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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 19th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Death by devolution

21 August 2014

Unless you're a creationist, you are probably very much aware of the way life has evolved on planet Earth.

Through a process Darwin described as "natural selection", the small genetic variations caused by sexual reproduction have been enhanced or have died out according to the effect they have had on a species' ability to thrive in the environment in which it finds itself.

There is clear evidence that life began in the seas and slowly moved to land where fins became limbs and gills became lungs.

This process has continued for millennia and has been responsible for all the attributes that make us the most intelligent species on the planet.

Unfortunately, our very intelligence and resourcefulness is, according to some, now reversing the process of natural selection and sending us (mankind) back down the evolutionary tree.

It was with great interest this morning that I read this New Scientist story.

I'm pretty sure that, at some stage in the dim distant past, I've already written about how our species is becoming weak and flawed instead of strong and improved -- all because we are interfering with the process of natural selection.

Until very recently, the weak, the sick, the stupid -- all tended to die very young, often well before they had a chance to reproduce and pass on the genes that may have been the cause of their problems.

Fortunately for these individuals -- but unfortunately for the species, we are now able to treat many of the problems and genetic disorders that would previously have killed us off before we reached puberty.

As a result of this, we're now seeing a rise in the incidence of genetic disorders, simply because, by surviving childhood and having children, the individuals involved are able to pass on the very genes that have predisposed them to such afflictions.

Now, according to the NS report, there are indications that other factors are also affecting something as elementary as IQ.

Is it because the less intellectually gifted amongst us are also those most likely to have the most children? Does this mean that those with genes that produce a lower IQ offspring are being replicated at a much higher rate than those whose genes may predispose their offspring to being brighter?

Anecdotally it would be very easy to believe that this is the case. Certainly, those in the lower-socio-economic strata of society do appear to have more children than those whose intelligence has enabled them to buy a nice house in Remuera.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not criticising those who have a sub-100 IQ or who don't earn a six figure income. All I am saying is that we've created a society which appears to be acting entirely against the principles of natural selection.

Of course we should never give even a moment's consideration to the suggestion that the genetically inferior be left to die or denied the right to reproduce -- however we must be willing to accept that the very humanity which drives us to save those who would otherwise die from inherited conditions is effectively weakening our entire species.

Could it be that there is a natural ceiling that any species reaches in terms of intelligence?

Is the very act of saving those with potentially fatal inherited illnesses going to forever stop our ability to continue evolving in a positive way?

Eugenics are most definitely a non-starter to any person with an ounce of compassion but on the other hand, we have to accept that perhaps mankind has now reached the pinnacle of its evolution and it's all down-hill from here.

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