Of Gallbladders and Unintelligent Design (LSP #114)

Of Gallbladders and Unintelligent Design (LSP #114) October 28, 2019

Hi! Yesterday, you might have noticed that for the first time in six years, I missed a scheduled post. The reason relates to a weird part of the body that illustrates just how untrue evangelicals’ Creationism claims truly are. Today, Lord Snow Presides over yet another uncomfortable reminder that evolution is a real thing that really happens–even to humans.

an operating theater somewhere
(Marcel Scholte.) Not nearly as fun as it looks.

(We’ll return to This Present Darkness next Monday. I might need to skip Tuesday’s post, but I’ll likely know more tonight. Heading back to bed now!)

Everyone, Say Hi to the Gallbladder.

The gallbladder is a small sac-like organ that rests against the liver in the human digestive system. Here’s a pic:

(Wikipedia.)

The liver produces a substance called bile, which the gallbladder stores, concentrates, and then releases via the common bile duct that it shares with the liver. In its turn, bile itself helps digest the lipids (fats) that we eat. Gallbladders can vary considerably in shape, size, and position in humans; some people even have more than one, while others get born with none at all. We digest lipids more or less fine without it.

Sometimes, bile gets saturated and concentrates down into gallstones that hang out in the gallbladder. These are literal little bitty stones! In the gallbladder! Most people with gallstones don’t ever develop symptoms from them.

When symptoms erupt, it’s usually because a gallstone blocks that bile duct. And that can make the gallbladder very unhappy. People can usually prevent such problems by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, and eating healthily–and by avoiding risk factors.

gallstones blocking bile duct
(BruceBlaus, CC-SA.)

When the gallbladder gets unhappy, gallstones can be dissolved by some medications, but usually it sounds like the general solution is to take the organ out entirely by surgery.

Well, mine was especially and fantastically unhappy on Saturday.

The Miracles of Modern Medicine.

I don’t remember a whole lot of Saturday, but it ended up with me in the emergency room (ER) getting surgery to remove my gallbladder. Thankfully, everything went finer than frogs’ hair. I hurt quite a bit, but the incision pain is nowhere near as bad as the pain from the super-inflamed gallbladder I used to have!

It’s been a while since I experienced the wonders of modern medicine, but I’m more impressed than ever with it. I got scanned six ways from Sunday, got medicines pumped into me that soothed the pain (weirdly, actual painkillers did nothing – but a powerful anti-inflammatory did wonders). In the operating theater, I looked deep into the eyes of the person tasked with keeping me alive-but-zonked-out while the surgeons punched four holes into my midsection to pump my body cavity full of carbon dioxide so they could remove an organ of mine.

“You’re going to go to sleep for a while now,” he told me with a smile, and I remember giving him a look: would you like to rephrase that in the form of a wager? And then immediately, everything faded to black. An hour or two later, I woke up again sans gallbladder.

It’s nothing short of miraculous, but these are very human miracles. To me, those are the best kind. I’d rather rely on people than a capricious, nonexistent god of questionable ethics.

From Animal to Animal.

Going into this whole weekend, I had a vague understanding of the gallbladder as something people could have removed. It was kind of an optional organ. At one time, our human ancestors needed them–likely to digest huge amounts of meat coming in all at once–but we don’t eat like that anymore.

In fact, that’s largely what prompted physicians to figure that humans could survive without a gallbladder. We’ve been studying our innards for many centuries, but it’s just been in the last couple centuries that we made a lot of headway.

In the late 1800s, a German surgeon noticed that several animal species lack a gallbladder (like rats, horses, cetaceans, and many birds). So he decided to remove the organ for a human patient suffering mightily from gallstones. And it turned out to be a good guess. By the 1920s, physicians agreed generally that it was better to simply remove the gallbladder entirely rather than get rid of the gallstones themselves. And by the 1980s, the laparoscopic method of removing the gallbladder, which is what I got, became the standard way to do it.

The whole succession began with a surgeon noticing that other animals got along fine without a gallbladder, though. Then, that surgeon applied that same reasoning to humans–who were and are, after all, animals. It worked, just like science is supposed to do!

And that whole idea represents a problem for Creationists.

Creationism: Living and Learning.

Creationists like to imagine that their god plunked humans down in their current form at some point in history. Many variants of Creationism exist, of course. Young-Earth Creationists (YECs) rather hilariously think all the world and its animals and people popped into being in their current state about six thousand years ago.

Weirdly, Creationism has itself evolved in many notable ways since its relatively recent creation by a fundagelical lawyer.

Other Creationists allow for more time, sometimes up to millions of years, which is only off by a factor of WHOA LOTS. And still others all0w for life to have evolved in the actual way that it did, but insist that their god directed everything somehow. Still others think that animals evolved, but humans specially received the magical popping-into-being treatment.

Creationists also use different names for themselves. Some like to call their belief system Intelligent Design (ID), which is simply a renamed Creationism. Because it’s all Creationism, that’s the term I use to avoid the confusion Creationists would dearly love to sow.

So when a Creationist “scientist” at the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) experienced something like what I went through this weekend, he had a bit of a think to do.

Reconciling Nonsense.

See, John Morris had to find a way to reconcile his nonsensical and childish beliefs with the stone-cold fact that humans have evolved ourselves a few vestigial organs:

Here in this small potato-sized organ could be seen a solid gallstone, about the size of a jalapeño pepper. I was told it had completely blocked the exit duct and had to be removed. Not just the offending stone, but the entire gallbladder. Both doctor and nurse assured me, “It doesn’t matter, it’s a useless organ.”

Oh noes! The funny thing is that he has a “Ph.D.” after his name on his byline in that ICR post, but he concedes almost immediately that he’s “not particularly up on human anatomy, and in fact know[s] little about the gallbladder.”

But he knows that we have plenty of body parts that aren’t completely necessary. He names a few: the “tail bone,” the pinkie toe, wisdom teeth, tonsils, the appendix, the thymus gland, and yes, the gallbladder. He instantly concludes about all of them:

. . . would a person be better off without these? Of course not! Does their presence prove evolution? Hardly.

How would he even know, though? 

He is not a physician, is not “up on human anatomy,” and probably knows as little about each of these body parts as he admittedly does about the gallbladder. He’s just yet another non-expert with initials after his name that Creationists put into positions of authority.

Leaps of Illogic.

John Morris’ conclusion is that his god just wanted to be sure that human bodies could cope with a world mired in sin after the Original Sin. See? What a nice god! Everything’s easy when you just punt to magic!

In fact, this god made “back-up systems for many organs,” leading Morris to classify the gallbladder as a sort of liver backup system. Mainly, I see that conceptualization on alt-med sites, not in real medical sites or resources. I could be wrong, and I’ll gratefully accept correction if so. But it doesn’t seem like that’s how real doctors characterize the gallbladder.

(UPDATE: Have received confirmation from many sources–including a couple of medical professionals–that the gallbladder is 100% completely not a “liver backup system” of any kind. It’s literally just a storage bin for bile. It can’t duplicate any of the liver’s functions.)

Strangely, Morris doesn’t actually seem to wonder why his god apparently made that “back-up system” but not many others that would have enormously helped us avoid cancer, heart disease, and a host of other problems. I guess lipid digestion taxed his poor widdle godling too much to think about that other stuff. This “Ph.D.” doesn’t know or care about the mechanisms of those “back-up systems” either, or when they might have stopped being so necessary or why.

Nor does he wonder why humans apparently needed a vestigial tail in a post-Garden-of-Eden world. Maybe we needed one in the Garden. I guess we must punt to mystery again!

Yep. He’s a “Ph.D.” all right, giving biology lessons despite knowing nothing about human biology. He’s exactly what Creationists need to bolster their credibility.

He Sure Wonders.

I think The Big Problem Here, for John Morris, is that vestigial organs imply an imperfect creation. He really, really wants to believe that his god made humans specially–which makes humans super-special compared to other animals. He can’t see them as special if they evolved like other animals.

After explaining how super-duper-necessary the gallbladder totally is (which it is not), he tells us:

A person can function quite adequately without the gallbladder under normal conditions, but it’s better to keep it [actually not true since the 1920s, remember? — CC]. Mine was infected and damaged and is now gone, and I haven’t missed it . . . but I wonder.

I fookin’ bet he does, our Mr. Ph.D. giving biology lessons on a Creationist site despite knowing nothing about human biology.

Indeed, he won’t be missing his gallbladder, because humans don’t really need gallbladders anymore. Hell, we probably stopped needing them long before his imaginary wizard friend committed genocide against the whole planet with an imaginary flood.

Making “Junk.”

Worse by far, though, vestigial organs imply an incompetent god. HIS god “doesn’t make junk,” as he puts it in the very end, as a sort of flung-down gauntlet.

So instead of accepting the hard backbone of biological science, which he hilariously insults as “repeats of foundless evolutionary tales heard since elementary school” that insult his sense of superiority, Mr. Ph.D.-who-knows-nothing-about-human-biology would rather believe his fairy tale about an invisible sky wizard who used magic to plunk everything down just like we see it today.

But when his tummy hurt, he knew better than to ask that god for help. Instead, he did what I did and headed for competent medical professionals. Those professionals did exactly what they’ve trained to do for years: they got him better through the “miracle” of modern medicine, using techniques refined over centuries that drew upon the very backbone of biological science that he despises.

Now he’s left alive, healthy again, and by his own account not missing his gallbladder. He “wonders,” but he’s doing it on his own time. We can bet he won’t wonder so hard that he goes looking for any real answers.

Recovering.

These medical crises always make me think about how silly Creationists are. This one’s particularly silly: utilizing modern medicine, enjoying the fruits of everything humans have learned which includes how evolution landed us where we are right now, and yet denying all of it.

What a cheap marker belief for John Morris and his pals, hmm? They can deny it all they want. We see them going to the ER just like science-accepting people do for help. Nobody’s going to quiz them at the door: “So, do you accept that life evolved from other forms to get to its current state?” — and turn them away if the answer is a resounding “NO! I’m going with the Sky Fairy Guess that I PDOOMA instead!”

Really, I’d rather Morris “wonder” but get help when he needs it. The wondrous part of it all is that someone can deny real science all the way into post-op and then at home, even while enjoying all of its benefits. That fact might be exactly why Creationists manage to struggle through with their beliefs.

Today, Lord Snow Presides over yet another silly Creationist clinging hard to false beliefs while enjoying the benefits of reality. The gallbladder represents just another dealbreaker for them–but dang, it’s one they’re prepared to deny to the end.

(Do you have another favorite dealbreaker?)


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Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. I’ve started us off on a topic, but feel free to chime in with anything on your mind. Pet pictures especially welcome! The series was named for Lord Snow, my recently departed white cat. He knew a lot more than he ever let on.

About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. And she still can't carry a note in a bucket. You can read more about the author here.
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