Are humans special?

I’ve had a couple of conversations recently about evolution, particularly as it relates to modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens). I feel like I haven’t done a very good job explaining it in these recent conversations, so here are a few sources from experts on the topic, starting with the most basic.

Human Family Tree

Evolution: Frequently Asked Questions. From the 3-part 2009 Becoming Human series on NOVA (which you can watch online at FAQ examples: Are evolution and “survival of the fittest” the same thing? If humans evolved from apes then why are there still apes? Does evolution prove there is no God?

A Primer on Science, Religion, Evolution and Creationism. An article from The Human Origins Initiative of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. (Also the source of the Human Family Tree above.)

Human Evolution. New Scientist magazine has a good mix of basic information and lots of news headlines about evolution.

Human Evolution Timeline (archived page). With a common lifespan under 100 years, it is very difficult for humans to conceptualize a timeline over billions of years. This plain chart does a good job breaking down the evolution of life, from single-celled organisms 3.5 billion years ago to the much more recent 6 million years of human ancestry.

Evolution. An incredibly detailed Flash-based timeline by John Kyrk, biologist and artist. Really gives you a sense of the scale of billions of years and the diversity of life.

Book: Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body (2008). Neil Shubin, a leading paleontologist and professor of anatomy who discovered Tiktaalik—the “missing link” that made headlines around the world in April 2006—tells the story of evolution by tracing the organs of the human body back millions of years, long before the first creatures walked the earth. By examining fossils and DNA, Shubin shows us that our hands actually resemble fish fins, our head is organized like that of a long-extinct jawless fish, and major parts of our genome look and function like those of worms and bacteria.

Book: The Selfish Gene (1976). Richard Dawkin’s classic about natural selection.

I realize that I’m not at all answering the question posed in the title of this blog post. It’s purely an attention-grabbing headline. I’d rather not have that debate in this format. Also, while I have been interested in evolution since I was very young, I am not a biologist, nor am I trained in any closely related field.