May 5, 2012 | David F. Coppedge

We Became Human by Mistake

A new theme in human evolution is making the rounds.  According to the story, a mistake led to the human brain, and the rest is history.

Live Science headlined in bold print, “Did a Copying Mistake Build Man’s Brain?”  (We assume this includes woman’s brain, but this could arouse controversy, depending on whether the mistake is deemed a good or bad thing).  Not to be outdone, New Scientist titled their version in a less sexist way, “One gene helped human brains become complex.

The provocative headline stems from “new research” from the Scripps Research Institute that identified a gene that appears to result from a gene duplication:

“There are approximately 30 genes that were selectively duplicated in humans,” study researcher Franck Polleux, of The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., said in a statement. “These are some of our most recent genomic innovations.

An extra copy of a gene gives evolution something to work with: Like modeling clay, this gene isn’t essential like the original copy, so changes can be made to it without damaging the resulting organism.

By “selectively duplicated,” Polleux was clearly referring to natural selection, not selection by an intelligent designer wanting to make humans smarter.  The gene, SRGAP2, appears to be involved in the efficient organization of the cerebral cortex.

When the researchers added  the partially duplicated gene copy to the mouse genome (mice don’t normally have it) it seemed to speed the migration of brain cells during development, which makes brain organization more efficient.

The mice, however, were not observed to start writing music or philosophy.

Somehow, using evolutionary dating assumptions, the Scripps team was able to surmise that this gene got duplicated not once, but twice in human evolution: the first time 3.5 million years ago, when it duplicated completely, and again 2.5 million years ago, when only part of it got duplicated.

These cells that expressed the incomplete duplication of SRGAP2 also had more “spines” — knoblike extensions on the cell surface that connect with other brain cells, which make them look more like human brain cells.

Interestingly, the incomplete copy of the gene seems to have showed up just as the extinct hominin Australopithecus made room for the genus Homo, which led to modern humans. That’s also when the brains of our ancestors began to expand and when dramatic changes in cognitive abilities are likely to have emerged.

Sarah Reardon in New Scientist expanded the story to imagine different lineages of humans with different numbers of gene duplications of SRGAP2.  “When it comes to brain development, slow and steady wins the race,” she began.  “A single ancestral human gene that made two copies of itself may have helped the evolution of our large brains 2.5 million years ago, as our ancestors were diverging from australopithecines.”

Her final paragraph quoted team leader Evan Eichler proving that science can be fun:

What’s interesting about the duplication, Eichler says, is that it would have changed brain development immediately and dramatically. Human ancestors with two, three, or even more copies of SRGAP2 – and consequently stark differences in their cognitive abilitiescould have been running around together at one point. “That’s fun to think about,” he says.

Live Science was even more dramatic about the scientific earthquake generated by this fun thought.  Eichler said, “These episodic and large duplication events could have allowed for radical — potentially Earth-shattering — changes in brain development and brain function.”

Yet so little is understood about how the matter of the brain connects to the mind, the self, cognition and intelligence, as an essay by Sumit Paul-Choudhury explored on New Scientist.  Along that line, perhaps another PhysOrg article would be appropriate in connection with the daring assertions above: “Has modern science become dysfunctional?

OK; if this is a new law of nature, let’s count all the SRGAP2 genes in mammals and see how they correlate with cognitive function.  Are you smarter because of knoblike spines on your brain cells?  If so, IQ should be a direct reflection of your knobs, making some people Einsteins and others witless nobs who are spineless.

Here’s the question you should ask when reading stupid claims like this.  How would they ever know?  If evolution made a mistake and duplicated a gene, then our intelligence arrived by mistake.  But evolution is what evolution does; i.e., this was not a mistake at all.  Stuff happens.

Now, if an evolutionist wants to reach outside of evolution and engage in philosophy, to determine whether something was mistaken, or whether a mouse’s brain is less efficient than a human brain, then he (or she) is making reference to Truth, something that is outside of nature.  Truth must be timeless, universal, necessary, and certain.  It is not made of particles, and cannot evolve.

If, on the other hand, the scientist says that science is not about Truth, but about exploration, then the game is over.  Science is not about finding the truth.  It’s just something “fun to think about” (whatever thinking refers to in a primate brain with more or less knobs and spines).  Maybe it’s the kind of fun a chimpanzee gets from scratching its butt.  So if scratching your head or your butt is fun, have at it.  Enjoy; both ends are equally cognitive.

Some may choose to believe they became human by mistake.  The rest of us will go to church and, using all our mental faculties (mind, emotions and volition) the way they were intended, will praise the Creator who designed the human brain and soul for His pleasure, who implanted in human beings–the only rational physical creatures He made–a bit of His image: the ability to reason about things timeless, universal, necessary and certain.


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  • John_Michael says:

    It’s so nice to have CEH back !!

    I enjoyed the Youtube link for the song,
    Praise to the Lord the Almighty the King of creation ..

    “Oh my soul praise Him
    for He is thy health and salvation”


  • rockyway says:

    A. “Did a Copying Mistake Build Man’s Brain?”
    – This headline simply assumes that the human brain was ‘built’ bit by bit by bit over millions of years.
    – If this process were generally true, I should be able to dig out an old story I wrote as a teenager, make a copying mistake, publish it, and win a literary prize for it.

    B. “One gene helped human brains become complex.”
    – This headline simply assumes that the human brain ‘became’ complex.
    – I thought we’d left these ‘one gene’ explanations behind.

    C. “A single ancestral human gene that made two copies of itself may have helped the evolution of our large brains 2.5 million years ago, as our ancestors were diverging from australopithecines.”
    – Where is the evidence that a species that ‘splits off’ from an ancestor becomes greater? I realize this is the theory, but where’s the evidence?
    Let’s take the dog kind; we now have a great many varieties but are any of them orders of magnitude greater than the rest? If a mere copying mistake of a single gene could turn an ape into a human being why don’t we see such spectacular occurrences all over the map? If it’s all this simple why isn’t human equivalent intelligence common place?

    All this tells us nothing about where the gene came from; and logic tells us it can’t be mutations all the way down. At some point there has to be a source of information, not merely a ‘mechanism’ for distorting that information.
    The progress-by-mutation story places far too much weight upon the first living organism, as it has to contain the potential for all further information on the planet. i.e. it has to hold (in potentia) all the life forms that have ever lived since its emergence.

    D. In my opinion the Scripps team is merely assuming what it needs to prove.
    Q. How can they know any of this stuff?
    A. They just assume that the latest version of neo-Darwinism is correct; e.g. that humans are millions of years old, and that they evolved from some extinct ape. Their claims are utterly dependent upon their (unproven) assumptions. i.e. the theory is projected onto the data, and the claim is then made that the ‘data’ prove the theory.
    – these theory laden speculations usually have a very short lifetime before they’re shown to be false.

  • L. Kimball says:

    From the article: “An extra copy of a gene gives evolution something to work with..”

    Observe that naturalists almost invariably animate their metaphysical concepts, in this case evolution actually ‘works with’ something as if evolution itself thinks, selects, and creates. This is animism.

    Essentiality, animism is the belief that not only is all of nature animated — including both living and non-living things — but that the animating force or spirit conveys power and influence. Western occult-pantheism speaks of animating spirit or soul while evolutionary materialism speaks of miracle-producing ‘knowing’ energies that in their modern forms, animate and inform what can be viewed as either discarnate entities such as dialectical matter, chance, causation, determinisim and evolution or ‘thinking entities’ called memes,

    In turning back to nature, evolutionists unwittingly opened the door to animism.

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