The Progressive Orthodoxy’s Nicene Creed

Sunday, May 4th, 2014

The orthodoxy’s equivalent of the Nicene Creed has two scientific tenets, Charles Murray explains:

The first, promulgated by geneticist Richard Lewontin in “The Apportionment of Human Diversity” (1972), is that the races are so close to genetically identical that “racial classification is now seen to be of virtually no genetic or taxonomic significance.” The second, popularized by the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, is that human evolution in everything but cosmetic differences stopped before humans left Africa, meaning that “human equality is a contingent fact of history,” as he put it in an essay of that title in 1984.

Since the sequencing of the human genome in 2003, what is known by geneticists has increasingly diverged from this orthodoxy, even as social scientists and the mainstream press have steadfastly ignored the new research.

That’s the introduction to his review of Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance, which he declares a delight to read.

Both tenets of the orthodoxy are wrong, by the way:

Mr. Lewontin turns out to have been mistaken on several counts, but the most obvious is this: If he had been right, then genetic variations among humans would not naturally sort people into races and ethnicities. But, as Mr. Wade reports, that’s exactly what happens. A computer given a random sampling of bits of DNA that are known to vary among humans — from among the millions of them — will cluster them into groups that correspond to the self-identified race or ethnicity of the subjects. This is not because the software assigns the computer that objective but because those are the clusters that provide the best statistical fit. If the subjects’ ancestors came from all over the inhabited world, the clusters that first emerge will identify the five major races: Asians, Caucasians, sub-Saharan Africans, Native Americans and the original inhabitants of Australia and Papua New Guinea. If the subjects all come from European ancestry, the clusters will instead correspond to Italians, Germans, French and the rest of Europe’s many ethnicities. Mr. Lewontin was not only wrong but spectacularly wrong. It appears that the most natural of all ways to classify humans genetically is by the racial and ethnic groups that humans have identified from time out of mind.

Stephen Jay Gould’s assurance that significant evolution had stopped before humans left Africa has also proved to be wrong — not surprisingly, since it was so counterintuitive to begin with. Humans who left Africa moved into environments that introduced radically new selection pressures, such as lethally cold temperatures. Surely, one would think, important evolutionary adaptations followed. Modern genetic methods for tracking adaptations have established that they did. A 2009 appraisal of the available genome-wide scans estimated that 14% of the genome has been under the pressure of natural selection during the past 30,000 years, long after humans left Africa. The genes under selection include a wide variety of biological traits affecting everything from bone structure and diet to aspects of the brain and nervous system involving cognition and sensory perception.

Given Murray’s own experiences, I got a chuckle out of this line:

His trust in his audience is touching.

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