Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Bell Stops Here. God, Democracy, Evolution, Human Migration and Prehistory.

I have dedicated these several posts to examining the fallacies of the white supremacist's creed. I believe this is an important effort because a superficial look at questions of race cause some to adopt toxic behaviors and promote toxic public policies.

In the first entry, I described how geography and climate combine to define where knowledge accumulates. This knowledge led to the technological advancement of civilization occurring more rapidly in some places than others.

In the second entry, the topics of genetics, intelligence and race were introduced. Intelligence is complex and is represented by a variety of genes. Race has little meaning in the context of genetics.

In this entry, I will look at whether race can genetically define intelligence. First, however, one advantage of the transition between posts is that it allows me to take a necessary diversion.

Genes and Humans and God.

Until the late eighteenth century, the predominant theory of the differences among groups of people was: God ordained it. This justified the birthright of kings and aristocracy, the birthwrong of those in the lower classes, and the enslavement of those "others."

Among some, this is still an explicit or implicit belief. Halley's Bible Handbook, a guide to the Bible, which has sold over five million copies included up until in the late 1990s, the story of how Noah had cursed black people to live a life of subjugation.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, two major assaults came to the theory that God had ordained the rulers and the ruled. The first was that democracy took hold as both a philosophy and as a practice. The people, not the king, knew what was better for the people. The founding fathers of America kicked King George's ass, not only on the battlefield, but intellectually. Simón Bolívar one-upped Washington by winning independence for several nations while at the same time freeing their slaves.

The second challenge came in the mid-19th century: Darwin detailed the elements of evolution. Evolution not only impacted science but profoundly changed philosophy and how people saw the world. The meaning of evolution varied according to people's viewpoints. Those who believed in democracy over aristocracy saw evolution as a validation of merit, those who performed better succeeded. Some saw evolution as not only an assault on King, but on God. Beyond the notion of whether God created the whole diversity of life at the time of Genesis, churches had hierarchies who claimed that God had decided such matters as that only men could become priests (and bishops and popes).

Evolution sparked revolution. If people should be allowed to succeed on merit, then why shouldn't women be evaluated according to their abilities? If individuals should be allowed to succeed or fail, why not open universities to women and to all races?

In contrast, others interpreted evolution in favor of the empire. Those believing in the subjugation of races and nations saw those who had not succeeded as being inferior and those who had succeeded as superior. Now, "God ordained it" did not need to be their battle cry: science ordained it. With the 20th century, evolution, genes and intelligence theories, the supremacists had new elements needed to decorate their hatred.

Neither evolution nor God dictate any such conclusions. Those seeking to justify their bigotry will claim any and everything validates their beliefs, whether it be The Sermon on the Mount, evolution or their latest fart.

Survival of the fittest? I'm fond of saying that if evolution allowed only the strongest to survive, the kiwi bird would have disappeared long ago. (For those who aren't familiar, the kiwi is what would happen if you made one of those bobbing sippy bird toys out of pipe cleaners and a potato.)

Let's look at survival of the strongest in another light. Eugenicists are people who worry that weak genes are infiltrating humankind. A woman has type-1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes, a genetically heritable trait. That woman can take insulin and survive and have a productive life. Why? Because mankind has the ability and compassion to discover the need for insulin and produce that insulin. Evolution is not about whether that woman would survive for long if shipwrecked on a desert island. Not many of us would, and of those who did, half would start talking to volleyballs. Humans have the ability to modify their surroundings and their lives in order to live and thrive.

In Norway, it gets very cold, especially in the winter. Naked humans do not have the genes for surviving the cold outdoors. So a long time ago humans invented warm clothing. Humans invented shelter. Genes have provided us with the ability to adapt, so we adapt. People who use clothing and houses are no different from the woman who uses insulin, the latter being a more recent invention. Both enhance their lives and survive using things someone else invented.

Back to Race and Genes and Intelligence.

When I ended the last post, I mentioned that race has relatively little meaning genetically, but that it does have some meaning. Is it possible that intelligence might cluster with race?

Let's state this as a theory.

There exists a genetic difference among the intelligence of people that is defined or described by race.

Problem #1. The Polygenic Nature of Intelligence.

The first problem is that, as previously described, intelligence is extremely multi-faceted. Each aspect is a trait. With so many different traits, we can say that intelligence is polygenic, mapped on different genes. It is unlikely that all the genes should exist on the same chromosome.

As mentioned in the previous post, inheriting genes is, to some extent, like rolling dice. Each chromosome is a dice being rolled. With all of the dice throws that take place from generation to generation among large groups of people, the intelligences will balance out.

But evolution is not only dice throws: evolution involves selection. Could there have been selective pressures that required more intelligent people in one set to survive?

Problem #2. If selection pressures aided in the survival of one set of intelligent humans over another, when did this happen? And how could it have happened genetically?

Let's look at the migration of humans throughout the world.

Timeline of Human Migration.

  • 200,000 years ago. Homo sapiens appear, Southern Africa.
  • About 80,000 to 60,000 years ago. Humans migrate out of Africa into the Middle East and spread across Asia.
  • About 70,000 years ago. Evidence suggests 3,000 to 10,000 humans.
  • About 45,000 years ago, Humans moved to New Guinea and on to Australia.
  • About 40,000 years ago, Homo sapiens make it to Europe.
  • About 14,000 years ago, Humans migrate into North America.
  • (All times are approximate and argued, but not so much as to make these numbers meaningless)

Here we have a major problem. Races, to the extent that they exist genetically, diverged tens of thousands of years ago. If one group was smarter than the other, why did it take thousands to tens of thousands of years for one group to contrive the most basic of inventions? And how is it that the most basic of inventions appeared in diverse places? (Table below.)

How is it even possible to have a polygenic trait spread over a sizeable group, such as a founding population? Within a group, a small number of some who are smarter seems within the realm of possibility, but how does this help the "average" intelligence? Genes are handed down, not passed around.

This gets back to one of the fundamental principles put forth in the first post, and one that has the most and most obvious evidence to support it: you don't have to invent something if you acquire it. We can live in skyscrapers, talk on cell phones, visit the internet not because we are smarter than those people 150 years ago, but because we adopt and assimilate inventions into our lives. Acquired knowledge is good enough.

How does this relate to the perils of cave living? If a group of cave dwellers is being challenged by a particular nasty winter, if smarts are needed to survive, they don't need the smarts of the group as a whole. Not everyone invented a better way of sheltering their fires. If one person did and the others adopted it, that was enough. And that one person who may have been bright, did next to nothing to change the gene pool.

Here is a table listing the major inventions of the last 200,000 years and their locations, up to the invention of writing. I left out a few that were repetitive, e.g., the domestication of yet another animal.

Prehistoric Inventions.

  • About 170,000 years ago, Evidence of clothing, Southern Africa.
  • About 63,000 years ago, Bow and arrow invented, Southern Africa.
  • About 42,000 years ago, Deep sea fishing, New Guinea.
  • About 40,000 years ago, Cave art, Spain and New Guinea.
  • About 36,000 years ago, Weaving, Turkey.
  • About 28,000 years ago, Clay figures, Czechoslovakia.
  • About 20,000 years ago, Clay pottery, China (and we still call dishes china!)
  • About 15,000 years ago (or earlier), Humans domesticate dogs, first clear evidence, Germany.
  • About 11,000 years ago, Agriculture, Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean, China.
    • Agriculture developed along a band of latitude stretching from China (rice, e.g.); to the Mediterranean (e.g., wheat, barley).
  • About 11,000 years ago, Domestication of sheep, Mesopotamia.
  • About 11,000 years ago, First villages, Middle East.
  • About 8,700 years ago, Lead smelting, Turkey.
  • About 6,500 years ago, Copper smelting, Serbia.
  • About 5,500 years ago, The Wheeled Vehicle, uncertain as to Central Europe, Southern Russian or Middle East.
  • About 5,200 years ago. Writing is invented, Middle East.
  • *Although I talk about Middle East and Mesopotamia, the current popular phrasing is the Levant region which includes the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean.

In the first post, I wrote about historical progress through knowledge. When you had writing, knowledge was made solid and passed along and things moved forward at a relative quick pace. The invention of writing is the official definition of the beginning of history versus prehistory. So, what drove prehistorical progress? In this case, climate superseded geography.

Okay, climate is, in a sense, applied geography. What do I mean by that? First of all, obviously, our planet is very cold in the Arctic and Antarctic and warm in the middle. Beyond this, the location of deserts and jungles are determined by rainfall and latitude, the former of which is defined by bodies of water and mountain ranges. The latter is location.

It might surprise some to learn that we are currently in an Ice Age. This is not a comment on global warming, nor is it a comment on the number of sequels the movie Ice Age has generated,  it's just that the time when  the world was very cold from 110,000 years until approximately 10,000 years ago was a "glacial period" and part of the current Ice Age which began about 2.5 million years ago. Okay, with that bit of trivia out of the way, let's have one more table. This will list the major climate events of the last 200,000 years.

Climate Events of Human Pre-History.
  • 110,000 years ago. Glacial period began. Why this is significant. Glaciers covered Northern Europe. Europe and Northern Asia remained relatively inhospitable. Glaciers prevented transit across Siberia to Americas.
  • 25,000 years ago, Peak glaciation. After this point the glaciers recede.
  • 15,000 years ago, With the relative warming, the Sahara is moist and habitable.
  • 15,000 years ago. With the relative warming, humans can cross from Siberia to the Americas.
  • 10,000 years ago, Major glaciation has disappeared.
  • 8,200 years ago, the collapse of the Laurentide ice shelf in North America leads to drier conditions in Mesopotamia. This concentrates the population around the Fertile Delta.

Climate and geography explain why Mesopotamia area and the Levant region in general became the cradle of civilization. With the desert at either side and the fertile land in the middle, agriculture became a better idea than hunting and gathering. It is widely accepted that agriculture drove human progress for millennia.

In summary:
  • For much of history, God was considered the power behind class divisions.
  • When democracy and evolution took hold as ideas, two thought-lines diverged. One group said that evolution proves people should be judged by their merit. The other group said evolution proves that some had less merit.
  • It is virtually impossible for a polygenic trait to cluster in what are called races.
  • The migration of humans is inconsistent with the theory that one race is smarter than the other and does not support genetic differences in intelligence.
  • The pre-historic progress of humans was not defined by race but was defined by climate and geography.

Up next: What do we mean we talk about race?
Martin Hill Ortiz is the author of Never Kill A Friend, Ransom Note Press.

Never Kill A Friend, Ransom Note Press

Never Kill A Friend is available for purchase in hard cover format and as an ebook.
The story follows Shelley Krieg, an African-American detective for the Washington DC Metro PD as she tries to undo a wrong which sent an innocent teenager to prison.

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