On June 19, 2018, the famous lowland gorilla named Koko passed away. Koko was famous because she learned the sign language of the deaf and could comprehend 2,000 words and “speak” 1000.
Koko was born in captivity and lived in the Gorilla Foundation in California. Her trainer, Francine Patterson, began training the gorilla in the sign language of the deaf when she was about a year old. Koko got major attention from the entertainment industry and the media. Robin Williams and Fred Rogers interacted with Koko and gave her significant publicity. National Geographic ran a documentary on her in 1978.
A line in The Week (July 6/July 13, 2018, page 12) by Molly Roberts summarized Koko’s impact: “Science is still far from establishing how much apes truly resemble humans mentally and emotionally, but in Koko’s case, it may not really matter. What mattered is that we looked at this creature, and somewhere in Koko’s eye, we saw ourselves.”
There is no question that Patterson’s work with this gorilla was a remarkable demonstration of human patience and animal capability. Attempting to prove that the gorilla named Koko is a distant relative of her trainer is quite a stretch. Ms. Patterson became emotionally involved with Koko, and the usefulness of her work with the gorilla scientifically is highly controversial. Skeptics point out that Paterson’s questions were “designed to elicit responses that made it seem as if Koko understood more than she really did, but boy, did we want to believe.”
The commercialization of Koko did much to destroy any scientific value in her ability to communicate. Patterson created a record album in which Koko “picked songs she liked” based on what she listened to. Koko’s capacity to create art was demonstrated by having her copy what Patterson drew. Koko’s ability to select colors for what animal she was supposedly drawing produced some comical results. Koko’s “desire” to have a “pet” kitten was made into a children’s book in 1983. Understanding the concept of a kitten or a pet certainly was not part of Koko’s animal instinct.
We suggest that Koko the gorilla was created in the image of “Penny” Patterson. While this is an amazing achievement and there is much to learn from what Patterson did, the value of Koko to anthropology is very limited. The creation of humans in the image of God has nothing to do with intelligence, language, or the ability to learn and copy. Our spiritual nature is uniquely ours, and humans without training still demonstrate their spiritual nature.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
For more on this subject, see video #10 in our free series at doesgodexist.tv.