Intelligent Design

Reverend Jerry Coyne: Lanugo and Epistemology

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You probably have never seen the words lanugo and epistemology in the same sentence. But to understand the power of evolutionary thinking we need to understand both words. Lanugo is a fine hair we grow about six months after conception and then lose before birth. Epistemology, on the other hand, is the theory of knowledge. How do we know what we know? How can we know that what we know is true? It’s a complicated subject and science avoids many of the quandaries by simply positing hypotheses that make predictions. Think of the process as an IF-THEN statement. IF the planets circle the sun, THEN we should observe retrograde motion. Epistemologically speaking, the IF-THEN statement is very safe. It makes no claims about ultimate truth, it simply states that if a particular hypothesis is true, then a particular event should be observed. And if the event is observed then the hypothesis may or may not be true. All we can say is that it has not been falsified. If the event is not observed, on the other hand, then the hypothesis is false or at least needs to be modified. As you can see it is not easy to make progress with the IF-THEN statement. If all we can do is not falsify a hypothesis how can we ever establish any truths? This is where evolutionary thinking comes in.  Read more

4 Replies to “Reverend Jerry Coyne: Lanugo and Epistemology

  1. 1
    tribune7 says:

    Great observation, CH.

  2. 2
    O'Leary says:

    I dunno. I had a preemie once, and she had plenty of lanugo.

    I always thought it was some kind of help.

    Like, who said everyone in the world has central heating?

    If you don’t, do whatever you can to get central heating. Your kid won’t regret it. Lanugo is okay, but …

  3. 3
    Oramus says:

    Seems like another junk DNA type of argument – because we can’t fathom the function of Lanugo appearing and then being shed a month before birth, well then it ‘must’ be an anomaly from nature’s past which we haven’t been able to shake off.

    Don’t worry, it won’t be too long before there’s an ahah moment and Lanugo rises to the occasion of ingenious functionality, even if for only 15 minutes of fame.

  4. 4

    As far as I heard (based on resarch done by embryologist Erich Blechschmidt and stated in the german wikipedia), ape embryos also grow a lanugo which is later replaced by their normal fur.

    So what ancestral inheritance would they recapitulate if lanugo in humans shall remind us of the once lost fur?

    Lanugo makes functional sense considering the fetus eats some of the lost lanugo-hair and the ceratin in it might help the intestines to learn how to do their job, stimulating the peristaltic. On the other hand lanugo helps to protect the fetal skin. It serves as the foundation for the important vernix caseosa. Towards the end of the pregnancy the lanugo is usually lost and so is the vernix caseosa. Only in the areas where normal hair is to be found the vernix caseosa stays as well.

    The german wiki also informs us that people with extreme low body weight (due to anorexia) might develop an lanugo again…

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