Read this reply to Francis Collins on Pharyngula. Collins, one of the biggest movers and shakers behind the human genome project, is also Christian and very eager to tell the world about it. Now he’s written a book about his faith. Doc Myers takes Collins to task for the shaky ground upon which his faith rests. I’ll go after Collins’s total disregard for science in defending his faith.

PZ links to an interview with Collins, in which the director of the US National Human Genome Research Institute’s understanding of evolution is described as follows:

Among Collins’s most controversial beliefs is that of “theistic evolution”, which claims natural selection is the tool that God chose to create man. In his version of the theory, he argues that man will not evolve further.

“I see God’s hand at work through the mechanism of evolution. If God chose to create human beings in his image and decided that the mechanism of evolution was an elegant way to accomplish that goal, who are we to say that is not the way,” he says.

“Scientifically, the forces of evolution by natural selection have been profoundly affected for humankind by the changes in culture and environment and the expansion of the human species to 6 billion members. So what you see is pretty much what you get.”

The meatiest piece of ignorance isn’t in Collins’s own words, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he did not actually say that humans have stopped evolving. A statement that stoopid would require an ignorance that I hope Collins does not stoop to. As PZ points out, if we have stopped evolving and our pathogens have not, we’re totally fucked. Oh, and there’s all the evidence for selection in humans. We ain’t stopped evolving, Frank.

Like I said, I’m giving Collins the benefit of the doubt and assuming he didn’t actually say humans have stopped evolving. Given the less than stellar abilities of many science reporters, it’s very possible that Collins was mis-paraphrased. But the intelligent designer god uses evolution to create man in his image?

Evolution requires one thing: genetic variation in a population. That variation arises via mutations of many different sorts. Those mutations occur because our cells are imperfect replicators — there are occasional errors when the genetic material is copied. Some of the cells harboring mutations end up in the germ line, where they may be passed on to the next generation. Many of the mutations are deleterious, and they are purged by natural selection. Some are beneficial and may increase in frequency due to positive selection. Large portions are (nearly) neutral and are subject to the whims of random sampling.

What are the implications of a god that created error prone polymerases? The same imperfect replicators that give us the heritable variation that forms the basis of all evolution are also responsible for the genetic mutations that lead to cancers and other genetic diseases. Hooray god, you cancerous rapscallion.

I’m glad I’ve got Michael Ashburner on my team instead of Collins.


  1. #1 Jim Thomerson
    October 12, 2007

    I think human adaptation has been largely the result of cultural rather than genetic evolution for some time, and will continue to be so into the future so long as we can hold it together. We are dealing with evolving pathogens less by shifts in gene frequencies than by techlological solutions, cultural adaptations if you will. Natural selection in the change in gene frequency sense is still there, of course. However natural selection in the effectiveness of cultural response to adaptive challenges is much more important. So far as any major change in human nature goes, it is not going to happen except as a result of cultural evolution. We are a large, more and more panmictic population, thus relatively stable as to gene frequencies and with, at present, little opportunity for allopatric speciation.

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