Saturday, January 24, 2009

Creationists and IDers: If We're God's "Perfect Creations," What's Up With Tooth Decay?

One thing you hear a lot of from Creationists and "Intelligent Designers" is that humans are God's "perfect creation," created in "His" image.  This statement conveniently neglects such obvious imperfections as the vestigial vermiform appendix and tooth decay--and I can personally attest to the latter, if not (hopefully ever) the former.  If humans are so perfect, what's the deal with tooth decay?

Two years ago, I developed an abscessed wisdom tooth; my prior dentist had actually assured me the small missing chip from the tooth was "fine" (it was a sign of decay, duh!).  The pain peaked around the time I was in my cousin Michael's wedding; I could hardly bite down without feeling like I was eating glass or had a mouthful of needles.  I made it through the ceremony with the assistance of massive painkiller doses, and somehow the abscess itself cleared up and gave me several more months without a problem--I ended up keeping the appointment I'd originally made to have them removed vs. going in for an emergency.

Wisdom teeth in and of themselves are of debatable value when examined under the "design" and "perfection" lenses.  They add little to modern humans' mastication; complications range from the dreaded but common teenage pronouncement of impaction to biting surfaces partially covered by the gums or skin, leading to inevitable decay--leaving one to wonder what sort of perverse deity would design such teeth and inflict them upon their beloved creations.

Creationists believe the Earth and humankind were created by their God, not by natural processes like the Big Bang and evolution; likewise, IDers state with no small degree of smugness that the universe and life are too complex to have arisen naturally and thus require "design" by their God--i.e. creationism in a tuxedo, or perhaps a liptsticked pig of creationism (though thoughts of lipstick in conjunction with the strongly patriarchal and often overtly-misogynistic culture typically associated with ID brings to light disturbing images of Ted Haggard in drag).

Friday evening, one of my two remaining wisdom teeth--a tooth I'd had problems with and knew needed to come out eventually--started hurting a bit.  As I'd an empty stomach and was headed to dinner, I figured I'd take an Advil once I had something on my stomach.  Although the tooth had hurt off and on for some time, unlike my prior wisdom tooth, I'd always been able to control the pain with one or at most two Advil--and of late, hadn't needed a dose for at least several weeks.

Over the next five minutes, the tooth went from a bit of pain to an exploding hammer drill in the side of my head.  Given we were headed to our favorite Indian restaurant, perhaps the Christian God felt a bit of petty jealousy for the Hindu pantheon.  But during that short drive--the restaurant is about a mile from our house--I realized something was seriously wrong with my tooth.  This was the worst pain I'd ever experienced in my life, inescapable and nearly unbearable in intensity; it shot from my jaw around my entire mouth and up along the side of my head in waves of pounding agony.  I did manage to eat--by then, the pain and low blood sugar from hunger were making me sick, and I had to ingest something.

Through luck my creationist and IDer brethren would ascribe to providence, my wife reached my doctor's office even on a Friday night, and in short order I had prescriptions for antibiotics and painkillers.  Even taking the maximum dose of painkillers, my tooth throbbed; the antibiotics took about three doses to kick in, after which the pain began to at least be controllable.

One might ask of the Creationists and IDers: even if we allow for the fact of tooth decay itself under your "creation" and "design" schemes (or the Christian notion of the Fall, which seems to explain everything from pain in childbirth to aging and disease), then wouldn't humans be more perfect if they regrew adult teeth, as do some animals including sharks?  Wouldn't an even more impressive feat of perfection be the body's shedding of decayed teeth and their subsequent natural replacement by God's "perfect" creation?

Or will I get the answer and argument that it's all part of an inscrutable "plan," that my tooth pain is punishment for my scoffing skepticism yet the luck of reaching my doctor and getting a Monday morning appointment for extraction signs of that same vengeful god's mercy and grace?  Sometimes I feel like I'm arguing with the Ouroboros, the mythological snake devouring its own tail, in the level of circular reasoning thrown up by my opponents.  Sigh.

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