This past weekend, I spoke at the Northeast Homeschool Convention, the last of the 2012 Great Homeschool Conventions. While it had the lowest attendance of all the Great Homeschool conventions, there was a lot of enthusiasm, and I had a great time talking to (and with) home educators and their children.
For example, I had a wonderful conversation with a young lady who had just finished her junior year of high school. She told me that she really liked physics, but she didn’t like the mathematics associated with it. As a result, she had a hard time deciding what she would major in when she went to university. After talking with her for a while, I told her that it sounds like she enjoys science in general, not specifically physics. I suggested that she should go for a “natural science” major, which is common at many universities. Then, as she pursued that major, she might find the specific area of science that has the right mix of characteristics for her. During the course of the conversation, I found out that she was attending the University of Washington on a full-ride scholarship in gymnastics!
Of course, in addition to speaking with home-educating parents and their children, I also spoke to them. I gave a total of six talks at the convention, and (as always) I had a question/answer time after each. One of the talks was called Life and Its Amazing Design. In that talk, I discuss how the design I saw in nature convinced me of the existence of God, even when I was an atheist. I also discuss how that same observation convinced noted atheist philosopher Dr. Antony Flew that God does, indeed, exist.
Those who try to shut their eyes to the design that clearly exists in nature often try to point out what they think are “bad designs,” and vestigial structures are often given as examples. The problem is that very few vestigial structures really exist. In the talk, I discuss how at one time, evolutionists thought there were as many a 83 vestigial organs in the human body.1 However, over time, important functions have been found for all but one (the male nipple). In the course of making this point, I highlight the function of the appendix, as biologists still misinform the public that it is a vestigial organ.
During the question/answer time, a student said the common evolutionary response is that vestigial structures don’t have to be useless. Instead, they can evolve to perform some new function as the old function becomes unnecessary. I agreed with him that this is the common evolutionary response. However, I cautioned him that this is a very new response. It is certainly not what evolutionists thought throughout most of the history of the evolutionary hypothesis.
Darwin himself called vestigial structures useless:2
Finally, as rudimentary organs, by whatever steps they may have degraded into their present useless condition, are the record of a former state of things, and have been retained solely through the power of inheritance…On the view of descent with modification, we may conclude that the existence of organs in a rudimentary, imperfect, and useless condition, or quite aborted, far from being a present strange difficulty, as they assuredly do on the old doctrine of creation, might even have been anticipated in accordance with the views here explained.
Even after the turn of the century, evolutionists were still calling vestigial structures completely useless:3
Examining the structure of man more closely, we find this strong suggestion of relationship greatly confirmed. It is now well known that the human body contains a number of “vestigial” organs – organs of no actual use, and only intelligible as vestiges of organs that were once useful.
The idea that vestigial structures have no use at all was still in vogue even in the 1960s, as evidenced by this statement from a college-level biology book published in 1966:4
He wondered why organisms that were the product of a divine creation would have useless parts. The scientific model of evolution, however, easily explained the existence of vestigial structures.
The problem is, of course, that the more we learned about biology, the more we realized that very few useless biological structures exist, and those few that do exist provide no support for “flagellate to philosopher” evolution. As a result, biologists started backpedalling on the definition of vestigial structures. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, for example, college-level biology texts started calling vestigial structures “mostly” useless, as shown by this definition:5
vestigial organs Structures of marginal, if any, importance to an organism. They are historical remnants of structures that had important functions in ancestors.
Nowadays, of course, some evolutionists have dropped terms like “marginal” altogether. As Dr. Jerry Coyne says:6
Evolutionary theory doesn’t say that vestigial characters have no function. A trait can be vestigial and functional at the same time. It is vestigial not because it’s functionless, but because it no longer performs the function for which it evolved.
Why has the definition of “vestigial” evolved in this way? Simple. The original prediction made by the hypothesis of evolution failed miserably. Only a few useless structures exist in nature, like the remnants of eyes in blind cave fish. But such structures provide no evidence for evolution in the “flagellate to philosopher” sense. As a result, the prediction had to be changed. First, it was changed to allow for “marginal” function. As time went on and supposedly vestigial structures were shown to serve very important functions, the prediction had to change again. Now, according to evolutionists, vestigial structures can be fully functional. They just can’t have the same function for which they originally evolved.
But of course, that’s the problem, isn’t it? How can you tell the original function for which a structure supposedly evolved? Take the appendix, for example. It supposedly first evolved to aid in digestion. Many herbivores have “pouches” in their intestines, called ceca, that house bacteria which aid in the digestion of cellulose, a common component of plant material. Since the appendix looks a bit like the ceca found in some herbivores, it is assumed that the appendix originally evolved for the same purpose, but as our diets changed, our appendix became vestigial. Since it was originally housing bacteria for digestion, it was “co-opted” by evolution so that it could perform its current function, providing a “safe haven” for the intestinal microorganisms that keep us healthy.
However, there’s no evidence that this actually happened. In fact, there is a lot of evidence against such a proposal. If I examine the tissues that make up the ceca of herbivores today, they are radically different from the tissues that make up the appendix. For example, the appendix is filled with tissues specifically designed to fight disease.7 This makes sense if it was designed as a “safe haven” for intestinal microorganisms, but it makes no sense if it originally served as an organ to aid in digestion!
In the end, then, the idea that supposedly vestigial structures can have function is a classic example of evolutionists “moving the goalposts.” Since the original prediction of useless structures failed spectacularly, it was changed to allow for “marginal” uses. As that has failed spectacularly, it has been changed again. Now, a vestigial structure can have a very important function – just not the original one for which it supposedly evolved.
This is one of the many reasons evolution is losing adherents in the scientific community. A hypothesis whose predictions must be constantly revised to force them to be in line with observations has virtually no scientific merit.
1. Wiedersheim, R. (1893), The Structure of Man: An Index to His Past History: Second Edition, Translated by H. and M. Bernard, London: Macmillan and Co. 1985
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2. Charles Darwin (1859), The Origin of Species, A & D Publishing 2008, p. 266
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3. Joseph McCabe, The Story of Evolution, Small & Maynard 1912, p. 262
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4. Eldra P. Solomon, Linda R. Berg, and Diana W. Martin, Biology, Saunders College Pub. 1996, p. 411
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5. Neil A. Campbell and Jane B. Reece, Biology: Sixth Edition, Benjamin Cummings 2002, p. 411
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6. Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution is True, Oxford University Press 2009, p. 62
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7. Zahid, A., “The vermiform appendix: not a useless organ,” Journal of College of Physicians and Surgeons Pakistan 14(4):256–8, 2004
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