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Vestigial Organs

By Richard Gunther


   When I was at primary school I remember the teacher telling me something about “vestigial organs”. Of course at that age the teaching was very simple, and no ‘big words’ were used, but the message was clear: “the flippers on the penguin used to be wings, but now the penguin cannot fly because it has EVOLVED”. The whole idea of “vestigial” is loaded with evolutionary thinking, so it is almost impossible to say the word without implying organic change within species.


   But what evidence is there for vestigial organs being a support for evolution? As a matter of fact, there is none.


   To understand where the idea of vestigial organs comes from we have to go back at least as far as Darwin. At the time when he was inventing his theory (or writing down and repeating what other people had already invented), he had no idea how complex the living cell was, or how intricate the genes and DNA were. He imagined that cells were comparatively simple things, and very malleable – that is, they could change to suit their environment with almost infinite flexibility.


   A few years before Darwin started to expound his theories, a man called Gregor Mendel had already completed some experiments with pea plants. By carefully breeding them, and noting the basic differences between them, he had come to the correct conclusion that inherited traits never blend. Putting this another way, he had found that genes carry specific information which may be lost, but is never merged in with other genetic information.


   This is backed up by modern research. Biologists have found that there are dominant and recessive genes, such as those for blue eyes (recessive) and brown eyes (dominant). The recessive genes may be submerged for a few generations, but they can still reappear. We sometimes call this a ‘throwback’, when an animal suddenly shows characteristics of a former generation many years in the past. In the human population there are genes for white skin (less melanin) and brown skin (more melanin) and occasionally brown-skinned parents have a white-skinned child, or vice versa. The different gents differentiate, but never blend. They are like electrical switches, which can be either up, or down, but never in the middle.


   So Mendel showed scientifically – through observation, deduction and experiment - that genetic characteristics could be switched on or off, but never be intermediary, but despite this discovery Darwin theorised that plants and animals could merge and mix their characteristics to produce an almost infinite variety of variations. Darwin needed infinite variation to support his theory so he chose to ignore the implications of Mendel’s findings. Today, all these years later, and despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary, one of the favourite pieces of “evidence for evolution” is still the so-called “vestigial organ” theory. It turns up in modern biology textbooks, and it is still taught in State schools as if it is true.


   The vestigial organ theory goes like this: organs that are believed to have once been useful during a previous stage of evolutionary development are now in the process of being selected out by modification. In other words a changed habit or environment has rendered an organ redundant, and in disuse it has shrunk away until only a vestige remains. In chapter 13 of ‘Origins’ Darwin describes what he calls rudimentary, atrophied, or aborted organs.


   Among the examples he lists are:

·   The rudimentary pistil of some male flowers

·   Rudimentary teeth in embryonic birds

·   Rudimentary teeth in whales

·   Atrophied tails, ears and eyes in some animals

·   Atrophied wings in flightless insects and birds

·   Aborted oil glands in some pigeons


   And later, when Darwin wrote ‘The Descent of Man’ he listed a number of human organs which he thought were rudimentary, such as the muscles of the ear, wisdom teeth, the appendix, the coccyx (tail bone), body hair, and the semilunar fold in the corner of the eye.


   Having launched his theory, Darwin left it to others to amplify, which they did, with great enthusiasm. The German anatomist Robert Wiedersheim was one. In 1895 he published a ‘masterwork’ titled ‘The Structure of Man’ in which he listed 86 human organs which he claimed were vestigial – no longer useful. He also listed some organs which he said were retrogressive, meaning in the process of being atrophied. In his list he included the pineal gland, the pituitary body, the lachrymal glands, the coccyx, the appendix, the tonsils, the thymus, the thyroid, certain valves of the veins, bones in the third, fourth and fifth toes and some reproductive parts. And because Mr. Weidersheim was seen as a world authority, his book has been quoted in biology textbooks ever since.


   Having ‘set the ball rolling’ more and more so-called vestigial organs and parts were named. In 1977 Villee’s ‘Biology’ claims that there are more than 180 vestigial organs, though the book itself only names 6 of them. Other textbooks are more cautious, mentioning that vestigial organs do exist but not naming any.


   Before we move on to some of the ‘vestigial organs’ we ought to pause for a moment and consider the subject of inheritance.


   How does the offspring of each new generation of plants or animals inherit the information which builds them into a copy of their parents? By DNA replication. Darwin, on the other hand, thought that if the environment changed, the life forms would change to adapt with it, without reaching a point where further change was impossible. Darwin did not know about genes and DNA so his theory was wrong.


    Take the mouse for example. If the tails of mice are cut off, do they produce offspring without tails? No. If humans circumcise their boys for many generations (as the Jews have done for thousands of years) does this produce boys already circumcised at before birth? No. If the Chinese bind the feet of their girls (as they have done for thousands of years) does this eventually produce girls with small feet? No. If a certain tribe of Indians bind the heads of their babies over successive generations (as they have done) does this produce deformed skulls in the next generation? No.


   Why not?


   Because as the environment changes, the offspring which are best suited to surviving the change will survive, as the genetic pool of possible variation is sorted, but no change beyond a certain point will ever occur. Genes are like a bank account, from which plants and animals may make withdrawals. Once the full amount is withdrawn, no more variation remains. This is why, after thousands of years, no amount of stretching will give a giraffe a longer neck than its genes will allow. This is why Persian cats will never have longer fur than the best example bred. No horse will be larger than a certain size. No sugar beet will ever have more sugar in it than its maximum – no matter how many more thousands of years the sugar beet is bred. There is a limit to the amount of variation which genes can supply, but once that limit is reached, nothing can alter it.


   In other words, the genes are an absolute barrier in the path of evolutionary theory. Nothing can get past the inherited genes. Nothing can alter the DNA in such a way as to increase the potential. It is a simple mathematical statement. From seven characteristics possible, only seven can be extracted. Never eight.


   Vestigial organs.

   The following are just a few of the organs which evolutionists have claimed as evidence for evolution:


1.                      The thyroid gland.

Once claimed to be useless, this is now known to be a vital gland for normal body growth. If this gland produces too much or too little thyroxine the whole body is affected (overactivity or underactivity). Deficiency at birth causes deformity known as cretinism.

2.                      The pituitary gland.

This organ is now known to ensure proper growth of the skeleton and proper functioning of the thyroid, adrenal and sex glands. If the pituitary gland doesn’t work properly gigantism can result.

3.                      The tonsils and appendix.

The thymus gland, the tonsils and the appendix are all part of the lymphatic tissue which helps to prevent disease germs from entering the system. Once a child has built up sufficient resistance to the usual disease germs the importance of the appendix and tonsils diminishes so they can be removed, but they are very important at the early stage of life.

4.                      The coccyx.

Once named the ‘tail bone’ by the evolution-minded, this small bone at the end of the spine is now known to have as a point of insertion for several muscles and ligaments

5.                      The semilunar fold of the eye.

Some animals and birds have a third eyelid, known as the nictitating membrane. Darwin claimed that Man has a vestige of this membrane in the inner corner of the eye. But the fold is actually a portion of the conjunctiva which aids in the cleansing and lubrication of the eyeball.

6.                      The pineal gland.

This was once thought to be the remains of a third eye. The exact function of this gland is not fully known, but tumors of the pineal gland can cause abnormal sexual functions.


    Today it is happily agreed by the medical profession that none of these ‘vestigial’ organs are redundant, or useless. All are important, and some are incredibly crucial. Many of the so-called vestigial organs in plants and animals have also now been acknowledged as essential to the health of the organism. (For example the whale’s so-called vestigial legs are now known to play some part in its balance). It is only fanciful guesswork to look at some part of a plant or animal and decide what some imaginary ancestor used that organ for, and it is dreaming to say that vestigial organs support evolution. If anything, they indicate de-volution.


   As mentioned before, the only way evolution could happen is through the appearance of new genetic information. For example, in order to grow wings, a fish would need a huge amount of new information to produce the muscles, bones, feathers, blood-supply, oil and many other things. All this information would need to appear complete and intact, giving the fish the ability to survive its change without suffocating or crashing.


   Could this happen very gradually, over millions of years and millions of generations? As far as biologists can see today, no new DNA or genetic information is currently appearing in living things. Because it is not happening now, why should we think that it must have happened in the past? The only trend which has been observed today is the LOSS of information. Birds which used to fly, cannot fly now. Fish which used to be sighted, are now blind. Dogs which used to be big and strong are now bred to be small and weak. The genetic information in animal and plant populations is being depleted, not increased, so where is the mechanism for evolution? It does not exist.


   On the other hand, no new organs have ever been seen to arise because no new DNA is ever produced. Mutations have been called in, but they are often or usually harmful. Another problem with mutations is the way they usually make the animal or plant less able to survive, and the only really successful survivors of mutation are those which humans have isolated from the normal ‘wild’ state.  If these mutated forms were left to the way of Nature, they would not be ‘fitter’ or ‘stronger’ and so would soon be eliminated. The genes we find today are the finite limit to the available information. Genetic information is steadily being lost, through natural selection and special breeding programs, but never gained. Even genetic engineering cannot produce new information – all it does it take existing DNA and transfer it about.


   Embryonic vestigial organs.


   While one group of Darwin enthusiasts was busy publishing its theories about vestigial organs, another man was propping the theory up with a deliberate fraud. His name was Ernst Haekel. In 1866 he proposed what he called a Biogenetic Law, which, put simply explained that “as an embryo develops, it goes through the various stages of evolution before it reaches the species it was meant to be”.


   To back up his theory, Mr. Haekel drew a series of embryos from several different animals, but he drew them from his imagination as well as from actual embryos. The result was a very graphic display of how different animals looked very similar as embryos. The truth was quite a different matter.

   It is true that a human embryo does have what appears to be gill slits, but these folds have nothing to do with respiration. They develop into the ear and jaw areas. The appearance of a ‘tail’ is simply a result of the sequence of development. Humans have 33 vertebrae, never any more, and at the embryo stage this line of vertebrae appear like a tail, with the limbs ‘budding’ later. Mr. Haekel  drew tails and gills wherever he thought they ought to be, and ignored what he actually saw in real embryos. His work has since been totally discredited as a complete fraud.


   As Sir Gavin de Beer of the British Natural History Museum wrote, in 1958 “Seldom has an assertion like that of Haekel’s theory . . .done so much harm to science”. He also called it “facile, tidy, plausible, and widely accepted without critical examination”.


   Why do theories like that of vestigial organs persist?


   It cannot be because of good science, because good science has exposed the theories as unscientific. It cannot be because of evidence because there is none. It cannot be because of experiment because no experiments have been done which have proven that evolution is true.


   It may be because of faulty reasoning, preconceived ideas, assumptions and even wishful thinking. In some cases it may be the pay packet, as scientists are sometimes caught between towing the party line, or losing their job. Pride also may be involved as what scientists wants to publicly admit he or she was wrong? The unfortunate side-effect of all this is that the general public continues to be mislead, and the State schools continue to teach error as fact.


   Another reason, and probably the most important, is the spiritual. Man is at heart a rebel against God, and unwilling to acknowledge the truth. To accept creation is to also accept accountability to a Creator. Responsibility and repentance, submission and obedience follow. Evolution provides an imaginary escape hatch for rebellious humans. They dive down the ‘bolt hole, into the labyrinth of reasonings and arguments, and they hide underground in the warren of twisting, turning tunnels, where they feel safe from searching eyes of God.


   Scientists are not supermen or superwomen. They are sinners, like all other humans. They do not always think rationally or fairly. They are subject to the same power-plays, personality conflicts and intellectual blind spots as anyone else. They have bias. They presuppose things and they have their own personal philosophies. Scientists can be immoral, corrupt and dishonest, just like the rest of the human race. They need to be saved, and to acknowledge Jesus as Saviour and the Bible as the written Word of God – just like everyone else.

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