so far encountered in biology. Swapping the scientific definition of theory with the colloquial definition is a fallacy of equivocation and does not hold any weight as an argument.

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So in summary what can we learn from science? Firstly we learn how to put claims to the test – getting an idea of how to find out if something is true or not is very important as a sceptic. We also learn to be meticulous, thinking about all the different kinds of variables which may affect outcomes. We learn what conclusions are reasonable to draw from a certain set of data, the importance of opening your ideas up to scrutiny.

Science is not completely perfect, but it is the best means we have for finding things out. As a sceptic you should try to think about the world as a scientist. Rather than believing things because it would be nice if they were true, try to examine all things and reject those hypotheses that do not stand up to scrutiny.

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Sceptical Thinking 1 : Why Should You Be A Sceptic?

People have a tendency towards believing extraordinary things. It’s a very common occurrence to find friends, family or co-workers talking about how their house is haunted, or advising that you should date a Scorpio because they match your star sign. These people often don’t take someone expressing doubts over their cherished beliefs too kindly. ‘Science can’t explain everything’ they say, or ‘you’re just being closed minded’. People like to have a little magic in their lives, and for that reason scepticism is a hard sell. Why on earth would you want to doubt all those things that make life magical? Hopefully this article will provide a convincing argument as to why we could all benefit from being a sceptic.

To begin with, it is important to quell any misconceptions that people have about what scepticism actually is. Firstly, scepticism is not the dogmatic denial of all propositions. A good sceptic doesn’t doubt the existence of ghosts because they just don’t want to believe it. A sceptic is someone who analyses the evidence in favour of a particular claim before making a judgement as to its validity. All claims have a burden of proof which is directly proportional to the extraordinariness of the claim. Philosopher David Hume once wrote ‘A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence’  which was later transformed into a memorable axiom of scepticism by the great astronomer Carl Sagan:

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence

            The claim that ghosts exist falls into the category of a rather extraordinary claim. It requires that there is some aspect of a person that survives death, and that this aspect of that person can continue to interact with the world in different ways. Anecdotes of sightings and blurry photographs simply are not enough to prove that this is possible. Anecdotes could be made up, or the person relaying them could be mistaken or delusional, and photographs can be faked or simply misinterpreted. A sceptic hasn’t just arbitrarily decided that ghosts do not exist, and that’s that, a sceptic is saying; I need a bit more evidence than that before I accept what you’re saying. A lot of detractors like to equate scepticism with denialism, however, this simply is not the case, and hopefully that shall become more and more apparent as you read through this series of posts.

Another misrepresentation of scepticism, which I alluded to earlier, is the idea that it is closed minded – an accusation that is linked to the idea that scepticism is somehow dogmatic. In actual fact scepticism is the opposite of closed mindedness. To continue with the example of ghosts, a believer asserts that because they got a cold feeling when they walked into a particular room in a supposedly haunted house, and that they couldn’t explain why a book fell off the shelf, these things must be proof that ghosts exist. This is in actuality the closed minded position, because they have closed their mind off to any explanation of these things that does not involve ghosts. A sceptic on the other hand keeps their mind open to the possibility that the cold feeling might have been due to a draft in that particular room, or down to some other non-paranormal phenomena, and that the book might have been placed precariously on the shelf and fell coincidentally when you happened to be at the house, or that perhaps it was knocked loose by someone brushing past, and slipped off a little while later. You can’t call these explanations closed minded just because you don’t like them. A sceptic actually keeps their mind open to all possibilities, and assesses them based upon their likelihood and the amount of evidence in favour of them. If there is simply not enough evidence to make a judgement, then judgement is suspended until the evidence is in. Scepticism is the antithesis of closed mindedness, in truth it is those who seek to discredit all other possibilities by calling those who put them forth ‘closed minded’ who have the real barriers in their intellect.

So to summarize, a sceptic is a person who judges all claims based upon the evidence put forth in favour of them. If a particular claim has not got enough evidence in favour of it (remembering that the amount of evidence should be proportional to the extraordinariness of the claim) then there is no reason to accept it as being true. It’s worth clarifying that seeing no reason to accept something as being true is not the same as believing that something is not true. Believers and bullshit peddlers are eager to equivocate these two things so that they can retort to scepticism by saying ‘well you can’t prove that it doesn’t work’. However, a sceptic does not necessarily believe that it doesn’t, they just don’t believe that it does.

People tend to see things in black and white. Either a proposition is true, or it isn’t, either it works, or it doesn’t. Scepticism challenges a black and white view of the world, and often sits uneasily with people because of its habit of pointing out the grey areas. Doctor and writer Ben Goldacre provides another great sceptical axiom in his book Bad Science:

 

‘I think you’ll find it’s a little more complicated than that’

Scepticism isn’t easy, because it requires us to do a lot of intellectual footwork, but there are a lot of rewards for doing so. Why should you abandon the simplistic black and white world and enter into the strange, uneasy world of scepticism? Why, in other words should you bother to read this series of posts?

Well, firstly it comes down to what you value as a person. We all value certain things; some of us for example might value their career, whilst others might value their family life etc. There are some values, however that I’d say are more or less universal. I think it would be difficult to find a person who does not value truth. Most people care whether or not something is true before they believe it. So, if you value truth, you should adopt scepticism as your ally. Why? Because scepticism is a mode of thinking that allows you to explore ideas and claims, and tries to evaluate whether or not there is any good reason to accept them as being true.

Of course there is no way anyone could ever align their beliefs perfectly with the truth. However sceptical inquiry provides a compass, it gives us the provisions to ensure that we head in the general direction of truth rather than going the opposite way. It’s not always easy. Sometimes we find that our scepticism might require us to take a U-turn, but if we value truth then we must not be afraid of letting go of cherished beliefs if it turns out that they might be false. It does take a certain degree of courage, but reward is being free from the shackles of false belief.

Another reason that we should be sceptical is because of what we invest in our beliefs. We invest our money, our time, and sometimes our health in beliefs. Wouldn’t you like to know whether or not something is a waste of time and money before it’s too late? Wouldn’t you like to know whether or not a particular treatment is effective before you make health decisions based upon it? In a world full of time consuming, expensive and potentially hazardous bullshit, wouldn’t you like to be able to spot it before some scammer has away with your time, your money and potentially your health?

So if you think that the truth is important, and you care about not wasting time and money on pointless and potentially harmful things then you should be a sceptic. In this series of posts I hope to put forth some ideas that you can incorporate into your sceptics toolkit.

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Proving Man’s Place in Nature

There are those who seek to deny that Homo sapiens are descended from African apes. This post will demonstrate once and for all that the man did indeed evolve from apes, and that we are still apes. Going by comparative morphology, our anatomy is most similar to the great apes (see Fig 1). Genetically we are most similar to Pan troglodytes (chimpanzees), with only 1.6% difference in our genes (Diamond, 1991).

 

There are some differences of course between humans and chimps. One of which is brain size (measured in cubic centimetres). Chimpanzees have a cranial capacity of 300-400 cc (Macdonald, 2009) while humans have a much larger cranial capacity of 1100–1900 cc (Wikipedia, accessed 2012). From this we can draw a simple hypothesis: If humans evolved from apes, we should find evidence of an increase in cranial capacity over time in the fossil record.

 

We can make cranial endocasts of fossil hominins which can be used to give a good estimate of cranial capacity (Johanson, 2006). If we plot the age of the fossils against cranial capacity on a graph, we see very clearly that there was a trend over time towards larger brains (see Fig 2):

Fig 2: A graph showing the increase in hominin cranial capacity over time (http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/homs/brainsize.gif)

 

This indisputably shows that there is a trend towards increased cranial capacity over time in the fossil record.

 

We also have genetic evidence to corroborate this. There is a gene called ASPM, which can mutate to cause microcelphaly (a disorder which causes humans to have a greatly reduced cerebral cortex) – from this we can hypothesize that ASPM has something to do with the development of our uniquely large cerebral cortex. When scientists compared the ASPM gene with other species there was clear evidence that it had undergone natural selection in our lineage (because of the number of changes in the coding sequence) (Zimmer, 2005).

 

Fig 3: Fossilized A. afarensis footprints

Another thing that we’d expect to find in the fossil record is species that show a mosaic of features between humans and apes. The most obvious example of this is Australopithecus afarensis. Who had a cranial capacity of between 375 and 550 cc (Talk Origins, accessed 2012) – which is about that of a chimpanzee. Yet we know that A. afarensis could walk on two feet, like a human.  This can be seen from the anatomy of their pelvic structure and their feet (Wikipedia, accessed 2012). We even have fossilized footprints of A. afarensis which show beyond doubt that they walked on two legs (see Fig 3). What we have is a chimp-like creature that walked on two legs like a human. What could this be if not a perfect example of mosaic features in an evolutionary transition?

 

The truth is abundantly clear; Homo sapiens did indeed evolve from African apes. Its also worth bearing in mind that I provided the merest examples of the kinds of evidence we have for this, if you wish to see just how well supported human evolution is, I would recommend reading some of the books listed in the references.

 

For any creationists who might be reading this, I shall leave you with a challenge. Take a look at Fig 4 and tell me which of these specimens are human and which are apes. Let me know in the comments below.

References:

DIAMOND, JARED (1991), Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee, Great Britain: Radius

JOHANSON, DONALD & EDGAR, BLAKE (2006), From Lucy To Language, New York: Simon & Schuster

MACDONALD, DAVID W. (2009), The Encyclopedia of Mammals, Oxford: Oxford University Press

ZIMMER, CARL (2005), The Smithsonian Intimate Guide To Human Origins, New York: Harper

 

Talk Origins. Hominid Species. Online. Available from: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/homs/species.html#afarensis [Accessed 21 January 2012]

Wikipedia. Australopithecus afarensis. Online. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australopithecus_afarensis#Skeletal_morphology_and_locomotion [Accessed 21 January 2012]

Wikipedia. Cranial capacity. Online. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cranial_capacity [Accessed 21 January 2012]

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What Really Happened to the Dinosaurs, a Response to Ken Ham (Part 1)

“Say the teacher says; ‘millions of years ago’, I get the students to ask; ‘excuse me sir, were you there?'”

I absolutely love the fact that Ken Ham is incapable of seeing the flaws in his logic here, and how the very same logic can be used to refute Christianity. “Excuse me Mr. Ham, were you there when Jesus rose from the dead?… No?…. Well how do you know it happened then?”. The fact that he cannot spot this obvious flaw in his reasoning demonstrates a degree of stupidity that is unfathomable and certainly not something I could express with words.

By your logic Mr. Ham, no one would ever be able to be convicted of any crime ever, because they could simply say ‘Excuse me, were you there when the crime occurred?’ and the Jury would be completely convinced by their flawless defence. Thankfully we don’t live in such a ridiculous world. Ken does a pretty good job of setting the tone for the rest of the talk with this little logical gem though.

His attempt to refute our common ancestry with chimpanzee’s is so moronic that I thought I’d respond in a similar fashion. Look at these two pictures:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can you really say these guys aren’t related?

 

But rather than dealing with Ham’s objection on his intellectual level, I thought I’d better address it properly. Humans and chimpanzees shared a common ancestor around 7 million years ago. 7 million years is a long time, longer than our brains can even comprehend. This is plenty of time for morphological differences to arise in each respective lineage. Chimpanzees as you may or may not have noticed, spend a lot of time in trees, therefore their feet are adapted for being able to grasp branches. Human feet on the other hand (or foot I should say) are adapted for optimum bipedal locomotion. Hence the differences. If you think that refutes evolution Mr. Ham then you really do have another thing coming.

 

His next attempt at refuting evolution is truly brilliant. His argument is that a wombat must have been designed because it’s pouch faces away from it’s head – which prevents dirt from getting inside it and harming it’s offspring. One thing that he neglects to mention is that Koala’s pouches are the same, they face downwards, as described by Richard Dawkins in The Greatest Show On Earth:

 

Williams next mentions the pouch of that iconic Australian animal the koala, which – not a great idea in an animal that spends it’s time clinging to tree trunks – opens downwards, instead of upwards as in a kangaroo. Once again, the reason is a legacy of history. Koalas are descended from a wombat-like ancestor. Wombats are champion diggers

(page 369)

 

It would have been damaging to his argument to mention this of course, so he focuses on the wombat to make his point that all life is designed for a purpose. Well my response is this; what kind of designer would give koalas an upside down pouch?

 

Ah the platypus… For some reason he thinks this is confusing for evolutionists. The platypus actually represents quite a nice transition from egg-laying mammals to placental mammals – it is a living transitional form as it were. It lays eggs like the primitive ancestors of all placental mammals, yet it suckles it’s young, not with specialist teats, but by ‘sweating’ milk, showing how early mammals may have fed their young prior to developing teats. Contrary to your assertions the platypus does not present a serious challenge to evolution, it is simply an interesting creature that harks back to a stage in evolution long since surpassed by most lineages.

 

That’s it for part one of my refutation of Ken Ham’s ‘What Really Happened to The Dinosaurs’ – or as I’d prefer to call it; ‘Lying to Little Children, Who are too Young to Know any Better’. Stay tuned for part two.

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Chimps Are More Human Than You Think

'Redefining human' a chimpanzee demonstrating tool use

Most of you will be aware of the fact that we share an overwhelming amount of our DNA with Chimpanzees, one study even suggests that 99.4% of the most critical DNA sites are identical in the corresponding human and chimp genes (New Scientist, accessed 2011). This makes Chimpanzees our closest living relatives.

 

Upon cursory comparison there appear to be huge differences between such supposedly closely related species. Humans are sophisticated, civilized and highly intelligent, whereas chimpanzees live in the forests, and have not developed civilization, language, and architecture etc. These differences present themselves as some kind of chasm which separates us from them, however in recent years science has shown, disquietingly for some, that chimpanzees are much more like us than we ever imagined.

 

In 1960 primatologist Jane Goodall observed wild chimpanzees using stripped twigs to fish for termites, a discovery which prompted naturalist Louis Leakey to remark: “Now we must redefine tool, redefine Man, or accept chimpanzees as humans.” (The Jane Goodall Institute of Canada, accessed 2011). It was once thought that humans were the only creatures (save for some of our now extinct ancestors) to purposefully make and use tools, hence Leakey’s reaction.

 

Not only do chimpanzees use tools, different chimps from different regions have different methods of tool use, and customs – a phenomena which is described by some as culture (Gruber, Reynolds, Zuberbuhler, 2010).

 

Chimpanzee’s have also been shown to demonstrate non-reciprocal altruism (Science Daily, accessed 2011) – in other words chimpanzees help others without expectation of reward, something else that was once thought to be uniquely human.

 

They can also use symbolic communication (Taglialatela, Russell, Schaeffer, and Hopkins, 2011), (Hopkins and Leaven, 1998) – via manual gestures and sounds. Captive chimps have also been taught sign language (Wikipedia, accessed 2011).

 

Hopefully I have demonstrated that the chasm that appears to separate humans from chimpanzees is in fact illusory. Traits once considered to be unique and defining human characteristics can actually be seen in embryonic form in our cousins the chimpanzees, and this gives some insight into our own evolution. In future posts I shall look into human evolution, and examine how chimp-like creatures developed the traits outlined in this post to eventually become Homo sapiens.

 

References

GRUBER T, REYNOLDS V, and ZUBERBUHLER K (2010) ‘The knowns and unknowns of chimpanzee culture’, Communicative & Integrative Biology, 3 (3), May/June 2010, p. 221 – 223

HOPKINS W and LEAVENS D (1998) ‘Hand Use and Gestural Communication in Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)’, Journal of Comparative Psychology, 112 (1), March 1998, p. 95 – 99

TAGLIALATELA P, RUSSELL J, SCHAEFFER J, and HOPKINS W (2011) ‘Chimpanzee Vocal Signaling Points to a Multimodal Origin of Human Language’, PLoS One, 6 (4), Published online 20 April 2011

 

New Scientist. Chimps are human, gene study implies. Online. Available from: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn3744 [Accessed 20 November 2011]

Science Daily. Human-like Altruism Shown in Chimpanzees. Online. Available from: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/06/070625085134.htm [Accessed 20 November 2011]

The Jane Goodall Institute of Canada. Chimp Behaviour – Tool Use. Online. Available from: http://www.janegoodall.ca/about-chimp-behaviour-tool-use.php [Accessed 20 November 2011]

Wikipedia. Washoe (chimpanzee). Online. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washoe_%28chimpanzee%29 [Accessed 20 November 2011]

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