Discovery Institute Justifies Vestigial Organs

We have previously discussed numerous biological features that clearly contradict the idea that we were intelligently designed — see Buffoon Award Winner — The Intelligent Designer.

Faced with the many failures of their magic designer — blessed be he! — and having painted themselves into a legalistic corner from which they can’t invoke the excuse that our defects are the result of sin, some other justification had to be developed by the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids, a/k/a the cdesign proponentsists).

From time to time we post about the Discoveroids’ attempts to excuse the designer’s blunders, most recently here: Discovery Institute: The Designer Can Be Sloppy. Now they’re at it again.

The Discoveroids’ latest is Vestigial Organs: Comparing ID and Darwinian Approaches. If you need some background on the vestigial organ issue, the TalkOrigins website lists vestigial organs among its 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution. But as you already know, vestigial organs — a few of which retain some minimal function — are exactly what would result from evolution, but they have no place in the products of an intelligent designer.

So what do the Discoveroids say about this problem? First they talk about a Live Science article, 5 Useless Body Parts, discussing the human appendix, tailbone, male nipples, goose bumps and body hair, and wisdom teeth. Then they try — rather pathetically — to explain it all away. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us and their links omitted:

What would intelligent-design theory bring to the subject of vestigial organs? Just because we don’t know something’s function doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA!. It’s pure brilliance! Then they expand on that thought:

An ID advocate would be curious to investigate and discover the function, not dismiss the whole question out of hand. He or she would start with the assumption that if it’s there, it probably has a function. This mindset would broaden the scope of hypotheses, and stimulate research. A function might be aesthetic, for instance, or serve a function during development but not in the adult.

Then they return to their excuse that the designer’s work may be sloppy:

A function might be imperfect. The appendix becomes inflamed and threatens its host in 1 out of 15 people in the U.S. ID theory does not require that design be perfect, just detectable.

Detectable? An imperfect organ that threatens 1 out of 15 people is the detectable work of an intelligent designer? Then they offer another excuse, one we haven’t seen before:

A function might not be found. After all, intelligent design does not require that everything is designed. That still would not necessarily imply that the organ under consideration is an evolutionary vestige of common ancestry. It might be an unused part of a designed system. We understand that from human design; not all parts of a modular building, or a software system, end up getting used in a given situation. Or, it might be a design that suffered a setback sometime since its inception.

Impressive! We’re skipping most of their article, but here’s the ending. It’s a classic:

Intelligent design, in contrast, offers a host of promising questions for research. One wonders how much further along science would be today if ID scientists had the power to direct research about “vestigial organs” and “junk DNA” instead of letting the Darwin power structure tell everyone, “there’s nothing to see here.” One wonders, further, how much pain and suffering might have been avoided.

After thousands of years, creationists have never come up with a single thing that contributed to medical science, so we’re left shaking our heads in amazement. There’s really nothing more we can say, except to conclude that those Discoveroids would be much better off if they would come out of their secular closet and join with their creationist brethren to say that those design defects are the result of sin. It’s so much easier than all their newly-invented excuses.

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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23 responses to “Discovery Institute Justifies Vestigial Organs

  1. docbill1351

    Hang on. Let me try to figure this out.

    ID theory does not require that design be perfect, just detectable.
    After all, intelligent design does not require that everything is designed.
    It might be an unused part of a designed system.
    Or, it might be a design that suffered a setback sometime since its inception.

    Or it could be a purple smell or a unicorn or sneen. I think it’s sneen! (It’s an integer between 6 and 7.)

  2. docbill1351

    Oh, and knowing the appendix was designed or not or designed imperfectly or not or is a degenerate design or not reduces the pain and suffering of appendicitis how?

  3. Hey Kapoople Flinger says the designer was drinking beer that week and slipped up a few times, hence vestigial stuff left laying around. Gerbil confirms this information from his legal research. Can you prove it didn’t happen? Were you there? No? See! A new theory.

  4. You’ve got to hand it to them, they’ve got some balls arguing evolution is the science stopper.

  5. docbill1351 says: “Hang on. Let me try to figure this out.”

    What we’ve figured out is that vestigial organs discombobulate the Discoveroids more than anything else — except being called creationists.

  6. docbill1351

    Alas, for Klinkletinkle his appendix is functioning but his brain is vestigial.

  7. I do feel that “junk DNA” is kind of a poor term though; I think there are some functions there that we have yet to realize.

    I actually had a discussion about “junk DNA” and “vestigal organs” with a creationist over the weekend. He refused to get over the fact that regardless of what the names are, junk or vestigal, what matters is the scientific idea being recognized. I tried to have a logical conversation about the evidence, he just kept quoting dictionary definitions of the word junk and vestigal.

    Typical typical.

  8. Eagles have much sharper vision. Does that mean human eyes are evolutionary vestiges of eagle eyes? An ID advocate would propose that each animal has the organ suited to its needs.

    That has to be one of the stupidest questions ever, on several levels. The most obvious is that the last common ancestor of eagles and humans was over 300 million years ago, at least. The two have different color vision systems, implying that color vision arose independently after the two groups diverged. I understand that this is a DI post, which is of course not intended to be factual in any sense of the word, but rather exists solely for apologetics purposes, but one would think that they would at least pick an example that is at least modestly plausible.

    The second problem is the claim that an ID advocate would propose that each animal has the organ suited to its needs. Of course they would. ID advocates take design as a given, not something that is subject to evidence or proof, so everything is always the product of design. However, in this example, do ID advocates not think humans need sharp eyesight? Are they arguing that the designer designs things that are just good enough, but no better, to do the job? Are humans merely the product of the lowest bidder? It seems to me to be a rather disrespectful view of their designer.

  9. Whale hair. Oops, they still got some ‘xplaining to do!

  10. NeonNoodle

    It might be an unused part of a designed system. We understand that from human design; not all parts of a modular building, or a software system, end up getting used in a given situation. Or, it might be a design that suffered a setback sometime since its inception.

    Well, now I am confused! Didn’t Michael (blessed) Behe “prove” that the bacterial flagellum is irreducible – having sprung fully formed with each and every individual component dependent on the next? How can one component of an irreducibly complex, designed system remain “unused?”

  11. NeonNoodle

    One wonders how much further along science would be today if ID scientists had the power to direct research about “vestigial organs” and “junk DNA” instead of letting the Darwin power structure tell everyone, “there’s nothing to see here.” One wonders, further, how much pain and suffering might have been avoided.

    To the contrary, one wonders how far behind medical science would be if ID “scientists” had the power to direct research about viral strains and mutations, and the subsequent discovery and development of vaccines, rather than allow the creationist power structure to tell everyone, “It’s God’s will, there’s nothing to see here.” One may well wonder how much pain and suffering has been avoided.

  12. Brilliant catch, NeonNoodle. In order for them to know it is designed, it must be irreducibly complex, thus no parts are disposable. However, here they hypothesize that a “designed” system can have disposable parts.

    But the illogic is far worse than that. Consider “junk DNA.” I was over at ENV when they allowed comments on their “Top Ten Problems with Evolution” post, basically proving Casey Luskin a liar where junk DNA was concerned. I refuted every one of Casey’s points, so they got in the last word, issued ad hominems, and closed all further comments.

    I didn’t have time them to show that ID theory cannot predict that there is no junk DNA. Even under ID theory, junk DNA can still be junk.

    Their nonsense claim is that: “ID theory predicts that If something is designed, it must be functional, because intelligent designers tend to make functional things.”

    This is bull for 4 reasons:

    1. Under ID theory you can’t know the designer’s purpose, at least not scientifically. Knowing his purpose, according to them, falls under the category of theology and metaphysics. This is the basis of their rejection of the “bad design” argument: “bad design” of living things can’t prove the designer isn’t intelligent, because we can’t know his purpose, and maybe he wants to design things that work poorly. However, when it comes to junk DNA, suddenly the IDologues do know all about the designer’s purpose: to make functional things.

    If an evolutionist says “Real intelligent designers want to make well-designed things”, the IDologues say, “That’s your religious belief; not science; you can’t know that *scientifically.*”
    But if a creationist says “Junk DNA must be functional, because we know real Intelligent Designers want to make functional things,” the IDologues call that, “cuttinge edge science, not religious belief.”

    Even by their narrow definition of “religion”, the “junk DNA” argument makes ID into a religion, if they now know the purposes of the Intelligent Designer.

    Consider the following two statements:

    (A) If something biological is functional, it must be designed.
    (B) If something biological is designed, it must be functional.

    One does not logically require the other–(A) could be true while (B) is false– just as “All bats are mammals” does not imply “All mammals are bats.” But IDologues do assert that one implies the other. ID theory only starts with (A), and logically, even if (A) were true, you still could not automatically derive (B) from it. But now, in the case of junk DNA, they do assert that ID theory also requires (B), in order to make it appear that ID makes testable predictions. This is false; the only way to prove that (A) and (B) are both true at the same time, is to get extra information beyond just (A) by itself. The extra information they smuggle in are metaphysical assumptions about the purposes of the designer.

    To get technical: (A) is not a testable hypothesis; it is induction, based on an analogy (human intelligence makes complex functional things, therefore if living organisms contain complex functional things, they’re designed too.) But now (B) is now being passed off as “testable hypothesis about function.” But (B) never followed from (A), they just pulled it out of thin air, to make it appear that the ID hypothesis makes testable predictions.

    2. They don’t simply assert that junk DNA has a function. They assert that its function must be organismal-level. Biologists always believed that some junk DNA had a function, e.g. the function of transposons is to copy themselves and insert the copies into the human genome. That’s a function, it’s just not a function good for the whole organism, but it is good for the transposon itself. But the IDologues assert that they “know” that the function of the transposon must be to serve the organism, not to serve itself. So they’re making very specific metaphysical assumptions that they know everything has not just a function, but the specific function of serving the whole organism. That’s us. Their detailed, specific knowledge of the Designer’s purposes means that ID is a religion, not science, even by their own definition of religion.

    3. Under Dembski’s “explanatory filter” which is supposedly used to “detect” design, they cannot even assert that junk DNA is “designed.” In Dembski’s EF, the first step is to exclude from “design” all things that can be produced by “chance and necessity”, by which they mean natural laws. But almost all junk DNA would then be excluded from being considered as “designed” because we know natural processes that would make it. We know defective transposons are produced by active transposons, plus mutations to deactivate their copies. We know pseudogenes are produced by gene duplication, plus mutations to disable the copy. We know endogenous retroviral sequences are produced by viral infections. All are natural processes– “chance and necessity.” So even under Dembski’s method, ID theorists cannot say that most of the human genome is “designed.”

    4. Likewise, under Behe’s doctrine of “irreducible complexity”, you cannot prove junk DNA is designed. By Behe’s method, In order for IDologues to know a system is designed, it must be irreducibly complex, thus no parts can be removed. However, here they hypothesize that a “designed” system can have parts that go unused and thus are disposable. But a system with a disposable parts is not irreducibly complex by Behe’s standard. So even under Behe’s method, ID theorists cannot say that most of the human genome “designed.”

    If not designed, they cannot know if it has a purpose. (Even if it were designed, and they say it must have a purpose, that turns ID into a religion.)

  13. Basically they’re accusing evolutionists of killing people because of their “Darwinist” beliefs. We kill children because we’re not finding functions in junk DNA fast enough. Meanwhile, ID proponents find *NO* functions in junk DNA whatsoever.

    Every single function in so-called junk DNA discovered in the last 20 years was discovered by evolutionists. Of the 3 billion nucleotides in the human genome, most of it still junk AFAWK, not even so much as 10 non-coding nucleotides of that 3 billion have been shown to have a novel function by any ID proponent.

    And note that they claim that hundreds of scientists (or more) believe in Intelligent Design. Hundreds? Really? And yet in 20 years, not one of those “hundreds” of ID “scientists” has discovered even 10 non-coding nucleotides have function out of 3 billion. So there are only 2 possibilities:

    1. There aren’t really “hundreds” of scientists who believe in ID; they’re lying.
    or
    2. There really are “hundreds” of scientists who believe in ID, but their competence in genetics is enormously sub-standard.

    As for the evolutionists: Jacques Monod got the Nobel Prize in 1965 for finding out that regulatory elements are in non-coding DNA. Jack Szostak go the Nobel Prize for his work showing the many functions of telomeres, which are non-coding. Both were atheist evolutionists. No Nobels for any ID proponent so far.

  14. It’s clear. Attack science and natural phenomena, replace it all with mysticism
    and make it sound reasonable to the poorly
    educated. Retch !

  15. docbill1351

    Dio, it’s worse than that. The DI has no criteria for “design.” No metrics, no measurement.

    IR is not an indicator of design. Design is not a default condition for creationists to say “uh, I dunno” therefore design.

    Nope, doesn’t work that way. The IDiots have never, ever, ever, ever come up with a definition of design, a way to measure it and a way to evaluate it.

    Never. Ever. Ever.

    Sure, they wank about it all the time, but nothing results from that activity. They have no clue what they are talking about and they can spout on about this and that but until they have a rigorous definition with a measure and a way to objectively measure design, they are toast. Well, 20 years of bafflegab and no publications is an indication that they don’t know what the f they are talking about.

  16. docbill1351 has got it.

    On the other hand, with respect to ID theory does not require that design be perfect, just detectable, why does design have to be detectable? What is there about design that entails that it be detectable? What is there about design that entails anything? What is the difference between something that is designed and something that is not? Does design even entail existence?

  17. The whole truth

    “Intelligent design, in contrast, offers a host of promising questions for research.”

    Then what’s stopping the IDiots from doing the research on the alleged promising questions?

    “One wonders how much further along science would be today if ID scientists had the power to direct research about “vestigial organs” and “junk DNA” instead of letting the Darwin power structure tell everyone, “there’s nothing to
    see here.” One wonders, further, how much pain and suffering might have been avoided.”

    WOW, that is one of the most self-serving and malicious statements I’ve ever seen. One wonders how those lowlifes can stand themselves. And one can easily imagine how much pain and suffering would have been (and would be) avoided if religious zealots never existed. And where do they get the ridiculous idea that scientists have never researched vestigial organs or “junk DNA” and don’t have the “power” to do so?

    “Detectable? An imperfect organ that threatens 1 out of 15 people is the detectable work of an intelligent designer? Then they offer another excuse, one we haven’t seen before:”

    “A function might not be found. After all, intelligent design does not require that everything is designed. That still would not necessarily imply that the organ under consideration is an evolutionary vestige of common ancestry. It might be an unused part of a designed system. We understand that from human design; not all parts of a modular building, or a software system, end up getting used in a given situation. Or, it might be a design that suffered a setback sometime since its inception.”

    So much for an omnipotent, omniscient, ‘perfect’ designer-god. And when have the IDiots ever pointed out something in nature that isn’t designed? Every time I’ve ever seen them asked, ‘What in nature isn’t designed?’, they always ignore the question.

    What a bunch of self-righteous losers.

  18. @The whole truth, regarding examples of things that aren’t designed.

    As long as the designer is the God of traditional monotheisms, and as long as design is creation, then it would be embarrassing to name something in nature that isn’t designed.

    But one might think that they could name something which does not exist, maybe even impossible, and which is not designed. If they were trying to be serious about design.

    Here are some things that we might suggest to the advocates of ID, as candidates for not being designed:

    *The stuff that was given to the designer(s), which the designer(s) felt needed some design improvements to it. Things like bacteria without flagella, vertebrates without eyes, …

    *Miracles. Miracles do not follow the regularities of nature, so they do not need to be designed. Only if you are following rules do you need to design things. Otherwise, you just do it.

    But, as far as I can tell, imaginary things are designed. They just don’t happen to exist.

  19. One consequence of the idea that everything is designed and therefore has a purpose, is that when bad things happen, it is necessarily the purpose of the designer-god that they occur. This is exactly what the ancients believed, and is why they made sacrifices to their gods. They weren’t dumb, they wanted to keep their gods happy.

    An ID approach to medicine would be exactly the same. If one truly believes that an illness was the result of a purposeful parasite, for example, then it would be sacrilege to intervene against the will of designer-god by directly attacking the parasite. The only treatment available would be prayer and sacrifice.

    That, and maybe leeches.

  20. “A function might be imperfect. The appendix becomes inflamed and threatens its host in 1 out of 15 people in the U.S. ID theory does not require that design be perfect, just detectable.”

    Part of me just wants to bury my head in my hands and ask why, another part of me thinks that there is an untapped market in renting these guys out to parties. Just imagine getting your friends together while throwing a Rapture Party while having these guys making his way around the rooms babbling out loud

    “Intelligent design, in contrast, offers a host of promising questions for research. One wonders how much further along science would be today if ID scientists had the power to direct research about “vestigial organs” and “junk DNA” instead of letting the Darwin power structure tell everyone, “there’s nothing to see here.” One wonders, further, how much pain and suffering might have been avoided.”

  21. “An ID advocate would propose that each animal has the organ suited to its needs.”

    An evolutionary biologist wouldn’t deny that entirely, but may change that around a little and say and animal can do what it does b/c it has the organs it has, or can accomplish what it does in spite of the hindrances it may have (vestigial appendices). In order for Darwinian evolution to work via natural selection an organism only needs to be able to reproduce slightly better than another of it’s species. If my appendix kills me after I’ve had 4 children and my neighbor dies 30 years after me, but leaves only 2 children, I still win.

    One of the more poorly understood concepts in evolution/biology is that we don’t have hands so we can build houses. Rather, we can build houses b/c we have hands. I read a great paper in my evolutionary biology class in college called ‘the spandrels of San Marco’ or something to that effect. Spandrels in a church don’t exist so we can put sculptures in them, they are a necessary consequence of engineering large domed and arched structures. We simple use the space to put in some angels. Made a good impression on my rather religious (at the time) mind.

  22. oops left out my main point…. the advantage of the ToE is that we don’t have to invoke something mystical like “sin” (whatever that actually means) nor do we have to invoke an incompetent designer with mysterious motives. Things are the way they are as a natural consequence of known laws of nature.

  23. maybe eagles need sharp eyesight more than we do, because they fly high for example and need to catch a pray on the ground for example, which is not the case with humans who don’t fly at all.