Monday, June 29, 2009

The problem of pain

The human body is one of the greatest examples of how evolution has a policy of just good enough. Evolution does not care directly about the comfort of the organism, only that it is able to reproduce successfully. After that point, after the reproductive age has passed, we, as individuals, are expendable as far as evolution is concerned. If we still lived as our ancient ancestors did, if we 'broke down' to a certain point, we almost certainly would die, often without passing on our genes. Granted our social nature (which has greatly increased our species survivability) would often have the group care for a disabled individual, but their reproductive status was reduced as well. They would often become evolutionary dead ends. But since evolution only cares about survivability of the species, errors still come up. Most of these are more annoyances then life threatening (usually), lower back pain, common headaches, most kidney stones and a myriad other things that pester our species constantly.

Now these and many other reasons are some of the best examples of why the idea of humans being created or even having our evolution guided is utterly absurd. But there is one other reason that is often barely touched upon or ignored all together. This is the concept of pain.

Now pain makes perfect sense from an evolutionary standpoint. It tells us to avoid actions that harm us. It is natures way of telling us to stop being a moron and get our hand out of the fire. But when looked at from the standpoint of creation or theistic evolution quite a few problems start to arise.

The first is the simple fact that pain hurts. Now this seems like an absurd statement, but consider it for a moment. A caring deity could make the signal be one that simply told us that we were being stupid and to stop it. It could be nothing more then an over riding urge to stop the current action. If such an entity did create us, it would not have to have stooped to tormenting us with such an unpleasant stimuli (unless you are coming from the standpoint of the Abrahamic deity(s) who seemed to delight in torturing us pesky humans).

The next reason is the wonderful effect of chronic pain. Evolutionarily this can be described, more or less, as shit happens. Mistakes in the genetic code or in that giant tangled mess known as the central nervous system explain it perfectly. But when the idea of creation or guided evolution comes in, you are faced with a whole new set of problems. The first is the obvious one of why. Why make a person suffer needlessly over an extended period of time. A suffering that in absolutely no way benefits the individual. I'm sure some theists would say that suffering makes a person stronger. Now if this were true, then about half of chronic pain suffers would not have depression as a co morbidity (in almost all cases, as a direct result of the chronic pain and not vice versa).

Chronic pain suffers would also not have a suicide rate of two to three times that of those who suffer from depression (about five times that of average individuals, although these statistics may be larger as only a select few studies have been made from very limited data pools).

On top of all this, those who suffer chronic pain would not have to endure an increase in their pain level over time. Despite the common held belief that, over time, a person can learn to block out the pain, the opposite begins to happen. The neural pathways the pain signal travels along transform from a backwaters road into a superhighway. Any time a set of neurons are fired frequently, the pathway is reinforced. The neural inhibition levels decrease (the synapse between neurons fires off the second neuron only once a threshold of neuro-transmitters is reached, this inhibition level is decreased as the pathway is used more frequently). So while an individual may be able to 'function' with levels of pain that most would not be able to stand over time, at the same time the level of pain the person endures increases. This also weakens the persons ability to tolerate the pain and is seen as a sharp decrease in pain tolerance compared to the rising levels before this peak is reached.

This concept is completely incompatible with the concept of any deity save one fueled by pure malice or utter indifference to the universe around it. But such indifference is no different then having no deity at all as it to requires the known evolutionary explanations. While the one spurred on but such hatred is both a horrific idea and one that does not fit the facts. For it seems rather absurd that such an entity would happen to use just the evolutionary paths that would be expected had it not existed in the first place. Either direction you are left with one logical conclusion, there is no deity that intercedes in the affairs of the universe, which as I said, is no different then no deity at all.
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