The MFAP Hypothesis of Human Origins rides again!


A couple of years ago, I wrote a rebuttal to a crackpot claim for the origin of humans, which I called the MFAP Hypothesis. “MFAP” is short for “monkey fucked a pig”, which actually pretty much summarizes the whole idea. Eugene McCarthy (no, not that Eugene McCarthy) assembled a list of superficial similarities between humans and pigs — hairlessness, protruding noses, “snuggling”, that sort of thing — and concluded that a miscellany of appearances overwhelmed the actual genetic relationships and the absence of a feasible genetic mechanism to permit human-porcine hybridization to lead to the inevitable conclusion that, in the distant past, our primate ancestors bred with pigs.

It’s got to be a joke, but McCarthy is very, very serious, and claims that, because he has a Ph.D. in genetics, it must be a reasonable hypothesis.

It’s obviously bogus. I tried to explain that. Donald Prothero tried to explain it. Michael Egnor thought it was as plausible as the idea that humans are evolved apes, so he does have that one rather elliptical bit of support from a fellow crackpot.

But now, after years of mumbling, McCarthy has assembled a rebuttal of sorts. His first efforts are mainly attempts to discredit my competence.

First, please note that PZ Myers is neither trained as a geneticist, nor is he an expert on hybridization. I myself have a masters and Ph.D. in genetics from one of the leading genetics departments in the country (the University of Georgia’s) and I’ve spent a lifetime investigating hybridization. According to Wikipedia, PZ Myers has a B.S. in biology and a Ph.D. in biology. The same article says that he studies zebra fish in connection with his research in the field of developmental evolutionary biology.

Uh, zebrafish? Vertebrate model system known for its utility as a tool for studying vertebrate genetics? I’ve also worked with Drosophila, and have been teaching genetics since the 1990s.

So, OK, let’s just say I know zilch about genetics. Doesn’t matter; my original criticisms still stand, and most importantly, his claim that two species separated by 80 million years of evolution can interbreed ought to be testable. If not by directly breeding humans and pigs, by tests with pigs and rhesus monkeys, or pigs and cats, or cats and dogs, or mice and honey badgers, or whatever off-the-wall combination you can think of. There are genetic barriers to hybridization, and this self-proclaimed expert in hybridization just waves them away.

Do the experiments. Show me that we’re all wrong about the ability of distant species to interbreed.

He then starts going through the strange list of attributes that he claims supports his hybridization theory: cancer incidence, for instance.

In short, then, I claimed that cancer is rare in non-human primates and experts in the field do in fact say that cancer is rare in non-human primates. Why, then, does PZ Myers complain? Isn’t it he who’s being false?

I didn’t say it was false: I even include the low incidence of melanoma in a list of differences between us and apes. I said it was non-unique and irrelevant. Cancer rates are lower in non-human primates than in us because cancer is a disease of aging. It’s also to a degree a consequence of exposure to human-created carcinogenic agents. And that cancer is rare in other primates is not evidence that we are descended from pigs, which also have lower rates of cancer.

Likewise, in connection with female orgasm, I quote Desmond Morris, a well-known zoologist and ethologist, as follows “female orgasm in our species is unique amongst primates…If there is anything that could be called an orgasm [in nonhuman primates], it is a trivial response when compared with that of the female of our own species.” So again, I’ve attributed the claim to a competent expert. So why does Myers say that I’ve listed these two traits “falsely”? Indeed, it seems that his own claim about my falseness is false.

Again, I said it was irrelevant. I’m not particularly impressed with Morris, whose reputation rests on being a prolific pop-biologist, and I don’t know why McCarthy should be, either — he got his degree with research on sticklebacks, a mere fish with no possible connection to genetics.

Orgasms are not unique to humans. Even if they were, it’s a non sequitur — that observation wouldn’t be evidence for pig hybridization.

And I’m not sure why Myers should consider it “bizarre and irrelevant” that pigs snuggle and chimpanzees do not. To me, it’s just another trait that an expert, in this case Jane Goodall, cites as distinguishing humans from chimpanzees. An it’s also one that links us to pigs.

Chimpanzees are social animals that certainly do “snuggle” with one another. A litter of puppies also cuddle up together…does that imply that we are descended from puppies?

He does go on and on with this nonsense, and then gives me an ironic challenge:

What I would say to PZ Myers is: “Stop all the speculating and propounding and explain why the traits that distinguish us from chimpanzees consistently link us with pigs. Offer a different hypothesis accounting for our affinity to pigs. Put up or shut up!”

O Geneticist and Expert in Hybridization: you’re the one speculating and making the outrageous claim. I think the onus is on you to do the experiment, not me.

I’m not going to Offer a different hypothesis accounting for our affinity to pigs, because I see no particular affinity between humans and pigs other than the ones due to our common status as mammals. I’m not seeing it on a molecular level in any cladograms comparing pig and human genes, either. My hypothesis is that there is no particular affinity, that the two species have been diverging since the time of their last common ancestor in the Mesozoic, and that Eugene McCarthy is a very silly man.


  1. robro says

    …that pigs snuggle and chimpanzees do not.

    What!? Even I, a mere information architect with BAs in philosophy and literature, know that chimpanzees certainly do snuggle, particularly their young. I’ve seen them doing it at the San Francisco Zoo, as well as in enumerable nature documentaries. I’ve also seen mountain gorillas snuggle their babies, and various types of monkeys. Oh, and lemurs…they’re so cute. If science is based on observation, then this fellow should get out and do some…at the very least, tune his TV to the local PBS outlet.

  2. treefrogdundee says

    Well if man didn’t evolve from pigs, why is there Man-Bear-Pig? Checkmate, non-MFAP evolutionists!

  3. Rowan vet-tech says

    Cats snuggle. Dogs snuggle. Guinea pigs snuggle. Many species of birds snuggle. Many many social vertebrate species ‘snuggle’. To say otherwise is to be willfully ignorant.

    I would also like McCarthy to explain the whole hands vs. hooves thing, because that’s a fairly major one for me. Plus the tusks. Why don’t we look like orcs out of WoW? or Tauren?

  4. wcorvi says

    I’m sorry, but I have to disagree – why, I’ve seen more than a few humans that look quite porcine. And, to claim we are evolved apes, is an afront to apes everywhere!

  5. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @Robro, in re:

    pigs snuggle and chimpanzees do not

    But this is true! Our close primate relatives are anti-social and avoid snuggling. Why, if that were false, there would be clear data that show social dependence and desire/instinct for physical contact/comfort.

    The fact that primate species avoid physical contact also provides a clear explanation for this model of human evolution in the first place. If monkeys can’t have close contact with other monkeys, fucking a pig is just a logical, duh.

  6. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    Are airplanes descended from submarines? They both have a fuselage in pretty much the same shape? I ask you MFAPer, does your hypothemnumnm apply there too?
    [noting that hypothesis can be a portmanteau of high + pot + thesis. *wink*, *nudge*]
    ummm regardless, back OT:
    first response: similar pressures produce similar results, regardless of starting point.

  7. James Fehlinger says

    Oh, this was done as a humorous SF short story that I remember reading
    in my childhood: “Family Resemblance” by Alan E. Nourse (1953).

    I first read it in the 1961 paperback _Tiger By The Tail and other
    Science Fiction stories_.

  8. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    A geneticist who doesn’t seem to understand genomic sequencing utterly rebuts his “theory”, and conclusively shows us to have a common ancestor with apes? Even this chemist knows better.

  9. says

    Chimpanzees are social animals that certainly do “snuggle” with one another. A litter of puppies also cuddle up together…does that imply that we are descended from puppies?

    Rats! Somewhere along the line, a monkey fucked a rat. Or a rat fucked a pig. Or something. Because ratpile. No one does the snuggle thing like rats.

  10. microraptor says

    Also, my cat loves to snuggle. Clearly that proves that humans are descended from domestic felines.

  11. says

    I like your hypothesis that Eugene McCarthy is a very silly man.

    I see snuggling all over the place. Should we all send him videos of rats snuggling?

  12. microraptor says

    Is this guy a real scientist, or does he just pretend to play one on TV?

    I realized that this was a little more ambiguous than I intended. I meant “is he someone who’s pretending that they’re someone who plays a scientist on TV?”

  13. says

    Microraptor @ 11:

    Also, my cat loves to snuggle.

    Rats will also snuggle with cats. And dogs. And people. They aren’t terribly discriminatory, hell, they’d probably snuggle with a monkey. And a pig.

  14. Al Dente says

    slithey tove @6

    Are airplanes descended from submarines? They both have a fuselage in pretty much the same shape?

    While airplanes aren’t descended from submarines, dirigibles are. They have very similar shapes and neither of them snuggle.

  15. microraptor says

    Come to think of it, I knew someone who had a Bearded Dragon that loved to snuggle…

  16. says

    Microraptor @ 18, I have a friend who has a 6ft+ iguana who likes to be picked up, hugged and cradled. I expect that counts in the snuggle business.

  17. Pierce R. Butler says

    Dr. McCarthy – When the monkey fucked the pig, did either of them have an orgasm?

    If you answer “both”, the next question has great evolutionary significance: which came first?

  18. says

    Caine, I was thinking of iguanas too. I knew one, also through a friend, a while ago and he was a really cheerful fellow. A very personable animal who just loved company, playing silly games, and being close to people. He died after an accident insde the house, very unfortunate.

    He was regularly outwitted by the dogs and cats and humans in that household, as you would expect of a reptile. But in terms of personality and friendliness he was a real presence. A shame that people think these are somehow rare traits in the animal kingdom.

  19. grendelsfather says

    I myself have a masters and Ph.D. in genetics from one of the leading genetics departments in the country (the University of Georgia’s)

    Aaawwww, crap! That’s my old department. Unlike McCarthy, though, they did make me learn some genetics before giving me a Ph.D. 32 years ago.

    I guess it’s time to send it back.

  20. J Hart says

    Um, well, then, yeah, why, Eugene, are there still pigs and monkey’s? Hmmm . . . ? Like to hear THAT hypothesis, I would.

  21. gmacs says

    Does anyone else realize the first part of his “rebuttal” is an actual example of an ad hominem, trying to discredit the opponent instead of addressing the argument? I mean, the subsequent appeals to authority aren’t even veiled.


    Offer a different hypothesis accounting for our affinity to pigs.

    Um… convergent evolution?

  22. gmacs says

    Most fish and amphibians don’t have penises, but barnacles do. Clearly the bepenised tetrapods are due to hybridization of penis-lacking tetrapods and barnacles.

  23. zenlike says

    Wow. The ‘featured article’ on this guy’s side is “Cat-rabbit hybrids?”

    Looks like he found a hammer and gosh darned now he has to use it on all those nails, even when those nails don’t look like nails at all.

  24. philhoenig says

    This is picking at nits, but are pigs hairless? I was under the impression that domesticated ones may be relatively bald like humans, but wild pigs have a distinct coat.

  25. Nemo says

    @slithey tove #5:

    Are airplanes descended from submarines?

    Airplanes are descended from bicycles.

  26. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re 28
    were you there? {in Ham’s voice]
    made an unwanted association between MFAP and Dr. Ham.

  27. cartomancer says

    Human beings might not emerge from the copulation of a primate with a pig, but it seems senior Tory politicians often result…

  28. robro says

    philhoenig @ 27 — “are pigs hairless?”

    I don’t know about these little domesticated pigs that some people keep, although the one I saw recently at a party sure looked like it had a coat of hair of some sort. I do know that the pigs my relatives raised for market and food had a coat of bristle like hair because they spent a great deal of effort getting it off before cooking.

  29. Rowan vet-tech says

    Non-domesticated pigs have a LOT of hair, so not only is this individual specatcularly wrong on all accounts, but they’re also apparently claiming that humans are the result of apes and *domesticated* porcines. So apparently the apes domesticated the pigs and then mated with them?

  30. Louis says

    Hi Chigau,

    Bloody tired! ;-)

    I’m writing a slide deck about therapeutic drug monitoring. It’s 2:30 am and I’ve been going all weekend.

    How are you?


  31. WhiteHatLurker says

    I’ve spent a lifetime investigating hybridization

    Anybody else wonder “how?” and then go “ewwww”?

    Or is it just me … again.

  32. says

    I’ve been taking it easy all weekend! It’s marvelous.

    Although, actually I’m just pacing myself for the hellish weekend coming up, when all the exams and final drafts of term papers get turned in.

  33. chigau (違う) says

    Had some recent adventure with the SO’s heart but we are finding ways to cope.
    Winter is hardly even trying so far, -10°C and 5cm of snow.
    It’s mostly good.

  34. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    the inevitable conclusion that, in the distant past, our primate ancestors bred with pigs.

    Republicans. QED.

  35. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @Rowan, #34:

    Non-domesticated pigs have a LOT of hair, … So apparently the apes domesticated the pigs and then mated with them?

    Yeah, Obviously this is confirmation of the MFAP hypothesis, save that the monkey had already become human before the mating happened, and the output wasn’t, therefore, humans but domesticated porcines.


  36. madtom1999 says

    Anyone who has come across wild pigs will know they are quite well covered in hair. There was even a domesticated variety called the Lincoln Curly Coat that was bred for its wool as well as meat. It has alas died out but some of it descendants (possibly) live on as Mangalizas.
    This suggest that pigs got their hairlessness from being fucked by humans and not the other way round. I do wonder if this is what has piqued (close!) his interest in the subject.

  37. Anri says

    robro@ 1:

    If science is based on observation, then this fellow should get out and do some…at the very least, tune his TV to the local PBS outlet.

    Well, see, there’s your problem – good science is based on observation.
    Then, there’s the other kind…

  38. Menyambal - Jabba the Hutt's Pa says

    He missed that humans and pigs both swim. (A desert island, a castaway ape and a swimming pig, forbidden love and sea-faring children – it’s a movie for all time.) Sadly, a swimming pig really flexes her nose up, and my nose doesn’t move for snout.

  39. quidam says

    If you go to his website you can see that Human-Pig hybrids are only part of the picture, he also talks about:
    Homo sapiens [Human]
    × Bos taurus [European Domestic Cattle] See the separate article “Human-cow hybrids.”
    × Canis familiaris [Domestic Dog] See the separate article “Domestic Dog × Primate.”
    × Caprinae [Caprinids (goats, sheep)] See the separate article “Caprinid-human hybrids.”
    × Equus caballus [Domestic Horse] See the separate article “Human-horse hybrids.”
    × Felis cattus [Domestic Cat] See the separate article “A Cat-human hybrid?.”
    × Gallus gallus [Domestic Fowl] See the separate article “Human × Chicken.”
    × Pan troglodytes [Chimpanzee] See the separate article “Ape-human hybrids.”
    × Sus scrofa [Domestic Pig] See the separate article “Pig-primate hybrids.”
    × Ursus sp. [Bear] See the separate article “Bear-human hybrids.”

    Mostly based on ancient imaginative interpretations of abnormal animal and human births, coupled with mythology around Centaurs, minotaurs, fauns etc.

    In the same year of 1556, a calf was born in the village of Kleisdorf on the River Izt about three miles [north of] Bamberg. This dreadful creature was fat and had the hooves of an ordinary calf, but a large human head, a black beard, as well as ears and breasts like a human being’s. The torso, too, was like a human’s, but longer, and the naked tail was like a dog’s. This monstrous birth, which soon died, was calved on the property of a noblewoman there at Kleisdorf.
    Artist’s conception of the human-cow hybrid described by Fincelius, drawn about fifty years after the supposed event (image is from Schenck 1609, artist unknown).

  40. says

    Hmm. Its obvious this guys PhD is “porcine humanization disease”. Or, he got it from some place like Liberty U, and no one in the scientific community has, for some reason, noticed its a fake yet.

  41. ChasCPeterson says

    gmacs @#24 sez:

    Um… convergent evolution?

    …and we have a winnah.
    Domestication notwithstanding, pigs/peccaries and humans have long been the ecologically battling superpowers of the large-social-omnivore guild, and have competed with and eaten each other for a really long time, all over the world.
    Clifford Pope (author of The Giant Snakes, The Reptile World, and Turtles of the United States and Canada) wrote a great essay on the subject called “On the Natural Superiority of Pigs”; unforunately it barely googles at all.
    Except this: link
    The digestive systems (and for some reason skin) of pigs are very similar to humans. Fossil teeth have been confused. We even share gut parasites.

  42. kevinkirkpatrick says

    Honest question – with careful planning, time, and funding – could CRISPR be used to actually accomplish such hybridizations? If we identified, say, 10,000 well-conserved genes and the top 50% conserved regulatory chunks of DNA between a rhesus monkey and pig, and just CRISPR-swapped them from a pig stem cell to a monkey germ cell, is there *any* chance of producing a viable organism?

  43. ijkcomputer says

    This thread would be remiss without a link to the great, comical Dan Bern song “No Missing Link”.

    (Warning: NSFW for use of the f-word. Lots of use.)