Evolutionary Back Pain

The human vertebral columnOur first catchup post is the most recent That’s a Fact video, Back Trouble. The vertebrate spine originally appeared in aquatic animals, and has had a number of different roles aside from being the central supporting column in the human skeleton. The story runs that due to the processes that evolution follows – that it can do little more than modify what already exists rather than completely redesign an organism from the ground up – the human spine is not quite the structure that would have been created had it been designed specifically for that purpose. This narrative, which I’m sure you’ve all heard, at least partially blames human back pain on this effect.

I can’t tell you to what extent that’s true or not. It’s probably true that a good portion of the back troubles experienced by modern humans comes not from the fact that the spine is not designed for bipedalism, but that it isn’t designed for bipeds with lousy posture. However, an upright orientation for the spine just gives it a whole plethora of new ways to get injured. The ICR video, of course, argues against the evolutionary explanation – one thing I can tell you is that they did a poor job of it:

Ever have back troubles? We get back pain from all sorts of things, like posture, or old sports injuries. But evolutionists would have you think that the root of back pain comes from evolutionary ancestors who walked on all fours. Apparently, our spines aren’t ‘evolved’ enough, but the fact of the matter is: two legs or four, we all get back troubles.

As far as I can tell this is a misstating of the argument on the part of the ICR. So far as you can say that a structure is more or less evolved than another, it’s not being claimed that “our spines aren’t ‘evolved’ enough,” but that our fundamental body plan precludes the possibility of the eradication of this pain and that it would take a redesign to fix the problem. That’s a claim that it would be worth seeing the ICR tackle, but it wont be here.

Instead their counterargument is that everything with a spine gets back pain, which completely misses the point. The idea already outlined does not make the claim that only humans get back pain, and the fact that other animals get it also could even be taken as evidence towards the conclusion that, if the spine is in fact designed, then it isn’t designed very well.

Race horses get back pain from racing, just like humans get aches and pains.

It’s interesting to note that their best example is of an animal that has been artificially selected by humans. Here for racing purposes, and certainly not for avoiding back pain. after all you’d get sore arms if you got wings strapped to them and had to fly, but that proves nothing of relevance.

And pretty much anyone with a backbone can have back problems for just about any reason.

Not any reason – there are obviously going to be challenges specific to bipedal animals.

Not to mention that the human spine is designed differently from any other creature’s spine. When God made humans in His image he engineered the unique curve in our backs to perfectly hold our heads upright, and to effectively transfer our body weight to our hips when we stand, walk, or run on our own two feet.

The human spine is certainly different to that of other animals, being adapted for a different role, but that doesn’t mean that it’s “designed differently.”

So it’s likely that back pain didn’t come from evolution, but rather the Fall of mankind.

That’s quite a logical leap – and a ‘god of the gaps’ argument to boot. The video does not go into any detail about this explanation, but it’s fun to speculate. The obvious idea that they are going for is that back pain is the result of the claimed post-fall degradation, but this needn’t be their only explanation. In Genesis 3:14 and 3:16 God makes two important post-fall curses: in the first verse He curses the “serpent” to move “upon thy belly,” while in the second He increases Eve’s “sorrow” in childbirth. However, difficult childbirth seems to be a necessary consequence of our bipedal body plan. Given that God supposedly changed the mode of locomotion of the snake, could it be that bipedalism itself is the capital-c Curse?

Now sure, that’s nonsense, but it’s biblical nonsense. I would even argue that it’s superior to the usual ‘the fall caused continual and ongoing decay, creating all the bad stuff in the world’ in at least that element.

So next time you help someone move, or you’re playing with your friends, or in heavy competition, remember to thank God for the way He made you.

I’m unclear as to what, exactly, we’re supposed to be thanking Him for here. Is it that He wasn’t so mean as to make us without a spine at all, or merely that He didn’t make an even worse design?

The video was originally getting somewhere, but failed to make a coherent case before the inevitable ‘praise God.’ It’s clear, if nothing else, that the videos are being made far too short. The next edition is apparently due in mid-December – they have plenty of time to make it a little longer than usual.

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3 thoughts on “Evolutionary Back Pain

  1. The key thing about back pain in humans is that it mostly occurs in the “brilliantly designed” lordotic curve, which is an adaptation to bipedalism. Thus researchers typically conclude that back pain is a result of us being poorly adapted bipedalism. Alas no massive clinical comparison between humans and animals has been performed to confirm this, but the working hypothesis is that back pain would be more common in us than in quadrupedal animals.

    Maybe I’ll put a massive clinical comparison on my to-do list if I ever make it into academia.

  2. Two points: that “lordotic curve” doesn’t actually develop until the human infant starts to walk. That is, it’s not a “design feature” it’s a consequence of being a bipedal individual. I think that in people who never walk at all it doesn’t develop.

    Secondly —- don’t race horses race (at an immature age, as well) with a PERSON ON THEIR BACK?? HA!

  3. By creationist reasoning, everything was supposedly made perfectly. Within less time than it takes a perfect married couple to procreate, the maker curses it all and ‘un-perfects’ it. Not content with this, he then decides to do away with the whole lot with a flood. But not only does he make the replacement the same as the previous imperfect one, we find that the new inhabitants behave in just the same way as the old ones. In fact, despite many interventions, he is still stuck with the same messed-up creation and people that behave in the same way that they did from the start.

    This accounts for why horses have back pain.

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