Friday, October 12, 2007

The Stupidity ... It Burns

I seldom comment on what others write on their blogs, but sometimes an author writes something so monumentally illogical that it's worth slapping about.

Today's illogic du jour comes from Shock and Blog.

Apparently, recent work which has found a functional purpose for the human appendix somehow "blows a hole" in the theory of evolution. Or, so "Jason" thinks.

Sadly, he's horrendously mistaken. The claim rests upon the notion that the purpose of the appendix has remained constant over time - hardly something that we can claim is guaranteed.

While we certainly do not need the ability to deal with large amounts of cellulose as our ancestors did, and human beings clearly can live quite well without their appendixes, it does not mean that the appendix is entirely without purpose (even if that purpose was misunderstood previously.

The notion of body parts having "fixed" and immutable uses is demonstrably false when you consider something as simple as bacterial flagellae:

For instance, precursors to the flagellum's motor can be found being used as ionic channels within bacteria, known as the Type III Secretory System.[11] This is true for most of the structure of the flagellum in general; of the 42 proteins found in the flagellum, 40 have already been found in use in different biological pathways.[12


If you want a more specific discussion, this article was pretty clear about pointing out why the idea of static purpose really doesn't hold together so well.

The observation that the appendix now serves as a "refuge" for certain kinds of bacteria that live in our intestines is hardly surprising, nor does it substantively affect the validity of evolution as a scientific theory.

Even more depressing for hard-line creationists is the cold reality that the notion of an organ being "vestigial" ultimately means that the original purpose of the structure is no longer significant. There is nothing to say that the structure no longer has a use in the body. In fact, the observations suggest an intriguing degree of adaptation in the relationship between the body and some of the microorganisms that live within.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Again, it goes to show that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. People who make such a 'leap of logic' is doing what many people who steadfastly cling to religious dogma, looking for a quick and easy answer to justify their beliefs. Its funny how these same people who would trumpet this story as disproving evolution fail to recognize that the same organ is often the cause of many deaths before the advent of surgery. These same people are probably the same ones who in another life go around burning people a the stake for practicing medicine to heal the sick, all for 'interfering with God's will'. Yet these individuals would be begging for medical intervention for themselves or their loved ones should the situation be reversed.

Science isn't perfect, nor is it meant to be so; it's a way to explore, prove or disprove the universe as we perceive it. We need to take care to not let it become perverted into some sort of dogmatic practice of spewing politically expedient notions to serve some convenient political need.

Anonymous said...

Again, it goes to show that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. People who make such a 'leap of logic' is doing what many people who steadfastly cling to religious dogma, looking for a quick and easy answer to justify their beliefs. Its funny how these same people who would trumpet this story as disproving evolution fail to recognize that the same organ is often the cause of many deaths before the advent of surgery. These same people are probably the same ones who in another life go around burning people a the stake for practicing medicine to heal the sick, all for 'interfering with God's will'. Yet these individuals would be begging for medical intervention for themselves or their loved ones should the situation be reversed.

Science isn't perfect, nor is it meant to be so; it's a way to explore, prove or disprove the universe as we perceive it. We need to take care to not let it become perverted into some sort of dogmatic practice of spewing politically expedient notions to serve some convenient political need.

E.

Jason said...

Ah, yes. Moving the goalposts. The original argument was that the appendix was a vestigial organ with no use and thus is proved evolution (because why would God create an organ with no use). Now the argument is that while it has been found to have a use, that doesn't mean it's not vestigial and it just evolved to this other use from the use we see in animals.

Just like global warming, evolution is a theory that cannot be disproved (and thus is very bad science). You just adjust your arguments to fit the current findings even if they go 100% against your previous arguments.

Grog said...

Jason,

My point was, and is, that your claim that a "classic evolution argument" has been invalidated fails to demonstrate that the evidence presented actually contradicts the argument itself.

The fact that it is NOW being used as a "safe refuge" for some of the bacteria in the intestine does not invalidate the reasoning that it is no longer serving the purpose the analogous structure in other mammals does, and it is therefore arguable a vestige of the prior need.

The problem that your reasoning has is the classic creationist issue - namely that you find a "gap" in the data, and claim that invalidates something.

The beauty of science is that it is filled with a willingness to accept new data, and adapt around that new information. For you, it means that if you wish to claim that an argument is materially invalidated, then you MUST demonstrate HOW the evidence presented contradicts the argument. I was presenting one very simple interpretation of the data that neither contradicts the notion of the appendix as vestige, nor ignores the new data.

In fact, even if I were to accept your claim that the new data invalidates the theoretical argument, I still could not claim that it invalidates evolution as an overall theory because one of the key and primary features of evolution is adaptation - and this particular bit of information demonstrates a very interesting bit of adaptation indeed.

You might like to claim that it is "goal post moving", but then, science has always been willing to accept the possibility of being wrong and picking a new direction.

It wasn't all that long ago that most people thought that the earth was the center of the universe - something that has long since been proven utterly false.

When you can demonstrate why the new evidence around the use of the appendix by bacteria invalidates the notion of the appendix as a vestigial remnant of the past, I'll consider your argument. Until then, you are merely claiming that it does without actually reasoning it through. (Not unexpected, religion in general tends to depend upon argument by assertion in the first place).