Genetics Intelligent Design

How many fields other than human evolution can cheerfully tolerate the following level of vagueness?

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In “Out-of-Africa migration selected novelty-seeking genes” (New Scientist, 06 May 2011), Aria Pearson tells us, “AS HUMANS migrated out of Africa around 50,000 years ago and moved across the planet, evolution may have latched onto a gene linked to risk-taking and adventurousness.” Once treated skeptically, the idea “stands up to rigorous analysis,” due to minor differences in gene frequencies:

The study suggests that some small portion of the behaviours that characterise populations may be down to genetics, and that cultural actions like mass migration can modify our genes, says Matthews.

Marcus Munafò, a biological psychologist at the University of Bristol, UK, cautions that variations in the DRD4 gene are numerous and complex, making its exact behavioural effects hard to pin down. But he agrees that it is likely that some differences in behaviour have been generated by genetic selection.

If a characteristic is usefully identified as genetic, shouldn’t it offer a stronger signal than this? And shouldn’t analysis be more rigorous than this?

How much have we learned by talking about these vague possible effects of genes, compared to simply inferring – using no information from genetics at all – that people who, when they face problems, choose to up stakes and set off for parts unknown are by definition more adventurous than most of us?

And if someone who does this turns out to have the wrong alleles, then he isn’t wrong, genetics is. Or maybe genetics is right – but this isn’t genetics.

3 Replies to “How many fields other than human evolution can cheerfully tolerate the following level of vagueness?

  1. 1
    GilDodgen says:

    Anyone with experience in any rigorous scientific discipline — especially engineering, which is continuously subjected to empirical verification — must be amazed that this kind of completely unsupported speculation is taken seriously in any “scientific” journal.

    This kind of stuff belongs in the same category as palm reading and astrology.

  2. 2
    Heinrich says:

    Gil – surely the paper is more than just “unsupported speculation”. Don’t they provide evidence for their claim that the distribution of he DRD4 alleles can’t be explained by neutral processes? Isn’t that what their Table 2 is showing?

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    Whenever I see one of these studies that try to pin specific behaviors to genetics, I’m reminded of this humorous video from John Cleese:

    John Cleese – The Scientists – humorous video

    further note:

    Can atheists trust their own minds? – William Lane Craig – video

    “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 – Letter To William Graham – July 3, 1881

    “Atheists may do science, but they cannot justify what they do. When they assume the world is rational, approachable, and understandable, they plagiarize Judeo-Christian presuppositions about the nature of reality and the moral need to seek the truth.
    As an exercise, try generating a philosophy of science from hydrogen coming out of the big bang. It cannot be done. It’s impossible even in principle, because philosophy and science presuppose concepts that are not composed of particles and forces. They refer to ideas that must be true, universal, necessary and certain.” Creation-Evolution Headlines

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