Monday, August 24, 2009

Looks like I Need My Appendix After All!

Over a century ago, Charles Darwin argued that the human appendix was an evolutionary holdover from our biological ancestors, a sort of genetic anachronism. This claim has been trumpeted by proponents of Darwinism as sure-fire evidence of macroevolution, and has repeatedly been employed in polemics against the teleological argument (or argument from design).

Now, a new report by Duke medical researchers indicates that the appendix, that oft-maligned "vestigial organ" of evolutionary yesteryear, may play a key role in immune functioning. It appears that the appendix serves as a sort of reservoir, or holding tank, for beneficial intestinal bacteria. In the event that our stores of good bacteria are wiped out by illness, the appendix stands ready to repopulate our digestive system with these immune boosters.

This reversal of opinion on the appendix is a good example of the dynamic state of scientific consensus, and the fact that "what everyone knows to be true" in a given field is open to revision. Christians should be wary of accepting uncritically the "assured results" of scholarly investigation, whether scientific, historical, theological or otherwise, when those appear to contradict Christian teaching. At the same time, Christians must also be wary of marrying their own theological and apologetic formulations too closely to the results of human scholarly investigation, even when those results appear to bolster Christian claims (note the frequent back-and-forth of archaeological consensus on the dates of the Exodus and fall of Jericho).

In the end, while not ignoring the fruits of scientific investigation, we would do well to set our course by Scripture, the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Otherwise, our faith is likely to suffer the fate of the Dodo - or the "vestigial" appendix.

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