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Evolution Denial Part II
Why do people deny evolution? Not just evolution from single-celled organisms to multicellular lifeforms, but human evolution as well? Most people who deny evolution don’t have the knowledge to assess it correctly. They fall back on the Bible and say “God did this, the Bible says…. God says…” all the while looking at you as a heathen when you attempt to talk some basic biology or, God forbid, the process of evolution.
I met a woman the other day and I asked her what she was studying in school. She tells me anatomy and physiology (right up my alley). So we start talking about some basic anatomy and physiology before I ask the question: “Do you believe in evolution?” She gave me a blank stare and said no.
“Humans as we know them have always existed in this form,” she said. I just started laughing at her ignorance and then she said “Evolution at the macro level is not possible but it is at the micro level”, repeating the same old and tired Creationist talking points. I said to her that there is no evidence for creation and that the evidence we do have points to evolution. I said that the theory of evolution has so much backing, so much evidence, that to believe otherwise you’d have to purposefully close your mind to the truth, to shut out any and all contradictory information.
One of the funniest things she said to me was that she wants to cure diseases. To that, I said if she wants to do that then she must look at diseases from an evolutionary perspective (Gluckman et al, 2011). She said that she doesn’t need to know how diseases were in the past, just how they are today. I also said that if she is studying anatomy and physiology then she must understand that many of our appendages are derived from our hominin ancestors, which began with Erectus as I’ve covered in my article Man the Athlete. Diseases also must be looked at through an evolutionary lens, so if anyone wants to cure diseases, then they must first understand and accept that things are constantly changing and evolving to better survive in that environment.
When I said that there is no evidence for Creation she got really mad. She said that there is no evidence that “we evolved from monkeys” which gave me a good laugh. Even people who believe in evolution still make that mistake of believing that we evolved from monkeys. One of the most common statements from Creationists is “If humans evolved from monkeys then why are monkeys still around?”, wrongly assuming that we literally evolved from monkeys, incorrectly misinterpreting that we share a common ancestor with monkeys 6-12 mya.
About 6mya, there was a chromosomal fusion on chromosome two; two ancestral ape chromosomes fused to make chromosome two (Idjo et al, 1991). That is some nice chromosomal evidence for common descent from our ape cousins. Creationists, however, purport that a gene in chromosome 2, DDX11L2, writing that the “alleged fusion site is not a degenerate fusion sequence but is and, since creation, has been a functional feature in an important gene.” Further, Tomkins’ claim that the fusion site is actually a gene is wrong since the fusion site is more than 1300 bases away from the gene.
The ancestral equivalents of chromosome 2—2p and 2q—fused together in a fusion event some 6mya. This precise fusion site is on chromosome 2 (Hellier et al, 2004). Creationists will say and do anything to attempt to ‘rebut’ this contention. Genetic evidence is the best evidence we have (due to Punctuated Equilibria, which causes the spottiness in the fossil record), and still, these ‘Creationist geneticists’ will do anything they can to attempt to have Evolutionists go on the defensive. However, the onus is on them to disprove the mountains of evidence.
One of the funniest things this woman said to me is that man has always been in this form and that we didn’t evolve from “monkeys”, which is when I said that it’s more complicated than that: we have fish ancestors, named Tiktaalik who had the beginnings of the human arm and hand, along with Pikaia Gracilens—our oldest ancestor. If Pikaia would have died out in the Cambrian explosion some 550 mya, we wouldn’t be here today. We are here today due to the happenstance of numerous accidents of history—contingencies of “just history” to quote Stephen Jay Gould.
Nevertheless, Creationists will always attempt to distort evolutionary science to fit their agendas. Stephen Jay Gould battled Creationists throughout his career. Creationists would quote mine his books to show that Evolutionists do show evidence of “Creation”. One of his most quote mined works is his and Eldredge’s theory of Punctuated Equilibria (1972). Just because a look at the whole fossil record shows species remaining in stasis for most of their history before a short burst of evolutionary change then that must mean that there was a guiding hand involved in the process. Here is a full list of quote mines that Creationists use from Eldredge and Gould.
As you can see, Creationists use any kind of mental gymnastics to disprove evolution. However, no matter how hard you try with Creationists, you can’t educate people into believing in evolution. This is mainly due to the backfire effect which occurs when you show people contradictory information to a dearly held belief and they frantically attempt to gather evidence to shield themselves from contradictory evidence (Nyhan and Reifler, 2010). This cognitive bias holds for more than political debates, though it’s most often seen there. Showing people any kind of contradictory information will have them search and search for anything to shield themselves from the truth. However, no amount of ‘information’ provided by Creationists will disprove evolutionary theory.
Gould and Eldredge aren’t the only Evolutionist that Creationists quote mine–one of the most famous quote mines is from Darwin’s The Descent of Man in which he talks about defending his theory from detractors, mainly the spottiness of the fossil record (which Eldredge and Gould’s Punctuated Equilibria explains). However, this doesn’t stop Creationists—and even some Evolutionists who fall for Creationist trickery—to believe that Darwin was talking about something completely different, in that Darwin was ‘racist’ talking about the ‘superior races’ exterminating the ‘inferior races’. Reading the quote in its entirety, however, shows something completely different. Alas, some people don’t care about facts antruthut and only care about their agenda they attempt to push.
Even setting evolutionary theory aside, basic geology disproves Creationism. The author of the piece, geologist David Montgomery, says that there is a rock outside of his office that proves Creationism wrong. The rock shows that there is more to the geologic record that could be explained by a single grand flood. Now that geologists now have the tools and data to infer that the earth is billions of years old—not thousands as Young Earth Creationists (YECs) claim—YECs change up their interpretation of the Creation story in Genesis to go from literal days to “days in Genesis refer to geological ages”. Clear mental gymnastics in the face of contradictory evidence.
There are five mass extinctions that are accepted in the scientific community (Jablonski, 2001) (though I am reading a book at the moment that talks about nine mass extinction events with Man pushing the tenth, I will return to this in the future). After these contingencies of ‘just history’, we can see that we are incredibly lucky that our ancestors did not die out. From a Pikaia Gracilens surviving the Cambrian radiation, to Tiktaalik and its venturing onto land from the sea and finally the survival of a shrew-like ancestor during the extinction of the dinosaurs, we should thank our lucky stars that these things went our way, because if not, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this at the moment and you would not be reading this. Evolutionary history is littered with these events—events that, if they went the other way would not lead to the evolution of Man again.
In sum, people who do not believe in evolutionary theory clearly are emotionally invested in believing in a story of Creation—sans evidence, only their belief. On the other hand, evolutionists such as we have all the data on our side when it comes to this debate. Creationists have to use any kind of warped logic to not believe the mountains of evidence that have piled up since Darwin wrote On the Origin. However, as everyone knows, reality isn’t what just what you believe. Just because Creationists handwave away the data that people like us provide to them doesn’t mean that evolution isn’t true.
Social Sciences and the Denial of the Evolution of Human Behavior
What causes people to deny the evolution of human behavior? The denial of evolution’s effect on human behavior got a kickstart from E.O. Wilson’s book that attempted to unify the social sciences—Sociobiology: A New Synthesis—and there was a heated debate about Wilson’s thoughts on where the study of sociobiology would go. Sociobiology was almost immediately rejected by social scientists upon its release, while Wilson and others believed that by providing a model of underlying evolutionary influences on humans, if integrated into their models, would cause a unification of the social sciences. if integrated with social scientists’ and cultural anthropologists’ study of the effects of culture on human behavior,would unify them. The social science have been seen as incompatible with sociobiology, due to focusing on how culture shapes behavior, while disregarding any evolutionary explanations in behavior. I will discuss the study in the paper The Lack of Acceptance to Evolutionary Approaches to Human Behavior, which discusses the history of sociobiology, the sociobiology wars, a questionnaire given to UK university students on the evolution of human behaviors. The main aim of the study was “to evaluate whether there is evidence that studying certain academic disciplines, specifically the social sciences and sociocultural anthropology, correlates with rejection of the relevance of evolution to human behaviour.”
Darwin’s cousin, Sir Francis Galton, coined the term eugenics in the late 1800s. Galton was interested in Darwin’s idea of heritable behavioral characteristics, but entered soon to be muddy waters when he suggested that only positive traits be selected for while attempting to weed out deleterious ones. The authors of the paper, Perry and Mace, say that Darwinian and Galtonian ideas were used to “to justify right-wing capitalist ideology and racist immigration policy (ROSE and ROSE 2000; LALAND and BROWN 2002).” This is describing what occurred in the early 1900s with the acceptance of eugenics in the West. They bring up so-called “culturally biased IQ tests” that were regarded as proof for innate differences between the races (they aren’t biased) which the lead to immigration restrictions for certain races and ethnicities in the 1924 immigration act.
They then bring up how Social Darwinists believe that evolution is progressive and whites were the “most evolved race” (yawn). They believed in evolutionary progress and a unilinear track to evolution.
They then bring up the infamous Franz Boas who stated that differences between societies were purely cultural which regarded behavior as shaped by culture, shifting the burden of proof from nurture to nature.
E.O. Wilson’s book Sociobiology was the first attempt to fuse animal and human studies “using neo-Darwinian evolutionary approaches to understanding social behaviour. . .” Why should mankind be swayed from studying himself, thought Wilson. Wilson wrote that evolutionary history has resulted in selection for certain genetic predispositions for in modern behavior. Hamilton’s kin selection and inclusive fitness theories (also the base for genetic similarity theory/ethnic genetic interests) were a backbone to Wilson’s new approach, using them to explain interactions between individuals. Other important ideas for the new synthesis was Dawkins’s selfish gene theory, which uses the metaphor of bodies being vehicles for genes (the replicator) and the idea of reciprocal altruism from Trivers, which accounted for cooperation amongst unrelated individuals (also integrated into Rushton’s genetic similarity theory). Perry and Mace write on page 109:
Behavioural traits, like physical traits, can be genetic adaptations, and genes influencing phenotypic traits which result in higher inclusive fitness for the organism will be selected for and will propagate in future generations. Using this basic principle of natural selection, WILSON (1975; 1978) claimed that many human behaviours, for example male promiscuity, incest avoidance and hostility to strangers, are genetic adaptations (BATESON 2008).
Typically enough, Sociobiology was hated by the left and had good reception from biologists. At the forfront of the discontent for the book were the usual suspects: Gould, Lewontin (these two led a “Sociobiology book club”), Rose, Kamin and others. The group accused Wilson of being a eugenicist, supposedly linking it with racism, biological determinism and Nazi policies. Wilson denied these accusations, not knowing what had occurred due research such as this. (pg 110).
On page 113, Perry and Mace write:
From an evolutionary perspective, culture has a biological basis and is expressed as socially transmitted information grounded in psychological capacities for symbolic thought, language and learning (RICHERSON and BOYD 2005; CRONK 1995; GINTIS 2007; MESOUDI, WHITEN and LALAND 2006).
Eloquently stated. Culture is passed down from generation to generation as a sort of phenotypic matching for genetically similar others. Culture survives each generation and is passed down from parents to siblings, grandparents to siblings, and so on. Whichever culture provides a society the best chance to survive and pass on its genes will be one that prospers in a society. A people (most likely) will not adopt a culture that’s the opposite of what is good for them fitness-wise. Of course culture that’s transmitted from generation to generation can be Darwinian if it has an impact on fitness. So the question is really this: What is the evolutionary basis for that people’s behaviors and their cultural norms? What happened in that people’s evolutionary history for them to pick up these customs that theoretically increased their fitness?
An online questionnaire was given to students and faculty at the UCL and UK universities over the summer of 2007. The questionnaire was made to gather information on the student’s attitudes towards science, evolution along with their application to human behavior, religious belief and education. The final sample was 7621 individuals after the removal of faculty.
Perry and Mace put forth three hypotheses:
a) A social science background will decrease acceptance of the relevance of evolution to human behaviour. Conversely, a biological / scientific background will increase acceptance.
b) Greater knowledge of evolution will increase acceptance of evolutionary approaches to human behaviour.
c) Religious belief will decrease acceptance of the relevance of evolutionary theory applied to human behaviour.
Below are some questions from the questionnaire and their factor loadings:
a) Component Variables – Acceptance of the Relevance of Evolution to Human Behaviour
The evolutionary history of humans is relevant in studying human behaviour (q. 39) .659
Human behaviour can be explained in the same way as that of other animal species (q. 32) .587
Humans are a species of animal, related to other species (q. 29) .430
I am interested in the theory of evolution (q. 20) .416
The social sciences provide a greater understanding of humans and their behaviour than evolutionary theory (reverse) (q. 40) –.727
b) Component Variables – Religiosity
Would you describe yourself as religious? (q. 12) .880 Were you brought up with religious views? (q. 13) .776
A spiritual / supernatural influence can explain the nature of life and the world (q. 19) .766
Table 2 of the study shows that current discipline is the best predictor, explaining 9.1 percent of the variance in Acceptance of the Relevance of Evolution to Human Behavior. In that particular percentage of variance, the most important significantly negative predictor of Acceptance of the Relevance of Evolution to Human Behavior ” is studying social sciences (compared to disciplines unrelated to science and human behaviour).” What this indicates is that social scientists are more likely to reject evolutionary explanations for human behavior, followed by religious studies and sociocultural anthropology. Though, of course, biological science, biological anthropology, and psychology had the strongest positive relationship with the Acceptance of the relevance of evolution to human behavior. Not too shocking.
Also discovered was that as religiosity increased, acceptance for evolutionary explanations for human behavior decreased. Those with stronger religious beliefs are more likely to reject evolutionary explanations for human behavior.
Surprisingly, Perry and Mace write:
Holding left-wing political views has a positive relationship with Acceptance of the Relevance of Evolution to Human Behaviour. This result does not support the commonly held assumption that individuals in favour of evolutionary approaches to human behaviour have a right-wing bias.
They also discovered that, within the social sciences, knowledge of evolution was the most important predictor of the acceptance of the relevance of evolution to human behavior. How much exposure one is given to evolutionary theory strongly predicts whether or not they believe if it shaped human behavior? This can be remedied by better teaching the theory of evolution to our youth.
The number of years studying social science has a significant negative relationship with accepting that evolution has shaped human behaviors. The Boasian belief that only culture dictates behavior still permeates our universities today. These results, Perry and Mace write, may show that these beliefs are culturally transmitted themselves. Bias against evolutionary beliefs in human behaviors increases the longer one studies social science.
The results of this questionnaire show that exposure to evolutionary theory needs to occur at a younger age, as knowledge of evolution is low which is one variable that leads to the non-belief of evolution on human behavior. Moreover, what the study showed was that it wasn’t the beliefs of those individuals that had them select the courses, suggesting that it was a bias towards sociobiology was transmitted to them culturally. This shows how left-wing biases run high, at least in certain UK universities, which then clouds an individual’s judgement due to getting an adequate education about evolution and growing up in an environment that explicitly denies evolution for religious reasons. Religion showed a negative relationship with believing that evolution has shaped human behavior. Religious people are very likely to deny evolution, due to being ignorant of evolution’s processes or outright denying it because it contradicts the Bible.
Sadly enough, only 62 percent of Americans believe humans evolved over time, with 33 percent of them believed that humans and other living things evolved solely due to natural processes. Twenty-five percent of US adults believe that evolution was guided by a supreme being while 34 percent of Americans reject evolution entirely and believe that humans and animals have existed in their present form since the beginning of time. Fifty-seven percent of evangelicals believe that Man has always existed in his present form with half of Mormons and about 75 percent of Jehovah’s Witnesses rejecting evolution. Fifty-eight percent of Southern Baptists and sixty-seven percent of the Seventh Day Advent Church denied that humans evolved over time. Conversely, 30 percent of protestants, 29 percent of Catholics, 16 percent of Jews and 15 percent who don’t affiliate with a religion share the same view. This Pew Poll shows that evolution denial correlates strongly with religious affiliation.
Whatever the case may be, teaching evolution at a younger age can increase knowledge of evolution among people who may choose these majors, and may even persuade them from not choosing them since they will learn that biology is a better explanation for human behavior, with human culture largely coming from biology (there is a Lamarckian aspect to human culture). Evolution clearly caused differences in human behavior, and the denial of this reality has impeded our understanding of human evolution and human nature as a whole. Once people are more educated in evolutionary theory they can stop clinging to full-on cultural explanations for behavior and embrace the reality that evolution is the cause for human behavior and sociocultural differences. The social sciences, specifically cultural anthropology, is at the forfront of the denial of evolution in human behavior, and once the public as a whole has a better understanding of evolution.
People need to stop denying scientific truths: that man is the product of natural forces. Once our societies become better educated as a whole in evolutionary theory, we will then see a reduction of religious behavior as well as enrollment in cultural anthropology and sociocultural anthropology—at the very least radically changing the base of those disciplines.
People who deny evolution don’t understand evolution, whether due to complete ignorance or because they don’t want to believe that we ‘evolved from monkeys’ (wrong, and goes completely in line with the old and outdated “march of progress“), or that we evolved in Africa from paleo-Africans. Well, the funny thing about science is that things are true whether or not people believe in them or not. In the past ten days I’ve come across two people who’ve denied evolution (surprise surprise, both religious). Even in the year #2016 people still deny something that has tons of explanatory power behind it, it shows they do not want to believe it because ‘we came from monkeys’. Evolution deniers deny evolution due to ignorance and a need to believe the Bible, that we were created for a purpose and placed here by a Creator, however. there is no evidence for this viewpoint so I cannot personally believe it.
I was in Starbucks the other day when I was drinking my coffee working on something on the laptop when I heard someone say that evolution was wrong and that he didn’t believe in evolution. So I went over and started talking to the kid. He was no older than 18. I asked him why he denies evolution and he says because of his religion. Then I started to go through the natural selection process—how new variants are selected for in populations. I told him there is 4 ways that evolution can occur: migration, mutation, genetic drift and natural selection.
I then gave him this example: take a population of 100 wolves. They live in a temperate climate. 50 of those wolves migrates northward and stay genetically isolated for 100kya. Over time, they incur phenotypic changes and adapt to the environment. They then wouldn’t be able to interbreed when they became a new species. (Or if they did conceive, it would be sterile.) Evolution occurs through mutation, migration, genetic drift and natural selection.
Now take a species of bird with long beaks. They need long beaks to get nectar out of the flowers. Over time, the environment changes and the birds’ food source dwindles away. Now they need to find something new to eat. The way the birds’ beaks currently are, they won’t be able to crack open nuts. However, the ones with shorter and stubbier beaks will be able to crack open nuts and eat nuts. So, over time, the birds with the shorter beaks will breed and be more successful since they can eat more food. The birds with the long beaks then die out while the birds with the shorter, stubbier beaks prosper since they were more fit and able to survive better in the new ecosystem.
Natural selection can only select on what heritable variants are already in that population. So since the birds with the stubbier beaks could survive better than the birds with longer beaks, the stubby beak trait, let’s call it Gene B, gets selected for while the long beak trait, let’s call it Gene A, becomes less prevalent in the bird population because it’s not as useful.
Let’s just say that my examples didn’t sway him and he still disbelieves evolution “due to his religion”.
A woman started talking to me last week about some random things. Then we started talking about our interests. I told her of my interest in biology and evolution and she says “You don’t think we evolved from monkeys, do you?” I laughed and said no, that’s a huge misconception. I told her that we didn’t evolve from monkeys, we just share a common ancestor with chimps. This answers the oft-said “If we ‘evolved from monkeys’, why are they still around?” She then invited me to a Bible Fellowship this past Sunday, and I said yea sure, I’ll go. So I went to the Fellowship; there were a lot of nice people there. Two men gave some talks, speaking of some of their personal experiences all while citing different quotes in the Bible. The man speaking said “And I looked down at my hand and thought ‘Wow, this is amazing. How did my hand get like this? The only way possible is for it to have been designed.'” I facepalmed so hard hearing that. People who ask such simple questions like that, that can be explained by evolution, clearly have no understanding of biology, so they then make the leap that goddidit because they can’t wrap their heads around the fact that evolution is the cause for how we came into being today.
I left the event shaking my head, how can people be so willfully ignorant in #2016? We have the answers to almost all of our questions in a few seconds, how can people be so ignorant about natural processes that occurred to have us humans arise from completely different organisms?
Finally, this brings me to those who deny evolution because evolutionary theory says we “descend from chimps” and that evolutionary theory says we all share a common ancestor in Africa going back a few hundred thousand years. People deny evolution due to this because they don’t want to admit that they “descend from a monkey”. Complete ignorance, and an emotional statement at that with no factual backing.
Intelligent Designers (IDers) may say there is a lack of transitional fossils to prove human evolution. This shows more ignorance. there are plenty of these fossils. This claim was made in the 1800s, when there were hardly any available. Since then, many have been discovered. Ardipithecus ramidus, Australopithecus afarensis, Australopithecus africanus, Homo habilis, Homo erectus, and Homo heidelbergensis are all ‘transitional fossils’:
Sometimes called “the only transition which matters”, this mustn’t be thought of as a transition from chimps to humans, but rather, as a transition from the-common-ancestor-of-chimps-and-humans to humans. Chimps themselves have had time to evolve and change since we parted ways, and so “the ancestor we last shared probably differed substantially from any extant African ape” (White et al, 2009).
Another way we can see that humans and chimps/apes descend from a common ancestor is looking at our chromosomes. Chromosome 2 is currently one of the most studied chromosomes, and for good reason. Apes have 24 chromosomes while humans have 23. Why do apes have one more chromosome? This signifies a fusion event sometime in the distant past in the LCA between humans and apes/chimps. Chromosomal evidence also proves common descent between ape/chimps and humans. Fossil evidence proves it, chromosomal/genetic evidence proves it; why they denial?
“We conclude that the locus cloned in cosmids c8.1 and c29B is the relic of an ancient telomere-telomere fusion and marks the point at which two ancestral ape chromosomes fused to give rise to human chromosome 2.”
Moreover, there is evidence for universal common descent as well:
Here I provide the first, to my knowledge, formal, fundamental test of UCA, without assuming that sequence similarity implies genetic kinship. I test UCA by applying model selection theory to molecular phylogenies, focusing on a set of ubiquitously conserved proteins that are proposed to be orthologous. Among a wide range of biological models involving the independent ancestry of major taxonomic groups, the model selection tests are found to overwhelmingly support UCA irrespective of the presence of horizontal gene transfer and symbiotic fusion events. These results provide powerful statistical evidence corroborating the monophyly of all known life.
A process called allopatric speciation shows how genetically isolated organisms can become distinctly different. This occurs when biological populations of the same species are genetically isolated, no longer sharing a similar environment. If these geographic barriers are removed, the two may not be able to breed, denoting a new species. Speciation is not based on degree of morphological difference:
I analyze a number of widespread misconceptions concerning species. The species category, defined by a concept, denotes the rank of a species taxon in the Linnaean hierarchy. Biological species are reproducing isolated from each other, which protects the integrity of their genotypes. Degree of morphological difference is not an appropriate species definition. Unequal rates of evolution of different characters and lack of information on the mating potential of isolated populations are the major difficulties in the demarcation of species taxa.
When biological populations of the same species become genetically isolated with a geographic barrier, over time they will both diverge, incurring different pheno and genotypic traits and eventually, they won’t be able to breed anymore, denoting speciation. This is how macroevolution occurs.
To deny evolution because of religion or because you don’t want to believe that Man evolved from the same ancestor as apes/chimps makes no sense at all. It’s denying all of the facts we have on evolution, and human evolution. How could you willingly deny the fact of evolution and what facts you do accept you twist it into evidence for Intelligent Design? It makes no sense. People don’t understand evolution because they don’t understand biology:
Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution—Dobzhansky