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September 21, 2007

Menopause for the Good of the Species

If you are a mid-life woman going through “the change,” you can take comfort in those “hot flash” moments. Really.

New research indicates that menopause helps improve the survival of the young. How so? Debora MacKenzie of the New Scientist explains,

Data from Africa indicates that the menopause creates grandmothers without young children of their own that can improve the survival chances of their daughters' offspring…Human female reproductive functions stop around age 50, and start tapering off even earlier. In other mammals, female reproduction simply stops because of ageing, at a variety of ages. But in humans the shutdown is deliberate and early. And it is genetically controlled, meaning the genes responsible were selected by evolution. (Emphasis added.)

“Selected by evolution”? If my memory serves me, it’s only within the last century or so that life expectancy has extended beyond what is now considered mid-life. I also seem to recall that that extension was primarily the result of (intelligently designed!) advances in medical science, not random variation and natural selection.

Well, so much for another study whose sole purpose is to validate neo-Darwinism. To such studies, it seems there’s no end. Sigh.

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Comments

Brian

At first glance, this does seem like a case where the forces of natural selection would be unable to act on the characteristic in question.

Carol HH

Evolution my eye. Having experienced health problems that were putting me into an early menopause, I realized why some "still virile" men leave their wives of decades for younger models but I'll stay clear of the drawbacks of younger models for now). It's the spiritual commitment and godly characteristics of a good husband that keep him caring for and loving his wife. Not all men who stick with their wives through menopause may recognize the source of their love and commitment, but it's from God.

Lee

(Imagine the following delivered in a professorial smarter-than-thou tone.) "Sigh. Once again Christians publicly display their ignorance of how evolution works. The genes controlling menopause were suppressed by our ancestors' shorter lifespans. The arrival of menopause in the human species is a clear demonstration of punctuated equilibrium - the ability of a species (or its genes) to evolve rapidly due to changing conditions; in this case the relatively rapidly changing human lifespan. Please refrain from criticizing things of which you are woefully ignorant."

So, genes are only as selfish as they're allowed to be.

Or, if you prefer:


'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,' it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master - that's all.'

Regis Nicoll

Lee--What you describe is not evolution in the neo-Darwin sense—no new information was created--rather longer life spans allowed the expression of a function that was inherent (but, as you yourself said, suppressed) in the genetic code. No net change in the human genome occurred. It is like dog breeders who shuffle or suppress certain genes to obtain a desirable characteristic. After centuries of selective breeding, they’ve created no new genetic material, nor developed any new species. They’ve only pushed organisms closer to the upper limit of change, resulting in increased susceptibility to disease and early mortality.

Steven J. Thompson

The increase in average human lifespan over the last several centuries has been largely due to a sharp decrease in infant and childhood mortality; if one counts only people who've reached breeding age (as I suspect the author of Ecclesiastes -- "threescore and ten" -- did), your chances of reaching 80 once you've already reached 20 are not that much higher now than they were a century ago, or thousands of years ago. Even on the African savannah of thousands of centuries ago, a woman who lived long enough to become a mother probably had a fairly good chance of living long enough to become a grandmother, so natural selection would have something to work with.

By the way, this does not imply that menopause was selected "for the good of the species." The point of the original article was that menopause is good for the genes of the women who go through menopause: by devoting time and effort to helping care for their grandchildren rather than risking their health producing new babies of their own, they can increase the odds that any particular child carrying their genes lives to reproductive age.

Regis Nicoll

Steven--The point of the study was to figure out how a contraindicating feature (this time, menopause) can be reconciled with the neo-Darwin narrative. The investigators give evidence (by virtue of mathematical models, mind you) that a surviving grandmother (versus older siblings or relatives) provides a unique survival advantage to the young. On that basis alone, they rest at ease for plugging another hole in that Titanic of a theory. While in effect, all they really accomplished, as I noted to “Lee”, was demonstrate how a suppressed function of our design can be activated by a change in our environment. Farmers and breeders have known as much for centuries. And to think, people get paid for such discoveries!

Lee

Regis, **I** know that, and **you** know that - but how many times have you heard my argument delivered in just that tone of voice, with the intent of intimidating some Christian into silence?

Darwinists, for all their bluster about precision of thought and precision of terminology, are masters of rhetorical spin. Ironically, they themselves create no new information, but merely suppress it - in the Romans 1:18 sense.

I still remember arguing with a colleague, a strident Darwinist, about the value of hospitals. Do they work in favor of human evolution by providing a stronger social bond, or do they work against it by promoting the survival of the unfit while taking resources away from the fittest? The answer depends on whether the Darwinist's specialty is the study of ant colonies or the predatory habits of lions on the veldt.

Regis Nicoll

Lee--Somehow I missed the sarcasm in your first post until your second post caused me to take a second look. Mr. Carroll was surely on to something, heh?

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