Is evolution over?

Geneticist Professor Steve Jones has said that human evolution may be over, and that we may now, as a species, be on the slippery slope to extinction.

He's not saying evolution in general has stopped, just ours.

His theory is that our development and exploitation of technology has de-coupled human development from natural selection. Conditions which would have meant an early grave for our ancestors, through starvation or other side-effects, are now barely considered as inconvenient, let alone life-threatening.

Personally, suffering asthma and 8 dioptres of short-sight, I would have quickly starved to death in our hunter-gatherer days, unable to keep up with prey animals or to see well enough to tell "nutritious" from "poisonous".

What this means is that we have a rate of survival to age 21 that is almost 100%, double what it was in ancient times.

At the same time, our supporting technologies, particularly in medicine, mean that there is a growing accumulation of deleterious genetic conditions in the general gene pool.

Increases in world travel have also meant that the differences between different human populations, already low, are getting smaller, as openness and acceptance of other cultures has started to homogenise our phenotype.

The result - we are isolated from natural evolutionary pressures, so there is nothing to stimulate natural selection, nothing to weed out potentially-dangerous mutations. We are stagnating.

So, what next?

On the one hand, the pessimistic view is that, at some point, our genome will become so laden with hazardous mutations that we will cease to be viable as a species. We will be unable to reproduce successfully.

On the other hand, maybe other species, still closely linked with natural selection, will continue to evolve until they supplant us. The obvious choices are chimps and gorillas - if we don't drive them to extinction.

Or maybe our heirs are currently underwater - dolphins, maybe? Or maybe they won't be mammals - octopus and squid are highly intelligent. Heck, even slime moulds have been shown to be capable of solving mazes!

On the gripping hand, maybe we've out-evolved evolution? The optimist in me hopes that technology will out-pace the fuse on the genetic timebombs we have become. Maybe medicine will be able to edit our DNA, or write it afresh, truly triumphing over nature?

Article stimulated by this BBC blog entry.
Other linked news items.

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mikeasaurus2 years ago

I'm waiting for us to evolve dewclaws, then we can decide who the alpha-primate is with epic thumb wars.

Toga_Dan2 years ago

when survival is easy enough, species sometimes develop adaptations which merely attract a mate. the extravagant plume of the peacock for instance. signs of health, wealth, luxury, i suppose.

Kiteman (author)  Toga_Dan2 years ago

Surely it isn't "merely" mating? Without "mere" mating, there is no species...

good point. survival, however, is oft considered the sole goal in evolution. the original post mentions survival to age 21. but without the right "decorative feathers", an individual's genes may die with em at 22, or 82.
Kiteman (author)  Toga_Dan2 years ago

In life, the sole goal is survival, but in evolution the goal is survival of the genome, over as many generations as possible. It doesn't matter what age an organism dies, as long as it gets to pass on its DNA to a new generation first.

Have you ever read The Selfish Gene? It's getting old now, but the core logic is still sound. I believe there's a new edition out.

buteman7 years ago
I really do understand why people believe in evolution and I also understand why people have religious views.
Iit seems easy for those who view evolution as the way we came to be here because they can quote views of those who believe evolution is an established fact and can point people to the article kiteman mentioned.
I have not found much by way of articles supporting creation.

So I would say this :
Most who believe evolution do so simply because the idea that is established as a fact is repeated over and over again by not only evolutionists and many TV programs by those who really have no or very little first hand knowledge of the subject and of course these days many see no logical support for creation presented.

But then until relatively recently all who believed in evolution accepted Darwins theory as having been proved beyond doubt as an explanation of this process.
However now some closely involved in the field talk about P-E ( punctuated equilibrium ).

If Darwin's ideas had been proved to be correct then there would be absolutely no reason for P-E but as it is being investigated then surely that shows that at least Darwin's theory is still an unproven theory and that as some still believe it shows that P-E is not proven either.
So now a question.
How can you be confident either is proven?
Kiteman (author)  buteman7 years ago
Evolution happens.  It is observed directly on a day-to-day basis.  It is an indisputable fact.

What *should* be questioned is the Theory of Evolution.  That is what darwin wrote about.

Punctuated Equilibrium does not disprove or contradict the theory as described by Darwin - it merely modifies it.

In science, there is no such thing as a proven theory.  Everything is the best version we can come up with, given the evidence we have.

You cannot prove a theory, but you can disprove it.  Thus far, nobody has been able to do that, and even the creationists were forced to agree (when placed under oath in a court of law in the county of Dover) that all evidence discovered since Darwin has only supported evolutionary theory, not contradicted it.

buteman Kiteman7 years ago
When you find some item and try to put a theory together as to how it came about you do indeed try to relate it to what you already know. I agree that if it cannot be explained by the theory as currently expressed then you do have to adapt the theory. I think one of the problems is that if you have observed a multitude of items and have decided that your basic theory is correct and only needs modifying then it must be very hard to then decide that a completely different theory could be correct. I find that many people who claim to be religious are very dogmatic that their own religion has to be correct but sadly this is also true of the scientific community. As humans we have a tendency to accept what those who are considered our 'betters' which is usually equated to  more educated and  knowledgeable to be less fallible then we are.
 For example ( and perhaps it is not a very good one ) I was taking GCE 'O' Level chemistry ( in the 1950's ) and we learned about the atom AND we were told it was the smallest thing in existence.
Obviously later in the course we were told that of course the atom had protons, electrons and neutrons in it's makeup. Needless to say we now know there is more to it than that.

Now you say "Evolution happens.  It is observed directly on a day-to-day basis."

But I do not accept that. I say you believe that and it is your right to do so.

However I do expect you to respect MY serious doubts that evolution can really explain an enormous numbers of observations that the vast majority of ordinary people can see and understand without resorting to highly technical terms which I feel are often used simply to make it difficult to understand and harder for ordinary people to refute.

I also say this :

Some years ago I read an article in the 'New Scientist' about the various Tenebrionid Beetles showing how they survive in a very dry environment.

 "The Fog-basking beetle, Onymacris unguicularis, taps the fog for drink. Although it is ordinarily diurnal, it emerges from the sand on foggy nights and climbs to the dune crest, where water condensation is greatest. Head lowered and posterior raised in a kind of handstand, it faces into the fog-bearing wind, to let moisture condense on its back and trickle down to its mouthparts."

So here are some of my thoughts on this:

If it evolved to do that how did it survive in the meantime?

Why would it stay in an area that was inhospitable if it was changing slowly enough for it to adapt surely it would just follow the water wouldn't it?

How could an accidental mutation in one of these creatures lead to the survival of the whole species in these or any other circumstance you could think of?

Surely we would not say the beetle has the intelligence to work these things out itself and adapt to survive would we? 

To me there had to be a designer who knows about water vapour condensing on colder surfaces, especially on pointed areas, just as we as 'intelligent' beings understand.

Kiteman (author)  buteman7 years ago
> Now you say "Evolution happens.  It is observed directly on a day-to-day basis."

> But I do not accept that. I say you believe that and it is your right to do so.

This is not a case of "accept", "believe" or "rights".  Evolution is a fact, like the water cycle, gravity and lightning.

The rest of your post is argument from incredulity.  It does not fit your experience, and you cannot imagine how a natural process did it, therefore (to you) a natural process did not do it. 

I strongly recommend you read up on the mechanics and mechanisms of evolution.  Climbing Mount Improbable is good, but if you suffer from the common theist fear of Dawkins, then try What Does a Martian Look Like?, or even Pratchett's Science of the Discworld series.

buteman Kiteman7 years ago
Sorry but you are not answering the questions. You might say you are doing what those you disagree with you do too. You expect someone like me to 'disprove' evolution, which you obviously fervently believe in, by using logic but at the same time you are not answering my genuine questions.

If you could really answer them in a logical and supportable way it might be different but as it is your answer seems not to fit in with the  "be nice' comment policy. Rather it seems to be a way to try to frighten people from making comments which conflict with your views. That seems another reason for me to doubt your real confidence in the theory.
I am sorry if I misunderstand so perhaps you would explain?
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