After touring the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter in northern Kentucky for two days, my wife and I spent a day at the Cincinnati Zoo. I was particularly interested in seeing the bonobos. The Cincinnati Zoo is one of the few zoos in the United States with bonobos. They have about 12 individuals. When I taught my course at Northern Illinois University on "Chimpanzee Politics," I used to take my students on a bus trip to the Milwaukee County Zoo, which has the largest group of bonobos in the U.S.--about 21 individuals.
I have written a series of posts on bonobos and how bonobos and chimpanzees are the primates most closely related to human beings, which suggests that the last common ancestor of these primates and human beings probably combined the traits that we see in bonobos and chimpanzees. Certainly, at the Cincinnati Zoo, the signs posted around the bonobos clearly suggest that human beings evolved from some bonobo-like primate.
Here, then, the Zoo is challenging the claim of the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter that there is no evolutionary connection between humans, bonobos, and chimpanzees. As part of the "Starting Points" exhibits at the Creation Museum, bonobos are grouped with gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees as "great apes" (CMS, 35-36). But while evolutionary scientists place the great apes in the same family with human beings--Hominidae--the Creation Museum insists that the great apes should be placed in their own family--Pongidae--so that there is a separation between the "Ape Kind" and "Human Kind." This is required for their claim that God originally created these two "kinds" as separate, and endowed only the human kind with the moral dignity of being created in God's image. To teach that the great apes and human beings belong to the same evolutionary lineage, they argue, would destroy the foundations of human morality by denying the moral uniqueness of human beings as the only animals aware of and subject to God's moral law.
But it's not clear that this teaching is grounded in the Bible. First of all, the Bible never identifies human beings as belonging to the "human kind." The word "kind" (Hebrew min) appears in Genesis, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Ezekial 30 times, but it is never applied to humans. So, the Bible does not clearly separate the "Ape Kind" from the "Human Kind," as claimed by the Creation Museum. Moreover, the Bible refers to "apes" only twice (1 Kings 10:22 and 2 Chr. 9:21), and the Bible does not identify the various species of apes. Everything that the Creation Museum says about the great apes being in their own family has no Biblical basis. This confirms my point that the Bible is not a science text about natural history.
But surely, Ham and the Creation Museum would say, the Bible does clearly teach that human beings are the only animals created in God's image, with a humanly unique moral awareness, and surely this must mean that God did not allow the human species to evolve from primates, which denies the Darwinian account of human evolution from animals.
But if we compare behaviors in bonobos and chimpanzees, we can see that they are more similar to humans than to each other (Brian Hare and Shinya Yamamoto, "Minding the Bonobo Mind," in Hare and Yamamoto, eds., Bonobos: Unique in Mind, Brain, and Behavior [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017], 1-13). Chimpanzees share at least five traits with humans not manifest in bonobos: extractive foraging, lethal aggression between groups, infanticide/male coercion of females, cooperative hunting, and male-male alliances. Bonobos share at least five traits with humans not manifest in chimpanzees: non-conceptive sexual behavior, mother's importance to adult offspring, high levels of adult play, sharing between strangers, and female gregariousness.
And yet we can also see that human beings are unique animals in at least three respects. In The Descent of Man, Darwin noted that self-consciousness is uniquely human: "It may be freely admitted that no animal is self-conscious, if by this term it is implied, that he reflects on such points, as whence he comes or whither he will go, or what is life and death, and so forth" (105). Morality is also uniquely human: "A moral being is one who is capable of comparing his past and future actions or motives, and of approving or disapproving of them. We have no reason to suppose that any of the lower animals have this capacity. . . . man . . . alone can with certainty be ranked as a moral being" (135). And language is uniquely human: "The habitual use of articulate language is . . . peculiar to man" (107). Is the Bible pointing to these three uniquely human traits in saying that humans were created in God's image?
As I have argued previously, we can explain human evolution from primate ancestors through a growing expansion of the number of neurons in the cerebral cortex of the primate brain. Humans are unique intellectually and morally because of the 16 billion neurons in the human cerebral cortex. That gives them mental capacities for self-conscious reflection, language, moral reasoning, and symbolic thinking generally, which includes the symbolic capacity for imagining supernatural realities and believing the Bible to be a supernatural revelation of God's creative history and His promise of human immortality with divine judgment in the afterlife. The Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter are manifestations of that evolved symbolic capacity of the human mind.