Progressive politics, ideas & culture


my painful monkey spine

This Magazine Staff

About ten minutes ago, I booked an appointment with Benjamin, a granite-handed Russian massage therapist who, sometime around 6:15pm tomorrow, will have me begging for mercy as he digs his thumbs under my collarbone. I’ve had neck problems since I was 28, largely caused by spending my mid-20s hunched over a computer in a fit of constant anxiety trying to write a thesis that was read by at most three people, and, with luck, will never be read again. Hence the need for periodic visits to men like Benjamin, who must be cruel to be kind.
Around the same time that I was wrecking my health trying to write a thesis that would ultimately fail to be my ticket to wealth, fame, money, and babes, I was paid to grade papers written by similarly anxious, but younger and more supple undergraduates. I recall one paper in particular. It was a standard piece debunking one of the arguments for the existence of God that we set up like bowling pins then demand that our students knock down. Yet about halfway through, the young man came up with an insight that floored me:
“If God exists, then why did he give us painful monkey spines?”
Exactly right. The central difficulty with all creationists, from bearded-God evangelicals to the subtler intelligent design theorists, is that, while their theory might explain (in some suitably loose meaning of “explain”) the existence of life, it utterly fails to explain one crucial aspect of life, viz., the general crappiness of adaptation. That is, what needs explaining is not how well designed we are, but how poorly. And that is something the Creationists can’t do, on pain of bleaching God of one of his three main powers. Either he’s not omnisicient, not omnipontent, or not omnibenevolent.
Here’s a slightly longer version of the painful monkey spine argument.

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