By this point, the name Michael Egnor should be familiar to readers of this blog – but if you need a reminder, he’s the neurosurgeon who recently signed on to the staff of the Discovery Institute’s Media Complaints blog. Over the last week or two, Egnor has been trying to convince people that evolution is really not important in any way to medicine.
His last attempt, before today, came less than a week ago, with this spectacular piece of inane argumentation. I responded to the arguments that he made, Orac responded to the arguments he made, Afarensis responded to the arguments he made, Mark responded to the arguments he made, and many other people have also chimed in on the topic. A couple of hours ago, Egnor decided to take another swing at the argument.
When his post came up on my screen, I had high hopes for it. Egnor, after all, is a relative novice at the whole semi-professional anti-evolution thing. It is possible, at least in theory, that he might not have been infected by the intellectual dishonesty that typically characterizes the group. Maybe, just maybe, he’d have the moral courage necessary to make an honest attempt to address the challenges I made last time. Or the challenges that Orac made. Or the challenges that Afarensis made. Or . . .
Sadly, but not surprisingly, this is not to be. Egnor has, apparently, been sucked dry of any remaining vestiges of intellectual honesty that he might have had before he joined the DI flack crew. If there’s a difference between Egnor’s latest “argument” and a five-year-old jumping up and down, fingers in ears, chanting, “na na na na I can’t here you na na na na,” it’s only in Egnor’s ability to form complete sentences.
What does Darwinism add to the sciences of microbiology, molecular biology, molecular genetics, and pharmacology? Darwinism tells us that antibiotic-resistant bacteria survive exposure to antibiotics because of natural selection. That is, bacteria survive antibiotics that they’r e [sic] not sensitive to, so non-killed bacteria will eventually outnumber killed bacteria. That’s it.
OK. We will, for the moment, set aside Egnor’s rhetorical question about the contributions that evolution has made to various areas of the biological sciences and go on to the second asinine sentence in that paragraph. “Darwinism” – and I’ll take that to mean evolution by natural selection – does not “tell us that antibiotic-resistant bacteria survive exposure to antibiotics because of natural selection.” That particular claim is a pure strawman and purely dishonest.
Here’s the reality-based look at what evolution and natural selection tell us about antibiotic resistant bacteria:
Bacterial infections (such as the one that is currently raging in what remains of my top left wisdom tooth) are not created by an individual bacterium. They are created by a population of bacteria. If one or two of the bacteria in the population are (or become through mutation) resistant to a particular antibiotic and the population is placed in an environment that contains that antibiotic, the resistant bacteria will be much more likely to survive and reproduce than the non-resistant bacteria. This, in turn, can lead to the entire population becoming resistant to that antibiotic.
Our understanding of this process does inform the medical field, both when it comes to broad-scale public health decision making and at the level of patient care. Evolution by natural selection is connected, as I’ve said before, to decisions made by the FDA to permit or ban certain antibiotics that are useful in humans from being used in veterinary medicine. It’s also involved in guidelines that are given to patients when antibiotics are prescribed (both my dentist and my pharmacist reminded me to make sure that I take all of the penicillin that I’ve been prescribed for my abscessed tooth) and in deciding what antibiotics to prescribe in different circumstances, and which to try first (that’s why I was started on penicillin, and not Cefepime).
It would be nice if Egnor would stop erecting strawmen and start addressing reality, but that’s probably too much to hope for. For the record, though, you can add “stop using strawman versions of evolution” to the list of challenges that Egnor is ignoring.