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Goats can read human faces!


Published: 20 September 2018 (GMT+10)
Dr Alan McElligott

Startling evidence for the Bible’s account of history comes from an unlikely source. A new study conducted out of the University of London suggests that goats are capable of reading human facial expressions and prefer to interact with ‘happy’ humans.1

The study was conducted by showing the goats two different images: one of a smiling human face, and the other of an angry face. They showed a tendency to move directly toward the ‘happy’ image, while avoiding the ‘angry’ one. Clearly this test is not an absolute proof, but together with the fact that goats were already known to be capable of reading human body language, we now have strong evidence that animals far removed from humans (speaking from an evolutionary perspective) are somehow capable of interacting in surprisingly complex ways with us.

The leader of the research, Dr. Alan McElligott, said, “The study has important implications for how we interact with livestock and other species, because the abilities of animals to perceive human emotions might be widespread and not just limited to pets.”1

This is a very strange phenomenon from a Darwinian point of view as goats only began to be domesticated roughly 11,000 (evolutionary) years ago.2 Given that the ability to interpret emotions depends on complex neurological functions, why would goats (who have no ability to make facial expressions themselves, and whose faces bear no resemblance to human faces) somehow have the ability to accurately read human expressions? It is very hard to imagine how this obscure ability could have any substantial selective advantage for domestic goats; it is even harder to explain if it developed prior to goats’ domestication, since then the goats would have had minimal contact with humans. Furthermore, how could such a complex trait have come about via random mutations in only 11,000 years? This does not seem to fit well with the evolutionary picture.

From a biblical perspective, however, these results are not particularly surprising or unexpected. Since God created animals like goats right alongside humans from the very beginning, and for the purpose of interacting with humans, it would not be surprising that they would have the innate ability to understand, at least on some basic level, the meaning of human facial expressions.

References and notes

  1. No kidding! Goats prefer to interact with humans who look happy, irishnews.com, 29 August 2018. Return to text.
  2. Pereira, F. and Amorim, A. (2010). Origin and Spread of Goat Pastoralism. In eLS, (Ed.). doi:10.1002/9780470015902.a0022864 Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

Roger S.
This article interests me as a Christian and also because I have managed a small flock of sheep for over 20 years on a 'lifestyle block' just outside Auckland's (New Zealand) urban limit. As the son of a sheep and cattle farmer I had early life experience of sheep in much bigger numbers. Apart from pet lambs that we had some years (orphans of dead or rejecting ewes), I mostly experienced sheep then in a much more anonymous way. But on our current property I have become singularly known by successive generations of sheep as the main one to lead them (using feed pellets) to fresh pasture, or to feed them supplements of freshly mown grass or scraps of vegetables and fruit. The whole flock - from our oldest 10 year old to this year's lambs - recognise me in any type of clothing (sometimes including mesh face guards with ear muffs). If their pasture is getting old or short they get positively noisy with their bleats to me, at distances greater than 50 metres but they do not call out to other members of my family. For a year or two they also grew to recognise one of my daughters who was at that time throwing into their paddock spent hay bedding from our pet rabbit hutches, in which the sheep would forage for uneaten lucerne feed pellets. These animals (sometimes termed "stupid") observe me and after only some days are able to predict a new behavioural pattern that relates to them receiving extra food. This learning includes sounds such as the slapping of a plastic bucket, the rattling of a gate chain or the shaking of feed pellets in a plastic bowl. In their vegetarian world where consumption of volumes of plant matter equates to survival and health, their built-in (as opposed to evolved) intelligence is very evident to me.
Stephen M.
The objection citing animal ability to 'sense our emotions and interpret our body language' no doubt assumes an unscientific method. The actual human association of course needs to be removed and the 'visual only' isolated. Logically, I expect this was done, otherwise why include the article at all?.
John P.
Trust a goat to make a goat out of evolution! Just shows what an amazing God we have and points to the truth of the Bible as His word. In my family we had goats, I was raised on goats milk and cream and there's nothing better than jam and goats cream. Young goats are very playful animals.All goats have their own personalities as well
Ann H.
Of course - all animals basically started out as "domestic" in the Garden. Not only goats ... but Adam and Eve could have petted a full grown grizzly with no fear - before they sinned.
Sandy H.
Excellent summarization of the facts pointing to the obvious conclusion...Animals and people were created together, they did not evolve and branch out over long periods of time-----One more little piece of an ever growing body of evidence disproving evolution...Thanks for sharing.
Edmond C.
I believe there was a recent story that was very similar about dogs that suggested that dogs and humans have a unique bond. I know very well that my German Shepherd reads my facial expressions. She knows when I am angry with her and happy with her. She also puts her ears back and looks down when she's knows she's done something that displeases me and that alerts me to her own 'feelings'. She's a very good and loyal dog and I love it that I know she will protect my wife and kids when I'm away should the need arise. From a biological perspective animals are all each amazing creations of God. Stories like this bring my mind to wonders of what the world would have been like if Adam had not fallen and to the hope of the day when God restores the world to a sinless state. Even in our fallen state animals can bring us joy and studies have found that they can even extend our lifespans and help those who are lonely.
Tammy S.
This is truly great! I read much of the content on this site, and as a believer in Christ, I'm always so amazed at God's ability to confound those who attempt to deny Him. Every new piece of the creation puzzle always fits the picture, like a beautiful cosmic jigsaw! Please keep up the awesome work you all are doing. God bless this ministry!
James H.
I agree with your last paragraph that this result is not surprising for believers, but this seems like a weak argument. Almost every animal I know of has some ability to read body language and facial expressions from humans or other animals. It's an obvious advantage to stay away from potential stress or injury from unhappy/mean creatures and stay close to happy/supportive creatures for comfort and protection. Stressed animals are more unhealthy and reproduce less. I would like to hear how evolutionists would respond to this.
Paul Price
It is not the type of argument that is meant as an 'overwhelming blow' to the evolutionary worldview; this is just one more little piece of the puzzle that doesn't seem to fit with Darwinism, but fits very nicely with the Biblical worldview.

When you say,

"It's an obvious advantage to stay away from potential stress or injury from unhappy/mean creatures and stay close to happy/supportive creatures for comfort and protection."

that doesn't really address the problem. One can always make up a story why such-and-such is an 'advantage'. Explaining how creatures with no similarity to humans in terms of their own bodies, and no ability themselves to make such facial expressions, could in a matter of 'only' 11,000 years seemingly develop the ability to read and respond to the complex facial expressions of much 'higher' life forms—that is the problem. No other creatures besides humans make complex facial expressions like we do, and goats have only been cohabiting with humans for a very short period of time on evolutionary standards. Why in the world would they have the neurological capability to read our faces?

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