Human beings are perfectly designed to choke

elderly woman Choking a water drink after take  medicine ,isolated on white background.

Pandemonium has broken out on my Facebook page because I dared to point out that rape is both natural and evolutionarily successful in some settings. Natural childbirth advocates and lactivists are so blinded by their kindergarten level view of evolution — everything natural must be good — that they are reeling in indignation.

The responses have ranged the tiny gamut from nonsensical to truly absurd. The nonsensical responses insist that since everything natural must be good and rape is bad, rape can’t possibly be natural. The absurd responses assert that rape doesn’t exist in the animal kingdom or among human beings prior to the development of advanced civilizations.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Pointing out that choking is natural does not make me a “choking apologist.” Similarly pointing out that rape is natural does not mean I think rape is good.[/pullquote]

But rape is hardly the only ugly, harmful thing that occurs in nature. Human beings are perfectly designed to choke.

Direct connections between the mouth, esophagus, and stomach put the lungs at risk for aspiration during swallowing and regurgitation, and excess gas can be swallowed. The pharynx and mouth are used in common for eating, vomiting, and breathing, and food and liquids entering the mouth must be diverted away from the lungs by the epiglottis to avoid flow into the lungs. Major and minor episodes of aspiration contribute to the terminal stages of many diseases, and aspiration appears to play a role in a variety of chronic disorders, such as cough, bronchial asthma, bronchiectasis, and pulmonary fibrosis…

It is a very poor design from an evolutionary point of view.

…[T]he crossing of the respiratory and digestive tracts in the human throat can cause death from choking on food. It would be better design — much safer in terms of survival — if our air and food passages were completely separate.

But evolution can only work with what exists:

…[A]ll vertebrates … from fishes to mammals on the phylogenetic tree … have crossing respiratory and digestive tracts… The crossing of passages is a historical legacy … Not in itself an adaptation, it is a by-product of selection’s having molded [current anatomy] from what came before.

Evolution does NOT produce perfection; working with existing structures and behaviors, it only produces “good enough.”

Just as crossing respiratory and digestive tracts are “good enough” to ensure the survival of the species, childbirth that has a high instrinsic mortality rates is also “good enough.” Similarly, breastfeeding that has a high rate of insufficient breastmilk is also “good enough.” Evolution does not lead to “perfect design”; it leads to imperfect design that is better than other possible adaptations given the constraints of existing design and the existing environment.

The erroneous view that evolution produces perfection was criticized by biologist Stephen J. Gould as the Panglossian paradigm. The paradigm references Pangloss, a character in Voltaire’s Candide who believes that “all is for the best in this best of all worlds.” In the context of evolution the Panglossian paradigm imagines that everything that exists in nature today is the product of intense natural selection and represents the perfect solution to a particular evolutionary problem.

The propensity for human beings to rape and murder each other is not a perfect solution or even a good solution to the problem of survival of the individual or the species. But it isn’t a bad solution, either, because evolutionary traits are neither good nor bad.

That’s why my pointing out that choking is natural does not mean that I am a “choking apologist” or think choking is a good thing. Similarly pointing out that rape is natural does not mean that that I am a rape apologist or that I think rape is good. The entire point of my piece is that whether or not something is natural tells us NOTHING about whether or not it is perfect or even good.

That’s why natural isn’t always good and technology is often better. Rape is natural and even evolutionarily beneficial in some circumstances. But technology allows us to catch and punish rapists severely. Unmedicated vaginal birth is natural and even evolutionarily beneficial in some circumstances. But technology like interventions and C-section allows us to dramatically lower both the neonatal and maternal mortality rates. Interventions and C-sections are often better than unmedicated vaginal birth. Breastfeeding is natural and even evolutionarily beneficial in some circumstances. But formula allows us to dramatically lower the infant mortality rate and in many circumstances is better than breastfeeding.

The bottom line is simple — so simple that even those with a kindergarten level understanding of evolution could understand: Just because something occurs in nature doesn’t make it good. Unmedicated vaginal birth and breastfeeding are natural, but so are rape and choking.