January 21, 2017

Have Humans Evolved Separately Long Enough to Have Races?

Some people argue that evolution is an extremely slow process and, because of this, there simply has not been enough time for human populations to evolve into separate subspecies. For instance, the famed Paleontologist Steven Jay Gould has stated that the divergence of human races was “so recent that there just hasn’t been time for the development of much genetic variation except that which regulates some very superficial features like skin color and hair form” (Gould 2003).

Gould provides no evidence for this claim. And the truth is that there are many instances of evolution breaking species into separate subspecies in the amount of time (100,000-200,000 years) that the human races have been separated. For example, the Moose has evolved several subspecies in the last 100,000 years (Mikko and Andersson 1995), 2 subspecies of waterfowl evolved in less than 100,000 years (Wilson et al. 2011), 8 subspecies of tiger evolved in roughly 72,000 years (Lou et al. 2004), the Lizard Laudakia stellio evolved 2 subspecies in 12,000 years (Brammah et al. 2010), two subspecies of wood duck took only 34,000 to diverge (Peters et. al. 2005) and finally, the polar bear has only been evolving separately from the brown bear for 70,000-100,000 years (Lindqvist et al. 2010).

Subspecies’ Time of divergence
Cyanoptera – Discors (birds) 65,000
Discors – Septentrionalium (birds) 70,000
Cyanoptera – Septentrionalium (birds) 95,000
North American Moose – European Moose 165,000
Proposed time for human subspecies to have evolved 100,000
8 subspecies of tigers 72,000
2 subspecies of lizards 12,000
Eastern and Western Wood Duck 34,000

Even human evolution provides us with clear examples of fast evolutionary processes. For instance, it only took humans 370,000 years to diverge into Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

Moreover, there is nothing about the mechanics of evolution which makes changing “superficial” traits like skin color any easier than traits which we would consider important. Evolution operates the same way on genes regardless of how “superficial’ the trait they produce is.

I have heard some people suggest that evolution takes longer when the production of a trait involves many genes instead of one. But evolution does not operate one gene at a time. Each human generation sees small changes in the frequency of millions of genetic markers, and it is this process that constitutes evolution.

The idea that evolution would take longer to change traits that we happen to care deeply about is obviously not a scientific idea. And the idea that subspecies can not evolve 100,000-200,000 years is clearly untenable given what we see across the animal kingdom.

 

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