The Pineal gland - not a useless relic after all
Creationists are generally aware that at the turn of the century, the human body was thought to be a walking museum of ‘useless organs’, all labeled as ‘vestigial’—i.e., inherited from animal ancestors in whom they were useful, but now just relics of evolution. One book listed 180 of these, including organs such as the thymus and thyroid glands! (Now known to be extremely important for disease-fighting and metabolism respectively) Gradually over the years this number shrank as medical knowledge advanced, and the list is now exceedingly small. This writer, incidentally, maintains that there are no useless organs in the human body, but it is not the intention here to develop that theme.
Many evolutionary texts would still class the pineal gland as vestigial on account of its having no apparent function (although its function in other mammals is not better known) The pineal is a small gland, about the size of a cherry-stone, which sits between the two hemispheres of the brain posteriorly, in the groove between the two superior colliculi of the mid-brain. In a recent article in Modern Medicine of Australia (Sep. 1978) Dr. N. Kerenyi, who is associate Professor of Pathology at the University of Toronto, discusses what is now known about the pineal. He begins by saying:
‘As recently as 20 years ago, anyone whose research interest was the pineal gland was likely to get some skeptical and facetious comments.’
In this writer’s experience, many would react similarly today, because the information Kerenyi gives is not broadly known. In an anatomy text still used today, the pineal is referred to as the ‘pineal body’ rather than ‘gland’ and is referred to as having ‘doubtful function’.
Kerenyi says that, although the full significance of this gland remains to be elucidated, research to date has ‘firmly establish[ed] the pineal gland as an important endocrine organ.’ The pineal is the only site of manufacture of melatonin, a hormone which acts against the stimulation of the cells in the body which produce pigment. Melatonin’s full role is not yet clear, but it is known that via this and other substances it makes and excretes, the pineal gland:
- Seems to regulate the function of other important glands—including the pituitary, the gonads, the adrenals and the thyroid.
- Plays a central role in the circadian (night and day) rhythm. The synthesis of various compounds in the gland is markedly affected by exposure to or deprivation of light. The pineal undergoes a transformation immediately after birth which seems to be affected by depriving the organism of light.
- Has a relationship (not understood) with some malignant tumors.
- Affects the contractility of several types of involuntary muscle.
Far from being a useless hangover of antiquity, we see the pineal as an extremely active organ. Kerenyi concludes thus:
‘It is not unreasonable to expect that the pineal will be recognized as an organ as important as the hypophysis (pituitary) - if not more so.’