Vestiges can be functional
First, and most importantly, this line of argumentation is beside the point, since it is unnecessary
for vestiges to lack a function (see Muller 2002
for a modern discussion of the vestigial concept
that specifically includes functionality). Many true vestiges are functional (for many examples
). In popular usage "vestigial" is often believed to be synonymous with
"nonfunctional", and this confusion unfortunately has been propagated via poorly-worded
definitions found in many non-technical dictionaries and encyclopedias. Even some professional
research biologists have fallen prey to this oversimplification of the vestigial concept (for
instance, Scadding 1981
, often quoted by anti-evolutionists and discussed in the
(1981) and Misunderstanding Vestigiality
FAQ). The statement that vestigial structures are
functionless is a convenient, yet strictly incorrect, approximation. It is analogous to the common,
yet strictly incorrect, scientific claim that the earth is a sphere.
Several evolution deniers have falsely claimed that biologists changed the definition of vestigial
and rudimentary structures when functions were found for many vestiges (see Bergman and
, pp. 2-3; Sarfati, J. 2002
). For example,
Answers in Genesis
' Jonathan Sarfati states:
Historical definitions of '
' including functionality
See quotes at left from Darwin 1859 and 1872, Weismann 1886, and Wiedersheim 1893.
Of, pertaining to, or of the nature of a vestige; like a mere trace of what has been;
also, rudimentary. In biology
has a specific application to those organs or structures
which are commonly called
, and are rudimentary in fact, but which are properly
regarded, not as beginnings or incipient states, but as remains of parts or structures which have
been better developed in an earlier stage of existence of the same organismm, or in lower
preceding organisms, and have aborted or atrophied, or become otherwise reduced or rudimental
in the evolution of the individual or of the species.
The Century Dictionary: An Encyclopedic Lexicon of the English Language
"Vestigial organs are sometimes pressed into a secondary use when their original function has
The Story of Evolution
, Joseph McCabe
, 1912, p.264)
(biol.) a rudimentary, degenerate survival of a former organ or structure.
Universal Dictionary of the English Language
Specif., a small, degenerate, or imperfectly developed part or organ which has
been more fully developed in an earlier stage of the individiual or in a past generation.
Webster's New International Dictionary of the English Language
When structures undergo a reduction in size together with a loss of their typical function, that is,
when they become vestigial, they are quite commonly considered to be degenerate and
functionless. But Simpson has recently pointed out that this need not be true at all: the loss of the