Complex Specified Information Design inference Evolutionary biology Genetics Genomics Human evolution Intelligent Design

Is Human Intellect Degenerating?

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Geneticist Gerald R. Crabtree reviews evidence showing genomic mutations are degrading the 2000 to 5000 genes needed for our intellectual and emotional function:

New developments in genetics, anthropology, and neurobiology predict that a very large number of genes underlie our intellectual and emotional abilities, making these abilities genetically surprisingly fragile. . . .
Between 2000 and 5000 genes are needed for intellectual and emotional function. . . .
A recent study of the Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM) database, although incomplete, indicates that about half of all human genetic diseases have a neurologic component, [6], frequently including some aspect of [intellectual deficiency], consistent with the notion that many genes are required for intellectual and emotional function. The reported mutations have been severe alleles, often de novo mutations that reduce fecundity. However, each of these genes will also be subject to dozens if not hundreds of weaker mutations that lead to reduced function, but would not significantly impair fecundity, and hence could accumulate with time. . . .
It is very likely that within 3000 years (~120 generations) we have all sustained two or more mutations harmful to our intellectual or emotional stability. Recent human genome studies revealed that there are, per generation, about 60 new mutations per genome and about 100 hetrozygous mutations per genome that are predicted to produce a loss of function [7], some of which are likely to affect genes involved in human intellect. . . .
we, as a species, are surprisingly intellectually fragile and perhaps reached a peak 2000-6000 years ago. . . .

Gerald R. Crabtree Our Fragile Intellect. Part 1 Cell Press, TIGS-995

[6] Marin, O. And Gleeson, J.G. (2011) Function follows form: understanding brain function from a genetic perspective. Curr. Opin. Genet. Dev. 21, 237-239.
[7] MacArthur, D.G. et al. (2012) A systematic survey of loss-of-function variants in human protein-coding genes. Science 335, 823-828.

It is fascinating to see recognition of substantial cumulative genomic degradation rates. This affirms John C. Sanford’s thesis of accumulating mutations degrading function as described in Genetic Entropy and The Mystery of the Genome. In Mendel’s Accountant, Sanford provides software to quantitatively model this accumulative genomic degradation. See: John C. Sanford and Chase W. Nelson (2012). The Next Step in Understanding Population Dynamics: Comprehensive Numerical Simulation. In: Studies in Population Genetics, M. Carmen Fusté (Ed.), ISBN: 978-953-51-0588-6, InTech.

This raises the questions:
How did this remarkable number of coordinated genes come into being in the face of this rapid rate of genomic degradation?

Is neo-Darwinian evolution possible with such rapid cumulative genomic degradation?

Do these 2000-5000 genes for intellectual and emotional function constitute Complex Specified Information?

39 Replies to “Is Human Intellect Degenerating?

  1. 1
    Neil Rickert says:

    Is Human Intelligence Degenerating?

    To me, this seems unlikely, in the light of the Flynn effect.

    There might be a lot of change going on in that part of the genome, but change is not necessarily degeneration.

  2. 2
    sagebrush gardener says:

    Neil, the Wikipedia article you refer to indicates that the Flynn effect (a general increase in IQ scores beginning around 1930) is only a short-term spike due to 20th century developments such as increased schooling, a more stimulating environment, improved nutrition, and a decrease in infectious diseases and environmental toxins. Several studies show that average IQ has actually been decreasing for the last 20 years, and Flynn (for whom the original effect was named) has predicted further decline for the future. There is a limit to the IQ gains from environmental factors and it appears that dysgenic factors are beginning to reverse the trend.

  3. 3
    sagebrush gardener says:

    In fact, shocking studies reveal that half the population of the US has below-average intelligence!

    (Sorry, couldn’t resist. 🙂 )

  4. 4
    Mung says:

    So there’s at least a 50/50 chance I am in the upper 50 percentile?

  5. 5
    sagebrush gardener says:

    Based on the evidence, I think your chances are better than that, Mung.

  6. 6
    DLH says:

    sagebrush gardener
    According to Crabtree, all ancient children would be above (today’s) average (with apologies to Prairie Home Companion.)

    I would wager that if an average citizen from Athens of 1000 BC were to appear suddenly among us, he or she would be among the brightest and most intellectually alive of our colleagues and companions, with a good memory, a broad range of ideas, and a clear-sighted view of important issues. . . .

    Neil Rickert
    Try actually reading Crabtree’s paper. Be warned that he relies on actual experimental evidence.

    Perhaps the most effective way to estimate the number of genes in humans that are needed for full intellectual function is to rely on studies of X-linked intellectual deficiency (XLID). Present studies indicate that mutation of about 215 intellectual deficiency (ID)genes on the X chromosome give rise to XLID and/or emotional disability [1,2]; this represents about 25% of the genes on the X chromosome.

    Caution: He abbreviates “intellectual deficiency” as ID.

  7. 7
    DLH says:

    I changed “intelligence” to “intellect” in the title to distinguish from genomic evidence from evidence of degenerating intelligence.

  8. 8
    Neil Rickert says:

    Try actually reading Crabtree’s paper. Be warned that he relies on actual experimental evidence.

    I read the paper before posting the first time. I am underwhelmed by the evidence presented.

    “Intelligence” refers to behavioral abilities, not to specific genes. And, as the paper says, there are many genes involved in producing intelligence. With that many genes, one cannot jump to conclusions about the effects on behavior from what is seen in the genes. The kind of conclusion expressed would require some solid testing of actual observed intelligence.

    Crabtree’s first sentence:

    I would wager that if an average citizen from Athens of 1000 BC were to appear suddenly among us, he or she would be among the brightest and most intellectually alive of our colleagues and companions, with a good memory, a broad range of ideas, and a clear-sighted view of important issues.

    I see intelligence as adaptive. If that average Athens citizen were to appear, he would be badly malapted to modern society. We would likely see him as confused and of low intelligence.

    I’m not at all sure what Crabtree takes “intelligence” to mean, but it would appear to be very different from what I understand it to mean.

  9. 9
    DLH says:

    Nick
    Apologies on my inference.
    I understand Crabtree referring to actual mutations that degrade human intellect. He uses mutation(s) 40 times, intellectual 34 times, intellect 4 times, versus intelligence once.
    On mutations the intellect, see: X-Linked Intellectual Disability (XLID)

    Intellectual disability can result from both environmental circumstances and genetic causes. Genetic causes, which account for up to 50% of moderate-severe cases, include chromosomal anomalies, specific syndromes, and single gene disorders.
    Approximately 10% of the protein-encoding genes on the X chromosome have been implicated in XLID. Although the numbers of mutations and reported families are small, collectively the impact of these genes is significant. This panel includes analysis of 91 X-linked genes that are known to be involved in syndromal and nonsyndromal intellectual disability.

    Thus physical degradation of related genes impacts the intellect and/or emotions. A common example is the chromosomal duplication causing Down Syndrome.

  10. 10
    Robert Byers says:

    Hit the brakes!
    Who has proven we have no soul?! If we have a soul then that is the place of our thinking intelligence entirely. Thats why in the afterlife we will be thinking fine. No brains are needed .
    Our brain is just a middleman between us and our body.
    There is no evidence of mental deficiency in people due to our intelligence. Being druck does the same thing as any mental problem. A clue.

    Genes are unrelated to our intelligence and counting them is a waste of time.
    this is all evolutionary presumptions.

    The intelligence of a people is based on their score of wisdom, understanding, knowledge.
    God/Solomon taught us this in proverbs.
    The peoples today are just showing changes in these three categories.

  11. 11
    DLH says:

    Robert Byers

    Think.
    If you lose half the genes needed to think, how will you think or express yourself intelligently?

    For the biochemistry etc, see Mario Beauregard & Denyse O’Leary The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case for the Existence of the Soul

    For a commentary, see Watchman Nee, The Spiritual Man.

  12. 12
    Neil Rickert says:

    I understand Crabtree referring to actual mutations that degrade human intellect.

    That certain mutations degrade human intellect (whatever that means), does not imply that all mutations to those genes will likewise degrade. Maybe some will enhance.

    I see his claim as a speculative inference, and I am skeptical of that inference.

    Perhaps I should add that I am not a Darwinian. Presumably, a Darwinian expects the gene to be optimal or near optimal, and sees evolution as optimization. My own understanding of evolution is not based on optimization. Rather, I expect evolution to depend on the presence of as much variation as a population can withstand.

    Perhaps Crabtree sees significant variation, and to him that suggests that there is a lack of optimization which I presume to be what he means by “fragile”. However, from my non-Darwinian view of evolution, I see nothing surprising in their being much variation in a part of the genome that might be involved in adapting to modern culture.

  13. 13
    tragic mishap says:

    No, because human intelligence is not based on genetics.

    Why are we treating this topic seriously?

  14. 14
    JGuy says:

    Wow…fascinating! My friend oversea’s just sent me this link on the same exact topic just a few minutes ago:

    http://naturalsociety.com/lead.....declining/

    Excerpt:

    “I would wager that if an average citizen from Athens of 1000 BC were to appear suddenly among us, he or she would be among the brightest and most intellectually alive of our colleagues and companions, with a good memory, a broad range of ideas, and a clear-sighted view of important issues. Furthermore, I would guess that he or she would be among the most emotionally stable of our friends and colleagues,” the geneticist began his article in the scientific journal Trends in Genetics.

  15. 15
    JGuy says:

    And all the YEC said, “holla!”….

    “Taken together, the large number of genes required for intellectual and emotional function, and the unique susceptibility of these genes to loss of heterozygosity, lead me to conclude that we, as a species, are surprisingly intellectually fragile and perhaps reached a peak 2000–6000 years ago.”source

    …just saying! B)

  16. 16
    JGuy says:

    Why object to the implications of degraded genetics on IQ etc..?
    It’s simple:

    Degraded genes => Degraded (proteins and/or neural connections) => Degraded memory => Degraded IQ.

    ..and..

    Degraded genes => Degraded (proteins and/or neural connections) => Degraded (hormonal balance and/or brain function) => Degraded Emotional Stability.

  17. 17
    JGuy says:

    tragic mishap

    IQ may or may not be based on genetics, but it can be impacted by genetics.

    Would IQ would be impacted negatively by a degraded memory.
    —Yes.(correct?)
    Could degraded genetics impact memory?
    —Yes.(correct?)
    Therefore:
    —Degraded genetics can impact IQ negatively.(correct?)

  18. 18
    JGuy says:

    Neil Rickert @ 1

    What do you think would come from comparing the writings of say the top political minds of today with the top political minds of the late 1700’s.

    e.g. The writings of Thomas Jefferson would compare to the writing of who in politics today???

    Granted, this is probably prone to a few errors. But I think just mentioning the sophisticated thought & writings of T.J. should make one reconsider how smart we think we really are today.

  19. 19
    Neil Rickert says:

    What do you think would come from comparing the writings of say the top political minds of today with the top political minds of the late 1700?s.

    You cannot compare them, because they were dealing with very different kinds of problems.

    My earlier comment was on an assertion made about average citizens of ancient Athens.

  20. 20
    Collin says:

    Tragic mishap,

    Do you assert that the brain does nothing?

  21. 21
    JGuy says:

    Neil @ 19
    Agreed that they dealt with different kinds of problems, but that should have little to do with how well articulate and intelligently they used words to communicate complex ideas.

    Not sure how one could compare average citizens of ancient times to today. If the Flynn Effect were depicting reality, then would extrapolating the trend backwards imply the average citizen of Athens was a bumbling idiot? I doubt any would argue that, so it would seem there is probably more to the effect than the reading it’s proponents might make.

    I noticed on wiki there are reasons to doubt its veracity.

  22. 22
    Collin says:

    Sometimes I feel like my personal intelligence is declining at such a pace as to make this statement true for all of humanity by pulling down the average.

  23. 23
    Neil Rickert says:

    JGuy #21:

    Not sure how one could compare average citizens of ancient times to today.

    The point here is that we would compare them. It’s human nature. But we could not compare them fairly.

    If the Flynn Effect were depicting reality, then would extrapolating the trend backwards imply the average citizen of Athens was a bumbling idiot?

    No, of course not.

    The point is that the way we measure intelligence would not be appropriate for use in that earlier era.

  24. 24
    Robert Byers says:

    DLH
    JUst my point.
    The genes have nothing to do with our thinking.
    They could only be, along with the brain, a middleman between us and our body.
    We think in our soul. The bible says man thinks with his heart
    there is no evidence our brain or genes affects our intelligence.
    Its just a presumption from evolution and Star Trek!
    Jesus intelligence was unrelated to his Genes.
    Same as us.

  25. 25
    tjguy says:

    This also raises the following question:

    Could humanity have really undergone 6 million years or so of evolution if it was dealing with this kind of degradation over that time?

    Reminds me of what John Sanford has been saying about genetic entropy.

    Interesting. I don’t know for sure, but I would think this has implications for how old humans could honestly be thought to be. It does seem like this information fits with the YEC side of things fairly well.

  26. 26
    JGuy says:

    Neil @ 32

    The point is that the way we measure intelligence would not be appropriate for use in that earlier era.

    Perhaps, a crude way to do it would be to compare available knowledge per time period, if possible, and how quickly new knowledge became discovered. We might have the advantage because of population size and tools, but that also means subsequent knowledge barriers would be set higher. … or something akin to this. This also assumes [perhaps to a fault] a smooth flat landscape for discovering new knowledge.

  27. 27
    DLH says:

    Further evidence of genetic mutation impacting intellect and intelligence/emotion.
    Same Genetic Basis Is Found in 5 Types of Mental Illness

    The psychiatric illnesses seem very different — schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, major depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Yet they share several genetic glitches that can nudge the brain along a path to mental illness, researchers report. Which disease, if any, develops is thought to depend on other genetic or environmental factors.

    Their study, published online Wednesday in the Lancet, was based on an examination of genetic data from more than 60,000 people world-wide. . . . Two of the aberrations discovered in the new study were in genes used in a major signaling system in the brain, giving clues to processes that might go awry and suggestions of how to treat the diseases.

    Identification of risk loci with shared effects on five major psychiatric disorders: a genome-wide analysis
    The Lancet, Early Online Publication, 28 February 2013
    doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(12)62129-1

    SNPs at four loci surpassed the cutoff for genome-wide significance (p<5×10^8) in the primary analysis: regions on chromosomes 3p21 and 10q24, and SNPs within two L-type voltage-gated calcium channel subunits, CACNA1C and CACNB2.

  28. 28
    Aspire to Solomon says:

    Hello all,

    I was wondering if any ID proponents out there were skeptical of Genetic Entropy, and could provide any reasonable arguments in regard to that view. I personally believe that it’s not our genes that is flawed, but the environment they reside in that it causing many of the problems darwinisist and GE proponents seem rather quick to attribute to genes.

    My primary humble objections personally are as such, but I’m sure some could provide better critiques and rebuttals than I could:

    1. God doesn’t make junk, people do!
    2. GE renders ethics and virtue arbitrary; no one is able to do anything intrinsically good, we can at best, arrange deck chairs on the titanic
    3. GE suggest we are intrinsically flawed, which of course, calls into question how a flawless God can create flawed individuals.
    4. who says that that the laws of entropy applies to consciousness/freewill/vital forces? who says a ID can only exist in a closed system?

  29. 29

    Collin @22:

    LOL!

    —–

    Aspire to Solomon @28:

    ID doesn’t say anything about what God would or wouldn’t do, so a couple of your items can be crossed off the list.

    Is there any reasonable doubt that mutations are increasing in the genome? If they are, under a design theoretic principle, what good can they possibly do (assuming they are truly mutations and not guided)?

  30. 30
    Aspire to Solomon says:

    Perhaps I didn’t state this clearly enough, but I was primarily asking wether or not there were any ID proponents out there SKEPTICAL of GE, not in support of it. And if so, if they could explain why.

    Eric;

    “ID doesn’t say anything about what God would or wouldn’t do, so a couple of your items can be crossed off the list.”

    No, but it seems counterintuitive that a intelligent being would design something in such a fashion that it contains within itself the seeds of it’s own destruction, and the consciousness to comprehend it’s own futility to pursue meaning, despite having within itself the desire to do so.

    “Is there any reasonable doubt that mutations are increasing in the genome? If they are, under a design theoretic principle, what good can they possibly do (assuming they are truly mutations and not guided)?”

    Well it’s just that. Calling it a mutation is an assumption that the damage in question is a consequence of a flaw within the design itself, as opposed to a cause from a changing environment, the willful imposition of a outside, active force, or the free will of the organism itself. Genetic Entropy is just darwinism in reverse, but both still view life as a mechanistic system full of flaws. And I’m not sure how GE and freewill can exist. But like I said, the primary purpose of this questions was to see wether or not anyone out there was skeptical of GE and if so, why. I was giving some reasons as to why I personally was skeptical.

  31. 31

    Aspire to Solomon @30:

    No, but it seems counterintuitive that a intelligent being would design something in such a fashion that it contains within itself the seeds of it’s own destruction, and the consciousness to comprehend it’s own futility to pursue meaning, despite having within itself the desire to do so.

    Well, that is a philosophical/metaphysical view.

    Why wouldn’t an intelligent being design something that is intended to be temporary, indeed even containing “the seeds of its own destruction?” Why should an intelligent being be obligated to design something to last forever? Particularly when the intelligent being might be more interested in the long term lessons taken from our temporary sojourn here in life, than our ease or comfort.

    I, for one, don’t have any problem at all with the idea of an intelligent being designing something that will break down over time.

    Indeed, your position is but a variation on the “bad design” line of arguments that evolutionists like to use to “prove” God doesn’t exist. Bad design (whether in the sense of poor design or evil design) does not mean something is not designed.

    Calling it a mutation is an assumption that the damage in question is a consequence of a flaw within the design itself . . .

    Not necessarily. Was it designed to be 100% robust and unbreakable? Rarely, if ever, is anything designed to such specifications. Furthermore, perhaps it was intended to eventually run down. Or design constraints dictated that it would last a certain amount of time, which was deemed to be adequate for the designer’s purposes. There are a whole host of reasons why a designed system might break down. The idea that design has to meet some arbitrary definition of “perfect,” I will reiterate, is one of the key rhetorical devices of the materialist evolutionist.

  32. 32
    Aspire to Solomon says:

    Bears repeating, that I am again primarily interested in the thoughs by ID proponents who are skeptical of GE.

    Eric;

    “Well, that is a philosophical/metaphysical view.”

    It most certainly is, but I have yet to find a part of this website that isn’t. 😀

    “Why wouldn’t an intelligent being design something that is intended to be temporary, indeed even containing “the seeds of its own destruction? Why should an intelligent being be obligated to design something to last forever?”

    It’s not a questions of why wouldn’t an intelligent being design something intended to be temporary, the questions is why would a intelligent being design something to be temporarily INTELLIGENT, and not only intelligent, but also an overwhelming will to live. Does it make sense for an intelligent designer to design something against itself, in short, a contradiction? Surely you are aware of the incredible myriad of ways the body and mind seek to avoid death?

    “Particularly when the intelligent being might be more interested in the long term lessons taken from our temporary sojourn here in life, than our ease or comfort.”

    This is a false dichotomy. Also, Ease and comfort by what standard?

    “I, for one, don’t have any problem at all with the idea of an intelligent being designing something that will break down over time.”

    It’s not a something. It’s a someone. There in lies the difference that makes it problematic for me.

    “Indeed, your position is but a variation on the “bad design” line of arguments that evolutionists like to use to “prove” God doesn’t exist. Bad design (whether in the sense of poor design or evil design) does not mean something is not designed.”

    No, it’s not, because I’m not debating wether or not we are designed; I am calling into question the particulars of how some believe we are designed. Just because anything is possible, does not mean anything is reasonable, or rational. And we can expect a designer to be at least as logical as it’s creation.

    “Not necessarily. Was it designed to be 100% robust and unbreakable? Rarely, if ever, is anything designed to such specifications.”

    Rarely, if ever, is anything designed to be conscious, so that would make sense.

    “Furthermore, perhaps it was intended to eventually run down.”

    “It” is a person. Therein lies the difference.

    “Or design constraints dictated that it would last a certain amount of time, which was deemed to be adequate for the designer’s purposes. There are a whole host of reasons why a designed system might break down. The idea that design has to meet some arbitrary definition of “perfect,” I will reiterate, is one of the key rhetorical devices of the materialist evolutionist.”

    I never said perfect, just rational, so the comparison is unwarranted. But if the idea of perfection, as you say, is arbitrary, there using it in a sentence is meaningless.

  33. 33
    Aspire to Solomon says:

    I think it’s also worth remembering that all science rests on certain philosophical assumptions. So if a scientific conclusion contradicts it’s philosophical premises, it merits at least some degree of skepticism.

    I would also like to reiterate that I’m not saying it is hypothetically impossible that GE and ID can co exist, but it seems outrageous to me that a concept that diminishes humanity to the status of half breed, myopic, pitiful, de evolving munchkins, should be accepted so blithely; a high price to pay for what I am suspicious of being nothing more than YEC theological harmonization.

  34. 34
    Aspire to Solomon says:

    Apologize for being perhaps overly sharp. It’s just that too often I see, in general, people try so desperately hard to “make sense of things” they will even hastily accept ideas that diminish their own dignity, without hesitation.

  35. 35
    Aspire to Solomon says:

    *with far too little hesitation, or reserve

  36. 36
    Aspire to Solomon says:

    Also, to make it clear, I am very much an ID proponent, I am simply very skeptical of the existence of GE.

  37. 37

    . . . I am simply very skeptical of the existence of GE.

    Yes, but you appear to be skeptical for philosophical reasons. The question is not whether an imagined designer would or would not design in a particular way. The question is whether GE exists. It is a factual, observational, objective issue.

    Being skeptical that a designer would allow such a thing is very much a form of “bad design” argument. I understand you aren’t arguing that humans aren’t designed (the evolutionist side of the coin); you are using the other side of the coin, namely, there can’t be bad design. But it is very much the same coin.

  38. 38
    Aspire to Solomon says:

    “Yes, but you appear to be skeptical for philosophical reasons.”

    Dang it, you caught me. Guess will have to purge all the philosophers from the forum for corrupting teh sciencez and teh factz. I’ll let you in on a secret; there is not a single person here who doesn’t have philosophical reasons for believing the things they do.

    “The question is not whether an imagined designer would or would not design in a particular way. The question is whether GE exists. It is a factual, observational, objective issue.”

    Lol, whose questions is it again? Anyways, yes, why would any of us on a ID forum want to debate something that was not a factual, observational, objective issue? I think Aristotle would be insulted if you told him he wasn’t interested in facts (I make no pretense of being even remotely equivalent to him, but the analogy still applies).

    “Being skeptical that a designer would allow such a thing is very much a form of “bad design” argument. I understand you aren’t arguing that humans aren’t designed (the evolutionist side of the coin); you are using the other side of the coin, namely, there can’t be bad design. But it is very much the same coin.”

    I think referring to what I am saying as a “bad” design argument is a bit of a simplification. I’m not saying “bad”, which is a value judgement, I’m saying contradictory, which is not a value judgement, it is a matter of rules of logic, which is very much a parameter of fact finding. Wether you value contradictions as good or bad is something else entirely. To give you an example of the nature of my skepticism, imagine someone pointed at the Grand Canyon and told you it is, in fact, a giant watch.

  39. 39
    Aspire to Solomon says:

    I know Mung is a ID proponent skeptical of GE, but I can’t imagine he is the only one. C’mon guys, speak up! 😀

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