Adaptation Devolution

At Evolution News: Much Ado About Lactase Persistence

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Michael Behe provides insightful comments on the recent report discussing lactase persistence.

Nothing shows the feebleness of Darwinism quite so much as breathless stories about brand new results. This week the topic was “lactase persistence” — the ability of some humans to continue to metabolize the milk sugar lactose past weaning and into adulthood. A bunch of news stories1,2,3,4 reported on a research article5 that claimed to demonstrate the old way of thinking about the topic was probably wrong.

The old hypothesis was pretty straightforward. Like the young of other mammalian species, human babies produce an enzyme (lactase) that breaks down the sugar (lactose) in mother’s milk, which is the first step in the metabolism of lactose. The gene for lactase is normally switched off after weaning, so adults can’t drink milk without suffering unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms (no need to be explicit about that here). About ten thousand years ago, some human societies began to herd cattle. Thus, the old thinking went, any person then with a mutation that allowed them to drink cow (or sheep or goat) milk as an adult without getting sick would have a new source of nutrition that wasn’t available to nonmutants. So random mutation and natural selection kicked in and a few hundred generations later most folks in Europe do indeed have a mutation that causes lactase to be produced into adulthood. Who could ask for a more compelling example of the power of the Darwinian mechanism?

Well, I Could

The gene for lactase is about fifty-thousand nucleotides long, is composed of 17 exons, and has a one-thousand nucleotide promoter region preceding it. On the other hand, mutations that cause LP are single-nucleotide changes (any of several distinct ones will work) — just one (count ‘em, one) unit out of more than fifty thousand. What’s more, the change results in what in Darwin Devolves I termed a “loss-of-functional-coded-element” (loss-of-FCT). The mutation apparently (the situation is still not nailed down) destroys a pre-existing binding site near the gene for a regulatory protein that once switched off the gene at the appropriate developmental age. That’s not evolution — it’s devolution. An analogy might be to a small screw falling out of your car that renders the emergency brake inoperable. That might actually help in some odd driving circumstance but it is not the kind of process that would build an emergency brake — let alone a car — in the first place.

As simple and plausible as the lactase scenario sounds, the new paper says the old conventional wisdom doesn’t fit the facts. In reality, a lot of modern people who don’t make lactase as adults happily drink milk (or eat ice cream) anyway and shrug off the minor digestive consequences. Using data from ancient pottery samples and genetic analysis of ancient human remains, the authors showed there was also no correlation between milk consumption in antiquity and the presence of the lactase mutation in a region. They pooh-pooh the selective value of the mutation by itself and claim that it wouldn’t have spread so quickly if it gave such a slight advantage.

So what does explain the spread of the mutation? All the authors have to offer is speculation. They suggest that, although the mutation wouldn’t be of much help in ordinary times, in times of famine or plague a bit of intestinal distress can be fatal, perhaps jacking up the selective value. They gesture at some data they say supports the association of the mutation with times of famine and disease, but it’s hard to have any confidence in their more convoluted story when the simpler story was very persuasive, widely accepted, and wrong.

The Starkest Lesson

And that is the starkest lesson of the paper. One of my major points in Darwin Devolves was the impossibility (not just difficulty) of knowing that Darwinian evolution drove the unfolding of life. Much of the prestige of science derives from the power and elegance of the laws of physics, which are indeed wonderful predictors of the behavior of bodies — for a few steps. But try predicting with just Newton’s laws where a particular billiard ball will end up after a few bounces around a pool table that also holds a dozen other balls. Better yet, try predicting the weather in detail for Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, for 2:18 p.m. on the first Thursday in October — it can’t be done, even though all the particles involved obey the known laws of physics. Those same laws of physics that accurately calculate the trajectory of a cannon ball are close to useless with complex systems.

And, as we see clearly with the example of lactase persistence, life is a complex system. So we get the spectacle of nearly a hundred brilliant scientists working for years, publishing their best results in one of our most prestigious journals — and they report their struggle to understand why one nucleotide change out of fifty thousand might have given some sort of advantage in some sort of circumstance or other. Contrast that poignant struggle with the smug pronouncements one routinely reads in textbooks and scientific society bulletins, that science most assuredly knows that all of life — from the genetic code to molecular machines to eukaryotic cells to worms to elephants to the human mind — is the result of a Darwinian process.

Talk about straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.



Evolution News

20 Replies to “At Evolution News: Much Ado About Lactase Persistence

  1. 1
    Peter says:

    Good article. Even if they were able to explain the change it was not evolution. They were humans before and humans after. Evolution is the theory that one species changed into another. There is exactly no evidence for evolution

  2. 2
    Alan Fox says:

    Evolution is the theory that one species changed into another.

    There’s a bit more to it than that. There are three basic processes: adaptation, where a population of organisms change over time in response to differential breeding success in response to the immediate environment, speciation, where s population becomes split (geographical isolation is one way that happens), and extinction.

  3. 3
    Alan Fox says:

    The gene for the lactase enzyme is already present. All that needs to happen is the gene off-switch to become inactive.

  4. 4
    Peter says:

    I believe Darwin’s book was called “Origin of the Species.” Not gradual changes over time that does not lead to speciation.

  5. 5
    Alan Fox says:

    Not gradual changes over time that does not lead to speciation.

    Not in its own, no. For speciation to occur, there had to be a barrier preventing gene flow that separates a population into two. This can be simply geographical but does not have to be. Jerry linked to a fascinating video with Peter and Rosemary Grant talking about their work with Galapagos finches that covers this really well.

  6. 6
    relatd says:

    A very good article. Those who believe in evolution offer useless examples like coin tosses. A coin has two sides. Or billiard balls on a standard table. The natural world is far, far more complex yet these examples are trivial by comparison. And any mention of the environment is like a closed movie set, with events unfolding on cue. The environment can change in a few years or a few hundred, but that is ignored in favor of the story. Less science than fiction.

  7. 7
    Alan Fox says:

    The natural world is far, far more complex yet these examples are trivial by comparison. And any mention of the environment is like a closed movie set, with events unfolding on cue. The environment can change in a few years or a few hundred, but that is ignored in favor of the story.

    Nonsense.The environment and how it changes is essential, absolutely pivotal, to evolutionary theory. It is the designer.

  8. 8
    relatd says:

    AF at 7,

    God is the designer of living things. The designer of the environment as well.

  9. 9
    relatd says:

    Peter at 4,

    Examine the math. Supposed changes X millions of years = everything you see around you. False. Richard Dawkins wants people to believe living things only look designed. They are not actually designed. The truth is living things were and are designed.

  10. 10
    Alan Fox says:

    Relatd in comment #8

    Exactly, Relatd. There’s no conflict between evolution and theism.

  11. 11
    relatd says:

    AF at 10,

    There’s a very big conflict. Not ‘let’s slap a sticker with the word God on the Biology textbook.’ You know they won’t do that so how dare you suggest there’s no conflict? I know about the impenetrable barrier between science and religion. Even the Catholic Church recognizes it. However, evolution, as advertised, is incompatible with reality and the faith.

    The attempts to keep the theory alive are failing under increasing observations of more complexity, not less. The almost constant refrain of “overthrows existing thinking,” “unexpected function” and so on.

    As complexity increases, blind, unguided chance disappears as a possible explanation.

  12. 12
    bornagain77 says:

    AF at 7: “The environment and how it changes is essential, absolutely pivotal, to evolutionary theory. It is the designer.”

    So the environment is the designer? Really?

    Seems someone forgot to tell the evidence to conform to your “environment is the designer’ hypothesis.

    ,,, “In four of the biggest climatic-vegetational events of the last 50 million years, the mammals and birds show no noticeable change in response to changing climates. No matter how many presentations I give where I show these data, no one (including myself) has a good explanation yet for such widespread stasis despite the obvious selective pressures of changing climate.”

    Darwin’s Legacy – Donald R. Prothero – February 2012
    Excerpt: “For the first decade after the paper [Punctuated Equilibrium] was published, it was the most controversial and hotly argued idea in all of paleontology. Soon the great debate among paleontologists boiled down to just a few central points, which Gould and Eldredge (1977) nicely summarized on the fifth anniversary of the paper’s release. The first major discovery was that stasis was much more prevalent in the fossil record than had been previously supposed. Many paleontologists came forward and pointed out that the geological literature was one vast monument to stasis, with relatively few cases where anyone had observed gradual evolution. If species didn’t appear suddenly in the fossil record and remain relatively unchanged, then biostratigraphy would never work—and yet almost two centuries of successful biostratigraphic correlations was evidence of just this kind of pattern. As Gould put it, it was the ‘dirty little secret’ hidden in the paleontological closet. Most paleontologists were trained to focus on gradual evolution as the only pattern of interest, and ignored stasis as ‘not evolutionary change’ and therefore uninteresting, to be overlooked or minimized. Once Eldredge and Gould had pointed out that stasis was equally important (‘stasis is data’ in Gould’s words), paleontologists all over the world saw that stasis was the general pattern, and that gradualism was rare—and that is still the consensus 40 years later. …
    In my dissertation on the incredibly abundant and well preserved fossil mammals of the Big Badlands of the High Plains, I had over 160 well-dated, well-sampled lineages of mammals, so I could evaluate the relative frequency of gradualism versus stasis in an entire regional fauna. …
    it was clear that nearly every lineage showed stasis, with one minor example of gradual size reduction in the little oreodont Miniochoerus. I could point to this data set and make the case for the prevalence of stasis without any criticism of bias in my sampling. More importantly, the fossil mammals showed no sign of responding to the biggest climate change of the past 50 million years (the Eocene-Oligocene transition, when glaciers appeared in Antarctica after 200 million years). In North America, dense forests gave way to open scrublands, crocodiles and pond turtles were replaced by land tortoises, and the snails changed from those typical of Nicaragua to those of Baja California. Yet out of all the 160 lineages of mammals in this time interval, there was virtually no response.”,,,
    In four of the biggest climatic-vegetational events of the last 50 million years, the mammals and birds show no noticeable change in response to changing climates. No matter how many presentations I give where I show these data, no one (including myself) has a good explanation yet for such widespread stasis despite the obvious selective pressures of changing climate.

  13. 13
    Lieutenant Commander Data says:

    So the environment is the designer? Really?

    Seems someone forgot to tell the evidence to conform to your “environment is the designer’ hypothesis.

    ,,, “In four of the biggest climatic-vegetational events of the last 50 million years, the mammals and birds show no noticeable change in response to changing climates.

    🙂 Adaptation to environment is a limited feature, has a narrow range of options ( fine tuning is successful or the only alternative is death,extinction) . Adaptation is not produced by environment but it’s triggered by environment. Big difference. Changes in temperatures/humidity/etc. do not create code and functionality. The code and function is already there and respond to external stimuli.

  14. 14
    bornagain77 says:

    AF at 10: “There’s no conflict between evolution and theism.”

    Well actually, since all of science is based on essential Judeo-Christian presuppositions,

    The Judeo-Christian Origins of Modern Science – Stephen Meyer – video – (April 2022)

    ,, and since Darwinian evolution has no actual real-time empirical evidence to support its grandiose claims,

    Scant search for the Maker – 2001
    Excerpt: But where is the experimental evidence? None exists in the literature claiming that one species has been shown to evolve into another. Bacteria, the simplest form of independent life, are ideal for this kind of study, with generation times of 20 to 30 minutes, and populations achieved after 18 hours. But throughout 150 years of the science of bacteriology, there is no evidence that one species of bacteria has changed into another, in spite of the fact that populations have been exposed to potent chemical and physical mutagens and that, uniquely, bacteria possess extrachromosomal, transmissible plasmids. Since there is no evidence for species changes between the simplest forms of unicellular life, it is not surprising that there is no evidence for evolution from prokaryotic to eukaryotic cells, let alone throughout the whole array of higher multicellular organisms.
    – Alan H. Linton – emeritus professor of bacteriology, University of Bristol.

    The Scientific Case Against Evolution by Henry M. Morris, Ph.D.
    Belief in evolution is a remarkable phenomenon. It is a belief passionately defended by the scientific establishment, despite the lack of any observable scientific evidence for macroevolution (that is, evolution from one distinct kind of organism into another).,,,
    ,,, “Even with DNA sequence data, we have no direct access to the processes of evolution, so objective reconstruction of the vanished past can be achieved only by creative imagination.”
    N. A. Takahata, “Genetic Perspective on the Origin and History of Humans,” Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics (vol. 26, 1995), p. 343.

    ,,,then Darwinian evolution itself turns out to be crucially dependent upon faulty theological presuppositions.

    Evolution as a Theological Research Program – by Cornelius Hunter – August 2021
    Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution interacted with non-empirical factors including a range of theological concerns. The influence of these theological concerns is typically modeled as secondary to that of empirical evidence. In both Darwin’s thought and later development of the theory of evolution, theological concerns have been viewed as serving in a range of possible roles. However, the theological concerns have consistently been viewed as, ultimately, subservient to empirical science. In the end, science has the final say regarding the content and evaluation of the theory. Here, this paper demonstrates the failure of this model. Theological concerns do have primacy over the science. They motivate the development of evolutionary theory, and they control the interpretation of the empirical evidence and justification of the theory. It is more accurate to view evolution as a theological research program.
    Introduction Excerpt:
    ,,, theological claims are common in Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (Darwin 1859), where they are essential to his science. The religion is not a tangential message, and one need not read between the lines to see it. In the Origin, it would not be an exaggeration to say the religion drives the science. Darwin’s religion is not merely present, it is prominent and has primacy over the science. The religion is foundational.
    The importance of religion in Darwin’s theory is also apparent in the science he presented. As Section 5 shows, Darwin did not have sufficient scientific arguments and evidence to advance his theory. Finally, as Section 6 and Section 7 demonstrate, these roles and relationships between religion and science persisted after Darwin. This religious foundation was by no means peculiar to Darwin’s thought. It has remained foundational since Darwin in motivating and justifying the theory. What we find in Darwin continued in later evolutionary thought. Therefore, the thesis of this paper is that evolution is best understood as a theological research program.

    Charles Darwin, Theologian: Major New Article on Darwin’s Use of Theology in the Origin of Species – May 2011
    Excerpt: The Origin supplies abundant evidence of theology in action; as Dilley observes:
    I have argued that, in the first edition of the Origin, Darwin drew upon at least the following positiva theological claims in his case for descent with modification (and against special creation):?1. Human beings are not justified in believing that God creates in ways analogous to the intellectual powers of the human mind.
    2. A God who is free to create as He wishes would create new biological limbs de novo rather than from a common pattern.
    3. A respectable deity would create biological structures in accord with a human conception of the ‘simplest mode’ to accomplish the functions of these structures.
    4. God would only create the minimum structure required for a given part’s function.
    5. God does not provide false empirical information about the origins of organisms.
    6. God impressed the laws of nature on matter.
    7. God directly created the first ‘primordial’ life.
    8. God did not perform miracles within organic history subsequent to the creation of the first life.
    9. A ‘distant’ God is not morally culpable for natural pain and suffering.
    10. The God of special creation, who allegedly performed miracles in organic history, is not plausible given the presence of natural pain and suffering.

    Methodological Naturalism: A Rule That No One Needs or Obeys – Paul Nelson – September 22, 2014
    Excerpt: It is a little-remarked but nonetheless deeply significant irony that evolutionary biology is the most theologically entangled science going. Open a book like Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True (2009) or John Avise’s Inside the Human Genome (2010), and the theology leaps off the page. A wise creator, say Coyne, Avise, and many other evolutionary biologists, would not have made this or that structure; therefore, the structure evolved by undirected processes. Coyne and Avise, like many other evolutionary theorists going back to Darwin himself, make numerous “God-wouldn’t-have-done-it-that-way” arguments, thus predicating their arguments for the creative power of natural selection and random mutation on implicit theological assumptions about the character of God and what such an agent (if He existed) would or would not be likely to do.,,,
    ,,,with respect to one of the most famous texts in 20th-century biology, Theodosius Dobzhansky’s essay “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” (1973).
    Although its title is widely cited as an aphorism, the text of Dobzhansky’s essay is rarely read. It is, in fact, a theological treatise. As Dilley (2013, p. 774) observes:
    “Strikingly, all seven of Dobzhansky’s arguments hinge upon claims about God’s nature, actions, purposes, or duties. In fact, without God-talk, the geneticist’s arguments for evolution are logically invalid. In short, theology is essential to Dobzhansky’s arguments.”,,

    Damned if You Do and Damned if You Don’t – Steve Dilley- 2019-06-02
    The Problem of God-talk in Biology Textbooks
    Abstract: We argue that a number of biology (and evolution) textbooks face a crippling dilemma.
    On the one hand, significant difficulties arise if textbooks include theological claims in their case for evolution.
    (Such claims include, for example, ‘God would never design a suboptimal panda’s thumb, but an imperfect structure is just what we’d expect on natural selection.’) On the other hand, significant difficulties arise if textbooks exclude theological claims in their case for evolution. So, whether textbooks include or exclude theological claims, they face debilitating problems. We attempt to establish this thesis by examining 32 biology (and evolution) textbooks, including the Big 12—that is, the top four in each of the key undergraduate categories (biology majors, non-majors, and evolution courses). In Section 2 of our article, we analyze three specific types of theology these texts use to justify evolutionary theory. We argue that all face significant difficulties. In Section 3, we step back from concrete cases and, instead, explore broader problems created by having theology in general in biology textbooks. We argue that the presence of theology—of whatever kind—comes at a significant cost, one that some textbook authors are likely unwilling to pay. In Section 4, we consider the alternative: Why not simply get rid of theology? Why not just ignore it? In reply, we marshal a range of arguments why avoiding God-talk raises troubles of its own. Finally, in Section 5, we bring together the collective arguments in Sections 2-4 to argue that biology textbooks face an intractable dilemma. We underscore this difficulty by examining a common approach that some textbooks use to solve this predicament. We argue that this approach turns out to be incoherent and self-serving. The poor performance of textbooks on this point highlights just how deep the difficulty is. In the end, the overall dilemma remains.

    The role of theology in current evolutionary reasoning – Paul A. Nelson – Biology and Philosophy, 1996, Volume 11, Number 4, Pages 493-517
    Excerpt: Evolutionists have long contended that the organic world falls short of what one might expect from an omnipotent and benevolent creator. Yet many of the same scientists who argue theologically for evolution are committed to the philosophical doctrine of methodological naturalism, which maintains that theology has no place in science. Furthermore, the arguments themselves are problematical, employing concepts that cannot perform the work required of them, or resting on unsupported conjectures about suboptimality. Evolutionary theorists should reconsider both the arguments and the influence of Darwinian theological metaphysics on their understanding of evolution.
    – ,,,

    In short, “It is the evolutionists who have a conflict between their religious beliefs and science”, not Christian Theists.

    The Importance of the Warfare Thesis – Cornelius Hunter, PhD in Biophysics – July 26, 2015
    Excerpt: Historians have understood for the better part of a century now that this Warfare Thesis (between science and religion) is a false history. It was constructed by evolutionists to frame the origins debate in their favor. In fact the conflict is the exactly the opposite—it is between the metaphysical foundation of evolutionary thought and science. That metaphysical foundation of naturalism is unyielding and unbending, and it makes no sense on the science. It is the evolutionists who have a conflict between their religious beliefs and science. The Warfare Thesis is an attempt to turn the tables and turn the attention away from the obvious problems with evolutionary thought.
    Evolutionists say that their skeptics suffer from bad religion and bad science. In fact, the metaphysical foundation of naturalism is not biblical (in spite of the fact that it comes from Christians), and evolutionary theory is not scientific. Science does not indicate that the world spontaneously arose.,,,
    Clear scientific evidence for evolution? Abundant genetic and fossil evidence for evolution? Yes, the scientific evidence is clear, and the genetic and fossil evidence is abundant, but it does not support evolution. Not even remotely.
    Of course Scripture can have different interpretations. But the science leaves no such wiggle room. It does not prove, indicate or suggest that the species arose spontaneously, as a consequence of natural laws and processes. That is a metaphysical mandate that is in conflict with the science.

    Darwinists, with their vital dependence on faulty theological presuppositions, instead of on any compelling scientific evidence, in order to try to make their case for Darwinian evolution are, as Cornelius Van Til put it, like the child who must climb up onto his father’s lap into order to slap his face.

    “In other words, the non-Christian needs the truth of the Christian religion in order to attack it. As a child needs to sit on the lap of its father in order to slap the father’s face, so the unbeliever, as a creature, needs God the Creator and providential controller of the universe in order to oppose this God. Without this God, the place on which he stands does not exist. He cannot stand in a vacuum.”
    – Cornelius Van Til, Essays on Christian Education (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Phillipsburg, NJ, 1979).


    1 Thessalonians 5:21
    but test all things. Hold fast to what is good.

  15. 15
    ET says:

    Alan Fox:

    There’s no conflict between evolution and theism.

    Meet Will Provine:

    In other words, religion is compatible with modern evolutionary biology (and indeed all of modern science) if the religion is effectively indistinguishable from atheism.1

    The frequently made assertion that modern biology and the assumptions of the Judaeo-Christian tradition are fully compatible is false.2

    Evolution is the greatest engine of atheism ever invented.

    Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent.3

    As the creationists claim, belief in modern evolution makes atheists of people. One can have a religious view that is compatible with evolution only if the religious view is indistinguishable from atheism.4


    ‘Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear … There are no gods, no purposes, no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end for me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans, either.’ 5

    Thank you for your honesty, Will.

    1- Academe January 1987 pp.51-52 †

    2-Evolutionary Progress (1988) p. 65 †

    3- “Evolution: Free will and punishment and meaning in life” 1998 Darwin Day Keynote Address 1 2 †

    4- No Free Will (1999) p.123

    5- Provine, W.B., Origins Research 16(1), p.9, 1994.

  16. 16
    ET says:

    Earth to Alan Fox- The environment only HONES an already existing and well-established design.

  17. 17
    asauber says:

    “There’s no conflict between evolution and theism.”


    You keep saying this, but all your obtuse Evolutionist friends think there is.


  18. 18
    Seversky says:

    If religion makes testable claims about the natural world that are contradicted by the findings of science then there is a conflict.

  19. 19
    ET says:

    The only testable claims made by the religion of evolution by means of blind and mindless processes involve genetic diseases and deformities.

  20. 20
    relatd says:

    Seversky at 18,

    Science is not god. Don’t even try to make comparisons.

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