Evolution News and Views (ENV) provides original reporting and analysis about the debate over intelligent design and evolution, including breaking news about scientific research.

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The Spine's Design

A familiar argument against intelligent design is the one that is based on observations of supposed bad design in nature -- inept, unintelligent or in other words nonexistent design. Jerry Coyne recommends this list of illustrations. Take back pain, for instance, which is so prevalent among middle aged human beings. However in today's New York Times, an interesting interview with Harvard evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman casts this claim in a different light. Interviewer Claudia Dreifus asks,

People with bad backs often blame evolution for their pain. They say, "My back aches because man was not meant to walk on two feet." Are they right?
Answers Lieberman:
If that were true, natural selection would have its toll and we'd be extinct. What is more likely is that many people sit in chairs all day, get no exercise, and thus have weak backs. We did not evolve to sit in chairs all day.
That appears to be true in my case. I had occasional trouble from back pain in my 20s and 30s but none now in my 40s, which I attribute to taking up cycling and the back-strengthening that goes with it.

No thoughtful person doubts that the body is meant, either by nature or purpose or however you think of it, to work optimally under certain defined conditions. Identifying those conditions obviously can help prevent or ameliorate injuries. Lieberman makes the case for learning from evolution how best to care for our bodies. Of course, what he calls evolution could just as well be termed design.

Thus, on evolutionary grounds, Dr. Lieberman recommends barefoot running. He tells a story about how ancient humans found it adaptive to be able to run long distances on the savanna, of course without benefit of running shoes, and thereby tire out prey.

Again, if we're fitted to run barefoot, it's just as plausible to suppose that we're designed to do so. This I have not yet gotten up the nerve to test out myself, but would like to.