Respectful Insolence

It’s not just surgeons anymore!

I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Certainly it’s a bad thing that another physician is diving head-first into the pseudoscience that is “intelligent design” creationism and making a of himself in the process.

On the other hand, at least this time it’s not a surgeon:

A Columbia medical professor made his case for scientific acceptance of “intelligent design” last night and found himself taking fire from his peers for his view.

John Marshall, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Missouri-Columbia, argued in front of about 100 people in a University Hospital auditorium that mainstream scientists were trying to kick intelligent design “off the playing field of science.”

At the heart of the argument for design, say proponents, is that elements of life and the physical world cannot be explained by evolution and show signs of being formed by an intelligent creator.

“It’s as much science as Darwinian evolution is science,” Marshall said. “And as a theory, I believe that intelligent design fits the evidence of biology better than Darwinian evolution.”

He’s even parroting the same spiel that Dr. Michael Egnor, the creationist neurosurgeon who’s caused me so much embarrassment for my profession, likes to spew about DNA:

Marshall held up DNA as a possible example of intelligent design in action, calling it the “most complex, densely packed, elaborate assembly of information in the known universe.”

He said DNA even bears similarities to computer codes or a language.

“There’s some three billion characters of information in each of our cells,” he said. “If one were to put this code, write it out like you would onto a newspaper, you would fill some 75,000 pages of the New York Times.”

I’ve already beat on Dr. Egnor multiple times (metaphorically speaking) for making this same error anthropomorphizing the genetic code; so I’ll restrain myself this time. And, as is the case with all creationists do, Dr. Marshall can’t even get the science right:

Frank Schmidt, an MU biochemistry professor, said he counted “21 distortions 15 half-truths and 10 untruths” in Marshall’s 45-minute presentation.

“What you are doing is cloaking a narrow definition of Christianity, which I find personally offensive, as some sort of scientific truth,” Schmidt said. “And that is what really hacks me off.”

Schmidt questioned Marshall about whether intelligent design proposes a testable prediction, as he said real scientific theory does, or if it simply says that we can’t understand everything. When Marshall would not directly answer the question, Schmidt turned and left the auditorium, saying Marshall should not “pretend to be objective.”

Round of applause to Professor Schmidt for a perfectly elegant way of demonstrating his distaste for pseudoscience!

Naturally, the ID camp is whining about how “abused” poor Dr. Marshall is:

It looks like CSC contributor Michael Egnor is not the only professor of medicine to stick his neck out for intelligent design and face severe personal attack. Dr. John Marshall of The University of Missouri-Columbia lectured this week on his own campus with the title “Intelligent Design: Is It Science or Religion?”

From both news and private reports, it sounds like he was verbally attacked in the Q&A session for his reasonable view that ID should be “part of the scientific discussion.”

Ah, the old “teach the controversy” slogan. The problem is, of course, that ID is not science; consequently it really doesn’t have a place in a purely scientific discussion. Certainly it may have a place in discussions of religion, sociology, culture, and politics, but not science.

Unfortunately, Dr. Marshall, contrary to my initial hopes, won’t get me off the hook, at least not around the ScienceBlogs community. Dr. Egnor is still out there and settling into his role as the Discovery Institute’s pet creationist neurosurgeon. I’m the only academic surgeon in ScienceBlogs who cares a lot about this issue. As for the internists on ScienceBlogs, The Cheerful Oncologist (oncologists are internists, you know) isn’t known for throwing himself into this fray, and Dr. Charles is a family doctor (I don’t know if he finished a family practice or internal medicine residency). They just don’t have a dog in this fight to the extent that I do.

Oh, well, the next time an internist points out Dr. Egnor or Dr. Cook to me, I’ll at least have the ability to point out the embarrassment that is Dr. Marshall to him.

I wish those Tibetan monks high in the Himalayas would hurry up with that mask.

Comments

  1. #1 Scott Belyea
    April 29, 2007

    Are you physicians trying to compete with engineers for the “distinction” of best-trained creationist bozos? :-)

  2. #2 kamimushinronsha
    April 29, 2007

    Michael Egnor is not the only professor of medicine to stick his neck out for intelligent design and face severe personal attack.

    How dare the materialists ask ignorant questions like “whether intelligent design proposes a testable prediction“! This is what they qualify as severe personal attack? Alright, from now on nobody ask these guys any more complex “sciency” question about the ID hypothesis.
    It’s unfair to make them justify their point of view, there trained doctors, and as so what they say should just be accepted as true.

  3. #3 Melusine
    April 29, 2007

    Schmidt questioned Marshall about whether intelligent design proposes a testable prediction…

    Sounds like a reasonable question. Err, d’oh…

    On a lighter note for the answer to that reasonable question, I saw this yesterday. ( I don’t know who the comedian is, btw.)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMEkCHU2KtA

  4. #4 Stuart Coleman
    April 29, 2007

    Don’t feel too bad about all the MD’s who are coming out as creationists. It happens in every profession. Well, I’ve never heard of a Physicist creationist, which probably has something to do with the fact that over 90% are atheists anyway. Hooray Physics!

  5. #5 Joe
    April 29, 2007

    @Stuart Coleman

    Does a “geophysicist” count? I encountered one waving his doctorate and showing how the 2nd law of thermo doesn’t allow evolution. Perhaps he was more into “geo” than “physics” …

  6. #6 Joseph Hertzlinger
    April 29, 2007

    Well, I’ve never heard of a Physicist creationist, which probably has something to do with the fact that over 90% are atheists anyway.

    Source?

  7. #7 Melanie
    April 29, 2007

    I’m an Anglo-Catholic theologian. We were all taught in grad school that ID is a theological proposition, not a scientific one.

  8. #8 kamimushinronsha
    April 29, 2007

    I’m an Anglo-Catholic theologian. We were all taught in grad school that ID is a theological proposition, not a scientific one.

    Excellent! And since we don’t teach “theological propositions” in public schools as science then that should be fine for everybody. But then you get “some” people who come along and try to change that. What is up with that?

  9. #9 Ginger Yellow
    April 29, 2007

    Britain’s most prominent YECist/IDiot is a physicist. Depressingly, he’s a professor of thermodynamics at Leeds University. He’s an utter embarrassment. He even has the cheek to use the 2nd Law argument against evolution. Whenever he’s on the radio he gets humiliated.

  10. #10 sailor
    April 29, 2007

    These Id-ers are almost as almost as persistant as DNA. They lack the variety though.

  11. #11 Qalmlea
    April 29, 2007

    There was an evolution-denier in my physics program with me. It shocked me at the time. I was still naive enough to think that the evidence ought to speak for itself.

  12. #12 wolfwalker
    April 29, 2007

    Hugh Ross is an astronomer by training, not too terribly far from a physicist.

    Robert Gentry, who is one of the more fun-to-make-fun-of creationists, is a physicist — he has a master’s degree in physics.

    Orac, connecting this to a topic that comes up occasionally on this and other science blogs: I don’t think you should have to accept evolution to study science at a major university. I do, however, think you should have to accept evolution if you want to teach science at a major university.

  13. #13 SLC
    April 30, 2007

    My thesis advisor in college was an old earth creationist who rejected evolution for religious reasons. Rather difficult for an elementary particle physicist to be a young earth creationist and still accept quantum mechanics.

  14. #14 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    April 30, 2007

    Schmidt questioned Marshall about whether intelligent design proposes a testable prediction, as he said real scientific theory does, or if it simply says that we can’t understand everything. When Marshall would not directly answer the question, Schmidt turned and left the auditorium, saying Marshall should not “pretend to be objective.”

    Rather than convince detractors that intelligent design was truth, Marshall repeatedly said he wanted the theory to become part of the scientific discussion, asking scientists to have tolerance toward his view.

    I want ID to be part of the scientific discussion, you bet; except for the bits about being held to standards of evidence and testability.

  15. #15 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    April 30, 2007

    Whenever he’s on the radio he gets humiliated.

    Remember that humility is a Christian virtue.

  16. #16 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    April 30, 2007

    Frank Schmidt, an MU biochemistry professor

    Check it out, Schmidt’s research interests include the prebiotic RNA world

  17. #17 blf
    May 1, 2007

    Are you physicians trying to compete with engineers for the “distinction” of best-trained creationist bozos? :-)

    I realise this was marked “:-)” but please allow to make a small suggested correction: “…with some engineers…”. I know engineers who most assuredly are not cretinists, and arguably am one myself (an engineer that is, not a cretinist), so I do get just a bit riled whenever I see this “engineer = cretinist” claim–even as a joke.

    Orac doesn’t use the example of Egnor to even suggest “surgeon = cretinist”, so why is it people like to pretend “engineer = cretinist”? It may seem to be the case there are “lots” of vocal cretinist-engineers (has anyone ever attempted to measure this?), but unqualified equivalence cannot be a definite rule.

    Apologies if I’m being oversensitive here–on the other hand, Orac finds Egnor an embarrassment to his profession, so why can’t I whinge about others unfairly embarrassing my profession?

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