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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 53

IV. — Rudimentary Organs


Rudimentary Organs.

In an article upon Evolution, contributed to the ninth edition of the Encyclop[unclear: re]dia Britannica, Mr. Huxley says:—"It is almost impossible to prove that any structure, however rudimentary, is useless—that is to say, that it plays no part whatever in the economy; and if it is in the slightest degree useful, there is no reason why, on the hypothesis of direct creation, it should not have been created. Nevertheless, double-edged as is the argument from rudimentary organs, there is none which has produced a greater effect in promoting the general acceptance of the theory of Evolution." No one who has read much of the literature of Evolution can doubt the force, at any rate, of the latter part of this passage; An article upon Evolution in the Fortnightly for December, signed G. J. Romanes, F.G.S., is a fair sample of the style of reasoning from such premises. The writer, in extravagant page 24 phraseology, literally casts all lingering doubts away before the shrine of the whale and the python (most suggestive combination). And as these creatures are relied upon by all Darwinians, as the best proofs from morphology, let us consider them. The whale suckles its young, and having, on that account, been rightly classed with mammalia by naturalists, it obviously became a tempting subject for the evolutionists, "See," said they, "the whale looks so like a fish that it was for a long time classed as one, yet it is a true animal, and has only become habituated to aquatic habits by modification." Hækel expresses the views of Darwin on this subject fully when he says:—"Some serpents, viz., the giant serpents (boa-python) have still in the hinder portion of the body some useless little bones which are the remains of lost hind-logs. In like manner, mammals of the whale tribe (cetacea) which have only fore-legs fully developed (breast-fins) have further back in their body another pair of undeveloped hind-legs. The same thing occurs in many genuine fishes, in which the hind-legs have in like manner been lost." . . . . "It is probable that the remarkable legion of whales (cetacea) originated out of hoofed animals, which accustomed themselves to aquatic life, and thereby became transformed into the shape of a fish."

This proposition, it will be observed, involves a sort of evolution backwards. That Natural Selection should have taken all the pains to bring the progenitors of the Whales forward to the dignity of hoofed animals, and then, finding somehow that a mistake had been made, worked them back into fishes, is no less extraordinary than that, having succeeded in ridding the subject of its useless hind-legs, it failed in rooting out the rudiments. The whole theory, however, on its very threshold prompts a somewhat pertinent inquiry. If all the mammalia sprang from fishes, as evolutionists assert, why should it be necessary to pre-suppose that the whale has passed through the intermediary existenee of a land animal? The difficulty of accounting for the origin of the uninherited instinct by which the first mammal learned to suckle, when all its ancestors had been cold-blooded and oviparous, may just as well be faced at one place as the other. But it is these awkward questions which the Darwinians conveniently keep in the background. A few minutes' reflection upon the method by which the true fish propagates its species and the practice among birds and mammals will suffice to convey to the mind of the reader an idea of the nut which remains to be cracked at the point of transmutation from one state to the other under a system dependent entirely upon inherited instinct. It is scarcely less awkward than the earlier unexplained problem of a self-propagating life developing into that dual propagation by impregnation which we see around us as a law that is universal except in the very lowest organisms. We need do no more than indicate these objections, page 25 which are only two out of the numberless barriers obstructing the path of the evolutionist at every stage of his progress. They are important enough, however, to receive more consideration from the reader than it is desirable to give in this paper.

Returning to the whale, in whose history Evolution has played such high fantastic tricks, it is necessary to explain that, besides the bones which are claimed as rudimentary legs, there are in the embryo of some species of whale seventy teeth on each side of the jaw, which never cut the gum, their purpose being superseded by the growth of baleen (whalebone). Now, the theory advanced by the evolutionist runs something like this:—That a hoofed animal having, through the operation of causes unknown, taken permanently to the water, with a gullet of not more than an inch and a-half in diameter, it had some trouble in getting a living. Hence, it sustained itself upon marine mollusca, and Nature obligingly extended its mouth to a length of sixteen feet, and provided it with two tons of baleen as a strainer, to meet the requirements of its altered conditions of life—the teeth, being no longer required, became rudimentary. But here another obstacle arises—all the whales have not been treated alike. The Sperm Whale, which to a diet of fish adds large quantities of cephalopodon mollusks, has no whalebone whatever in its mouth, and it develops a set of terrible teeth, about forty-eight on the lower jaw, and knows how to use them. Instead of teeth on the upper jaw, however, there is a groove into which the lower teeth fit. Now it is certain that the growth of baleen has not deprived this whale of its upper teeth, and it has to strain its food under difficulties, for to a mouth that is twenty or thirty feet long it adds a gullet of ample capacity for the admission of any man not addicted to corpulence. The Rorqual, again—the largest of the whale family—possesses whalebone, and, like the Greenland whale, is devoid of teeth, but it consumes fish with great avidity. Upon opening one of these monsters, between five and six hundred large rock-cod have been found, besides a vast amount of smaller fry. In the Rorqual, therefore, Natural Selection has done a most improper and inconvenient thing, by aborting its teeth, and thereby dooming the wretched animal to consume codfish without any power of mastication.

The treatment of whales with regard to the dorsal fin has likewise followed no fixed rule. The Cacholot (Physeter Tursio), which has teeth and no whalebone, possesses a very high dorsal fin; the Rorqual has a fin and whalebone; the Humpback, which also has whalebone instead of teeth, possesses a rudimentary dorsal fin in the shape of a hump on its back. The Greenland whale is without dorsal fin. Now, if rudimentary legs betoken descent from a hoofed animal, does a Rudimentary dorsal fin indicate that page 26 the Humpback has come up in the opposite direction from a fish, and where have the other two species got their fins from—the hoofed animal or the earlier ancestor?

The rudimentary legs, for which Evolution is supposed to supply an explanation, beautiful in its simplicity, land us in a Similar quandary. The whale is not the only representative of aquatic mammalia. The porpoise, the dolphin, the grampus, the manatus, and the dugong, all come into the same class. The dugong is the most remarkable of all the fish mammals; it is herbiverous, and holds its young above water with one flipper when suckling while swimming with the other. But Darwin admits, and speaks of it as a "remarkable peculiarity," that in none of these animals is there even a rudiment of a hind limb. Yet Hæckel assures us that "many genuine fishes" have the rudimentary limbs, though they are absent from these fish-mammals. In like manner the boa constrictor is the only one of all the snake tribe in which the so called "useless little bones" dignified as rudimentary legs, appear, and in it there are no rudimentary fore-legs. It is not, so far as we can discover, contended that the boa belongs to an order of reptiles different in its origin from all the rest of the snake tribe, therefore these "useless little bones" must do duty for the entire family, and serve besides as main pillars in the Darwinian system.

The subject of rudimentary organs is too intricate and technical to discuss in an article like this, at the length that would be requisite to throw light on their occurrence. That in the majority of instances, if not invariably, they serve some purpose in the economy of the animal is, however, infinitely more reasonable than that an animal should continue to propagate rudimentary structures ages after the organs themselves had been discarded, and the animal has lost any conception of their use.

It has been very cleverly argued by Mr. A. W. Hall that such structures are often attributable to the mental impressions of the mother ill successive generations, produced by surroundings of advanced animal life, in which well-developed organs are the all prevalent rule. This explanation applied to the Greenland whale, which, through want of teeth, has been rendered almost helpless against the fierce attacks of the grampus, is a simple and much more credible one than the theory that these rudiments are the pointers to aborted teeth inherited from a hoofed ancestor. There are of fair grounds for believing, however, that the embryonic teeth are of essential service to the young whale. The baleen hangs only from the roof of the mouth; it is of slow growth, and is valueless to the suckling calf, while the hardness imparted to the lower jaw by the dental pulp may be of essential service. The freak of a hoofed animal, aided by chance variations, is at best a poor explanation of the presence of a creature so well-equipped as a whale is for its work in seas where the water obtains a specific page 27 colouring from the myriads of mollusca that inhabit it. To any minor variation within particular species or families little exception would be taken, because no one has ever seriously disputed the existence of extensive capabilities of adaptation to special modes of life. But anything like actual transmutation is, we contend, opposed to the entire teaching of zoology.

The treatment of rudimentary organs by the Darwinians is characterised by that straining for evidence to support a preconceived theory, which was commented upon in our remarks upon Embryology. If an organ cannot be well accounted for, it is useless; if however, it approaches a shape that can, by any process, be twisted into evidence for transmutation, it becomes rudimentary and a "pointer". What are rudimentary and useless organs? That arrangement of muscles which makes every inch of a man's external body movable, and more or less under control, may be objected to as largely superfluous wherever it is not either essential to existence or useful in the struggle for life. In his lecture on the "Origin of Man," Mr. Denton took an objection of this kind when citing as "a pointer" to an ancestral ape the power men have of moving the scalp and ears. If, however, before advancing this unique proposition he had put it to the test by simply placing his hand at the back of his own skull when indulging in that little art of arching the eyebrows which is employed with such charming effect in those lights and shades of expression reflected upon the human face, he would have discovered the feat impracticable without imparting motion to the entire scalp and cars. To have escaped suspicion of slumbering ancestral traits in these days, Nature must have endowed men with the sphinx-like features of wooden dolls. Happily, however, for the universe, she has preferred to run the risk of superfluity in the elaboration of a marvellous and infinite variety.