Face Up: Can Evolution Be Thanked?
The uniqueness of human faces has fallen to a Darwinian story, for which we are to say “thanks to evolution.”
With bold type and photographs, National Geographic announced, “It’s Thanks to Evolution That No Two Faces Are Alike, Study Finds Humans’ stunning diversity of facial features evolved to make recognition easier, a study says.” It wasn’t just National Geographic. Other science news sites like Science Daily smiled at the latest human-evolution saga, saying, “Human faces are so variable because we evolved to look unique.” But does the latest idea published in Nature Communications save face for Darwin? Does it explain human facial uniqueness while simultaneously explaining why other beings with complex social interactions, like honeybees, dolphins and starlings, evolved to look the same?
In their paper “Morphological and population genomic evidence that human faces have evolved to signal individual identity,” Sheehan and Nachman propose “negative frequency-dependent selection” as the cause of facial diversity, pointing out that recognition of unique faces takes a fair amount of cognitive ability that probably started before humans evolved. In order to make this idea look scientific, they pored through a database of military measurements and looked into genes controlling facial expression.
Once again, though, their theory is going to face the dilemma of applying to humans but not applying to other animals whose cognitive abilities are impressive, too. This question seems lost on the authors, who are quoted in Science Daily only with reference to how unique facial identities would serve human interests:
“Humans are phenomenally good at recognizing faces; there is a part of the brain specialized for that,” Sheehan said. “Our study now shows that humans have been selected to be unique and easily recognizable. It is clearly beneficial for me to recognize others, but also beneficial for me to be recognizable. Otherwise, we would all look more similar.“
“The idea that social interaction may have facilitated or led to selection for us to be individually recognizable implies that human social structure has driven the evolution of how we look,” said coauthor Michael Nachman, a population geneticist, professor of integrative biology and director of the UC Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.
The explanation seems suspect, though. One could just as well imagine circumstances in which it would be beneficial for humans to hide in the crowd. We dress our soldiers in uniforms to downplay their identities, so as to present a mass super-organism to the enemy. Why didn’t that social structure drive the evolution of how we look?
The only non-human example in the National Geographic write-up is paper wasps, which are “phenomenally diverse in their color patterning.” Explanation? it “helps them keep track of who’s who in the wasp hierarchy.” But if that were a law of nature, why didn’t it work with honeybees, ants or termites?
The practice of inventing a theory to explain one instance but leaving similar cases unexplained is the fallacy of special pleading. It appears these two evolutionists have personified “evolution” as a designer who decided what humans would find beneficial, then provided it. They have “been selected” for that, Sheehan said. That’s why we can “Thank evolution” for it, as NG’s headline announced. Sheehan, in effect, has taken on the role of divining what evolution found advantageous for the human kind. Nachman gave his thanks on “social interaction” as a possible facilitator or leader of selection (which, naturally, is only measured by survival).
“Genetic variation tends to be weeded out by natural selection in the case of traits that are essential to survival,” Nachman said. “Here it is the opposite; selection is maintaining variation. All of this is consistent with the idea that there has been selection for variation to facilitate recognition of individuals.“
Yet for these scientists to presume what selection found advantageous explains nothing. Any trait for any organism could be so described simply by the fact that it exists. If all fish look alike, that’s advantageous. If all humans look unique, that’s advantageous. Whatever is, is advantageous—otherwise it wouldn’t survive. Is science the wiser for this insight?
“It’s like evolving a name tag,” Sheehan told NG…. “You mix and match,” Sheehan jokes, “like Mister Potato Head.”
…before airing some devastating critiques by other evolutionists at the end of the article:
The increased genetic variability is consistent with the idea of evolution selecting for facial uniqueness, but that explanation is “hardly definitive,” notes T. Ryan Gregory, a biologist at the University of Guelph in Ontario. Genetic diversity could alternatively have arisen because of recent interbreeding of previously distinct populations, or even just by chance, he says.
If facial diversity is an evolved trait, it may have arisen for reasons other than recognition, other researchers have noted.
Many other species, such as sheep, can use faces to recognize individuals even when those faces are not highly variable, says Susanne Shultz, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Manchester in the U.K.
The article gives the final criticism to Mr. beard evolution (see 4/19/14), Barnaby Dixson: “It is likely that numerous processes act in concert during the course of evolution.” Some concert; no conductor and no score.
The evolutionists criticizing the mythoid are just upset because they didn’t think of it first. They’re all in this storytelling racket together. Maybe it was interbreeding of distinct populations. Maybe it arose for other reasons than recognition. Maybe numerous processes act in concert. Maybe it’s just by chance. Vote for your favorite myth now!
Those of you who respect science: are you pleased with these Charlietans? Are you glad for what the Bearded Buddha did to science? How come no evolutionary storytellers ever win the Ig Nobel Prizes, like those that were announced last night?
Here is what Darwin did to science. He replaced the Scientific Method. Now it goes like this: 1. Worship the Bearded Buddha and study his scripture daily. 2. Observe a fact. 3. Make up a story that would put a smile on the idol’s face.
Here’s why we have unique faces: we were created in the image of God to have fellowship with one another on much deeper levels than any animals have with their own kind. Humans have language, requiring lips, tongues and cheeks able to replicate the thousands of vocalizations required for semantic communication. We have more facial muscles to control expression than any other creature. We have eyes as windows to the soul. We have endless ways of expressing our innermost thoughts to one another through our faces. And each one of us—as an individual—is precious to God, who made us unique. Thank God, not evolution. Thank you, Lord!