Scientists Successfully Teach Monkey Theory of Evolution

Apr 19, 2014

Photo: Thinkstock

Scientists at Harvard University have successfully taught a monkey to understand the theory of evolution.

According to a new paper published today in Nature, a team of primatologists used basic sign language and symbols to teach an orangutan named “Pongo Pete” that humans and other primates shared a common ancestor.

The two-year experiment began by teaching Pete the difference between the evidence-based reasoning of science and non-evidence based reasoning. It concluded two months ago when Pete finally confirmed he understood that both he and his human friends had evolved through natural selection.

“Our goal was to prove that even a monkey can understand evolution,” says Dr. Ronald Artest, the lead researcher on the project. “The idea came to us when one of my undergraduate students said she believed God created the Earth, humans and all other life on this planet simultaneously around 10,000 years ago.

“I thought to myself, ‘That’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard. I bet even Pongo Pete is capable of understanding the idiocy of that comment!’ And sure enough, it seems that with a lot of hard work and patience, you can teach monkeys things you can’t teach Creationists.”

The theory of evolution states that all life on Earth evolved through a slow, gradual process of natural selection from a common ancestor that lived around 3.8 billion years ago. A theory only in the scientific sense of the word, evolution is seen as established fact by the vast majority of scientists.

Nevertheless a recent Pew Center poll found that 33 percent of Americans do not believe in evolution at all, while another 26 percent believe God was behind the process. Only 32 percent believe in the scientific fact of evolution by natural selection.

Most of the opposition comes from white evangelical protestants, a whopping 64 percent of whom completely reject the idea evolution. There is also a 10 point gender gap, with women more likely to believe in science than men.

Denialism has been growing over time, as 54 percent of Republicans said they believed in evolution in 2009 and only 43 percent said the same in 2013.

When told that a large percentage of humans still have not accepted the reality of evolution, Pongo Pete reportedly responded by pointing to the symbol for “stupid.”

  • InMyView

    Pongo Pete is an exception – 95.6% of Orangutans claim humans are a devolution of Monkeys.

  • Bompon

    A monkey is smarter than you stupid bible thumpers…. get a life fundies. Modern science truimphs myths written by 2500 year old goat herders anyday.

  • Dell Richards

    They just cannot figure out how to defy biology and get same sexes to mate.

  • Sergio Lira

    wtf thats nuts. id shake that orangutans hand

  • Remy John

    Wow, I’d definitely need some advice from Pongo Pete… I just don’t understand the theory of Evolution (living beings seem to be incredible machines able to repair themselves and reproduce and so on… and they’d just sort of build themselves out of random chance??? I don’t get it). On the other hand I even less understand the theory of Creation (Some god just appears out of thin air and creates everything??? I don’t get it either). I’ve read a fair amount of books & internet stuff on the subject but by the end of the day it seems to be one belief system up against another. So maybe Pongo Pete can give us an “out of the box” insight…

  • Bill

    From the Pew study cited in the article: “Men are somewhat more inclined than women to say that humans and animals have evolved over time.” From the article: “There is also a 10 point gender gap, with women more likely to believe in science than men.”

  • vito33

    “Monkey to Man” by Elvis Costello!

  • Claudia Rice

    I can’t find a definitive link, but I bet this was originally published on April 1st

  • Tim Fowler

    actuailly evolution is the opposite of random chance, yes the mutations that happen are caused by random chance but the ones that dont work die off because they cant cope with the enviorment while the benificial ones have a higher chance of surviving and being passed on think of it more as selection by enviorment what somebody or something needs to survive is not random, I would suggest watching a few of the richard dawkins debates he explains it pretty well

  • Remy John

    I couldn’t agree more regarding Richard Dawkins, he is always so clear and really seems convinced by the mechanics driving evolution.
    Just for the sake of argument what doesn’t seem to add up (for me) with the “selection of the fittest” system is that, for starters, it requires the reproduction mechanism which seems really elaborate to have just appeared (without the help of reproduction of course…).
    In fact when I dive into the evolution logic (reading or listening to a lecture or debate) it always seems to make sense and then when I think it through lots of details start nagging at me. For instance when I read your answer, first I appreciated it and it made sense and then the following sentence stuck out: “think of it more as selection by environment what somebody or something needs to survive”. I couldn’t help wondering where does the “needs” come from? My car or my watch (unfortunately) don’t seem to “need” to survive. Its just an example on why I can’t yet get comfortable with this theory.
    Anyway thanks Tim for taking the time to answer.

  • Scott Weber

    You take my class on evolution Remy John. I promise you, you’ld get it!

  • Remy John

    I’d love to. Is your class on line ? I’ve been tackling this subject for some time so you’ll need to have some solid arguments 🙂 I can’t help wondering if there isn’t just some other explanation which we haven’t yet found because we are too busy defending a shaky theory which nevertheless keeps religious obscurantism away.

  • Just a student

    Evolution is actually quite simple, but the people who have put their minds into it seem to have trouble explaining it in a way that makes sense if you don’t already have a lot of knowledge about it. I’ll give it a try:
    For evolution to happen, there is no need for actual reproduction. What is needed is the ability to replicate, and this ability to have variation between individuals, and that it is heritable. Random mutations that occur in our genome create the variation between individuals, so there are differences in the capability to move on your genomes to the next generation.

    Some of them die off. Some of them increase in quantity over time.
    This can happen just by chance if those differences don’t affect fitness of the individual, but if there is a mutation that leads for it to be able to pass on it’s genes better than some others, i.e. survive better in it’s environment, that mutation will pass on to it’s offspring. Mutations that cause the individual to survive or reproduce poorly, don’t have a high chance of becoming common. Are you still with me?
    So basically, there is no “need”. This is just how it works.
    Your watch doesn’t have the “need” to survive, but neither has anything else. The difference is, your watch is not able to reproduce to make similar watches as is it and compete about it with other watches who make copies of themselves.

    And about reproduction. It didn’t come from nothing. It evolved. You see, that it is essential for evolution that individuals vary from each other. When a single cell divides, all of the variation comes from mutations. But when two individuals combine their genetic material, they create something completely new! We don’t make copies from ourselves, we make random combinations of them with random mutations, this way creating a lot more variation a lot quicker. If we all would be the same, and let’s say there would be a virus that would be lethal on one individuals, that would make it lethal for all of us. That’s why variation makes the whole species stronger, and that’s why those individuals who started to combine their genetic material were more successful, and that’s why it persisted and through time has led to the kind of reproduction we can see today. there are of course a number of other factors that contribute to all of these things, but maybe this gives some sense to the idea.

    Phew! Hope this answered some of your questions, but what I hope even more is that it raised a lot of new ones!

  • Thomas Favors

    Getting them to mate is the easy part. Getting a baby from it, that’s the tricky part.

  • Remy John

    Thanks “Just a student” I really appreciate you taking time to discuss this topic. I’ll come back to you soon. Take care.

  • Just a student

    No problem, I love to talk about science! 🙂 Feel free to ask if you have something on your mind.

  • Carl Grant

    One cause of the large # of people that fail to accept evolution is obvious in this article. “26% believe God was behind the process. Only 32% believe in the scientific Fact of evolution.” The clear implication is that it is a scientific Fact that no god id involved. This so obviously wrong that even the fundies can figure out that this is blather. When so many of evolutions supporters, usually the most vocal ones, insist on wild exaggeration and outright misrepresentations it’s not surprising that people ignorant of science simply dismiss evolution altogether. Even general relativity is not considered a Fact by the best scientists(E.G. Richard Feynman). It’s predictions have been repeatedly confirmed to 12 decimal points. Yet it could be disconfirmed by future evidence. It’s why it’s called a theory. The over the top exaggerations by our idiots give not only the idiots, but intelligent people on the other side reason for distrust and suspicion of science. How could anyone possibly demonstrate that a god had no part in evolution. I’ll await your sound rebuttal, but expect a series of logical fallacies interspersed with ad hominem attacks.

  • Remy John

    I’ve been a bit busy lately but here I am again.
    You spent time answering me so I’ll try and do the same.
    You are absolutely right regarding replication as first step rather that reproduction which is quite a bit more complicated. Nevertheless, with all our science we have yet to design a machine capable of replicating itself, feeding itself (finding the energy it requires) and moving to find the energy source. I’m not able to feel comfortable with the idea that simply shaking things around (without the replication mechanism this time) a replication machine can randomly come into being.
    Your explanations regarding mutation and evolution are clear and do make sense. What I don’t get though is that the random mutations you speak about are “functional” mutations. I mean they actually change the being and can therefore take part in the “survival of the fittest” mechanism you describe. As I understand it micro-mutations are far from being “functional” mutations. I’m not very clear so let me present it some other way. Mutations, as you know, take place within the DNA at the level of the nucleotides. A good comparison for the DNA of a Cell could be a book (in fact you would need many books to contain all the information within a given cell of a fly for instance). In a book you have chapters composed of paragraphs, composed of sentences, composed of words. When a mutation takes place in a cell it is as if a letter was changed in a given word. Most times it will entail a simple spelling mistake. There is a correction mechanism within the cell to work around this spelling mistake but that is another matter. From time to time changing a letter can actually change the word for instance “cat” can become “mat”. “The boy was stroking the cat” becomes “The boy was stroking the mat”, even though it does bring some new meaning to the sentence, the sentence will most often not fit in to the paragraph. As I understand evolution, random mutations don’t focus on the eye or on the knee cap or whatever, they sort of appear randomly. So in our book, spelling mistakes or strange words will start appearing left right and center.
    I’m a computer scientist and have specialized in artificial intelligence. If you have coded computer programs you know that a simple letter or dot in the wrong place makes the whole program go wrong (or down in fact). So the idea that all these spelling mistakes actually “program” a new feature seems really, to me, closer to belief than to actual science. But let’s say it does happen. Shouldn’t every living being have plenty of unfinished new parts building up over the generations with no specific purpose but which may suddenly kick into play down the road? Of course there are hypothesis to answer this sort of question (I’m far from being the first to wonder about it). Lamarck, for instance, believed evolution happens within a living being up to a certain point until it stops evolving, but as we don’t seem to be able to observe all these unnecessary parts, does that mean everything has stopped evolving? Then you have the “hopeful monsters” proposed by Goldschmidt to answer the gap issue between the micro evolution and the macro evolution but many scientists are uncomfortable with the idea.
    I have often met people confusing, on the one hand, the natural inbuilt adaptation mechanism based on the gene pool and, on the other hand, the evolutionary adaptation. That’s what makes things complicated when we discuss this topic. Gene pool based adaptation can be seen all round nature where the survival of the fittest paradigm really does work because a gene is a whole functional option (which can be more or less fit for a given environment). I’m not saying that you are confusing the two but I believe it is the reason why your explanations seem to make sense and that functional mutations do seem to occur.
    As you will have noticed, I’m not yet convinced 🙂
    I may seem as some sort of “intelligent design” guy but I’m just as uncomfortable with that idea because it means initial intelligence appearing out of thin air. That seems even more absurd or at any rate far out of science. I’m not a very good believer: either I understand or I don’t.
    Once again I have the impression there is some other model out there which can explain all this more logically.
    Thanks for bearing with me.

  • Dan Cameron

    Living fossils refute human evolution.

  • Nelson

    only proved theory here is that “Pongo Pete” is indeed much
    more intelligent than Dr. Ronald Artest – who’s spent his lifetime in
    school and researching, but still believes a “theory” (defined by
    Oxford as “A supposition or a system of ideas
    intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles
    independent of the thing to be explained”
    You have a lot of faith!

  • JPReturns

    I got my suspicions about this article as it does not go into detail about the methodology.

  • Faustinah Santiago

    This article is seriously lacking.

  • powerbase

    Well said! For the by product offspring of a monkey’s uncle. Ooh! Ooh! Oooh!

  • Ashley Webber

    Orangutans are not monkeys. They are apes.

  • Harrison

    APE!!! Stop writing monkey. Its cool that Pongo Pete understands but for me the article is spoilt by the reporter failing to recognise that he is an ape.

  • Marinda Lanham

    The credibility of this article is spotty for me because of the whole “monkey” thing being repeated throughout the text. Orangutans are not monkeys! Any reliable source should recognize that.

  • Brett Benischek

    The daily currant is a satire site.

  • Brett Benischek

    This is satire people…..

  • Well, which is it?! Contradictory information. =(

  • I cannot understand why people think this is the polite thing to do…

  • glebealyth

    Some of the responders are also seriously lacking something.


  • glebealyth

    Living fossils refute human evolution.

    …and so many of them post on dailycurrant without understanding the meaning of satire.

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  • Dave

    Orangs are apes, not monkeys.

    Wrap your head around this, even if you have to say it slowly:
    If it doesn’t have a tail, then it’s not a monkey.

    Orangutans are apes, not monkeys.

  • Dave

    Thank you Ashley. I’m surprised that so few of us have pointed this out.

  • Dave

    The satire would have been more effective if they had not incorrectly identified the Orangutan as a monkey

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  • Peter Taylor

    The only problem is that Pete here is not a Monkey, it is an APE. A creationist would not make this mistake! The satire is flawed, as is the so-called “theory of evolution”, or “Nothing created everything”.

  • Clive

    You really should have called Pongo Pete an ape