February 19, 2013 | David F. Coppedge

The Evolution of Tattooing, and Other Skinny Science

Evolution has become a catch-all explanation that is so intuitively obvious to some, it requires no justification.


Since humans have bare skin, and chimpanzees do not, it must have evolved for a reason, an evolutionary anthropologist at Penn State surmises.  That reason is, according to Science Daily: “Evolution Helped Turn Hairless Skin Into a Canvas for Self-Expression.”  Bare skin doesn’t just keep you cool, it looks cool when decorated:

About 1.5 to 2 million years ago, early humans, who were regularly on the move as hunters and scavengers, evolved into nearly hairless creatures to more efficiently sweat away excess body heat, said Nina Jablonski, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology. Later, humans began to decorate skin to increase attractiveness to the opposite sex and to express, among other things, group identity.

It’s not clear why, if humans evolved hairlessness “to” move sweat, if they did this by choice, and why other primates did not; or did they decide to evolve sweat glands after they lost their fur?  It’s not clear also when they became hairless, since Jablonski admits later in the article that there are no skin fossils more than a few thousand years old, and agrees “it is difficult to exactly say when humans began to decorate their skin“.  But did they decorate their skin by intelligent design?  Is personal expression an intelligent choice or a product of natural selection?

Jablonski seemed hopelessly confused when talking about living canvases.  On the one hand, she attributes humanity to a long, slow process of natural selection, but on the other hand, she seems to focus on the intelligent design of the tattoos, as if to legitimize them:

While parents may still fret that their children are choosing tattoo designs frivolously, Jablonski said people have traditionally put considerable time and thought into the tattoos.

“Usually it is something with deep meaning,” Jablonski said. “When I talk to people about their tattoos they, tell me they’ve spent months or years choosing a design that is incredibly meaningful and salient to them.”

If she can explain the evolution of meaning, perhaps her critics will give her a listen.  From there, she went on to disparage the “aquatic ape” theory on the grounds that “it does not match the genetic, fossil and environmental evidence,” she said.  And her point was?

Fingerprint Evidence

In another article from the BBC News, reporter Jonathan Amos discussed fingerprints.  If they exist, there must be an evolutionary explanation: “Artificial finger tests evolutionary origin of prints” announces the headline. 

The observation is interesting because it could say something quite deep about the evolution of primates.

Only our order of animals, with a few exceptions, has these ridges, or dermatoglyphs, on the ends of fingers and toes.

The research would suggest therefore that the prints gave our ancestors a unique advantage as they clambered through ancient forests.

My, what “could” that advantage be?  Someone at Dartmouth intelligently designed an artificial finger to drag across surfaces and measure the friction.  Sure enough, the coefficient of friction changes by 50% depending on the orientation of the ridges in the fingerprint.  This can only mean one thing: it gave primates the ability to grip trees better.

This explanation sidesteps several other questions, though.  For one thing, was it such an advantage that all the other primates died because they could not climb as well?  Why don’t other tree-climbing mammals have this trait.  Finally, humans have not been habitual tree-climbers for millions of years; why has the trait persisted?  An explanation for that can be forthcoming if one adopts the just-so storytelling method rampant among evolutionists.  They evolved to help cops identify criminals.

All About Sex

On New Scientist, readers are treated to an evolutionist who does not make up just-so stories.  Pardis Sabeti “didn’t do that,” reporter Michael Marshall assures us.  But a closer look shows Sabeti, hunting for positive selection in the genes of 179 individuals, vascillating on the meaning of the evidence.  By tracing the occurrences of a gene named EDAR370A, she’s trying to establish that a “Sweat mutation may have helped us colonise Asia,” but is not sure what the gene map shows.

It’s not clear why EDAR370A was selected for. Any one of the changes it produces could have been beneficial, or perhaps it was a combination of the effects. “You can come up with a good story for all the traits,” says team member Yana Kamberov of Harvard Medical School in Boston.

On the one hand, it might have helped ancient Chinese keep their cool; on the other hand, it might have made mammary glands more efficient for the newborns.  On a third hand, “it could be all about sex.”  That’s always a safe bet in Darwinism.  Sabeti, though, opted for the composite explanation: “I personally favour the idea that the traits could all have been acted on at different times.”  One “could” say that a triple treat is not your traditional just-so story.

For more on Sabeti’s “novel hypothesis,” see Science Daily.  Another post about EDAR370A on Science Daily includes an admission of ignorance: “We don’t know which of the many traits were advantageous in the past. It is easy to imagine that thicker hair, tooth shape, more sweat glands or some other associated skin features could have increased fitness, but for quite different reasons.”  Yes, it is always easy to imagine (1/17/2007).

It bears repeating, even if tiring to some long-time readers, that evolutionists commit fallacies when they say a trait “evolved to” do something.  Natural selection has no foresight.  Natural selection is the Stuff Happens Law (5/08/2012 commentary; also 5/13/2011, 9/15/2008).  Fingerprints did not “evolve to” help primates climb trees.  Bare skin did not “evolve to” become a canvas for body paint.  Bare skin did not “evolve to” more efficiently sweat away excess body heat.

Observant readers will also notice the utter lack of solid empirical evidence to support the explanations.  Jablonski had no millions-of-years-old tattoos to point to.  She didn’t even know when bare skin evolved.  In the fingerprint tale, don’t be distracted by the robotic finger in the Dartmouth lab.  That’s only a prop for the just-so story.  It exists in the present, not millions of years ago.

Evolution has become a catch-all backstop for explaining anything and everything without effort.  It’s like the old sinner who justified every bad thing he did by referring to “the demon of alcohol” or “the demon of tailgating.”  The devil may have made Flip Wilson do it, but Darwin makes today’s scientists do it.  He allowed them to shirk responsibility to ground scientific explanation in empirical evidence, the hard way that science had always been done.  For understanding the world, evolution is useless, but for job security in leftist academia, it keeps those government dollars flowing (see 12/22/2003 commentary).




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