I continue to read with great interest about the science of genetics. Admittedly I read mostly on a popular level though I have read several books on the topic. I am no scientist and I acknowledge the risks of getting my science mediated through the popular media! (Example in the fairly short Seth Borenstein article below there is this quote: “’Wow,’ said R. Scott Hawley, a genetics researcher at the Stowers Institute in Kansas City. ‘That result is astounding.’” Like wow, did we really need a scientist to offer this awesome quote? Hopefully Hawley had a lot more profound things to say about the topic, and it does reveal the risk of getting science only from the popular media).
Two articles I saw recently that piqued my interest both because of their content and because they offer examples of how scientific thinking continues to evolve as new data comes in changing scientific ideas that themselves had been well accepted in the scientific community. Do the science – the scientific research – and offer the data and the minds of scientists can be changed, even if slowly and reluctantly. This certainly is how scientific knowledge differs from the revealed knowledge of theology – “truth” in science is malleable in the face of factual data. “Truth” can constantly change as it conforms to new experience. Religion also relies on real experience, but theology claims there are some unchanging truths through which all other knowledge must be understood (for example, the existence of God). Scientists do have a lens through which they view reality, but sometimes new data requires that the lens be changed or modified. What is hotly debated in both science and theology is what changes are made necessary by experience, and what part of truth is non-negotiable (For example, must scriptures be read literally? Does epigenetics mean Lamarckian ideas must be reconsidered?)
Men more evolved? Y chromosome study stirs debate by Seth Borenstein – Associate Press Science Writer (Published – Jan 13, 2010)
“Women may think of men as primitive, but new research indicates that the Y chromosome _ the thing that makes a man male _ is evolving far faster than the rest of the human genetic code.
A new study comparing the Y chromosomes from humans and chimpanzees, our nearest living relatives, show that they are about 30 percent different. That is far greater than the 2 percent difference between the rest of the human genetic code and that of the chimp’s, according to a study appearing online Wednesday in the journal Nature.
These changes occurred in the last 6 million years or so, relatively recently when it comes to evolution.”
Some are suggesting that the reason the Y chromosome may be evolving faster than other parts of the human genome is that the Y chromosome is unpaired, unlike the rest of the chromosomes in the human genome. A female has two X chromosomes which makes them paired like all other human chromosomes. But the male’s lone Y chromosome means “when there are mutations there’s no matching chromosome to recombine and essentially cover up the change.” This new research is changing the way some scientists understand gender. In evolutionary terms gender is no more natural that asexuality – all is the result of evolution and must be accounted for in evolutionary terms. All differences within a species (like gender) must also be accounted for by evolution. So the fact that the Y chromosome may be evolving faster than the human species as a whole seems quite plausible and reasonable within evolutionary theory. The studies author, Jennifer Hughes, cautioned that while the Y chromosome may be evolving more rapidly than the genome as a whole, this doesn’t mean men are more evolved than women. And it should be noted that in any case in evolutionary theory “evolving more” has no qualitative value since evolution is not thought of as progress.
“Until recently the Y chromosome was considered the Rodney Dangerfield of genetics, especially because it had fewer genes than other chromosomes. A few years ago some researchers even suggested that the Y chromosome was shrinking so that in 50,000 years it would just disappear _ and so would men.
“The story is not as cut and dried as many would have liked to predict,” Hughes said. “It’s kind of fun to say that men are going to die out, but the science is proving _ now that we’ve got data _ that that’s not true at all.”
So science itself continues to evolve as new data challenges existing assumptions. This means of course that “the final word” on some aspects of biology or quantum physics may always be beyond the limits of human knowledge. Even scientists are capable of the hubris which has caused so many arrogant cultural warriors to fall.
Next: DNA isn’t Destiny