Herschel Walker apparently isn’t much of an evolution buff.
“At one time, science said man came from apes, did it not?” Walker, the frontrunner for the Georgia Republican Senate nomination, said in an appearance over the weekend at a church in Sugar Hill, Georgia. “If that is true, why are there still apes? Think about it.”
Um, ok. I will.
So, here’s the deal: Humans and apes evolved from the same genetic ape ancestors, a species now long extinct. (It’s known as “common descent.”) We did not, however, evolve directly from the current occupants of your local zoo. They are one branch of descent from their ape ancestors. Humans are another.
According to a Discover Magazine article published last month: “While we share our ancestry with these animals, along the way, over millions of years, we all changed. … It’s believed that this human divergence from the chimpanzee lineage of apes happened between 9.3 and 6.5 million years ago.”
“[We] each adapted to our own environments or specific circumstances or niches,” Zachary Cofran, a biological anthropologist at Vassar College, told Discover.
Or, as Fabio Mendes, an evolutionary biologist, wrote in a 2017 blog post for the University of Indiana:
“Because two or more new species always originate from an ancestor species (and this process has been occurring since the origin of life), any two species we observe in the present are related. The truth might hurt, but yes, humans and chimpanzees are (distant) relatives. And so are blue whales, white sharks, sequoia trees, mushrooms, flies, earthworms, bacteria, etc. They are all relatives of yours.”
In short: Evolution doesn’t work in a linear fashion.
Walker is far from the first person – or first famous person – to ask a question along these lines. Back in 2017, comedian and outspoken conservative Tim Allen tweeted this: “If we evolved from apes why are there still apes.” The post, terrifyingly, got more than 48,000 likes.
And the broader question of evolution remains a point of considerable disagreement among Republicans. In a 2013 Pew Research Center poll, just 4 in 10 (43%) of self-identified Republicans agreed with the statement “humans have evolved over time,” while a plurality (48%) said that humans have always existed in their current form. (Two-thirds of Democrats and independents said they believed humans had evolved over time.)
More recent data speaks to that split. Gallup survey data shows that in 2019, 40% of respondents said that God created humans in their present form, while 33% said humans evolved with God guiding the process and 22% said humans evolved without any influence from a divine being. (The number of people saying humans have always been in our current form has been on the decline over the past decade while the number of people who say evolution happened without any influence from God has been on the rise.)
But let’s not get twisted here. What Walker is doing isn’t debating whether evolution exists and if a divine hand plays a role. Instead, he is fundamentally misunderstanding what scientists say and what evolution does.