The recent dispute in Free Inquiry over whether or not humans are apes spotlights a very important controversy that keeps popping up in the secular and skeptical communities. As is usual, the dispute was between non-biologists. In the biological community, there is no disagreement on the matter.
As an active paleozoologist who publishes in the technical literature on phylogenetics and taxonomy—I am especially pleased to have renamed my favorite dinosaur—I can state without the slightest scientific ambiguity that we humans most certainly are apes. Repeat: we are apes, specifically great apes. People are animals, mammals, primates, and apes. It is not just nonscientists who say so. In Vertebrae Paleontology (2005), prominent paleoscientist Michael Benton explains that “The apes, Hominoidea, today include the gibbons and orangutan … the gorilla and chimpanzee … and humans.” As for the great apes, the Hominidae, Wikipedia correctly states that the group’s members include “four genera; Pongo [oranugutans] … Gorilla … Pan [chimps and bonobos] … and Homo.”
Here’s how it works. In the fossil record, apes (the Hominoidea) used to be a very large group of eastern hemisphere primates, but most of the subgroups, or clades, of apes have gone extinct. Great apes, the Hominidae, appear in the fossil record over a dozen million years ago. As they evolved, the great apes have spun off a number of branches, among them the clade Ponginae that now includes orangutans, then the clade Gorillini, and most recently the Hominina that we humans belong to, plus the Panina of which chimps and bonobos are the living representatives.