Egnorance: The Egotistical Combination of Ignorance and Arrogance

| 139 Comments | 10 TrackBacks

Those who haven’t had the experience of reading Dr. Egnor’s contributions to the creation/evolution conflict will not know that he is a neurosurgeon at Stony Brook who has trumpeted his support for intelligent design and against evolution. Dr. Egnor has recently written an essay at the Ministry of Media Complaints of the Discovery Institute. Ever on-message, Dr. Egnor seems to think that doctors don’t need to know evolution because he objects to the Alliance for Science’s essay challenge. (Alliance for Science asked high schoolers to write an essay entitled and organized around the thesis, “Why would I want my doctor to have studied evolution.”)

Dr. Egnor has been the subject of multiple fiskings recently and this is a curiosity itself. I’m personally acquainted with at least four attending-level physicians who were creationists at the University of Kansas School of Medicine. Up at Minnesota, a chief resident in the department of surgery was a creationist. And now at Penn State, there’s at least one creationist. The Discovery Institute, fresh off their defeat from Dover, put a lot of effort into developing a five-page list of physicians who think evolution isn’t such a big deal - so why is Egnor getting all the infamy for his incredulity? I don’t have a good answer for that: maybe he’s just the DI “Flavor of the Month” or the only physician willing to write essays. What I can answer are Dr. Egnor’s claims that evolution is not needed in medical school.

And I’ll do it on the flipside.

Egnor’s Argument in Summary For those who can’t stomach Egnor’s essay, permit me to summarize:

Isn’t it “a funny question” whether we would want physicians to know evolution? There are basic sciences that are taught in medical school that must be “important to medicine” like anatomy and physiology. Doctors don’t “study evolution in medical school”, “there are no courses in medical school on evolution,” “there are no professors of evolution” in medical schools,” and “there are no departments of evolutionary biology in medical schools,” and “no evolutionary biologists” would provide useful information to a medical team in hospital. Therefore, evolution just isn’t important to the practice of medicine. I call upon my “20 years [of performing] over 4000 brain operations” to attest that I have never once used evolutionary biology in my work. How could I since evolution is random and doctors look for patterns, patterns that lie far afield from the randomness that is evolution? “I do use many” understandings provided by basic science in my work, such as population biology, “[but] evolutionary biology itself, as distinct from these scientific fields, contributes nothing to modern medicine.” “No Nobel prize in medicine has ever been awarded for work in evolutionary biology.” So I wouldn’t want my doctor to have studied evolution; that answer wouldn’t win the “Alliance for Science” prize, but it would be the truth.

Man, there’s a lot of work fisking all that. I’ll leave the simple stuff (selection ain’t random and that’s why it’s called selection, dude) for others. Let me concentrate on the medical stuff, which I’ll deal with in separate sections.

Section 1: Evolution is a Vital Basic Science for Medicine I’ll start off my fisking by criticizing an aspect of medical practice and, to make sense of it, those who aren’t physicians need to know that there’s a great divide in the practice of medicine between the physicians who practice to simply the “standard of care,” (the kind of practice you’re expected to know for quizzes, tests, and boards and the level of care you need to meet to not get sued) and the physicians who know the basic science behind why the standards of care are what they are.

For example, when someone is having a heart attack (and daily after they have one), they need to be on aspirin because of the pathophysiology of heart attacks. (I review much of it that pathophysiology here.) Briefly, the aspirin irreversibly inhibits the platelet enzyme involved with forming clots. But you don’t have to know about the irreversible acetylation of cyclooxygenase that occurs in the presence of acetylsalycylic acid in platelets; all you have to do is give people aspirins after heart attacks. The “divide” I refer to is between the physicians who know the biochemistry behind that reaction and the doctors who are content to know only that they should give aspirins after heart attacks. Make no mistake: one can be a great doctor and simply practice to the standard of care knowing not a whit of the basic science that provides that standard’s underpinnings. But if you can know the reasons why the standard of care is the way it is, why on Earth would you limit yourself by choosing to not know it?

The example I’ve given here is limited to a single therapeutic regimen in cardiology, but ideally there’s basic science that undergirds everything we do in medicine. There’s a reason why it’s no big deal if you’re not wearing lead in the radiology suite (thanks to the inverse-square law, as long as you’re three or four feet away from the radiation source, the dose you get is negligible). There’s a reason why diazepam - a drug we use to treat seizures - can cause seizures (much of the brain’s neurons are inhibitory and their suppression leads to increased seizure activity). There’s a reason why two different rheumatological diseases can require separate therapies (diseases involving deposition of immune complexes wouldn’t likely be amenable to an exchange of antibiodies as much as they would be to suppression of the immune system overall). Again, there are doctors who know or want to know the reasons behind the practice and there are doctors who don’t know and/or don’t want to know those reasons.

Doctor Egnor seems to like being in that latter category. More than that, he seems to recommend not knowing the basic science that undergirds the practice of medicine, to the extent that he perceives evolution might have had a hand in developing the state of the art. I see his perspectives as nothing more than ignorance advocacy for the basic sciences, writ large and not limited whatsoever to evolution.

Sure, he writes

I do use many kinds of science related to changes in organisms over time. Genetics is very important, as are population biology and microbiology. But evolutionary biology itself, as distinct from these scientific fields, contributes nothing to modern medicine.

as if to suggest that he has some interest in basic science, but I don’t buy it for a second. First, how is it possible to separate evolutionary biology from genetics and population biology? Post-Darwin, pre-Mendelian evolution, Egnor might have made a weak case that they might be separable fields. However, the entire modern synthesis of evolutionary biology dealt in its essence with merging genetics and selection. Today, they are so fused as to render Egnor’s phrase meaningless: the entity of population biology without evolution does not exist any more than water without wet exists.

Second (and this may be a bit snarky), Egnor quibbles at evolution being immaterial to the practice of medicine, but he says that he uses population biology. Man, don’t I know it. I just can’t get the vitals on patients referring to Hardy-Weinberg and Kimura at least once or twice per patient. Egnor knows as well as I do that if he isn’t going to find evolution in his daily rounds, he’s not going to find population biology, which leads me to suspect that his endorsement of it was a facile claim intended to stave off accusations that he’s an advocate of ignorance.

Well, I think he is an advocate of ignorance, despite the rhetoric he wrote about population biology and genetics.

Let’s move on to Egnor’s claims about evolution in medical school. First, he mentions anatomy and physiology - courses offered in the first two, or “pre-clinical,” years of medical school - and cites them as being important. But “Doctors never study [evolution] in medical school” so it’s therefore not important. I should also point out that calculus is also not studied in medical school. Neither was statistics. Neither was inorganic or organic chemistry, physics - hang on a second while I fish out my college transcript - composition and grammar, or biophysical chemistry. Med schools aren’t going to teach medical students how to write essays or how to add two and two. They also aren’t going to teach elementary chemistry or evolution. They’re going to assume that entering medical students have the barebones literacy to know certain things before they even get an offer to interview, let alone get enrolled.

Hmmm. Egnor might have a point though because that’s a pretty big assumption. I wonder if there were a way to tell whether a future physician would likely have the requisite understandings to succeed in medical school. If only there were a test, some sort of standardized test that admission committees could use evaluate how well medical school applicants had prepared for their medical careers! Can anyone think of such a test?

Of course I’m being facetious. Go here and do an in-PDF search for evolution. Dr. Egnor well knows that the MCAT is required to get into medical school and, according to the people who make the test, the MCAT in part tests one’s comprehension of evolution. And, unsurpringly, pre-medical committees across the nation have strongly recommended to kids that they know evolution. (There’s just something about a low med-school acceptance rates from pervasive failures to prepare students for the MCAT that makes a college or university unpalatable to parents.)

I tried to find something specific from the AAMC about evolution advocacy. Look what I found. (PZ may not have made much of Collins’ book, but the AAMC is an organization of medical schools to whom premed advisors and medical school hopefuls look for advice regarding career preparation for their students, and this interview of Collins appears on their website. I consider this a significant statement and wish they would be even more explicit about the “Look, guys, you need to know evolution” hint that they just haven’t brought themselves to say forthrightly.)

And I want to be the first to ruin the day of creationists when I say that you don’t stop having to know evolution once you get in. For those who don’t know, Step 1 (more formally known as the United States Medical Licensing Exam Step 1) is an exam you have to take after the second year of medical school in order to progress. And I can attest that, during my exam, a question that tested my ability to apply the central theory of population genetics - the Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium - was asked, as was my knowledge of whence cometh the mitochondrion into eukaryotes.

That’s just getting into medical school. What about making sense of things once you are there? In the cardiovascular physiology block, we learned about the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Whereas previous generations had to perform labs on dogs not intended to survive, we were spared this (so were the dogs) and instead watched a videodisk (it really was - this was before DVD-RW, I guess) of a dog being given various agents and seeing what affect it had on the blood pressure, heart rate, etc. I can’t imagine the befuddlement Dr. Egnor must have had, had he my experience in my medical school labs, when he perfectly understood what happened to the dog, but couldn’t allow himself to generalize the dog’s experience to the human.

Or consider my anatomy lab. So we’re learning the muscles of the back and having a dickens of a time trying to memorize their innervation. No problem, says my anatomy professor, and walks to the chalkboard. He draws a circle and puts in two perpendicular intersecting lines like crosshairs. Picking up the red chalk, he drew the musculature of the shark and with the yellow chalk he drew the nerves that innervate those muscles. Pretty primitive anatomy, really. Then he explained how, through phylogeny, the shark shape gets filleted down the middle, with the two inferior bits being the most lateral and the posterior being the medial, and there you’ve got the mammalian innervation. And the anatomy of it made perfect sense. There was no longer any memorization (past the damned names, that is); there was a theory that explained it all. And I can see Egnor refusing to admit the ease an evolutionary perspective of anatomy affords students, maybe to the point he would have refused the easy way of learning that material. His anatomy lessons must have been harsh, memorizing every muscle, compartment, bone and nerve, never once allowing himself to grasp the overall organizing patterns because he just knew that evolution was wrong.

Egnor reprised that theme often in his essay so let me make something clear here. Anytime you see comparative medicine, or comparative biochemistry, or comparative pharmacology, or anything comparative, that is evolutionary theory. We test drugs in rats and it’s not because we think rat pharmaceuticals are a lucrative industry. (Since 1938, non-toxicity must be demonstrated in animal models before a drug can come to market.) We don’t practice our surgical techniques on animals because we hate pigs. (Residents at SUNY Upstate have access to an animal surgery lab, in which they can hone their techniques on animals before they operate on humans.) Whenever you see stuff practiced or tested or homogenized or whatever on animals with the intention of applying those conclusions to humans or other species, that is evolution being used in practice. Without evolution, animal testing is just making drugs for rats and patting yourself on the back at the sheer (reproducible) dumb luck that the drug you’ve designed for the rat would likely do a decent job in humans as well. (Just a bit of intellectual integrity is needed to make the leap.)

Egnor thinks can say that evolution is unimportant to medicine when he points out that no course entitled “evolution” is generally to be found in medical school curricula. As I’ve shown, he’s dead wrong, and no medical school hopeful would be well served by avoiding an understanding of evolution. Word of advice to premed students: take the hint (which really ought not be a hint, ahem) from the AAMC and learn it if you want to do well.

What about making sense of things after you finish medical school? Has Dr. Egnor never obtained ATLS certification? I certainly don’t want to be the unfortunate patient needing a chest tube on whom Dr. Egnor discovers to my cost that a large amount of pressure but not too much is needed to introduce a trochar through the parietal pleura of the lung. I’d just as soon it be an anesthetized pig, like the one I learned on back in Wichita, KS.

In summary, evolution is indeed important to get into medical school, it is important to succeed during it, and it is important after you leave. Egnor’s perspectives are completely wrong.

Section 2: Professors of Evolution Do Teach in Medical Schools

There are no courses in medical school on evolution. There are no ‘professors of evolution’ in medical schools. There are no departments of evolutionary biology in medical schools.

This one is a simple claim to fisk. Andrea Bottaro, contributor to the Thumb is an associate professor of medicine at a medical school who has published explicitly evolutionary articles. Thanks for playing, Dr. Egnor.

But let’s run with this a bit because it’s so easy. Hans Thewissen, the dude who discovered Ambulocetus natans, is employed in the anatomy department of the Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy. He appears to have a dual appointment, both to anatomy and also as the football program’s head coach. (Note to self: I am so getting one of these t-shirts.)

But he isn’t the only one. Nationwide (probably worldwide), there’s a push in medical schools to include specialists from non-medical disciplines in the basic sciences. It’s for this reason that Thewissen, a palentologist, teaches anatomy at a medical school.

Egnor teaches at SUNY Medical Center, right? Well, just check out their medical school’s website and look at their department faculty. Anatomy looks promising. Okay, we see that Sussman is interested in the “comparative morphology” of humans and apes, Stern is interested in “The evolution of postcranial adaptations in primates,” Rubin works on bones in animals and humans, … Those were just the last three - you guys look up the rest.

Want to be a graduate student at SUNY and get your doctorate in anatomy?

The program is concerned with the analysis and interpretation of gross vertebrate structure in relation to adaptation and systematics. Training and research focus on (a) an evolutionary perspective in the analysis of morphology, including the influences of function, structure, and phylogenetic history, and (b) the structural adaptations of bone as load-bearing tissue, including the physiologic mechanisms of osteogenesis and osteolysis.

And that’s just the anatomy department. And that’s just at SUNY.

The University of Chicago’s Department of Ecology and Evolution is part of an interdisciplinary medical program, the “Biological Sciences Division.” The dean of medical affairs is the dean of the division. Best still, they call their interdepartmental evolution program “Darwinian Sciences.”

For more examples, read Cammarata’s “The Anatomy Professor that Ate New York: Some Dinosaurs are Teachers, and Some Teach About Dinosaurs.” Read Baker’s “Darwin in Medical School.” And go here to see Nesse’s list of medical scientists/professionals involved or interested in evolution.

No professors of evolution in medical schools? By any non-trivial parsing of that phrase, Egnor is dead wrong. Professors with evolution training and active research involving evolution are commonplace in medical schools and you’ll probably see more of that, not less, as time goes on because these people make the material so freaking easy.

Section 3: Nobel Prizes in Medicine Have Been Awarded for Work in Evolutionary Biology

No Nobel prize in medicine has ever been awarded for work in evolutionary biology.

Creationists evolve, rolling out new arguments and angles like automobile prototypes at a trade convention. The argument that no one has ever won a Nobel prize for work in evolution was apparently first trotted out by Steve Fuller at none other than the Kitzmiller trial:

And in a sense, one way you can see this is that, if you look at the Nobel prizes that have been awarded for physiology in medicine, which is the field, the biological field, essentially, you don’t find anyone ever getting the prize specifically for evolution.

Ideally, I could simply turn to the cross examination portion of the transcript, but Steve Fuller was scoring so many own-goals with his testimony that our lawyers let him off the hook without much of a fight. Yay for the Kizmiller trial, but now I have to do the work.

Briefly:

  • Insulin was first isolated in dogs and the research was subsequently applied to humans; Macleod and Banting won the Nobel Prize for their discovery in 1923.
  • Neurophysiology was elucidated by studying squid, whose giant axons were large enough to pierce with the instruments of that day and the research was subsequently applied to humans; Hodgkin and Huxley won the Nobel Prize for it in 1963.
  • Using an animal model of sea slugs, Eric Kandel deomnstrated how changes of synaptic function are central for learning and memory; in 2000, he won the Nobel prize for his work.
  • The mechanism for olfaction and the genes giving rise to it were found; Axel and Buck won the 2004 Nobel Prize for their discovery and their seminal paper described the evolution of the genes over lower vertebrates and invertebrates. (See this article for a great writeup on it.)

I’m certain there are others (and living Nobel laureates should please not feel slighted by my not listing their work here). Feel free to include any examples you can think of in the comments. By way of summary, Egnor is, again, completely wrong.

Conclusion

In fact, I think it’s safe to say that the only contribution evolution has made to modern medicine is to take it down the horrific road of eugenics, which brought forced sterilization and bodily harm to many thousands of Americans in the early 1900s. That’s a contribution which has brought shame—not advance—to the medical field.

So ‘Why would I want my doctor to have studied evolution?’ I wouldn’t. Evolutionary biology isn’t important to modern medicine. That answer won’t win the ‘Alliance for Science’ prize. It’s just the truth.

Dr. Egnor knows that he would be required to use glucocorticoids to prevent seizures in many situations in neurosurgery, but they were first tested in humans in 1948 - well after the FDA would have required the drugs to be proven non-toxic in animal models. Unless he isn’t giving medicines approved after the 1930s - and one doesn’t often find homeopathic surgeons - then he’s using evolution, even if he refuses to recognize it.

But that’s what his post is primarily about. It’s not that evolution is useless to medicine; on the contrary, it is a non-controversial component of essential medical education and one needs to know it certainly to get into medical school these days, to say nothing of staying in and doing well afterwards, to say nothing of having any prayer of a chance of making sense of the science that others use to generate the “standards of care”.

What’s going on here is that Egnor dislikes evolution and is hoping to de-emphasize its importance. Why? It is possible that he earnestly and sincerely believes that evolution has not contributed to his art. It is possible that he earnestly and sincerely believes that recognizing the validity of evolution would render his life meaningless or without value. It is possible he is a cynical liar and he wants no readers of the Discovery Institute Ministry of Media Complaints who credit his perspectives to enter or do well in medical school. (Hey, if true, he wouldn’t be the first surgeon who knew better about evolution but still advocated for ID only to make a buck, gain a little influence, or exhibit some sort of other ulterior motive.) Whatever his motivations may be, readers should not credit his testimony: he is at least dead wrong.

Further, his perspectives are very difficult to distinguish from ignorance advocacy. Egnor first came to attention when a blogger at Time magazine criticized him for not being an expert in evolution. He has stated that he does not use evolution, but this is more an admission of a willful disregard for the evolution he does use and upon which his art is based. Taken together, along with his assurance that the only contribution evolution has made to medicine was eugenics*, his writings bespeak the dangerous combination of ignorance and arrogance, traits altogether common with creationists, but that shine in Dr. Egnor to such an extent that a neologism should bear his namesake.

Egnorance. (n) The egotistical combination of ignorance and arrogance.

BCH

*Recall please that Egnor endorsed population biology. I’m informed by my pal Reed Cartwright that the people to blame for eugenics were the early population geneticists. (D’oh!)

10 TrackBacks

“Hi, kids! My name is Barbie, and I'm like Britanny's aunt, and I'm a model, you know? And I don't like math? And you know, I never use math? But you know, when you grow up, you can just hire... Read More

Egnorance from De Rerum Natura on March 10, 2007 2:53 PM

Egnorance (noun)—the egotistical combination of ignorance and arrogance.... Read More

Word of the day from Stranger Fruit on March 10, 2007 4:18 PM

Egnorance: The egotistical combination of ignorance and arrogance. First coined by Burt Humburg to describe Michael Egnor, neurosurgeon, ID-flak, and no-nothing (at least when it comes to biology).... Read More

Egnorance from Sunbeams From Cucumbers on March 12, 2007 1:07 AM

I guess I'll have to pile on. Over on Panda's Thumb, Burt Humburg wrote an excellent take-down of the latest nonsense to come out of Dr. Michale Egnor, a neurosurgeon who has managed to spout some unbelievably dumb things about evolution. Naturally, ... Read More

It figures. After my having written repeated debunkings of various physicians who are creationists (mostly of the "intelligent design" variety), in retrospect I should have seen this one coming. I should have seen that the Discovery Institute, eager to... Read More

I need some β-blockers STAT. I say that not because I'm hypertensive or because I'm having heart palpitations--at least not now. I'm saying it because, after reading the latest foray into antievolutionary ignorance spouted by--as much as I hate to... Read More

Agh! I say: Agh! Again. Remember how it was just a mere three days ago that I administered some Respectful Insolenceâ„¢ to Dr. Michael Egnor, the Energizer Bunny of jaw-droppingly, appallingly ignorant anti-evolution posturing based on his apparently non... Read More

It’s been amusing—and revealing—to observe the recent debates between virtually the entire Darwinist internet community and a professor of neurosurgery, Michael Egnor. A few simple questions have incurred a deluge of ad hominem attacks upon Egnor, call... Read More

Dr. Michael Egnor is creationist neurosurgeon at SUNY Stony Brook—an embarrassment to that fine institution, I’d imagine—and the most recent addition to the Discovery Institutes’s roster. He is well known in the blogsphere for ... Read More

139 Comments

Stony Brook also has Meave Leakey as an Adjunct Professor!

There is also John Hopkins School of Medicine’s Center for Functional Anatomy and Evolution.

The primary research focus of the Center is the exploration of relationships among the functional anatomy, behavior, and evolutionary biology of extant and extinct vertebrates. The Center provides an exceptional opportunity for graduate students to study and conduct original research in evolutionary organismal biology (see the Program page). Training in the teaching of human anatomy is also an important part of our program. Fieldwork opportunities in Costa Rica and Wyoming are available (see individual faculty pages for more information on these).

The department also houses a large collection of fossil vertebrates and various research facilities (see the Resources page for more details).

Chicago’s “Darwinian Science” program is often considered the best evolution program in the world.

Stanford’s evolution and ecology programs are contained in the med-school as well.

Afarensis adds a few names to the non-existent list of Evolutionary Biologists at medical schools.

Egnor sure is turning out to be quite a piece of work. I hope the DI grants him a fellowship.

Nice fisking Burt.

Hey look, the DI Media Complaints Division is so proud of Egnor, they’ve given him a promotion:

Michael Egnor, M.D., joins the ENV Team

Some Evolution News & Views (ENV) Readers may have noticed that yesterday we posted Michael Egnor’s response to a pro-evolution essay contest for students. We recently reported how Egnor has been asking Darwinists how much information can be produced via Darwinian mechanisms, but has not been receiving satisfactory answers (see here and here). Michael Egnor, M.D. is professor of neurosurgery and pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook and an award-winning brain surgeon who has been named one of New York’s best doctors by New York Magazine. He is now an official part of the ENV team, and we’d like to welcome him on board.

Regarding Egnor’s (and Fuller’s) claim about the Nobel Prize, more can be said:

First, it should be noted that there isn’t even a Nobel Prize category for Biology. When evolution gets in it is usually in the Medicine category. The equivalent for biology, also run by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences is the Crafoord Prize, and its winners include most of the famous people in evolution of the later 20th century.

Second, looking at the Medicine category of the Nobel Prize, we have some of the most famous names in evolutionary biology:

1933 - Thomas H. Morgan [chromosomes in heredity]

1946 - Hermann J. Muller [radiation and mutations]

1962 - Francis Crick, James Watson, Maurice Wilkins [structure of DNA and mechanism of inheritance]

1969 - Max Delbrück, Alfred D. Hershey, Salvador E. Luria [the Luria-Delbrück experiment showed that mutations are random]

1973 - Karl von Frisch, Konrad Lorenz, Nikolaas Tinbergen [the founders of evolutionary ethology, i.e. animal behavior and its evolutionary causes]

1983 - Barbara McClintock

[jumping genes]

…and this is leaving out people whose research was less directly famous and revolutionary in evolutionary biology, but who used it in their Nobel work, e.g.:

2001 - Leland H. Hartwell, Tim Hunt, Sir Paul Nurse – “He [Paul Nurse] showed that the function of CDK was highly conserved during evolution.”

2004 - Richard Axel, Linda B. Buck – “Whereas fish has a relatively small number of odorant receptors, about one hundred, mice — the species Axel and Buck studied — have about one thousand. Humans have a somewhat smaller number than mice; some of the genes have been lost during evolution.”

Then there is the 2006 co-winner, Craig C. Mello, who was a student in Kenneth Miller’s first biology class.

A simpler way to get a handle on all this is to just google NobelPrize.org on “evolution” and read through the 418 hits Yes, Virginia, physicists got Nobels for cosmic evolution too!

Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley won the 1963 Nobel for Medicine for the squid neuron research not Hodgkin alone.

Then there is the 1994 Economic Nobel Prize given to Harsanyi, Nash, and Selten for game theory. The importance of Game Theory to evolutionary biology is one of the reasons they got the prize.

Pankaj the physicist asks Mukesh the mechanic “Do you know I could tell you why you need a new manifold to tune up any further, I study fluid mechanics.” “We don’t need no steenkeeng physeex to learn how to soup up your car,”

Egnor’s embarassingly ignorant essay sounds as wise as that

Egnor said:

That’s why most doctors—nearly two-thirds according to national polls—don’t believe that human beings arose merely by chance and natural selection. Most doctors don’t accept evolutionary biology as an adequate explanation for life.

So obivously he is using the word “evolution” to mean “evolution merely by chance and natural selection.”

And you, of course, are saying “creationism” when you mean “guided evolution.”

So the terminology is completely misleading and there is no way for the general public or high school students to understand what the controversy is about.

I wish people like Egnor would be more careful with their terminology, and I also wish that evolutionary biologists would stop calling everyone who questions extreme Darwinism a creationist.

Medical doctors, like biologists, accept evolution. But a complete explanation of evolution has not been found.

Can you admit that there are things science has yet to understand and explain? If you can admit that, why do you insist so loudly that evolution has been entirely explained?

Thanks for this. I post at PZ’s blog regularly, but this is one of only a few times I’ve read your blog. This is great stuff, and it shows that there are some absolutely committed to being wrong, and they feel it is OK to keep doing so.

Mr. Egnor never sold me on anything he said, because, like a lot of creationists, he always started from the incredulity soap box, and refused to get off of it. Creationism - any stripe of it - is nothing more than fallacy and disinterest in learning. I laughed some while reading this article, not because you tried to keep the mood light, but also because you provided the overwhelming evidence needed to utterly trash Egnor’s “arguments”. It is funny how easy it is to prove these people wrong; they don’t even check their own backyard (your references to SUNY’s faculty).

Excellent work. I shall be here more often.

Must not feed the troll…must not feed the troll. . must not feed the troll…oh bloody hell, I can’t help it!

realpc Wrote:

Can you admit that there are things science has yet to understand and explain? If you can admit that, why do you insist so loudly that evolution has been entirely explained

Stop lying, realpc. Nobody here has ever claimed that “evolution has been entirely explained,” and you know it.

Comparative anatomy, comparative physiology, comparative biochemistry, comparative molecular genetics .…

Yup, they must have been designed that way for the convenience of doctors.

Is there evidence that Egnor is a real name of a real brain surgeon? The transparent allusion (Egnorance=egomania+ignorance) and the senselessness of his question about biological information make me wonder - can’t it be a hoax a la Sokal? The question he asked is the same the team of Australian creationists disguised as TV interviewers asked Dawkins a few years ago (and Phil Johnson made a lot of noise about it because Dawkins kept silent for 11 seconds without answering). Those Aussies based their question on the notorious book by Spetner; since then Spetner was repudiated more than once, but Egnor (whoever he is) seems to be following Spetner’s piffle. Well, with creos it is often hard to distinguish what is their serious attempt at argumentation and what is a parody.

Stop lying, realpc.

He can’t; his brain is broken and apparently is beyond repair.

His anatomy lessons must have been harsh, memorizing every muscle, compartment, bone and never, never once allowing himself to grasp the overall organizing patterns because he just knew that evolution was wrong.

When did Egnor ever deny common ancestry??? You are trying to mislead and you know it! When did Egnor ever say he believed each species was created separately; when did he ever deny that species evolved?

You know that Egnor is using the word “evolution” to mean neo-Darwinian evolution. You know that he is not a Christian bible literalist.

Why continue to pretend this is the old evolution - creationism debate. It is not, and you know it.

The question he asked is the same

Egnor is a “standard practice” creationist who regurgitates the lines spoon-fed to him by DI.

Anytime you see comparative medicine, or comparative biochemistry, or comparative pharmacology, or anything comparative, that is evolutionary theory.

Yes, it’s evolutionary theory, not Darwinist theory. Egnor criticizes Darwinism, not evolution. You’re implying Egnor is such a dope he can’t see the similarities between species. There are NO NEUROSURGEONS WHO CANNOT SEE THE SIMILARITIES BETWEEN SPECIES.

Talk about straw men!

Egnor said:

you don’t find anyone ever getting the prize specifically for evolution.

and you countered with, for example:

Insulin was first isolated in dogs and the research was subsequently applied to humans

That is NOT specifically for evolution, and you know it! Every scientist KNOWS that there are similarities between animals and humans. Everyone KNOWS that medical treatments are tested on animals before they are tested on humans. If there were no similarities between species, animals would not be used as test subjects.

Even unscientific people who don’t believe in any kind of evolution understand that there are similarities between species!!!

So you’re saying the Nobel prize for insulin was specifically for evolution??!!

Your argument is long, but completely irrelevent. And I’m sure you know it.

I have noticed that very often one or more authors of evolution articles in Science are noted as affiliated with a school of medicine or a medicine-related field. Perhaps Egnor does not read Science. A similar argument can be made for other professions–engineer, chef, and others–some practitioners follow the cookbook and generally succeed at what they do, while others, who actually understand engineering and cooking, are able to innovate, adapt to new situations, and advance their field.

As I wrote in a comment on Pharyngula, ignorance is no crime. Willful ignorance is unfortunate and intellectually debilitating. Advocating willful ignorance is profoundly immoral. Egnor’s behavior is morally disgusting.

Egnor said:

you don’t find anyone ever getting the prize specifically for evolution.

No he didn’t, you retarded troll, Steve Fuller said that.

realpc Wrote:

completely irrelevant

Yes, you are.

“No Nobel prize in medicine has ever been awarded for work in evolutionary biology.”

2006: Andrew Z. Fire and Craig C. Mello, “for their discovery of RNA interference - gene silencing by double-stranded RNA”

From the press release:

This year’s Nobel Laureates have discovered a fundamental mechanism for controlling the flow of genetic information. Our genome operates by sending instructions for the manufacture of proteins from DNA in the nucleus of the cell to the protein synthesizing machinery in the cytoplasm. These instructions are conveyed by messenger RNA (mRNA). In 1998, the American scientists Andrew Fire and Craig Mello published their discovery of a mechanism that can degrade mRNA from a specific gene. This mechanism, RNA interference, is activated when RNA molecules occur as double-stranded pairs in the cell. Double-stranded RNA activates biochemical machinery which degrades those mRNA molecules that carry a genetic code identical to that of the double-stranded RNA. When such mRNA molecules disappear, the corresponding gene is silenced and no protein of the encoded type is made.

RNA interference occurs in plants, animals, and humans. It is of great importance for the regulation of gene expression, participates in defense against viral infections, and keeps jumping genes under control. RNA interference is already being widely used in basic science as a method to study the function of genes and it may lead to novel therapies in the future.

realpc Wrote:

That is NOT specifically for evolution, and you know it! Every scientist KNOWS that there are similarities between animals and humans. Everyone KNOWS that medical treatments are tested on animals before they are tested on humans. If there were no similarities between species, animals would not be used as test subjects.

And there is no coherent explanation for the great similarities between human and non-human animals apart from common descent.

Say, realpc, why all the agitation, the anger? Hey, didn’t you write

Now it seems to me that whenever an idea elicits such strong emotional reactions, something very important is at stake. We don’t become violently nauseated just because an idea seems wrong. That only happens if the idea threatens something we value. More is going on here than just a scientific quest for truth.

?

Popper’s Ghost,

Research on genetics does not equal research on evolution. Scientists can study DNA and RNA, but they cannot study evolution directly. Assumptions and inferences are made, but there are no direct observations. So it’s hard to win a Nobel prize for evolution research.

Darwinism is based on the observation that evolution has occurred, and on the assumption that nature is mindless and without purpose. Given that assumption, purposeless variations and natural selection must be the explanation.

How can anyone win a Nobel prize for assumptions and observation-free inferences?

And there is no coherent explanation for the great similarities between human and non-human animals apart from common descent.

Which implies that evolutionary biology is relevant to medicine, contrary to Egnor. realpc’s bleating that Egnor accepts common descent is irrelevant, other than it underscores Egnor’s dishonesty.

When did Egnor ever deny common ancestry??? You are trying to mislead and you know it!

When did Egnor ever say he believed each species was created separately; when did he ever deny that species evolved?

This is a direct implication of his “evolution cannot produce new information” argument, for instance. It is also a direct implication of his claim that doctors don’t use evolution, ever, even the common ancestry bits.

You know that Egnor is using the word “evolution” to mean neo-Darwinian evolution. You know that he is not a Christian bible literalist.

We do? How? Normally when someone criticizes evolutionary theory but accepts common ancestry, they say, “Now I agree with common ancestry, but…” Egnor has shown no signs of such sophistication so far.

Add his attitude and general complete incapability of getting basic facts right into the equation, and I’d guess we’ve got a better than 95% chance that we’ve got at least an old-earth creationist on our hands with Egnor.

observation-free inferences

It’s fun when you demonstrate that you have no understanding of science generally or of the science behind the theory of evolution specifically.

Actually, “Dr.” Banks, some of the people who have roundly excoriated Egnor for his willful ignorance are physicians.

And, actually, Dr. Banks, I expect that some doctors might get just a little tetchy if they learned that, say, their women patients with family histories of breast cancer were foregoing regular mammograms for, say, “treatments” of magnetized water or apricot extract.

That a primary care physician, or even a neurosurgeon, might be able to get through the bulk of his or her daily round without drawing–in an immediate pragmatic sense–evolutionary concepts into his or her practice would probably not surprise us.

I expect an auto mechanic could get away without applying evolutionary concepts when he or she changed my oil or gapped my spark plugs.

Now, if you were to say the same thing about many research physicians, or medical school professors, or developers of devices or treatments or medicines who regularly rely on animal models…we would be surprised.

But then, however highly trained, educated, and effective, a primary care doc on most days is, frankly, a lot more like an auto mechanic (listen to complaint, isolate failure, apply approved repair technique) than like a research scientist.

I’d still regard either an auto mechanic or a primary care doc who preferred to go through life without understanding and appreciating evolution as an unimaginative, dull, and rather narrowly-trained technical specialist.

But at least the auto mechanic would have the excuse of NOT having all that expense education.

It’s not clear to me yet exactly what your excuse is.

As made abundantly clear above, there is a huge difference between a practicing physician who may or may not know the physical/biological basis for a particular treatment they administer, and a medical researcher who must ponder these mechanistic questions. I am PHD scientist, and my father is a physician, and I have many MD/PHD friends– as such, I am intimately aware of how little many doc’s know about the science behind the most basic medical practices. Do they have to know? No, but I would hope that they would take their responsibility to patients seriously enough to be slightly intellectually engaged in basic research. At least enough to know how much evolutionary theory informs critical aspects of pharmaceutical development (from model organisms detailed nicely above, to discovering the function of drug targets by genetic homology, etc.).

Part of the reason that the scientific/medical community gets so upset by ID advocates is that there is no creditable evidence that has passed the test of rigorous peer review that supports their theory, whereas there is a mountainous pile of scientific data assembled that is supports and requires assumptions of evolutionary theory. Yet these two theories are given equal airtime in public discourse. Postings by Steve Banks are typical of the intellectual arrogance and laziness of the ID/creationist point of view. Steve, if you want to have an informed scientific discourse, please find a peer- reviewed evolutionary biology paper and assail its scientific merits, preferably an important paper published in a high impact journal. Better yet, invalidate such a paper with careful experiments that prove the contrary and publish these results in a similar high ISI impact factor peer reviewed journal. No such paper exists.

In science, disproving a prevailing theory (even one that is much less engrained into the fabric of modern science) requires very strong evidence to the contrary. Until this sort of thing occurs, it remains a political debate and not a scientific one. If you are having trouble reconciling your faith with something that is the product of extensive physical observation and rational thought, please do not drag others into your personal exitential crisis.

As a scientist, I am willing to admit that we will probably never know the details of the origin of life, whether simple self replicating chemical system or baby jesus gave rise to ur-cells/an RNA world. However, the bulk of useful evolutionary theory occurs much after this “event”, so focusing on this dusty corner of evolutionary theory rather than what has happened from this “common ancestor” forward is counterproductive. Simplistically, selective pressure coupled with genome plasticity, and the resultant speciation and functional diversity that ensues are universally accepted evolutionary concepts in science. Phylogenitic analysis, homologus/paralogous gene structure/functional relationships are predicated on these simple evolutionary concepts and undergird breakthroughs in understanding mechanisms and pathways of the cell necessary for modern medicine.

The benefits to humankind resulting from scientific research that have tacitly required the principles of evolutionary biology are incalculable. You would have to be an Amish Christian scientist to not have already benefited in your quality of life. You could go through all of that messy training and form your own informed opinion, or you could accept the scholarly and well informed opinions of experts. I would suggest that you forgo the benefits of modern medicine until you are able to reconcile your belief-system with what the vast preponderance of doctors and scientists accepts as reality.

Regrettably, it is also difficult to disentangle more skeptical and rational ID’s from creationists and these lines are blurred whenever convenient– Look at Mike Huckabee’s openly creationist beliefs espoused:

“If you want to believe that you and your family came from apes, that’s fine. I’ll accept that, I just don’t happen to think that I did.”

This is coming from a presidential candidate that just won the Iowa primary. So it is clear that calling this political assassination attempt of the theory of evolution “a serious scientific debate” could be very dangerous for the US and its place of preeminence in world science and technology development (no small reason our economy is not completely moribund).

If we as a country want to continue our slide back into the middle-ages, while other countries invest increasing resources in the developing science and technology that drives 1st world economies, insulting and degrading established science and teaching ID to distract from legitimate scientific theory to our children is the way to go.

penis büyütücüler

Loren Petrich | April 9, 2004 1:25 AM

An alternative word: “basal”, as in:

Fish are basal vertebrates.

Yes, and we could also add “stem” and “terminal” to our definitions, but I didn’t want to do a whole tutorial on cladistics :-)

For a characteristically lively and lucid brief treatment:

Dawkins, Richard. 1992. “Progress.” In Keywords in Evolutionary Biology, edited by Evelyn Fox Keller and Elisabeth A. Lloyd. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

John wrote

Yes, and we could also add “stem” and “terminal” to our definitions, but I didn’t want to do a whole tutorial on cladistics :-)

Um. That might actually a good topic for a posting or series thereof on the model of Reed’s EvoMath series, John.

RBH

seks shop

Loren Petrich | April 9, 2004 1:25 AM

An alternative word: “basal”, as in:

Fish are basal vertebrates.

Yes, and we could also add “stem” and “terminal” to our definitions, but I didn’t want to do a whole tutorial on cladistics :-)

For a characteristically lively and lucid brief treatment:

Dawkins, Richard. 1992. “Progress.” In Keywords in Evolutionary Biology, edited by Evelyn Fox Keller and Elisabeth A. Lloyd. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

John wrote

Yes, and we could also add “stem” and “terminal” to our definitions, but I didn’t want to do a whole tutorial on cladistics :-)

Um. That might actually a good topic for a posting or series thereof on the model of Reed’s EvoMath series, John.

RBH

seks shop

Loren Petrich | April 9, 2004 1:25 AM

An alternative word: “basal”, as in:

Fish are basal vertebrates.

Yes, and we could also add “stem” and “terminal” to our definitions, but I didn’t want to do a whole tutorial on cladistics :-)

For a characteristically lively and lucid brief treatment:

Dawkins, Richard. 1992. “Progress.” In Keywords in Evolutionary Biology, edited by Evelyn Fox Keller and Elisabeth A. Lloyd. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

John wrote

Yes, and we could also add “stem” and “terminal” to our definitions, but I didn’t want to do a whole tutorial on cladistics :-)

Um. That might actually a good topic for a posting or series thereof on the model of Reed’s EvoMath series, John.

RBH

seks shop

Loren Petrich | April 9, 2004 1:25 AM

An alternative word: “basal”, as in:

Fish are basal vertebrates.

Yes, and we could also add “stem” and “terminal” to our definitions, but I didn’t want to do a whole tutorial on cladistics :-)

For a characteristically lively and lucid brief treatment:

Dawkins, Richard. 1992. “Progress.” In Keywords in Evolutionary Biology, edited by Evelyn Fox Keller and Elisabeth A. Lloyd. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

John wrote

Yes, and we could also add “stem” and “terminal” to our definitions, but I didn’t want to do a whole tutorial on cladistics :-)

Um. That might actually a good topic for a posting or series thereof on the model of Reed’s EvoMath series, John.

RBH

seks shop

Loren Petrich | April 9, 2004 1:25 AM

An alternative word: “basal”, as in:

Fish are basal vertebrates.

Yes, and we could also add “stem” and “terminal” to our definitions, but I didn’t want to do a whole tutorial on cladistics :-)

For a characteristically lively and lucid brief treatment:

Dawkins, Richard. 1992. “Progress.” In Keywords in Evolutionary Biology, edited by Evelyn Fox Keller and Elisabeth A. Lloyd. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

John wrote

Yes, and we could also add “stem” and “terminal” to our definitions, but I didn’t want to do a whole tutorial on cladistics :-)

Um. That might actually a good topic for a posting or series thereof on the model of Reed’s EvoMath series, John.

RBH

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Burt Humburg published on March 9, 2007 8:44 PM.

When PZ Turns Fifty … was the previous entry in this blog.

Convention Draw? is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Categories

Archives

Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.361

Site Meter