Monday, April 26, 2010

Elaine Morgan says we evolved from aquatic apes

By Luke D.

Although there are always going to be people that don’t believe in it, today, evolution is almost universally accepted by scientists as the explanation of diversity of life on our planet. However, scientists are always creating different theories and these often come into conflict until one is proven.

Elaine Morgan’s theory of human evolution from Aquatic Apes has yet to have any solid evidence but she definitely gives some strong and thought-provoking arguments that challenge the theory that mankind evolved on the plains of Africa and the forests of southern Asia.

In her Talk, Morgan presents a series of observations that support her theory. This includes the fact that human beings lack the fur that is found on every other species of primate. She points out that most aquatic and amphibious mammals today such as the dolphin, the manatee, the walrus, whales and hippopotamus all have very little or no fur and that creatures like the elephant and the rhino both had aquatic ancestors and they too have a significant lack of fur and hair. She argues that, if these large naked herbivores had an aquatic origin why not humans, the naked apes? There is also the matter that humans have a fat layer under our skin that great apes lack. Aquatic mammals have a similar layer of fat (known in some cases as blubber) used to maintain heat in the water. Morgan argues that we could have inherited this fat layer for the same reason.

Morgan also presents the fact that apes do not have the mammal diving reflex. Humans have an imperfect version of this tactic that we all know simply as diving. She also points out that apes and monkeys always walk on two legs (which they can only do for a short time) whenever they wade through water, whereas humans generally always swim in a dog-paddle manor (unless of course they’ve taken swimming lessons). This could very well be related to the vestigial webbing that humans have between our fingers, which are something, that, yet again, other primates lack. All of these facts are quite thought-provoking, the kind of information that makes you go “Oh yah! I forgot about that” out loud.

It’s quite clear that Elaine Morgan is passionate about this argument. She is confident and has a believable explanation for the weird features we exhibit as a species. She often draws upon the thoughts of Charles Darwin and at one point, even Richard Dawkins, not for their actual support of her statement but more so their thoughts to help people open their minds to new and bizarre theories. I admire her vision of open mindedness and her passion for creativity and thinking outside the box very much. However, I’m going to be honest. I’m still really skeptical of her theory. Not because I think it’s implausible. I actually found her arguments very well thought out and I’d certainly be willing to believe them if it weren’t for the fact that there is simply not enough proof. There is to date, no fossil evidence that suggests humanity had an aquatic ancestor. And there is a mountain of fossil evidence for the theory that humans evolved on the African Savannahs that Morgan seems to be completely ignoring. It’s basically an evolutionary fact that we originated from plain dwelling apes in the same way that the “theories” that birds evolved from feathered dinosaurs or that mammals evolved from primitive reptiles are. But even when this problem comes up Morgan has a way to fall on her feet in this situation too. At one point in the Talk, she says she hopes that one day the two theories of mankind’s origins will come together in one way or another. And this actually isn’t too far-fetched. Although there still is a lack of proof for this, it’s not too crazy to think that at some point, as mankind’s ancestors (keeping in mind that they were still evolving) were migrating out of Africa, they moved along the coast (it would be a good place to find easy food, after all) and at one point became very fond of swimming.

I’m positive, and agree with leading scientists, that there never was an aquatic ape that we descended from, but it’s not too hard to imagine that we had an ancestor that led a slightly amphibious lifestyle along coasts and in estuaries. Perhaps that was where we attained some of the features to which Morgan was referring too. There isn’t any evidence to support that yet, but it’s plausible and we’re always discovering new things about prehistory. Elaine Morgan has a great understanding of this and uses the wonder of that notion to her argument's advantage.

In the end, Elaine Morgan shows us an interesting and well thought out scientific argument. Anyone who is interested in biology, zoology, natural history or interesting debates in general should watch this video. Of course, it presents a theory that at first seems somewhat crazy but one doesn’t have to agree with her to appreciate her wit, knowledge of biology, and skill at creating a convincing argument.

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