October 02, 2007

Ridiculous Misrepresentation and Sheer Ignorance

Lest it be said that Creationist idiocy be a particularly American export, today's gibberish comes to us from a more exotic locale: Barbados. The author is named Adrian Sobers, and the following is taken in whole from a piece in The Nation:

A blow to evolution theory?

IT SHOULD BE more difficult for evolutionists to hold to their already inadequate theory.

A new study by British researchers at the University of Cambridge (published in Nature, July 19) proves that all humans originated from a single point in Africa. This is far removed from the primordial soup + time + chance theory that humans evolved from different parts of the world.
This is enough to demonstrate the degree of ignorance/deception at work here; there is nothing in evolutionary theory that says that humans popped out of "primordial soup," only that such a situation was the origin of life some 3.8 billion years before the evolution of humanity. In fact, we should expect that populations would give rise to new species, so it comes as no surprise that humans would have originated in a single location, and that is precisely one of two hypotheses to which this study was addressed.
The origins of anatomically modern humans have been the focus of much heated debate.

Our genetic research shows that the further modern humans have migrated from Africa, the more genetic diversity has been lost within a population. However, some have used skull data to argue that modern humans originated in multiple spots around the world.

"We have combined our genetic data with new measurements of a large sample of skulls to show definitively that modern humans originated from a single area in sub-Saharan Africa," says Andrea Manica.

Fellow researcher Francois Balloux added: "To test the alternative theory for the origin of modern humans, we tried to find an additional, non-African origin. We found this just did not work. Our findings show that humans originated in a single area in Sub-Saharan Africa."
And your point is? How does this contradict evolutionary biology?

In fact, it doesn't. What we've got here is another bit of Creationist quote-mining. So let's put this whole thing out in the open.

The study in question is cited: Manica A, Amos W, Balloux F, and Hanihara, T. 2007. The effect of ancient population bottlenecks on human phenotypic variation. Nature 448 (7151): 346. Here is the full abstract:
The origin and patterns of dispersal of anatomically modern humans are the focus of considerable debate. Global genetic analyses have argued for one single origin, placed somewhere in Africa. This scenario implies a rapid expansion, with a series of bottlenecks of small amplitude, which would have led to the observed smooth loss of genetic diversity with increasing distance from Africa. Analyses of cranial data, on the other hand, have given mixed results, and have been argued to support multiple origins of modern humans. Using a large data set of skull measurements and an analytical framework equivalent to that used for genetic data, we show that the loss in genetic diversity has been mirrored by a loss in phenotypic variability. We find evidence for an African origin, placed somewhere in the central/southern part of the continent, which harbours the highest intra-population diversity in phenotypic measurements. We failed to find evidence for a second origin, and we confirm these results on a large genetic data set. Distance from Africa accounts for an average 19-25% of heritable variation in craniometric measurements - a remarkably strong effect for phenotypic measurements known to be under selection.
In other words, there is nothing in this study that contradicts evolutionary theory. What this study did was to lend evidence in support of one evolutionary scenario (single origin) and against another (multiple origins). In fact, the single point of origin hypothesis, sometimes called the "Out of Africa" hypothesis, is the older of the two and has long been thought the more likely scenario by biologists and anthropologists alike. The very concept of a population bottleneck is taken directly from modern evolutionary theory, and perhaps that's why Sobers fails to mention the title of the article in his steaming heap of nonsense. Without the idea of genetic drift, "population bottleneck" is a meaningless term, and without evolution there can be no such thing as genetic drift.

Sobers, like all Creationists, is either ignorant or dishonest about this matter. I suspect the latter, since he's obviously aware of the article whose title he fails to provide and about which he has been so selective in quoting. He's relying on people not following up on his claims for themselves and instead simply accepting something that he wants them, and perhaps they want, to believe is evidence for something that's precisely the opposite of what he's saying it means.
The Garden of Eden perhaps?
No, not the Garden of Eden. That doesn't even hold up to a purely biblical interpretation, since the site being mentioned in this study has nothing to do with a confluence of two rivers and doesn't occupy any plot of land mentioned in the Genesis myth. This is South Africa; nowhere in either the Old or New Testament is South Africa ever mentioned and even in real historic times a knowledge of the place isn't evidenced in the literature of the Middle East, or indeed the entire Mediterranean world, until comparatively recent times.

That Sobers quotes Francois Balloux for his out of context arguments is particularly stupid, considering that Balloux's web page at Cambridge makes it pretty clear that the results of this study haven't exactly sent Balloux fleeing from science into the slimy embrace of Creationist nitwittery. Balloux is a researcher working on "...the genetic makeup of human populations and their pathogens. Currently, our research projects focus on the geographic distribution of human genetic variation ..." He works on the phylogeny (straight-up evolutionary biology right there) of such human pathogens as hepatitis B. A quick look at the latest publications coming out of his lab, bearing titles such as Mutations and reproductive outcomes in a population isolate and Natural selection on fecundity variance in subdivided populations: kin selection meets bet-hedging — both of which are seeing publication after the article in Nature that Sobers thinks provides evidence for Creationism — should tell anyone with two brain cells to rub together that Balloux hasn't found anything that makes him less sure about evolutionary theory.

And what kind of things does Sobers write when he's not quote-mining from scientific studies he doesn't understand? Luckily for us, he has a blog of his own, The Hope Within. In it, he quotes the Bible a great deal and makes the usual logically fallacious arguments about free will and similar inanities. Before that, he had a blog on Blogger, also entitled The Hope Within, wherein he wrote about the same kinds of things but threw in sports fandom as well.

But today, he believes himself qualified to make judgments about evolutionary biology fit for the whole world to see. Why? Well, look at his Links list on that Blogger blog: Answering Islam, Answers in Genesis, Christianity Today, True Origin Archive.

He's a fundie. The more ignorant a Fundie is, the louder he gets. It's like the inverse square law of gravity, only dumber, or at least more malicious to reason. This is someone who hasn't the slightest interest in the truth, only in twisting around whatever he can to supporting his misguided viewpoint. Like many of his ilk, lying to his fellow man is just fine with him if he's doing it on behalf of DA LAWD.

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