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A vestigial tissue (finally)? What about male breast tissue?

8 May 2002

From G.C., USA, who declined permission for his full name to be used. His letter is printed below (indented dark red) with a point-by-point response by Dr Jonathan Sarfati:

[This is a question for Dr. Jonathan Sarfati.]
Dear Dr. Sarfati:
I’ve got a few questions pertaining to your response to Mr. Ted Krapkat about male nipples. Ted Krapkat wrote:
“Why would God create male animals with nipples?… I believe that the creation ‘theory’ cannot explain male nipples at all, without attempting to fathom the mind of an invisible, unknowable creator.”
You responded:

“This sort of argument (‘Why would God have done X?’) is really a cheap rhetorical device rather than a real argument for evolution, although Darwin himself made frequent use of it. After all, even if a creationist could not think of a reason (NOT the case here), it proves nothing more than that a creationist doesn’t possess all knowledge of the Creator’s mind, which has never been a claim of creation theory!”

I’m not trying to use male nipples as an argument for evolution, but with all due respect, I think there are some problems with your answer to Mr. Krapkat.

I think that, having read it all, the logical point still stands. There is no direct argument for evolution here. As pointed out, these structures don’t provide the slightest indication of a phylogeny (evolutionary history), since no evolutionist believes we descended from an all-female mammal species.

It appears you prove him right when he says that you cannot explain male nipples without attempting to fathom the mind of an invisible, unknowable creator.

As we will see, it’s important to understand creative vs sustaining work, much like the difference between operational and origins science explained on our site.

You go on to explain: “Human embryos are sexually dimorphic at first (i.e. contain characteristics of both sexes), because they all have basically the same genetic information, and this information is expressed as efficiently as possible as the embryo develops. This is design economy.” In the economy class I was required to take in my senior year of high school, I learned that “economy” deals with the problem of limited supply (of raw materials, time, and manpower) and unlimited demand. My Merriam–Webster Collegiate Dictionary defines it as a) “thrifty and efficient use of material resources: frugality in expenditures; an instance or means of economizing.” and b) “efficient and concise use of nonmaterial resources (as effort, language, or motion).” By these definitions, we can see that it would be folly for an automobile company to make models without mounts for air conditioning, etc., because to do otherwise would be to waste resources (i.e. more assembly line space, manpower) on a car that could never have features which could, should, and probably one day will be basic. Plus, the owner of the car, because of his/her unlimited demands, might wish to have some of the missing features installed after a little time, and maybe an increase in income.

My meaning was that of design economy for the here and now. It’s the most efficient way for embryos, who do not have unlimited resources to develop, and this is a plan initiated by the Creator. Note that God made no embryos during Creation Week.

You also say in your response that “God by definition foreknew everything.” Why, then, would he need to use design economy, if he knew in advance whether a person would be male or female?

It seems you’re assuming that each embryo is a direct act of creation. Rather, each new embryo is the result of God’s upholding His creation (cf. Col. 1:17).

If I remember correctly from genetics class, the embryo itself “knows” whether it will be male or female, because it either receives two X's or an X and Y chromosome at conception.

There’s a bit more to it than that. It also has to do with the way certain cells respond to hormones. There are rare cases of XY women, who are externally female, albeit sterile, because their cells didn’t respond the way normal XY males do to androgens (Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS)).

And correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think this divine design economy is mentioned anywhere in the Bible.

It doesn’t have to be mentioned in so many words to be taught, e.g. by the analysis of many of the Biblical miracles. Similarly with the Trinity — although the word is not in Scripture, the doctrine is logically deducible from Scripture. In this case, it is being put forward as a reasonable suggestion which is consistent with the way God operates, i.e. in economy of miracle. It is not trying to put God in a box and saying He must always operate in this way. It is putting forward a possible answer to the question (which is often being asked sarcastically and/or rhetorically) of ‘why would God do … such and such.’

I suggest that it demonstrates speculation by creationists, which they often criticize evolutionists for doing, and pins human attributes on God.

I’m not sure (see below) that it is fair to say that we criticize evolutionists for every bit of reasonable speculation, anyway. Creationists actually ‘pin the attributes on God’ that He has revealed. And if you really want ‘speculation’, you can’t get much further than ‘We don’t know the function, therefore God couldn’t have created it this way.’

I thought that humans weren’t supposed to claim to know what an omnipotent, omniscient being should do.

I don’t think we were saying here what He should do. In general, we claim that we should rely on what He said He did or would do.

You criticized Mark Isaak of Talk.Origins for doing as much in your “Problems with a Global Flood?” rebuttal.

Of course, but here’s a major difference: Isaak was spouting off about what God could or couldn’t do in his effort to undermine what God said He did.

I do know for a fact that if God is omnipotent, he does not have to deal with limited resources — he created the universe out of nothing (creation ex nihilo). He has the ability to make unlimited resources out of nothing, and therefore has nought to do with economy.

As above, I’m not talking about an economy during Creation Week, when creation was finished, but in the matter of ongoing processes in the creation. I.e. the programming was undertaken in Creation Week, but the omniscient God looking forward to a time when the embryo would indeed have limited resources.

I would also like to point out a mistake Mr. Krapkat made. He failed to mention that not only do all males have nipples, but a majority also have some breast tissue. Some even have a lot of it. Nipples may be useful in sexual stimulation, but breast tissue in males appears to serve no purpose other than to become affected with cancer—I’m sure you’re aware that there is such a thing as male breast cancer. And in extreme cases of gynecomastia (the medical term for male breasts), milk secretions sometimes occur. Male breast tissue is potentially dangerous, and male breasts are unsightly, annoying, and embarrassing. I know this from experience; during puberty my case of gynecomastia was quite severe. Through weight training and just plain growth out of puberty I was able to get rid of most of my breast tissue, but an amount larger than most of my male friends have is still there.

To be fair to Mr Krapkat, an omission is not necessarily a mistake. And yes I’m aware of gynecomastia and male breast cancer, which is very rare though. Sorry about your experiences, and I’m happy that the worst of it seems over for you. But the argument about male breast tissue again just appeals to ignorance “we don’t know the function, therefore it has none”. There is also the Fall, which can result in deteriorations or malfunctions in a good design, which is how I might explain such things in a “big picture” way, and note that I don’t claim that any specific sin on the part of a sufferer is responsible (see our Why is there death and suffering? booklet, for example.

That’s about all I have to say. Thank you very much for your time, Dr. Sarfati.

Hope this helps
Jonathan Sarfati

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