Monday, December 1, 2014

A troublesome inheritance : genes, race and human history by Nicholas Wade.

 In some ways, this is a troublesome book to read and review. My evangelical friends may strongly oppose some of the ideas conveyed within it, while my more progressive friends may oppose those same ideas, for diametrically opposed reasons. Evolution and the influence of genetics upon human lives are often found to be inflammatory topics, though I have found them both fascinating and enlightening, and find in those subjects, as well as astrophysics and cosmology, more evidence of a glorious and ingenious Author and Creator, and less of blind probabilities.

I agree with Wade to a certain extent when he says,

"...despite the personal failing of some scientist, science as a knowledge-generating system does tend to correct itself, though often only after considerable delay. It is during these delay periods that great harm can be caused by those who use uncorrected scientific findings to propagate injurious policies. Scientists' attempts to classify human races and to understand the proper scope of eugenics were both hijacked before the two fields could be fully corrected."

although my concern for the politicization of scientific theories may take a slightly different tack.

Interesting to note that many of the ideas that Hitler used to justify his extermination of "lesser" races and "defective" human beings had some quite respectable proponents around the world in the preceding decades.

"The fact that antecedents for the ideas that led to the Holocaust can be found in the American and English eugenics movements of the 1920s and 1930s does not mean that others share responsibility for the crimes of the national Socialist regime. It does mean that ideas about race are dangerous when linked to political agendas. It puts responsibility on scientists to test rigorously the scientific ideas that are placed before the public."

At the root of scientific humanism and current evolutionary theory, of course, is the idea that Man is simply a more highly evolved ape, and not a special divine project, so the study of human evolution needs to start in the "cradle of life."

"A fierce drought gripped Africa from 6.5 to 5 million years ago, and the forests shrank, giving way to open woodland or savannah. This was perhaps the event that forced the (chimplike) population into two groups, one of which led to chimps and the other to humans."

I found the following bit an interesting supposition:

"Follow an institution all the way down, and beneath thick layers of culture, it is built on instinctual human behaviors. The rule of law would not exist if people didn't have innate tendencies to follow norms and punish violators. Soldiers could not be made to follow orders were not army discipline able to invoke innate behaviors of conformity, obedience and willingness to kill for one's own group."

Perhaps...though Calvinist doctrine supposes that people are innately law-breakers, rather than followers, although there is a deep need for belonging to a group within us. Also, creating obedient and effective soldiers is a far more complex task than what Wade imagines, especially for elite forces, who must have their learned behaviors completely broken down and stripped away before they can be molded (some might say brainwashed) into warriors willing to sacrifice their lives for their brothers and for a cause.

"A hunter-gatherer society consists of small, egalitarian bands without leaders or headmen. This was the standard human social structure until 15,000 years ago."

How do we know that? Is there archaeological evidence that proves that all hunter gatherers were leaderless? It's been my experience that in any group of people, leaders and dominance arises. If evolutionary theory is to be believed, the chimps from whom we descend have hierarchies, why would hunter-gatherers suddenly be egalitarian? I just don't buy that hypothesis.

"(after the invention of agriculture) ...people skilled in farming and in operating in larger communities prospered and left more children; those whose only skill was in hunting did less well and placed fewer of their children and genes in the next generation."

Ok, that makes a certain amount of sense. My son-in-law, however, has a theory about Black Friday shopping satisfying a deep seated urge in a nation of farmers and merchants to "hunt" in packs.

Where Wade becomes controversial, I suppose, is when he shows evidence of evolution not being quite the slow, eons long process which we all expect, but first, much more recent, and second, much more rapid, than accepted theory.

"The process of organizing people in larger and larger social structures, with accompanying changes in social behavior, has most probably been molded by evolution, though the underlying genetic changes have yet to be identified. This social evolution has proceeded roughly in parallel in the world's principal populations or races, those of Africans, East Asians and Caucasians."

"In the case of both ants and people, societies evolve over time as natural selection modifies the social behavior of their members. With ants, evolution has had time to generate thousands of different species, each with a society adapted to survival in its particular environment. With people, who have only recently dispersed from their ancestral homeland, evolution has so far generated only races within a single species, but with several major forms of society, each a response to different environments and historical circumstances."

The key idea being that,

"Races develop within species and easily merge back into it. All human races, so far as is known, have the same set of genes. But each gene comes in a set of different flavors or alternative forms, known to geneticists as alleles. One might suppose that races differ in having different alleles of various genes. But, though a handful of such racially defining alleles do exist, the basis of race rests largely on something even slighter, a difference in the relative commonness, or frequency, of alleles..."

I wondered, briefly, about the concept of "race" as it might apply to other types of animals than humans. How would you define a "race" of sparrows, or iguanas, or gazelles. Can we even go there?

"Once the human population had spread out across the globe, it was subject to a variety of strong evolutionary stresses in the form of a radical makeover of human social organization and population movements that swept over the original settlement pattern. These population shifts were caused by climate change, the spread of agriculture and warfare."

So, there's a note of Social Darwinism in all of this, based on the idea that the people who survive and thrive within a particular type of culture or society actually have a different set of dominant...allele distribution? And if they thrive, then they are more likely to reproduce, as are their progeny. While those who don't have the genetic makeup to thrive will fail to reproduce?

In that case, why do eugenicists always have to start by sterilizing or aborting those human groups whom they have determined to be society's failures?

It is, perhaps, revealing that Wade has no axe to grind (nor funding to obtain) as regards Global Warming, so he doesn't censor his historical data. Climate change has been going on for thousands, nay millions, of years, folks. The anthropogenic hypothesis is a recent aberration.

"When our distant ancestors lost their fur, probably because bare skin allowed better sweating and heat control, they developed dark skin to protect a vital chemical known as folic acid from being destroyed by the strong ultraviolet light around the equator. The first modern humans who migrated to the northern latitudes of Europe and Asia were exposed to much less ultraviolet light - too little, in fact, to synthesize enough vitamin D, for which ultraviolet light is required. Natural selection therefore favored the development of pale skin among people living in high northern latitudes."

In researching a gene which may be responsible for some of the differences between Caucasian and Asian populations characteristics, such as thicker hair and smaller breasts:

"The mice also had smaller breasts than usual"

Which summer intern got to say, "I spent the summer measuring mouse breasts."?

"...the two sets of chromosomes that a person has inherited, one from their mother and one from their father, are lined up side by side, and the cell then forces them to exchange large sections of DNA...
The swapped sections, or blocks, may be 500,000 DNA units in length, long enough to carry several genes. So a gene with a beneficial tendency will be inherited along with the whole block of DNA in which is is embedded...Generation by generation, the block of DNA with the favored version of a gene gets to be carried by more and more people. Eventually, the new allele may sweep through the entire population...the favored blocks of DNA eventually get whittled down ...because the cuts that generate them are not always made in the same places...After just 30,000 years or so, according to one calculation, the blocks get too short to be detectable. This means that most genome wide scans for selection are looking at events that occurred just a few thousand years ago, very recently in human history."

So, the concepts above were definitely new to me, and if the calculation mentioned in the paragraph are true, then it would mean that we are still evolving today in response to our environment, which should give some of us hope. Of course, if the primary end result of evolution is merely survival, it might be that the traits selected for might not be ones we'd wish to see, if we were in charge. Think about it.

"People have an intuitive morality, which is the source of instinctive knowledge that certain actions are right or wrong."

Very interesting. C.S. Lewis mentions this in Mere Christianity, as evidence of our Creator's plan.

Explained away by the evolutionist, of course,

"A major function of religion is to provide social cohesion, a matter of particular importance among early societies. If the more cohesive societies regularly prevailed over the less cohesive, as would be likely in any military dispute, an instinct for religious behavior would have been strongly favored by natural selection."

Religious behavior, perhaps...right and wrong so strongly correlated across all human cultures...maybe not so much.

My favorite quote of all really has nothing to do with Wade's theories,

"Turning up punctually for work and enduring eight hours or more of repetitive labor is far from being a natural human behavior."

"...the principal drivers of the civilizing process were the increasing monopoly of force by the state, which reduced the need for interpersonal violence, and the greater levels of interaction with others that were brought about by urbanization and commerce."

Dangerous visions here.

"many researchers...make accusations of racism against anyone who suggests that cognitive capacities might differ between human population groups. All these positions are shaped by leftist and Marxist political dogma, not by science."

It can so easily be observed by anyone paying attention, that it seems to me to be insane to deny the facts or call it racist.

"The Utah researchers note first that Askenazi IQ, besides being high, has an unusual structure. Of the components of IQ tests, Askenazim do well on verbal and mathematical questions but score lower than average on visuo-spatial questions. In most people, these two kinds of ability are highly correlated."

I must have some Askenazi Jew blood in me. I've always been good with readin', writin' and 'rithmetic, but I can't fold a piece of paper into a swan to save my life.

All in all, a very very interesting read, without being so deeply technical as to make it impenetrable.

1 comment:

ProudHillbilly said...

That does sound like an interesting read.

I've always felt that "Let there be light!" and the Big Bang sounded very much alike and were perfectly compatable with each other.