Is there any coherent creationist explanation for vestigial organs?

(Dennis Venema) #21

Hi WP - modern day cetaceans (whales, dolphins, porpoises) develop hindlimbs while they are embryos using the same developmental program that all mammals use.

Later in embryonic development, a second developmental program, unique to cetaceans, overrides the first program and stops the development of the hindlimbs only. The hindlimbs stop developing and regress into the body wall.

Why does this happen?


It is a fact that the human vermiform appendix lacks the function found in other species, namely as part of a large caecum that digests cellulose. If you removed the fully developed caecum from other species they would die in short order. Not so with humans. Whatever function the appendix does serve in humans it is rudimentary function compared to other species which makes the vestigial nature of the human appendix a fact.

In addition, the vestigial organs we do see match the proposed evolutionary history of that lineage. We don’t see vestigial nipples in birds or vestigial feathers in mammals. We see the vestigial features we would expect to see if evolution is true. It is the phylogenetic signal that YEC/OEC can not explain, and I would expect that you can’t explain it either.

Where did you show that the human vermiform appendix is involved in digesting cellulose?

(Stephen Matheson) #23

I think these comments may be a bit on the semantic quibbling side, so apologies in advance.

The question is whether a creationist can give a “coherent explanation” for vestigial structures. The answer is “clearly yes.” This is because coherence isn’t about whether you like the answer or whether the answer relies on belief in the kind of god you believe in. It’s not about Occam’s razor or “theology” or elegance. ‘Coherent’ means literally ‘hanging together’ and the definition in our current context refers to basic logical soundness.

So, if I ask someone how bees fly, and they say “God makes them fly,” their answer may be vacuous or even false (it’s both in this case) but it is also coherent once I make reasonable inferences about the person’s assumptions (in this case, that a god exists and that it is able to make things fly).

I think this is relevant to the discussion of vestigial organs, and you can see why by looking at the kinds of arguments that are made in response to creationist “reasoning.” All of the responses attempt to establish the effectiveness of the evolutionary explanation, but none actually attempts to show that a creationist “explanation” is problematic logically or rationally. The only objection the evolution-defender can raise is that the creationist “explanation” has unwanted implications for the character of the god.

The creationist (a YEC in this case), by virtue of their belief in the poofing of the world into existence by an omnipotent deity, has explanatory carte blanche when it comes to any natural phenomenon. They may sense that it is strategically unwise to play that card too often, but when they do, they are unlikely to be making an argument that is by itself incoherent.

In other words, once you postulate an omnipotent deity, you can only discuss what she/he/it is like–whether she/he it is prone to doing X/Y/Z. You cannot rule anything out without editing the meaning of ‘omnipotent.’ To label the omnipotence card as not ‘coherent’ is, IMO, to use a rhetorical trick that has little or no substance.


I would argue that the creationist explanation fails to explain why we see some vestigial structures but not others. More specifically, creationists can’t explain why vestigial structures follow the phylogeny predicted by evolution and why we don’t see vestigial structures that violate the predicted phylogeny. Obviously, evolution does explain the pattern of vestigial organs, but creationism does not. There is no rational or logical reason why God would be forced to only use mixtures of characteristics that evolution would produce if evolution was not the process that God used.

(Stephen Matheson) #25

Creationism can easily explain the pattern by saying that god can do whatever he wants. They can then add that perhaps he’s testing people, or perhaps he likes watching us try to solve the puzzle, or perhaps his purposes are just too hard to discern in this case and that someday it will all be clear. All of those “explanations” are completely coherent.

There is no reason to add “forced,” and in fact I think that’s an unreasonable rhetorical ploy. The creationist need not believe that or assert it, and when we remove it we see that you are simply asserting that you don’t believe in the god of the creationist. That is nowhere near a case for incoherence, or even for falsehood.

There is no way to argue that a creationist position is incoherent. Of course we can see right here in this thread that creationists misunderstand basic concepts (like ‘vestigial’) and make arguments based on error and falsehood. And once a creationist attempts to show that physiology or genomics is evidence of “good design,” then they start having big problems with coherence and have to resort to bluster or outright dishonesty. But that’s completely beside the point I am making. “God likes it that way” is a perfectly coherent answer to why the natural world is the way that it is. And we haven’t even included the rhetorical resources available to apologists (and to all believers) by “the fall.”


If God can do whatever he wants then why don’t we see clear and numerous violations of the predicted phylogeny? Why would God be limited to what evolution would produce?

Also, if creationists can’t explain why we see one vestigial organ but not another then they don’t have an explanation for the observed pattern. “God can do whatever he wants” predicts no specific pattern, especially not the one that we observe.

I would argue that it isn’t an explanation, coherent or otherwise.

(Stephen Matheson) #27

Because that’s not what he wants. Obviously. Come on, this isn’t complicated.

Your arguments are all about this god and what you think he should/could/would do. Don’t you think that’s silly? I sure do.

Since it predicts no specific pattern, it can’t ever be wrong. Vacuous, sure, but incoherent? Nope.

Oh, I agree, but then we have to haggle about the meaning of ‘explanation.’ Years ago as a Christian I made it a central theme of my writing and speaking to emphasize explanation, and to explain what I meant by ‘explanation.’ Common descent has immense explanatory power and there is no competing explanation. (‘Design’ is similarly not an explanation in my view/use of the term.) When my imaginary conversation partner says “God makes bees fly,” he’s not providing an explanation in the same sense that an expert in biomechanics would. This is separate from issues of coherence, and again, once you have an omnipotent actor in the room, especially if you don’t know what she really wants, then your conversation is perpetually in danger of becoming preposterous.


That is entirely ad hoc. If your explanation can explain any possible data set then it isn’t an explanation. A good explanation can tell us why we see one thing but not another, and that is where the creationist explanation fails.

(Stephen Matheson) #29

Well of course it’s ad hoc, and of course it’s a crap explanation. It’s also fully coherent, utterly unassailable on any evidentiary basis, and thoroughly inevitable in a “discussion” about the behaviors and proclivities of an omnipotent being.

You’re rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The YEC argument library includes the unknowable whims of an omnipotent being who has already nullified any demand for evidence or consistency. The YEC can’t provide a competing explanation to rival common descent, but they don’t need one. Come on, we were just discussing the fact that a creationist with a PhD has openly disavowed science by asserting that Christians should trust “intuition” in the face of evidence that contradicts it. That’s insane, like truly totally insane. But these guys are on the Titanic, convinced of its unsinkability based entirely on its claim to be unsinkable. You can call “god likes it that way” vacuous, bizarre, cuckoo, anything you want. But its coherence is guaranteed as long as sane people can say “there’s an omnipotent god acting here.”

(Chris Falter) #30

As you probably know, Steve, several of us around here have argued quite vehemently against his stance.

This striking and interesting conversation reminds me why the argument from design cannot win the scientifiically informed mind.

Finally, I am reminded once again of the importance of having a faith that is anchored to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Not everyone agrees with the historicity of the event, I know; but it is the one light that shone through the fog of my agnosticism in a very real way. That’s where I stand.

Thanks for being here with us, @sfmatheson and @T_aquaticus. Your contributions are valuable.



It also highlights how an argument can convince a non-scientist but not convince a scientist. This in no way indicates that the non-scientists are unintelligent or lazy thinkers, its just that they don’t think like scientists. I would think the same thing would apply to the fields of engineering, computer programming, or photography where experts have a much better idea of what works than those who are not in the field. These facts stress once again how gracious and even tempered dialog are needed between scientists and the general public, and why Biologos is a great resource for the Christian community.

(Luca) #32

I think when we ask “Why didn’t God do…” or “Why would God use…instead of…” is not a good thing to ask.
This is Divine psychology and we can’t ever know what God thinks unless he reveals it to us.


I would say yes and no. I think there is general agreement that God would not create the Earth with fossils already in the ground. The God of Judeo-Christian tradition is not seen as a deity who tries to deceive people. With that in mind, I think it would also be fair to say that if God created each created kind separately that he would not go through an immense amount of extra effort to make it look like these species evolved when they did not actually evolve. There is simply no functional or biological reason why we should see the pattern of DNA divergence that we do other than evolution, so I would think that God would not try to deceive us in directly creating those genomes by artificially putting the evidence for evolution in those genomes. This would also apply to including vestigial organs that follow the same evolutionary pattern of common descent. Why give humans a muscle for lifting a tail that we don’t have, or giving toenails to manatees?

(Luca) #34

That is a good point.
I had no idea manatees had toenails :smiley:

(Bill Wald) #35

An interesting way (to me) to analyze a Christian denomination is by they claim God can’t do. For example, God can regenerate a person who doesn’t “believe in” Jesus. God can’t create a universe in which existing life forms can evolve in the Darwinian sense.

(George Brooks) #36

Now, see, @Reggie_O_Donoghue, you missed this part of his prior postings… and this was his point:

Even if a Creationist cannot come up with a good explanation for vestigial organs, do you think a Creationist would agree with that opinion?

@sfmatheson is drawing a parallel to the infinitely defensible story of Noah and the Flood.

  1. How could anyone in that period build a ship that big? God gave them the inspired knowledge of just how to do that…

  2. But there is no way a wooden ship, using peg technology could make a ship that would with stand a storm of windage exceeding 4 mph (or whatever). God gave Noah access to miraculously strong wood…

… and so on and so on and so on.

Now, for my money, there is a certain curiosity factor in wondering just how a Creationist explains a human with a fully functioning tail. And so you probably expected a Creationist to get in line and tell you about it.

But @sfmatheson was attempting to provide the caveat emptor, that you could end up going down a rabbit hole, trying to dispute with the Creationist why his refutation doesn’t seem so convincing.

It’s been my experience that if someone believes in a Global Flood… there really isn’t anything else they can’t explain to themselves as acceptable.

The Flood Story is the most grievous of all erroneous stories in the Old Testament… even more so than a 6 day creation. Which is why I find it endlessly fascinating to find an Old Earther who doesn’t believe in a global flood - - but denies common descent. The only thing more fascinating is an Old Earther who does believe in a Global Flood… because he’s probably not really an Old Earther.

(George Brooks) #37

But @Totti, what the heck is that picture that @T_aquaticus posted? I can’t make it out at all…

That isn’t a toe nail is it?

(George Brooks) #38


I know this isn’t going to seem to be relevant…

But do you believe there was a global flood? Judging from your question about vestigial organs, I would expect that you are skeptical about a global flood. Do I have that right?

Perhaps you believe the story of Noah’s ark is an exaggeration of a regional flood.

But why would you doubt a global flood, and yet defend to your last ounce of precious God-fearing blood that the Bible couldn’t possibly be describing a Firm Firmament … and that it must have some other interpretation?

I’m not trolling here… I’m trying to figure out why you (or anyone really) could be skeptical about things I would never dream of being skeptical about, and accept other things as being completely true (or completely misunderstood, etc.).

(RiderOnTheClouds) #39

Because I’m trying to be objective.

(Andrew M. Wolfe) #40

What a fantastic and encouraging story. All that effort put into careful, measured explanation of the scientific evidence bore fruit! Thanks for sharing. I hope @BradKramer’s reading this for the testimonials collection.