In the fall of 2018 the Romanian minister of Research and Innovation, Nicolae Hurduc, publicly expressed doubts as to the evolutionary connection between chimps and humans.
The chemical engineering professor said it was not logical for a “machine so complex” as man to have evolved from a monkey, but that it was more “interesting” to him to believe that “we come from a parallel world of the future.”
Ad Astra, a Romanian organization that supports and promotes scientific research, were so concerned by these statements, they reached out to eight international experts in evolutionary biology to counter any resulting public misunderstanding and published their responses in a news release and in a letter to Nature magazine.
Dr. Steve Carr, a professor of biology in Memorial University’s Faculty of Science, was one of those experts.
“The Romanian minister is an engineer, and apparently a good engineer,” said Dr. Carr. “He’s not been put in as a political hack that doesn’t know anything; he’s got a lot of expertise.
“But for the minister to declare that he does not accept the well-established fact of evolution that shows humans descended from ape-like ancestors, and that he prefers a theory stating that we come from the future, is just weird.”
A common ancestor
Ad Astra posted two questions to the experts. The first was, “Based on the high degree of homology between human and chimp genomes, could we infer that both species had a common ancestor?”
The experts unanimously declared that to be so, based on such things as shared genetic material and the fossil record, as well as the lack of a single piece of evidence, from thousands of studies, which clearly contradicts these facts.
“Yes, we can, and do,” said Dr. Carr. “Molecular evidence shows that human and chimps have a more recent common ancestor with each other than either does to any other living species.”
Proof of this was directly shown in a 2007 paper he published with honours student, Sarah Flynn, that compared mitochondrial DNA sequences from human, gorilla, chimpanzee and codfish samples.
Alternatives to evolution
Ad Astra’s second question was, “Are there scientifically sound alternatives to the theory of evolution by natural selection and/or scientific findings against the thesis that humans and apes have a common origin?”
“The minister’s statements do not re-ignite debate over any established fact.”
Again, the experts were in strong consensus.
“There are no scientifically sound alternatives to the theory of evolution by natural selection, in light of current research in molecular evolutionary genetics, and no evidence whatever against the historical fact that human and other great apes have a common evolutionary origin,” said Dr. Carr.
“The minister’s statements do not re-ignite debate over any established fact. They show merely that the minister is ignorant of the state of modern science. This is very unfortunate, in an official charged with support of scientific research.”
Despite the controversy, Dr. Carr is pleased to have been asked to participate in Ad Astra’s public response to Minister Hurduc.
“Some of the people on the list are really famous names in evolutionary [biology], and I’m glad to be in such good company,” he said. “It was a fair cross-section and I think it was a good set of answers.”
This was not Dr. Carr’s first time speaking up for the theory of evolution. In 2003 he was one of 200 scientists named Steve to sign a joint statement supporting the teaching of evolution in public schools, published in the New York Times by the Center for Science Education. The centre is the leading institution of its sort in North America.
Project Steve was a tongue-in-cheek parody of a long-standing creationist tradition of amassing lists of “scientists who doubt evolution.” Dr. Carr served as the “regional Steve” for Eastern Canada.