Am I a Monkey? (Guest Post)

Am I a Monkey?Today’s guest post is a book review by writer, speaker and secular activist Dan Arel.

Discussing evolution always seems to be a touchy subject, and even more so if the person you are discussing it with does not believe in it.

The most common instance of evolution denial is religion. Not all religions, mind you, but a great majority of them do promote creationism and young earth creationism (the idea that the Earth is less than 10,000 year old). When discussing evolution with creationists, one often hears rebuttals such as “I am no monkey!” or “Science just wants to disprove god!” and, very popular these days, “Evolution is just a theory!”

Luckily, none of those statements is accurate. Thus, you are not a monkey, evolution has nothing to do with god, and theory does not mean what some think. These issues and more are addressed beautifully in Francisco José Ayala’s book Am I a Monkey? Six Big Questions about Evolution.

Ayala, a Spanish-American biologist and philosopher at the University of California, Irvine, is a former Dominican priest and the winner of a Templeton Prize.

In this book, he responds to six of the most commonly asked questions and misunderstandings about the theory of evolution. I don’t want to rob the reader of discovering all six, but he covers such topics as these: Am I a monkey, do all scientists believe in evolution, and maybe a more sensitive subject, is evolution compatible with religion?

Throughout the book, Ayala answers these questions in a way that anyone can understand. He spells out each definition, helps you understand how DNA and RNA work and what replication is. He explains what a theory is in the scientific community and why scientists accept this theory overwhelmingly. Even more importantly, he explains exactly why evolution is a fact.

My only gripe about this book was how he addressed religion and gods. I felt Ayala tried too hard to be all inclusive of religious beliefs by downplaying any controversy between religion and science. While I believe Ayala is right—evolution does not have to be an enemy of religion—he gives too little weight to the damage done to scientific education because of religions’ combativeness toward evolution.

This is a book you can easily recommend to a friend or family member struggling to understand the theory of evolution, and you can surely recommend it to a religious friend or family member because Ayala’s gentleness toward religion won’t turn them off. I also highly recommend it to any reader. No matter how much you understand about the theory, reading this book will allow you to find new ways to explain evolution to someone who may not even have a basic understanding of the scientific method. I consider it to be educational for all, from grade school to PhD level. It leaves nothing out for those curious about how humans and all life on earth came to be.

Copyright (c) 2013

  • Agni Ashwin

    A more interesting question to address would have been “Am I an ape?”

    • PrimateZero

      Yes I am. A slightly evolved domesticated ape.

      • Agni Ashwin

        So you’re married?

  • Kellen Connor

    Evolution-deniers say you’re not a monkey, as if that’s enough to prove their claims.

    They do? :D Pardon me while I die laughing. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know it was that bad. But then, I grew up in a conservative-to-moderate Catholic household, where the attitude was “God created people. It doesn’t matter how he did it, he just did it.” Wow, I’m spoiled. “You’re not a monkey.” That’s hilarious.

    My only gripe about this book was how he addressed religion and gods. I felt Ayala tried too hard to be all inclusive of religious beliefs by downplaying any controversy between religion and science.

    Well, yeah. That’s how you get a Templeton prize.

    • Dan Arel

      Hi Kellen,

      Yea, oddly enough many creationists do not seem to understand even the basics of evolution. If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone proclaim they didn’t come from a monkey, or better yet, “If humans evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” I could probably leave my day job!

      • evodevo

        Yes, and the other one is “Were you there?”!

        • Kellen Connor

          Yeah, I saw that one a few months ago. It seems to me they’re setting themselves up for a very obvious rebuttal:

          “… Were you?”

      • Kellen Connor

        Hi, Dan. Why do we still have monkeys?

        (Okay, that’s my total smart-ass quotient, I swear.)

      • fsda

        For me, the most common rebuttal is “But there’s no evidence! Where’s the evidence!” (a la the debate between Richard Dawkins and that crazy creationist woman), usually after I’ve just provided a truckload of evidence to convince any halfway rational person. Their demand for more evidence makes one wonder; where is all their evidence for species being poofed into existence, fully formed, out of nothing via magic?

  • DoctorDJ

    “…Ayala tried too hard to be all inclusive of religious beliefs by downplaying any controversy between religion and science.”

    Hence his Templeton Prize.

  • Grotoff

    Except you ARE a monkey. When a branch of the tree of life splits off, you don’t consider the new piece unrelated to previous branches. Apes are monkeys, but not all monkeys are apes.

    • Agni Ashwin

      If we are monkeys, then we (and monkeys) are also lobe-finned fish.

      • Grotoff

        Yes, in the broadest sense we are also fish.

  • JedRothwell

    You are a primate. I don’t think “monkey” is accurate. Monkeys have long tails.

    You are also an animal, and a mammal. This bothers some people, such as neo-Victorians.

    People have always known that we are animals. It did not bother us in ages past. Hamlet called us the “the paragon of animals.” What’s the matter with that?

    • Dan Arel

      Monkey is not accurate, and that is exactly why it is the title of the book. This is a book about all the questions asked, generally by creationists.