Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Not-So-Useless Appendix

One supposed evidence for biological evolution is that there are certain parts of the human body that are useless, left-over evolutionary artifacts. They are called "vestigial organs." The appendix is one commonly cited example of this.

These are occasionally used by some atheists as an evidence against creation. The technical term for this is the "dysteleological argument" or argument from poor design against the existence of God. The formal logic might be stated this way:
  1. An all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving creator God would create organisms that have optimal design.
  2. Organisms have features that are suboptimal.
  3. Therefore, God either did not create these organisms or is not all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving creator.
Without getting into an extended discussion of the many fallacies involved with this logic, it is sufficient to point out the fact that there is a growing body of evidence that these so-called examples of dysteleology are unsupported. Just yesterday scientists announced that the appendix is a lot more than a useless remnant.

The Appendix: Useful and in Fact Promising
Parker and his colleagues recently suggested that the appendix still served as a vital safehouse where good bacteria could lie in wait until they were needed to repopulate the gut after a nasty case of diarrhea. Past studies had also found the appendix can help make, direct and train white blood cells.
I did appreciate the fact that at least one of the researchers admitted that maybe it's time to rewrite the textbooks.
In a way, the idea that the appendix is an organ whose time has passed has itself become a concept whose time is over.

"Maybe it's time to correct the textbooks," said researcher William Parker, an immunologist at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. "Many biology texts today still refer to the appendix as a 'vestigial organ.'"
Hopefully, as this trendline continues, research like this will work its way into future textbook revisions sooner rather than later.

One final note - This is a great example of the self-correcting nature of the scientific method and that mainstream science isn't in a conspiracy against Christians. They're just following where the evidence leads. As such, Christians have nothing to fear because it's going to lead to Jesus Christ as the Creator of the universe (Col. 1:16-18; John 1:1-3).

UPDATE (8/31/09) - Reasons To Believe now has a "Science News Flash" podcast about this discovery: "The Appendix: Useful and in Fact Promising"

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

True that the appendix is an example of an organ which can't be classified as an evolutionary leftover, but can this one example be used as a defence against the theory of evolution when the science of genetics is making ever clearer EXACTLY how we are related to the apes to the minutest detail. And what about my tailbone?
I belive Christians need to stop being so afraid of evolution and look at how God might have used it, and at how we might adjust our interpretation of scripture.

- Scott

Anonymous said...

Scott:

The tone of your comment puts you right on the edge of not getting it posted, but I decided to go ahead with it in the interest of fairness and because I want to respond to your final assertion.

Please be careful when assigning motives for people's beliefs, especially for a brother or sister in Christ. I'm not afraid of evolution, so please don't assume that I am. If the evidence for common decent becomes incontrovertible, then I agree, a reinterpretation of Scripture might be in order. But I don't think the evidence IS incontrovertible yet. I believe there is still much rigorous debate to be done and that the genetic evidence isn't quite as conclusive as you're making it out to be.

As for the tailbone, just do a Google search on "tailbone purpose." Several articles will come up detailing its purposes. I don't have time to go into that here.