A little wisdom

First off, I’d like to apologize for not posting on Teen Skepchick for so long. There has been some real craziness in my life lately. Thankfully, it is spring break and I finally have some time to myself to blog.


So spring break is supposed to be all about relaxation, right? Well actually I only enjoyed Saturday and Sunday to myself. Monday I had a doctor’s appointment where they told me I would need “big girl blood tests” from now on. Yikes! I can barely stand the little pricks on my finger. (Pathetic, I know, as I want to be a doctor when I grow up…) Then on Tuesday, I said goodbye to my wisdom teeth. It was my first surgery ever, you guys! So since Tuesday I’ve been putting something either freezing cold or burning hot on my face and drinking liquids like crazy.


But besides looking like a chipmunk, I’m okay now. And I’m blogging again.


If you know about evolution, you probably know about vestigial body parts. They’re organs or structures that don’t really have a function in a certain organism today, but did have a significant function in one of those organism’s ancestors. The term “vestigial” could also be applied to a structure or organ that may serve a limited or different purpose than it did in an ancestor. Many examples of vestigial structures can be found in all sorts of organisms around the world. They include wings in flightless birds, sexual organs in some flowers that reproduce asexually, whales with remnants of leg bones, and eyes in blind, cave-dwelling fish. A few found in humans are erector pili (the muscles that cause goose bumps), appendixes, coccyx (tail bones), ear muscles, and third molars (wisdom teeth).


These structures are generally considered proof for common descent and evolution; but, as you can imagine, people who believe in creationism and Intelligent Design dispute this evidence. They use their special brand of messed-up logic to “prove” that there are no such things as vestigial structures. On they explain that “[vestigial structures] are evolutionary relics of common ancestors with animals only if you begin with evolutionary presuppositions” and “Without the evolutionary presupposition, the evidence that the tailbone is vestigial evaporates” – basically presupposing that since evolution never happened there are no such thing as vestigial structures. They then go on to contradict themselves saying that Neanderthals (OUR ANCESTORS) had bigger jaws and no problem with wisdom teeth which they used (USED THESE STRUCTURES) for a different diet than we have today (FOR A DIFFERENT PURPOSE).


They go further by saying that because an intelligent creator wouldn’t give us parts that serve no function, then vestigial structures don’t exist. Of course they fail to see that this argument could be flipped around to say that because vestigial organs exist, there is no intelligent creator. Instead, they insist that these structures do indeed serve significant purposes in humans.


They argue that tail bones help us to keep our insides in place and our appendix produces white blood cells and antibodies. Though these structures could in fact serve these purposes (more research needs to be done), these were not their original functions. These structures are still used for their original purposes today. There are still animals with tails. There are even primates in which the appendix serves the purpose of digesting cellulose. Because they aren’t used in these ways in humans, they are considered vestigial. Especially because they are still utilized by other organisms, they are part of the evidence for descent from a common ancestor.


Now that we have established why some structures are considered vestigial, let’s take a closer look at those little sweethearts called wisdom teeth. Just like any other organ or body part (vestigial or not), some people are born without wisdom teeth. Because they aren’t needed in humans (we have two other sets of molars for chewing all that lovely food I haven’t been able to eat for a week) being born without them is less dangerous than being born without a really important organ like a kidney. The same goes for other vestigial organs like the appendix. If you’re born without ‘em, you’re probably gonna be fine. If you’re born with them, however, they might cause you some problems.


Wisdom teeth can become impacted – which is what happened to mine. Because there was no room for them in my mouth, they grew in sideways and crowded my other teeth. Let me tell you now that this is just about as painful as it sounds. Maybe more. Luckily, because I’m considerably younger (15yrs) than most people this happens to, my third molars weren’t fully formed yet, and I was told that the procedure for removing them would be fairly simple. In most cases of impacted third molars, though, the patient is an adult (18-25yrs) with fully formed teeth. In these cases, surgery is more risky because damage to the jaw and sinuses can occur.


So if these teeth are such a pain, why do we still have them? They are remnants from our evolutionary ancestors who probably used them to chew raw meat and other generally hard to chew things before they invented tools and discovered fire. Some people never get them, some people only get some, and some people who get all of them are never bothered by them at all. When my mother mentioned how she never had any, my surgeon made a joke about how she must be more highly evolved than others. While not having wisdom teeth saves you a lot of trouble and money, a lack of wisdom teeth doesn’t provide any evolutionary advantage – especially since they can be removed anyways. So if you don’t have them, it doesn’t really mean you’re higher up on the evolutionary chain than the rest of us. It just means you don’t have the excuse of eating nothing but ice cream for a few days.


Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to put a hot pack on my face and get back to drawing my Stick Science Contest entry.

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  1. Ssteppe
    April 10, 2009 at 6:34 pm —

    One nitpick – Neanderthals are not our ancestors.
    Both Neanderthals and modern humans derived from a common ancestor, but the Neanderthals were on a different branch of the family tree – not a direct lineage. Just like apes. 🙂

  2. kayla_unkempt
    April 10, 2009 at 7:25 pm —

    @Ssteppe – thanks for the correction! After all the revisions I did, I accidentally overlooked this. They branched out 300,000-400,000 years ago, if I am not mistaken.

  3. April 14, 2009 at 9:15 pm —

    I wonder how people dealt with wisdom teeth before anesthasized surgery, or even surgery for it existed? Living in the past with wisdom teeth must have sucked a lot.

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