Egnor and natural selection


Neurosurgeon and recent addition to the Discovery Institute’s Media Complaints Division blog Dr. Michael Egnor is at it again. He’s responded to Burt’s latest response to his prior response to Burt’s earlier response to his - you get the drift. Burt’s been doing a great job of responding to Egnor, and I don’t want to step on his toes, but Egnor says a couple of things this time that I think would benefit from the perspective of someone who is studying evolutionary biology.

First, though, I’d like to address this delightful bit of less-than-honest rhetoric:

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):


*** I just posted this on Burt’s thread, but it is apropos to the new thread:

Egnor is obviously reading these comments, as indicated by his most recent post on the creationist page of the DI. He is sidestepping some real issues:

- comparative neurobiology, with which he should be familiar when he uses his neocortex, provides some of the best non-fossil evidence for evolution.

- it is the insight that comes from evolutionary theory, not just well-meaning evolutionary biologists who are “fine scientists,” that leads to the educational value of evolution to medical practitioners in their understanding of anatomy and physiology. There is no other adequate way to understand anatomy and physiology.

- Intelligent Design creationism offers NO answers to medical patients. If my wife were to tell her patients just “sorry, your bipolar disorder was just the act of an Intelligent Designer,” or “here, take this flu vaccine from 15 years ago, because nothing evolves,” then I think her practice would fail. Knowing the evolution of the brain, and the evolution of disease, is the only way to deduce the most correct answers to patients’ needs.

- he states “but the assertion that randomness is the raw material for all biological complexity plays no role in medical education or research.” This is a common misunderstanding of evolutionary biology that is promulgated by the DI and other creationists. As I explain in “The Riddled Chain,” randomness or chance plays a role, but it is PROCESS, not chance alone, that determines evolutionary trajectories. Creationists always leave out the PROCESSES … of which natural selection is key, but not the only process. Medical research without an understanding of evolutionary processes is like geometry of circles without an understanding of pi … you can do some of it, but not most of it.

**sigh**, Jeff


Given the overwhelming ignorance of your comments, we can really only dissect them one at a time.

Let’s keep elaborating on randomness, following up on Jeff’s and Dunford’s theme. Like the famous quote from the movie “The Princess Bride”, I do not think that that word means what you think it means.

Like most creationists who object to evolution because they perceive it as a threat to their faith, you conflate “stochastic” with “lacking in meaning or purpose in the context of God’s plan.” Stochastic processes are such things as random walks and brownian motion, quantum fluctuations, and stochastic noise. Evolution is not random. Mutations can occur through random processes, but selection on them is most definitely not. To conflate the generation of source variation with the process that acts on that variation is sort of like saying that nuclear power is randomly produced and randomly delivered to households because radioactive emissions occur through stochastic processes at the atomic level. I am dying to know how a directive process that has been proven to occur again and again, and is clearly a result of well-understood and easily demonstrable cause-effect mechanisms, can possibly be construed as “random” using any technical meaning of the word. My prediction is that your only answer will, when distilled to its essence, be “if God did not do it, it is therefore random.” If so, might I suggest that you offer your definition as an entry to the “conservapedia.”


That put me in just the right mood for another Friday shift of pizza delivery, mvplavcan. Thanks!

One free piping hot pizza for you, dressed to suit, coming up, virtually immediately!

There was a nice article on climate change in last Wedenesday’s The Times (of London):[…]e1511670.ece Inside it were these paragraphs:

‘For years, sceptics pointed to discrepancies between temperatures in different parts of the atmosphere. When these were conclusively resolved, the line became that the world might be warming, but humans aren’t responsible. Maybe the culprit is sunspots, not CO2. Now the theory du jour, to which Channel 4 gave pride of place, is cosmic rays, though meteorologists vigorously dispute the effect on cloud cover that these are claimed to have. Gavin Schmidt, of Nasa, has decribed the idea as “by far the most blatant extrapolation beyond reasonableness that we have seen”.

There is an analogy worth making here, with another branch of science that causes unwarranted controversy, if to a lesser extent in Europe than in the US. The fact of evolution is also based on evidence not from one discipline, but from 20 or more. If the principle is wrong, then so are most of the fields of zoology, botany, palaeontology, genetics, molecular biology, geology, anthropology and medicine — to name but a few through which it traces a common thread.

The deniers of global warming and evolution are right that science is not always best decided by a consensus of individuals. The consensus that matters is one of data from many sources — but that stands powerfully against them too. So, now, do Britain’s mainstream politicians. It is great to see them squabbling over what the science means for policy, and not hiding behind a critical fringe to sit on their hands.’

I sometimes think that when we argue with IDiots and YECers, we pro-evolutionists focus on quite narrow issues. It’s occasionally worth standing back, as Mark Henderson does in the 2nd paragraph above, to remind our opponents of the single vast edifice of *many* different but intertwined scientific discplines that they’re attempting to falsify. Having said that, it probably doesn’t make a blind of difference to a hermetically sealed mind whether you attack it with a stiletto or a cudgel - nothing will penetrate. But as others have occasionally reminded us - it’s not the Behes, Coulters, realpcs and Dembskis we’re really arguing against, it’s the curious but still not fully convinced who follow in their wake.

(But please note, Prof Egnor, the word ‘medicine’ in the quoted article.)

Egnor once again neither links to nor quotes from what he claims to be responding to. Gee, I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that he isn’t responding to them, and not wanting his readers to be able to check.

mplavcan Wrote:

To conflate the generation of source variation with the process that acts on that variation is sort of like saying that nuclear power is randomly produced and randomly delivered to households because radioactive emissions occur through stochastic processes at the atomic level.

An apt metaphor.

Hijacking your fine effort and running with it, it is also like saying that we have random production of oil power because of unpredictable vortexes in the flames, and analogously for vortexes in flames or fluid media in carbon, hydro and wind power.

It is also like saying that we have random distribution of power to households because the amount of charge carriers in the conducting band level of metals are stochastically produced and described electrons, and the resistance in the conduction process is due to in part to scattering, even against grains surfaces and dislocations. (And still neglecting the coarse grained randomness from diverse consumers consumption.)

Frak, otto engines are known to have chaotic engine cycles in the simplest models and by measurements, so obviously cars can’t be usable either. The same goes for our biological processes; obviously I can’t rely on my actions or thinking either. And don’t get me started on the stochastic nature of pc’s and the internet.

Thanks mplavcan for giving me a good subject for this days rant. It is funny how Egnorance inspires rants and intellectual laziness in a person.

Not to mention the essentially random motion of atoms and molecules in a “solid” object.


Its like all the good he has done is so much shit to be wiped away.

He has done nothing good in science on the subject of evolution, and he is currently actively hurting science by supporting pseudoscientific politico-religious crap.

Larsson it looks like the post was about Egnors work as a surgeon.

And he has undoubtedly done more to help people than scum like you.

Wow, you make it sound as if he was a humanitarian, a Mother Teresa selflessly helping others in his (her) poverty, not a beneficiary of a system set up to highly reward surgeons.

Anyhow, it appears as though you, Don, and Randy are nothing but scatological dullards who fail to understand what Larsson even wrote. He was making the point, using words (you know, those things you understand so very poorly, other than lies and name-calling), that the criticisms by the ignorant (on science) Egnor were what were being criticised, not his apparently competent work as a surgeon. Too bad you’re stupid, huh?

Your worship of “Science” is a joke…it also gave us poison gas, all kinds of chemical and biological weapons, nuclear weapons, napalm, etc. etc.

Where’s the evidence that Larsson worships science? Oh that’s right, you have none, you just lie.

And get off of the computer, you retarded Luddite, before you again criticise the work of scientists.

Oppenheimer had it right when he said the scientists had blood on their hands.

What’s the quote, ignorant cretin? Give it to us in context, don’t just prattle away stupidly without knowing what Oppenheimer was talking about. Then again, I can’t imagine you writing anything intelligent, given the revelation of your idiocy thus far.

Glen D

Don Wrote:

Your worship of “Science” is a joke

I refer to Glen’s comment on the other points, since he has already given an apt response. (Thank you, Glen.)

But here I want to add something. Science is a method, not a dogma. (And I speak with authority here, fyi.)

This is of course not understandable for someone who entertains creationism, as it is based on dogmatism as a political and religious movement. When did ID have a new idea, which isn’t recycled since Paley? I bet even the debate tricks were the same.

And he has undoubtedly done more to help people than scum like you.

why does this sound so much like that line from Star Wars episode the last:

Imperial Officer: You rebel scum.

I can even picure this guy saying the line in exactly the same, horridly bad nasal tone.

but instead of someone trying to talk to him

as John Stuart would say:


what on EARTH makes you think that nobody tried to speak rationally to Egnor’s ignorance?

you’re on the ass-end here, Randy.

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This page contains a single entry by Mike Dunford published on March 16, 2007 5:21 PM.

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