Ken Ham and the Appendix
With thanks to Dr Colin Groves and Michael Suttkus who each
contributed to this response.
KEN HAM ON EDUCATION! -- Your appendix...it's there for a
(October 5, 2001)
Ken Ham: Question: Some people still believe that the appendix is a useless leftover from evolution - but that's not true, is it?
The appendix does have a function, but not a digestive one, despite being on the end of the caecum (a blind part of the large intestine, where fermentation occurs). It is full of lymphoid tissue. Like other members of the lymphatic system it is largest in infancy, then reduces in size.
Ham manages to successfully shoot himself in the foot because the appendix is found only in the Hominoidea: humans, chimps, gorillas, orangutans and gibbons. It is not present in any other primate; as far as I know, the only analogue among mammals is in the Lagomorpha (rabbits), but it is morphologically different.
So if we are looking for "evidence for evolution" (which no professional biologist is, even though Ham wants to give the impression that we are constantly glancing nervously over our shoulders) the appendix is a good one. It corroborates all the other evidence that we are closely related to apes.
Ken Ham: Answer: No wonder people believe this false idea. Even the 1997 Encyclopedia Britannica states, "The appendix does not serve any useful purpose as a digestive organ in humans, and it is believed to be gradually disappearing in the human species over evolutionary time."
Actually, like the old "tyrannosaurus was afraid of water" story, biologists are a bit confused about exactly where this bit of nonsense came from or how it keeps being perpetrated. It certainly isn't a major piece of evidence for common descent.
Ken Ham: Now let me quote to you from a 1976 medical textbook, "The appendix is not generally credited with significant function; however, current evidence tends to involve it in the immunologic mechanism."
Gosh, an unidentified book a quarter of a century old on a topic of no relevance. Why is it that creationists seem terrified of presenting references that can be checked out?
Ken Ham: I've found a 1995 medical textbook that actually details quite a lot of information about the now known functions of this important organ.
We, of course, are apparently unworthy of being given this information. For a guy who claims to be supporting home schooling, he seems terrified of presenting anything that might actually be taught!
Not knowing what books he's referring to or having studied the appendix much, let me tell you what I do know about it's supposed function.
A few years back a study I read but can't recall where (at least I have the decency to be sorry about this and wouldn't dare make such a pathetic reference in something intended to be used as educational material!) noted that there was some statistical correlation between people who had their appendix removed and later intestinal problems. The doctors who did the study proposed two possible explanations for this:
1. That the appendix has some useful immunological function and works
to prevent diseases.
2. Certain people have some kind of tendency (genetic or otherwise)
towards intestinal problems, and this may well cause their appendix to
need to be removed.
In technospeak, we have correlation, but no causation.
Creationists were happy to pick up this article, ignore the second possibility entirely, and declare that the appendix had a function and that, further, somehow, for reasons nobody could understand, this should somehow bother us.
Ken Ham: Evolutionists and their publications such as the Encyclopedia Britannica continue to cling to out-dated and incorrect information in their attempt to persuade you that evolution is true
As opposed to, say, creationists, who are still presenting lies refuted 200 years ago. And what is an evolutionist publication? Is there some evolutionary conspiracy out there directing encyclopedia publishers? As far as I know, there is no body of people calling themselves evolutionists and directing anyone to publish anything!
Ken Ham: They also claim that there are other so-called "useless" body parts that must be left over from our evolutionary ancestors.
And Ham provides us with a perfect example of a creationist using out of date (or worse) material right here.
Vestigial organs, so called "evolutionary left overs" are frequently quite functional. Creationists continue to claim that if it can be shown that, say, rear legs in pythons have some kind of function, they can't be vestigial. This is preposterous. Sure, pythons use their leg stubs during sex, but this doesn't make them one jot less vestigial. They are still stubs of legs, and one has to wonder why they have rear legs and a pelvis if they didn't evolve from animals with legs.
The same thing can be said of the pelvis in whales, as well as teeth that never break the jaw in whales and cows.
Having a function is an irrelevant argument. The point is that these structures show clear indications of having once been some other kind of structure. The pelvis of whales is not an independently created genital support structure, it's a modified pelvis, something found in
animals that walk. In short Mr Ham, find a function for the appendix. We don't care! One has to ponder why this would bother us even if it did refute a piece of evidence.
Suppose you were on the jury. The prosecution has massive amounts of evidence arrayed against the defendant. He killed a man in front of 500 eye witnesses. He's on videotape from five different cameras. He signed a confession and announces that he did it in front of the jury.
His hands showed powder residue and his clothes were covered in the victims blood. He hated the victim for years. To this, the defence points out that the piece of paper in his pocket which read "3:00, Time to Kill" actually referred to a movie showing on channel seven, not to his having committed the murder at 2:56. Gosh, he's refuted one minor piece of maybe evidence. This should somehow make you find the defendant innocent?
It's worse than this, of course, for in this case the best he can do is refute a piece of "evidence" not even being used by the prosecution but only by tabloid reporters.
Ken Ham: This is a good example of how evolution has been detrimental to medical science. Had doctors believed the Bible and got their answers from Genesis, they would have realized that the appendix must have had a created function. They just needed to do more research to find out what it was.
And where does it state this in Genesis? Is the creationist God incapable of producing organs which have no function? One wonders how Mr Ham can imagine that mindless dogmatism of this sort is supposed to improve medical science, as opposed to remaining open minded about the possibility either way. We can just hear creationist doctors insisting that each aspect of the body has a function so you shouldn't remove the appendix or tonsils when infected. And we don't have to make believe here, the actual creationists doctors were using this argument for hundreds of years. Even today, people calling themselves "Christian Scientists" use the Bible to reject all possible medical findings, denying themselves any kind of medical treatment. This is the kind of nonsense that creationist literalism would impart to medical science, not anything beneficial.
And on the subject of the appendix and disease, I quote from an article in the Weekend Review in the Australian Newspaper of 20 - 21 October 2001:
"The appendix is fixed to part of the colon or large intestine. It is about 9 cm long, and resembles a worm; a little pouch of bowel with the potential to become infected and even to kill. Appendicitis results when the opening to the appendix becomes obstructed. It becomes inflamed and infected, swelling as it fills with pus. The pus may seal off the appendix, forming an abscess. Or the pressure of the pus could cause the appendix to burst and spread the infection to surrounding organs, such as the membrane lining the abdominal cavity, resulting in peritonitis. Without treatment, the infection can be fatal."
Therefore, Mr Ham, the appendix is an excellent example of extremely unintelligent design. And there are more. I'd like to know what this much vaunted creation "science" has to say about other bad designs, such as:
1. The function of having the testes form in the abdomen and then move to the scrotum, leaving a trail of damage in their wake that's only partially corrected. This is easy to explain from a perspective of evolution. We evolved from animals which kept their testes in the abdomen, and have to adjust previous design to get to the new formation. One wonders what function the creationists find in leaving holes in the peritoneum which cause medical problems for people the world over.
2. Not vestigial but clearly bad design. Why in the world do human eyes have the nerves and blood vessels wired in backwards? It's clearly not necessary since octopuses have a much more sanely designed system. All we have is a blind spot in both eyes (which requires unnecessary complications of the brain to correct, so that you don't notice that there are two blank spots in your vision) and a tendency towards detached retina and glaucoma. Ham's attempt to explain this by claiming that the nerves and blood vessels serve to protect the eye from UV rays doesn't make much sense. For one, it doesn't work since your eye is still very sensitive to UV rays and the layer offers a very minimal protection from them. For another, wouldn't it be saner to make the lens of the eye a polarising filter such as insects have to do the same thing? This wouldn't cause any of the troubles. Perhaps Ham's God isn't all that clever. Other solutions abound, none of which cause as much trouble or disease to humans as the one Ham seems to prefer. One is still left pondering why we have such an incompetently designed eye.
3. Why do humans have organ supports designed for quadrupeds? They're the same as chimps have, but end up doing nothing for us but putting adverse pressure on the spine and causing lower back pain in later life. The lack of proper support struts also aggravates the problems caused by the holes in the peritoneum mentioned in #1.
4. Why do humans have non-functional vitamin C genes identical to the non-functional vitamin C genes found in chimps? Is God in the habit of handing out genes that cannot be expressed, yet are clearly damaged examples of expressible genes? If the answer to this is yes, doesn't that refute Ham's claims above?
And the list goes on. One wonders why Ham wastes his time and ours "refuting" a piece of "evidence" that isn't used by actual scientists rather than trying to deal with arguments actually being presented.
I mean, it's not like he can't deal with the actual evidence for evolution. Is it?