DNA Ain't Everything


Citing a recent analysis of the genomes of humans, chimps, orangutans, and gorillas by Georgia Institute of Technology scientists, the Guardian reports that some researchers want to reclassify chimpanzees from their own genus Pan to our genus Homo. Why? Because, according to the Guardian,

The tests showed that even though humans and chimps split from a common ancestor between 5m and 7m years ago, the rate at which their genetic codes were evolving was extremely similar, differing by only 3%, and much slower than gorillas and orang-utans.

In taxonomy, a genus is a group of genetically related species possessing certain characters in common and easily separable from other groups of species. If we focus on bone structure, genetic similarity, sociability, omnivorousness, and so forth, chimps look a lot like current representatives of the genus Homo, namely us. On the other hand, if we focus on characteristics like brain size and structure, manual dexterity, language use, and relative hairlessness, they look quite different.

I like chimps as well as the next fellow, and if biologists want to reclassify them as Homo, that's fine by me. However, such a reclassification would have no effect on the moral status of chimpanzees. If chimps (or any other animals) want rights, they will have to demand them for themselves and also promise to respect ours.