Darwinism

Do Darwinists Think that Women are Closer to Chimps than Men?

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I’ve asked this to a few people, but have never gotten a good answer. So I figure I’ll ask a few more, and see what you all think.

Quick question – do you think that women are closer to apes than men? Do you think that Darwinian evolution (i.e. common ancestry by happenstance mutation and selection) is consistent or inconsistent with your answer?

Now, however you answered those two questions, I want you to write it down. Yes, do it. No cheating. Put it in ink somewhere. Now read the rest.

If you are a Darwinist, you think that humans and chimps evolved from a common ancestor, correct?

Now, one of the main arguments for this is the similarity of the human genome with the chimp genome, correct? Different people may differ on the exact number, but we have very similar genomes, and because we are so close, that implies that we came from a closer common ancestor than, say, humans and bananas, right?

Perhaps you should write those answers down, too.

So, we share a common ancestor with both chimps and bananas, but are evolutionarily closer to chimps than to bananas because our genomes are more similar to chimps. Am I getting this right? Be sure to write down your answer. No cheating.

So, if we had an ancestor that was closer to a chimp than modern humans, that would mean that they had more similar DNA, correct?

Again, write this down.

I’m waiting. Really, write it down.

Now, it turns out that the part of the human genome that is most radically different than the chimp genome is the Y chromosome. Interestingly, only males have Y chromosomes. Therefore, female DNA is much more similar to chimp DNA than male DNA. If you made the argument above that the similarity between chimp DNA and human DNA means that we share a common ancestor, and that more similarity with chimp DNA meant that an organism is closer to chimps evolutionarily, I do not see how one would escape the conclusion that women are evolutionarily closer to chimps than males.

If you have an answer, I would be interested in hearing it in the comments.

Now, as someone who does not hold to either Darwinism nor the genetic basis of organismal form, I do not think that the similarity or difference of human DNA to chimp DNA counts for much at all, other than we need similar proteins to survive. But I’ve been curious what the Darwinians think of this, as I’ve never seen it addressed before.

18 Replies to “Do Darwinists Think that Women are Closer to Chimps than Men?

  1. 1
    Mark Frank says:

    Now, it turns out that the part of the human genome that is most radically different than the chimp genome is the Y chromosome. Interestingly, only males have Y chromosomes. Therefore, female DNA is much more similar to chimp DNA than male DNA.

    Well I am no geneticist but presumably what they do is compare the DNA of members of the same sex: female human DNA with female chimp DNA and male human DNA with male chimp DNA?

  2. 2
    Gordon Davisson says:

    I didn’t write my answers down — sorry (though I also saw the final question coming fairly early). But I’ll try to answer fairly anyway.

    First question: as a Darwinist (not entirely sure what that means or if I really fit it, but for present purposes I’ll adopt the label), I think that both men and women are apes. But presuming you mean nonhuman apes (or chimps specifically, or something similar), my answer would be that men and women are the same evolutionary distance from chimps etc.

    So, we share a common ancestor with both chimps and bananas, but are evolutionarily closer to chimps than to bananas because our genomes are more similar to chimps. Am I getting this right? Be sure to write down your answer. No cheating.

    Genetic distance is closely correlated with evolutionary distance, but it isn’t a direct measurement. There are a number of confounding factors that can complicate matters. Usually, these confounding factors have small effects, and can be safely ignored. But you’re going to look at a situation where one of the confounding factors is significant, right?

    So, let me mention a few: differences in mutation rate (e.g. genetic divergence increases faster in mutational hotspots, and in lineages with high mutation rates), differences in fixation rate (e.g. in a gene subject to strong purifying selection, fewer mutations will become fixed and genetic divergence will accumulate slower), saturation (when the gene sequences have diverged as far as selection allows, divergence will stop accumulating any further)… and probably others I’m not thinking of.

    Now, it turns out that the part of the human genome that is most radically different than the chimp genome is the Y chromosome. Interestingly, only males have Y chromosomes. Therefore, female DNA is much more similar to chimp DNA than male DNA.

    Y chromosomes experience a significantly higher per-generation mutation rate than the rest of the genome (and X chromosomes a lower rate). This, not a difference in evolutionary distance, is what causes this effect.

    The reason Y chromosomes mutate faster is actually rather subtle: sperm are the result of more cell divisions than eggs (I think it’s about a factor of 2), so the mutation rate in sperm is higher than eggs (again, around a factor of 2). Y chromosomes are always passed on through sperm, so they always experience the higher mutation rate. X chromosomes are passed more frequently through eggs than sperm, so they average something closer to the egg mutation rate overall. The somatic chromosomes are passed equally through eggs and sperm, so on average they experience the average of the two rates.

    So, no, it’s not a difference in evolutionary distance.

  3. 3
    Silver Asiatic says:

    I think that both men and women are apes.

    Evolutionary ideas leave us with these kinds of conclusions. Distinctions which should be obvious to anyone are blurred. In classical Western philosophy, for example, humans are a radically different kind of being than apes. The gap between the two is virtually infinite.
    When viewed by evolutionary-science alone, however, humans are a few mutations away from non-human ape ancestors.
    In my view, reductionism of this sort leads to absurd conclusions like this. Humans are not apes and should not be redefined as such.

  4. 4
    johnnyb says:

    Gordon –

    Thanks for the thoughtful answer. However, I don’t think it actually answered the question. You merely pointed out *why* the Y chromosome was significantly different, not why *being* different did not make a difference.

    Let’s say, for instance, two separate species diverged from chimps – A and B. Let’s say A had a faster mutation rate than B. Therefore, after 10,000 generations, the genome of A was 50% further from chimps than B was. Would we say at this point that A or B was closer to chimps evolutionarily? If we believe that DNA similarity *is* what makes two things close, then we would naturally say that B, since its genome was still much closer to chimps than A’s genome, was closer evolutionary to B.

    Because of the additional information, we may know *why* B is closer to chimps than A, but that does not detract from the distance.

    If you were to object to the comparison, you would have to show why the differences *themselves* don’t matter, not just how they arose.

    The reason I think the differences don’t matter is that DNA is not a major source for organismal form—that form and biochemistry have fairly different sources. One creation biologist, for instance, has suggested that humans and chimps originally started at 100% identical DNA. Why? Because he doesn’t think that DNA contributes that much to form.

    However, the Darwinists view DNA change as being the fundamental force of evolution. But why does this idea break down in this case?

  5. 5
    wd400 says:

    The mistake here is to think that “Darwinists” conflate percent-identity with relatedness. It’s true that, all else being equal, two closely realted species will have more similar DNA when you compare equivalent genes but that’s not the definition of relatedness.

    Instead we use DNA to infer relationships, based mostly on shared differences between the sequences. Closely related species share a more recent common ancestor than distantly related ones, and that’s statement about the shape of a phylogenetic tree, as well as the length of the branches.

    The actual percent-identical number depends on many factors including the local mutation and recombination rate of the sequences being considered (and the Y- is a very special case because it doesn’t recombine).

    So, for instance, mitochondrial genes have a high mutation rate compared to the nuclear genome. That means out mitochondria are less identical to chimp mitochondria that our nuclear genes are, but no one claims our mitochondria are less related to chimp ones that our nuclear genes are.

  6. 6
    Gordon Davisson says:

    There are a number of ways of “measuring” evolutionary change. I’d say the most important three are:

    – Genetic change (although as I pointed out earlier, there are a number of different ways of measuring this).

    – Phenotypic change, i.e. how much the organism itself has changed. This is generally too complex to measure with anything as simple as a number. But it’s also probably the most important overall…

    – Reproductive isolation, i.e. speciation events.

    Note that while all of these are interrelated, they’re far from the same thing. Different dog breeds, for example, have huge phenotypic differences, but only tiny genetic differences. Horseshoe crabs, on the other hand, haven’t changed a great deal phenotypically in the last 450MY (at least in the features we can see in fossils), but they’ve presumably been accumulating genetic change at the usual rate. On the third hand, polyploidy (essentially, a duplication of the entire genome) can cause speciation without much actual phenotypic or genetic change (other than the extra copies). When you say:

    However, the Darwinists view DNA change as being the fundamental force of evolution. But why does this idea break down in this case?

    ..this is a major oversimplification. Which of sorts of change you’d look at as a measure of evolution depends on what you’re actually trying to find out. If you want to know about phylogeny (reconstructing the family history), genetic change is generally best, because it occurs at a roughly constant rate (although you want to be careful how you measure it — insertions and deletions, for example, can cause large “quantities” of change erratically, so you’re better off concentrating on base substitutions). But even there, you wouldn’t just say genetic distance = phylogenetic distance. Let me take a variation of the case you suggest:

    Let’s say, for instance, two separate species diverged from chimps – A and B. Let’s say A had a faster mutation rate than B. Therefore, after 10,000 generations, the genome of A was 50% further from chimps than B was. Would we say at this point that A or B was closer to chimps evolutionarily? If we believe that DNA similarity *is* what makes two things close, then we would naturally say that B, since its genome was still much closer to chimps than A’s genome, was closer evolutionary to B.

    Suppose we had a phylogenetic tree like this:

     /———- Gorilla
    <
     \  /——- Chimp
      \/
       \  /———————————- Species A
        \/
          \—– Humans

    … where the long dashed line to “Species A” indicates a much larger genetic distance (due to e.g. a higher mutation rate). In this case, we’d be genetically closer to chimps than to species A, but we’d still be considered phylogenetically closer to X than to chimps because we share a more recent common ancestor. Also, while there are senses in which you could say chimps are more closely related to humans than to species A, phylogenetically they’re equally closely related.

    The reason I think the differences don’t matter is that DNA is not a major source for organismal form—that form and biochemistry have fairly different sources. One creation biologist, for instance, has suggested that humans and chimps originally started at 100% identical DNA. Why? Because he doesn’t think that DNA contributes that much to form.

    I think this is overstates the situation a great deal. Take dogs again: lots of variation in the form, only a little genetic variation, but the variation in form nontheless is controlled by that genetic variation. As far as I know, the differences between dog breeds follow standard inheritance patterns, and I don’t know of any evidence for non-genetic inheritance of variation in dogs. Do you?

    There are certainly cases where form differs without any corresponding genetic difference — say, worker vs. queen bees, or grasshoppers vs. locusts. But in these cases the difference seems to be a response to environmental stimuli, and I don’t know of any evidence that the responses aren’t ultimately under genetic control.

  7. 7
    Joe says:

    The dogs are still dogs and all are very, very dog-like. Chimps and humans have some similarities but they also have many differences. How many mutations does it take to get an upright biped from a knuckle-walker/ quadruped? What genes were involved? Were any of those genes developmental genes? How many? THAT is how you would measure the difference, but first you need to know if organisms are a sum of their genome.

    And are you sure that the variation in dogs is controlled by genetic variation? We know that the egg itself has some control over development.

  8. 8
    Acartia_bogart says:

    SA:

    The gap between the two [humans and chimps] is virtually infinite.

    writing a statement down does not make it real. What is this fictitious “infinite gap” between humans and chimps? And please don’t resort to that tired old irrelevant fact that chimps can’t write novels or compose operas. The only fundamental difference is the level of development of the human brain, just a single organ in the body. Important, but, from a biological perspective, no more important than opposable thumbs.

  9. 9
    Silver Asiatic says:

    …that tired old irrelevant fact that chimps can’t write novels or compose operas …

    I guess it’s a question of what you find valuable or significant about human life and culture — and how valuable you find it.

    The only fundamental difference is the level of development of the human brain, just a single organ in the body.

    That’s an excellent example of how evolutoinary-reductionism is incapable of making even the most obvious distinctions between things. Supposedly, the difference between man and ape is “only” because of a brain, which is a single organ — about as important as a thumb. When people say that evolution basically destroys everything of meaning, that’s what they’re talking about.

    The human reasoning, creative, and decision-making powers, which are expressions of love and desire for whatever is good, virtue, courage, compassion … ok, evolution says it’s not a big deal. Mozart’s Coronationo Mass is the same as Chopsticks basically. It’s just some sounds. The tragic love of Romeo and Juliet is the same as The Garbage Pail Kids Movie. They’re both just stories about people doing things. No distinction can really be made there. In terms of physics and biology, it’s all basically the same. A molecule here or there, a mutation here or there – nothing much to talk about.

    Important, but, from a biological perspective, no more important than opposable thumbs.

    True, once we reduce human beings to a biological perspective alone, then humans are apes. (But not chimpanzees! Where did creationists ever get that idea?).

  10. 10
    Acartia_bogart says:

    SA, what exactly does being able to compose a symphony, or write a classic novel, have to do with biological truths? It is biological truths that we are trying to figure out here, isn’t it?

    The human brain is certainly a highly adaptive organ that has allowed us to survive and thrive in spite of a body that is not particularly well suited for many earth environments. But a cow’s rumen is also highly adaptive, as is a bat’s sonar and a fish’s lateral line. Is the human ability to compose and write novels adaptive? Does it enhance survival and the ability to reproduce? Or is it merely a by-product of our brain’s development? I don’t know those answers, but they are the ones that are worth examining. Not trying to claim that our ability to appreciate music and beauty makes us infinitely different (i.e., superior, because that is what you are really saying) than chimps.

  11. 11
    niwrad says:

    Acartia_bogart,

    Silver Asiatic is mathematically correct, “the gap between humans and chimps is virtually infinite”. In fact, given its central position on the state of existence, man has intellect that is connected to the infinite information source and as such human knowledge “is virtually infinite”. Animals stay in peripheral positions and haven’t intellect, so their potentiality is finite.

    This is a remark from an ontological perspective. Of course if you want to remain on the narrow material plane and disdain all qualitative differences, then for you no important difference exists between anything. But doing so you are a contradictory person, because you are here discussing with us only because of your intellect. Neglecting the qualitative difference and in the same time arguing here indeed by means of this difference, you are self-refuting. I hope and wish you will understand that soon.

  12. 12
    Silver Asiatic says:

    AB,,

    niwrad said it very well, better than I could. Man’s intellect is “connected to the infinite information source”. Rationality gives human beings the power to retain, compare and communicate intellectual concepts to an infinite degree. Animals cannot do this. The gap between man and animal is virtually infinite.

    You raised some additional interesting points and questions.

    SA, what exactly does being able to compose a symphony, or write a classic novel, have to do with biological truths? It is biological truths that we are trying to figure out here, isn’t it?

    For the first question it’s fascinating because you could be pointing in a direction where we both would agree. I’d like that. From my view, that’s right — composing a symphony has little to do with biology. Artistic inspiration is immaterial – it’s a spiritual thing. Composing a great work of art is not a function of a certain body type or atheletic talent. An invalid in a bed could write a work of genius.

    But, I would think that from your view (or what I think you believe), composing a symphony is entirely the work of a biological organ. In the evolutionary model, all human activity is biological. Certain neurons in the brain (originally mutations selected for some advantage) cause the symphony.

    So, works of art are biological functions. Obviously, the biology of a human being must be radically different if a human can produce a symphony and an ape cannot even produce an repeat simple melody. So, the gap remains enormous even on biological terms.

    On your second question, whether we’re here to talk about biological truths — yes, true but it depends on what we think biology can explain. The point I objected to was that “we are apes”. I said that difference between man and ape is virtually infinite. If a human being can be entirely explained by biology (as evolution has it), then the difference between a human and ape is only biological. Everything can be traced back to evolutionary changes. This denies the spiritual, immaterial aspect of human life — which cannot be described by biology.
    Human culture instinctively knows this, because when we experience a work of artistic genius, nobody thinks this was a biological output determined by natural processes alone. Artists are praised because they used reason and decision-making power and had the idea that art would uplift humanity or express something great.

    Biological functions don’t have that purpose, at least in evolutionary terms.

    Is the human ability to compose and write novels adaptive? Does it enhance survival and the ability to reproduce? Or is it merely a by-product of our brain’s development? I don’t know those answers, but they are the ones that are worth examining. Not trying to claim that our ability to appreciate music and beauty makes us infinitely different (i.e., superior, because that is what you are really saying) than chimps.

    Ok, it’s good to see your opinion on this. You believe the one set of questions is worth examining but not the question of whether music and beauty is of a superior order than mere survival.
    Why do you think the one approach is better than the other?
    Can science tell us what the value and meaning of great music and beauty really is?

  13. 13
    Acartia_bogart says:

    SA, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that the ability to compose and appreciate art may be biologically adaptive.

    But following your reasoning, does this mean that the distance between Einstein (or Mozart, Newton, etc.) and a chimp is much greater than the distance between yourself or myself and a chimp? And what about a severely retarded individual? There are unfortunate humans who’s mental capabilities are no greater than a chimp’s, but that doesn’t make them any less human.

    I am not trying to underestimate the value of our intellect; it would be impossible to argue against it. But it is still the result of biological processes. If you interfere with the brain, either physically or chemically, you can eliminate all of the aspects that you say make us infinitely different than apes. If you can destroy these attributes in a purely materialistic and naturalistic way, then arguing that they are above and beyond biology simply does not make any sense.

  14. 14
    Silver Asiatic says:

    AB,
    I don’t think science can tell us what the value and meaning of music or great beauty is but that’s because I don’t think science is capable of evaluating that question. I also think the idea that science alone is a sufficient basis for the understanding of human life is self-refuting. The discipline of science is a philosophical construct. Science cannot evaluate its own first principles or rules. That’s the paradox of evolution. For me, this is proof enough that human life transcends the biological.

    But following your reasoning, does this mean that the distance between Einstein (or Mozart, Newton, etc.) and a chimp is much greater than the distance between yourself or myself and a chimp?

    Again, there are several answers based on perspective. From an atheist-materialist evolutionary perspective, the distance is measured by different functions (Einstein’s mental output versus mine). But that kind of materialism actually destroys science and meaning (as the paradox above) so how can one make a distinction? How can one measure differences like that? There isn’t even categories for true and false, right and wrong — certainly not categories for greater or lesser. We can’t find those categories in biological forms. That’s what caused Darwin a very ‘horrid’ thought …

    But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?
    — Charles Darwin, to William Graham 3 July 1881

    He saw that a reduction of human intelligence to biology would leave the question of whether human convictions had “any value”. What value do they have from a biological point of view? Survival? What value does that have?

    What is the value-difference between living and non-living matter? One of self-reproducing and the other is not.
    Non-living matter became early life forms (supposedly). There is no value-difference between the one and the other.
    Early bacteria became different life forms. They remain of the same value as their non-living ancestors.

    There’s no reason why survival is necessary or “better than” non-survival. Non-living matter is “superior” to life forms in many ways, from a scientistic perspective. But with a little more thought, the term “superior” really has no meaning from that perspective. Things just exist.

    And what about a severely retarded individual?

    Again, from a theistic perspective there’s a radically different answer to this. But aside from that, any human being, even retarded, has that infinite capacity that we mentioned before. Human thought connects to and expresses the infinite (in terms of variety of knowledge and effect of personality).
    However, I will admit, from a materialist or scientistic view, some measure between human beings. The great danger is that the retarded person would be considered much less from an evolutionary standpoint. There is no protection for the weak under that view. That’s what’s is so frightening about that worldview, as many (like me) see it anyway.

    From a certain theistic view (not all), however, every person is of equal value in the eyes of God and is loved by Him. That’s one of the huge differences we see in worldviews.

    There are unfortunate humans who’s mental capabilities are no greater than a chimp’s, but that doesn’t make them any less human.

    I full agree with you and I appreciate your compassionate view. I don’t see, however, how that view can be supported from rom an evolutionary biology view alone. What kind of measure of value can science put on human beings?

    I am not trying to underestimate the value of our intellect; it would be impossible to argue against it. But it is still the result of biological processes. If you interfere with the brain, either physically or chemically, you can eliminate all of the aspects that you say make us infinitely different than apes.

    Keep in mind, I only argued from a limited perspective about the nature of humanity. I do not believe that all of the aspects that make us infinitely different are found in the brain alone. I did mention the spiritual nature of man and I did not bring theological views into the discussion — although I find those views to be essential to understanding what human beings are.

    If you can destroy these attributes in a purely materialistic and naturalistic way, then arguing that they are above and beyond biology simply does not make any sense.

    If I could damage the brain enough, then I could remove the distance between human and non-living matter also.
    It’s not destroying human reason that is the problem for biology, but it’s trying to build it, explain it, or measure it from biology alone. It’s also trying to explain, biologically, what kind of gap we have between human reason, creativity, decision-making, love, courage, compassion — and the ‘monkey’s mind’ as Darwin called it.

  15. 15
    Silver Asiatic says:

    AB

    Science can’t really answer the question ‘why’ to its fullest extent. Science cannot explain itself.

    In order to decide that “all of reality can be explained by science”, or “human life can be fully explained by biology”, something other than science is required.

    To say that there is a difference between true and false, for example, is more than science can do — since science relies on that distinction and can’t function without it.

  16. 16
    Acartia_bogart says:

    SA:

    Science can’t really answer the question ‘why’ to its fullest extent. Science cannot explain itself.

    Science doesn’t attempt to answer ‘why’. That is the realm of philosophy. Science works best in attempting to answer ‘how’.

    How does the brain function? How is a thought produced? How does brain chemistry affect consciousness?

  17. 17
    Box says:

    Acartia_bogart: How does brain chemistry affect consciousness?

    Acartia_bogart, as a materialist you hold that consciousness is reducible to brain chemistry. Correct? So, how does it make you feel, being brain chemistry, when you ask how brain chemistry effects … brain chemistry?
    I mean, being brain chemistry, does that question even make sense to ‘you’?

  18. 18
    Mung says:

    Arcatia_bogart:

    Science doesn’t attempt to answer ‘why’. That is the realm of philosophy. Science works best in attempting to answer ‘how’.

    Lacking an explanation of why, how is a description of “how” even an explanation?

    Say “science” can tell you how your mom died, but not why.

    Have they explained her death?

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