Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Alice Roberts and the evolution of breastfeeding

I wasn't going to post again before Christmas, but tend to post when I feel moved by stuff I hear, and at a time when some of us are thinking about the birth of Jesus, this seemed timely.

‘Professor’ (*) Alice Roberts has used her bully pulpit in the Guardian, the BBC’s in house newspaper, to launch another profoundly predictable anti creationist rant. It’s heartening to note that they are beginning to see us as enough of a threat to worry about. We seem to be making some small impact against the Darwinist hegemony, despite our tiny resources. You can see it here if you like. 
>>>>>Alice Roberts has written a critical piece on the Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm in the
Guardian.  ‘Why I won't be going back to Noah's Ark creationist zoo - A creationist zoo in Bristol will bewilder adults and potentially undermine children's education’ - December 2013

I don’t feel the need to respond to Alice in detail, she hasn’t said anything original and I believe her points are pretty well covered in past posts. But since she is engaging the debate, and since she has recently become a mother (this was heavily touted in her latest BBC ‘documentary’) here’s a question. 

How did breast feeding evolve? 

A search on the above question takes us first to Wikipedia where an item on the history and development of breastfeeding begins with the following

>>>In the Egyptian, Greek and Roman empires, women usually fed only their own children. However, breastfeeding began to be seen as something too common to be done by royalty, and wet nurses were employed to breastfeed the children of the royal families<<< 

Interesting, but I was really searching for something a bit more ancient. Continuing the search, I found the following item on http://anthrodoula.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/breastfeeding-and-human-evolution.html which cited the biological anthropologist Elizabeth Miller and included a lengthy quote from a talk by her on the evolution of breastfeeding. It included the following classic Darwinianisms.

>>>Breastfeeding is one of the defining characteristics of the class Mammalia – so named because all female members develop mammary glands that feed their offspring. The evolutionary origins of the mammary gland is lost in time, but it may have evolved from a sweat gland that was used to keep egg shells moist (Oftedal 2002)<<< (my bold) 

Bingo! That is exactly what I was expecting to find. See, Darwinism does make accurate predictions-creationists predict that evolutionists will always confidently assert that complex and essential biological systems without which the animal involved cannot survive will be assumed to have evolved, with frequent use of terms such as ‘may have’ presented as if they were evidence. We also predict that the question of what the animal did to survive during the millennia that a vital feature necessary to survival was evolving will always be dismissed or sidelined.

An item about breastfeeding in Neanderthals was my next stop. At http://www.northernstar.com.au/news/neanderthals-offer-clues-about-breastfeeding-and-e/1879082/

I read that 

>>>The breastfeeding habits of Neanderthals are the subject of a paper in the prestigious scientific journal Nature that has been co-authored by SCU geochemist Dr Renaud Joannes-Boyau.

By examining changes in the distribution of barium in teeth, researchers have been able to ascertain that a Neanderthal species had breastfed for seven months and then weaned for seven months.

Earlier weaning enabled shorter inter-birth intervals, which influenced population growth, evolution and success.

Dr Joannes-Boyau said the findings were "another brick in the wall of our understanding of human evolution". << (my bold)

So, another few stones added to the ever growing ‘mountain of overwhelming evidence’ that we evolved from self assembled bacteria. This goes back to the standard set in Origin of Species-research a banal science fact and then claim that it is evidence for molecules to man evolution, even thought it isn't. Factoids like this one about dental barium are strung on to the tree of Darwinism like baubles to a Christmas tree-they may decorate it, but are truly not part of it and there is no organic connection. But my question is-since it is asserted that mammals (who breast feed) evolved from non-mammals (who do not breast feed), how did breast feeding evolve?

A paper by McLellan et al (Cambridge Ubniversity Press, couldn't see it all) stated that
>>>>The evolutionary origin of the mammary gland has been difficult to establish because little knowledge can be gained....<<<

At least that’s honest as far as it goes.

So, scientists don’t have a mumbling clue as to how how breastfeeding evolved and the issue of how human or other mammalian babies managed while it was evolving is simply not addressed, although from some of the items I accessed clearly a lot of research is being done (some by Nestle) into the extraordinarily complex process of producing that perfect nutrient, breast milk.

I get the impression that people like Dawkins-admiring Alice Roberts like to keep themselves busy throwing stones at scientific creationists, always doing their best to portray us as religious fundamentalists first (because then our science based questions and observations need not be addressed) because of the absolute inability of their preferred fundamentalism to answer simple questions like ‘What did mammalian babies do for nutrition while their mothers were evolving from pre-mammalian ancestors?

The gradualism ‘argument’ does not work because until the breast works, it doesn’t work, and therefore confers no selective benefits. As Uncle Charley wrote, any variation which does not confer immediate selective benefit is a waste of space and will be ruthlessly eliminated by natural selection. So the offspring could not have survived while breastfeeding was in development but not yet functioning, even if there were any reason for supposing such a development, which there isn't apart from evolutionist fundamentalism. Therefore no such evolution could have occurred.
The only way I can see round this objection is to suppose (imagine, postulate, fantasise...) that lactating breasts developed for some entirely different purpose (such as what?) and then all of a sudden the infant latched on to them, did better, so natural selection then took over and spread the gene for breasts and lactation through the population quickly. Problems with that include the fact that the infant would also have had to develop rooting and sucking reflexes, as well as the ability to digest milk, simultaneously. And what selective pressures would have driven that very convenient co-incidence? Remember that evolution has no mind or goal, one developing system cannot message another to say 'Hey, I've got this great idea for a helpful new variation, but I need you to develop something to work with it or else it won't function. Can you catch up and meet me?'

According to a Darwinian view of how natural selection works, and I have studied and understood 'Origin of Species',  babies could not have developed the ability to flourish on breast milk before it became available, there could be no selective reason for them to do so. Yet the mother's ability to produce it could not have been selected for until the baby had developed the ability to utilise it effectively. It simply doesn't work, even if we very generously allow the possibility of the DNA information for both breasts and a baby that can use them developing by random mutations. which given what we know about random mutations and the breast (Google mutation + BRCA + breast cancer to see what random mutation does to breasts) is being much too generous.

Over to you Alice. I’m just guessing that your answer might include some dismissive retorts, remarks about fundamentalism, 'god of the gaps' and arguing from ignorance, finished off with a withering reference to that imposing if mythical peak on which Lord Darwin sits crowned hurling thunderbolts at unbelievers, Mount Overwhelming Evidence. Twinned with Utopia Peak.

On the other hand you could answer the question.

How did breast feeding evolve? 

(*) if anyone knows what original research or peer-reviewed scientific work Sweet Alice has published feel free to post comments and links. Surely she wasn’t given the title for having a pretty face and promoting Darwinism for the BBC? One remembers the interesting circumstances in which Dawkins was ‘awarded’ his professorial chair.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry to answer a question with a potential quesion, but it seems related

    last time I looked, there was very little research invested in finding ways egg-layers could evolve into live-bearers.


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