A classic in the state of pop science writing today, from Yahoo News:
Un-intelligent Design: No Purpose for Vestigial Ear-Wiggling Reflex
Around the human ear are tiny, weak muscles that once would have let evolutionary ancestors pivot their ears to and fro. Today, the muscles aren’t capable of moving much — but their reflex action still exists.
These muscles are vestigial, meaning they’re remnants of evolution that once had a purpose but no longer do. However, humans may be able to repurpose these useless muscles for their own uses, according to Steven Hackley, a psychologist at the University of Missouri and author of a new review of research on the forgotten muscles in the journal Psychophysiology. For one, these muscles activate in response to positive emotions, for reasons nobody truly understands. This odd fact creates a handy tool for psychologists seeking an objective way to measure emotion.
Well, obviously, if the muscles can be repurposed, they may well have a function in the future.
And then there are the educational implications: This muscle reflex is new evidence against the notion of creationism or intelligent design, Hackley said.
How? Vestigial elements are common in intelligently designed systems. Often, cost-benefit analysis in a real situation, subject to actual constraints, shows that eliminating them is impractical. Especially if they might prove useful later.
It gets better: Hackley waxes eloquent on religion:
“According to intelligent design and creationism, our body was designed by a being with perfect intelligence,” he said. “If that were the case, why would he put circuits in our brains that don’t work? More.
Why? See above.
For one thing, any living system must operate within the constraints of space and time, whether or not the designer is perfect and timeless. It must incorporate flexibility over time, for example. That means that there will always be systems that appear vestigial.
See, for example: Thoughts on “junk DNA,” which might just as easily apply to claims about vestigial organs:
Think about your own closet, a designed system (if you are not an utter slob), and you will see what I mean:
Possible classifications of junk that is not trash:
1. I will need it later, but it seems like junk now (snow shovel).
2. I may need it later, and it seems like junk now (snorkel).
3. I will likely never need it but the by-laws require me to have one (2 50 litre bottles of water).
4. I can’t imagine needing this but you never know (hibachi and charcoal bricks).
5. I don’t need it but it is too much trouble/expense to get rid of (awkward shelves built into the wall).
6. I used to need it but can’t make up my mind to get rid of it yet (clothes from younger days).
7. I don’t need it but it has intrinsic value. (The bread machine my sister left here when she moved.)
8. Stuff you are planning to give to the Sally Ann, in a bag, but they haven’t called by yet.
9. Trash. (Candy wrappers on the floor, the pink second copies of the dry cleaner’s invoices (never detached), dead house fly.)
So far, the volume of trash in a reasonably well-organized person’s closet is comparatively small, by mass.
(Note: For these purposes, if your attachment to any object is sentimental, we will assume you do need it, so it doesn’t count as junk even if no one else can figure out its function. But we aren’t likely to find that in the genome, so we will drop it from consideration.) More.
Darwin followers’ claims about vestigial organs have a long history, mainly of motivated nonsense. See, for example, misrepresentation of the appendix, and the recent attempt to rework the very meaning of the term vestigial, to take all eyes off the embarrassment.
There is a world of information in life forms and we have hardly begun to explore it.
See also: A look at information theory.
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