Just about 170 miles from the very spot where I’m writing this blog entry is the “Creation Museum” in Petersburg, Kentucky. It’s the most elaborate pseudoscientific construction ever created, in an attempt to convince large groups of people that a particular view, one that includes creationism and intelligent design, is correct. The “museum” goes as far as presenting dioramas of humans and dinosaurs coexisting, sometimes in a Flintstonian manner.

On the surface it is a comedy, a farce of serious museums, and if it weren’t so obvious what the founders of this “museum” were trying to accomplish, I would laugh with everyone else. However, a brief glance at their website reveals their true target demographic, and their intentions. The directors of the “Creation Museum” are targeting children with their propaganda, their online content and the programs they sponsor. They are trying to alter the basic understanding of evolution in this country, furthering their own agendas at the cost of our children’s education, and understanding of the world.

Ever since Darwin discovered natural selection, evolutionary scientists have struggled against dogmatic zealots who have pushed their agendas and personal philosophies in efforts to bend science to their own ends. From Darwin’s main critic, Bishop Wilberforce, to the “Father of Intelligent Design” Phillip Johnson, J.D., philosophical and religious agendas have threatened the science of evolution from its inception.

In recent years, groups such as the National Center for Science Education have provided rock solid arguments invalidating ideas such as intelligent design and “creation science” as scientific approaches to the world. In fact, a brief examination of their platforms reveals that they are philosophical at best, and usually theological at their core. This is not a bad thing, however, it is not science. For ideas to be scientific in nature they must produce testable hypotheses. Seemingly eloquent, but in reality ignorant, presentations of the complexity of the human eye concluding that there must be an “intelligent designer” behind such intricate forms are not scientific.

Despite the fact that it is clearly obvious that ID and “creation science” are not scientific in nature, there is still active debate among members of the general public. This is reflected in a recent Gallup Poll, which showed that while a majority of respondents believe in evolution, they are unsure about how it proceeds, or the role, if any of “God”.

I was thinking about this issue the other day when I received an email from a student in my Human Evolution class, telling me that he couldn’t make it to class that day because he had to go get an infected wisdom tooth pulled. Now, I’ve heard a lot of excuses for missing class, but this was a first, and knowing the student, I knew he must be in a fair amount of pain. I sent him a quick reply wishing him a speedy recovery and telling him that I’d see him when he returned to class. While I was replying to him, though, and throughout the rest of the day, I couldn’t help but think about the third molars in modern humans and how most people in western and non-western cultures either have them extracted or deal with impacted teeth and infections SILVESTRI ET AL ’03.

While some have argued that our jaws actually have plenty of room for our third molars, or “wisdom teeth”, empirical data do not support this position. Further, when we look at examples of earlier specimens of Homo sapiens we see that they had plenty of space for their third molars, or “wisdom teeth” TRINKAUS ET AL ’03.

These findings result in several observations and hypotheses and conclusions. First, third molars are useful in processing tough, gritty, grainy foods. Second, early humans had more space in their jaws than do modern-day humans . Third, human females prefer males with smaller, more feminine faces as long-term partners . Fourth, modern human populations eat softer, more processed food than earlier populations of humans did. These hypotheses can be tested, some have already, and the vast majority of studies support them.

Interestingly, the ID argument against hypotheses about reduction in third molars, often invoke evolutionary explanations, just without a connection to apes. In his article “Are wisdom teeth (third molars) vestiges of human evolution?” Jerry Bergman begins with this frame,

“A major conclusion of evolution is that the human jaw has shrunk from its much larger ape size to the smaller modern human size as humans evolved.”

In that initial wording in the Introduction to his article, Mr. Bergman reveals his bias and his primary issue. This is more obvious in his conclusion, when, after not providing any objective data he states that,

“The most important factor is probably diet, but the influence of other factors including mutations, needs to be examined more fully to understand why wisdom teeth are more often a problem today. The once common belief that wisdom teeth problems are related to putative evolutionary modifications has now been discredited…”. (emphasis added)

Diet (i.e. food) is one of the most important selective forces in all of evolution. Animal traits evolve in direct response to the foods they eat. Further, mutation is the source of all new variation in evolution and critical for evolution to occur. Both of the explanations used by Mr. Bergman are evolutionary in nature. It seems that the only way the Mr. Bergman can discredit ideas of humans evolving from apes is for humans to have evolved in a different way. Just a quick note to Mr. Bergman: We are apes, get over it.

The evidence all suggests that modern humans have undergone simultaneous sexual selection for smaller faces, and a relaxing of natural selection on the processing capabilities of our dentition, resulting in the current condition we observe across human populations. Adults who regularly need to have their third molars removed surgically, to prevent impaction, infection and extreme dental crowding. All of this has led me to ask the question, “How Intelligent Can a Designer be That Gave Humans “Wisdom Teeth?”

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