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December 27, 2005

Dover, Darwin, and Design: One Chimp's Opinion

by Myriam Miedzian


Apes are capable of planning ahead and communicating about the past. I was so taken by these and other research findings, that I struggled with fatigue to finish the chapter I was reading in primatologist Frans De Waal’s new book, Our Inner Ape. The last line I remember reading before falling asleep is: "Caretakers generally have a higher opinion of ape’s mental abilities than the philosophers and psychologists..."
And then I had a dream.

I was sitting in the courtroom of the most recent "intelligent design" trial in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The judge was about to give a summation and was banging her gavel. Nothing unusual except—the judge was a bonobo (a.k.a. pygmy chimp.) She wore rimless glasses and protruding from underneath her black judicial robe was the high collar of a wine colored blouse.
"A plague on both your houses is my verdict," she said in a slightly shrieky voice, a little like Eleanor Roosevelt’s, and then continued:

"The prosecution’s claim that you are descended from the ape family and that we share over 98% of our genetic makeup is prima facie absurd. How could we be related to a species as violent, treacherous, lying, and greedy as humans? Your genetic research and theory of evolution are undoubtedly flawed

We bonobos are overwhelmingly loving and peaceful. If some of our males begin to assault each other, my sisters and I surround them, stop the fighting, and then often engage them in calming sexual activity. Apparently, during one of your slaughters known as the Vietnam war, some humans sought to emulate our behavior and carried signs stating "make love not war." They were unsuccessful and your slaughters continue.

It saddens us that our overweight and rather clumsy chimp cousins occasionally give a thrashing to a female whose sexual behavior they are unable to control. But their misbehavior does not begin to compare to that of some human males who jealously murder their ex-wives or girlfriends, force them to wear what look like beehive keepers outfits, stone to death female victims of rape, or demand that females be sexually mutilated to ensure fidelity.
Bonobos are repelled by the lethal raids that our chimp cousins sometimes carry out on neighboring communities, but a few casualties here and there pale next to your own experts’ estimate of over 170 million humans killed in your twentieth century alone.

As for the defense’s belief in intelligent design, I agree with the prosecution that "intelligent design" is a cover up for creationism. Many of you truly believe this world was created by a perfect deity who made humans in his image, and are offended by the evolutionist’s theory that you are descended from us.

At this point the judge shook her head and rolled her eyes in disbelief.

She went on:

"How extraordinary that humans who have created gas chambers to murder millions of their brothers and sisters and bombs which annihilate cities in seconds, have the chutzpah to view themselves as morally superior to us.

I am aware that some members of your species occasionally demonstrate empathy and kindness, and abhor war and violence. Some primatologists even believe that you have the potential to become as peaceful and loving as we are. If so, you certainly have a long way to go.

Your 21rst century has barely begun and already you have slaughtered hundreds of thousands in countries known as Iraq and Sudan. Some of your young ones blow themselves up for the joy of killing large numbers of humans whose leaders they hold responsible for their people’s suffering. The young men who engage in these murders apparently believe they will be rewarded with endless sexual pleasure in a place they call "paradise." (We bonobos enjoy frequent and highly pleasurable sex with no preliminary homicide.)

Is this what you describe as ‘superior intelligence and morality?’"

It was at this point that my clock radio went off and I woke up smiling at this extraordinary dream. Then I heard " Fifty Iraqis and six Americans were killed this morning in Baghdad when a car bomb… A shooting spree in a suburban mall…"


Myriam Miedzian (, a New York-based researcher, has written numerous articles and op-eds, and is the author of "Boys will be Boys: Breaking the Link Between Masculinity and Violence." (Anchor Books). This is her first attempt at writing in a chimp's voice. 

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