Major Evolutionary Blunders: Our Useful Appendix--Evidence of Design, Not Evolution


Once there was a teenage girl with a sweet personality, selfless spirit, and diverse skills. But she was so envied by her cruel stepmother and two rude stepsisters that they forced her to constantly do the nastiest jobs in almost total obscurity. The Cinderella story is so universally appealing that it has been translated into over 60 languages and made into multiple films. In these types of stories, the perpetrators’ bigotry reflects their constrained mindset. The worthy becomes worthless in their view.

Belief systems matter.

This is also true in origins research. Some belief systems liberate thinking. Others, like an evolutionary worldview, are so confining that evolutionary biologists may either observe non-existent or overlook actual biological functions based on preconceived notions of what they expect to see.1 One example of this bias is the categorization of the human appendix as a worthless organ by thought-constrained evolutionists. This assumption hindered research on a truly useful part of our digestive system and highlights a colossal evolutionary blunder.

The “Useless” Appendix Is “Evidence” for Evolution

Since Darwin’s time, the world’s sharpest evolutionary biologists have championed the human appendix as unquestionable evidence for evolution and against intelligent design. But scientific research demonstrates the folly of both assertions by showing the appendix to be a fully functional organ.

Darwin cultivated a scientifically regrettable practice that still persists today. He imagined an evolution-caused loss of function for certain biological structures and declared them to be essentially useless—without ever seeking to understand their purpose. In 1874 Darwin said,

With respect to the alimentary canal, I have met with an account of only a single rudiment, namely the vermiform appendage of the caecum….It appears as if, in consequence of changed diet or habits, the caecum had become much shortened in various animals, the vermiform appendage being left as a rudiment of the shortened part….[Regarding humans] not only is it useless, but it is sometimes the cause of death.2

In 2007, over 130 years later, the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Francisco Ayala, announced, “A familiar rudimentary organ in humans is the vermiform appendix….The human vermiform appendix is a functionless vestige of a fully developed organ present in other mammals,” adding the punchline “Vestiges are instances of imperfections—like the imperfections seen in anatomical structures—they argue against creation by design but are fully understandable as a result of evolution by natural selection.”3

Ernst Mayr, another giant in evolutionary circles and former Director of Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, provided a definition of a vestigial feature. He said it was “a deconstructed, nonfunctional characteristic that had been fully functional in a species’ ancestor, like the eyes in cave animals and the human appendix.”4

Like Darwin, rather than search for a science-based discovery of function, Mayr fills the knowledge gap with a story that nearly deifies nature by projecting “protective” and “selective” powers onto the environment. He confidently asserts, “Many organisms have structures that are not fully functional or not functional at all. The human caecal appendix is an example….When these structures lose their function owing to a shift in lifestyle, they are no longer protected by natural selection and are gradually deconstructed.” Mindful to slip in the vital implications for beliefs about origins, Mayr pronounces, “These three phenomena—embryonic similarities, recapitulation, and vestigial structures—raise insurmountable difficulties for a creationist explanation, but are fully compatible with an evolutionary explanation based on common descent, variation, and selection.”5

Dr. Jerry Coyne, emeritus professor of biology at the University of Chicago, repeatedly offers the appendix as evidence against design. In 2005 he explained, “The human body is also a palimpsest of our ancestry. Our appendix is the vestigial remnant of an intestinal pouch used to ferment the hard-to-digest plant diets of our ancestors….An appendix is simply a bad thing to have. It is certainly not the product of intelligent design: how many humans died of appendicitis before surgery was invented?”6

Then in his 2009 definitive work Why Evolution Is True, Coyne affirms, “We humans have many vestigial features proving that we evolved. The most famous is the appendix.” To punctuate the point, he inserts a bit of sarcasm: “Discussing the appendix in his famous textbook The Vertebrate Body, the paleontologist Alfred Romer remarked dryly, ‘Its major importance would appear to be financial support of the surgical profession.’” Finally, summing up, “In other words, our appendix is simply the remnant of an organ that was critically important to our leaf-eating ancestors, but of no real value to us.”7

These are definitive declarations—conclusions that the appendix is undeniable evidence for evolution and against creation. The result? By the mid-20th century, thousands of “prophylactic” surgeries had been performed based on assumptions that “the sooner [vestigial appendages] are removed the better for the individual.”8 Unfortunately, these recommended surgeries flowed from evolutionary beliefs rather than scientific findings.

Evolution’s Declarations Are Spectacularly Wrong

“Immune cells make appendix ‘silent hero’ of digestive health” was the November 30, 2015, headline for a report on recent research in ScienceDaily.9 The story made plain that “new research shows a network of immune cells helps the appendix to play a pivotal role in maintaining the health of the digestive system, supporting the theory that the appendix isn’t a vestigial—or redundant—organ.” The study found that cells in our gut and appendix interface directly with intestinal microbes to regulate colonies of bacteria. The appendix facilitates recovery from threats to gut health by repopulating the gut with “good” bacteria.

One primary researcher quoted by ScienceDaily focused specifically on popular unfounded beliefs.

Professor Gabrielle Belz, a laboratory head in the [Walter and Eliza Hall Institute] Molecular Immunology division, said the study’s findings show that the appendix deserves more credit than it has historically been given. “Popular belief tells us the appendix is a liability,” she said. “Its removal is one of the most common surgical procedures in Australia, with more than 70,000 operations each year. However, we may wish to rethink whether the appendix is so irrelevant for our health.”9

Nature Immunology published the original research that found that “interplay between intestinal ILC3 cells and adaptive lymphocytes [types of white blood cells] results in robust complementary failsafe mechanisms that ensure gut homeostasis [stability].”10

Belz’s findings reinforce earlier research. A 2007 Duke University Medical School press release challenged Darwinism’s naïve view of the appendix: “Long denigrated as vestigial or useless, the appendix now appears to have a reason to be—as a ‘safe house’ for the beneficial bacteria living in the human gut.”11 Informed researchers would neither be surprised nor make such a blunder since medical textbooks have identified functioning lymphoid tissue in the appendix for decades.

Detecting Darwinian Spin

In the face of scientific data confirming the appendix’s usefulness, what could an evolutionist do? One option is to quickly admit the blunder and tell colleagues not to rescue the appendix argument—lest vain defenses compound blunder upon blunder. But the customary salvage approach, as Paul Ehrlich classically observed, is to stretch their super-elastic theory to engulf any observation—even conflicting ones.12

To put a positive spin on Duke’s discovery of the appendix’s usefulness, evolutionists exploited their theory’s elastic nature. In light of the decades-old claim that a useless appendix was evidence for evolution, Brandeis University biochemistry professor Douglas Theobald’s response to a useful appendix was “It makes evolutionary sense.”13

In 2009 when Coyne wrote Why Evolution Is True, he was aware that the appendix “may be of some small use. The appendix contains patches of tissue that may function as part of the immune system. It has also been suggested that it provides a refuge for useful gut bacteria.” But in the face of evidence inconsistent with the appendix as vestigial, he still spins a case for evolution by insisting that “the appendix is still vestigial, for it no longer performs the function for which it evolved.”14 To understand Darwinian selectionism, people must master the art of spotting circular reasoning. Coyne’s thinking is essentially assumptive—he knows evolution happened because the appendix is vestigial. And how does he know it’s vestigial? Because it no longer performs the function for which it evolved.

Later, Coyne flatly states, “Our appendix is a nefarious organ” that no designer would own up to and that undoubtedly is one of many “evolutionary leftovers.” Thus, Coyne asks what everyone should be thinking: “So why do we still have one?” His speculations reflect the quintessential selectionist explanation, which projects mystical powers onto nature and is otherwise beyond the realm of human verification. And since these speculative claims can’t be verified empirically, they are readily accepted as valid explanations. He says, “We don’t yet know the answer. It may in fact have been on its way out, but surgery has almost eliminated natural selection against people with appendixes. Another possibility is that selection simply can’t shrink the appendix any more without it becoming even more harmful.”15

However, selection may not be shrinking anything. Science reported that the appendix is more widespread in mammals than believed. Evolutionists now explain—enter elastic spin again—this surprising finding as the independent evolution of appendices between 30 to 40 times in different kinds of animals.16

The Appendix: A Well-Designed Organ

Belief systems matter. Creationists infer that since organisms and sophisticated human-made things have similar characteristics that they were both designed and crafted for a purpose. Evolutionists tend to deify a “natural selector,” favoring some random genetic mistakes that can either shrink organs or cobble them together from scratch. When evolutionists cannot immediately determine the function of an organ, they imagine how it could have lost its function and declare it basically useless. Biases inherent to belief systems can force adherents into faulty conclusions. The appendix blunder does not just indicate shoddy scientific research, it reveals the faulty belief system which drives evolutionary assumptions.

Therefore, when presented with an appendix whose function is an enigma, what should an unbiased researcher do? Study it with diligence and objectivity and draw conclusions from real evidence.

The appendix is strategically situated like a sentry at the entrance to the microbe-filled colon in the gut of every creature that possesses one. The appendix tissue that interfaces with microbes both reseeds and regulates microbe types as it performs vital digestive functions in the colon. The dynamic self-regulation of gut microbes helps these organisms to eat different diets and relocate into new niches. It’s just one example of many types of innate self-adjusting mechanisms,17 which are always indicators of intentional design.

The human appendix, “long denigrated as vestigial or useless,” is in reality a “silent hero” providing “robust complementary failsafe mechanisms” for good intestinal health. Kind of sounds like a Cinderella organ…and one having very good design.

References

  1. Guliuzza, R. 2015. Major Evolutionary Blunders: The Imaginary Piltdown Man. Acts & Facts. 44 (12): 12-14.
  2. Darwin, C. 1874. The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, 2nd ed. London: John Murray, 20-21.
  3. Ayala, F. J. 2007. Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion. Washington, DC: Joseph Henry Press, 91.
  4. Mayr, E. 2001. What Evolution Is. New York: Basic Books, 291.
  5. Ibid, 30-31.
  6. Coyne, J. The Faith That Dare Not Speak Its Name: The case against intelligent design. New Republic. Posted on uchicago.edu August 22 and 29, 2005, accessed December 1, 2015.
  7. Coyne, J. 2009. Why Evolution Is True. New York: Viking, 60-61.
  8. Rabkin, W. 1955. The Pros and Cons of Tonsillectomy. South African Medical Journal. 45 (1): 30.
  9. Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. Immune cells make appendix ‘silent hero’ of digestive health. ScienceDaily. Posted on sciencedaily.com November 30, 2015, accessed December 1, 2015.
  10. Rankin, L. C. et al. Complementarity and redundancy of IL-22-producing innate lymphoid cells. Nature Immunology. Published online before print November 30, 2015.
  11. Duke University Medical Center. Appendix Isn’t Useless at All: It’s a Safe House for Bacteria. ScienceDaily. Posted on sciencedaily.com October 8, 2007, accessed December 17, 2015.
  12. Ehrlich, P. and L. Birch. 1967. Evolutionary History and Population Biology. Nature. 214 (5086): 349-352.
  13. Appendix May Produce Good Bacteria, Researchers Think. Associated Press. Posted on foxnews.com October 5, 2007, accessed on December 4, 2015.
  14. Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, 61-62.
  15. Ibid, 81, 62.
  16. Barras, C. Appendix Evolved More Than 30 Times. Science. Posted on sciencemag.org February 12, 2013, accessed December 6, 2015.
  17. Tomkins, J. 2012. Mechanisms of Adaptation in Biology: Molecular Cell Biology. Acts & Facts. 41 (4): 6.

*Dr. Guliuzza is ICR’s National Representative.

Cite this article: Randy J. Guliuzza, P.E., M.D. 2016. Major Evolutionary Blunders: Our Useful Appendix--Evidence of Design, Not Evolution. Acts & Facts. 45 (2).