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Archive for August 2012

More Misconceptions about Evolution: “Scientific facts” that prove evolution is false — DE-BUNKED

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Many months ago my sister pointed out a blog post on a particular website (abovetopsecret.com) which was titled “Top Ten Scientific Facts : Evolution is False and Impossible“, written by “edsinger”, and she asked me what my thoughts were.  I decided to take a look to see what anti-evolutionary mis-information was being propagated to the masses.  In the interest of setting the record straight, I decided to de-bunk the aforementioned post as it was based on large misconceptions about evolution and how natural selection operates (not surprisingly).  With the mountain of evidence that supports the theory of evolution, specifically the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis, I was extremely skeptical of every “scientific fact” proposed (which not surprisingly were anything but “facts”).  I want to start by pointing out that when I use the expression “the organism evolved”, I am implying that the gene pool is changing for a particular population with a new sub-population created in the process.  I don’t want those reading this to assume I am implying a Lamarckian evolution.  Now that I’ve provided that clarification, let’s begin.

“Scientific Fact” No. 1 – Birds Prove Natural Selection is Naturally Wrong

The idea of natural selection sounds great when considering deer. The deer that can sense danger the quickest and run the fastest are able to escape the predator on a more consistent basis. However, other examples on the evolutionary tree have many laughable flaws. One of the best is the thought that a bird began to evolve a wing. Why this would occur is not answered by evolutionists. The wing stub did not make the bird more adaptable in his environment. The wing was much too small for the bird to fly. Why would a bird evolve a wing that was useless? This is backwards from the evolutionary natural selection concept that birds adapt and change in order to survive better in their environment.

Alright, where to begin?  First off the idea that “a bird began to evolve a wing” needs clarification.  Edsinger implies that it started as a “stub” which would “not make the bird more adaptable in his environment“.  Evolutionary biologists aren’t positive how the wing evolved but some likely possibilities are that it either started as a fin or flipper (before life adapted from the aquatic environment to that of the terrestrial), and either grew feathers on them, or after flippers or fins evolved into fully formed terrestrially-suited arms, some animals grew feathers on those arms.  For some animals, the exact opposite may have occurred, that is, animals with wings may have evolved into certain sub-populations with arms or flippers.  If we look at the Penguin, we can see a similar case where natural selection pressured a previously flying bird into a sub-population of flightless birds with vestigial wings.  If we can imagine animals with wings evolving into animals with flippers over time, it is no more difficult to imagine the opposite case, that is, a sub-population of birds (or bird-like animals) with flippers evolving into a population of birds (or bird-like animals) with wings.

There are some more general misconceptions on Edsinger’s part regarding how natural selection operates as seen in this first excerpt of his, namely his assumption that natural selection only allows favorable traits to evolve or exist in some population within a specific type of environment.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  To illustrate this point, let’s consider the author’s assumption that wings evolved from useless “stubs” (which is less likely, but still possible).  Even in this extreme case, if we had an animal with stubs that were “useless”, we would need to know what other attributes and traits this animal has to see if they outweigh the disadvantages of their useless “stubs”.  What if the animal compensated for this shortcoming by: being covered in some type of armor (like an armadillo or porcupine), by being able to run very fast (like an ostrich does to evade its predators; another example of a flightless bird that found a way to more than compensate for its vestigial wings), or even by having incredibly sharp teeth (like a Tyrannosaurus Rex; a predatory animal at the top of the food chain despite having incredibly small and seemingly “useless” arms)?

What’s important to note here is that animals can evolve with both disadvantageous and beneficial traits as long as the benefits outweigh the disadvantages enough such that the organism lives long enough to reproduce (and such that the rates of reproduction are high enough to avoid extinction).  What’s kind of funny is that Edsinger’s line of reasoning suggests that everything is “designed” for a reason (which is true from a creationist or intelligent design point of view).  Since when have evolutionary biologists suggested that evolution has to fall within this line of reasoning?  If anything, proponents of evolution (myself included) suggest that physical traits (i.e. phenotypes) are random in the sense that they are a result of mutation and changes in gene frequency due to a changing environment.  This is why proponents of evolution have a way of explaining why “useless” phenotypes exist (whether its a human appendix, etc.).  Natural selection which operates on benefits outweighing disadvantages is a perfect explanation.  Proponents of intelligent design or creationism (i.e. not theistic evolution) have no way of explaining these “imperfections” or “design flaws” which further negates the arguments against evolution and natural selection.  In the case of a bird (or “pre-bird”) with a useless stub, as long as it had other traits that compensated for the stub, it would have an evolutionary “breathing space” for genetic mutations and other changes in gene frequency such that a wing could eventually co-evolve with the organism over time.  There is a theory that birds (some if not all) evolved from dinosaurs and the example I gave above of the T-Rex illustrates how animals can have the necessary evolutionary “breathing space” (e.g. being at the top of the food chain) for wings to eventually evolve (even from successive changes to previously useless features).  Let’s move on to number two.

“Scientific Fact” No. 2 – Species Without a Link Proves Evolution is Wrong

The evolutionist will claim that the presence of many individual species proves evolution. This shallow statement is devoid of reason, logic and scientific proof. Evolutionists line up pictures of similar looking species and claim they evolved one to another. Humans are a great example. There are hundreds of species of extinct monkeys and apes. Petrified skulls and bones exist from these creatures. Evolutionists line up the most promising choices to present a gradual progression from monkey to modern man. They simply fill in the big gaps with make-believe creatures to fit the picture. This procedure can be done with humans only because there are many extinct monkey and ape species. They never do this with giraffes and elephants. These pictures are placed in all evolutionists’ text books to teach kids this nonsense. The picture is simply a grouping of individual species that does not prove evolution.

Ugh.  I want to start by saying that Paleontologists have quite a difficult job to do.  One thing that Edsinger may not realize is that we are only able to find an incredibly small fraction of fossilized animals because it takes very special conditions in order to preserve the animal, let alone for so many millions of years.  Paleontologists have to find an area that has not been recycled into liquid hot magma via plate tectonic motion, volcanic activity, etc.  This means that any fossilized remains near converging plate tectonic boundaries are going to contain little if any remains, as much of those remains have been pushed back under the crust of the Earth and recycled into magma.  Any animals that weren’t buried by some material (e.g. preserved in a tar pit, covered in volcanic ash, etc.) will disintegrate due to weathering, decompose due to fungi (or otherwise), or be eaten by other animal scavengers.  Any animals that died near bodies of water are even less likely to have their remains found (due to our limited access of the bottom of the ocean) and less likely to be preserved (due to increased rates of dissolution, decomposition, etc.).  The idea I’m trying to illustrate here is that Paleontologists are only able to find a fraction of the fossil record due to the narrow range of conditions that allow fossil creation to take place.  This is why there are gaps that exist and are filled in with educated guesses.  Gaps aside, the conclusive evidence that we do have demonstrates how organisms have changed over time by looking at what did exist long ago and what we know exists in the animal kingdom today.  “Species without a link” is nothing more than a by-product of fossilization limitations.  What we do know is that the fossils that we do find are somewhat statistically representative of the population that existed long ago.  When we look at the fossil record however, and fail to find the majority of animals that exist today, we can safely infer that there are animals that exist today that didn’t exist long ago and vice versa.  This further implies that evolution has indeed occurred.

Another misconception that many have is that all evolution is equally gradual, that is, that all evolutionary changes proceed at the same or similar rates.  The Modern Evolutionary Synthesis suggests that there could have been several abrupt changes to the gene pool as a result of major climate changes, or other environmental factors, which would cause short and quick bursts of change to the gene pool.  This would make sense as the environment doesn’t always gradually change over time.  There are many extinction events or large environmental changes that can occur due to asteroids hitting the Earth (and the resulting dust clouds or tidal waves that ensue), volcanic eruptions (and the resulting pyroclastic flow, dust, and lava that follow), changes in solar output (resulting in ice ages or global warming), bacterial or viral epidemics, etc.  There are a number of things that can cause large abrupt environmental changes and thus large changes in gene frequency.  In cases like this, it makes sense that transitional fossils wouldn’t always exist with a consistent level of graduation over time.  The fossilization limitations I mentioned earlier would create circumstances where the level of transition would seem even more abrupt simply because we aren’t able to collect enough fossils to accurately represent the entirety of evolutionary changes.

“Scientific Fact” No. 3 – Single Cell Complexity Proves Evolution is Wrong

Scientists a century ago believed the smallest single living cell was a simple life form. The theory developed that perhaps lightning struck a pond of water causing several molecules to combine in a random way which by chance resulted in a living cell. The cell then divided and evolved into higher life forms. This view is now proven to be immature to the degree of being ridiculous. The most modern laboratory is unable to create a living cell. In fact, scientists have been unable to create a single left-hand protein molecule as found in all animals.

Are we really supposed to believe that scientists should be able to recreate the initial conditions that led to the emergence of life (i.e. abiotic synthesis or abiogenesis).  I’d be incredibly amazed if we were able to.  Our failure to know what the conditions were (even if we knew what conditions best support life AFTER life has been established), let alone the fact that our experiments are not able to run on the time scales that we believe were needed to create life (on the order of millions or billions of years), only points out our experimental and epistemological limitations.  Theoretically, the Earth underwent changes over the course of several billion years whereby Brownian motion and energy from the sun, electricity (e.g. lightning, etc.) led to the synthesis of simple compounds, more complex compounds (amino acids), and eventually DNA.  We can think of this as a several billion year experiment where random motion and enough time statistically led to stable compounds including DNA, proteins, etc.  If it was random motion, favorable chemical bonds, and enough time that led to life, how can we possibly expect to recreate this in a laboratory?  Our failure to do so is far from surprising and Edsinger seems to think that science is perfectly capable of doing such a laborious and near-impossible (if not impossible) task.  If Edsinger really has this much faith in the capabilities of science, then he should be a proponent of evolution, rather than arguing against it.  Clearly these arguments from Edsinger are a result of a lack of education in evolutionary biology, and a lack of reasoning in general.

“Scientific Fact” No. 4 – Human Egg and Sperm Proves Evolution is Wrong

The evolutionist ignores the problem surrounding the human female egg and the male sperm in the evolutionary theory. The female egg contains the X-chromosome and the male sperm contains either an X-chromosome for the reproduction of a male or a Y-chromosome for the reproduction of a female. The female eggs all develop within the ovaries while she is a baby (fetus) within her mother’s womb. Evolutionists claim environmental factors cause small changes in the offspring in the evolutionary chain. However, the environmental experience of the female cannot change the chromosomes within her eggs and cannot have any effect upon her offspring. Her body cannot go into the eggs contained within her ovaries at her birth to make an intelligent change. Females cannot be a part of the evolutionary theory for these reasons.

First Edsinger points out that it is the male that determines the sex of any future offspring.  Edsinger mentions that the female develops all of her eggs prior to reproduction and implies that this somehow prevents an intelligent change from being made by her such that her future offspring can better adapt to the environment.  What Edsinger has suggested here is that Lamarckism is false, which is perfectly in line with the Modern Evolutionary synthesis.  Evolutionists stay away from Lamarckism because there is little or no evidence to support it.  Edsinger assumed that evolutionists are proponents of Lamarckism but this is most certainly not the case.  Edsinger then goes on to say that females can’t ” be a part of the evolutionary theory for these reasons”.  This is not true at all.  The male and the female each provide one half of the resulting offspring’s DNA which means that she is the source of half of the genes that are perpetuated in the gene pool.  Upon mixing with the father’s DNA in a number of possible combinations, the resultant offspring can vary quite a bit.  Also, there are random genetic changes that can occur during or after the production of her eggs such that they do not perfectly correlate with the female’s original genes.  In other words, DNA is never copied perfectly and undergoes random mutations from time to time (including the DNA within her eggs) providing several mechanisms for changes to the gene pool.  While the imperfections and mutations are not a result of some intelligent attempt to match the changing environment, they indirectly do so (albeit un-intelligently) when natural selection takes place on the future offspring.  That is, the imperfections made while copying DNA for the production of her eggs and the random mutations that may occur to that DNA any moment after the eggs are produced, result in future offspring that are more or less suited for the changing environment.  So yes, females definitely play a role and are thus a part of the evolutionary theory.

“Scientific Fact” No. 5 – DNA Error Checking Proves Evolution is Wrong

The scientific fact that DNA replication includes a built-in error checking method and a DNA repair process proves the evolutionary theory is wrong. The fact is that any attempt by the DNA to change is stopped and reversed.

As I mentioned in my last paragraph, DNA does not copy itself perfectly.  There are certainly mechanisms that allow DNA to check for errors during copying, as this is needed in order to preserve any beneficial traits resulting from particular genes.  It makes sense that natural selection would support the evolution of DNA that performed this function.  While DNA does have this error checking capability, it is not perfect.  Even if it is imperfect by a tiny percentage of the genome, it provides enough “wiggle room” for evolution to occur.  Edsinger assumed that DNA error-checking was 100% full-proof, which is most definitely not the case.  No credible biologist believes this nor has provided evidence to support this assumption of Edsinger.  We do however have evidence that DNA copying results in at least SOME errors (which is all you need in order to demonstrate that evolution is possible).

“Scientific Fact” No. 6 – Chaos From Organization Proves Evolution is Wrong

The second law of thermodynamics proves that organization cannot flow from chaos. Complex live organisms cannot rearrange themselves into an organism of a higher form as claimed by evolutionists. This is scientifically backwards according to the second law of thermodynamics that has never been proven wrong. Scientists cannot have it both ways. The second law of thermodynamics is proven to be correct. Evolution lacks any scientific proof. Evolution is simply an empty theory.

This is perhaps one of my favorite myths to de-bunk.  I’ve heard Creationists try and use this argument time and time again (with no success).  Edsinger clearly does not even know what the Second Law of Thermodynamics is, for if he did, he would know that it states that entropy (chaos) statistically increases over time in a closed or isolated system.  Unforunately for Edsinger, the Earth is not a closed system.  We obtain all energy that both drives evolution and allows life to exist from the Sun!  It turns out that the amount of entropy that the Sun produces during nuclear fusion more than compensates for the decrease in entropy needed for life to exist and evolution to occur, so the Second Law of Thermodynamics is preserved.  I want to add that in general, evolutionists do not claim that organisms are evolving to “higher forms”.  What is claimed is that evolution is occurring in response to a changing environment.  Even if all intelligent life became extinct such that bacteria once again monopolized the gene pool, evolution would be the mechanism.  So to say that evolution requires higher order is inherently flawed.  It is true that a larger organism or one with more complex systems results in a decrease in entropy, but not all organisms evolve this way.  Some organisms may evolve into smaller organisms and some evolve into those with less complicated systems, as long as it is more beneficial for the new environment under consideration.

“Scientific Fact” No. 7 – Chromosome Count Proves Evolution is Wrong

There is no scientific evidence that a species can change the number of chromosomes within the DNA. The chromosome count within each species is fixed. This is the reason a male from one species cannot mate successfully with a female of another species. Man could not evolve from a monkey. Each species is locked into its chromosome count that cannot change. If an animal developed an extra chromosome or lost a chromosome because of some deformity, it could not successfully mate. The defect could not be passed along to the next generation. Evolving a new species is scientifically impossible. Evolutionists prove that getting a college education does not impart wisdom.

It has been shown that species with a particular number of chromosomes within its DNA can mate with another species with a different number of chromosomes.  A few months ago, I read about a sheep that mated with a goat and produced fertile offspring (with the average number of chromosomes between the two parents).  As rare as this is to encounter in our lifetimes, when we are talking about time scales on the order of millions and billions of years, it seems quite likely that this has happened quite a few times in the past.  The case of the goat and the sheep is merely one example to refute this claim of Edsinger.  Random mutations over time can change chromosome count even if they are incredibly rare.  Humans have only known about chromosomes for so many decades, and evolution has been occurring for millions or years.  It’s easy to see why we fail to see so many facets of evolution during our investigations (especially processes that may occur once every several thousand years or less).

“Scientific Fact” No. 8 – Origin of Matter and Stars Proves Evolution is Wrong

Evolutionists just throw up their hands at the question of the origin of matter because they know something cannot evolve from nothing. They stick their heads in the sand and ignore the problem. The fact that matter exists in outrageously large quantities simply proves evolution is wrong. The “Big Bang” theory doesn’t solve the problem either. Matter and energy have to come from somewhere.

Clearly Edsinger never considered that matter and energy may have ALWAYS existed, rather than were created.  The Big Bang Theory merely illustrates what the scientific evidence suggests as the earliest time with which we can talk about.  In other words, it would be pure speculation to assume what may have happened PRIOR to the Big Bang, but this does not mean that all scientists believe that nothing happened prior to the Big Bang.  Some speculate (myself included) that the universe undergoes a cyclical Big Bang followed by a Big Crunch; a cycle which has been going on for an infinite amount of time.  For those that want to suggest that the cosmological constant implies that the universe is expanding and could not ever lead to a Big Crunch, they haven’t considered that the expansion of space may be analogous to how Pangea spread out on the spherical surface of the Earth, whereby all the continents started to separate, and may eventually (on the other side of the Earth) come back together.  Alternatively, we could speculate that the cosmological constant is changing and will one day reverse itself.  Either way, the fact that we don’t know what happened prior to the Big Bang, is irrelevant to the theory of evolution.  Creationists think they’ve solved the problem by saying that a “God” created the universe, and this “God” always existed beforehand.  We can easily eliminate the “God” from the equation and just say that the universe has always existed.  On top of this, for Edsinger to say that we need to uphold the Law of Conservation of Mass and Energy, this means that his alternative explanation (whatever that may be) couldn’t have some “God” create the mass or energy either.  So what is Edsinger’s alternative explanation?

“Scientific Fact” No. 9 – Lack of Life on Mars Proves Evolution is Wrong

Two NASA two land rovers named Spirit and Opportunity explored Mars during 2004. The topography shows obvious signs of past liquid rivers flowing in numerous places. The rovers have proven that water was once abundant on the surface of Mars, but they have not been able to find any signs of life or any signs of past life on the planet. Mars has a proven history of flowing water on the surface and an atmosphere suitable to support life forms. The planet has had all of the conditions necessary to provide the “spark” of life according to the evolutionary theory, yet there is no life on Mars. The river beds and river banks show no signs of vegetation or trees. The ground has no fossils and no organisms. The place is absolutely sterile.

As I mentioned in response to “scientific fact” No. 3, the conditions needed to support life are different from those that are needed for abiogenesis.  We do not know what conditions are necessary for abiogenesis to occur.  Just because Mars has a source of water or other compounds similar to Earth doesn’t mean that Mars has all the ideal conditions necessary for life to emerge.  It has a different elemental composition that that of Earth, and is located at a different distance from the Sun than the Earth is.  There are many differences between Earth and Mars, so trying to argue that a planet which has SOME features similar to that of the Earth, yet doesn’t have ONE particular feature (e.g. life), somehow disproves evolution, is ridiculous.

“Scientific Fact” No. 10 – Radio Silence from Space Proves Evolution is Wrong

Mars is not the only place that shows no signs of life. The entire universe lacks any sign of life. There are no radio signals that can be related to intelligent life forms. None of the billions of galaxies has been found to emit any intelligent radio signals. Scientists have been pointing every type of radio telescope possible into space for several decades in hopes of finding an intelligent signal. No signs of life beyond Earth have been found. We are alone.

This is an example of what many people call the Fermi Paradox.  Let’s examine our particular situation of life on Earth.  If it took billions of years for life to form from a combination of Brownian (random) motion, specific favorable chemical bonds, and energy, it’s easy to see why life isn’t present on every planet in the solar system, let alone every planet in the galaxy.  Abiogenesis could only have occurred in a narrow range of conditions, and it was largely a result of statistical probability.  Likewise, statistically, with all the millions and billions of planets, countless solar systems and galaxies in the universe, it is also statistically probable that life DOES exist in many other parts of the universe (although we would expect the concentration of intelligent life to be small overall).  The fact that the observable universe seems to be somewhat homogenous further suggests this.  Radio silence from space doesn’t prove a darn thing other than that we have yet to be contacted by any radio signals that have been sent (if any have been sent).  If we expected to receive intelligent radio signals from outer space, we would not only have to assume that intelligent life has evolved elsewhere (that knows how to transmit Shannon information via radio signals or some other form of EM radiation), but that their planet was within range for their signal to reach us unaffected.  There are solar systems that are millions of light years away, and thus would prevent any signals from reaching us for millions of years (and that’s IF the signals managed to make it to us without being reflected or absorbed by other objects in the signal’s several million light-year path of travel).  This line of reasoning on Edsinger’s part is based on so many false assumptions, its ridiculous.  As for Edsinger’s “We are alone” comment, what a dark and depressing conclusion based on these assumptions.  I wrote a separate post about this addressing the Fermi Paradox in more detail.

There are many misconceptions about evolution, and these were merely a few I wanted to address.  What’s worse is that this person attempted to propagate these claims as “scientific facts” which all turned out to be completely false (not facts at all).  Needless to say, I was not surprised at all.

Misconceptions about Evolution: A Defense of Terence McKenna’s “Stoned Ape Theory”

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Recently I was reading a “Reality Sandwich” blog post written by a Brian Akers from 2011 titled: “Concerning Terence McKenna’s “Stoned Apes” ” which attempted to de-bunk Terence McKenna’s “Stoned Ape Theory”.  I am a proponent of at least some concepts that lie within this theory, specifically that the ingestion of psilocybin cubensis, i.e., “Magic mushrooms” (as well as other psychedelics) played a role in altering the course of early human and/or pre-human (i.e. homo-erectus) evolution.  Needless to say I was interested in hearing what Akers had to say, as he was critiquing one of TM’s best works titled: “Food of the Gods”, which discusses this theory in detail.  Akers went to some length to explain the flaws in TM’s theory, based on Akers’ idea of how evolution “really works”, and he also questioned the credibility of some of TM’s claims based on a lack of citing enough references to support his position, and also questioned the credibility of some references he did have.  I agreed with some of the points that Akers made but I took issue with some of the reasoning that Akers used in refuting the theory, specifically regarding the mechanisms behind sexual selection and evolution in general.  Here is the first excerpt I disagreed with:

Even if psilocybin did enhance visual acuity however, or make you more “horny,” such effects could not play a role in selective processes along lines TM argued.  Why?  Beyond false facts lies a general problem of fallacious reasoning from misconceptions about evolutionary processes.  Such misunderstanding is not uncommon, TM and his audience hold no monopoly on it.

In this light, suppose this attention-grabbing ‘horny’ claim were true. “Horniness” neither produces children, nor success in competition for mates.  Just ask males of a sexually dimorphic species like lions, who must fight each other tooth fang and claw in a run-off that ends in only one having breeding privileges, the rest left to console each other, out of luck. They can be as “horny” as they want, it makes no difference whatsoever for chances of their genes passing into the next generation.  The predicted winner is the bigger, more powerful male, with thick mane — not “horniest” (that’s irrelevant).  For possible adaptive advantage, ‘visual acuity’ enhancement seems less nonsensical, by comparison.

It appears that Akers has implied at least three things here: 1) the mating and sexual selection characteristics of a sexually dimorphic species such as lions matches (or closely resembles) that of humans, 2) which animal is the “horninest” is irrelevant to sexual selection (changes in the gene pool), and 3) physical competition (i.e. fighting) is the dominant, if not the only, mechanism for sexual selection.

Since when do all sexually dimorphic species share the same mate selection criteria and mechanisms? I can’t remember fighting another male such that I could have sexual intercourse with a potential mate. All of my relationships (especially those that led to sexual intercourse) were built upon a foundation of dialogue, shared experiences, and some level of mental and physical attraction. Has Akers never “won” over a mate by utilizing some degree of either good looks, charm, wit, and/or other intellectual prowess? If he has only physically fought other males in order to have sexual intercourse with a potential mate, then I don’t think he has had an experience like most, if not all others that are taking the time to read my (as well as Akers’) post. Akers also needs to realize that there are different degrees of dimorphism which are correlated with completely different types of sexual behavior.

If Akers really thinks that “horniness” is irrelevant to evolutionary changes in the gene pool, then I’d like him to support this position with sociological data that demonstrates that humans with a high libido (and little or no access to birth control) have no correlation with higher pregnancy rates. I don’t think the data is there to support this, especially given the fact that, as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, humans often are not physically fighting over mates. If the relationship is mutual and/or an open relationship with multiple sexual partners, then libido will certainly be a large factor when predicting which genes are most likely to pass on to the next generation. “Horniness” is far from irrelevant.  One could go so far as to argue that in the case of the male lions, having a high libido may actually increase their physical aggressiveness in the fight to come.  However it’s not necessary to limit sexual selection mechanisms to that of physical competition.

Sperm Competition

Akers has implied that physical competition is the dominant, if not the only mechanism affecting the fate of the gene pool. Another huge mechanism that Akers failed to consider for natural selection is that of sperm competition.

If we want to hypothesize what our early human or pre-human (i.e. homo-erectus) ancestors may have been like in terms of their sexual selection mechanisms and sexual behavior, it would be reasonable to look at the behavior and anatomical differences of other primates living among us now. Bonobos for instance have a degree of sexual dimorphism that is similar to that of humans (e.g. a level around 15-25 percent), whereas gorillas and orangutans (which tend to fight over mates and have harems dominated by an alpha male) have a much larger degree of this dimorphism (e.g. a level which is around 100 percent). Bonobos are incredibly promiscuous where the females often copulate with a large number of males, sometimes as often as 50 times a day, and the evolutionary trade-off that primatologists propose is that this sexual behavior increases the level of social cohesion between the males as well as the females. Even the females are often seen rubbing their own genitalia against one another to increase this cohesion.  It’s easy enough to see that if the males are not fighting in a pecking order or battling over “who gets the booty”, then they are able to form strong symbiotic relationships and bonds which foster more cooperation thus benefiting the group overall.  In effect, the sperm competition between males is nature’s way of eliminating the external physical battle, and moving it to a scale that no longer risks the elimination of the gene’s vehicle (i.e. the battling males).

The loud vocalization of female bonobos (and human females) during orgasm suggests an audible invitation for other males to join in on the fun. There doesn’t appear to be any other advantage, as making noise in the wild often draws attention to predators and thus the benefits of this “female call” may compensate for this predatory vulnerability.  Also, the fact that it takes women as well as female bonobos a significantly longer time to orgasm when compared to the males of the same species also supports the idea that we are perfect for promiscuous sexual relationships with multiple males copulating with each female. This is not a type of behavior that we see in polygynous or monogamous species that simply fight over mates, and thus this behavior is again seen as another example of sperm competition in action.

The sperm count of humans and bonobos are also much larger than that of orangutans and gorillas, which is not necessary if we evolved to fight and win over a mate with which we could copulate with as often as needed to impregnate. Human males also have a penis with unique physical characteristics that support sperm competition. For example, the glans (or head) of the penis is shaped like a plunger which sexual and evolutionary biologists believe is perfect for creating a vacuum in the vagina in order to pull out previously deposited seminal fluid and sperm such that the male is able to impregnate the female with his own deposit. This theory has actually been validated in a laboratory setting with artificial molds of a penis, vagina, and corn-starch based seminal fluid (some tests showed as much as 90% of seminal fluid was displaced after a single thrust). The relatively large number of thrusts during human sexual intercourse as well as the duration when compared to many other primates amplifies this seminal displacement effect.

The fact that human males have their sperm production sites and testicles located in an external, physically vulnerable location is correlated with an increased number of sperm and is correlated with primates that are promiscuous. There is even a form of rapid-reaction DNA present in humans which mediates testicular tissue development allowing humans to rapidly change their testicle size and sperm production capabilities in evolutionary time scales often thought to be too short (thousands of years). This rapid-reaction DNA is not present in monogamous or polygynous primates for obvious reasons.

Let’s not forget about some characteristics of the human female’s sexual anatomy. The complexity of the human cervix which filters sperm by creating countless hurdles suggests sperm competition and selection is at play. Women have anti-sperm leucocytes located in their reproductive tract who’s sole purpose is to kill sperm, such that only the strongest (or chemically compatible) sperm will survive to the end in order to fertilize the egg. It seems that in this case, whether or not a male is stronger or able to fight over a mate is less relevant than the compatibility between the male’s sperm and the woman’s egg. In this case, the woman is actually choosing the sperm on several levels (physical filtration, chemical filtration, and even the sporadic occurrence of an egg “enveloping” a reluctant sperm).

So clearly, by looking at the facts, sperm competition is much more likely as the dominant mechanism behind evolutionary changes to the human gene pool. It is also likely that this was the case with our closest ancestor (i.e. homo-erectus).  Many similarities can be seen in bonobos which live among us today and share so many other characteristics of human beings.  It’s more appropriate to hypothesize our immediate ancestors as being similar to these primates rather than to those that are similar to the dimorphic lions (e.g. gorillas) which Akers assumed.

The Baldwin Effect

Next, Akers makes some more narrow-minded claims about how natural selection operates in the following excerpt:

But it’s nonsense still, because of how evolution actually occurs. In favoring adaptive traits, it’s the genome selection operates on, across generations in a reproducing population. If an individual carrying whatever gene reproduces, he or she serves as a means for its transmission to the next generation. Biological evolution = change, to any degree, from one generation to the next, in proportions of GENES in a population. To my knowledge TM never proposed a gene for “eat psilocybin” in the hominids who in his fanciful scenario ate mushrooms, vs. those who did not. Genes may render some particular food(s) indigestible, but no gene governs that we eat mushrooms or don’t.  Without a gene that could be selected if adaptive, there’s nothing to inherit from eating fungi; thus no toehold for selection, regardless how many offspring.

Akers has completely failed to consider the Baldwin Effect on evolution. If there are any benefits provided by eating these psilocybin-containing mushrooms including but not limited to: increased visual acuity, increased libido, increased social cohesiveness due to ego-boundary dissolution, or otherwise, then by learning the behavior of eating those mushrooms, and having that behavior imitated by other individuals in the population — one can change the gene pool. If a species gains any advantage at all by eating these mushrooms, and these advantages are spread through the population by those that imitate the behavior, then only those that have the ability to imitate this behavior will gain the advantage. If this is the case, then those that have this ability will be more likely to reproduce if said advantages exist. The same situation applies if a species learns how to evade a new predator which it has not evolved to avoid with instinct alone. If certain other individuals in the population learn that new advantageous behavior, eventually the gene pool will start to show a greater proportion of individuals that imitate this behavior. Thus the ease of learning a particular behavior affects evolution of the species — even if the ability to learn this new behavior is mediated by genes (which mediates brain wiring, its level of plasticity, etc.). Learning is just another dimension of ontogenic evolution that affects the gene pool based on the success of the meme, as long as the behavior learned provides some advantage. So if eating psilocybin cubensis has any positive effects whether it’s stress relief, ego-boundary dissolution promoting social cohesiveness, increased visual acuity (or other visual changes), synesthesia, increased hearing acuity, linguistic thinking (leading to better organization of thoughts as well as more complex levels of thought), beneficial altered perceptions of space and time, increased libido, etc., then those organisms that pick up the behavior of eating that food preferentially over other foods may be more likely to survive longer and/or reproduce.

I do appreciate Akers’ research into the credibility of some of TM’s claims as there were certainly a few instances of either misinformation or poorly formulated claims within the theory, but his theory, at least in part, still stands. There may be flaws in his theory, but that doesn’t mean that we can dismiss the theory in it’s entirety, that is, that mushrooms played a role in human evolution. The fact that humans eat mushrooms and they are/were present in Africa where our early hominid ancestors originated implies that it is certainly possible. The fact that there are some attributes of a psilocybin cubensis trip (under certain dosages) which may be advantageous to a species implies that it is certainly capable of altering the gene pool through the Baldwin effect, and thus it is quite plausible that it may have altered the course of human evolution for these aforementioned reasons.