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Vestigial Organs: Comparing ID and Darwinian Approaches

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Live Science’s list of “5 Useless Body Parts” provides an opportunity to compare Darwinian and intelligent-design approaches to scientific investigation. Which one is the science stopper?

As Casey Luskin explained last month, the idea that the human appendix is a useless vestige of our animal past is a myth. Sure enough, The Live Science article had it first on their list of “5 Useless Body Parts” followed by the tailbone, male nipples, goose bumps and body hair, and wisdom teeth. Live Science begins with the usual bow to Darwin:

Charles Darwin pointed to these vestiges of anatomy in humans and other animals as evidence for evolution. Eventually, by noting how the vestigial organs in one species were similar to functioning organs in other species, biologists concluded two otherwise dissimilar creatures must have shared a common ancestor.

So the vestigial-organs argument, #9 on Casey Luskin’s Top Ten Problems with Darwinian Evolution persists to the present day. (Live Science didn’t tell its readers that their list is itself a vestige of a much larger list compiled by Wiedersheim, a Darwinist, in 1893.)

What would intelligent design theory bring to the subject of vestigial organs? Just because we don’t know something’s function doesn’t mean there isn’t one. An ID advocate would be curious to investigate and discover the function, not dismiss the whole question out of hand. He or she would start with the assumption that if it’s there, it probably has a function. This mindset would broaden the scope of hypotheses, and stimulate research. A function might be aesthetic, for instance, or serve a function during development but not in the adult.

A function might be degraded compared to its use in another organism. Evolutionists have applied this argument to the appendix, claiming that it is much larger and more functional in rabbits. That may be true, but rabbits have a much different lifestyle and diet. Eagles have much sharper vision. Does that mean human eyes are evolutionary vestiges of eagle eyes? An ID advocate would propose that each animal has the organ suited to its needs.

A function might be imperfect. The appendix becomes inflamed and threatens its host in 1 out of 15 people in the U.S. ID theory does not require that design be perfect, just detectable. Still, ID would promote further research. Is the U.S. statistic normal? Is it a function of diet, lifestyle, geography or other factors? Is it a recent problem that arose sometime in human history?

A function might not be found. After all, intelligent design does not require that everything is designed. That still would not necessarily imply that the organ under consideration is an evolutionary vestige of common ancestry. It might be an unused part of a designed system. We understand that from human design; not all parts of a modular building, or a software system, end up getting used in a given situation. Or, it might be a design that suffered a setback sometime since its inception.

The recently discovered function of the appendix as a rebooter for normal gut flora after infections shows that it operates in emergency situations. Firefighters are more likely to get burned, soldiers to get shot. If the appendix stores alien bacteria, it would not be surprising to see it suffer inflammation more often than other organs that are not under that kind of emergency stress.

A favorite criticism of ID is that it is a science stopper. The opposite is true. The Live Science article shows that the “vestigial organs” argument has not changed for over a century, since Wiedersheim coined the term and listed over a hundred examples. Evolutionary theory, in fact, has been worse than a science stopper: its predictions have been flat out wrong. Only a handful of alleged vestigial organs remains from Wiedersheim’s original list, and each of those is questionable. Recently Darwinians made the same kind of mistake with their myth of “junk DNA” (see David Klinghoffer’s take on that persistent myth).

Intelligent design, in contrast, offers a host of promising questions for research. One wonders how much further along science would be today if ID scientists had the power to direct research about “vestigial organs” and “junk DNA” instead of letting the Darwin power structure tell everyone, “there’s nothing to see here.” One wonders, further, how much pain and suffering might have been avoided.

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Evolution News & Science Today (EN) provides original reporting and analysis about evolution, neuroscience, bioethics, intelligent design and other science-related issues, including breaking news about scientific research. It also covers the impact of science on culture and conflicts over free speech and academic freedom in science. Finally, it fact-checks and critiques media coverage of scientific issues.



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