Genetic Dating Can Fool Scientists
The dates of some human migrations could have been much more recent than genetic data indicates. What of even older dates?
In “Archaeological Genetics: It’s Not All as Old as It at First Seems,” Science Daily reported on work published in Investigative Genetics that indicated data on migrations in the Netherlands fits recent population movements just as well as “ancient” ones:
These results could be explained by invoking movement of ancient, Paleolithic-Neolithic humans, similar to that proposed to explain the genetic diversity across central entire Europe. However the data also fits a model involving movement of people within the last 70 generations of modern Dutch, for which there is a wealth of archaeological evidence.
Consequently, “patterns of genetic diversity which indicate population movement may not be as ancient as previously believed, but may be attributable to recent events.” The authors of the open-access paper cautioned colleagues “future human population genetic studies pay more attention to recent demographic history in interpreting genetic clines.” See press release from BioMed Central.
Interpretation Run Amok
It would seem, therefore, that if data from the most recent millennia can be misinterpreted, that the uncertainties would mount when interpreting older data. Yet paleoanthropologists routinely speak confidently about supposed events tens of thousands, if not millions, of years ago. If genetic data can be misinterpreted, the same pitfalls can occur with other data, such as artifacts.
For example, in “When Did Humans Begin Hurling Spears?” Science Now pointed out that the answer varies from 90,000 to 500,000 evolutionary years ago, depending on how one interprets markings on bones.
Nature News claims that “hominid footprints” 1.52 million years old, “probably” from Homo erectus or Paranthropus, show that the walkers were the same size as modern humans, based on inferences of “stature, body mass and walking speed” compared with those of modern Kenyan barefoot walkers.
Science News presented a new hypothesis about why apes descended from the trees that “challenges evolutionary theories behind the development of our earliest ancestors from tree dwelling quadrupeds to upright bipeds capable of walking and scrambling.” A paleoanthopologist published a novel theory that “challenges traditional hypotheses which suggest our early forebears were forced out of the trees and onto two feet when climate change reduced tree cover.” Instead, Dr. Isabelle Winder (U of York) thinks it was a response to geological changes:
“The broken, disrupted terrain offered benefits for hominins in terms of security and food, but it also proved a motivation to improve their locomotor skills by climbing, balancing, scrambling and moving swiftly over broken ground — types of movement encouraging a more upright gait.“
The research suggests that the hands and arms of upright hominins were then left free to develop increased manual dexterity and tool use, supporting a further key stage in the evolutionary story.
Aside from sounding Lamarckian, this theory begs the question of why all the other animals in the terrain did not develop upright posture and tool use.
Another example borders on the ridiculous. Rob Brooks, in an article posted by Medical Xpress, used Arnold Schwarzenegger’s biceps as support for the notion of a “link between male upper-body strength and assertion of economic self-interest.” (See 5/18/03 story and comments). Brooks unwittingly committed his own show of brute force by referring to Creation-Evolution Headlines as “nutbaggery” while trying to simultaneously backpeddle from the idea that evolutionary forces dictate our politics. “The value of this paper is in showing how our evolved biology and our contemporary politics can interlink in interesting ways, creating nuanced individual differences,” he explained. Very interesting, indeed. Any predictions from this notion? Any way to falsify it?
Always Room for Doubt
A few paleoanthropologists are aware of the problems of interpreting data. For instance, Nature recently questioned whether Australopithecus sediba has anything to do with the emergence of the genus Homo. In “Hesitation on Human History,” William H. Kimbel wrote, “I do not think that they provide compelling evidence that this species is anything other than an unusual australopith [ape] from a Pliocene–Pleistocene time period that is already populated by a fair number of them.”
Evolutionists Simon E. Fisher and Matt Ridley in Science Magazine (“Culture, Genes and the Human Revolution”) first praised the techniques available for genetic research before cautioning about interpretation:
State-of-the-art DNA sequencing is providing ever more detailed insights into the genomes of humans, extant apes, and even extinct hominins, offering unprecedented opportunities to uncover the molecular variants that make us human. A common assumption is that the emergence of behaviorally modern humans after 200,000 years ago required—and followed—a specific biological change triggered by one or more genetic mutations. For example, Klein has argued that the dawn of human culture stemmed from a single genetic change that “fostered the uniquely modern ability to adapt to a remarkable range of natural and social circumstance”. But are evolutionary changes in our genome a cause or a consequence of cultural innovation…?
Many nuanced accounts of human evolution implicitly assume that biological changes must precede cultural changes….
This prevailing logic in the field may put the cart before the horse. The discovery of any genetic mutation that coincided with the “human revolution” must take care to distinguish cause from effect. Supposedly momentous changes in our genome may sometimes be a consequence of cultural innovation. They may be products of culture-driven gene evolution.
Fisher and Ridley give the example of lactose intolerance as a likely genetic consequence of lifestyle choices by early farmers. They also dispute the relevance of the FOXP2 genetic change that some paleoanthropologists have suggested drove the development of human language. “If, for instance, humanized FOXP2 confers more sophisticated control of vocal sequences, this would most benefit an animal already capable of speech,” they said. “Alternatively, the spread of the relevant changes may have had nothing to do with emergence of spoken language, but may have conferred selective advantages in another domain.” Either way, the interpretation does not jump out of the data. To think science (“prevailing logic”) can be conducted free of human subjectivity would, indeed, put Descartes before the Horace.
Anyone thinking the evolutionary story just leaps out of the data from its own accord needs to study philosophy of science. Data to evolutionists are like colorful pebbles and bits of glass they use to create a mosaic whose image was predetermined by their materialistic world view. Curious, is it not, that to complete their project they have to use intelligent design. Why don’t they just shake the bits on a table and see what “emerges” since emergence (the Stuff Happens Law, 9/15/08) is the theme of their whole story?
Rob Brooks is having a good time at our expense flexing his muscle on his blog against “nutbaggers” instead of answering legitimate questions. Come now, Rob, tell us: does truth evolve? We left that checkmate challenge hanging but he just wants to overturn the table and call it a stupid game. It’s more than a game. It’s a challenge to his credibility. Maybe he should recognize that tens of thousands of people read this website. Our well-educated and sophisticated audience would love to watch if he can wield the sword of logic better than the mudballs of ridicule.
As for bicep politics, maybe Mr. Brooks would like to explain the anti-redistributionism of Sarah Palin, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, and all the other conservatives not particularly known for their upper-body strength. Or how about Nick Vujicic, who has no biceps? Maybe Brooks could entertain the idea that it’s fat, not muscle, that allows men to throw their weight around. Does that explain Rush Limbaugh’s politics? Oh, but we see; Brooks has an escape. Evolution just adds “nuance” to these tendencies. Any exception to his law of nature can just be nuanced away. Well, then, if there’s no law of nature, why call the storytelling science? Notions belong in fabric stores, not the lab (10/14/08).
Brooks laughs at his Yoda Complex. Well, fine. We can all laugh with him. We all know, at the end of the day, it’s just for show. He’s an entertainer, not a philosopher. After his daily storytelling work on the Darwin Light & Magic soundstage, he takes off his latex Yoda costume and behaves like a normal human being, living as if his mental choices matter—ignoring the mutations that the Start Warts script says make him what he is. The fantasy is all CGI, where even truth can evolve. If he insists on manipulating the dork side of the farce (the self-refuting side of illogic), may the farce bewitch him.