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Evolution and Genetics Letters

Articles on Evolution and Genetics

Intellectual Dishonesty

Shaoni Bhattacharya reviews two books on how people base illogical decisions on emotional misinformation (6 August, p 42). She seemed to make no mention of the possibility that such behaviour could be considered immoral, or that honesty about evidence is moral behaviour.

Do those who adhere to nonfactual ideas, even in the face of overwhelming evidence, really have no free will? Are they totally at the mercy of their amygdalae? How can we even have a civilisation if that is all we are?

Perhaps one way of addressing the emotional issue is for those whose ethics include respect for evidence to express moral outrage at those who promote unsubstantiated belief over massive amounts of real evidence.

It should be clear in our speech and writing that, at least on the issue of respect for evidence, there is little moral difference between a creationist and a holocaust denier, an anti-vaxxer and a perjurer, or a scam artist and a climate denier.


Our genome "software" is still at version 1.x, never having had the benefit of a rewrite. Evolved from the last universal common ancestor, it contains programming remnants from countless predecessors (15 September, p 30).

If we ever succeed in decoding the genome software as some hope, for example, via the ENCODE project (8 September, p 40), it will turn out to be the most appalling example of spaghetti programming - software with a twisted and tangled flow almost impossible to unravel and even harder to debug. I confidently predict the weeping of strong men.

Brain Genes

I was fascinated to read how the double duplication of the SRGAP2 gene, which helps drive development of the brain's neocortex, appears to have propelled our ancestors' development at two distinct times during the past few million years (12 May, p 10). If two copies of the gene are better than one, and three copies better than two, what would be the effect of still more?

It is probably within our technical grasp to achieve that. Could we breed super-humans, simultaneously able to stop climate change, solve the euro crisis and find dark matter? The (triple-SRGAP2) mind boggles.

Domesticating Animals

Tecumseh Fitch states that the brains of domesticated animals become smaller than those of their wild cousins (3 January, p 24).

In your Christmas quiz, you wrote that "Humans 10,000 years ago had brains that were 15 per cent larger than ours" (20/27 December 2014, p 89).

Does this mean that we may have lost 15 per of our brains by domesticating ourselves?

- The editor replies: We may have. Anthropologists convened last year to discuss the idea that many features of modern humans can be attributed to a process of self-domestication, see:


"God did it, I'm content with that, magic, poof, done, end of story." is anti-science and anti-intellectual. The Jesuit approach (mind you the current Pope has a chemistry degree) more along the lines of "God made it all happen, but let's find out exactly how this all works." is why they have so many prominent universities.

"The Earth is 6000 years old" isn't a belief, that's a false statement, and demonstrably so. "There is a grand creator" is a belief, a faith that even some great scientific minds hold.

(see also Religion)

Questions For Creationists

(after the Bill Nye Ken Ham debate, Buzzfeed asked 22 creationists to grin like monkeys and pose what they presumably thought was a zinger of a challenge to science. They're amusing, baffling and pitiable in equal measure, and here are my answers.)

(Fark posts:)

How come you say a universe existing without a creator is impossible, but an omnipotent God existing without a creator is the center of your faith?

(walkingall, of course) At any single point of time throughout history about half of all science is later proven incorrect. This has been pretty consistent throughout history. If science was so "self correcting" this should have been fixed long ago.

That's actually much stupider than the god of the gaps argument. It might be the stupidest thing you have ever posted here. I'm amazed at how stupid that is. I'm agog.

Science is great because it's so often wrong. Because until it's proven wrong, it's always the best explanation we can find. It doesn't mean that everything about it was wrong at the time, it means that based on our always limited tools and understanding of things, details were found to be wrong when our tools and understanding increases. It's not just self-correcting, it's self-improving. Every advancement in science builds on the scaffolding that is the scientific method, and gives more structure to how we look at how things work.

Science is the slow process of humanity walking out of Plato's cave. When we only see the shadows cast by the fire, we think that's what the world is. Then we see the fire itself. Then we see the rest of the world. We get a better picture, and each step of the way our conclusion is the best we can come to with the tools we have available.

Point of order: evolution is a fact. it can be directly observed in the laboratory. the theory is that it happens via natural selection. so you don't believe in natural selection. whether or not evolution occurs is not up for debate any more than claiming that the effects of gravity don't exist.

Your claim is based upon a common creationist failure to comprehend that a scientific theory contradicting part of a religious creation story is not obligated to explain every single aspect of the universe that the creation story had addressed.

(walkingtall): Two linchpins of all this are single ancestor evolution and the origin of DNA.

Neither of those are related to evolution as it is taught in biology class. Evolution is a description of how lifeforms change over generations, sometimes to the point where we consider them to be taxonimically distinct (called "speciation"). Evolution is not "where did life come from", it is "How do we have five different species of finches here that seem to all come from a common point based on how similar most of their features are, but are so different in specific areas"

Your failure to understand that basic distinction makes you either intentionally uninformed, or informed but intentionally arguing irrelevant points. Neither is a good state to be in if you wish to claim not to be a troll.

A study of amino acid formation under primitive earth conditions does not, in any way, show that abiogenesis is or ever has been a part of the theory of evolution.

You are merely citing data showing that abiogenesis has been studied. This is not new information; that abiogenesis is studied is not proof that abiogenesis is or has been a part of the theory of evolution. The two fields of study are separate; evolution does not require the occurrence of abiogenesis. Disproving abiogenesis and showing it to be impossible would, at no time in history, have shown evolution to be false.

Religion was created as a placeholder for what science couldn't explain at the time. Egyptians couldn't explain that big yellow ball in the sky that provides light and heat. Must be a god. Can't explain where rain or lightning comes from? Zeus must be pissed. Can't explain those dots in the sky? Thor must be chunking giant toes into the sky. All of those now have concrete scientific answers, and thus those gods don't exist anymore.

Never once has the answer ever been shown to be god, magic, or the paranormal. Ever. Every useful model and explanation of the universe we've ever come to has been the product of critical data and evidence examination. And as far as the understanding of ecological diversity, adaptation, and survival, evolution and natural selection have every piece of evidence on its side.

Scientists alive today* who accept the biblical account of creation

So the opinion of a very, very, very small percentage of scientists trumps the vast majority? because.....god?

I've seen that list pasted before from creationists. It's a pretty farking short list, considering how few people on it are research scientists. Most are medical doctors, and I can't find any who have written anything scholarly on the subject of evolution outside of their own beliefs. Dr. E. Theo Agard is a particular treat, jumping to conclusions almost as stupidly as you:

"My belief in the supernatural creation of this world in six days is summarized largely in the following points: the theory of evolution is not as scientifically sound as many people believe."

I've seen more sound scientific methodology from blind men feeling an elephant.

Then there's Dr. David R. Boylan, who isn't a scientist. Or a professor. Or anything besides Vice President of Probe Ministries.

No one on that list has offered compelling research to back their beliefs. They hold those beliefs, but they're outnumbered by orders of magnitude by scientists who see evolution as a scientific reality.

(WT)Are you really putting forth that what a majority believe makes it true? 86% of all humans on earth believe in some sort of god. You don't seem to. Just guessing of course. So atheists are a VERY small minority of people so what makes them trump the majority?

The consensus of experts isn't an absolute marker of truth, but it's a damned large signpost. Humanity in general isn't a group of experts on the question of the existence of a god.

86% of all humans on earth believe in some sort of god.

yes, but which god is the true god? why is your god real and someone else's god false?

because you believe it. but he believes his god is real and yours is false.

what makes you right and him wrong?

I think the point is that reality isn't a belief system. You can believe, even sincerely believe, any number of things but that doesn't have any bearing on whether they're real. Reality is real whether or not anyone believes in it, and does not require the belief of some primate like you or me on an insignificant rocky planet.

You can believe, sincerely, that gravity isn't real but when you jump off a cliff you'll find that it is real despite your belief. You can believe that the moon is made of fine, aged gouda but when you get there you'll find that it isn't. Belief is meaningless outside of thought experiments. Now, I know you probably think science is also a belief system - I've heard that from creationists before. Truth is, nobody "believes" in science. Science is just taking the evidence we have and coming to the most logical conclusion based on the majority of evidence. As evidence is collected, the scientific consensus can refine or evolve - this is the "changing" nature of science you mentioned earlier, and this change is precisely what makes science real. As more evidence is uncovered, knowledge is refined. Note that "belief" usually can not permit any change, and that is precisely why it is neither correct nor scientific. All we know is what the preponderance of evidence indicates - no belief involved.

Ideas aren't simply stamped "true" or "false", they're evaluated based on the probability that they provide the most accurate explanation for a given phenomenon.

For you to think that evolution is bunk, you by definition must believe there to be a more probable theory. And of course you don't want to say what that theory is, because that theory of yours is by design untestable and unobservable. What any reasonable person would call "magic" if not for the political connotations.

It seems to me that if you applied the same evidentiary standard to your religion as you do to science, you probably wouldn't be a religious person for very long.

walkingtall: If Genesis is truly wrong Christianity is dead. It is a dead religion with a dead Christ. He didn't rise from the dead and He cant save me from my sins. If that is the case then so be it I would deal with it but fortunately that isn't the case. Genesis is just fine as it is.

Ben Carson Creationist

Before you argue with a conservative "true believer," troll or not, remember that nothing you will ever say will change his or her mind.

A conservative, unlike a normal person, starts with an unshakable conclusion (creationism, global warming denying, trickle-down economics, WMD in iraq, etc., etc.) and then cherry picks "facts" to support this conclusion, excluding all other evidence.

This was eloquently illustrated by creation czar ken ham when he was asked if there was anything that could change his mind regarding the notion that the christian god created the world as it says in genesis. he simply said, "no." (his debate opponent, bill nye, when asked the same question, replied, equally simply, "evidence."

This is all you need to know about the conservative mind.

There is no such thing as "intelligent design theory" until someone shows up with a testable hypothesis. Just stop, it is nonsense.

His hypothesis that an intelligent designer designed humans is obviously false on it's face: Humans are poorly designed from the get go. From choking on food, having excretory organs that also serve as sexual organs, having shiatty dental design, poor spinal design, poor cardiovascular design, and on and on and on. A dispassionate look at the human by an impartial observer would conclude that, if the human body was designed by a powerful being, that being must be a complete and utter moron. It fails as a hypothesis even before the gate is opened.

Joseph Heller nailed it, in Catch-22:

"And don't tell me God works in mysterious ways," Yossarian continued. ... "There's nothing mysterious about it, He's not working at all. He's playing. Or else He's forgotten all about us. That's the kind of God you people talk about, a country bumpkin, a clumsy, bungling, brainless, conceited, uncouth hayseed. Good God, how much reverence can you have for a Supreme Being who finds it necessary to include such phenomena as phlegm and tooth decay in His divine system of Creation? What in the world was running through that warped, evil, scatological mind of His when He robbed old people of the power to control their bowel movements? Why in the world did He ever create pain?"

Exactly. It's a wonder to me how no proponent of ID or creationism ever looks like someone with a perfectly designed body. Invariably, they (like everyone) could be picked apart for obvious physical flaws and medical conditions that no intelligent designer would allow to exist in his creation if he had an ounce of pride in workmanship and the intelligence attributed to him.

One flaw in your argument - you're ignoring the possibility of a supreme being with a mean sense of humor or severe personality disorder.

Ah, yes. The hypothesis of Malevolent Design. Yep, good point.

I "believe" in evolution the same way I believe in soap and electricity

Indeed, but it's a valid question to people who interpret Genesis literally. /They were never the same after Peter Gabriel left.

If your faith is God is destroyed by the existence of evolution, you do not really believe in God.

(Walkingtall posting as SkinnyHead: because you cannot have design without intelligence:

Please explain the testable hypothesis behind this theory you keep yammering about. Please submit any empirical evidence. Can you show any repeatable tests of that hypothesis?

Why do you keep calling this a theory when it is clearly nothing more than a silly and stupid back door attempt to get nonsense like creationism back into science classes to help indoctrinate young kids?

(Walkingtall posting as SkinnyHead: A poor designer is still an intelligent designer.

Nope. A poor designer is a poor designer, whose intelligence is questionable when his designs are full of easily correctable flaws. Your hypothesis is contradicted by the evidence that is plain to see. The human body is a flawed organism. If you wish to modify you hypothesis to meet the reality as seen by evidence, you need to call it the Malevolent or Piss-Poor Designer Hypothesis, as that would match the facts. You and the other ID proponents won't do so, because you've never once been moved by evidence and it would contradict the religious beliefs ID was created to support. Your failure is as transparent as glass, even if your poorly structured eyes can't see it. (Eyes, another organ with easily correctable flaws.)

For me, it simply didn't add up. Here we have this vastly complicated thing with all this evidence towards evolution and massive spans of times... And then there's the proposal that there is some weird fickle deity that created all of it, but refuses direct provable communications and demands dumb blind faith? The conclusion is trivial.

That's the fundamental problem for IDers though

How do you reconcile the "piss-poor/incompetent designer" with the concept of an omnipotent God.

You are saying he's smart enough to design a human being, but not smart enough to do it without the obvious flaws.

And the flaws aren't minor - the "design" of female hips consigned many women to death in childbirth (until Science came along and saved them)