Science

The Love That Dare Not Squeak Its Name

Do you believe that humans were placed on Earth fully formed by the hand of God? Do you believe that humans hold a special place above all the other animals in the world, because we were made in His divine image? Does the thought of a human making sweet, passionate love to a monkey make you a little uneasy? If so, I suggest you stop reading this just before that last sentence. Sorry about that.

A recent study of genomes conducted at Harvard Medical School has revealed the distinct possibility that humans and chimps split up, yet continued to see one another despite the objections of their common ancestor. Now, please — before you judge. Who hasn’t gone through a difficult break-up? It’s like your ex still has some kind of hold on you, drawing you back in. And so, thousands (maybe millions) of years later, a chance encounter in a bar, perhaps, begins a series of mistakes that ultimately results in you drunkenly banging your ex. Who is a chimp. And technically, like, your cousin. Didn’t Matt LeBlanc make a movie about that?

Obviously, the details are mostly lost to natural history, but one can assume that it began when the two shared some drinks, discovered their mutual attraction, and “evolved into the beast with two backs,” so to speak. It is presumed the monkey gathered his things quietly and snuck out before dawn.

This naturally leads to a question — “So,” we ask the researchers shyly, stubbing a toe into the dirt and trying to look nonchalant. “Did these chimp/human hook-ups have any . . . lasting results?”

The researchers blush. They fumble a little with their clipboards, shuffling papers around.

“Well. You see . . .”

We wait, expectantly. David Reich, who led the research, finally clears his throat and says,

The fossil data suggest — very tenuously —

We hold our collective breath.

. . . that it may have been humans who are descended from the hybrid population.

Stunned silence fills the room. From the back, we hear a thump — the blessedly unconscious body of a creationist who failed to heed the warning in the opening paragraph.

Thanks to Rav Winston for the tip-off! More in this NY Times article.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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9 Comments

  1. I keep thinking of more jokes I wanted to shoehorn in. It's just so ripe for it. So they say.

    And before anyone gets all pedantic, I know there's a difference between monkeys and apes. The difference being that "monkeys" are funnier than "apes."

  2. I really like this quote from the article:

    "We'd like to have a more Victorian view of our genome," he said, "and this reminds us that we are really animals and gives us a glimpse of our past and of a story that we might like to have told in a different way."

    Right on!

  3. Wow, genetics strikes again! Now all the fundies have to roll up their sleeves and explain how this is impossible… a short process for most of them.

    It seems perfectly plausible to me. Evolution and genetic drift are very (from our perspective) gradual processes. If we and modern apes came from the same ancestral stock, then of course interbreeding would have been possible for many, many generations after we branched off from them (or them from us, if you prefer). Genetic similarities that allow different but closely related species to interbreed have been noted in many modern animals for hundreds if not thousands of years: wolves and dogs, the great cats, horses and donkeys; the list is pretty extensive.

  4. Hmm, I wonder if they made "the two-backed beast"? I thought apes did it from the rear–what would that make it? The "somewhat thicker beast with one front and one rear"?

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