Respectful Insolence

Remember Michael Egnor?

I bet many of you do. If you were reading this blog three or four years ago, Dr. Egnor was a fairly regular target topic of my excretions of not-so-Respectful Insolence. The reason for that was, at the time, I was quite annoyed that a fellow surgeon could so regularly lay down such incredible blasts of pseudoscientific nonsense in the defense of his “intelligent design” creationism views. Back then he did this as a semi-regular blogger for a blog that is a propaganda outlet for the crank ID propagandists at Discovery Institute in much the same way that Age of Autism is a propaganda outlet for the crank anti-vaccine propagandists over at Generation Rescue. That blog is Evolution News and Views, and Dr. Egnor regularly laid down flaming swaths of stupid that were irresistable to many skeptical bloggers because they were extremely “target-rich” environments. (It’s left as an exercise for the reader to decide which of these two blogs is the crankiest.)

Time went on, and I stopped writing nearly as much about evolution and evolution denialists (i.e., creationists), mainly because I tended to specialize more in medical issues, but more importantly because there already existed a bevy of excellent bloggers to counter the misinformation and pseudoscience promoted by the likes of Michael Behe and his ilk. I didn’t feel as though I were needed so much, or that I was nearly as good at dealing with evolution=. Besides, there was just so much quackery to deal with, and I knew how to deal with it in a way that satisfied me while amusing and educating my readers. Then, just yesterday, I happened to notice, almost completely by chance, that Dr. Egnor is apparently no longer satisfied with the occasional embarrassing gig writing for the Discovery Institute’s propaganda organ. Oh, no. He has his own blog now. It started 12 days ago, and it’s called Egnorance.

Yes, it really is called that.

I’ll give Dr. Egnor credit for co-opting the insult usually applied to his particularly brain dead brand of “reasoning” and “science” when it comes to the discussion of evolution, coupled with his even more brain dead attacks on atheism as “evil.” On the other hand, in the less than two week period since Dr. Egnor started his blog, he’s been a very, very busy creationist neurosurgeon blogger indeed, having published 38 posts as of this writing. It’s almost as though he’s trying to match P.Z. Myer’s hypercaffeinated blogging style post for post, pontificating on everything from abortion, to anthropogenic global warming denialism, to the usual tiresome and predictable attacks on atheists, to even more tiresome attacks on evolutionary medicine.

Hold on there a minute.

Looking back at Dr. Egnor’s usual stomping grounds, I see that he has a post there entitled Jerry Coyne and Darwinian medicine, which he’s apparently followed up on his own blog with a post entitled Darwinian medicine and proximate and evolutionary explanations. Both are a response to a post by Jerry Coyne entitled Evolution 2011: Darwinian medicine, which to me appears to be quite a reasonable and helpful summary of the current understanding of how evolutionary principles can be used to help us understand human health and disease. The whole post is well worth reading, but can be boiled down to six principles:

  1. Evolutionary constraints
  2. Mismatch between genes and environment
  3. Coevolution with pathogen transmission
  4. Tradeoffs
  5. Reproduction trumps health
  6. Some “disease” symptom and defenses against mortality are useful, even if costly

Coyne even cautions:

While I now think that Darwinian medicine is a useful and intriguing discipline, its practitioners must be careful not to fall into the same trap that’s snared many evolutionary psychologists: uncritical and untestable storytelling.

Given that I’ve always been fairly skeptical of many pronouncements of evolutionary psychologists, some of which struck me as untestable hypotheses, I can’t help but wholeheartedly agree with Coyne’s caveat in his support of evolutionary medicine. As a physician, I was particularly puzzled that anyone would propose that type I diabetes might provide an advantage because individuals with high levels of blood glucose (or so the story goes) were better able to avoid freezing to death. That’s highly implausible on so many levels, given that type I diabetes typically strikes in childhood or young adulthood and would have a profound negative effect on reproductive success.

Dr. Egnor’s response to Coyne’s quite reasonable and educational summary of the state of knowledge regarding the application of evolution to medicine is…well, classic Egnor. Let’s see how well you all remember Dr. Egnor’s repertoire of responses to evolution. What is the first complaint he makes whenever the topic of evolution in medicine comes up? That’s right, eugenics:

Eugenics is the original Darwinian medicine. According to Darwin’s understanding of human origins, man evolved by a long brutal process of natural selection, and man’s highest qualities were evolved by a process of millions of years of often violent struggle. As man became civilized, the weakest members of the species — the ill and infirm, the handicapped, the mentally deficient — were unnaturally preserved in the population through man’s charitable instincts. Darwinists cautioned that compassion for the weak was diluting the human species, allowing defective humans to breed and spread their deficiencies. The solution to this Darwinian crisis seemed obvious: human beings must be bred, like farm animals, to produce the strongest individuals and preserve the species.

Eugenics (Darwinian medicine 1.0) was a central principle in American medicine from 1900 through the late 1930′s. It was ‘consensus science’, opposed only by a few deniers (mostly Christians and especially the Catholic church, which strongly opposed eugenics in any form) who insisted on respect for human dignity despite illness and infirmity. Eugenics was taught in medical schools and in biology programs, and was embraced by major medical and scientific organizations in the United States. Eugenics was endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association, the Birth Control League (later renamed Planned Parenthood), and countless universities. It was mainstream consensus science. Compulsory sterilization laws were passed, and 50,000 Americans were sterilized against their will in the first half of the 20th century.

The Germans deeply admired and emulated the American eugenics program, and took Darwinian medicine a step further. In the late 1930′s the Nazis organized the T4 program, which was an explicitly Darwinian approach to cleansing the German gene pool of weak people, most of whom were handicapped.

Yawn.

I’ve lost count how many times I’ve dealt with this particular canard–and just from Dr. Egnor alone, such as when he tried the same nonsense with P.Z. Myers when he tried exactly the same nonsensical argument he made above, only four years ago, thus demonstrating that truly his cranium is impervious to science; and when he couldn’t even get his story straight while coining the term “eugenics denial” to describe those who call his nonsense about eugenics and evolution for the nonsense that it is.

Of course, the whole canard about how “Darwinism” lead inevitably to eugenics and the Holocaust sounds convincing because there’s a grain of truth in it. But just a grain. Does it really need to be said again that eugenics is basically selective breeding, which farmers have done for millennia, only applied to humans? True, “social Darwinists” did seize upon on Darwin’s theory, as did racial hygienists like Alfred Ploetz, because it was convenient to do so to justify their view of who is “superior” and “inferior” in society, but it is not Darwin’s fault that they applied his theory to areas where it was not scientifically appropriate to apply it. In essence, social Darwinists and eugenicists misused Darwin’s theory to justify pre-existing racism and bigotry, just as scientific racists before Darwin used other reasoning to justify the “superiority” of their race over another or the “culling of the herd” to “improve the stock” of their people. This is a very different process from evolution, in which the selective pressures brought to bear on organisms by the environment plus random genetic variation, not the intentional selection of traits, determine which traits propagate in subsequent generations. Darwin’s genius was to make the leap from how farmers bred animals to realize that forces other than human intellect could produce selective pressure that could result in enormous changes in organisms to the point of speciation.

Even if it were true that eugenicists used evolutionary theory to justify their vile activities in the early 20th century and the whole concept of “racial hygiene,” it would be irrelevant to the argument over whether evolution is a good theory. Just because evil people put a scientific theory to evil use does not say anything whatsoever about whether that scientific theory is a valid one or not. One might just as well condemn Einstein, Niels Bohr, and all the physicists whose work formed the basis for the construction of the atomic bomb for the use to which their work was put. If we look at Hitler’s Nazi Germany, the justification for “racial hygiene” was couched more in terms of natural law (that the strong should rule over the weak) and the sort of selective breeding that has been practiced by farmers for centuries. Once again, I suggest that Dr. Egnor read Robert Proctor’s excellent treatment of the subject, Racial Hygiene: Medicine Under the Nazis for more information.

In his second response to Coyne, Dr. Egnor next decides to try to use and abuse the concept of proximate versus evolutionary explanations of biology, using as the basis of his “arguments” (if you can call them that) an article co-authored by one of the big names in evolutionary medicine, University of Michigan Professor Randolph M. Nesse entitled Darwinian Medicine: What Evolutionary Medicine Offers to Endothelium Researchers Believe it or not, I happen to be an endothelium researcher myself; one of my major areas of research interest is tumor angiogenesis, and you can’t study tumor angiogenesis without studying vascular endothelium, the cells that line the inside of blood vessels. You also can’t study atherosclerosis (which I used to study myself, way, way back in the day, as in the early 1990s) without studying vascular endothelium, because at its simplest atherosclerosis appears to arise from a chronic inflammatory response in the endothelium brought about, most likely, by oxidized LDL. Nesse describes the evolutionary tradeoffs thusly:

One way of thinking about atherosclerosisis to view it as the result of an evolved adaptive response that protects against infection but that results in endothelial injury in modern environments. Because the consequences of the injury occur late in life, natural selection preserves those systems promoting atherosclerosisin preferenceto those suppressingthem, a clas- sic case of antagonistic pleiotropy. This is a trade-off, but not quite a classic one. Because the costs were probably minimal until the past century, and because they caused no harm until modern times, the genetic variations that increasevulnerability to atherosclerosis are not really “defects,” but are instead excellent examples of “genetic quirks” that give rise to untoward effects only when they interact with factors encountered in modern environments. These speculations about the adaptive roots of atherosclerosisgive rise to a specific prediction that individuals who have a genetic predisposition to atheroscle- rosis may be less vulnerable to infection and more susceptible to other inflammatory diseases.

Dr. Egnor, as you might imagine, has a huge problem with this sort of application of evolutionary theory to medicine. Actually, he has several of them, all based on his apparent view that only “proximate explanations” are the “only explanations useful for treatment.” This leads him to make eight statements:

1) All of the relevant pathophysiology is provided by the proximate explanations, which are the only explanations useful for treatment.

2) Evolutionary explanations are based on proximate explanations– scientists understand a disease, and then, based on the detailed proximate explanation for the disease, evolutionary biologists concoct speculations as to how the disease evolved. Evolutionary explanations are always dependent on proximate explanations, not the other way around.

Apparently, prevention never enters Dr. Egnor’s mind. If we can understand how the relevant pathophysiology evolved in how a disease like atherosclerosis develops, who is more likely to get it, and who is less likely, it will provide us with a set of rationales, molecular targets, and other potential strategies to prevent the development of the disease. As usual, Dr. Egnor’s thinking is far too black-and-white. As a fellow surgeon, I can say it’s actually rather…surgeon-like. Surgeon-like in the worst way, not the best, in that he only thinks of things he can immediately fix and doesn’t care about anything else, just like the stereotype about surgeons. As Ness and Dawkins put it, “even knowing every detail about a trait offers only one half of a complete biological explanation. The other half is pro- vided by an evolutionary explanation of how that trait came to exist in the first place.” They continue:

Physicians are increasingly being educated as if they are techni- cians’ identifying problems and applying officially approved solu- tions. This makes very poor use of medicine’s most valuable resource. We select medical students carefully because we want-or should want-doctors who think. Providing them with a deep evo- lutionary understanding of the body will foster clear thinking. Instead of viewing the body as a designed machine, they will see it as a product of natural selection with traits more exquisite than in any machine, some ofwhich nonetheless leave us vulnerable to diseases.

Dr. Egnor clearly doesn’t want doctors who think. He thinks he does, but he appears unconcerned with whether physicians in training are ever taught to think more deeply about how the body functions, including its evolutionary development and the constraints it operates under. This sort of understanding is becoming more and more important with the rise of genomic medicine, as genomics and systems biology cannot be understood properly except in the light of evolution.

3) Evolutionary explanations do not provide a substantial basis for therapy. Even in situations in which evolutionary biologists claim that an evolutionary explanation has provided therapeutic insight, actual scientific confirmation of the effect of the therapy (i.e.- the proximate explanation) is needed to actually implement the theory.

4) Evolutionary explanations by themselves are worthless to medicine. All medical treatments are based on detailed proximate explanations.

Notice how repetitive Dr. Egnor is. He’s padding his list. Complaints #1 and #2 are in essence the same complain. Complaints #3 and #4 are basically the same complaint, which is a variant of the complaint in #1 and #2.

Leaving that aside, these two have to be the most facile yet. In #3, Dr. Egnor is in essence unhappy that we actually have to test our hypotheses scientifically and in clinical trials. He seems to think that evolutionary insights into disease can result in treatments immediately, which is silly. Even understandings of proximate causes don’t instantly translate into therapy, and such therapies still need to be tested. In #4, Dr. Egnor is tearing down a massive straw man. No one says that evolutionary explanations alone can produce treatments. Rather, as Nesse and Dawkins put it:

Upon hearing about new evolutionary approaches to medicine, most journalists and many doctors ask how it can improve treat- ment in the clinic today. This is the wrong question. There are some direct clinical applications, such as hesitating before blocking a defensive response such as a raised temperature or vomiting. However, theory should not change practice directly. Instead, evolution offers established methods such as population genetics, new questions about why the body is vulnerable, strategies for answering them, and a scientific foundation for an integrative understanding of the body.

Dr. Egnor seems to view evolutionary biological approaches to disease as something that should instantly give him a simple answer to disease. One wonders if he considers a detailed understanding of neuroscience to be necessary to practice neurosurgery. In any case, properly applied, evolutionary biology can lead to new, testable hypotheses regarding disease, which can potentially lead to an understanding of how the proximate causes with which Dr. Egnor is so enamored came about and suggest unexpected ways to attack those causes. Indeed, this article even suggests a general strategy that can be used.

5) Even in areas of medicine in which evolutionary insight is claimed to be important (such as the development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria), the necessary expertise– microbiology, cell biology, molecular biology, molecular genetics, population biology, pharmacology, pathology, etc.– is already an integral part of medical education and research. Evolutionary biology has contributed nothing of substance in the past, except to point out that bacteria that are not killed by antibiotics are not killed by antibiotics, which is sole insight provided by ‘natural selection’ to antibiotic resistance.

I’ve already answered this truly brain dead argument, and I did it four years ago. It’s truly frightening that an apparently respected, senior academic neurosurgeon can exist with such a poor understanding of antibiotic resistance. One example of a success of applying evolutionary principles to disease also comes to mind: The combination drug therapy of HIV. Realizing how rapidly HIV evolved resistance to monodrug therapy, scientists had to develop cocktails that targeted multiple different viral functions in order to decrease the likelihood that resistance can develop.

While I’m at it, though, I can point out that an understanding of evolution is necessary to understand another problem of resistance, namely that of cancer. Cancer becomes resistant to chemotherapy in much the same manner that bacteria become resistant to antibiotics. Similarly, combination targeted therapy offers the hope of turning cancer into a chronic, treatable set of diseases in much the same way that anti-retroviral cocktails have turned HIV into a chronic treatable diseaes. True, a deeper understanding of this process will be necessary if we are ever to have truly personalized medicine in cancer, but we do appear to be on the way.

6) As evolutionary biologists readily acknowledge, there are very few evolutionary biologists in medical schools, and modern medicine has progressed rapidly and far without evolutionary speculations about disease.

Non sequitur. Just because we have progressed far without the intensive use to evolutionary theory, that doesn’t mean evolution is useless to medicine. After all, Dr. Egnor admits that we haven’t used evolutionary theory! In any case, concrete thinking is hindering him again. Evolutionary thinking undergirds many of the algorithms used to analyze genomic data, and genomics is clearly the next wave in many areas of medicine.

7) Evolutionary speculations about disease belong in departments of evolutionary biology, not in medical schools. Any genuine insight provided by such evolutionary speculation can be communicated to medical researchers through the normal process of communication (a brief e-mail, a paper presented at a scientific meeting, etc)

This is just plain silly. There’s a huge difference between seeing abstracts at meetings or brief e-mails and daily contact and collaboration. It’s the latter that really bring the complementary strengths of each collaborator to fruition.

8) The incorporation of evolutionary biology in medical school curricula is a waste of valuable resources. It is the actual proximate scientific explanations for disease that guides medical research. Speculation about biological origins already has a scientific home, and provides little help to medicine.

You know, I think I get it now. Dr. Egnor seems to think that there exist two silos, one called “medicine and medical research” and one called “biology,” and never the twain shall meet. Or, at least, to him the two have little to do with each other. Why? Because, as an ID creationist, Dr. Egnor clearly believes that humans are exceptional and that studying all that biology and genetics in “lower” organisms has little to say regarding how human disease arises and should be treated, hence his perseveration about “proximal causes.” Admittedly, supporters of evolutionary medicine have to be careful not to trod the ground trod before by some evolutionary psychologists, whose “just so” stories resulted in untestable and unfalsifiable hypotheses, but its opponents also need to understand that applying evolution to biology will probably not result in insights immediately and directly translatable to the treatment of disease, at least not in the short term. In many cases, it might not even change day-to-day practice. It will, however, guide research, and a deeper biological understanding of disease.

Unfortunately, Dr. Egnor betrays thinking that drives me crazy. Rather than thinking as a scientist, he is thinking as a technician. He don’t need to know no steenkin’ evolution! Just give him the “proximal cause” of disease and let him cut it out!

Comments

  1. #1 David Marjanović
    June 24, 2011

    As a physician, I was particularly puzzled that anyone would propose that type I diabetes might provide an advantage because individuals with high levels of blood glucose (or so the story goes) were better able to avoid freezing to death.

    …Wow.

    Individuals with high levels of blood glucose would be better able to avoid literally freezing. Blood turning to ice is what I’m talking about.

    Perhaps the idea was that more glucose would allow a higher metabolism and thus more heat production. But the glucose doesn’t need to be stored in the blood, obviously.

    Neils

    Niels. Spelling him with ei would change the pronunciation.

    Unfortunately, Dr. Egnor betrays thinking that drives me crazy. Rather than thinking as a scientist, he is thinking as a technician. He don’t need to know no steenkin’ evolution! Just give him the “proximal cause” of disease and let him cut it out!

    QFT.

  2. #2 Orac
    June 24, 2011

    You do realize, don’t you, how much pedants who pick at typos, spelling errors, etc. annoy the hell out of me.

  3. #3 anarchic teapot
    June 24, 2011

    Individuals with high levels of blood glucose would be better able to avoid literally freezing. Blood turning to ice is what I’m talking about.

    Nice to see there’s a semantic difference, but I think I speak for most people when I say I fail to see how blood not freezing would help anyone if they’re already dead. You don’t get evolution gold stars for leaving a pretty corpse.

    Anyway, I just wandered over to Eggnogg’s brainfart zone and saw he barfed out a few more posts after that. It’s not always easy to tell what point he’s tring to make amid all the tinfoil-hatted Bible-waving. I got this, more or less: global warming is just mass hysteria, they want to abort your unborn daughters; Intelligent design debunks Darwinist “mythology” (those who actually bothered to read Origin Of Species know Darwin debunks ID early on); atheists are Bad Bullying People (it’s apparently OK to state fund religious activity and speeches, but not atheist).

    I also noted, with some repulsion, that the Great Man has loudly applauded the acquittal of Dutch anti-muslim politico Geert Wilders (yet another instance of where the right to free speech comes up against the right not to be discriminated against). I don’t mind the free speech part so much as applauding this racist thug as a “good and brave” man. Bleurgh.

    I suggest another name for this wart: a Palindrone. Same incisive grasp of history, same mastery of logic.

  4. #4 spelling police
    June 24, 2011

    Avast ye! “realize” RealiSe. Colonials. Apart from that, keep the good work what what.

  5. #5 MacTurk
    June 24, 2011

    Dr Egnor’s website/blog reads like a cheap or poor man’s version of World Nut Daily.

    Same obsessions, same stupidity. Just smaller.

  6. #6 Composer99
    June 24, 2011

    I’m a bit surprised that defenders of evolutionary theory and its applications in medicine resort to the term ‘Darwinian’, which appears to me to leave the field open to use of the weasel word ‘Darwinism’ so beloved of creationists.

    To be fair, lots of scientific phenomena are named after scientists (e.g. Einstein-Bose condensates). It just seems unusual, given the history of creationists and the ID smokescreen, to give them such a rhetorical opening.

  7. #7 palindrom
    June 24, 2011

    “Yes, it is really called that.”

    Just priceless. Thank you!

    It’s remarkable to me that such a great preponderance of creationist/ID drivel arises on this continent; this is yet another bit of evidence (as if one were needed) that it’s all religion in disguise, since it so neatly reflects the hugely greater influence of fundamentalist theology in the US compared to Europe.

  8. #8 rork
    June 24, 2011

    If I understood the workings of every human molecule, perhaps how they evolved wouldn’t be strictly needed to get me through the day. Until then, I think I’ll still be keeping my eye on the part of the genome browser that shows the homology to mouse, fly, and yeast, as will every other researcher.

  9. #9 puppygod
    June 24, 2011

    I’m baffled by the false equivalence between Darwinian evolution and eugenics for a couple of reasons.

    First of all, eugenic is all about UNNATURAL selection. That’s the exact opposite of what Darwin was writing about.

    Second thing, wasn’t eugenic proposed by Plato? That means the concept is at least 2200 years older than Darwin. So, yeah.

  10. #10 John Pieret
    June 24, 2011

    In blogging about Dr. Egnor, I usually describe him as the Discovery [sic] Institute’s highly skilled meat cutter. I think we should reserve the term “surgeon” for people who are more concerned about their patients than for their own ideologies.

    Second thing, wasn’t eugenic proposed by Plato? That means the concept is at least 2200 years older than Darwin. So, yeah.

    It was (at least if you believe their enemies) practiced by the Spartans long before Plato.

  11. #11 Vicki
    June 24, 2011

    He wants to banish evolutionary biology but keep molecular biology, molecular genetics, and population biology? Oh, right, it’s theology or maybe politics, not science.

  12. #12 JayK
    June 24, 2011

    As I discussed in an earlier thread, too many people with advanced degrees in specialties don’t recognize themselves as mere tradesmen, instead believing that their degrees grant them some semblance of credibility. Dr. Egnor makes it clear that he’s little more than a highly trained tradesman with little ability or training in critical thought or scientific modalities.

    Schools need to push harder to get students to think like scientists, to embrace critical thought, skepticism and curiosity. Otherwise we just end up with a lot of people with letters behind their names that don’t actually contribute to anything more than their own wallets.

  13. #13 Denice Walter
    June 24, 2011

    Perhaps 2 years ago, despairing over the ID creationist crowd’s work, I decided to take in a few museum exhibits as an antidote: obviously the recent 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth at the Smithsonian, Washington, and the collection representing human evolution at Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven. U Penn’s Museum of Archeology and Anthropology (Philadelphia) didn’t hurt either.

    When I was a child, I liked to draw realistically ( people, animals, plants) and first looked into biology because I wanted to understand how my subjects were “put together”. When I first read about Darwin, his ideas made perfect sense because I could already see the connections between species via *form* as well as functionally- an animal’s paw and a hand- sure! How various plant forms appear to be inter-related: you can *see* evolution! Moths in dirtier environments are darker as camouflage! Darwin explains so much: it’s enough to make me wax lyrical- but I won’t.

    Which brings me to Piltdown: the vehement opposition to evolution produced efforts to prove the contrary, which continue today. My question is : if another “Piltdown” were manufactured *now*, how would they go about it? It’s harder to evade criticism because of advanced technology. Has anyone attempted to create evidence or present previously known fossils in some new context shiftily to convince the true believers that Darwin is the real hoax?

    My greatest concern is the concerted effort to push this nonsense into the classroom as part of a science curriculum- where it doesn’t belong. I just had a thought: we’re fighting a war on many fronts- woo infiltrates medicine, Scientology aims at corrupting psychology/ psychiatry, ID soils the life sciences. However, why isn’t there an equivalent movement is, oh I don’t know, say *geology*? I guess oil companies are more reality-based, except for AGW.

    Perhaps we should realise that a certain portion** of our fellow and sister humans will always buy unrealistic ideas- afterall, it steers the gaming industry as well as the Market: it “sells papers” and creates jobs.

    ** I leave all speculation about actual percentages to others.

  14. #14 Old Rockin' Dave
    June 24, 2011

    1)Orac, did you leave the question mark off in #2 deliberately.
    2)Denice (#14), there is an equivalent movement in geology. Part and parcel with ID is “Young Earth Creationism”, which tries to prove that the Earth is only 6,000 years old and its features can all be accounted for by the Noachian flood.

  15. #15 JayK
    June 24, 2011

    Denice: Ica Stones seem to be the current attempt to subvert evolution by using fakery. I’m currently monitoring one “Stan Lutz” that is operating within my state as a creationism expert and has a new “creation museum”. If one types in Ica Stones to teh google, the second link to the Skeptic’s Dictionary has a pretty decent summary. In order to evade detection, the carvings are said to be “indeterminable age” by current methods, so the creationist pushers are claiming that they are all found in burial caves that are “ancient”.

    Oh, and the dino/human footprints from Texas.

    //I didn’t provide a link because of the recent aggressive spam filter.

  16. #16 DW
    June 24, 2011

    @ Old Rockin’ Dave: I was of course being facetious.
    @ JayK: Thanks. I was hoping that our clever commenters would delineate brilliant ideas for hoaxes to support ID.

    Gentlemen: Thank you both for spelling my name correctly.

  17. #17 Poodle Stomper
    June 24, 2011

    As evolutionary biologists readily acknowledge, there are very few evolutionary biologists in medical schools, and modern medicine has progressed rapidly and far without evolutionary speculations about disease.

    Really? I do genetics research using mouse models precisely because evolution would suggest that we share enough similarities to make such research useful. Research in animal models translate to humans (but not always, of course) BECAUSE of evolutionary principles, not DESPITE it. Sigh. I wonder where he bought his MD degree.

  18. #18 Krebiozen
    June 24, 2011

    @Denice
    I very much doubt there is any field of human knowledge that does not have a crank with weird ideas lurking in it (often a dentist). In geology there’s also the abiogenic petroleum hypothesis that claims that oil and natural gas are not produced from fossil life forms, but are somehow generated by the earth through geologic processes.

  19. #19 SLC
    June 24, 2011

    Re Krebiozen @ #19

    If Mr. Krebiozen is referring to theories proposed by the late Thomas Gold, it is my information that he was claiming that hydrocarbons located in the earth were mostly deposited there when the earth was formed, not that they were produced by geological processes, i.e. they are primordial. This was based on the discovery of clouds of hydrocarbons that have been found in the galaxy.

    IMHO, this may be the case for natural gas. However, the likelihood that liquid oil was so deposited is rather unlikely and that coal was so deposited is rather off the wall.

  20. #20 Krebiozen
    June 24, 2011

    @SLC
    Creationists have taken Thomas Gold’s theories and run with them. If the earth is young then oil cannot be formed from organisms that are millions of years old. If you Google “abiotic oil” or “abiogenic oil” you will find crankery aplenty.

  21. #21 The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge
    June 24, 2011

    How can a neurosurgeon, of all specialties, deny evolution? With the rest of the human body, to see evolution in action, you have to look into the past, into our ancestry, but with the brain, you see a more-or-less undifferentiated mass of neurons evolving through natural selection right in front of your eyes!

    Neural pathways that connect your sensory inputs with the appropriate brain area are carved out by strengthening those that are used and literally killing those that aren’t. The same goes for what you see and hear and touch and think—everything that goes on in the world around you and in your gradual adaptation to it causes your brain to evolve. This guy is stupendously obtuse. I don’t think I’m going to let him crack my head open, thank you very much!

  22. #22 Denice Walter
    June 24, 2011

    @ Krebiozen:

    I am familiar with the non-fossil petroleum idea. For some reason I enjoy “collecting” crankish theories as others do sea shells.

    The worst ( or is it the best?) one I’ve ever encountered is that evolution actually *did* occur over aeons of time _but_ not all humans can be traced to a common ancestress “Eve” from Africa 200,000 years ago. Seems that various groups just sprouted up like wildflowers in different locales( Might’ve been dreamt up by a dentist, come to think of it!) This theory’s advocate assured me that creatures such as myself *couldn’t* be related to Africans; when I replied, ” Why not?”, he stalked off, fuming and sputtering. I wonder why?

  23. #23 JayK
    June 24, 2011

    @Denice Walter: Anytime you hear a creationist or IDiot using the term “convergent” in relation to speciation, you know you’re in for a hilariously mangled argument. I found a couple racist arguments earlier this week that attempted to use the scientific concept of convergent evolution to prove that the races are not equal. I didn’t save the links for future reference, though :(

  24. #24 The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge
    June 24, 2011

    Come to think of it, did any theory Tommy Gold came up with ever pan out? The Steady-State Theory? Inexhaustible supplies of methane from the mantle? The meters-thick “moon dust” the Lunar Module was going to be swallowed up by?

  25. #25 lilady
    June 24, 2011

    Just a few comments here.

    I’ve had a wide exposure to many physicians in many specialties and have found that they are a cross section in their religious thinking across a wide spectrum of Eastern and Western religions…from the “very faithful/orthodox” to those who who have fallen away from the beliefs of their backgrounds..and even those who have embraced atheism. I’ve socialized with them as well, where we have discussed our religious backgrounds and “the meaning” of those backgrounds in contemporary lifestyles. See, age plus a career in health care and having a profoundly disabled medically unstable child has its benefits.

    My very devout and orthodox colleagues and friends, do not “plug in” their religious beliefs, in their professional lives. Can religious people separate out the beliefs and act professionally…yes indeed.

    Perhaps my experience is somewhat unique. I grew up and was educated while attending a very strict/dogmatic evangelical church, while always exposed to kids from other religious backgrounds. My mother especially was of a very liberal mindset, instilling in us a sense of humanism (I doubt if she knew the definition) and an appreciation of the differences we saw all around us.

    Attending a University, I met many students and professors who had some (foreign to me) backgrounds…which also expanded my view of the world. Slowly, I developed a spiritual identity that I cling to today, yet I retain a Christian identity.

    I find it unbelievable that any physician is as narrow-minded and emotionally invested in a Christian identity, that he denies evolutionary science. Sad.

  26. #26 Colin Day
    June 24, 2011

    @spelling police
    #4

    Can you spell “Cornwallis” and “Yorktown”?

  27. #27 Composer99
    June 24, 2011

    Perhaps Dr Egnor’s choice of title can be part of a tutorial on ‘blogging by the irony-impaired’.

  28. #28 gdave
    June 24, 2011

    @The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge:

    Some Thomas Gold hypotheses that panned out:

    *Resonance in the inner ear results from a feedback mechanism

    *The source of some recently (in 1951) detected radio signals was outside the Milky Way

    *Pulsars are rapidly rotating neutron stars

    *The Moon is covered by a layer of fine rock powder (he originally estimated it to be meters-thick, but then revised his estimate to a few centimeters)

    Granted, the above examples are all from the 1950s and 60s – he seems to have veered off into borderline, if not actual, crack-pottery after that.

  29. #29 lilady
    June 25, 2011

    Did anyone read Egnor’s posting on June 21st about pending legislation in NYS that will legalize gay marriage?

    He begins by saying “Like most people I believe in natural law….” then launches into all the reasons why gays should not be married, including the bible and the U.S. Constitution and of course, the “natural law”. Dr. Egnor is somewhat perceptive however about the political climate in NYS…he resides there…and acknowledges that the law will be passed.

    I suppose Dr. Egnor is in a dither now…the law was passed about two hours ago and will be signed by Governor Cuomo shortly.

    Oh Dr. Egnor must be pounding away at the keyboard composing a doozy of an article (Gay Marriage in New York State Part II)…I can hardly wait.

  30. #30 The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge
    June 25, 2011

    Thanks gdave. I even knew he was the one that theorized that pulsars were neutron stars and vaguely remembered the inner-ear thing. Nothing like cognitive bias.

    There was nothing wrong with advocating the Steady State Theory in 1948, as far as that goes. It’s people like Fred Hoyle who wouldn’t give it up into the new century that you could call cranks

  31. #31 MartinM
    June 25, 2011

    It’s always hilarious to see creationists talking about eugenics. All but the very dimmest of creationists accept that evolution occurs to some degree, they just claim that it has limits; generally, that it’s an inherently destructive process that cannot create new structures/information/whatever. They also believe that this destructive nature can be overcome only by the intervention of an intelligent agent.

    …sorry, which position is supposed to support eugenics, again?

  32. #32 natural cynic
    June 25, 2011

    Of course eugenics predated Darwin’s theory. As proof, we have the word of Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder who was rightfully shitcanned by CBS in ’88 for claiming that slave owners bred their charges for speed and strength :\

  33. #33 Militant Agnostic
    June 25, 2011

    lilady @29

    Oh Dr. Egnor must be pounding away at the keyboard composing a doozy of an article (Gay Marriage in New York State Part II)…I can hardly wait.

    I went there (now I have to bleach my hard drive) and he hasn’t posted anything yet – maybe he realizes that he when in a hole he should stop digging.

    I found this beautiful image for the victory of tolerance and reason in New York

    http://www.mirkoilicillo.com/7-gaymarriageban.jpg

    Safe for Work (except maybe in Utah) :)

  34. #34 lilady
    June 26, 2011

    @ Militant Agnostic: The picture is lovely and so in keeping with our inclusive “American Way” (sorry, Dr. Egnor).

    I also saw on TV news gay couples in the gallery of the NYS Senate embracing once the bill was passed, while so-called Christians who were standing vigil in the hallways of the capitol building dropping to their knees in prayer and weeping over the passage of this bill.

    I’m a Christian, straight and married and I don’t see how gay marriages in any way undermine heterosexual unions or in any way undermine society…I just don’t “get it”.

    There are times I miss Rev. Jerry Falwell (not) for his proclamations about LGBT people who anger God and sent AIDs to plague us…God also was so angry that the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred as did Hurricane Katrina…nice vengeful Rev. Falwell.

  35. “Egnorance” I thought you were kidding, so I looked. Someone, please… tell me this is a Poe….

  36. #36 MG
    June 26, 2011

    The blogger’s time might be invested in other, more useful ways. Writing is not your forte.

    It never ceases to amaze me how intellectuals will rant and rave over subjects they don’t believe. What a collossal waste of time – the whole investment is in trying to make others look like small minded dullards even if they have Phds and tenures.

    It would seem to be evident enough that if ID is a fairy tale silence would be the most inelligent posture. These rants are simply group hugs for the self-proclaimed elite who think the rest of the world is off their rocker. As if religious ideology consistently over rules reason. And as if scholars are not because their position is at odds with yours.

    I mean I wouldn’t blog about how stupid children are who belive in Santa. Experience tells me they will grow out of it. If they don’t wxperience tells me there are counselors or psychiatric categories to assist them to deal with their abnormality. But I still wouldn’t make sport of cognitive impediments.

    But, that posture seems to fly out the window, conveniently, in the academy. If you question the high peists of popular dogma the response will not be an inviting dialogue – the hegemonic response will be, “Off with your head!”

  37. #37 Chris
    June 26, 2011

    MG:

    It would seem to be evident enough that if ID is a fairy tale silence would be the most inelligent posture.

    Hahahahahaha! That is very funny.

    Except, silly person, there are folks trying to push that fairy tale into schools. It is not merely a fairy tale, but an attempt to inject religion into public schools and undermine science education.

  38. #38 Krebiozen
    June 26, 2011

    an attempt to inject religion into public schools and undermine science education

    That will never work. Oh wait… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRdAe3UAIVs

  39. #39 lilady
    June 26, 2011

    Kudos to Chris…you actually understood that rant…I didn’t.

    @ Krebiozen: Scary…ain’t it?

    I guess we have (another) religious troll here who wants to make certain that (their brand of) Christianity is taught in public school and their strict adherence to the bible should be the textbook of choice for public schools.

  40. #40 Krebiozen
    June 26, 2011

    @lilady

    Scary…ain’t it?

    Truly terrifying. Of course the brightest girls are less likely to aspire to being beauty queens, but even so…

  41. #41 Paul Murray
    June 26, 2011

    A major misunderstanding is the idea that “fitness” is some sort of linear scale. This misunderstanding comes from religious ideas about a scale of being – plants, animals, man, angels, and God.

    “Fittest” in the context of evolution means as in a piece of jigsaw puzzle “fitting”. Those individuals survive to breed who are a better fit for their immediate environment. A different idea altogether to the eugenicists “only the fittest must be allowed to breed”.

  42. #42 Stevarious
    June 27, 2011

    “Of course, the whole canard about how “Darwinism” lead inevitably to eugenics and the Holocaust sounds convincing because there’s a grain of truth in it.”

    Countdown to quotemine in 3…2…1…

    Maybe we’ll see it as:
    “Of course…”Darwinism” lead(s) inevitably to eugenics and the Holocaust…there’s…truth in it.”

    That’s what *I* would do as a peddler of deliberate ignorance.

  43. #43 Calli Arcale
    June 27, 2011

    MG:

    It would seem to be evident enough that if ID is a fairy tale silence would be the most inelligent posture.
    ….
    If you question the high peists of popular dogma the response will not be an inviting dialogue – the hegemonic response will be, “Off with your head!”

    You go from saying that if you don’t believe in something, you should shut up about it, to saying that questioning the authorities about something invites an Inquisition? I’m finding this rather confusing. It seems you are both endorsing silence about ID, while at the same time lambasting the establishment for censoring opposing views. This is very strange, because aren’t you yourself endorsing censorship by saying that we should all shut up about ID?

    It is true that one can consider certain topics beneath one. For all that you are attempting to defend the proponents of ID from being made sport of, you are awfully insulting to them yourself, comparing them to people who believed in Santa Claus as children yet grew up and retained the belief and now require psychiatric help. Check for the log in your eye.

    If you find this discussion uncomfortable for you, no one is forcing you to participate.

  44. #44 Prometheus
    June 27, 2011

    So now we have the “Arrogance of Egnorance”?

    Too much.

    Prometheus

  45. #45 Anton P. Nym
    June 27, 2011

    As if religious ideology consistently over rules reason.

    Blood transfusions. Antipsychotic medications. Clitorectomies. Drivers’ licenses for women. Teaching evolution in the science classroom. Elevators that stop at every floor one day a week because pushing a floor button would violate the Sabbath.

    Yes, I’d say that ideology (religious or otherwise) does often overrule reason in an alarmingly large population.

    — Steve

  46. #46 lilady
    June 27, 2011

    I’ve got to stop “slumming” at wacko web sites…but it’s so much fun.

    Egnor has double-blogged today:

    (7 A.M.) Orac and I Chat about Darwinian Medicine

    (6P.M.) Same-Sex Marriage: The problem is that it is not “rubbish”

    What a hoot this guy is. He compares gay marriage to polygamy, marriage between older men and underage girls and bestiality. Gay marriage is destructive and against “natural law”…the death knell for heterosexual marriages, according to Dr. Egnor.

    I am scared poop-less…does this mean that my happy long-standing hetero marriage will be destroyed?

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