Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Reader Counters Weird Anti-Evolution Claim Regarding Human Flaws

Apparent Design Flaws in the Human Body Support Evolution, Despite Weird Claim to the Contrary.

A Reader Counters Weird Anti-Evolution Claim Regarding Human Flaws

Several weird comments followed this post about women promoting evolution education. Reader Jerrold Alpern wrote to say he wanted to make a comment to dispute the other comments. It didn't post so I'm posting it for him. 

First, let's look at an excerpt from one of the comment he'd like to dispute. This writer seems to be arguing that flaws in the body and the human genetic code show that evolution didn’t happen, or isn’t happening. This was an argument I’d never seen before:

Humans have over 4600 genetic defects resulting in genetic diseases. There are only 4 "thought to be" positive mutations in the human genome. The mDNA has lost over 1200 complex genes in humans and you think there is evolution?
You are sick and have a genetic disease. All humans are degraded and have genetically caused diseases.
1 in 7 women have breast cancer a genetic disease.
1 in 12 humans have genetically caused diabetes and the numbers are rising every year.
There are over 1200 single point mutation diseases that are called rare.
Humans are degraded from a condition of far more fit, far more intelligent and way stronger. We are more primitive in thoughts than ever and even more controlled by our emotional and tribal compulsions, and we think we are evolving?
If you believe in evolution then you are supporting the continual degradation of our species and are willing to our descendants a short miserable fearful life full of low IQ ignorance even more than the rampant ignorance we have now.
There is nothing redeemable about teaching children magical , faith based religious mythological nonsense, and calling it "science". Using the word "science" does not make it science. That is the oldest academia trick there is.

Here’s Alpern’s rebuttal:   

Our genetic history happens to be one of the salient proofs of evolution. DNA comparative analysis of our genomes and those of other vertebrates shows clearly which are our closest relatives (chimpanzees), which are more distant and when we diverged from each. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming from every area of science. Modern medicine and agriculture, to name just two fields, would simply not exist without evolutionary principles to guide them. The theory of evolution and the scientific method explain the natural world and produce practical, beneficial results in our lives daily. Alternatives such as creationism and intelligent design do not. You would not have had a flu shot to take this year without an understanding of evolution. Thousands of incarcerated violent felons would still be on the streets robbing and killing without the forensic DNA techniques based on evolution to convict them. The price of all foods would be much higher without a knowledge of evolution to guide the cultivation practices that result in  our current disease-resistant, high-yielding crops.

You seem to think that defects in our bodies disprove evolution. On the contrary, they are conclusive evidence of our common ancestry with other animals. Recently I had to undergo a hernia repair. Why are hernias in men so common? Well, in our cold-blooded fish ancestors the gonads were in the center of the body, a nice, safe place to be. But as our lineage gradually evolved from fishes, shifted to dry land and became warm-blooded, the center of the body grew much too hot for sperm to survive. So the gonads gradually moved outside the body to reside in a sac where a more equable temperature could be maintained. But structural constraints forced the spermatic cord to follow a rather tortuous route, finally stretching the abdomen like a hand pushing through a balloon and leaving a weak spot where hernias occur. Read Neil Shubin's' "Your Inner Fish: A 3.5 Billion-Year-History of the Human Body".

Let me put it another way. Have you observed that all organisms reproduce themselves? Have you observed that there is variation among these offspring? Have you observed that not all these offspring survive to reproduce in turn? Then you have also observed evolution. Evolution is the inevitable, unavoidable consequence of these three processes that everyone notices daily. You can no more deny evolution that you can deny that the sun shines or the rain falls or the wind blows.  See Cameron M. Smith's "The Fact of Evolution".

See also Jerry Coyne's "Why Evolution is True" and Donald Prothero's "Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters." Evolution is not a religion. It is science. It grew out of observations and experiments leading to a hypothesis that has been confirmed probably millions of times over the past 150 years by experiment, observation, confirmed predictions and much other evidence. There is no evidence against it. Science accepts only natural, testable, falsifiable evidence and hypotheses. It does not accept the supernatural. I don't think that fits the definition of a religion.

He’s right that apparent design flaws in the human body reveal our evolutionary past. Our ancestors were fish.  That’s indeed explained very well in “Why Evolution is True” and “Your Inner Fish”.

However, I’m not sure that an understanding of evolution was required for the invention of DNA forensics. That was a brilliant piece of applied science, and relied on the realization that some parts of human DNA are extremely variable. Evolution helps explain why that’s the case, but sometimes you don’t need to understand things deeply to make clever use of them. I leave this open as a point of discussion.

Alpern also offered a rebuttal of another comment that started with the accusation that I’m a “libpuke” or some such thing. I’m saving that for another post in the interest of space.

About this blog
Faye Flam - writer
In pursuit of her stories, writer Faye Flam has weathered storms in Greenland, gotten frost nip at the South Pole, and floated weightless aboard NASA’s zero-g plane. She has a degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology and started her writing career with the Economist. She later took on the particle physics and cosmology beat at Science Magazine before coming to the Inquirer in 1995. Her previous science column, “Carnal Knowledge,” ran from 2005 to 2008. Her new column and blog, Planet of the Apes, explores the topic of evolution and runs here and in the Inquirer’s health section each Monday. Email Faye at fflam@phillynews.com. Reach Planet of the at fflam@phillynews.com.

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