Humans and apes have somewhat obvious similarities, these must have been apparent to natural philosophers before the possibility of a common ancestry was first proposed in the mid-1800's. These proposals were not formally made in Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859), but his general ideas of common ancestry were built upon in Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) and then Darwin's The Descent of Man (1871).

How was the resemblance between apes and humans explained prior to this shift in thinking?


2 Answers 2


The time before Darwinism, people believed life as an entity which is created rather evolved. But there were great biologists interested in the relationship between species, who deliberately thought of evolution ideas and some of them believed in ape-human similarities and placed humans and apes in same group.

In 1699, Edward Tyson, an English anatomist, dissected an ape specimen(chimpanzee) and showed that its anatomy closely approaches ours.But he didn't established any relationships between humans and apes. It was first done in 1738 by Swedish scientist Linnaeus in his book Systema Naturae .After that in 1759, Lamarck, a French naturalist who was Darwin's predecessor in general theory of evolution, stated that humans were derived from up-right walking apes.

In 1759, just half a century before Darwin was born and precisely one hundred years before he published his famous book , "Origin of Species", Linnaeus, the great Swedish scientist, discovered that man was a mammal. He then placed man in the Order of primates, which means literary the first, or the highest,order of mammals.It comprises all the monkey like forms, including the man-like apes. Reference


Primate Evolution and Human Origins - Russel L. Ciochon & John G.Fleagle

Human Evolution: A Guide to the Debates - Brian Regal

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    $\begingroup$ It seems Aristotle discovered this prior to Linnaeus: "The monkey, as has been observed, is furnished with a tail. In all such creatures the internal organs are found under dissection to correspond to those of man." (Historia Animalium II.9, courtesy this comment). $\endgroup$
    – Geremia
    Dec 9, 2014 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ Richard Owen, a leading British naturalist noted for his opposition to Darwinian evolution, defended a form of "Old Earth creationism" where an intelligent agent has its designs continually improved over long periods of time. Common features were not the result of common ancestry, but common design. $\endgroup$
    – user38945
    Nov 28, 2018 at 10:55

The concept of evolution was widespread even before Darwin. For instance, Linnaeus, Lamarck and Erasmus Darwin (C. Darwin's grandfather) all expressed evolutionary ideas.

Another interesting example is the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, which appears to have had rather well-developed ideas about evolutionary change, a common origin of life, that also included humans:

The agreement of so many genera of animals in a certain common schema, which appears to be fundamental not only in the structure of their bones but also in the disposition of their remaining parts,—so that with an admirable simplicity of original outline, a great variety of species has been produced by the shortening of one member and the lengthening of another, the involution of this part and the evolution of that,—allows a ray of hope, however faint, to penetrate into our minds, that here something may be accomplished by the aid of the principle of the mechanism of nature (without which there can be no natural science in general). This analogy of forms, which with all their differences seem to have been produced according to a common original type, strengthens our suspicions of an actual relationship between them in their production from a common parent, through the gradual approximation of one animal-genus to another—from those in which the principle of purposes seems to be best authenticated, i.e. from man, down to the polype, and again from this down to mosses and lichens, and finally to the lowest stage of nature noticeable by us, viz. to crude matter. And so the whole Technic of nature, which is so incomprehensible to us in organised beings that we believe ourselves compelled to think a different principle for it, seems to be derived from matter and its powers according to mechanical laws (like those by which it works in the formation of crystals).

(from: Kant. 1790. Critique of Judgment, MacMillian 1914 (translated by Bernard), https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/48433)

  • $\begingroup$ In contrast, Immanuel Kant found abiogenesis quite absurd and contrary to reason, according to the book "Life's Ratchet: How molecular machines extract order from chaos". $\endgroup$
    – user38945
    Nov 28, 2018 at 10:58

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