Thursday, 17 October 2013

Unintelligently Designed Teeth Cause Ray Discomfort

I'm sure my fellow atheists and evolutionary biologists were as distressed as I was to learn that poor Ray Comfort, the renowned Young-Earth Creationist and Christian fundamentalist, was to undergo surgery to have an impacted wisdom tooth removed. One hopes his mouth has recovered and the pain and distress have subsided. One blessing is that there will now be room for more of Ray's feet, which is something we can all look forward to.

For those who haven't heard of Ray Comfort, who earns his living selling Christian fundamentalist tracts to other Christian fundamentalists, Ray leapt to fame when he declared that bananas were proof of intelligent design because they fit in the human hand so perfectly. He forgot to mention that their 'designer' neglected to give them any seeds, so they need humans to propagate them vegetatively.

Ray recently became incandescent with rage and banned several people from posting comments on his website when someone called him a bibliophile. Ray is definitely no bibliophile! Got that?

I wonder if Ray pondered on the delicious irony of a Bible-literalist creationist who rejects science and who believes the Universe was created just 6000 years ago by magic as somewhere for him to live, and that all animals were created just for his convenience in a single day and have remained unchanged ever since, having to turn to science to treat the effects of something so unintelligently designed as the human wisdom tooth.

Wisdom teeth are vestigial third molars that used to help human ancestors in grinding down plant tissue. The common postulation is that the skulls of human ancestors had larger jaws with more teeth, which were possibly used to help chew down foliage to compensate for a lack of ability to efficiently digest the cellulose that makes up a plant cell wall. As human diets changed, smaller jaws gradually evolved, yet the third molars, or "wisdom teeth", still commonly develop in human mouths.

Agenesis of wisdom teeth in human populations ranges from practically zero in Tasmanian Aborigines to nearly 100% in indigenous Mexicans. The difference is related to the PAX9 gene (and perhaps other genes).

Ray may be comforted to know that he was far from alone; impacted wisdom teeth are very common. The oldest known impacted wisdom tooth belonged to a European woman of the Magdalenian period (18,000–10,000 BCE). Admittedly, this was from some considerable time before there was a Universe, let alone people with impacted wisdom teeth according to Ray, but we must bear in mind that Ray is definitely not a bibliophile, so won't have read about this stuff.

"There is no refutation of Darwinian Evolution in existence. If a refutation ever were to come about it would come from a scientist, not an idiot."

Richard Dawkins
To understand how the problem with wisdom teeth in modern humans arose it helps to look at a modern human head in profile. Draw an imaginary line down the protruding nose and curve it from the tip of the nose down to and under the protruding chin. It will describe the profile of a typical simian head with a muzzle. As we evolved an upright gait our head rotated forwards and our facial bones rotated downwards, then our facial bones, including the maxilla and mandible, receded underneath our cranium.

At some time in our evolutionary history, as our faces grew it was an advantage to grow more teeth at the back as room for them developed, so, as we stopped growing somewhere between the ages of 16-20, we added more teeth.

The problem is, we still do, even though we have enough teeth without them and even though there is often not enough room for them, so they grow at odd angles or fail to erupt at all. Quite simply, the evolution of our facial skeleton and of our teeth are not synchronised because, whilst there is an advantage in having a modern human face, there is not a major disadvantage in having wisdom teeth, so, while genes for the modern face have been selected for, those for wisdom teeth have not been so strongly selected against. It's a bit like a modern motor car still having a dynamo fitted to spin away doing nothing useful but not doing any harm either, until, occasionally, it catches fire.

For people like Ray Comfort of course, the better explanation is that the problems with our wisdom teeth were the product of an inerrant, omniscient, benevolent, intelligent designer who intended us to have these problems and, for reason which remain poorly understood, decided to exempt some of his design from them, especially the indigenous Mexicans, who were specially favoured and never have any problem with them because they don't grow any. This just happens to coincide with these favoured people having a genetically modified PAX9 gene of course. No evidence for evolution there.

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  1. So in a way Ray is getting to the tooth of the matter.

  2. Another way of looking at this issue is the rise of modern dentistry. In the past, most people had lost a number of permanent teeth by their early adulthood. The remaining teeth would migrate forward in the mouth to fill the gaps and then the wisdom teeth would drop down into the space left behind at the back of each side of the upper and lower jaw. Evolution at work.
    However, with the advent of modern dentistry, we have more teeth thanks to better dental care. We still have the wisdom teeth that may wish to erupt but m,many do not have the space created by losing other teeth for the wisdom to grow into and occupy, hence impacted wisdoms and expensive dental care!
    I have all my wisdom teeth, sadly am about to lose one next month due to it being damaged by wear. The tooth in front is also coming out but will have to be removed by cutting the gum, due to the fact that as the tooth migrated forward some years back, the root was left with a bend, which has made the potential extraction a great deal more difficult.
    My conclusion to all of this is, evolution works but sadly, human progress, thanks to our inventiveness and technology, has in itself "created" another problem that evolution will need some time to deal with.

  3. Careful now.

    Creationists don't say this was designed this way.

    They say this is part of the genetic decay that has resulted from someone eating an apple they shouldn't have a little while back.

    So that's all good. Good.

    1. I guess the ancestors of the indigenous Mexicans must have either not bitten the apple or bitten it differently. :-)


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