Home » Darwinism, Medicine, News » Your appendix: The king of vestigial organs has a job again

Your appendix: The king of vestigial organs has a job again

In “Your appendix could save your life”(Scientific American, January 2, 2012),Rob Dunn reportss

Parker’s idea, his hypothesis [that the appendix is a sanctuary for useful bacteria], predicts individuals with their appendix should be more likely to recover from severe gut infections than those without. To test this prediction, one could compare the fate of individuals with and without their appendixes after being experimentally infected with a gut pathogen. Easier said than done. Not even college students will voluntarily sign up for a dose of cholera, and lab rats, those time honored guinea pigs who never object to being poked, do not have an appendix.

There was one way forward… Scientists could compare the fates of individuals who suffer gut infections and have an appendix to those of individuals who suffer the same gut infections and do not have an appendix.

They found their opportunity with deadly C. difficile, which thrives in patients heavily dosed with antibiotics that have killed off the other bacteria:

James Grendell and his team were able to find 254 patients at Winthrop-University Hospital who met the requirements of their study. Each needed to be older than 18 with evidence of having been infected by C. difficile. The team then focused on the subset of patients for whom the presence/absence of an appendix was known or discernible.

And then, second, the big result…. Individuals without an appendix were four times more likely to have a recurrence of Clostridium difficile, exactly as Parker’s hypothesis predicted. Recurrence in individuals with their appendix intact occurred in 11% of cases. Recurrence in individuals without their appendix occurred in 48% of cases.

Of course, more research will be needed, but the Darwin lobby’s loss of a talking point could well be the patient’s gain if treatments for appendicitis can steer – so far as is consistent with health – away from simple removal as a surefire solution.

Would any organ that had not been labelled by Darwin’s men as vestigial – thus proof of their theory – have been treated this way?

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46 Responses to Your appendix: The king of vestigial organs has a job again

  1. Would any organ that had not been labelled by Darwin’s men as vestigial – thus proof of their theory – have been treated this way?

    That’s a very good question. I wonder to what extent Darwinism informed the prevailing opinion that the appendix had no purpose. It must have at least to some extent, don’t you think.

  2. If it did, it shouldn’t have. ‘Vestigial’ is by no means synonymous with ‘non-functional’.

  3. By no means? Well, the opening line in Wikipedia’s definition is:

    Vestigiality describes homologous characters of organisms that have seemingly lost all or most of their original function in a species through evolution

    So maybe you meant “not exactly”. It’s not hard to see why someone might “mistake” the above to mean non-functional.

  4. champignon,

    However, up until the research reported above, it appeared that the appendix served no purpose. With a Darwinist perspective, it was easy to draw conclusion that it was just an evolutionary holdover and really had no purpose. Therefore yank it at the least sign of trouble. With an ID perspective, however, the conclusion would much more likely be that it does have a function, we just haven’t discovered it yet (which is what has turned out to be true), and thus removing it would be a decision not to be taken so lightly.

  5. Vestigiality describes homologous characters of organisms that have seemingly lost all or most of their original function in a species through evolution [emphases mine]

    Clearly not synonymous with “non-functional”.

  6. Why would an ID perspective conclude that the appendix has a function?

  7. Nor is Wikipedia synonymous with accuracy. If you like bothering with dictionaries you’ll find that none — that I could find anyways — hedge the bet with ‘seemingly’ and that they use ‘lost all’ and ‘lost all or most’ interchangeably.

    Not that this is surprising as vestigial originally did mean non-functional at this point. And has been the justification for appendectomies, tonsillectomies and the like. As well the vestigial notion was used to justify all manner of notions that have since been shown to be false such as ‘Junk’ DNA, various bits of whale skeletal morphology, etc.

    So if your complaint is that we should not use that notion since it has been falsified then I too agree: It has been falsified and Darwinism with it. That or it was never necessary to the theory in the first place, or now, and so it’s absence or presence cannot confirm it either; and thus it is independent of the theory and may not be mentioned together with it.

    Any possible option 3 that can be dreamed up in the minds of fevered Sophists is no more than the invocation of the Axiom of the Epicycle that not even Popper could sort out how to ward off.

  8. Because it was designed; though that’s a bit trite and off-hand.

    It should be noted that if you sort your way through the postulated mechanisms that there should never have been a claim from the Dice camp that there is any such notion as a vestigial anything. This is true simply on a pure gedanken basis, never mind the ever increasing mountain of evidence that ‘vestigial’ simply means that we are ignorant of its purpose and need make claims to perfect revealed knowledge regardless.

    I’m quite aware that pro-Evolutionists claim quite the contrary in defiance of any insight into their own theories. Nonetheless, both systems require disavowing the notion of vestigial bits and kibbles beyond a very short span of generations.

  9. ‘Vestigial’ derives from ‘vestige’, of course, and Merriam-Webster provides this definition of the latter as used in a biological context:

    2: a bodily part or organ that is small and degenerate or imperfectly developed in comparison to one more fully developed in an earlier stage of the individual, in a past generation, or in closely related forms

    Non-functionality is not a requirement.

  10. “Non-functionality is not a requirement.”

    Indeed, you’ll note that I mentioned that dictionaries use both definitions interchangeably. So I admit being a bit stumped since I’m quite certain your intention wasn’t to parrot to me my own argument.

  11. It was in response to your odd assertions in 1.1.1.1.1 and 2.1.

  12. They both seem cogent on a second look. What portion are you having difficulty with?

  13. The vestigial “argument” is an argument from ignorance as there is no way to know what any original function was. Nor is there any way to know if what you are looking at is a degenerative form.

    Not only that the “argument” in no way supports accumulations of random mutations.

  14. Exactly. And even if they are truly non-functional, having lost function through evolution, that does not do evolutionists any good. This is not the kind of change they need to prove their point. Even creationists believe in degeneration over time. We just have trouble with the opposite kind of change, random change that leads to new genes, new functions, and new organs, etc. This is the kind of change that you would need to see trillions of times over in order for an amoeba to turn into an astronaut, but the kind of change that results in loss of function cannot support this argument. So, in the end, who cares if it has lost function over time due to evolutionary mutations? That would support creationism more than evolution theory, would it not?

  15. Clearly not synonymous with “non-functional”.

    Since we are being anal about this, I’ll join in the fun. “Synonymous” does not necessarily imply identical. I understand quite well that vestigal does not imply non-functional. However, synonymous itself means “alike in meaning or significance”. So maybe you understand quite well what vestigial means, just not “synonymous”. And for the record, I’m quite willing to accept that any number of things are quite reasonably vestigial (e.g. eyes in cave-dwelling fish), and for all the reasons normally given.

  16. SCheesman:

    Since we are being anal about this…

    We? You’re the one who knows that “vestigial” does not imply “non-functional”, yet wants to argue about whether they might still be synonyms. I’ll pass.

  17. So all designed things have function?

  18. Well, yes. The general idea is that whoever designed the human body would not have bothered to include an appendix that had no purpose whatsoever.

    Our universal experience of designed things is that the designer has some purpose in mind. Otherwise why go to the trouble of designing it? This is why it is a prediction of ID that so called junk DNA will turn out to have functionality.

  19. No, vestigial does not even imply “has lost original function”.

    It just means that it’s a “trace” of something.

    It may have an attenuated version of its original function, no function, or a different function.

    It may be a “skiamorph”.

    Our ear bones are “vestigial” jaws.
    Our coccyx is a “vestigial” tail.
    Whales have “vestigial” hind legs.
    We have “vestigial” ear-orienting responses to alerting sounds.

    In the first, there is a new function
    In the second, there seems to be no function, although tails have many.
    In the third, there may or may not be a function, but it isn’t walking.
    In the fourth, it does the same sort of thing as it does in an animal that can actually move its ears to focus a sound, except it doesn’t work, because our ears don’t move enough (in most people not at all) to make a difference.

    But the fact that these features exist is strong evidence for both common descent and adaptation, i.e. for evolutionary theory.

  20. Elizabeth,

    Are you trying to move the goalposts on vestigial organs? Are you claiming that Darwinists have never stated that the appendix is a useless organ that proves macro-evolution to be true? I find it annoying that whenever another Darwinian proposition is falsified that the Darwinists then claim that they never stated the false proposition to begin with.

    Exactly what is your ultimate point anyway? That God does not exist? That atheism is true? That the universe somehow popped into existence uncaused from nothing, somehow miraculously fine tuned for life, and that life self-assembled from non-living chemicals, that we are all just advanced bacteria, and that we are all not ultimately morally accountable to a higher power and do whatever the heck we wish? You’ll have to present a heck of lot of evidence if you want me to buy into any of that nonsense.

    “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:21-22)

  21. No, I am not moving any goal posts. I think the appendix demonstrates that if we were intelligently designed we weren’t very intelligently designed, but whether any Darwinist has stated that “the appendix is a useless organ that proves macro-evolution to be true” I don’t know. It would be a rather ignorant claim because science doesn’t deal in proofs. But it is true that the existence of an attenuated homologous feature (or, indeed, an exaggerated homologous feature) is evidence for common descent, and where it is appears to have ancestral homologs that clearly serve a more vital, or different, function, that is evidence in support of natural selection.

    Exactly what is your ultimate point anyway?

    I’m not sure I have an “ultimate point”. The point I was making here is that vestigial features are important in constructing phylogenies. A penguin’s flippers are vestigial wings. They are certainly not useless, but they support common descent and natural selection because they tell us that the penguin is a bird, descended from birds who flew.

    That God does not exist? That atheism is true?

    Certainly not either of those. Theism is perfectly compatible with evolutionary theory.

    That the universe somehow popped into existence uncaused from nothing,

    The theory of evolution is not a theory of how the universe came into existence.

    somehow miraculously fine tuned for life,

    Possibly, if theism is true.

    and that life self-assembled from non-living chemicals,

    Again, that wouldn’t be anything to do with the theory of evolution. We still don’t have a consistent theory of abiogenesis.

    that we are all just advanced bacteria,

    No, we are not advanced bacteria. We are not bacteria at all, although it seems likely that we share a common ancestry with bacteria, a very long time ago.

    and that we are all not ultimately morally accountable to a higher power

    That is certainly not what I said, nor meant.

    and do whatever the heck we wish?

    And even if I had said, it, this would not follow.

    You’ll have to present a heck of lot of evidence if you want me to buy into any of that nonsense.

    Well, why not address what I actually did say?

  22. Sorry, messed up the tags.

  23. Elizabeth,

    You seem to disagree with other evolutionists who state that vestigial means lost original function.

    Our ear bones are “vestigial” jaws.

    Bald assertion

    Our coccyx is a “vestigial” tail.

    Bald assertion

    Whales have “vestigial” hind legs.

    Bald assertion

    We have “vestigial” ear-orienting responses to alerting sounds.

    And bald assertion.

    But the fact that these features exist is strong evidence for both common descent and adaptation, i.e. for evolutionary theory.

    Might as well finish up with another bald assertion.

    Do you have any evidence or just bald assertions?

  24. I think the appendix demonstrates that if we were intelligently designed we weren’t very intelligently designed…

    I would like to see you do better or will you admit to be being not even close to be intelligent?

    They are certainly not useless, but they support common descent and natural selection because they tell us that the penguin is a bird, descended from birds who flew.

    Unfortunately for you there isn’t any way to test that claim.

  25. Sure, but you wouldn’t accept it, so I won’t bother.

    But you can certainly look up the meaning of vestigial in a dictionary. It comes from the Latin “vestigium” meaning a footprint or trace.

  26. Joe, let me just ask you:

    Do you know of any ill-effects from appendectomy?

    Do you know what happens when you have appendicitis and don’t have an appendectomy?

    Then, ask yourself: why would a designer give us a gadget of marginal usefulness that we can easily do without, and which regularly blows up and kills people?

    Would it get past any Health & Safety laws?

  27. Whatever Elizabeth- you don’t have any evidence that whales have/ had hind legs. You don’t have any evidence that our ear bones are vestigial jaw-bones- you don’t have any evidence for any of your grand claims.

    wikipedia:

    Vestigiality describes homologous characters of organisms that have seemingly lost all or most of their original function in a species through evolution.

    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/vestigial

    2. (Life Sciences & Allied Applications / Biology) (of certain organs or parts of organisms) having attained a simple structure and reduced size and function during the evolution of the species the vestigial pelvic girdle of a snake
    vestigially adv

  28. Elizabeth,

    You are confused as teh organisms of today are the result of generations of random effects- ie we are NOT the originally designed organisms.

    I see thinking is not your strong suit…

  29. The problem is that consistency isn’t ID’s strong suit.

  30. And more false accusations.

    Actually the problem is evidence isn’t your position’s strong suit so you are forced to just say anything…

  31. So your argument is: “this is so well designed it must be intelligently designed, except that, well no, it isn’t, so it must have gone wrong since”?

    Pick an ID narrative and see it through.

  32. So your “argument” is to erect strawman after strawman as if it means something?

    Truly pathetic.

    And we are still waiting for you to design a better human…

  33. Well, how about you present the real man?

    How does ID account for the appendix?

  34. 34

    How does ID account for the appendix?

    The same way that string theory, gravity, and relativity explain the appendix. Please, you know this.

  35. Elizabeth,

    How about you actually reading pro-ID literature as opposed to fumbling around in the dark?

    How does the theory of evolution account for the appendix? As in its origins. Good luck with that…

  36. So you don’t have an answer?

    OK.

  37. How do you know what the purpose of the designer was with respect to the appendix?

  38. No I don’t have an answer as to why you erect strawman after strawman, tear them down and think that you have accoplished something.

    BTW ID is OK with vestigial stuff. So is Creation. The issue is trying to use it as evidence for A) universal common descent and B) universal common descent via accumulations of random mutations.

    As I said random mutations are great at breaking things so after many generations some parts that are not mission critical could very well decay, especially if the output of that system is recovered epigenetically.

    That says nothing about how the thing came about in the first place.

    And Creationists are happy to say that our appendix is a vestige of Adam and Eve’s- as in their appendix did something that ours no longer does or no longer does as well due to all the shit that we have been putting into our bodies- ie those random effects on the Creation.

    Got it?

  39. 39

    The answer is that ID accounts for the appendix the same way that the police made you stop beating your wife. Or husband. Or dog.

    The question cannot be answered because it makes no sense, unlike asking how evolutionary theory, which explains the origin of things in biology, explains the appendix.

    If I ask how the law of gravity or ID explains the appendix, it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of both. It does not put proponents of gravity or ID on the spot.

    If I ask how evolutionary theory explains the appendix, a reasonable answer would be, we don’t have an evolutionary explanation of the appendix. But given the things that it does explain, it’s reasonable to conclude that it also explains the appendix.

    You see, I’m reasonable. Now, what are those things that evolution does explain from which we could reasonable conclude that it also explains the appendix. If the answer isn’t at your fingertips then clearly the theory has been misrepresented.

  40. How do you know what the purpose of the designer was with respect to the appendix?

    Just look in the back of the book, you know, where the appendix is.

  41. lastyearon,

    Well, strictly speaking, I don’t know what the designer’s purpose was. However, since it is part of a functional system (the human body) and it now has been determined that it has a function within that system, it is certainly a reasonable conclusion that its purpose includes that newly discovered functionality.

    This is not rocket science.

  42. Let me rephrase my question:
    How do you know that the designer’s intention when designing the appendix, was to somehow benefit the body it occupies? What do you know of the designer that warrants that assumption?

  43. lastyearon,

    Absent the ability to ask the designer, one can never know what the purpose of a design was for certain. One can only surmise based on the functionality of the system. It’s a pretty safe assumption, however, that there is some purpose, for reasons stated in 2.1.1.1, and since the appendix does seem to benefit the body, we conclude that its purpose includes that.

    What’s your point?

  44. And this also: All the organs in the body whose functions we do understand benefit the overall functioning of the body in some way. This lends support to the conclusion that the function of the appendix will also be to benefit the body, even when we don’t know what that function is.

  45. Hi, I just registered. Interesting post as always. I want to tell you about an article of mine with a list of known functions of vestigial organs, including the appendix.

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