did Darwin claim human descended from apes?

Sunday September 4, 2016

Short answer: no.

JSYK, there is a law which reads “any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no”, known as Betteridge’s law of headlines.

Long answer: It gets complicated.

From the book he published in 1871, “The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex”, Darwin predicted humans were related (to some extent) with ancient apes. Now, there is a question: which human? Homo habilis? Homo erectus? Neanderthals? All these are prehistoric, ancient human species. Their existences got verified by the fossil evidences. If you believe in the existence of dinosaurs because we have seen the bones, the same principle applies.

Darwin not only compared human with apes/monkey with regard to theory of human evolution, but also with other kinds of animals like dog (to compare human emotions with dogs, and we all know dogs do have emotions, although might be within emotional range of a teaspoon).

Now, there is another question: How did Darwin reach to that theory?

Darwin was an adventurer on a ship expedition, the HMS Beagle. During the expedition, Darwin took a hell lots of notes. From what he observed, he arrived to a lot of thoughts on finding the reasons why animals of the same kind/species, for example, have different beak shapes (eg. the famous Darwin’s finches, in Galapagos Island).

Darwin did not use the phrase “humans were descended from apes”, rather “humans MIGHT share the same common ancestor as apes do”. Those 2 phrases are interpreted differently in scientific worlds, and both are inferring to different biological questions. The claim “humans descended from apes” arrived from the critics against Darwin’s published findings, in which Darwin already expected such repercussion from his works.

Darwin was a conservative when it comes to voicing out opinions. In fact, Darwin was reluctant to write about the similarity between humans and apes, afraid that the idea would be interpreted as a provocative stance against the church. Darwin’s expedition on HMS Beagle took place in 1831 - 1832, but his book, “On The Origin of Species”, was published in 1859 (that took a hell lot of time before he decided to push the button!). Although, he said to Alfred Russel Wallace,

“I think I shall avoid the whole subject, as so surrounded with prejudices, though I fully admit that it is the highest and most interesting problem for the naturalist.”

… which means, in short, “man, I don’t wanna do this”.

But, in the name of science (scientia potesta est!), he published what he found after years of spending time observing and pondering upon evidences he collected.


“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” wasn’t stated by Darwin, but Leon C. Megginson.

Moral of the story, quote but quote carefully.

“False facts are highly injurious to the progress of science, for they often long endure; but false views, if supported by some evidence, do little harm, as every one takes a salutary pleasure in proving their falseness; and when this is done, one path towards error is closed and the road to truth is often at the same time opened.”

This is from Charles Darwin, and this quote of his has been used to discuss about the use (and abuse) of statistical evidence to mislead people intentionally.



  1. History of Science: Did Darwin ever argue that humans descended from monkeys or apes?
  2. Homo (Wikipedia)
  3. On the Origin of Species (Wikipedia)
  4. The Voyage of the Beagle (Wikipedia)