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← Leading geneticist Steve Jones says human evolution is over

Leading geneticist Steve Jones says human evolution is over - Comments

Pertwee's Bouffant's Avatar Comment 1 by Pertwee's Bouffant

I heard him on the wireless this morning whilst queuing to get through the Blackwall tunnel. He had a brief stint on radio 4 and suggested that human evolution is "slowing down" rather than has stopped; though I guess that doesn't sound quite as melodramatic for a news headline. He didn't go into much detail but suggests things are averaging out.

Mon, 06 Oct 2008 23:32:00 UTC | #248017

Bonzai's Avatar Comment 3 by Bonzai

Professor Jones added: "In the old days, you would find one powerful man having hundreds of children." He cites the fecund Moulay Ismail of Morocco, who died in the 18th century, and is reputed to have fathered 888 children. To achieve this feat, Ismail is thought to have copulated with an average of about 1.2 women a day over 60 years.


But there were only so many women to go around, so if some older men were having a lot of wives does it not follow that there were many other men without mates? If that was the case would it not follow that actually there were less, not more variations in the gene pool?

EDIT: In those days it probably wasn't common for women to be having affairs, open relationships or getting divorce, so once they were married they were effectively out of reach for other men.

Mon, 06 Oct 2008 23:42:00 UTC | #248021

rod-the-farmer's Avatar Comment 2 by rod-the-farmer

Has anyone done comparison test for IQ, between religious fundamental types, and rationalist types ? Not sure it can be done equitably, but it may show we are "dumbing down" the human race, what with the much larger birth rate among some fundies.

Mon, 06 Oct 2008 23:42:00 UTC | #248020

hungarianelephant's Avatar Comment 4 by hungarianelephant

Without farming, the world population would probably have reached half a million by now â€" about the size of the population of Glasgow.
Must ... fight ... urge ... Glasgow ... Neanderthal gags ...

Mon, 06 Oct 2008 23:59:00 UTC | #248028

fsm1965's Avatar Comment 5 by fsm1965

Presumably the rise of more monogamous relationships also has a deleterious effect (less random mixing).

If there is no weeding out of the unfit through competition for resources, natural selection cannot work. (I am not advocating this course of action at all! - like RD I believe evolution through natural selection is a fact, but a bad way to run a society).

Tue, 07 Oct 2008 00:08:00 UTC | #248031

BarelyEvolved's Avatar Comment 6 by BarelyEvolved

What about genetic drift - no selection pressure but drift could account for some evolution?

Tue, 07 Oct 2008 00:15:00 UTC | #248033

Bonzai's Avatar Comment 7 by Bonzai

If there is no weeding out of the unfit through competition for resources, natural selection cannot work. (I am not advocating this course of action at all! - like RD I believe evolution through natural selection is a fact, but a bad way to run a society).


Actually, it is more basic than that.

Except for some rare situations like almost fatal genetic diseases there is no meaningful way to talk about "fitness" independent of the environment. When you say "weeding out the unfit", it is not clear "unfit" for what.

Humans create their environment to varying degrees through planning and technology as a result of civilization, thus the very concept of "natural selection" is rather dubious when applying to humans. For example, the "social Darwinists" are not really using "natural selection" to run society, but "selection" based on their owb artificial criteria. Nature never tells us that people who make most money are most "fit".

Tue, 07 Oct 2008 00:17:00 UTC | #248034

Vaal's Avatar Comment 8 by Vaal

Bonzai

To achieve this feat, Ismail is thought to have copulated with an average of about 1.2 women a day over 60 years

1.2? What's the 0.2, now that must be minus 6 dress size :) 888 kids. Man, 2.4 birthday's a day. Wonder when he ran out of names, unless of course they were all called Mohammed :) Wonder if the poor guy ever got a day off?

Don't go there with the Neanderthal jokes Hungarian, I got slated for being superior with an earlier jocularity.

Of course, we are evolving all the time. I did see a report that we are currently evolving into 2 different species, the thicko's who are breeding like locusts (the Morlocks) and everybody else (The Eloi).

Now, evolution will start to motor again when we become space-faring. People born and living on Mars will change dramatically in body shape, and may in a few generations be unrecognisable from their original parents. Who knows what our ancestors will be like when they are living as Alpha Centaurians or Vegans?

Tue, 07 Oct 2008 00:18:00 UTC | #248035

Buddha's Avatar Comment 9 by Buddha

What about genetic drift - no selection pressure but drift could account for some evolution?


You still need some degree of mutation/variation for genetic drift as well.

Tue, 07 Oct 2008 00:20:00 UTC | #248037

Bonzai's Avatar Comment 10 by Bonzai

Vaal

The bad news is the Morlocks (uneducated fundies?) won.

Tue, 07 Oct 2008 00:21:00 UTC | #248038

Vaal's Avatar Comment 11 by Vaal

Don't go there Bonzai. Millions of Wooters!!

*holds head in hands*

Back to the caves...

Tue, 07 Oct 2008 00:23:00 UTC | #248039

gazzaofbath's Avatar Comment 12 by gazzaofbath

I think it is true to say that human evolution via natural selection is probably finished though I wouldn't go down the line of Steve Jones, who is still looking at natural processes working under the pressure of 'older fathers', etc.

Science is making tremendous progress in understanding genetics - look what has happened over the last 100 years and anticipate what will happen over the next 100. In the not too distant future we will be making basic genetic decisions for future generations not via natural selection.

I don't make a moral judgement on it; its obviously got bad as well as good possible outcomes. As with all technology it depends how its applied and controlled. But the simple fact is that we will be controlling future human evolution technologically.

Now that could lead to real 'intelligent design'!.

Tue, 07 Oct 2008 00:35:00 UTC | #248043

fretmeister's Avatar Comment 13 by fretmeister

There could be another reason - the NHS.

Effectively we treat all manner of diseases / defects etc that in the past would have caused a person to die before they reached breeding age.

Now those people survive and breed and so do their genes.

I'm not saying we should start granting breeding permits a'la Gattaca, but it rather seems that humans have opted out of evolution to an extent because of it.

Tue, 07 Oct 2008 00:53:00 UTC | #248048

Tumara Baap's Avatar Comment 14 by Tumara Baap

Evolution can never be stopped. Right now, the world population is expanding. Once it's static, evolutionary leads should manifest themselves, led by sexual selection pressures for example. Or the accumulation of mutations that lead to loss of function. Since natural selection pressures have been so heavily altered, many of our senses may go the route of our sense of smell, down the tube ... color blindness is already more prevalent in modern settings than it is in primitive groups.

Tue, 07 Oct 2008 00:59:00 UTC | #248052

JemyM's Avatar Comment 15 by JemyM

Oh crap, I need to get a kid soon, else I will breed mutants.

Tue, 07 Oct 2008 01:04:00 UTC | #248053

NJS's Avatar Comment 16 by NJS

Sutely "most" human evolution took place when the chances of living to 50 and fathering kids were a lot less thatn they are now?

Tue, 07 Oct 2008 01:06:00 UTC | #248054

King of NH's Avatar Comment 17 by King of NH

I strongly doubt these findings, but am open to enlightenment.

Evolution also uses one more element not mentioned: environmental change. Currently, humans adjust the environment to meet the needs of our species. This would negate evolution. Rather than making a species more fit for the world, we have made the world more fit for our species. But we have done a rather poor job of it. In a climactic Armageddon (forgive the phrase) humans would be forced back into "red in tooth and claw" survival. Those same people from Glasgow, the ones that wear shorts in January and say it's not that cold, are already adapted to a colder earth and would be better suited to an icy end to civilization. The ones wearing sweaters in June (*cough, Brits) would fare better in a steamed end.

The human population is riddled with genetic variation, though less than many other species. When we lose our ability to shape our world, our world will once again shape our population using the existing genetic diversity, and then compounding it. If we don't just go extinct, that is.

Tue, 07 Oct 2008 01:20:00 UTC | #248055

jonjermey's Avatar Comment 18 by jonjermey

Surely the strongest driving force behind evolution is sexual selection? The more choice we all have of sexual partners, the more talented, intelligent and sexually attractive our children are likely to be. On that basis human evolution must be faster now than it was, say, five hundred years ago when you were virtually forced to find a partner from within a three-mile radius or die celibate. Look at the increasing numbers of stunning Eurasian models and actors, for instance.

Tue, 07 Oct 2008 01:34:00 UTC | #248058

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 19 by Cartomancer

Could it perhaps be that 64 year old Steve Jones isn't getting as much bedroom action as he would like?

"Won't sleep with me? It's people like you who are responsible for the end of Natural Selection as we know it!"

Tue, 07 Oct 2008 01:41:00 UTC | #248060

decius's Avatar Comment 20 by decius

Comment #261510 by hungarianelephant

Tue, 07 Oct 2008 02:12:00 UTC | #248071

dvespertilio's Avatar Comment 21 by dvespertilio

Read this earlier today via a different link from the Atheist Nexus. I seriously doubt that evolution in the human species has stopped, but the question may be moot given apparent trends in world civilization that will either cause its collapse or lead to a technologically advanced society where evolution is controlled and humans as well as other organisms (and maybe whole ecosystems?) are designed. Given what I know of the history of civilizations, I am extremely sceptical of all transhumanist fantasies. What would it mean to be a super-being, anyway? And for the rest of us humans, if current problems related to the environment, weapons of mass destruction, and inequities of wealth distribution aren't effectively confronted, what future at all, if any, do we have?

Tue, 07 Oct 2008 02:33:00 UTC | #248075

notsobad's Avatar Comment 22 by notsobad

It's not. And genetic engineering will make up for natural selection.

Tue, 07 Oct 2008 02:57:00 UTC | #248083

Cairnarvon's Avatar Comment 23 by Cairnarvon

The suggestion that there's a significant reduction in selection pressure is just wrong. The strongest selective pressures are sexual and disease-driven. Sexual selection is as alive as ever, and arguably stronger now than before (at least in the West) since people aren't limited to their own villages for potential mates. Pressure from certain specific diseases and other parasites may have been reduced in at least some parts of the world, but pressure from disease in general certainly isn't gone or even vastly reduced.

The only part of his argument that may have merit is the fact that younger parents mean a lower mutation rate, but are parents really that much younger than they were in the past?
The hugely increased population, which he mentions, would certainly make up for any decrease in individual variety.

Tue, 07 Oct 2008 03:16:00 UTC | #248092

j.mills's Avatar Comment 24 by j.mills

My guess is that the vast human population would mean that it would now take many thousands of years for an advantageous gene to spread throughout, if it ever did. We would need bottlenecks to permit anything radical to happen.

I don't buy Jones' claim about older fathers. If anything that's easier now. (A 33-year-old female friend of mine has a 75-year-old boyfriend.) Siring children on hundreds of women is a perk of dictatorship and aristocracy that (Ridley argues in The Red Queen) was a recent historical aberration. 'Loose' monogamy has always been the norm, even in societies where polygamy is permitted.

Vaal said:

Who knows what our ancestors will be like when they are living as Alpha Centaurians or Vegans?


Some of us are already living as vegans. Among our number, we observe reduced rates of cancer, heart disease, arthritis, eczema, gallstones, bowel disorders, high blood pressure, asthma, obesity and 50-odd diseases associated with free-radicals in the bloodstream. We also note an increase in general smugness. :)

Tue, 07 Oct 2008 03:50:00 UTC | #248098

Azven's Avatar Comment 25 by Azven

BarelyEvolved

I was just about to make that comment.

Buddha

Mutation/variation may or may not be greater in the past, but the point is that without selection pressure all live, whereas in the past many wouldn't.

Tue, 07 Oct 2008 04:34:00 UTC | #248112

Ygern's Avatar Comment 26 by Ygern

Interesting but I have two queries:

1. With regard to the 'In the old days, you would find one powerful man having hundreds of children' line - this sounds rather like anecdote than evidence. Is their any real data to support this?

2. Didn't our ancestors for hundreds of thousands of years have a life expectancy of about 25 years? But humans evolved anyway?

Tue, 07 Oct 2008 04:48:00 UTC | #248118

V'Ger's Avatar Comment 27 by V'Ger

Where I live... the low IQ families knock out 4 times as many kids as those with higher IQs... so aren't we heading for a society full of idiots?

Tue, 07 Oct 2008 04:57:00 UTC | #248122

Vinelectric's Avatar Comment 28 by Vinelectric

V'Ger

Where I live... the low IQ families knock out 4 times as many kids as those with higher IQs


That makes the "low IQs" smarter than the "high IQs". Intelligence is one of the risk factors weeding out the human race.

Tue, 07 Oct 2008 05:28:00 UTC | #248132

zeroangel's Avatar Comment 29 by zeroangel

To achieve this feat, Ismail is thought to have copulated with an average of about 1.2 women a day over 60 years.


Geeeezzz... and here I am thinking that I had fun in the Army while overseas.

Tue, 07 Oct 2008 05:56:00 UTC | #248144

SteveN's Avatar Comment 30 by SteveN

Ygern wrote:

Didn't our ancestors for hundreds of thousands of years have a life expectancy of about 25 years? But humans evolved anyway?

This was precisely the point I wanted to make and almost got to the end of the thread before finding it made by someone else. It is my understanding that the life-expectancy for most of human history has been in the 20-30 year range. However, having just checked Wikipedia to confirm this (it does) I realise that these calculations include all those who died before puberty: the life-expectancy for those who survive childhood was certainly higher. However, I would be surprised if the majority of fathers for most of human history were not in their teens or twenties. Is there any data to confirm or refute this?

SteveN

Tue, 07 Oct 2008 05:57:00 UTC | #248145