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Vestigial Structures by Design

Vestigial structures in biology are commonly cited as evidence for evolution, and it may well be that they did evolve. But if it is evidence of evolution, it is evolution in the wrong direction — it’s not the sort of function enhancing/innovating evolution that is supposed to give evolutionary theory its bite. Vestigial structures, after all, are structures that have lost their function. If all of evolution proceeded in this fashion, we’d quickly descend to a world of nonfunctionality.

But vestigiality need not evolve by purely material means — it can also be designed. I was delighted to be informed (after my recent debate with Michael Shermer at Bridgewater College) of a nifty example of vestigial structures that arise not through “devolution” but rather through design, to wit, vestigial running boards on older automobiles. Look at the following Ford models:

1947 Ford (vestigial running board)

1941 Ford (vestigial running board)

1940 Ford (functional though abbreviated running board)

1928 – 1930 Ford A’s (the real deal — a big running board with room to stand on and even tie things down to it)

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26 Responses to Vestigial Structures by Design

  1. Ridiculous arguments saying

    1) We don’t need it therefore its not designed. Do I need to go into details about how unneeded things can be designed (and prb so)?

    2) It has no function. No, it has function. Tailbone, appendix, etc. all these things have functions. It’s God’s choice to tweeks things :)

    3) How is evolution so smart in making gecko’s feet webbing so intricate, our millions of possible antibody choices from B-cells, but oops leaves an appendix that “always gets infected?”

    From a design perspective things like the cervical squamous-columnar jx, antibody variation, very intricate and delicate balancing act of the clotting system, embryology make way more sense as purposeful design rather than traits that are selected for and inc. the chance of survival.

    It troubles me how ppl can think so small details that wouldn’t make that big of deal, in terms of survival, would be “naturally selected” to such exquisite and I mean exquisite perfection.

  2. Human beings have little right to brand any of nature’s designs as lousy when we have come nowhere close to nature’s cunning (as in its biochemical nanotech).

  3. Vestigial structures in biology are commonly cited as evidence for evolution, and it may well be that they did evolve. But if it is evidence of evolution, it is evolution in the wrong direction — it’s not the sort of function enhancing/innovating evolution that is supposed to give evolutionary theory its bite. Vestigial structures, after all, are structures that have lost their function. If all of evolution proceeded in this fashion, we’d quickly descend to a world of nonfunctionality.

    If the vestigial structure is the result of the organism adapting to a changing environment, in what way is it evolution in the “wrong direction”?

    If a species of fish, for example, finds itself inhabiting bodies of water in caves, you might find that, over time, they lose the use of their eyes and develop long tactile organs instead. Their eyes, being useless in the pitch blackness underground, decline into vestigiality but are replaced by ‘feelers’ which are much more effective at gathering information about a completely dark environment. In other words, although a particular organ might become vestigial, given the environmental context in which the whole organism finds itself, it would still be evolution in the right direction – right direction being better adaptation to the environment.

  4. The same way heated leather seats in a BMW do not help the car get there faster or more efficiently, many structures do not confer a selective advantage, they just makes it the trip more enjoyable. This is evidence of robust luxurious design, not vestigal structures as seen by strict Darwinian utilitarianism.

    Along those same lines, I do not believe all of the markings, colors, and patterns on animals confer a selective advantage every time. I think they are often there because of the Designer’s sense of style.

  5. Have we ever found a truly useless ‘thing’ in nature? After all, you can argue vestigial structures have been instrumental in helping man understand our physical history.

    On the flipside, can anyone – anyone at all – even propose a perfect human body? Or conceive of one? I honestly don’t think it’s possible. I do think a body can eternally be improved upon, thankfully.

  6. Alleged vestigials are a bad argument for Common Descent.

    That is because A) One must demonstrate what the ORIGINAL function was and B) One must show that the original function was NOT present in the original population in question.

    The human appendix is a prime example- first one must demonstrate what its original function was and then one must show that the that function was NOT present in the original humans.

    To 1of63- do those adaptations come about because they wewre designed to do so? Or by culled genetic accidents?

  7. i have not read the debate transcript. What are the alleged vestigal structures. It seems that the track record on former vestigal structures does not lend much credibility to this argument.

  8. Designed adaption is a different idea.

    This is not a matter of adding anything new to the genetic material of Ford populations, but simply weeding out what is not making as much money as some other variations. For instance, a population of Fords which wandered north at some point, gradually lost members with weak batteries, less robustness, and smoother “paws”, eventually would leave us with a hunkier machine. There may have been some mutations or combinations which altered battery type, or strength of joints and rubber “paws”, but nothing which changed the essential “Ford-ness” of the beast.

    Fords that manage to creep out onto farmland tend to have much large hind-paws, and make more noise. Their appendages are typically very useful for digging up dirt, or spreading it around. Other breeds of similar beasts, for example John Deere, provide vestigial 2D remnants on T-shirts.

    It could be argued that designed vestigial components of Fords are demanded by market forces, and are therefore functional.

    However, the functionality is of benefit only to the designer or owner: ideally, the designer and owner derive more satisfaction. The Ford, herself, couldn’t care less.

    If vestigial components are evidence of evolution it seems to me we would have a much higher fraction of apparently useless appendages. More Shrek-like, maybe.

    Designed vestigials could also be easily located in pictures of old steamships — the disappearing paddle wheel and sails.

    I’m wondering if postulated vestigial components in the deep dark woods are useless if there is nobody there to use them.

  9. Vestigial organs are another version of “bad design” arguement (BDA). It is not intself an evidence FOR evolution, but an arguement against the Designer. By using such mindset, Darwinian believers conceed that there are really two options:
    1. Purposeful design
    or
    2. UNguided evolutionism

  10. To 1of63- do those adaptations come about because they wewre designed to do so? Or by culled genetic accidents?

    In the absence of any evidence for a Creator or Designer, the best explanation has to be adaptive evolution. That does not rule out the possibility of a Creator or a Designer but, if nothing else, we have evidence from hundreds of years of animal husbandry of phenotypical plasticity. If artificial selection can produce significant variation then it is but a short step to allowing that so can natural selection.

  11. Re: #10

    “If artificial selection can produce significant variation then it is but a short step to allowing that so can natural selection.”

    Now that is an interesting statement! Where does the logic of a “short step” come from? How you do prove it is a “short step”?

    If society artificially educates its citizens, generation after generation, are you saying there could be the possibility of a “short step” that would result in automatic, or natural, education?

    Designer animals make the steps to natural selection shorter?

    Sounds like very plastic phenotypical argumentation to me!

  12. “If artificial selection can produce significant variation then it is but a short step to allowing that so can natural selection.”

    Now that is an interesting statement! Where does the logic of a “short step” come from? How you do prove it is a “short step”?

    We have an observed process. It works for domesticated animals, why not for wild ones?

  13. We have an observed process. It works for domesticated animals, why not for wild ones?

    We have also observed that in all cases where we can determine the origin of a machine its design sprang from the mind of an intelligent being. Why would this not be the case for machines of undetermined origin?

  14. If we start out with a perfect design and it deteriorates through imperfect reproduction we would expect to see vestiges of functional components that no longer function because they became flawed. Think of it like making a copy of a photo in a xerox machine, making a copy of the copy, and so on. If we started out with a beautiful picture of a butterfly feeding from a flower eventually there will be nothing recognizable left because each copy operation is not quite perfect and random changes will not paint anything new and beautiful in place of the original.

    This is actually the observable trajectory of evolution today. Nothing new and useful is being created. There is only rearrangement of that which already exists or loss of that which already exists. Where’s the evolution in that? Aptly labeled it is devolution.

  15. I still fail to see how the reality of a successful process for designer animals provides a “short step” to the possibility of the same sort of process for wild animals.

    DaveScot’s implication that vestigials are reproduction “noise” seems to be a reasonable idea.

    Also, designs often have designed “appendages” that are useful in the initial stages of fabrication. For example, the myriads of little rubber bits on the tires of later development Fords: vestigial components left over from the injection-moulding process.

    If life-form is a struggle against chaotic odds of long or short-term duration surely there would be evidences of either reproductive or vestigial “noise”.

    From a philosophical/theological perspective, whatever would be designed by a Designer, would need to be lesser than the Designer — otherwise the Designer would be put out of “business”. Which would mean that designs in nature are not perfect. Which seems to be consistent with what is observed.

    What kind of natural selection would be so persistent in perpetuating vestigials? IOW, why is it so useful to perpetuate uselessness?

  16. To 1of63- do those adaptations come about because they wewre designed to do so? Or by culled genetic accidents?

    1of63:
    In the absence of any evidence for a Creator or Designer, the best explanation has to be adaptive evolution.

    I take it you require a meeting with the Creator or Designer before you will accept anything as evidence.

    1of63:
    That does not rule out the possibility of a Creator or a Designer but, if nothing else, we have evidence from hundreds of years of animal husbandry of phenotypical plasticity.

    Artificial selection is a design mechanism.

    1of63:
    If artificial selection can produce significant variation then it is but a short step to allowing that so can natural selection.

    Artificial selection does things that natural selection cannot and would not. Natural selection culls the population thereby REDUCING the variation possibilities. Soon the population will be pidgeon-holed to a niche.

    THAT is what we observe. As geneticist Giuseppe Sermonti wrote:

    Sexuality has brought joy to the world, to the world of the wild beasts, and to the world of flowers, but it has brought an end to evolution. In the lineages of living beings, whenever absent-minded Venus has taken the upper hand, forms have forgotten to make progress. It is only the husbandman that has improved strains, and he has done so by bullying, enslaving, and segregating. All these methods, of course, have made for sad, alienated animals, but they have not resulted in new species. Left to themselves, domesticated breeds would either die out or revert to the wild state—scarcely a commendable model for nature’s progress.

    (snip a few paragraphs on peppered moths)

    Natural Selection, which indeed occurs in nature (as Bishop Wilberforce, too, was perfectly aware), mainly has the effect of maintaining equilibrium and stability. It eliminates all those that dare depart from the type—the eccentrics and the adventurers and the marginal sort. It is ever adjusting populations, but it does so in each case by bringing them back to the norm. We read in the textbooks that, when environmental conditions change, the selection process may produce a shift in a population’s mean values, by a process known as adaptation. If the climate turns very cold, the cold-adapted beings are favored relative to others.; if it becomes windy, the wind blows away those that are most exposed; if an illness breaks out, those in questionable health will be lost. But all these artful guiles serve their purpose only until the clouds blow away. The species, in fact, is an organic entity, a typical form, which may deviate only to return to the furrow of its destiny; it may wander from the band only to find its proper place by returning to the gang.

    Everything that disassembles, upsets proportions or becomes distorted in any way is sooner or later brought back to the type. There has been a tendency to confuse fleeting adjustments with grand destinies, minor shrewdness with signs of the times.

    It is true that species may lose something on the way—the mole its eyes, say, and the succulent plant its leaves, never to recover them again. But here we are dealing with unhappy, mutilated species, at the margins of their area of distribution—the extreme and the specialized. These are species with no future; they are not pioneers, but prisoners in nature’s penitentiary.— in “Why is a Fly Not a Horse?”

    “Houston, we have an observation.”

  17. We have an observed process. It works for domesticated animals, why not for wild ones?

    We have also observed that in all cases where we can determine the origin of a machine its design sprang from the mind of an intelligent being. Why would this not be the case for machines of undetermined origin?

    No reason, like I said, the possibility of a designer can’t be ruled out.

  18. If we start out with a perfect design and it deteriorates through imperfect reproduction we would expect to see vestiges of functional components that no longer function because they became flawed.

    A perfect design could not deteriorate and still be perfect by definition, otherwise, yes.

    This is actually the observable trajectory of evolution today. Nothing new and useful is being created. There is only rearrangement of that which already exists or loss of that which already exists. Where’s the evolution in that? Aptly labeled it is devolution.

    Why do you need devolution?

    Evolution is partly about organisms adapting to environments which are themselves constantly changing. And life seems to have done pretty well for itself over the billions of years it’s been on Earth in spite of a few catastrophic setbacks.

    Another point is that, in terms of geological time, our brief span on this planet means we have seen, at best, just one frame of a very long movie. Who knows what life, including us, will be like a billion years from now – assuming it’s still around, of course? We should beware of temporal parochiality.

  19. I still fail to see how the reality of a successful process for designer animals provides a “short step” to the possibility of the same sort of process for wild animals.

    If genetic mutations occur in wild as well as domesticated animals, why shouldn’t environmental pressures select for beneficial changes as much as human breeders?

    DaveScot’s implication that vestigials are reproduction “noise” seems to be a reasonable idea.

    You’d also expect to see them as byproducts of animals adapting to constantly changing environments.

    What kind of natural selection would be so persistent in perpetuating vestigials? IOW, why is it so useful to perpetuate uselessness?

    Who says vestigials are perpetuated? We’re just seeing a snapshot of one stage of an immensely long process of evolution. Ten thousand years from now the human appendix might have disappeared altogether.

  20. 1of63:
    In the absence of any evidence for a Creator or Designer, the best explanation has to be adaptive evolution.

    I take it you require a meeting with the Creator or Designer before you will accept anything as evidence.

    That would be ideal, yes, but something like “Made in Heaven” or “Best before the year 20,000,000,000″ buried in our DNA would be good too.

    1of63:
    If artificial selection can produce significant variation then it is but a short step to allowing that so can natural selection.

    Artificial selection does things that natural selection cannot and would not. Natural selection culls the population thereby REDUCING the variation possibilities. Soon the population will be pidgeon-holed to a niche.

    Except that the environment is constantly changing the pidgeon-holes on us. Adaptations that work in one environment might not work in another and vice versa. One environment might cull one set of variations but another environment might cull a whole different set.

    As for Sermonti, it’s all very poetic but I’m not sure what point he’s trying to make. Such evidence as we have indicates that most of the species that have ever existed have gone extinct so the odds are that we’ll go the same way given time.

  21. I take it you require a meeting with the Creator or Designer before you will accept anything as evidence.

    1of63:
    That would be ideal, yes, but something like “Made in Heaven” or “Best before the year 20,000,000,000″ buried in our DNA would be good too.

    Thank you for showing us that you are NOT interested in science.

    1of63:
    As for Sermonti, it’s all very poetic but I’m not sure what point he’s trying to make.

    His point is crystal clear. Population variation ocsillates and that sexual reproduction put an end to evolution- that is the Common Descent that evolutionists perpetuate.

  22. Dembski compares the origin of life — which may or may not be a random process — to cars, whose origins and features are most certainly NOT random.

    Does anyone else see a problem here?

  23. Umm can not1of63 please point out where Wm Dembski compares the origin of life to cars.

    Thanks- BTW I do see the problem. It happens to be you.

  24. Re:#19

    “If genetic mutations occur in wild as well as domesticated animals, why shouldn’t environmental pressures select for beneficial changes as much as human breeders?”

    Simply because the environmental pressures can’t possibly have a clue about what the designed end-product requires.

    This is just a small example of science’s immense potential for revitalized opportunities. Whereas chance and necessity are basic for a “first glance” there is more. Once the possibility of design is allowed for, science will be enriched with a new degree of freedom.

    A basic law of the Universe is that where freedom is permitted, truth flourishes. A working democracy demonstrates that truth and freedom demand a viable, if not loyal, opposition to survive. In the case of science, a healthy skepticism is paramount. Fixating on the stifling notions in neo-Darwinism is not progress in anybody’s language.

    Sorry, got carried away.

    “Who says vestigials are perpetuated? We’re just seeing a snapshot of one stage of an immensely long process of evolution. Ten thousand years from now the human appendix might have disappeared altogether.”

    My ancient textbooks implied that vestigial organs were proof of evolution: they were what was left from something that was once useful.

    Now that we know that many previously designated useless organs are, in fact, useful, I doubt that usefulness will disappear.

  25. Intelligent Design & Vestigial Organs
    By
    Dr Umesh R. Bilagi
    Associate Prof of Medicine
    KIMS Hubli
    Karnataka
    INDIA
    [email protected]

    http://umeshbilagi.blogspot.com/

    Topic :-Vestigial organs not necessarily proof of evolution for Darwin

    I would postulate that it is possible to have a vestigial organ [ananatomical structure in organisms in a species, thought to have lost its original function through evolution] without the process of evolution. Let me illustrate this idea using an analogy drawn from popular computer software.

    Assuming, I have a reasonable amount of storage space on my computer hard disk, if I first create an unformatted document using Microsoft(MS) Word, and then a second MS Word document that I format very rigorously, I do so because I consider MS Word software to be the best option for my purposes, as opposed to using, say, the less sophisticated Notepad software, where little formatting of documentsis possible.

    Now, if you argue that there is a vestigial structure to the first MSWord document (the capacity – in this case, unused – for formatting)and that this only became functional in the second document,ultimately concluding that the first document evolved from the second document, you would be incorrect, since I am the creator of both documents.

    Similarly, I would argue that vestigial organs do not necessarily confirm evolution; they only point to what tools – improvable overtime – the creator used while making the species. This same principle is seen even in electronic gadgets today.

    Most probably, such an explanation did not occur to Darwin given that, in his time, there were no common tools to carry out varied, complex,seemingly disconnected jobs. So he concluded that unless a creator planned to mislead us, vestigial organs should not have existed

    It is tendency of creators of to make some useful common tools, which can be used to carry out multiple jobs (or to make machines). so by virtue of this comman tools (if tools get fitted into machines), vestigenesity will come up.

    Vestigial organs can be classified in to verticle & tranverse ones

    Verticle ones are like appendix which are inherited from ancestor to next species

    Tranverse one are in which one sex has fuctional capacity & in opposite sex it is vestigineous

    Example
    Vertiginous Male breast can be better explained tools of intelligent design than Darwin evolution now look at male nipple which are functional in female. Male & female have come much before mammals, so presence of male nipple in mammals can be explained by theory of tools of intelligent design better than Darwin evolution.

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