If humans evolved from apes, why do apes still exist?

Relatively Interesting January 14, 2013 18
If humans evolved from apes, why do apes still exist?

The fundamental issue with this question is that there is an assumption that humans evolved from apes - but this is not the case.  The simple answer is that humans did not evolve from apes:  both apes, humans, and other primates evolved from a common ancestor. The common ancestor was probably more similar to apes than humans in terms of appearance.  It is estimated that this lineage branched apart 8 million years ago – one branch leading to homonids (human-like), and the other branch leading to apes.  This estimate varies – some arguing the split was as close as 5 million years ago, others that it was as distant as 20 million years ago.

It’s important to realize that evolution is not a linear process where one species evolves from the previous, effectively “replacing” the previous.  Instead, it is a much more complicated process where species will branch off an existing line of ancestors.  Seperate branches evolve along different trajectories and can include major changes, minor changes, no change, or extinction.  The survival of an evolutionary line is dependent upon the ability of its members to live and reproduce in their environment. 

The figure below illustrates the primate “family tree”:

Sometimes, separate species will evolve such that they will be in direct competition with each other, and the one with the evolutionary advantage will tend to survive.  Other times, seperate species will evolve so that each is well suited to their own particular niche.  In this case, the species’ will coexist, and will evolve independently.  Such is the case with humans, apes, and other existing primates.

One of the reasons early human-like ancestors were able to survive was because they were better adapted to the emerging grassland environments than the ancestors of modern apes, which were predominantly tree dwellers. Therefore, the grassland-adapted species would not conflict with the tree-dwellers and they could coexist.

Basically, the question “if humans evolved from apes, why do apes still exist?” is analogous to “if North Americans came from Europe, why are there still Europeans?”.  Seems obvious, right?

For further reading, please check out Steven Novella’s article on the Skeptic Blog.

This infographic explains it in layman’s terms:




  1. Hitch January 14, 2013 at 8:13 am - Reply

    Shit, this is all we need, yet another pseudo-scientific Darwinist, atheist, steven Novella style bull shit and propaganda site.

    Get off the web for pete’s sake you Darweenie twits.

  2. Relative Interest January 14, 2013 at 8:20 am - Reply

    Let’s look deep into your comment:

    “Shit” – Well placed expletive, unnecessary on this forum, but let’s continue.

    “pseudo-scientific” – Actually, quite the opposite. The articles are referenced, as any scientific research should be.

    “atheist” – I don’t think it is fair to assume one’s belief by reading an article that focuses on one tiny portion of evolution.

    “steven Novella” – He runs a great podcast called The Skeptic’s Guide to the Univers. I highly recommend it.

    “bull shit” – Second expletive, which certainly adds value to your point…

    “propaganda” – How so? The article is not calling people to do anything. It’s just passing along scientifically verified information.

    “Get off the web…” – The Ad Homonym attack, once again, well placed for emphasis.

  3. Anonymous January 14, 2013 at 8:22 am - Reply

    This article brings up good points however the answer cannot be that simple. The arguement that is used, “If north Americans came from Europe, why are there still Europeans?” does not at all apply to this situation. Humans are not apes that were moved from one area of land to another. If you’re going to say something like this, use ACTUAL evidence, not just something you pulled out of your ass.

    • Relatively Interesting January 14, 2013 at 8:29 am - Reply

      Actually, the answer is quite simple, and I didn’t “pull it out of my ass”, as you have implied so delicately.

      Humans, apes, and monkeys are only distant evolutionary “cousins.” We come not from apes but from a common ancestor that was neither ape NOR human that lived millions of years in the past. In fact, during the last seven million years many human-like species have evolved; some examples include Homo habilis, Homo erectus, and Homo neanderthalensis. All of these went extinct at different times, leaving just us humans to share the planet with a handful of other primates.

      The use of the European analogy was not presented as “evidence” for the argument, but as a cheeky way of presenting the the argument.

      • wildlifer (@thewildlifer) April 17, 2013 at 7:36 pm - Reply

        I prefer, “if you ‘evolved’ from your grandparents, why do you still have cousins” …. :-D

    • otto April 7, 2013 at 6:16 am - Reply

      If I were going to jump in and out of every issue flinging opinions I’d probably want to stay anonymous too.
      I thought this article was cool like coolio’s hair. The original shift to evolutionary thought was a reaction to wacky dogma …then it became a wacky limiting dogma itself. Now mysticism and science are meeting and people who still suffer reactionary visceral freak-outs (like this)from perceived enemies are going to miss out on all the cool sh*t.

    • wildlifer (@thewildlifer) April 17, 2013 at 5:06 pm - Reply

      Actually, humans are a species of ape, great ape, precisely. So we didn’t evolve from apes.

  4. Anonymous January 14, 2013 at 9:07 am - Reply

    The amount of times I have heard this from people almost make me not want to bother with an answer anymore.

    I’m going to start carrying around that diagram with me.

    Love the site, just found it, and I am enjoying it very much!

  5. Kerrie January 14, 2013 at 9:41 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for having this information online and easily accessed. I am so tired of religious people asking that question, it really is getting a bit old. If only they would just do some learning of their own about evolution.

    And in reply to Hitch? Thanks for showing how tolerant and clever some people on the net people can be :-)

  6. sicktwistedfernando January 14, 2013 at 10:46 am - Reply

    That’s a fantastic summary of it. Did they prove in the end, whether the ‘Ida’ discovery was related to us or not? Just curious. Thanks for the blog.

    • Relatively Interesting January 14, 2013 at 10:58 am - Reply

      I don’t believe there is direct proof that Ida is specifically related to humans (homos sapiens). Perhaps a distant cousin, or cousin of the aforementioned ancestor. The discovery – while incredible – has been met with some skepticism. Dr. Jens Franzen said “She belongs to the group from which higher primates and human beings developed but my impression is she is not on the direct line.”. So, I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

  7. Carlos Caliente January 14, 2013 at 1:27 pm - Reply

    All speculation, absolutely no proof what so ever for any of this. And Steven Novella is a liar and just another toady for James Randi as is Michael Shermer. All run like cockroaches from the Bill Perron honesty challenge. Randi lied to weasel out of the Perron challenge after first accepting Perron for the publicity stunt Randi million then when Randi realized Perron could as he said he could Randi lied to weasel out and Novella ran as well when Perron offered the ten thousand dollar honesty challenge to Novella as well. Perron has offered ten thousand dollars to anyone who can prove otherwise. So far after five years not one cowardly skeptic taker, obviously those phonies are afraid because when they lose the game they have been playing with the truth will be over.

  8. JustKidding January 14, 2013 at 1:49 pm - Reply

    Carlos, how is it speculation? How is there no proof for evolution? And why the attack on Randi, Novella, and Shermer… and how does Bill Perron have anything to do with this? What are people supposed to prove? That God doesn’t exist? You know it’s impossible to prove that something doesn’t exist, and that ther burden of proof is on the person who claims it does? Very confusing… The bottom line is that humans did not evolve “from” apes but from a common ancestor alongside apes. I don’t think Bill Perron was that common ancestor :)

  9. Boom-Goes-the-Dynamite January 14, 2013 at 3:35 pm - Reply

    I like the infographic – it’s nice and simple. And I agree, the problem is with the question itself: if humans evolved from apes then why to apes still exist… You can apply it to any animal that evolved from another and make the same analogy, right? The problem is that evolution is not a straight line, but a actually a very tangled bush with branches going in all sorts of directions. Using this model, it permits animals that evolved from a common ancestor to co-exist. And boom goes the dynamite.

  10. Jeff February 15, 2013 at 5:16 pm - Reply

    Even if humans HAD evolved from apes, the question wouldn’t make any sense. Why should all apes cease to exist just because a small portion of them spawned a line of descendants that eventually became another species? You might as well ask, if dogs evolved from wolves, why do wolves still exist?

  11. Rohan February 21, 2013 at 8:50 am - Reply

    Excellent, one minor correction, you state that Darwin called the process “survival of the fittest”. This expression is often attributed to Charles Darwin and, although it appears in the fifth edition of his Origin of Species, 1869, it is there attributed to Herbert Spencer:

    “The expression often used by Mr. Herbert Spencer of the survival of the fittest is more accurate…”

    • Relative Interest February 21, 2013 at 8:57 am - Reply

      @ Rohan – thank you for the correction, you are absolutely right!

  12. Dumb Geek November 29, 2013 at 11:44 pm - Reply

    And how do you explain the “cell mutation” here. If the body did create any abnormal cell, 1) they’d be killed by the antibiodies or 2) cause cancer.
    You might need to explain HOW that cell mutation is taking place out of no where.

Leave A Response »