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Expert contra Dawkins, why eugenics wouldn’t really work

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A reader writes to draw our attention to a genetics thread on Twitter explaining why eugenics wouldn’t work. Reader adds that the author, David Curtis, has a “very impressive” resume in human genetics. A smidgen:

There are a number of different kinds of reason why eugenics would not work. One is that humans have long generational times and small numbers of offspring. This would make any selective breeding process extremely slow.

Another reason is that humans are exposed to very different environments, so most of trait variation is not due to genetic factors but to differences in environment. One consequence is that it makes it hard to identify subjects who have desirable genetic characteristics.

We can now measure genetic potential directly from genetic markers and what we know from this is that these genetic predictors perform extremely badly. We can also tell that there are many important, very rare genetic variants which we will never be able to identify.

But aren’t these barriers to effective selective breeding also barriers to natural selection? Career-wise, it may not be smart to ask out loud but do keep the question alive… .

See also: Jerry Coyne jumps into the Dawkins eugenics row. Contrary to Coyne’s and Dawkin’s claims, dog breeding is DEvolution for dogs. It usually works that way, as Michael Behe points out in Darwin Devolves. Dogs are bred by humans at the expense of their genetic health.

and

Richard Dawkins says eugenics works because he assumes we are just like animals At one fell swoop, Dawkins exposes another frequent weakness of naturalist atheism: direct conflict with facts. Eugenics does not work for humans. Unlike animals, we make personal choices, which could be based on reason and free will or on the apparent lack thereof. And those choices confound the ambitions of others.

9 Replies to “Expert contra Dawkins, why eugenics wouldn’t really work

  1. 1
    Truthfreedom says:

    A real scientist. A reasonable man saying things that make sense.
    A/materialists take note and forget your (many) delusions.

  2. 2
    Eugene says:

    As I recall, human IQ is only about 30% due to heredity. So, what’s the point of eugenics again? To give all of us blue eyes or something? What else is desirable in humans if not IQ?

  3. 3
    Bob O'H says:

    There are a number of different kinds of reason why eugenics would not work. One is that humans have long generational times and small numbers of offspring. This would make any selective breeding process extremely slow.

    I think this is something everyone’s in agreement with (even Dawkins).

    Another reason is that humans are exposed to very different environments, so most of trait variation is not due to genetic factors but to differences in environment. One consequence is that it makes it hard to identify subjects who have desirable genetic characteristics.

    It’s certainly true that a low heritability would make this harder, but for some traits there would, I think, be enough variation. Eugene mentions IQ, and I think a 30% heritability would be enough for breeding to work (given enough time…). Mind you, if you want to increase the intelligence of population, it would be a lot cheaper to change the environment (e.g. improve education, diet etc.).

    We can now measure genetic potential directly from genetic markers and what we know from this is that these genetic predictors perform extremely badly. We can also tell that there are many important, very rare genetic variants which we will never be able to identify.

    This is amusing – it’s clear he’s a human geneticist. You we know that predicting genetic potential from markers works poorly. That’s because they are compared to the older breeding methods, based on quantitative genetics, i.e. precisely the methods Dawkins was referring to.

  4. 4
    BobRyan says:

    In order for eugenics to work, the assumption of humans being nothing more than animals would have to be a valid argument. If there is nothing unique about humans and we are nothing more than some slightly higher evolved ape, then there could be some argument in favor of eugenics.

    Rather than pushing for eugenics, prove macro evolution exists first. Macro evolution has never been witnessed and never been replicated. These are two of six steps in the Scientific Method that need to happen for a theory to be valid. Not one person has ever done the last three steps, which keeps it in the realm of science-fiction.

    Why do Darwinists say macro evolution is a fact? It has everything to do with a lack of evidence to support their belief. There belief is based on emotional attachment with no rational reasoning.

  5. 5
    Truthfreedom says:

    @4 EugeneS

    Not one person has ever done the last three steps, which keeps it in the realm of science-fiction.

    Darwinism is a ridiculous belief system for people who have not grown up. They watch Jurassic Park and believe it is real. Go figure.

    Why do Darwinists say macro evolution is a fact? It has everything to do with a lack of evidence to support their belief. There belief is based on emotional attachment with no rational reasoning.

    Yes. They are driven by child-like emotions. That is why they are always saying things that make zero sense and have no relatedness with the real world.

  6. 6
    bornagain77 says:

    As to these comments from the linked article:

    There are a number of different kinds of reason why eugenics would not work. One is that humans have long generational times and small numbers of offspring. This would make any selective breeding process extremely slow.
    Another reason is that humans are exposed to very different environments, so most of trait variation is not due to genetic factors but to differences in environment. One consequence is that it makes it hard to identify subjects who have desirable genetic characteristics.
    We can now measure genetic potential directly from genetic markers and what we know from this is that these genetic predictors perform extremely badly. We can also tell that there are many important, very rare genetic variants which we will never be able to identify.
    So we have an absolute ceiling on our ability to assess an individual’s genetic fitness from either their current performance or from their genome and we know that the potential ability to do this is extremely low, far too low to be useful for selective breeding.
    We should bear in mind that harsh selection pressures have been acting on humans up to the present and that there may be very little scope for overall improvement. In any event, we can confidently say that selective breeding to improve desirable traits is not practicable.
    What about removing deleterious characteristics? This was a prominent aim of previous eugenic enterprises. Recent work has shown many cases of severe intellectual disability are due to what are called de novo genetic mutations.
    A de novo mutation is one which happens around the time the embryo is formed and means that the child has a new genetic variant which was not present in either parent. So a child with severe learning disability can be born to perfectly healthy parents.
    Many other cases of severe intellectual disability occur as a result of recessive variants, where each healthy parent carries one copy of the variant but only the child who inherits two copies of it is affected.
    With a recessive disease it may be possible to eliminate cases of the disease from the population using a combination of carrier testing, prenatal screening and selective termination. However this is not eugenics because the variants are still present in the population.
    Everybody carries variants which are harmless but which would have a damaging effect if a child inherited another copy from the other parent. So selective breeding cannot eliminate carriers of recessive conditions from the population because everybody is a carrier.
    Selective breeding cannot eliminate cases which are due to de novo mutations nor those due to recessive effects. Parents of children with de novo mutations are themselves genetically normal. Recessively acting variants are carried by everybody.
    De novo and recessive effects account for a large proportion of genetic causes of intellectual disability and also to a lesser extent contribute to many other conditions, including autism and schizophrenia.
    TLDR: People who support eugenics initiatives are evil racists. Also, modern genetic research shows that eugenics would not work.
    https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1229701171721445376.html

    Pretty much all of the reasons that he listed for why eugenics, i.e. artificial selection, in humans will not work fits John Sanford’s overall thesis of ‘Genetic Entropy’:

    Dr. John Sanford – Links to Selected Papers
    https://www.logosresearchassociates.org/john-sanford

    Particularly, this paper

    Can Purifying Natural Selection Preserve Biological Information?
    Excerpt Abstract:
    Most deleterious mutations have very slight effects on total fitness, and it has become clear that below a certain fitness effect threshold, such low-impact mutations fail to respond to natural selection. The existence of such a selection threshold suggests that many low-impact deleterious mutations should accumulate continuously, resulting in relentless erosion of genetic information.,,,
    Excerpt Conclusion:
    In conclusion, numerical simulation shows that realistic levels of biological noise result in a high selection threshold. This results in the ongoing accumulation of low-impact deleterious mutations, with deleterious mutation count per individual increasing linearly over time. Even in very long experiments (more than 100,000 generations), slightly deleterious alleles accumulate steadily, causing eventual extinction. These findings provide independent validation of previous analytical and simulation studies [2–13]. Previous concerns about the problem of accumula-tion of nearly neutral mutations are strongly supported by our analysis. Indeed, when numerical simulations incorporate realistic levels of biological noise, our analyses indicate that the problem is much more severe than has been acknowledged, and that the large majority of deleterious mutations become invisible to the selection process. Even apart from numerical simulation, it would seem readily obvious that the following factors should interfere with selection effectiveness and thereby increase the threshold for selection: (a) large functional genome size; (b) high mutation rate; (c) significant environmental variance; (d) randomness in the selection process; (e) extensive linkage; and (f) small or fragmented popula-tions. These factors are characteristic of all higher life forms [14] and should therefore be included in any future analyses. Our numerical simulation program incorporates all these factors, and suggests that the threshold for selection break-down should be very substantial for most eukaryotic species. As stated by Keightley and Eyre-Walker “How humans and related species evade the effects of mutation load on an evolutionary time scale is also an open question”
    https://www.worldscientific.com/doi/pdf/10.1142/9789814508728_0010

    Also see:

    Dr. John Sanford Lecture at NIH: Genetic Entropy – Can Genome Degradation be Stopped? (Short answer, NO!)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Mfn2upw-O8

    John Sanford – video playlist
    https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLUytqtt54JMKFcqD5smIY2MkqUOOYdPRO

    Of note, aside from David Curtis, having a “very impressive” resume, Dr. John Sanford also has a “very impressive” resume,

    Biography:
    As a Cornell University professor, John conducted genetic research for over 30 years. This research has resulted in more than 100 scientific publications and several dozen patents. In addition to producing numerous new crop varieties, John’s research resulted in new genetic engineering technologies. A large fraction of the transgenic crops grown in the world today involved use of the biolistic “gene gun” process, of which John was the primary inventor.
    https://www.logosresearchassociates.org/john-sanford

  7. 7
    aarceng says:

    In dog breeding the dogs have no choice as to their partners. If we could impose that limit on humans then in principal we could apply eugenics to humans. Of course with our long generation time such a program would extend over hundreds of years.

    This is of course highly impractical, let alone ethically abhorrent.

  8. 8
    ET says:

    Natural selection has absolutely no chance at producing the diversity of life. It has no chance at changing body plans. And as far as Charles Darwin in concerned, natural selection has failed as a designer mimic.

  9. 9
    Truthfreedom says:

    ”Artificial selection’ ‘is mechanistically not very different than ”natural selection” in the sense that there is a factor that determines the probabilities of reproduction of individuals that have different traits.

    And that factor is?

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