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Creation 37(3):40–41, July 2015

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Chimps ‘natural killers’ after all



Since evolutionists claim chimpanzees are our closest living relatives, it’s not surprising that they would look at chimp behaviour for clues to that of humans. So when the evidence started to come in that the common chimp (Pan troglodytes) routinely engaged in warfare and killing of its own kind, some were obviously tempted to see in it an explanation for aspects of human sin.

Intriguingly, though, a more common evolutionist response has been to deny that chimps naturally do these things. When chimps were repeatedly reported to be killing their fellows, it was said to be due to human interference with their natural habitat.

Several factors likely drive this for evolution-believers. One may be a simple reluctance to think that we have an inherited propensity for evil. The idea that mankind is ‘inherently good’, which defies real-world experience, is a persistent theme in denying humanity’s need for a Saviour. For evolutionists concerned with social harmony, there is also a fear that if we are seen to have ‘killer apes’ in our ancestry, we might give up trying to modify our behaviour.

Along with all this is a longstanding current of human thought that not so much denies human evil, as denies that nature is fallen, as Genesis 3 tells us. In this way of thinking, nature is romanticized; the ‘natural’ world is all ‘good’, and only humans mess it up.

This is evident in the ‘deep green’ movement, with its overtones of nature worship. Its adherents often romanticize ‘peaceful’ animals like dolphins, and find it hard to accept the evidence that these, too, engage in killing and torture of their own kind.1 Applied to human society, such thinking is epitomized by the ‘noble savage’ concept of the French Romantic philosopher Rousseau (1712–1778), which still resonates with many. He idealized ‘primitive’ human societies, closer to nature, as unspoilt and harmonious; in this view, modern civilization is allegedly to blame for human problems and conflicts.2

Now a substantial research project, published as a letter in Nature, seems to have discredited such romantic views about why chimps kill others.3 The study, by an international community of over 30 scientists, “gathers data from some 426 combined years of observation, across 18 different chimp communities.”4 It finds that human activity, such as feeding chimps or destroying their habitats, had “little effect on the number of killings”—a total of 152 all up.5 The kill rate, similar to that in hunter-gatherer societies, goes “up and down as a simple consequence of competition for scarce resources.”

Since the Bible indicates that both humans and nature are fallen (Genesis 3), it shouldn’t surprise us to find that chimps kill other chimps, or that dolphins do nasty things to other dolphins.

In a commentary accompanying the Nature paper, Prof. Joan Silk of the University of Arizona seems concerned that her fellow evolution-believers might take the ‘killer chimp’ findings to justify human violence. She says in anticipatory rebuttal, “We have the ability to shape and alter our behaviour in ways that they [chimps] can’t.” Exactly. Which is why, despite our inbuilt Adamic propensity to sin, we are accountable to our Creator for our wrongdoing.

First posted on homepage: 4 May 2015
Re-posted on homepage: 29 December 2021

References and notes

  1. See The Sciences, September/October 1995, p. 47, also creation.com/focus-181. Return to text.
  2. A modern blend of ‘mother earth worship’ and ‘noble savage’ thinking has led to the myth that hunter-gatherer cultures are highly attuned to ‘looking after nature’. The evidence indicates, rather, that lower technology levels mean there is simply less capacity to inflict large-scale damage on the environment. Return to text.
  3. Wilson, M., et al, Lethal aggression in Pan is better explained by adaptive strategies than human impacts, Nature 513(7518):414–417, 18 September 2014 | doi:10.1038/nature13727. Return to text.
  4. Webb, J., Murder ‘comes naturally’ to chimpanzees, BBC News (Science & Environment), bbc.co.uk, 18 September 2014. Quotes hereafter are from this. Return to text.
  5. Bonobos or pygmy chimps, long known to be more peaceful, have far lower ‘kill rates’—one for 92 observer-years over four communities. Return to text.

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