Evolution 101- part 14: Vestigial Organs and Other Recent News from the 1940’s

Remember, normal text is copied from Evolution 101 by the Understanding Evolution team! (New Year’s Pledge: Less Data, MORE DARWIN!) http://evolution.berkeley.edu/

BOLD font is me, Rent A Friend 2000, being Bold.
Adaptation: An adaptation is a feature that is common in a population because it provides some improved function. Adaptations are well fitted to their function and are produced by natural selection.

It’s like beating a dead horse, but here I go again: Natural Selection CANNOT PRODUCE ANYTHING. All it can do it SELECT, or choose, from what is already there. That’s what the name means- nature selecting certain things to survive and others not to. Look at their example of Natural Selection in a previous section: Birds eat the green beetles until there are no more green beetles. What is left? Brown ones. Did the birds eating the green ones PRODUCE the brown ones? No. It only removed the green ones. So to say adaptations are PRODUCED by natural selection is again either ignorant or deceptive.  On the other hand, maybe I’ll get a bag of M&M’s and eat all the green ones, and then claimed I invented the red ones. Can I sue for royalties on that?I’ll therefore skip the list of examples they provided of alleged “adaptations.”

So what’s not an adaptation? The answer: a lot of things. One example is vestigial structures. A vestigial structure is a feature that was an adaptation for the organism’s ancestor, but that evolved to be non-functional because the organism’s environment changed.

“Evolved to be non-functional.” How’s that for New-Speak? Now something formerly useful becoming useless is evolution. These guys could do spin for the White House and report how great the economy has become since so many persons formerly burdened with employment have been promoted to a home based, unscheduled, non-for profit position.

How do we know something is Vestigial? First we assume evolution is true. Then we assume that the organ or structure in question has no purpose now. Then we assume it had a purpose in the evolutionary past and has “evolved to be non-functional.” Then some idiot creationist comes along and suggests that the structure HAS a function, like the appendix or spleen or tonsils… and dang it he’s right. So we take those off of the list of vestigial items and keep on believing in evolution.

Let me add a quote which kinda tweeks me off. My whole life I was told tonsils and the appendix are vestigial and prove we evolved from a monkey, which I suppose had a functioning appendix or something. They never actually filled in that gap for us. These examples are STILL brought up as proof for evolution in debates, yet look at the date on this quote: “For at least 2,000 years, doctors have puzzled over the function of the thymus gland. Modern physicians came to regard it, like the appendix, as a useless, vestigial organ, which had lost its original purpose, if indeed it ever had one. In the last few years, however..men have proved that far from being useless, the thymus is really the master gland that regulates the intricate immunity system which protects us against infectious diseases..Recent experiments have lead researchers to believe that the appendix, tonsils and adenoids may also figure in the antibody responses.” *“The Useless Gland that Guards Our Health”, in Reader’s Digest, November 1966.

NINETEEN SIXTY SIX! That’s more than a decade before I was BORN!

But wait! Look at the date on THIS ONE: “There is no longer any justification for regarding the vermiform appendix as a vestigial structure .” * William Strauss, Quarterly Review of Biology (1947), p. 149. 

1947!!! Right? It’s not just me here, is it? Did YOU hear this in highschool? Because my textbook left this out and taught the EXACT OPPOSITE.   

Fish species that live in completely dark caves have vestigial, non-functional eyes. When their sighted ancestors ended up living in caves, there was no longer any natural selection that maintained the function of the fishes’ eyes. So, fish with better sight no longer out-competed fish with worse sight. Today, these fish still have eyes — but they are not functional and are not an adaptation; they are just the by-products of the fishes’ evolutionary history.

This is a great example of something which could actually be argued to be vestigial- provided you define vestigial as a structure which is no longer functional, which was functional in prior generations. If you remove the claim that this is, somehow, evolution, then I agree with this paragraph- it is an example of a non-functional organ which was previously functional- and is a kind of change we have witnessed within a few generations, thus making it observation based science. Like I said before, they give just enough examples of real things to make it seem like there’s actual science going on. But there’s no bait and switch without the bait.

The problem is THIS IS STILL A LOSS! They have LOST the use of their eyes. In fact, they still retain the information it took to make eyes, but those genes are switched off. There are lots of examples of living things with genes that do not get used. When the conditions are right, the genes can get switched back on. This is why Europeans get tan when exposed to sunlight- the gene that produces melanin gets kicked on when they are exposed to lots of sun. This is not evidence of evolution- as evolution requires a GAIN OF GENETIC INFORMATION. Turning genes off is NOT evolution anymore than switching off your laptop is computer engineering. Once again, the way cave dwelling creatures tend to adapt to the total darkness by switching off genes is fascinating, but not an inch closer to supporting evolution as fact. It is actually an example of the exact OPPOSITE of what this web site is supposed to prove. Discovering they no longer have functional eyes tells us NOTHING about where the functional eyes had come from in the first place, and that is the claim they are making about evolution.

In fact, biologists have a lot to say about what is and is not an adaptation.

Misconceptions about natural selection

Because natural selection can produce amazing adaptations [Editor’ Note: Not True. See Below], it’s tempting to think of it as an all-powerful force, urging organisms on, constantly pushing them in the direction of progress — but this is not what natural selection is like at all.

This is correct.  It’s more like a forest fire or a controlled burn, destroying certain things and leaving others behind. To be clear on this point, young earth creationists have no problem with the process of natural selection- we invented it. We simply understand that it is not a CREATIVE force. It subtracts- it does not add.

First, natural selection is not all-powerful; it does not produce perfection. If your genes are “good enough,” you’ll get some offspring into the next generation — you don’t have to be perfect. This should be pretty clear just by looking at the populations around us: people may have genes for genetic diseases, plants may not have the genes to survive a drought, a predator may not be quite fast enough to catch her prey every time she is hungry. No population or organism is perfectly adapted.

Now we’re talking metaphysics and not science. What would a “Perfect” animal look like? Sophia Loren? Well, I’m not saying it isn’t worth thinking about. I’m just saying we’ve left the realm of science and gotten philosophical (Not that evolution is, itself, in the realm of science, but I digress).

Second, it’s more accurate to think of natural selection as a process rather than as a guiding hand. Natural selection is the simple result of variation, differential reproduction, and heredity — it is mindless and mechanistic. It has no goals; it’s not striving to produce “progress” or a balanced ecosystem.

This part is true. I’ll just let them continue.

 polar chill
Evolution does not work this way.

This is why “need,” “try,” and “want” are not very accurate words when it comes to explaining evolution. The population or individual does not “want” or “try” to evolve, and natural selection cannot try to supply what an organism “needs.” Natural selection just selects among whatever variations exist in the population. The result is evolution.

Did you catch that? Natural selection just selects among whatever variations exist in the population.” I couldn’t have said that better myself (Even though I already said it.).  Remember, in the previous section they said “Adaptations are well fitted to their function and are produced by natural selection.” Do I need to say more? In their OWN WORDS, natural selection, “just selects among whatever variations exist in the population,” AND “produces” adaptations. Once again I must limit the options to ignorance or willing deception. I mean no disrespect to the people who worked on this web site, but what third option is there?

Read this sentence again: “Natural selection just selects among whatever variations exist in the population. The result is evolution.”
Now apply this to their beetles example; nature selects (From the beetle variation which ALREADY exist in the population) the brown ones to live and the green ones to die. The result is… evolution? Remember how I asked for a better definition of “evolution” way back in the first couple of chapters? Look at what they have said here- a REDUCTION in the genetic variability and physical variations in a population IS EVOLUTION. So, if you take their definitions and their examples and put them together, “Evolution is a loss of genetic variation in a population or species.” And this is the process by which bacteria become wolves and cabbages? I don’t think so. I really don’t. Nope. Do NOT think so. Not thinking it’s so. No sir.

Consider DNA again; it is information, a written coded system which results in the production and functions of all living things.  To turn bacteria into wolves and cabbages requires great gains in the genetic information (DNA) over time, as even a cabbage has a GREAT DEAL of genetic information which no bacteria has. Obviously natural selection, which above they describe accurately as “mindless and mechanistic,” cannot create any information, or even edit it to improve it. Where did it come from? How has it been improved? Information ONLY comes from a mind- not mindless mechanistic processes. All life is a testimony to God’s brilliant creation and design, and when we say He is the author of life, we mean it literally. He is the writer of all DNA.  

At the opposite end scale, natural selection is sometimes interpreted as a random process. This is also a misconception. The genetic variation that occurs in a population because of mutation is random-but selection acts on that variation in a very non-random way: genetic variants that aid survival and reproduction are much more likely to become common than variants that don’t. Natural selection is NOT random!

That is a bold assertion, but you have to admit a VERY weak argument. Especially when you couple this idea with the genetic drift concept they already put forth. That WAS random (getting stepped on, changes in the weather, etc.).  I think they mean it can be linked with causal factors and the survivors are “Selected” because of the existing conditions, even if they are random and unpredictable. What they failed to say above is this: NATURE does NOT SELECT. The term itself is misleading. Nature has no mind or awareness, thus it cannot choose. What it means is that existing features or behavior can vary within a population, which, when nature is variable, can lead to the survival of some and the death of others. But this does not mean nature has CHOSEN to change the weather or bring in a new predator. Natural selection is an anthropomorphism of random events which, on this view, contribute to the survival of certain organisms. It’s a metaphor. Natural selection is a category under which we can put certain events just as the word Vegetable is a category under which we put certain plants. But Natural selection cannot CAUSE anything to happen any more than separating vegetables from squash can make a pumpkin or a carrot.

To go on a bit of a tangent, this speaking as though Natural Selection were a person or even a force is the same metaphysical error people make when they speak of the Law of Gravity as though it were literally a law- an authority figure who demands certain behaviors. The Law of Gravity is an adjective. It describes (and we believe describes very reliably) how masses are (and we believe always have been and always will be) attracted to other masses. But it does not CAUSE them to be, it only describes to us how they are. This is related to similar discussions because, in trying to argue that the universe could come into existence without God, Stephen Hawking tried to argue that, as long as there is a Law of Gravity, the universe will make itself. But if there is no universe, then there is no gravity at all, let alone some authoritarian law. When science tries to put itself in the place of God, it gets a little more Cartoon Network than Mr. Wizard.

Join me next week for part 15.



About rentafriend2000
Rocking my 40's with a heart full of love and muffins, science and technology. Jesus loves me and wants me to totally rock! And I am here to help.

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