- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2008

Has technological advance brought Darwinian evolution to a halt among humans? Debate exists, both as to whether it has happened and what it might mean for our curious species.

The basic idea of evolution of course is that the fit survive while the less fit (on average) don’t. This results in an improving degree of adaptation to the environment. It no longer happens among people, goes the evolution-has-stopped argument.

For example, poor eyesight causes no selective disadvantage today because we have glasses or contact lenses. Genetically inferior teeth do not matter because we have fluoridated water, dental floss and good dentists. (In the past, it was perfectly possible to die of infections attendant on rotting teeth.) Physical weakness doesn’t inhibit survival or reproduction because a protective society allows the small and scrawny to live as long as the large and strong.

Resistance to disease is no longer particularly important, goes this line of reasoning, because vaccinations compensate for resistance to many deadly illnesses. Further, pharmacology keeps alive people who catch such formerly often-fatal diseases as pneumonia.

But it goes further. Medical technology keeps people alive who have genetically transmitted conditions that otherwise would almost certainly kill them, and allows them to have children. For example, people with severe asthma can live almost normal lives — and pass on their genes.

All of this counterevolutionary technology came about because people had the intelligence to invent it.

However, the same technology seems to work against the evolution of higher intelligence: The not-so-bright tend to have more offspring than do high-end scientists and intellectuals.

Putting it otherwise, almost everyone lives past his, or her, reproductive years. Men often are physically capable of fathering children well into their fifties or sixties, but in fact they seldom do. In evolutionary terms, this very low early mortality means that few undesirable traits will be selected out of the gene pool.

We see another odd anti-evolutionary trend, apparently technology-induced: Whole populations of presumably fit people are diminishing in number. For example, the Japanese are about as smart, capable and successful as people get — yet their population is falling. The same is true in Spain, Germany, Italy, Russia and so on.

Populations have decreased in the past, as for example toward the end of the Roman Empire, but (so far as I know) always because conditions were bad. But conditions are not bad in Italy today. The shrinkage in numbers certainly isn’t due to poor health, or lack of food or space.

The cause seems to be technology. Women don’t have to have babies if they don’t want to. A modern economy allows people to lead happy lives, happier lives perhaps, without having children. Marriage has become a choice, not a necessity.

Another odd evolutionary effect is “cognitive stratification.” The idea is that in, say, 1850 brilliant people were distributed more or less evenly through the population. A cowboy with an IQ of 160 might be more successful than others, but he would still be a cowboy. Today the best universities find the brilliant and train them in intellectually demanding fields. They work together and marry each other. Their children follow similar paths. Brains become increasingly concentrated in a small elite.

To what extent this actually happens, I don’t know. But it is not what is usually envisioned by Darwinists.

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