February 19, 2024 | David F. Coppedge

Not Funny: The Evolution of Humor

If humor is just an evolutionary
behavioral artifact, why laugh?


You’ll cry over this story. If you are a creationist, you’ll double over with tears laughing at how stupid it is. If an evolutionist, you’ll cry over the loss of one of humanity’s most pleasurable activities: comedy.

Do apes have humor? (Max Planck Institute, 14 Feb 2024). Two gorillas having a good grin begin this story. Maybe they’re telling a knock-knock joke. “Great apes playfully tease each other,” reads the subtitle. So what does that imply?

Babies playfully tease others as young as eight months of age. Since language is not required for this behavior, similar kinds of playful teasing might be present in non-human animals. Now cognitive biologists and primatologists from the University of California Los Angeles, the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior (Germany), Indiana University, and the University of California San Diego have documented playful teasing in four species of great apes. Like joking behavior in humans, ape teasing is provocative, persistent, and includes elements of surprise and play. Because all four great ape species used playful teasing, it is likely that the prerequisites for humor evolved in the human lineage at least 13 million years ago.

The joke’s on the humans, however. If humor is just a behavior that emerged by a blind, uncaring, humorless process of natural selection, it’s not funny, is it? Our selfish genes are manipulating our behaviors, making us marionettes under mindless controls, wobbling and jostling for no good reason.

No one else in the science media seems to get the joke, so we’ll keep poking.

Great apes like teasing each other – which may be the origin of humour (New Scientist, 14 Feb 2024). Another behavior that emerged by mindless natural selection is repetition of what other evolved primates say. That is illustrated in this article by reporter Chen Ly for New Scientist, who began the article by showing two chimps rollicking and frolicking with mindless laughter. Chen Ly doesn’t seem to realize that science reporting, according to Darwinist materialism, is also an evolved behavior with no purpose or goal.

Studying great apes is critical to understanding which features of human cognition and behaviour are shared and likely evolved millions of years ago in a common ancestor,” says Christopher Krupenye at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. “This study provides exciting evidence that all apes seem to engage in playful teasing behaviour and also charts a path for future research in other species.”

Our dispassionate CEH editor writes his observations of the science reporter on a clipboard with a straight face: ‘Another aspect of Darwinistic science reporting is to use a high perhapsimaybecouldness index and chalk up any progress to futureware.’

Spontaneous playful teasing in four great ape species (Royal Society, 14 Feb 2024). This is the stodgy scientific paper written by comedians at the Royal Society playing ‘scientist’ for a skit.

Joking draws on complex cognitive abilities: understanding social norms, theory of mind, anticipating others’ responses and appreciating the violation of others’ expectations. Playful teasing, which is present in preverbal infants, shares many of these cognitive features. There is some evidence that great apes can tease in structurally similar ways, but no systematic study exists. We developed a coding system to identify playful teasing and applied it to video of zoo-housed great apes. All four species engaged in intentionally provocative behaviour, frequently accompanied by characteristics of play. We found playful teasing to be characterized by attention-getting, one-sidedness, response looking, repetition and elaboration/escalation. It takes place mainly in relaxed contexts, has a wide variety of forms, and differs from play in several ways (e.g. asymmetry, low rates of play signals like the playface and absence of movement-final ‘holds’ characteristic of intentional gestures). As playful teasing is present in all extant great ape genera, it is likely that the cognitive prerequisites for joking evolved in the hominoid lineage at least 13 million years ago.

How’d you do? Try this at a party game. Select a volunteer to read this Abstract in a very formal, professorial tone and see if he or she can do it without cracking up. If the first volunteer succeeds, see if a second person of the opposite sex can get through the conclusion without laughing:

From an evolutionary perspective, the presence of playful teasing in all four great apes and its similarities to playful teasing and clowning/joking behaviour in human infants suggests that playful teasing and its cognitive prerequisites may have been present in our last common ancestor, at least 13 million years ago. These findings have implications not only for primatologists and biological anthropologists, but for the study of emotion, humour and pretense more broadly. We hope that our study will inspire other researchers to study playful teasing and equip them with coding criteria to document playful teasing in other species in order to better understand the evolution of this multi-faceted behaviour.

The best strategy to defeat Darwinism might be humor. Darwinists hate being laughed at when they deserve it.

Readers who want to groan at more evolutionary humor can look at our 16 December 2008 article, “Blame Hiccups on Your Inner Fish.”

Humor is a gift of God, not evolution. Like we said about animal play on 6 Jan 2015 and 26 Sept 2023, our Creator blessed all his creatures with pleasures and joys because God himself takes pleasure in all he made. Who can watch otters sledding down a snowbank without smiling? Who can watch dog and cat videos without delighting in their antics? Why do evolutionists have to insist on Darwinizing everything that makes life worthwhile? Like Nancy Pearcey wrote in Evolution News, Darwinian explanations commit suicide. If scientists chalk up their “understanding” of the “evolution of humor” as a dry consequence of mindless natural selection, it’s not funny. It means that their own researching is also a dry consequence of mindless natural selection, with no meaning or insight at all for me, thee, or the chimpanzee. That’s not only sad; it’s tragic.

The Bible is replete with joy and cheer, and has a few humorous stories, too. Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal, joking that their idol couldn’t bring fire because was busy in the bathroom. Jesus used humor even in his serious dialogs, talking about “straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel” or illustrating the difficulty of entering the kingdom of heaven as being like “a camel going through the eye of a needle.” He used outlandish hyperboles to make a point, like saying it makes no sense to pluck a splinter out of your brother’s eye when a plank is sticking out of your own eye. Unquestionably his listeners got the point, probably with a chuckles if not outright laughter. While humor can be a sidestep in debate, it can be very effective as a rhetorical strategy when the truth is on your side. Ronald Reagan was a master at this: for example, turning his age into an asset in a famous debate with Walter Mondale.

Humor works not because we evolved it from some unobserved common ancestor with apes 13 million unobserved Darwin Years ago, but because we have minds, language, logic and philosophy—qualities the great apes don’t have. If God lets animals enjoy pleasure and surprise, all the more glory he deserves for his goodness. Wielding humor for understanding is an art that takes a mind, and can be improved by practice and wisdom.

For relief from having to dredge through another evolutionary just-so story today, listen to these two guys go at it with “The Top 40 Jokes in the Bible.” Happy Darwin-free day!

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