Are Some People Born with Tails? (Part 1)

Tall tales told by evolutionists about supposed “atavistic” organs

by Calvin Smith on August 4, 2022
Featured in Calvin Smith Blog
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Remember those ridiculous arguments regarding supposed vestigial organs that were commonly used by naturalists to support the story of evolution? Ideas like your appendix being a useless organ having little or no function or your tonsils being some evolutionary leftover inherited from some apelike ancestor in our distant, evolutionary past?

Vestigial Organs?

This argument was quite popular among naturalists and was even used in the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. While on the stand, one of the witnesses in favor of evolution (Horatio Hackett Newman, a zoologist from the University of Chicago) cited German anatomist Robert Wiedersheim, who had claimed that there were extensive vestigial structures. According to Newman

[N]o less than 180 vestigial structures in the human body, sufficient to make a man a veritable walking museum of antiquities.1

Of course, the examples Wiedersheim proposed then are considered completely laughable among medical professionals today, as among his list of supposed useless vestiges were organs such as the parathyroid, the thymus, the pineal and pituitary glands, and valves in veins! Try living without some of those to see how useless they are!

Anyone in the medical field making such claims today would be deemed certifiably insane, but back then, among the uninformed, it was seen as powerful, scientific evidence delivered by eminent and learned individuals who were not to be questioned by the average person.

In fact, it was simply the “fake news” of the day that convinced millions of people to doubt God’s Word and, in many cases, his very existence.

Why? Because the takeaway point was that mankind was just a walking junk heap, a slapdash collection of parts thrown together by chance via naturalistic processes. Nothing special at all—simply an animal—and certainly not a special creation of God’s. And this spoke against not only the Genesis account of creation but beautiful portions of Scripture like the Psalms, which declared,

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret . . . .” (Psalm 139:13–15)

In essence, it was simply a case of ignorance begetting more ignorance (i.e., we don’t know what these things do, so they must not do anything). And then, their anti-God philosophy was slathered onto their conclusion by attaching the story of evolution to it as a supposed scientific explanation of that ignorance.

A Thing of the Past?

Even before it was debunked (often by evolution-believing scientists), the vestigial organ concept was never a good argument for evolution.Finding evidence of degenerate organs is not much help to a story that ultimately requires a way for brand-new, never-before-seen organs, forms, functions, and features to come into existence—not for them to fade away or become useless.

Even if found, truly vestigial organs would be better interpreted in the biblical creation model of history, which has seen approximately six thousand years of genetic corruption since the fall of man—beginning with our original parents, Adam and Eve.

Of course, as older arguments fell off the evolutionary bandwagon, some evolutionists looked for modern versions of these vestigial claims, such as the idea of “junk DNA” (supposed useless, leftover sequences in our DNA). However, even though it is still frequently taught to students and referred to in popular science articles, it has already been discarded by the serious scientific community as well.

An example comes from a recent 2021 paper published in the journal Genome Biology and Evolution, which flatly states,

The days of junk DNA are over.2

Whether it was tonsils, appendix, wisdom teeth, male nipples, body hair, etc., creationists have neutered these weak and long-debunked arguments for so long that many evolutionists have either abandoned the idea or attempted to modify the term “vestigial organ” to blunt the force of these powerful refutations.

Atavistic Organs?

However, some evolutionists are attempting to argue along a similar but slightly different line of reasoning that suggests there is genetic evidence for the blueprints of useless or leftover organs inside human DNA, which get expressed periodically, and would be proof of our long, evolutionary march from earlier organisms to our present form.

Their reasoning is that if human DNA contains genetic information for “throwbacks” of an organ that one of our supposed apelike ancestors had (or something before that), which does not appear in most normal humans, this would be seen as the smoking gun evidence they need to prove their imagined, naturalistic story of human history.

Why else would we carry genetic information for features that serve no purpose to humans today but that occasionally appear in some people?

These supposed throwbacks to an evolutionary ancestral state have been described as “atavistic” organs. Evolutionists believe they are caused by genetic information for an ancestral trait that is within our DNA but has somehow been “switched on” or uncovered and is now able to express itself. Whereas it had previously been “switched off” or repressed, it has now been somehow activated because of a mutation or some other mechanism.

Human Tails?

Currently, the most popular example of supposed atavism from the evolutionary camp (whether secularists or professing Christians) is the claim that humans are sometimes born with tails.

For example, the aggressively atheistic biologist Jerry Coyne made this argument in his book Why Evolution Is True:

Rarely. . . a baby is born with a tail projecting from the base of its spine. The tails vary tremendously. . . some. . . contain vertebrae. . . Fortunately, these awkward protrusions are easily removed by surgeons.3

Also, professing Christian (I’ll use that term lightly, as he’s made many statements that would cause the average believer to question the sincerity of his faith, in addition to him being a major contributor to the heretical, theistic-evolutionary organization called Biologos) Karl Giberson used this argument during a debate with Intelligent Design proponent Stephen Meyer, where he showed a photo of a human baby with a tail attached to support his claim.4

In discussing the debate afterward, Giberson said:

Why does the human genome contain instructions for the production of features we don’t use? The scientific explanation is that we inherited these instructions from our tailed ancestors but the instructions for producing them have been shut off in our genomes. . . Sometimes the ‘ignore these genes’ message gets lost in fetal development, however, and babies are born with perfectly formed, even functional tails.5

Embarrassingly for Giberson, not only is his argument that “Sometimes . . . babies are born with perfectly formed, even functional tails” completely false (as we’ll explore below), but it turned out that rather than an actual medical example (because there are none), the picture he used in the public debate turned out to be a photoshopped image.6 (He apparently obtained it from the satirical website, Cracked.com!7)

Although he apologized afterward, how a scientist with a PhD (and a professing Christian, as we mentioned earlier) could be caught using fraudulent, made-up images to bolster his argument is extremely concerning.

However, it serves as a good warning to those who blindly accept such evolutionary evidence, whether from secular sources or even from so-called Christian ministries like Biologos who simply parrot their atheistic counterparts’ arguments and then add a “God did it” at the end.

Do Some People Really Have Tails?

As already stated, the short answer to whether people are born with tails is an unequivocal “no”! But a more robust reinforcement of that statement can be somewhat difficult to communicate to the average person. Why? Because often, the term “tail” is used more descriptively than scientifically—even in professional literature discussing the issue.

A typical example came from Dr. Fred Ledley, MD. He presented a clinical case report concerning a baby born with a two-inch long fleshy growth on their back, “Evolution and the Human Tail,” in the May 20, 1982, issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

Even though it wasn’t near the buttocks where a tail might be, Ledley strongly implied that this growth (medically referred to as a caudal appendage) was essentially a “human tail.” However, he admitted that it had virtually none of the distinctive biological characteristics of an animal’s tail!8

So, if you are having a dialogue with someone about whether or not humans are sometimes born with tails, and they pick up their phone and ask, “Hey Google, do humans have tails?” Chances are high that the first articles they see will affirm the idea from an evolutionary standpoint.

And as many of these articles come from folks with scientific or medical credentials, the person you speak with will likely side with the “experts” and dismiss your denial as uninformed and unscientific unless you show them the specific problems with the arguments.

Problem #1—Equivocation

For example, when I searched “do humans have tails,” the first article (which I’ll be referring to throughout as it serves as a typical representation of the secular argument) that popped up on Google stated,

Most humans grow a tail in the womb, which disappears by eight weeks. The embryonic tail usually grows into the coccyx or the tailbone. The tailbone is a bone located at the end of the spine, below the sacrum.9

The claim here is that under normal human development (barring some form of birth defect), babies grow a tail which then turns into a tailbone. This means the author is arguing that all normal people supposedly have tails for a time within the womb and then a “representative” of it for the rest of their life in the form of their tailbone!

However, this tail to which he refers is simply the human body’s natural shape that occurs during the earlier stages of the required structural development.

The fact is, during the fourth or fifth week of development, humans develop a posterior extension of the embryo’s musculoskeletal structure beyond the anus. But not because of some ancient DNA instructions for a tail left over from our evolutionary past; it actually helps unfold the human body plan and nervous system!

It is a critical stage of programmed human embryonic development—according to the scientific literature—of the notochord (which has essential roles in vertebrate development) and the neural tube (the embryonic precursor to the central nervous system, which consists of the brain and spinal cord) that extend throughout most of this tail-shaped structure.

This structure can superficially be described as a tail only in reference to its shape, not its true function. It acts as a template or scaffolding which induces or guides the specific formation of other structures at precise times during later development.

Once those developments are complete, genetic programming ensures the removal of the original structure as it’s no longer needed. And this isn’t unique to just this posterior extension; in fact, many structures form and are reabsorbed during normal human development.

A simple analogy to help understand how it works would be like a stonemason constructing an archway.

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Because each stone within an arch can’t support itself until the keystone is inserted to lock each stone in place, masons will build a wooden scaffold underneath in the shape of the arch where the finished structure will be made so that it can support the stones during construction. Once the keystone is dropped into place, the scaffolding is removed, and the completed archway becomes self-supporting.

This type of design requires intelligence and forethought. Think about it—unless you had watched the arch being built, you’d have never known the scaffold was there. I point this out because this category of structural engineering that we observe inside living things debunks evolutionary storytelling as it demonstrates a “means to an end” thinking process, something that has never been observed in random, haphazard processes.

So, saying all (normally developed) people have a tail at some point is completely false. And not-so-subtly equivocating “having a tail” with the fact that your spine has to end somewhere. And calling it a tailbone is fallacious as well.

Tailbone?

You see, what is commonly referred to today as the tailbone has the scientific designation “coccyx.” However, it’s interesting to note that the Latin word coccyx has nothing to do with the word tail. It comes from the ancient Greek kókkux or “cuckoo,” which refers to the curved shape of the cuckoo bird’s beak when viewed from the side.

The word tailbone only grew in popularity with the normalization of evolutionary storytelling in scientific and medical literature. There is no real scientific or descriptive reason to refer to it as such, other than the crude idea that if humans were to have tails, that’s the physical location they would occupy.

And although many evolutionists give the erroneous impression that the tailbone is a useless throwback of our evolutionary lineage and portray our coccyx as some stunted, undesigned, crude modification, ask anyone that has had a serious fall and cracked their tailbone to get their opinion on whether they feel it’s useless or not.

Several very important muscles converge from the ring-like arrangement of your pelvic bones and anchor on the coccyx, forming the bowl-shaped muscular floor of your pelvis called the pelvic diaphragm.

And your pelvic diaphragm, attached to your incurved coccyx, literally keeps the many organs in your abdominal cavity from falling through and between your legs. Also extremely important, a group of those pelvic diaphragm muscles control the elimination of waste from your body. So, it’s far from something you could just “do without.” Rather, it is ingeniously designed to do precisely what it’s meant to.

So, for someone to say, “all people have tails” because all (regularly developed) people move through a specific developmental stage where they superficially resemble having a tail-shaped structure or because we have a uniquely designed endpoint of our spine is simply evolutionary equivocation—not science.

Be sure to check back next week for part two of this exploration of the question, “Are some people born with tails?” where we’ll dig even deeper into some of the more outrageous claims made by naturalists regarding this supposed proof of evolution, and why they simply don’t stand up biblically and scientifically.

Footnotes

  1. Darrow, Clarence. The World’s Most Famous Court Trial: Tennessee Evolution Case (Dayton, TN: Bryan College, 1990). This book is a word-for-word transcript of the famous court test of the Tennessee Anti-Evolution Act in Dayton, Tennessee from July 10 to 21, 1925. It includes speeches and arguments of attorneys, testimonies of noted scientists, and Bryan’s last speech.
  2. Stitz, Maria, Cristian Chaparro, Zhigang Lu, V. Janett Olzog, Christina E. Weinberg, Jochen Blom, Alexander Goesmann, Christoph Grunau, Christoph G. Grevelding. “Satellite-Like W-Elements: Repetitive, Transcribed, and Putative Mobile Genetic Factors with Potential Roles for Biology and Evolution of Schistosoma mansoni,” Genome Biology and Evolution 13, no. 10 (October 2021): 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1093/gbe/evab204.
  3. Coyne, J. A. Why Evolution Is True, (Oxford: OUP, 2009), 70.
  4. Science Photo Library. “Human baby with a tail.” www.sciencephoto.com/media/89784/view
  5. Giberson, K. “Science Wars, My Debate With an ‘Intelligent Design’ Theorist.” The Daily Beast, April 21, 2014. www.thedailybeast.com.
  6. Klinghoffer, David. “Karl Giberson Apologizes for Photoshopped Image of Tailed Baby,” Evolution News. https://evolutionnews.org/2014/06/karl_giberson_a/.
  7. Ledley, F. D. “Evolution and the Human Tail.” The New England Journal of Medicine 306, (May 1982): 1212–1215. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM198205203062006.
  8. Brennan, Dan. “What is a human tail?” WebMD, March 5, 2021. https://www.webmd.com/baby/what-is-a-human-tail.

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