Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Assessing Neandertal "Orthodontic" findings

Skeletons of Neanderthal Man (left) and modern Man. Note carefully the larger (wider) lower jaw size of the Neanderthal, compared to the narrower contour of the lower jaw of modern Man.

It's a never ending source of amusement to see the level of ignorance and miseducation that some will go to in an effort to try and find ballast and support for their ill-conceived, pet nonsense. That includes creationism, of course, which isn't even a valid science since it offers no tests for falsification.

Recently, Jack Cuozzo (a creationist orthodontist) has done some research into wisdom teeth, and concluded that those (expendable) teeth somehow point the way to establishing the validity of creationism- or at least that humanity had it much better in the past (which he identified with Neanderthals, despite the fact they were exterminated by Cro Magnon Man, our modern ancestor).

Cuozzo claimed to have performed a thorough study of the skulls of Neandertals and concluded that they were from a time when human beings had much longer life spans, developed and grew much slower, and were of superior strength, and possibly intelligence, if their larger brain capacities are an indication of this.

Wow! We have the blatherings of still my heart! actual orthodontist! Not an evolutionary biologist, mind you! Thus, we can expect a litany of errors such as the following:

- the claim that lifepans were much longer (actually, the oldest Neanderthals lived to only 45-50, which - while admittedly older in human history terms- can't compare to the 72-78 or so of modern Americans or Europeans)

- Superior intelligence? Nyet! (while their brain volumes were larger on average they lacked the increased convolutions of the neocortex surface peculiar to modern humans and Cro-Magnon Man. This, of course, may be one reason they lost out in the competitive race with modern humans - becoming extinct by 28,000 years ago)

Let's go on with more of the pastor's favorite fairy tales (and btw, if he is so enamored with Neandertals, does that mean he believes Adam and Eve were Neandertals? One wonders!)

Cuozzo infers that problems often caused by wisdom teeth are further evidence of "genetic" decline and degeneration in modern humans. Cuozzo insists the problems common with wisdom teeth in modern times may be a consequence of an increased consumption of growth hormones in foods, and due to the heavy emphasis on cooked foods that require less chewing.

Again, this is crackpot "academics". For example, while blustering about "evidence provided through genetic decline" - Cuozzo gives us nothing! Where? WHAT evidence of genetic decline? Was the telomeric fusion of the original chromosomes 2p and 2q (in Modern Man's primitive hominid ancestors) affected? What about the cytochrome -c? Did chromosome 17 differ (in Modern humans) by more than a pericentric inversion? In what specific genes did the overall"decline" transpire? How long did it take?

To even remotely believe that wisdom teeth contributed to entire species "degeneration" is straight from the outer reaches of la-la land. (But then anyone, i.e. creationist, who believes that a talking snake tempted Adam & Eve to initiate humanity's woes is already in la-la land!) Re: the claim that species "degeneration was attendant on wisdom teeth" - the evidence doesn't support it. And what we have here is a "hypothesis" (or more likely speculation) that must be tested to be accepted. In fact, even with their spectacular wisdom tooth health (to see Cuozzo's claims) the Neanderthals suffered from a wide range of ailments, including but not limited to: pneumonia, Rickets, parasite infections, malnutrition, and a disturbing tendency to bone fractures (see: Rethinking Neanderthals, Smithsonian, June, 2003, p. 83)

As for the problems related to wisdom teeth in modern times, this is no mystery. In many cases, these (expendable) teeth emerge far back in the rear of the buccal cavity and pose problems for many humans because the existing jaw size can't accommodate them. Even when they do seem to fit, they often erupt in positions such that there is a major bite offset, e.g. the bottom (or top) of wisdom teeth does not fully contact a mutual chewing surface in the opposing jaw. Further, the rear of wisdom teeth are difficult to clean and because of this there are recurring inflammations of the gums as bacteria thrive in hidden pockets, or recesses.

But Cuozzo skirts over the issue of the poor design of the human jaw (too small to accommodate the teeth he so admires) which would redound poorly on his "Designer God" - in favor of red herrings about hormones and good, chewable raw foods. In my own personal case, I experienced problems for many years (despite consuming large amounts of raw vegetables). I suffered from recurring gum infections in the vicinity of my wisdom teeth, until I had them removed four years ago. In addition, the teeth - since they had no opposing bite surfaces- were erupting to the extent they had to be 'sawed" down each year, lest they grow into the opposing gums! Since the extraction, I haven't had a single gum infection. (Which may also be why my cardiac profile is better - since recurrent infections impact badly on heart health, via higher levels of c-reactive protein, as research has shown).

But the epitome of his foolishness Cuozzo saves for last when he concludes:

"This shows that overcrowding in the mouth, and subsequent problems with wisdom teeth, is connected with the degeneracy of modern man. "

And that is total nonsense. In fact, the overcrowding in the mouth is plainly due to POOR DESIGN in terms of the teeth of modern humans being too many to be accomodated in the existing buccal cavity! In other words, the botched work of a flawed "designer"! Neandertals didn't exhibit these problems because the contour of their face and jaw was different. Given Neandertals probably evolved from Homo Erectus, this is understandable. Of course, if one has the sense and intelligence (not to mention education) to accept evolution it all fits (no pun intended!) Thus, the transition from the earlier hominid ancestor (to Cro Magnon) was so rapid that the jaw didn't develop concomitantly. Indeed, the evidence we have shows the jaw size was sacrificed to support a much larger cranial volume - while for the Neandertal, larger tooth number (including wisdom teeth) - was supported by having a protruding and wider jaw, something Cro Magnon lacked- refer to diagram).

What I'm saying is that given evolution is an algorithmic process, trying numerous blind leads and in trial and error fashion, it makes much more sense that evolution engendered the "small mouth" capacity problem of the Cro Magnon, not that humans were in a more superior stage at the time of the Neandertals (especially since these "more superior" humans (actually sub-humans) were very likely exterminated by their later arrivals. (Note here: another common creationist fallacy is that Neandertals were the progenitors of modern humans, but this is false. They actually represent two distinct lines of humans. The Cro Magnon in the end were the superior line and outbred and out-hunted their rivals into extinction. So much for the "Noble Savage" myth of the Neandertal). In any case, it passes strange that the creatonist ilk would now seem to be siding with evolution, in terms of Neandertals being our progenitors when their very skeletal structure was more primitive!!)

But, of course, the creationists and their cranks in residence always pick and choose what they want to examine, ignoring the rest. If they want to scratch their brains, and if the Neandertals' fall is beyond them, they might want to ask themselves (assuming they still go along with their Designer God):

- WHY did he invert the retina and give humans (but not the octopus) a "blind spot"?

- WHY, in making us upright, did he make us so susceptible to back problems?

- WHY did he bestow on us a vestigial tail (coccyx) if there is no real use for it?

- WHY, instead of just designing a uniform, superior brain to begin with, did he give us a brain cobbled from three parts: an ancient reptilian paleo-cortex, an ape mesocortex and the reasoning neocortex? (Which some have compared to a car design welding a Lamborghini to a Model T Ford chassis, with a 1957 Chevy engine to power the Lamborghini. If a human automotive desgin engineer conceived of such a hybrid beast, I guarantee he'd be pink-slipped on the spot)

- WHY did he give us an appendix which has no clear reason or purpose and often must be removed? (Sometimes in an emergency)

Of course, we may be sure the creatonists will never tackle these because to answer them honestly would require that they look with suspicion on their disreputable and ridiculous "theory". One they are unable to even test or falsify. (Mainly because they lack the ingenuity or perhaps conviction, to do so).

So, of one thing we may be certain: while Cuozzo offers a fascinating new take on Neandertals, and a novel effort to take down evolution, in the end he doesn't succeed.

But did any person who's studied evolution seriously believe he would?


janidebar said...

"Note here: another common creationist fallacy is that Neandertals were the progenitors of modern humans, but this is false. They actually represent two distinct lines of humans. The Cro Magnon in the end were the superior line and outbred and out-hunted their rivals into extinction."

Exactly! They are two DIFFEREENT hominid lines, as emphasized in the excellent book, 'The Neandertal Enigma'. But Pastor Perplex has again mixed things up, believing the Neanderthals came before modern humans!

But thinking about it, if he did accept two different lines he'd have no choice but to accept human evolution especially as 2 lines implies the algortihmic process you mentioned.

The stuff about linking wisdom teeth to degneration in modern humans (because Neanderthals were alleged to have better wisdom molars) is just plain daft. And, as you said, if their wisdom teeth were so great why did they suffer from so much malnutrition?

Wisdom teeth, like the appendix and coccyx and leftovers of earlier human evolution and hence signs of a more primitive stage of evolution.

Even so, Pastor M. has once more mixed things and revealed his ignorance, by suggesting evolution implies ever more advanced species. It does no such thing, so even IF his "genetic degradation" gibberish was correct, it wouldn't impact evolution or invalidate it.

What evolution states,which any high school biology student learns, is that the species which survive best are the most well adapted to their environment. Thus, the humble cockroach beats just about all other species on Earth for evolutionary success given it's been around for 150 million years.

Modern humans beat out the Neanderthal line of humans by adapting better to the paleolithic climate and environment. They were probably much better hunters, but as the author of The Neandertal Enigma shows, they likely overwhelmed their competitors by simply being able to breed more. Thus, momdern humans conquered the Neanderthals by sheer numbers.

Your brother is totally clueless as to any facts of evolution, which is probably why he launches into these dead end pursuits which have the veneer of academic cachet, but don't even amount to hot gas.

Copernicus said...

"What evolution states,which any high school biology student learns, is that the species which survive best are the most well adapted to their environment. Thus, the humble cockroach beats just about all other species on Earth for evolutionary success given it's been around for 150 million years. "

Absoolutely spot on and it's a point I ought to have emphasized much more.

It is a common misperception that evolution demands more advanced life forms emerge from less advanced. There are even students who've taken college courses who believe this! But as you point out, evolution says neither that less advanced leads to more advanced, or the converse.

What it states is that the most adapative species is the one that advances - meaning survives the longest while the also-rans die out, become extinct.

The cockroach is a perfect example, but the crocodilians are close seconds, having been virtually in the same form they are now for over 100 million years. Then there are the sharks, around for at least 75 million years.

Neanderthal, as interesting as he was, did not possess the adaptative mix that allowed him to survive better-longer than our immediate modern ancestor, Cro Magnon.

In all probability, Cro Magnon's more formidable adaptation, survival skills enabled him to out-hunt, and out compete the Neanderthal for (then) scarce resources (near the end of an earlier Ice Age).