The latest from the World of Egnor

| 23 Comments

Creationist brain surgeon Michael Egnor has been busy over the last couple of days, posting first a “response” to Orac’s challenge then a “response” to Mark ChuCarroll’s repeated attempts to explain the concept of tautology to him. There have been several responses to these two posts over at various of the Scienceblogs already - PZ, Orac, Mark, and Kevin have all addressed one or both of Egnor’s latest claims, and all of their responses are worth reading. I’m actually feeling a little left out right now - after all, Egnor still hasn’t deigned to address the two specific examples I presented of cases where natural selection has and is playing a role in public health decisions.

I’m not going to address Egnor’s claims about the role of the design inference in medicine at the moment. The stupidity really does burn, and Orac did a superb job of working through the brain spasms to deal with that post. Kevin and Mark have also done a good job addressing some of Egnor’s claims in the more recent “tautology” post, but I think that there is something that I can add to their responses. An introduction - Dr. Egnor, I’d like to introduce you to Sir Ronald Aylmer Fisher, FRS.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

23 Comments

Hey, Egnor: This stuff isn’t brain surgery… It’s rocket science!

*budump-cha*

Egnor again): All permutations of “Natural Selection”– “survival of the fittest,” “reproductive success,” “mechanisms that contribute to the selection of individuals that reproduce,” “sexual selection,” “gametic selection,” “compatibility selection”–reduce quite readily to “successful reproducers successfully reproduce,” or colloquially, “survivors survive.” The truth of Natural Selection is its logical structure. It can’t be false. “Natural Selection” is logically true, but it’s a weak theory because it’s merely a tautology.

Whoa, looks like another strawman. Evolution has a why in here and a how. The survivors survive tautologically. But how and why? Genetic variability whether by mutation or recombination. Evolution is more than natural selection, it is natural selection of inherited traits that increase fitness. Chance and necessity, very simple but not on the whole tautological. Nothing wrong with a theory being basically simple. E=mc(2) got Einstein a long ways.

Misrepresent the theory and than knock it down. Been done before, need a new act here.

Even the AiG idiots know better than to use the evolution is tautology argument.

http://www.answersingenesis.org/hom[…]dont_use.asp

It’s third down under the Arguments that are doubtful.

They really have to be working hard to dismiss the explanatory value of Natural Selection to overlook the fact that from Darwin (or perhaps even Empedocles) on natural selection has been anything but a tautology.

The whole point has always been that natural selection within a set of physical and biological constraints yields predictions, like the optimization (subject to hereditary and other constraints, naturally) of swallow wings for speed and the ability to maneuver, or the swimming abilities of the tuna.

Of course you can just say that “the fittest survive” and be stating nothing other than a tautology. Were there not constant biases in many environments toward consistent adaptation to antibiotics or catching insects (swallows), then it would be a tautology. The whole point of the natural selection explanation is to actually explain why certain features are so well developed “for locomotion” (for instance), and that is what it does, in an increasingly detailed manner.

Contrast this with ID, which states that features exist at the whim of the “designer”, without any constraints whatsoever. Poor design and good design are all the same to them.

Natural selection, by contrast, exists against a backdrop of other factors, notably the historical constraints imposed by deriving genetic material from unadapted or poorly adapted (to a certain “lifestyle”) ancestors. The excellent feathers of archaeopteryx thus are explainable via natural selection (though testing the mechanisms on extinct organisms is severely limited), while the heavy tail, teeth, and jaws are explainable by ancestry.

This is all consistent with evolution by natural selection (and other mechanisms) because once feathers have evolved, there isn’t really that much that obviously constrains further evolution of feathers (of course there might be constraints of which we don’t know, but we work with what we do know), while losing teeth and gaining a beak is clearly not something that readily happens via known evolutionary mechanisms.

If fitness only meant “what survives” to us, we wouldn’t even be able to detect the constraints imposed by derivation from unadapted and poorly adapted organisms. “What survives” might only be what came beforehand, while evolution by natural selection is about moving toward the local peaks of fitness.

IDists are completely lacking in predictivity for what exists (since they carefully avoid normal predictions that can be made for known designers), thus they wish for evolution to be likewise. However, it is not at all similar, for we have criteria for what “fitness” means in many cases, and thus can make predictions in certain contexts. We predict that many changes will occur in the direction of a certain kind of fitness within certain environments, such as the lightening of bird structures.

Natural selection can be stated as a tautology, however evolution by natural selection cannot be, not, that is, when attention is given to the details of what exists by way of adaptation vs. what exists due to hereditary constraints.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

It mystifies me how Egnor graduated from high school biology.

Somewhere I found a post, claiming to be written by Egnor, in which the first line reads “I am a devout Catholic”.

Maybe Egnor ought to read what the Church has to say about evolution…

Its strange that even with our evolutionary knowledge, 250,000 people a year die from hospital mistakes.

And then you have people like Burt Humburg who apparently spent his spare time passing out anti ID tracts and telling people at Darwin and Design conferences in Kansas how stupid they were.

It seems to me like he ought to make sure the hosptils are cleaned up first before he goes out and crusades.

After all, many people, my family included, have had bad experiences with doctors. I wasn’t impressed with their skill or concern.

Maybe thats just me, but I don’t think so. If so many people are grasping for other solutions maybe its NOT just the fault of the creationists.

Maybe they are a convenient scapegoat to scienctists own MAAAIVE failures, including helping fill the world with wmds. These, of course, are expressed as opinions only.

It seems to me like he ought to make sure the hosptils are cleaned up first before he goes out and crusades.

Cunningham: I do not know what area you work in. However, the same argument could be made that you should not be trying to correct what you see as errors here unless your particular area is absolutely spotless.

Cunningham needs to get back on his meds . … . …

Will someone please explain to Egnor that a tautology is a kind of statement, not a kind of concept? Sure one can be obtuse and say “successful reproducers successfully reproduce” or “survivors survive.” But evolutionary theory says far more than that. It says “the faster survive”, or “the best camoflaged survive”, or “the stronger survive”.

By Egnors “reasoning”, I could claim everything Egnor says is a tautology, since it all reduces quite readily to “Liars lie”.

After all, many people, my family included, have had bad experiences with doctors. I wasn’t impressed with their skill or concern.

and

Maybe they are a convenient scapegoat to scienctists own MAAAIVE failures, including helping fill the world with wmds.

Goldstein, is that you?

J. Biggs Wrote:

Even the AiG idiots know better than to use the evolution is tautology argument.

That is what is especially depressing about this case. They know Egnor is an idiot but they will continue to trot him out in front of the cameras just so they can look dynamic and appear to have a broad backing. Look at that intensity, that focus and enthusiasm! And he is a brain surgeon! I can’t help but think this is going to backfire on them in the end. At least I hope it does.

Egnor wrote:

“Newton’s law is not a tautology, and it can’t be reduced to a tautology. It is not logically true. It’s empirically true, but it could have been false. The force of gravity could have been proportional to the inverse cube, not the inverse square. Neither is Einstein’s theory of relativity a tautology. The curvature of space-time is given by Einstein’s tensor equations. They’ve been confirmed experimentally, and they’re not the least bit tautological.”

Let’s try that again:

Natural selection is not a tautology, and it can’t be reduced to a tautology. It is not logically true. It’s empirically true, but it could have been false. The selection coefficient for any given genotype could have been a different value, not the value we estimate in this particular environment at this particular time. The way in which allele frequencies are expected to change over time in response to selection is given by the equations used in population genetics. They’ve been confirmed experimentally, and they’re not the least bit tautological. They have been found to accurately predict the future fitness of the population and future genotype frequencies. They are so useful that they have been used to make informed policy decisions regarding the implementation of screening programs for genetic diseases.

A theory is judged by it’s predictive and explanatory power. Natural selection has that in spades. Trying to dismiss it by playing word games denies the reality of an entire field of study. Still, I guess this guy already admitted that he doesn’t really have any training or interest in that field.

J. Biggs Wrote:

Even the AiG idiots know better than to use the evolution is tautology argument.

AiG’s explanation is actually pretty good… up until the last sentence:

AiG Wrote:

Natural selection is also a useful explanatory tool in creationist modeling of post-Flood radiation with speciation

It’s empirically true, but it could have been false.

Yes, let us not egnor the difference between the map (model) and the terrain (reality). It is so easy to get lost…

The way in which allele frequencies are expected to change over time in response to selection is given by the equations used in population genetics.

Egnor, as most creationists, is willfully neglecting inheritance. This permits him to think that nothing observable changes, and that the model is tautological.

Of course, that gives him the problem that after an infection has passed, in his world pathogens would go back to the native state. All acquired resistances would disappear over time. But that isn’t observed. Another challenge for him.

Curved space bends light, so light bends when it encounters curved space.

Gravity attracts objects to each other, so objects are attracted to each other by gravity.

There, I just reduced Newton’s and Einstein’s theories to ridiculous sounding tautologies. It’s pretty simple, really.

Here’s another. Nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, so the speed of light is the fastest anything can travel. Atomic theory: Ordinary matter is composed of atoms, so atoms make up ordinary matter. Germ theory: Germs cause infection, so the cause of infection is germs. Plate tectonics: Continents sit on moving crustal plates, so crustal plates move the continents. The big bang: The universe began with a big bang, so the big bang was the beginning of the universe.

On and on and on.

One of these days we must figure out why people such as Egnor, who clearly does not understand the basics of evolutionary theory, feel compelled to write ad nauseum about their misconceived notions of evolution. One thing we can detect from Egnor is a strict edict from the DI crowd that he must constantly refer to “Darwinsim” (classic DI labeling) as “random heritable variation and natural selection.” At least he has part of the picture, but the constant referrals and repetitions of the same phrases demonstrate a) a superficial understanding of evolutionary theory at best; b) an attempt to solicit the sympathies of the “base” who do not understand the significant role of chance and “randomness” in everyday life, including medicine which Egnor should but does not understand; c) the canard that evolutionary biologists are “Darwinists” without recognition of the many significant advances that have been made to evolutionary theory since 1858/1859.

One must note that Egnor, or anybody from the DI, has yet to propose a testable hypothesis regarding Intelligent Design, or anything related to biological diversity. When they do, I’ll be interested. I’ll also have data, so presumably they will too?

Cheers, Jeff

Egnor is pretty easy to prove wrong. When he plays in the scientific arena, he is way out of his league.

Evolution is not a tautology, an accusation made and disposed of long ago.

Evolutionary concepts are used in medical research constantly as a quick survey of the main medical research repository, National Library of Medicine (pubmed.gov), will show. Microevolution of pathogens and tumor cells kills tens of millions worldwide each year.

The mystery is why someone from a biologically informed field, medicine, wants to sound sound so ridiculous. An enduring one, I’m sure.

20 posts.

Will the Discovery Institute allow Egnor to make them look like the IDiots that they are or will they pull the plug before he rambles on for 20 or more posts demonstrating that he is too far gone to worry about?

Very nice point of view! Respect!

Very nice point of view! Respect!

Very nice point of view! Respect!

Very nice point of view! Respect!

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Mike Dunford published on April 4, 2007 2:32 PM.

Wells’ flagrantly false commentary on Hox complex structure was the previous entry in this blog.

YouTube: Evolution for ID-iots is the next entry in this blog.

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