We had to lose muscle to grow bigger brains, some evolutionists said, and the media went ape.
“It is a very simple explanation, and it could be completely wrong,” a scientist said. “In evolution, however, simple explanations often work well.” Maybe “simplistic” should be substituted for “simple.” Old newspaper codger H. L. Mencken once said, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” Is that what is happening in a new PLoS paper? (“Exceptional Evolutionary Divergence of Human Muscle and Brain Metabolomes Parallels Human Cognitive and Physical Uniqueness”). Humans use more of their metabolism to support their brains than mice or monkeys do. Does that mean we evolved from them? Reporters loved the idea. They gulped it down, and regurgitated it uncritically with dashing headlines:
- Humans Evolved Weak Muscles to Feed Brain’s Growth, Study Suggests; Weak muscles evolved even faster than smart brains in people. (National Geographic)
- Did Big Brains Sap Our Strength? (Michael Balter in Science Magazine)
- Humans Sacrificed Brawn for Brains, Study Suggests (Charles Q. Choi in Live Science)
- Intertwined evolution of human brain and brawn (Science Daily)
- Jocks vs. Geeks: The Downside of Genius? (Roland G. Roberts in PLoS Biology)
In an effort to make their study look scientific, the team in China compared mice, macaques, chimpanzees and human athletes several ways. They compared energy use profiles from 5 kinds of tissues. They gave the subjects strength tests. And they tested some of the macaques after giving half of them a fatty, sugary diet, to ensure that diet alone did not affect the readings. In short, the experiments showed that non-human mammals use more of their metabolism for muscle, so pound for pounds, were stronger than the humans.
None of this should be surprising; it’s well known that apes are strong, and that humans are smart. It’s also well known that the human brain is a costly organ in terms of energy requirements. Why, then, is this making such a splash in the media? It’s because it can be used to support an evolutionary story. The authors say so in their paper:
We found that the evolution of the metabolome largely reflects genetic divergence between species and is not greatly affected by environmental factors. In the human lineage, however, we observed an exceptional acceleration of metabolome evolution in the prefrontal cortical region of the brain and in skeletal muscle. Based on additional behavioral tests, we further show that metabolic changes in human muscle seem to be paralleled by a drastic reduction in muscle strength. The observed rapid metabolic changes in brain and muscle, together with the unique human cognitive skills and low muscle performance, might reflect parallel mechanisms in human evolution.
It “might” be so, and might makes right when it comes to evolution. None of the evolutionary spin would make any sense to someone who denies that humans gained their philosophically-rich brains by blind, unguided processes. All that can properly be said about the observations is that the various mammals currently possess the equipment and metabolic engines they need for their particular lifestyles. Nothing evolved before the researchers’ eyes; the experimental subjects are all living, breathing beings. Despite their assertions, the authors did not observe “rapid metabolic changes in brain and muscle” or “the evolution of the metabolome” anywhere. It was merely assumed from their prior belief in evolution.
Even granting the evolutionary assumptions, the study could be severely criticized on procedural or philosophical grounds. Wouldn’t a more rigorous study have included a bigger sample? The researchers did not measure a sloth, an elephant, a porpoise, or any number of other mammals whose numbers might have gone off the charts. It has been demonstrated, for instance, the crows are better tool-makers than chimpanzees. In addition, metabolism is only one measure—but not the only one—to study the brain-to-brawn ratio. How do they know that other measures might not contradict the trend? As a historical example, Victorian evolutionists assumed that brain capacity was a proxy for intelligence, till later studies showed that it’s quality, not quantity, that counts. Finally, the researchers cannot have discovered a law of evolution here; if large brains are such a successful strategy—such that it allowed humans to take over the world—why have no other animals followed suit? Mice, macaques, and chimpanzees are still what they are, after supposedly many tens of millions of years for them to evolve smarts. But “in the evolutionary sweepstakes, victory sometimes goes to the brainiest rather than the brawniest,” Science Magazine says. This means that evolution explains opposite outcomes with equal ease: everyone wins, and everyone gets a Darwin prize.
These are just a few ways this paper might have been criticized, even by evolutionists. Sadly, not a single reporter was skeptical. National Geographic typifies the media response: “That appears to confirm the idea that weak muscles, along with a weakness for the couch—so conducive to brain-intensive exercises like watching movies and reading—could be our evolutionary inheritance.” So why go to the gym? Turn on the TV and watch a movie. It’s your evolutionary inheritance.
Science reporters have sold their souls to Darwin. They have no courage, no originality, no logic, no shame. Where is the Jeremiah for this age to mock them, saying, “Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done? They were not even ashamed at all; they did not even know how to blush.”
We pray CEH can play a bit of the role God gave that bold prophet: “I have made you an assayer and a tester among My people, that you may know and assay their way. All of them are stubbornly rebellious, going about as a talebearer.” As it was in 600 BC, lovers of truth should not be complacent over talebearers who lead the people astray.