Fr Henry Siew dissects and examines the controversial issue
OF ALL creatures, man is uniquely superior. The psalmist says, “You have crowned him with glory and honour. You made him rule over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet.” (Ps 8:6-7)
Yet there is a degrading remark about man that contradicts the psalmist; and for years has evaded the scrutiny of some men – “that man is evolved from monkey”. How ridiculous is that proposition and if we do not refute it resolutely, it undermines the dignity of man and obscures his identity.
The hypotheses of evolution
The question, “Can monkey become man?” concerns evolution, and it began as a hypothesis. Since the time of Charles Darwin, his writings had captured the attention and imagination of many. His understanding of evolution hinges on the propositions of “the struggle for survival” and “the selection of the fittest”.
They assume that in the process of ensuring survival and sustaining growth, living things must adapt to the natural environment for protection against weather, predators and the acquisition of food. Those which could not adapt were eliminated and those which could prospered.
The acceptability of the hypotheses depends on the credibility and persuasiveness of the evidence and arguments. We are not obliged to accept them blindly or deny them indiscriminately.
For example, if there is enough evidence to show how the trunks of elephants and the necks of giraffes have grown longer through thousands of years of adaptation and re-adaptation, we are likely to accept the proposal.
However, there are other hypotheses that lack any solid evidence and they are without rational support; we must then be quick to reject them.
The unreasonable proposition
Scientists have observed and discovered many species of living things, some with simpler life forms while others have more complex make-up. No one knows how these various species of plants and animals originated. Many of them have survived thousands (or perhaps millions) of years, others might be relatively new species; but no one knows exactly how long they had been in existence.
What we do know is that no matter what form they appeared years ago, they are no different now. Many simpler vegetable forms such as lichen and moss, and the intermediate ones such as cabbage and spinach, are basically the same as they were while the more complex ones such as apple and durian trees also are essentially the same as they first appeared.
There is no evidence which shows lichen has turned into cabbage, or cabbage into apple trees.
Likewise for animals, after thousands and millions of years, the many kinds of insects remain as insects, fishes as fishes, birds as birds and animals as animals.
After many years, carp may produce offspring with larger or smaller tails, and with new colour combination, but they do not turn into sharks, and certainly they do not become dogs. To propose the latter would be absurd and totally nonsensical.
Likewise, horses and donkeys may produce offspring that are smaller or bigger in size and of different colours of fur. Cross breeding between horses and asses can produce mules, and that is it. But to presume that a cat can turn into a horse, or a lamb into tiger, worse still to hallucinate about a dog turning into man, those are crazy thoughts.
So to assume that monkeys could turn into human beings is totally irrational. It is absolutely impossible for a monkey to become a man, just as it is absolutely impossible for an orange tree to turn into a lion.
In short, the proposition that a species evolved within itself with changes in some of its features and functions to adapt to different environments over a long period of time is reasonable and probable.
However, the proposition that a species can mutate and change into a different species is unreasonable and absolutely improbable, no matter how long the time span. The latter hypothesis must be rejected.
Uniqueness of human species
Natural beings are basically divided into non-living things and living things. Living things can broadly be divided into plants, insects, birds, animals and men. Biologically, men share some similarities with animals, but philosophically man belongs to a different kind, absolutely different from any animal: cat, dog, horse, bull or monkey.
Does man evolve over time? Yes, within his own species, but absolutely not evolved from another different species. With the flow of time, man develops and learns to use many of his faculties which in the past were not fully developed or utilised.
Man evolved from cave dwelling to various architectural constructs; from eating raw food to enjoying cooked foods of diverse culinary styles; from using rough tools to sophisticated equipment and machinery; from barter trade to money and credit transaction; from simple signs to advanced languages.
These are clear indications of human evolution. However, such evolution is within the species of man. Man is uniquely himself – spiritual and physical – and he had not and will never be evolved from any other species, plant or animal!
Man has the intellectual power to reflect, analyse, induce, deduce and argue. Some animals such as elephants and monkeys can be trained by man to repeat conditioned behaviours, but they can never think and create as man does.
Animals such as bees can construct marvellous hives, yet stereotypical and monotonous. Man can construct creatively in thousands of new ways.
Man can choose and decide for he has will power. In extreme situations, he can still choose what he wants; even to sacrifice his own life for the sake of others.
Animals do not have such power of choice and self-determination. When hungry, an animal looks for food, and a domesticated animal will attack its caregiver when no other food is provided. When it is time to mate, an animal simply couples with another indiscriminately.
Man has interpersonal and social interaction, and has communication power involving the use of language to express his feelings and thoughts, including abstract ideas such as justice and harmony. And man constantly creates new gadgets for improved communication.
Animals do not have linguistic ability, and they communicate only in an instinctive and fixed manner, such as ants and bees.
Man has the aesthetic ability to create different artforms such as sculpture, painting, dance, music etc. Man creates various social systems and structures to enhance his social life, such as customs, laws, economic, sciences, politics and other cultural expressions.
In brief, man is uniquely his own kind.
The dignity of man
The uniqueness and dignity of man is endowed by God. God has created man to share His life and love, and to help to manage the world. God said, “Let us make man in our image, to our likeness. Let them rule over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, over the cattle, over the wild animals, and over all creeping things that crawl along the ground.” (Gn 1:27)
Any animal, however pampered by its owner, is not and should not be more precious than man. A person likes her pet cat because it pleases her and gives her comfort. She spends time and money on her and invests her emotions taking care of it.
If that same person has no empathy for the poor and needy, worse still, despises and belittles them, then we wonder if she really loves her pet, or loves the pleasure it can bring her.
A genuine pet lover must also be a lover of the poor and needy, for she understands the meaning of human dignity.
Every human person is unique, special and precious. No plant, insect, bird, fish or animal is equal to him. Do not insult anyone by saying that he evolved from monkeys.
By Fr Henry Siew