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Pop human evolution: What multitudes believe

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Ah, the virtual mailbag! Further to “What to do with our education in human evolution? Stuff it!”A reader kindly sends “Human are still evolving”, an article in Mental Floss that offers five instances:

When we think of human evolution, our minds wander back to the thousands of years it took natural selection to produce the modern-day man. But are we still changing as a species, even today? New research suggests that, despite modern technology and industrialization, humans continue to evolve.






Are these trivialities really what they mean by “evolving”?

1. We drink milk [or best not]: For what it is worth, as anyone knows who lives in a multicultural and multi-age group environment, adult lactose tolerance varies wildly by background and can change in a decade or two. Many people who tolerated lactose quite well as young adults become intolerant as they age. Guess those individuals evolved and de-evolved in their own lifetime.

2. We’re losing our wisdom teeth: From Mental Floss

Our ancestors had much bigger jaws than we do, which helped them chew a tough diet of roots, nuts and leaves. And what meat they ate they tore apart with their teeth, all of which led to worn down chompers that needed replacing. Enter the wisdom teeth: A third set of molars is believed to be the evolutionary answer to accomodate our ancestors’ eating habits.

Actually, available evidence suggests that our ancestors ate a variety of edibles, soft and hard, and we don’t have anything like a clear history of wisdom teeth. Or of fourth molars either.

This guy had a complete extra set. Is he more or less evolved than other people, or does that really not relate to the question at all? Note: It is a reasonable possibility that the presence or absence of sets of teeth depends mainly on embryology; that is, if the feature does not cause a problem to the development of the embryo, it could just happen.

3. We’re resisting diseases

Living in cities has produced a genetic variant that allows us to be more resistant to diseases like tuberculosis and leprosy. “This seems to be an elegant example of evolution in action,” says Dr. Ian Barnes from the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway. “It flags up the importance of a very recent aspect of our evolution as a species, the development of cities as a selective force.”

Well, there’s nothing like a world class hospital within 9-11 distance and legal catchment area, to increase one’s chances of survival. Doubtless, the gene signature is the signature of the people who, for various reasons, live there. (One of those reasons could, of course, be active pursuit of longevity.)

4. Our brains are shrinking. Darwin’s believers come up with a variety of reasons our brains have shrunk over time (if they indeed have) and you can read them at the source. Non-believers would suggest that the main thing to see is that, given cultural development in the meantime, brain size may not matter as much as those people need it to.

5. We have blue eyes.

Originally, we all had brown eyes. But about 10,000 years ago, someone who lived near the Black Sea developed a genetic mutation that turned brown eyes blue. While the reason blue eyes have persisted remains a bit of a mystery, one theory is that they act as a sort of paternity test.

To think that the subsequent string of gossipy claims explains blue eyes’ prevalence (or usually not), you have to engage in basically occult reasoning about how people think.

And this is the type of human evolution theory that makes Darwin’s followers a culturally dominant voice?


See also:

What to do with our education in human evolution? Stuff it!


Why didn’t natural selection prevent sister’s schizophrenia?, writer asks (Because “natural selection,” as generally understood, is a spook that can’t prevent anything.)

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Wisdom teeth are because we changed to a meat eating diest after the flood. YEC welcomes wisdom teeth as not having been original. blue eyes are from influence of climate affecting many people upon migration. jUst another aspect of whiting up. not a few mutants breeding well. Our brain is unrelated to intelligence. its size is relative to our body size. ancesters were bigger and tougher. Robert Byers
With respect to #5, I have brown eyes. Does this mean I've disproved evolution? Also, my kids both have brown eyes? Are we a new species? If so, can I pick out the scientific name? Barb

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