So what is a human?

Over the years I’ve heard vastly different explanations on how the human species came to exist. The most commonly believed in the West is we evolved from “ape-men”, a common ancestor of humans and apes. This is a slight change from what Darwin claimed, he said we came from ape-men who came from apes. Since it’s generally agreed that the first humans were in Africa, this is called the Out of Africa theory or monogenism.

This is a fairly big departure from the old evolutionists’ claims. Back in evolution’s early days, scientists were tripping over themselves to prove that humans originated either from Asia* or from each continent independently**.

* This claimed that there were humanoid beings/ hominids in Africa first, but they didn’t become proper humans until they populated Asia (including Europe for once!). 

** Thus African humans came from African apes (gorillas), Easian humans came from Easian apes (orangutans), European humans came from European apes (chimpanzees – even though chimpanzees are native to Africa too but whatever). This is known as polygenism. 

Other explanations I’ve heard include:

They seem wildly different, but two things make all these hypotheses pretty much the same:

  1. They all agree we were originally some other kind of organism long ago. Ape seems to be the general consensus,
  2. They’re all post-Darwinian beliefs born in the anglophone (English-speaking) parts of the world – aka. the West.

In fact, the inordinate focus on apes is itself a very recent phenomenon even for the West. Back in Victorian times, for example, they were seen as just another inferior animal. If apes were seen at all, that is. Back then apes were considered a kind of joke-human, as if God was taking the piss or something. This may reflect from an earlier belief, echoed in the Qur’an at least, that apes used to be humans but were punished for something or other.

Although scientists (now) agree we’re all the same species – Homo sapiens sapiens, they still hold on to the concept of different species of humans. Denisovans, Neanderthals, H. habilis, H. ergaster, etc. My personal suspicion is that just like the late 18th century evolutionists depicted Africans, Asians, Australians & Europeans as separate species, modern ones are doing the same so they can have a convenient Other for us to be superior to.

But what’s to stop them merely being other ‘races’ or ethnic groups, no more different than lions & tigers, golden & bald eagles, grizzly & polar bears? If true that would explain why H. sapiens could interbreed with Neanderthals (and it’s now believed the ancestors of all non-Africans did). In fact, Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons (the ancestors of “modern” humans) lived together in the Mediterranean for a good 50,000 years!

And I’m not the only one with this suspicion. Ronald Wright, author of A Short History of Progress, reckons so too. Why do we have to have been superior, or have any comparison, to other beings?

And what the hell would this ‘black’ Russian she-yeti be classed as?

Mythologies all over the world have their own explanations for our existence. The one we know best, thanks to the Bible, is the Abrahamic creation story. Shared by the Torah & Qur’an, it says we were specially created from mud/ clay and put in charge of all other animals by the omni-conscious ever-living God. The normal understanding is that all races are from “Adam & Eve” (monogenism), but there were scientists who introduced polygenism into Genesis! They argued that God created “other” (i.e. non-‘white’) races either before or at the same time as Adam & Eve! These are called Pre-Adamism & Co-Adamism respectively. It still exists here and there today.

Accounts from other world mythologies include:

  • We become human via socialisation and learning our people’s culture. No-one was born human, that’s “ridiculous” (according to the person I heard it from),
  • We came from a cosmic god’s body (but different races came from different parts – the Hindu account),
  • We are direct descendants of a god or gods (most mythological systems worldwide).

Probably the closest to the Darwinian account is that of the Aboriginal Australians. However, even that agrees with most others that external conscious beings/ forces specifically desired our existence. It’s exceedingly rare for a belief system to claim our existence was unplanned, so Darwinism may be unique in that regard.

My opinion is rather undecided. It’s obvious humans are animals and share similarities to all others, especially vertebrates.



However, we are pretty unique in many respects. As far as I know we’re the only species whose sexual desires aren’t restricted by climate or availability of partners. We’re one of very few permanently bipedal animals (others being birds and theropod dinosaurs). We’re the only species that created clothes, cities & farms, spaceships, the Internet & WMDs.

So what are humans?

Judging by our propensity for killing on massive scales, we could quite rightly be described as “future-eaters” (Tim Flannery). “Man is an exception, whatever else he is,” said G. K . Chesterton. “…If it is not true that a divine being fell, then we can only say that one of the animals went entirely off its head.”

I’m also inclined to sympathise with William Golding, author of The Inheritors and Pincher Martin, that “He (man) is a freak, an ejected foetus robbed of his natural development, thrown out into the world with a naked covering of parchment, with too little room for his teeth and a soft bulging skull like a bubble. But nature stirs a pudding there…”

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