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Although questions like this are easily answerable, I feel very unsatisfied in answering them. There are several options.

  1. Answering the actual question. Easy but lazy.

  2. Answering a different question than the one asked, like "What are the vestigal organs". That question is interesting, but it's not what he asked.

  3. Closing it as "Not a real question". Not so good, it is a real question.

  4. Asking the poster to reformulate. This is likely to not make any difference, as the poster probably don't understand what he did wrong.

In one way I feel this site needs a whole new set of closing possibilities. A "Close as trivially answered", with suboptions like:

  • You can't prove a negative.

  • LMGTFY.

  • Actually in this case Wikipedia is a good source.

:-)

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2

I would approach them more from the scientific side, and not from the philosophical side. Of course you can't prove a negative, but you can still collect evidence that supports the negative conclusion.

In this specific case, one could collect the evidence that lead to the idea that specific organs are vestigial. You can never get proof that they don't have a function, but you can certainly remove them and observe the consequences. This won't help for subtle functions you're not looking for, but it does tell you that whatever you removed is probably not that important.

A good answer would show the experiments that lead us to believe that certain organs are vestigial, it would also discuss the limits of the experiments in detecting minor functions.

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  • I disagree because the question really asks about "all" vestigial organs, and as such it is really a philosophical question. – Sklivvz Apr 23 '11 at 9:53
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    @Sklivvz, I'm intentionally reading the question somewhat different to make it answerable. I don't really know if the author wanted to ask the philosophical question or if he is more interested in the scientific answer. I chose to interpret the question in the way that is answerable here. – Mad Scientist Apr 23 '11 at 10:12
  • @Sklivvz. I just noticed this answer now, and yes, this is the type of answer I was expecting (in terms of what the answer is, not necessarily the content of the answer). What exactly is wrong with being 'skeptical' of the scientific method? I know wiki does a good job on this issue, but is 'good', good enough? – picakhu Apr 28 '11 at 15:19
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The questions states:

This makes me wonder if all "vestigial structures" can be shown to be actually vestigial, or whether their function is just waiting to be uncovered.

As such it's not on topic here. Discussing whether all vestigial structures can be shown to be so is a philosophical question about the scientific method.

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  • I would rather say that it's a question about how science works. Of course that's what you mean, it's philosophy of science, but I don't think the people asking these questions will know that. :-) – Lennart Regebro Apr 23 '11 at 17:57

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