Pharyngula

Egnor responds, falls flat on his face

The other day, the Time magazine blog strongly criticized the DI’s list of irrelevant, unqualified scientists who “dissent from Darwin”, and singled out a surgeon, Michael Egnor, as an example of the foolishness of the people who support the DI. I took apart some of Egnor’s claims, that evolutionary processes can’t generate new information. In particular, I showed that there are lots of publications that show new information emerging in organisms.

Egnor replied in a comment. He’s still completely wrong. The Discovery Institute has posted his vapid comment, too, as if it says something, so let’s briefly show where he has gone wrong.

In addition to showing that PubMed lists over 2800 papers relevant to his question, I singled out one: an analysis that showed that insecticide resistance in mosquitos was generated by a mutation of an acetylcholinesterase gene, and that they also had a duplication of the gene—this is a classic example of how to generate new information. Duplicate one gene into two, and subsequent mutations in one copy can introduce useful variants, such as resistance to insecticide, while the original function is still left intact in the other copy.

Egnor foolishly rejects this, claiming it does not address his challenge, with a shift of the goalposts that he doesn’t seem to realize still leaves me scoring.

So what’s the threshold, quantitatively? It seems to be a threshold of information generating capability. But the information in living things is specified; it does things, specific things. In that sense, it differs completely from Shannon information, which is a measure of randomness and the extent to which a message can be compressed. Shannon information is not relevant to biological information.

Notice the sneaky move. He’s going to demand a quantitative measure of an information increase, but at the same time, he’s going to argue that mathematical measures of information, such as Shannon information, can’t be used. He’s saying “Give me a number, but you aren’t allowed to use any procedures that produce a number”—heads he wins, tails I lose.

Unfortunately for Egnor, I didn’t say anything about Shannon information; a gene duplication itself represents an increase in Shannon information, of course, but that wasn’t my point. I gave him an example of a change in genetic information of a specific organism that “does things, specific things”! The mosquitos have a new property, pesticide resistance, and they achieved it by adding a new gene, a copy of an old one with significant changes. It answered his demands, both the old one on the Time blog and the new one in his comment, perfectly.

His other tactic was to claim that my search of PubMed as invalid and didn’t meet his requirements.

Regarding your PubMed literature search, I must not have used the words ‘Information’, ‘Measurement, and ‘Random’ often enough in my discussion with Mike Lemonick, and you thought I said ‘gene’ ‘duplication’ and ‘evolution’. I understand; we all make mistakes. If you actually want to answer my question, type ‘information’, and (not ‘or’!) ‘measurement’, and ‘random’, and the name of the species in which you wish to look for experimental measurement of information generation by random processes.

I did a PubMed search just now. I searched for ‘measurement’, and ‘information’ and ‘random’ and ‘e coli’. There were only three articles, none of which have any bearing on my question. The first article, by Bettelheim et al, was entitled ‘The diversity of Escherichia coli serotypes and biotypes in cattle faeces’.

Anybody who uses a database search function knows that there is a skill to defining search terms; you’re going to be frustrated if you use the terms that you think everyone should be using, rather than the terms that they actually use. It’s an astonishing bit of hubris that Egnor can design an incompetent search that by his own admission fails to turn up any relevant articles, and he thinks that is superior to my search, based on knowledge of terms that relevant researchers in evolutionary biology would use, that turned up over 2800 good articles. The real test is to look at the articles you get, and see if they answer your question; Egnor did not do that. My search turned up articles describing mechanisms of evolution of new proteins and whole new clades by genetic and molecular processes; he apparently prefers to close his eyes to that and instead tailor a search that excludes anything that might conflict with his preconceptions.

Nick Matzke has also thrown in his two cents on that thread, and it’s a good reply so I’ll promote it here.

Michael Egnor, despite being cited fawningly yet again on the DI blog, has yet to respond to my simple answer to his silly question about the origin of new genetic information.

Here’s my answer again:

The Discovery Institute blog just linked to this thread, so I am just now coming to it.

Regarding Egnor’s question about the ability of random mutation and natural selection to produce new genetic information —

Michael Egnor is just ignorantly repeating some of the dumbest lines from the ID propaganda manual. This paper explains the origin of new genetic information, reviewing 20+ examples where the origin of new genes with new functions has been reconstructed in detail:

Long M, Betran E, Thornton K, Wang W. (2003). The origin of new genes: glimpses from the young and old. Nature Reviews Genetics. 4(11):865-75.

The paper is free online in various places — as is Manyuan Long’s vita, which contains dozens of papers specifically on this topic.

Egnor has probably never read this paper or any similar work, which is why he has such a beknighted view of the relevant science. Dr. Egnor: admit you were wrong on your very first argument, and that the headquarters of the ID movement, the Discovery Institute, was also wrong in praising your argument here, and let’s start this discussion over.

(PS: Regarding gene duplication — sure, an exact duplicate isn’t “new” information. But after duplication — sit down for this shocker — mutation and selection can change a copy. Now you have two genes with divergent sequences and different functions. This is new information in anyone’s book.

As for a “limit” — why should anyone think there is any particular limit to the amount of information this process can generate? If evolution can generate three new genes (known as of 2003) in the Drosophila melanogaster genome in 3 million years (see Long et al. 2003, Table 2), it can obviously do much more with millions of species and billions of years. Any arbitrary line can be crossed by saying “add one more new gene”. Game over, man.)

(PPS: Dr. Egnor, did you ever work on animal models in any of your training or research as a neurosurgeon? Just why do you think humans share so many anatomical details with other animals, anyway?)

Egnor is not only wrong, but he’s pretty damn arrogant about it—how else to explain someone who is proud of the fact that he knows nothing about a subject, and is proud of his inability to find sources that would correct his ignorance, even when they’re pointed out to him directly? He’s like Michael Behe, in that we can plop mountains of information in front of him, and he’ll just blithely claim it doesn’t exist.


The saga continues with another rebuttal.

Comments

  1. #1 llewelly
    February 24, 2007

    You’re asking him to look at the PubMed reality. He prefers the Egnor Reality. Of course he’s upset.

  2. #2 Martin Brazeau
    February 24, 2007

    It should always be pointed out in the same stroke as these duplication examples that most genes in our genomes are duplicates, splices, or shuffles of some other genes in the genome. It’s just too bad if people like Egnor think that a duplicate gene is not an example of new information. It’s totally irrelevant what they think, since in order to explain the genetic diversity of organisms, duplication events are implied.

  3. #3 Scott Hatfield
    February 24, 2007

    A brilliant example of why I spend so much time here! PZ’s discussion of Egnor’s foolishness is trenchant, amusing, a good read, but there’s more than shits and giggles here. There are citations, there is evidence. In particular, I spent a happy half hour at the Long lab site mentioned by Nick Matzke and ended up downloading half-a-dozen articles on the production of novel genes for my collection.

    I am, to put it mildly, enthused….SH

  4. #4 Hank Fox
    February 24, 2007

    I wonder if there’s a list somewhere of evolution-denying medical doctors?

    I’d sure be inclined to NEVER go to one.

    Given a choice of a competent, science-based physician and one who thought his faith would back him up if he made a mistake, or that my death on the operating table was “God’s will” and no big deal … I’d pick the first guy.

  5. #5 Reed A. Cartwright
    February 24, 2007

    PZ, can you link to this post from PT as well.

  6. #6 Ken Cope
    February 24, 2007

    I suspect a survey would show that surgeons who believe in god are outnumbered by those who believe that they are god.

  7. #7 Forthekids
    February 24, 2007

    Nick writes:
    “PS: Regarding gene duplication — sure, an exact duplicate isn’t “new” information. But after duplication –sit down for this shocker — mutation and selection can change a copy. Now you have two genes with divergent sequences and different functions. This is new information in anyone’s book.”

    Nick, before the gene duplicated, where did the information in that original gene come from? Keep following that question back through time…

  8. #8 Kim van der Linde
    February 24, 2007

    Sigh. Ignorance rules.

    Gene trees (globins across the whole kingdom, amylase with in the Drosophilidae, just to take two examples) are a perfect examples of change of information across species. On the same token, we have identified the specific genes and the mechanism how some species have speciated.

  9. #9 Orac
    February 24, 2007

    Egnor is not only wrong, but he’s pretty damn arrogant about it–how else to explain someone who is proud of the fact that he knows nothing about a subject, and is proud of his inability to find sources that would correct his ignorance, even when they’re pointed out to him directly?

    Yeah, maybe it’s time to order me up one of those Doctor Doom-style metal masks to hide my face in shame for my profession.

    Of course, Dr. Egnor is a Professor of Neurosurgery; so it’s inconceivable that he wouldn’t know what he’s talking about…

  10. #10 Orac
    February 24, 2007

    I wonder if there’s a list somewhere of evolution-denying medical doctors?

    Sadly, there is. You haven’t heard of Physicians and Surgeons for Scientific Integrity, have you?

  11. #11 llewelly
    February 24, 2007

    The paper you picked reminds of the DDT ban myth. (Though I don’t think Culex pipens carries malaria, and I can’t tell if the gene duplication in the paper affects DDT resistance.) The DDT ban myth promoters, in addition to promoting a false history of DDT regulation, also promote the belief that disease bearing insects do not evolve resistance to DDT – a kind of anti-evolution position.

  12. #12 bones
    February 24, 2007

    Dr Egnor unfortunately is the bad example of the physician in the world. I’m a neurosurgeon (a difficult feat that requires dedication, intelligence, and ferocity of purpose), but this type of doctor, instead of recognizing the intense study required for even his own specialization, suddenly and mistakenly thinks he knows everything about everything and can make pronouncements about any topic as gospel. As Dr Egnor would not take Dr Stephen Hawking’s pronouncements on what neurosurgical procedures Dr Egnor should and should not perform, even though we all believe Dr Hawking is a dedicated highly intelligent physicist, he misses the needle in his own eye, arguing that he, Dr Egnor, has authority to make anti-evolutionary pronouncements even though he has no credentials to do so. The problem with playing god Dr Egnor, is that eventually people question your credentiaals to make god-like pronouncements and stop believing in your magical thinking.

  13. #13 Mike Haubrich
    February 24, 2007

    Hank Fox sez:

    I wonder if there’s a list somewhere of evolution-denying medical doctors?

    I’d sure be inclined to NEVER go to one.

    Given a choice of a competent, science-based physician and one who thought his faith would back him up if he made a mistake, or that my death on the operating table was “God’s will” and no big deal … I’d pick the first guy.

    So, I sez:

    Really, I am not sure if it makes a difference. I’ll qualify that by saying it depends on the related illness, but if you think about it doctors are not expected to be scientists in order to practice it. Yes, they should know about it well enough to be able to find a treatment option and be able to understand the relevant literature, but ultimately they are practitioners of the science as discovered by scientists.

    So, I don’t know if I care whether my doctor is a creationist or not as long as she can set my broken bones.

  14. #14 Ira Fews
    February 24, 2007

    I picture this guy as a high-achieving Addams family member stalking around anOR suite with a huge, stolid grin and a piercing, witless stare, stereotactically self-positioned electrodes sticking out of his misshapen head, which is oozing a mixture of blood, air, and shit. Am I being unfair?

    I seem to imagine most educated yet religiously burdened people in a similar fashion. Guess that’s my own bias. Oh well, he’s a fucking freak. Thanks for exposing him again.

  15. #15 Orac
    February 24, 2007

    Dr Egnor unfortunately is the bad example of the physician in the world. I’m a neurosurgeon (a difficult feat that requires dedication, intelligence, and ferocity of purpose), but this type of doctor, instead of recognizing the intense study required for even his own specialization, suddenly and mistakenly thinks he knows everything about everything and can make pronouncements about any topic as gospel.

    Unfortunately, surgeons seem to be particularly susceptible to this delusion. (I’m a surgical oncologist, by the way.) I think it has something to do with being given the unique privilege by society to do what no other person is permitted to do: To cut into living humans and rearrange their anatomy, hopefully for therapeutic effect.

  16. #16 Caledonian
    February 24, 2007

    Also, people who don’t have delusions of immense competency likely wouldn’t be able to cut into brains without being overwhelmed by the understanding of what even their best efforts are inflicting upon people.

  17. #17 Troublesome Frog
    February 24, 2007

    Sure, physicians going off on biology is not so good, but at least they typically took some biology classes as undergrads. Dr. Egnor keeps bringing up information theory as if he knows something about it. A word to the wise: if you’re going to talk about information theory, don’t demand a measurement of “specified information” which is a quantity that appears to exist entirely in William Dembski’s imagination.

  18. #18 Roy
    February 24, 2007

    Polyploidy represents a surge of new information, so how would Egnor handwave that away?

  19. #19 Dan
    February 24, 2007

    Obviously, this subject is far beyond me, but even from my humble, uninformed perspective, it seems that the folks at the DI are trying to create some sort of bizarre version of the scientific method where nothing can possibly be tested or peer reviewed.

    It seems that using their methodology, I could say that a bratwurst can drive a truck, and anything you say which may disprove this hypothesis of mine, regardless of how much testing and review it’s undergone, simply doesn’t matter. I still think a bratwurst can drive, and you’re not going to change my mind.

    Am I right on that?

  20. #20 Stanton
    February 24, 2007

    I figure if Dr Egnor is stupid enough not to realize that there are two “e coli”‘s of importance to humans (Entamoeba coli the amoeba, and Escheria coli, the bacterium), he’s stupid enough to handwave polyploidy as though it were an inconsequential fly in his ointment.

  21. #21 BlueIndependent
    February 24, 2007

    The reply from bones above says exactly what needs to be said, and is the most obvious explanation for why ID/creationists insist on flapping their gums about something they are utterly unqualified to speak intelligently on.

    For all you creationists out there, if your REALLY intend on understanding evolution and evolutionary biology, go get a degree in the subject, and then come back here. Or at the extreme least, PAY ATTENTION AND READ THE SOURCES OF INFORMATION THAT ANSWER YOUR QUESTIONS.

    There is this pervasive stupidity that just asking the question is somehow forging a path toward destroying certain hypotheses and conclusions. Only a colossal fool asks a seemingly important question, and then walks away from the answer he is supposedly seeking when it is staring him in the face.

  22. #22 BlueIndependent
    February 24, 2007

    Dan,

    You would be absolutely correct. That is indeed their goal. They have arrogantly decided that the scientific process, which has developed and matured over centuries to what it is now, has – overnight – become useless and obsolete.

    Their questions aimed at disproving evolution and looking for any opportunity to insert their random hypotheses are nothing more than scholarly-worded mumblings from people disinterested in learning.

  23. #23 John Marley
    February 24, 2007

    I’m reminded of a childhood elephant joke:

    Why did the elephant paint his toenails?

    To hide in a jar of jellybeans. Have you ever seen an elephant in a jar of jellybeans?
    Works pretty well, doesn’t it?

    It’s that last part that reminds me of the DI.

    The assumption that there are elephants hiding in jellybean jars is unquestioned. The fact that this has never been observed is taken as proof of the effectiveness of their skill.

  24. #24 MarkP
    February 24, 2007

    FTK wrote: Nick, before the gene duplicated, where did the information in that original gene come from? Keep following that question back through time…

    Still struggling with the basics eh FTK? Evolution and abiogenesis are different topics. Learn it, live it, love it.

    BTW, the answer to your question is “I don’t know”, and that goes for everyone, including you. That’s the big difference between scientists and IDers/creationists. Scientists admit when they don’t know the answer to a question, and see it as a fertile area for research. The IDers/creationists make shit up (like the unnamed designer), then deny any interest or intellectual duty to test their hypothesis.

  25. #25 factician
    February 24, 2007

    I really wouldn’t care if my surgeon was a creationist or not. It’s no secret that most physicians (even the really good ones) make lousy scientists (full disclosure, I’m a PhD scientist at a medical school). I think that it’s at least partly due to how they’re educated, and partly due to how they’re selected. Physicians are trained largely by memorizing insane numbers of facts given to them by an authority figure. Scientists are trained how to challenge that authority, and to demand logical proof at every stage. And medical students are chosen among the undergrads who are able to cram ridiculous numbers of facts into their heads.

    That said, I think that the training physicians receive is exactly what they need. One of the best MD/PhDs that I know told me he had to forget major events from his childhood to fit all the facts from medical school into his head. Though the world could use a few more competent physician-scientists, the bulk of them needn’t be competent scientists. The mistake is that some physicians consider themselves scientists when they’re clearly not. Egnor seems to fall into this category. (I’m really not knocking physicians here, I think most of them are very good at what they do, and certainly I couldn’t do it. And there are precious few people who can do both science and medicine well).

  26. #26 entlord
    February 24, 2007

    There are all gradations of physicians, from those who did the very least possible to get past their Boards to those who excelled from a personal committment to excellence. There are those who are compassionate and caring and have entered the profession to help alleviate suffering; others do it because it is a good way to earn a buck and has loads of prestige.
    It is hard to lump them altogether. However, I find it hard to believe any intelligent neurosurgeon could complete that much education and reject so much of it in his practice. One thing emerges; it appears it may be worthwhile for a malpractice attorney who is cross examining a neurosurgeon to explore, if possible, what he really believes about science.

  27. #27 llewelly
    February 24, 2007

    For all you creationists out there, if your REALLY intend on understanding evolution and evolutionary biology, go get a degree in the subject, and then come back here.

    Like Kurt Wise, Johnathan Wells, and Marcus Ross?

    🙂

  28. #28 wright
    February 24, 2007

    John Marley, that is indeed the DI reasoning in a hard, sugary coating. Too bad what’s inside doesn’t taste nearly as good as even cheap chocolate. A hilarious encapsulation of their “magic” thinking, thanks!

  29. #29 Blake Stacey
    February 24, 2007

    Orac et al.,

    Are there any efforts to get organizations of medical people to issue the kind of statements that the AAAS, National Academy of Sciences, Royal Society and so forth have issued to declare their understanding of evolution?

  30. #30 Sugarbear
    February 24, 2007

    Nck Mtzk wrt:

    “Mchl gnr s jst gnrntly rptng sm f th dmbst lns frm th D prpgnd mnl. Ths ppr xplns th rgn f nw gntc nfrmtn, rvwng 20+ xmpls whr th rgn f nw gns wth nw fnctns hs bn rcnstrctd n dtl:

    Lng M, Btrn , Thrntn K, Wng W. (2003). Th rgn f nw gns: glmpss frm th yng nd ld. Ntr Rvws Gntcs. 4(11):865-75.”

    Nw ll Mr. Mtzk hs t d s dmnstrt tht ths chngs n th gnm r th rslt f rndm, ccdntl, nn-drctd, frtts mttns nd r nt th rslt f ntllgnt gdnc by strctrs nd prcsss lrdy prgrmmd nt th gntc mchnry by n ntllgnt dsgnr.
    t hs lng bn my cntntn tht th gnm cn nt nly str nfrmtn, bt t cn crt nw nfrmtn s wll, s th nd rss. Ths, cmbnd wth th lmtlss ptntl f th prtn synthtc pprts, mks th cll nt nvrsl tmtn.
    “Th prtn synthtc pprts cnnt nly rplct tslf bt, n ddtn, f gvn th crrct nfrmtn, t cn ls cnstrct ny bchmcl mchn, hwvr grt ts cmplxty, jst s lng s ts bsc fnctnl nts r cmprsd f prtns, whch bcs f th nr nfnt ss t whch thy cn b pt, gvs t lmst lmtlss ptntl.” – Mchl Dntn

  31. #31 Jonathan Vos Post
    February 24, 2007

    I agree almost 100% with PZ and almost 0% with Michael Egnor.

    The remaining epsilon% comes from this subtle point:

    It is HARD to calculate the Shannon entropy of the output of the genetic algorithm. I have my own draft paper on the topic, over on the NCSI (New England Complex Systems Institute) wiki, which began as a long ant-ID thread on Good Math, Bad Math.

    But also, see:

    Schuermann, Thomas; Grassberger, Peter, “Entropy estimation of symbol sequences”, CHAOS Vol. 6, No. 3 (1996) 414-427
    http://arxiv.org/pdf/cond-mat/0203436

    We discuss algorithms for estimating the Shannon entropy h of finite symbol sequences with long range correlations. In particular, we consider algorithms which estimate h from the code lengths produced by some compression algorithm. Our interest is in describing their convergence with sequence length, assuming no limits for the space and time complexities of the compression algorithms. A scaling law is
    proposed for extrapolation from finite sample lengths.

    This is applied to sequences of dynamical systems in non-trivial chaotic regimes, a 1-D cellular automaton, and to written English texts.

    Comment: 14 pages, 13 figures, 2 tables

  32. #32 SEF
    February 24, 2007

    a beknighted view

    Ooh look – another mutation potentially adding new information. The original word, “benighted”, meant overcome/overtaken by darkness – something like the opposite of enlightenment. The new version might mean beset by posers with fake qualifications, eg ID Creationists pretending to do science.

  33. #33 PZ Myers
    February 24, 2007

    Now all Mr. Matzke has to do is demonstrate that these changes in the genome are the result of random, accidental, non-directed, fortuitous mutations and are not the result of intelligent guidance by structures and processes already programmed into the genetic machinery by an intelligent designer.

    WRONG. Those natural, non-directed mechanisms have been repeatedly demonstrated in the lab — they involve errors in the process of replication that are normal and to be expected. If someone wants to propose additional mechanisms, the onus is on them to demonstrate their reality. Have you got any evidence of any unusual intervention in any lineage on the planet? No? I’m not surprised. The IDists won’t even hypothesize a mechanism.

  34. #34 Blake Stacey
    February 24, 2007

    As in, “You filzy English k-niggit with your filzy English be-k-niggeted views?”

    A good many jargon terms seem to have originated as misspellings. Consider pr0n, or filk. . . words formed by accident and now carrying additional connotations or whole new meanings derived from but certainly not identical to their ancestral definitions.

  35. #35 RBH
    February 24, 2007

    Ken Cope wrote

    I suspect a survey would show that surgeons who believe in god are outnumbered by those who believe that they are god.

    My much-loved and now, alas, retired GP had a plaque on his desk (a gift from from his daughter) that said “M.D. does not stand for Minor Deity”!

  36. #36 Sugarbear
    February 24, 2007

    PZ wrt:

    “Ths ntrl, nn-drctd mchnsms hv bn rptdly dmnstrtd n th lb – thy nvlv rrrs n th prcss f rplctn tht r nrml nd t b xpctd.”

    Mtzk cts ppr by Lng t.l. tht lsts th vrs srcs f nw gns. Thy ncld xn shfflng, gn dplctn, rtrpstn, trnspsbl lmnts, ltrl gn trnsfr, gn fsn/fssn nd cdng rgns rsng d nv frm nn-cdng rgns.
    n lkng t ths vrs vnts t sms mr lkly t m tht thy r nt t ll rndm, ccdntl r nn-drctd. Fr xmpl, whn rtrpstn ccrs, t s th rslt f rvrs trnscrptn, nt sm rbtrry, ccdntl hppnstnc. Ds rtrpstn ccr ndpndntly f rvrs trnscrptn? thnk nt. n ddtn, trnspsbl lmnts r drctly rcrtd by hst gns, nt by ny ccdntl, rndm r nn-drctd frtts vnt.
    thnk tht th prpndrnc f vdnc fvrs th ntn tht t lst sm f ths nw gns r bng crtd s drct rslt f prcsss tht r lrdy mbddd n th gnm nd r prt f th ntllgntly dsgnd mchnry n th cll.
    Whl cnnt dmnstrt mprclly tht ths r ntllgntly gdd prcsss, nthr cn y dmnstrt tht thy r rndm, ccdntl r nn-drctd. Bt f s trs lnd p n n rchrd n rws f 20 trs ch, n prfct lgnmnt wht m mr lkly t cncld, tht thy wr th rslt f ntllgnt gdnc r rndm chnc?

  37. #37 FHS
    February 24, 2007

    “Polyploidy represents a surge of new information, so how would Egnor handwave that away?”

    If he believes that duplicating one gene is not the addition of new information, why should he believe that duplicating an entire chromosome full of genes is adding new information?

    Clearly, if you are a materialstic/naturalistic/*istic Neeeeeo-Darwinist, you naively prefer material entitities like “experimental support for your assertations” and “peer-reviewed documentation” to your God-given right to say “it doesn’t exist”.

    In my non Ph.D, non M.D. humble opinion, the guy is an asshat.

  38. #38 PZ Myers
    February 24, 2007

    Sugarbear, you are extremely annoying. Either make your comments here or at Panda’s Thumb, but NOT BOTH. I don’t want to have to chase you hither and yon to make replies to the same thing twice. Got it? Do it again, and I will ban you from Pharyngula to force you to restrain yourself. To answer your question, though…

    If you see trees scattered seemingly haphazardly in a grove, would you argue that they were placed in their positions by chance or by the hand of a designer?

    We don’t see everything “lined up…in perfect alignment”. We see accidents and happenstance arrangements throughout the genome. Yet you want to claim that the designer intended it that way, and clearly, no matter what arrangements were observed, you’d claim it was the product of intent.

  39. #39 Kruger-Dunning Effect
    February 24, 2007

    More Kruger Dunning Effects I see? The DI should change it’s name to KD-DI. It sounds better.

    MYOB’
    .

  40. #40 Tyler DiPietro
    February 24, 2007

    In that sense, it differs completely from Shannon information, which is a measure of randomness and the extent to which a message can be compressed. Shannon information is not relevant to biological information.

    Actually, this is not correct. The Shannon-Weiner information formulation assigns information content to the entropy of an ensemble of messages communicated from a sender to a reciever. This is a classic case of confusing AIT/KCS theory with Shannon-Weiner theory, as KCS is measured by randomness and the ability of an individual object to be compressed.

    In addition, I don’t know where the hell he’s getting the notion that either information formulation doesn’t “do specific things”. Both of them do very specific things. S-W information is used for the physical problem of communicating a message across a channel and KCS information is used for the problem of effectively computing a given object with a minimum-length description. Both involve specific quantities, so you can only conclude that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

  41. #41 bpower
    February 24, 2007

    I’m starting to think the only worthy discussion we can have concerning creationism is psychological one.

  42. #42 Ric
    February 24, 2007

    Yes indeed, Egnor reminds me very much of Behe. Closing one’s eyes to the evidence is a good way to maintain one’s religiously inspired beliefs.

    I DO want to see Orac in a Doctor Doom mask though.

    On an unrelated note, have you seen the latest posts at Uncommon Descent? Dembski is trying to argue that vestigial structures like the appendix jibe with design because some cars retain vestigial running boards!!!! Yeah, because cars are similar to biological organisms. What a false analogy. The idiocy is astounding.

  43. #43 BC
    February 24, 2007

    Forthekids wrote:

    Nick, before the gene duplicated, where did the information in that original gene come from? Keep following that question back through time…

    Examination of the genes for the antifreeze protein in fish and the nylonase protein in bacteria reveals that the genes were formed out of *non-coding DNA*. The formation of new genes is not a problem for evolution.
    http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2007/01/evolutionary_sc.html
    http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2006/04/an_argument_is.html

  44. #44 Carlie
    February 24, 2007

    My much-loved and now, alas, retired GP had a plaque on his desk (a gift from from his daughter) that said “M.D. does not stand for Minor Deity”!

    Of course not, it stands for Mr. Deity

    🙂

  45. #45 Jonathan Vos Post
    February 24, 2007

    I very much like the insightful comments by Blake Stacey (great examples relevant to what I more abstractly referred to as “sequences of dynamical systems in non-trivial chaotic regimes… and to written English texts”) and by Tyler DiPietro (on ensembles in Shannon versus complexity of individual objects in Kolmogorov-Chaitin-et al). Excellent points, gentlemen! Pity that Egnor at al either will not or cannot understand them.

  46. #46 Dave Carlson
    February 24, 2007

    This is a great thread–a civil, but very thorough and interesting smackdown. I just have one point to add:

    It seems strange that Dr. Egnor would be so insistent about evolutionary biologists measuring how much “specified information” can be generated through random variation and natural selection when no ID-proponent anywhere has ever bothered to measure the quantity of CSI (I assume this is what Egnor is referring to) in any living thing, nor have they–to my knowlege–bothered to propose how this might even be done.

  47. #47 Ryan Cunningham
    February 24, 2007

    There several technical ways to measure information. None of them measure what we mean intuitively by the English word “information.” Shannon information, for example, is essentially a measure of either unpredictability or correlation. The phrase “You can’t add information to a gene,” is either obviously false (if you use a technical definition,) or it’s totally meaningless (if you’re using the colloquial definition.)

    Neurosurgeons aren’t the only ones whose field is being made a mockery of by anti-evolutionists. *sigh*

  48. #48 Matt Ray
    February 24, 2007

    I’m not a mathematician or a biologist, but I don’t see any grounds for assuming a limit to information. Let information be defined as a gene coding a new function. Assume each gene has a certain probability of duplicating and further each of the duplicates has a certain probability of mutating. Over time the number of genes and number of unique genes would tend to increase, since simple probability suggest a large number of test are more likely to produce at least one positive result than a small number. In order to have a limit the curve produced by this would need to be convergent. If N is new codings, C is current, p is prob. duplication, m is prob. mutation and t is # generations, N=m([C+Cp]^t). Even though this is a pretty crappy model, this is clearly a DIVIRGENT function. Rather than a limit, new information should be able to increase exponentially.

  49. #49 Stanton
    February 24, 2007

    And new information DOES increase exponentially.

  50. #50 dzd
    February 24, 2007

    no ID-proponent anywhere has ever bothered to measure the quantity of CSI (I assume this is what Egnor is referring to) in any living thing, nor have they–to my knowlege–bothered to propose how this might even be done.

    Well, this is of course because of the Vast Darwin-Wing Conspiracy keeping them down.

  51. #51 George
    February 24, 2007

    What happens when a professor of neurosurgey who is a Darwin-skeptic and just happens to be a brain surgeon visits a popular Darwinist blog? He leaves with unanswered questions. Last week Rob Crowther highlighted how Dr. Michael Egnor visited Time magazine’s science blog where a reporter admitted his Darwinist bias and was unable to answer Egnor’s question: “how much new information can Darwinian mechanisms generate?” Egnor 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. Egnor recently took his questions to P.Z. Myers’ popular science blog Pharyngula, where Egnor continues–unanswered–to press Darwinists for how Darwinian mechanisms produce new information.

    A neurosurgeon! What a coup. Score one for the Intelligent Designers. (How many times can you insert the words surgeon or neurosurgery into one paragraph?)

    I guess one brain surgeon’s opinion outweighs what thousands and thousands of highly-trained, professional biologists would say about teaching creationist dogma to children.

    If the D.I.’s science were any good (do they do any science at the D.I.?), they would not have to resort to enlisting prominent people to support their falderol.

    A bunch of misguided questions about an incredibly successful theory do not a valid counter-theory make.

    Same old, same old.

    (That neurosurgeon must use someone else do all his research for him, becasue he sucks at it. In this case, he was probably too embarrassed to do so.)

  52. #52 moleculargoo
    February 24, 2007

    Regarding seeing design in orderly rows of trees, as mentioned above by sugarbear and in the response of PZ- if the organization of trees appeared haphazard to the eye of the non-believer, wouldn’t the committed ID/creationist just assume that the design was there but we just couldn’t see it-same as the elephant in the jellybean jar? Just how “perceivable” must order be, for it to provoke cries of pleasure at the skill of the designer?

  53. #53 Rey Fox
    February 24, 2007

    We better get some rocket scientists on our side to counter their brain surgeons.

  54. #54 Jonathan Vos Post
    February 24, 2007

    Matt Ray:

    Except that many organisms are mortal, and compete with each other for food and other resources. The exponential model is tru if there are no limits to growth: i.e. an ecosystem expanding at the speed of light and then, eventually, faster (as volume of the ecosystem with free spaceships goes as T^3 but your number of genes and organisms goes as e^T)…

    With population limits to growth, the next level of modeling gives the Logistics Curve.

    But this is probably not the venue to recapitulate the Population Biology available easily online and in many textbooks.

    One of my standard lines (which I started using in the early- to mid- 1960s): “The road to hell is paved with linear approximations.”

    This is true on log-log graph paper, too.

    But good comment anyway.

  55. #55 Caledonian
    February 24, 2007

    One of the best MD/PhDs that I know told me he had to forget major events from his childhood to fit all the facts from medical school into his head.

    Then he is mistaken. The human brain has no known capacity. It’s at least conceivable that he can no longer recall old facts due to interference, but most people can’t remember most major events from their childhood anyway.

  56. #56 llewelly
    February 24, 2007

    Dembski is trying to argue that vestigial structures like the appendix jibe with design because some cars retain vestigial running boards!!!!

    It sounds like the Ford Pinto argument for ID has evolved.

  57. #57 False Prophet
    February 24, 2007

    Anybody who uses a database search function knows that there is a skill to defining search terms; you’re going to be frustrated if you use the terms that you think everyone should be using, rather than the terms that they actually use.

    Ah yes, the thorn in every librarian’s side. I had an undergraduate once claim she’d been searching PsycINFO for half an hour and couldn’t find anything on procrastination. I went to take a look, and I said, “well, there’s probably nothing on procastination, but I’m sure there’s something on procrastination. Oh look, 2047 articles.”

  58. #58 RBH
    February 24, 2007

    Mark Chu-Carroll has some apposite remarks:

    Speaking as a math guy, this is wretched, dishonest garbage. In math, we don’t get to demand that people provide us with undefined measures. In fact, we expect the person making a claim to demonstrate that claim. Dr. Egnor is the one who’s making an appeal to mathematics – by arguing that evolution cannot explain the creation of “biological information”. To make that claim, it is incumbent on him to define his terms with sufficient precision to make it possible to refute him if he’s wrong. But Dr. Egnor’s claim is full of wiggle room, and attempts to assign the burden of proof to his opponents – which is an unreasonable thing to do, since he hasn’t defined his terms. There is no way to refute a claim like Dr. Egnor’s – because any refutation will just be met with “No, that’s not what I meant by biological information” – exactly the way he responded to Shannon calculations showing how information is created by evolutionary processes.

    (Italics original)

  59. #59 Ed Darrell
    February 24, 2007

    Sugarbear said:

    But if I see trees lined up in an orchard in rows of 20 trees each, in perfect alignment what am I more likely to conclude, that they were the result of intelligent guidance or random chance?

    Well, that’s the classic IDistic error. You see trees which were planted in rows by humans, and you automatically leap to the completely unwarranted assumption that a supernatural being personally directed the growth and replication of the cells in the trunk, limbs, trees and fruit.

    Do you have a clue how many dozen unwarranted leaps of logic you’re making there?

    Trees don’t move. If a human plants a tree in a spot, it generally stays put. That a human took an already-living tree and planted it in one spot in no way suggests that there is any link to intelligence spurring the germination of the seed, the seed’s growth and orientation with roots down and trunk up, the root growth through the soil, the replication of cells to make the tree a significant body above ground, nor the direction of cells into specific uses — some to wood, some to bark, some to the cambium layer under the bark, some to leaves, some to blossoms. That a human planted a tree in a specific location does not provide any evidence that any intelligence, least of all that human, spurred the flowering of the tree, the pollination of the flowers, the setting of fruit, nor the growth and eventual ripening of the fruit.

    So, when you see an orchard in neat rows, all we know is that a human put the trees in neat rows. Those rows are not only silent on the issue of a grand intelligent designer that makes trees and makes trees grow (Joyce Kilmer notwithstanding), but they provide evidence against intelligent design as the Discovery Institute proposes it. The only thing humans did to that orchard was plant the trees in rows. The rest is biological processes that, so far as anyone has evidence, are not directed by any intelligence (unless you call trees intelligent, and sometimes I wonder if trees don’t have it over some people — but I digress).

  60. #60 FhnuZoag
    February 24, 2007

    “But if I see trees lined up in an orchard in rows of 20 trees each, in perfect alignment what am I more likely to conclude, that they were the result of intelligent guidance or random chance?”

    You conclude that, because you *know of the existence of humans*, and you know that humans like straight lines, and can do this. But if you did not know of the existence of humanity, or even of the existence of straight lines, if you demand, as the IDers do that we appeal to a Designer that we have no information on at all, then you are left with no way to realise the straight line formation as special at all.

  61. #61 Amenhotep
    February 24, 2007

    I haven’t read *all* the above comments, but as yet another physician I can tell you that most docs haven’t a baldy clue about evolution. For NEW INFORMATION arising, you might care to check out some work I and my colleagues have done on the ANKH gene in the joint condition chondrocalcinosis (patients get calcification of their joint cartilage that causes arthritis).

    Turns out that in one of our families, the cause is a new start codon for the gene, 12bp upstream of the original one, adding 4 new amino acids to the ANKH protein N terminus, and ramping up its activity *massively*. In our family, this is also associated with seizures (nobody has picked up on that yet 🙁 but I think it’s very significant that this “bone & cartilage protein” is heavily expressed in the brain, implying a role for phosphate in seizures, but I digress).

    The point here is that NEW INFORMATION has been incorporated into the protein, and it works BETTER than before. OK, that results in a negative effect, which is how we ascertained the family, but the point remains.

    If anyone wants to check out the seizure paper, it’s here.
    (McKee et al. “Autosomal dominant early childhood seizures associated with chondrocalcinosis and a mutation in the ANKH Gene.” Epilepsia. 2004 Oct;45(10):1258-60.) – sorry for the plug!

  62. #62 Nick (Matzke)
    February 24, 2007

    Thanks for the quote PZ! I have been harping on the Long et al. paper for years and have yet to get any kind of reply out of the DI guys

    Various replies:

    1. FTK writes,

    Nick, before the gene duplicated, where did the information in that original gene come from?

    First, you have just conceded that Egnor and the DI were exactly wrong, when they claimed that evolution couldn’t produce new information.

    The vast majority of genes are modified copies of other genes. This why most known genes fall into families of related sequences. However, there are occasional cases where coding genetic material is derived “by accident” from non-coding DNA. Some examples have been mentioned — another one, mentioned in the Long et al. 2003 paper, is Sdic (Drosophila melanogaster sperm dynein intermediate chain), which is derived from a fusion of (copies of) two previous genes, but incorporated some noncoding introns as exons.

    Here is a recent paper on Sdic:

    Gene. 2006 Jul 19;376(2):174-83. Epub 2006 Jun 12.

    The evolution of the novel Sdic gene cluster in Drosophila melanogaster.

    Ponce R, Hartl DL.

    Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA. rita.ponce@ulusofona.pt

    The origin of new genes and of new functions for existing genes are fundamental processes in molecular evolution. Sdic is a newly evolved gene that arose recently in the D. melanogaster lineage. The gene encodes a novel sperm motility protein. It is a chimeric gene formed by duplication of two other genes followed by multiple deletions and other sequence rearrangements. The Sdic gene exists in several copies in the X chromosome, and is presumed to have undergone several duplications to form a tandemly arrayed gene cluster. Given the very recent origin of the gene and the gene cluster, the analysis of the composition of this gene cluster represents an excellent opportunity to study the origin and evolution of new gene functions and the fate of gene duplications. We have analyzed the nucleotide sequence of this region and reconstructed the evolutionary history of this gene cluster. We found that the cluster is composed by four tandem copies of Sdic; these duplicates are very similar but can be distinguished by the unique pattern of insertions, deletions, and point mutations in each copy. The oldest gene copy in the array has a 3′ exon that has undergone accelerated diversification, and also shows divergent regulatory sequences. Moreover, there is evidence that this might be the only gene copy in the tandem array that is transcribed at a significant level, expressing a novel sperm-specific protein. There is also a retrotransposon located at the 3′ end of each Sdic gene copy. We argue that this gene cluster was formed in the last two million years by at least three tandem duplications and one retrotransposition event.

    Here’s another that mentions the intron:

    Nature. 1998 Dec 10;396(6711):572-5.

    Selective sweep of a newly evolved sperm-specific gene in Drosophila.

    Nurminsky DI, Nurminskaya MV, De Aguiar D, Hartl DL.

    Harvard University, Department of Organismic & Evolutionary Biology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA. dnurminsky@oeb.harvard.edu

    The pattern of genetic variation across the genome of Drosophila melanogaster is consistent with the occurrence of frequent ‘selective sweeps’, in which new favourable mutations become incorporated into the species so quickly that linked alleles can ‘hitchhike’ and also become fixed. Because of the hitchhiking of linked genes, it is generally difficult to identify the target of any putative selective sweep. Here, however, we identify a new gene in D. melanogaster that codes for a sperm-specific axonemal dynein subunit. The gene has a new testes-specific promoter derived from a protein-coding region in a gene encoding the cell-adhesion protein annexin X (AnnX), and it contains a new protein-coding exon derived from an intron in a gene encoding a cytoplasmic dynein intermediate chain (Cdic). The new transcription unit, designated Sdic (for sperm-specific dynein intermediate chain), has been duplicated about tenfold in a tandem array. Consistent with the selective sweep of this gene, the level of genetic polymorphism near Sdic is unusually low. The discovery of this gene supports other results that point to the rapid molecular evolution of male reproductive functions.

    (bold added)

    2. Regarding whining about how maybe all these mutational mechanisms (listed in Table 1 of Long et al. 2003) aren’t random — get thee to a lab. Read about the Luria-Delbruck experiments for a lab demonstration of the randomness of mutation (the authors won a Nobel prize). If you want to demonstrate the reverse and get your own Nobel, there is nothing for it but to demonstrate it with your own replicable experiments. Besides that, all of these mechanisms *have been observed in lab populations*. Chromosome breakages, repairs, transposition, etc. all boil down to chemistry in the end. Chromosomes can have various “hotspots” where mutations are more likely for physical/chemical reasons, but none of this undermines the fact that mutations occur without favoring the organism’s fitness in the environment.

    3. Regarding the definition of information: What everyone has been saying is true, there is no One True Definition of “information”, and if Egnor arbitrarily rules out the most common quantifiable measure, Shannon information, then he’s really painted himself into a corner.

    I am convinced that creationist yammering about “information” derives from their method of literalistic Bible interpretation: every word of the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God — irreducible and unchanging in its original form (they will acknowledge corruptions of the Biblical text during copying, but they will not acknowledge that “the original Biblical text” itself is an amalgamation of various texts and traditions, reworked by multiple editors.

    They think exactly the same way about DNA — this is what is going on when Dembski talks about “intelligent design” just being “the logos theology of John’s Gospel [this is the stuff about The Word was God]]” in scientific form.

    In other words, they have a metaphysical, fuzzy, spiritualist definition of “information” that they then apply to biology — but they pretend that they are talking about a rigorous scientific definition, resulting in no end of confusion and obfuscation.

  63. #63 SEF
    February 24, 2007

    Crystals are rather good at putting atoms into straight lines (and further patterns on top of that). Just think of the vast armies of invisible pixies, working to blue-prints provided by the alleged intelligent designer, which would be required to produce all the rocks etc if one insists on imagining ID wherever there’s some degree of order.

  64. #64 mark
    February 24, 2007

    But if I see trees lined up in an orchard in rows of 20 trees each, in perfect alignment what am I more likely to conclude, that they were the result of intelligent guidance or random chance?

    There are many instances where trees are lined up (perhaps not in groups of 20, but in linear arrays). Before claiming that spacemen planted them, it might be better to check if the lines follow old fencelines, correspond with regular patterns of bedrock fracture, or have some other natural, if obscure, explanation.

  65. #65 David Marjanovi?
    February 24, 2007

    In addition, transposable elements are directly recruited by host genes

    Sugarbear, I’ve been studying molecular biology for 5 years now, and I still don’t understand what you mean. Transposable elements are recruited?!?

    You see, I get the idea that you don’t understand that you don’t understand what you’re talking about. Maybe you should go to a university library, open the humongous gray paperback called “Molecular Biology of the Cell” (first of the many authors: Alberts), and spend the next couple of weeks reading it 5 h a day. Then come back and tell us about how the trees are arranged regularly in the grove.

    Life is a huge mess. If there was any design, it was Stupid Design. Creationism is blasphemy. 🙂

  66. #66 David Marjanovi?
    February 24, 2007

    In addition, transposable elements are directly recruited by host genes

    Sugarbear, I’ve been studying molecular biology for 5 years now, and I still don’t understand what you mean. Transposable elements are recruited?!?

    You see, I get the idea that you don’t understand that you don’t understand what you’re talking about. Maybe you should go to a university library, open the humongous gray paperback called “Molecular Biology of the Cell” (first of the many authors: Alberts), and spend the next couple of weeks reading it 5 h a day. Then come back and tell us about how the trees are arranged regularly in the grove.

    Life is a huge mess. If there was any design, it was Stupid Design. Creationism is blasphemy. 🙂

  67. #67 mark
    February 24, 2007

    Oh, and before somebody points this out–we also know from observations that human beings have, in many instances, planted trees in regular patterns. But we are very familiar with humans and are aware of their tendency to plants things in such a manner. Human beings less commonly create new patterns in DNA to achieve desired ends (and they like to write about it when they do).

  68. #68 Forthekids
    February 24, 2007

    Nick writes:

    “First, you have just conceded that Egnor and the DI were exactly wrong, when they claimed that evolution couldn’t produce new information.”

    Don’t put words in my mouth. Ever.

    I asked a question that was not even particularly relevant to this discussion, but it is a fact that if you take all this evolutionary magic back to it’s origin, we have no clue as to how this story got it’s start. How did natural selection and the other evolutionary mechanisms get their start? What did these mechanisms have to work with? Nothing? Something? How did the “illusion” of design and irreducible complexity evolve from a starting point in which there was nothing to work with? These type of questions are the primary reason why the inference of ID is becoming more interesting every day.

    You have a lot of work ahead of you before you can declare ID irrelevant to science. The problem is that the more science advances the weaker the evolutionary explanations become.

  69. #69 Ichthyic
    February 24, 2007

    FTK (creationist troll from Kansas) wrote:

    Nick, before the gene duplicated, where did the information in that original gene come from? Keep following that question back through time…

    …and you end up somewhere completely irrelevant to the topic at hand, namely abiogenesis.

    I swear, after so many years, even someone as dim as FTK should at least understand that by now.

    no overcoming that level of brain damage, I guess.

  70. #70 David Marjanovi?
    February 24, 2007

    Google for “RNA world” and then spend the rest of the day reading the results.

    You have a lot of work ahead of you before you can declare ID irrelevant to science. The problem is that the more science advances the weaker the evolutionary explanations become.

    The problem is that the longer you don’t bring your knowledge up to date you don’t know squat about what the evolutionary explanations are.

    Like Sugarbear, you are so arrogant as to believe that everyone is as ignorant as you.

  71. #71 David Marjanovi?
    February 24, 2007

    Google for “RNA world” and then spend the rest of the day reading the results.

    You have a lot of work ahead of you before you can declare ID irrelevant to science. The problem is that the more science advances the weaker the evolutionary explanations become.

    The problem is that the longer you don’t bring your knowledge up to date you don’t know squat about what the evolutionary explanations are.

    Like Sugarbear, you are so arrogant as to believe that everyone is as ignorant as you.

  72. #72 Ichthyic
    February 24, 2007

    How did the “illusion” of design and irreducible complexity evolve from a starting point in which there was nothing to work with?

    through the payment of PR people?

    Certainly not through anything remotely resembling science.

    (btw: there is STILL nothing to work with, as you rightly point out that IR and perceived design is an ILLUSION)

  73. #73 ben
    February 24, 2007

    One of the best MD/PhDs that I know told me he had to forget major events from his childhood to fit all the facts from medical school into his head.

    I wonder, does he remember the moment that he “forgot” a given major event? Does he, um, remember what that supposedly forgotten event was? If so, he apparently remembers it. If not, how does he know he forgot?

  74. #74 Tyler DiPietro
    February 24, 2007

    I asked a question that was not even particularly relevant to this discussion, but it is a fact that if you take all this evolutionary magic back to it’s origin, we have no clue as to how this story got it’s start.

    And you don’t need to know the beginning of a story to know that there is, indeed, a story. You are conflating evolution with abiogenesis, while the latter isn’t even relevant to anything the IDCists have trotted out with regard to “irreducible complexity” and other useless twaddle. Therefore your question is vacuous.

    How did natural selection and the other evolutionary mechanisms get their start?

    Natural selecton is simply differential reproductive success among populations of organisms. I have no idea why you think that would be a particularly difficult process to start, it is in fact quite simple.

    What did these mechanisms have to work with? Nothing? Something?

    By definition natural selection has to have something select from, that is not an interesting observation, and any attempt to claim that natural selection acts on nothing is simply gibberish. Your point?

    How did the “illusion” of design and irreducible complexity evolve from a starting point in which there was nothing to work with?

    You are simply ignoring the post, as well as the gazillion and one other posts on this topic, that explains exactly how mechanisms like gene-duplication work. If you are still ignorant, it is either willful ignorance or a severe inability to comprehend the material.

    These type of questions are the primary reason why the inference of ID is becoming more interesting every day.

    No, they are the exact sort of irrelevant bullshit that makes ID more and more vacuous and inane every day. None of the questions you asked are even especially pertinent to specific claims about intelligent design, they are only arguments from sheer ignorance of evolution. However, like more IDiots, you conflate the two, and fancy yourself a revolutionary for doing so.

    You have a lot of work ahead of you before you can declare ID irrelevant to science.

    You have the cart placed about 10 miles in front of the horse. It is your job to sow that IDC is relevant to science, not the other way around.

    The problem is that the more science advances the weaker the evolutionary explanations become

    This isn’t even worth dealing with.

  75. #75 Gary Telles
    February 24, 2007

    “You have a lot of work ahead of you before you can declare ID irrelevant to science. The problem is that the more science advances the weaker the evolutionary explanations become.”

    No the problem is that the more science shows what a scientifically vacuous load of PR claptrap ID is, the more willfully obtuse and laughably ignorant trolls such as yourself seem to become.
    ID is COMPLETELY irrelevant to biological science. Unless you care to elucidate that elusive, testable, falsifiable “Theory” of ID…. (crickets chirping)
    ~Gary

  76. #76 Torbjrn Larsson
    February 24, 2007

    DI proclaim loudly: ‘Just because science blogs has answered Egnor’s question any number of times, don’t think we won’t present a particular uninterested response as a weakness. Oh, and since he is a “professor of neurosurgey [sic]” we will claim you are responseless.’ I think they have to rethink that strategy now, silently.

    Salvador Cordova has taught Egnor well. Always try to project an affable atmosphere while stabbing opposite discussion participants in the back.

    “I believe in evolution as much as you do, in the sense that living things have changed over time. … I think that some aspects of living things, particularly the specified information in biological molecules, are more reasonably explained as the consequence of design.”

    The obvious contradiction doesn’t bother Egnor. Nor does the problem of distinguishing aspect from aspect. Instead he is perfectly willing to conflate science with pseudoscience. Perhaps for him cancer is tissue as much as brain tissue – and a neurosurgeon can as well leave it in there.

    “There isn’t any area of medicine that makes much routine use of evolutionary biology”

    Except that cancer and their treatments rely heavily on evolutionary effects. Perhaps Egnor need some help with PubMed searches here too. I’m sure we can oblige in that case.

    Oh, and neurosurgeons doesn’t bother much with the background behind tissue matching either. After all, our heart surgery colleges are perfectly willing to transplant any animal heart. It was probably just bad luck that the patient that got a baboon instead of a chimp heart immediately died from rejection in spite of a “class A” match. ( http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?sec=health&res=9A0DE6DE1F39F934A25752C1A962948260 )

    “Doctors don’t deal much with evolutionary biology, since eugenics went out of fashion.”

    That is another Cordova specialty, take an issue that has been appropriated by political or other means (here medical) and pretend that it was the fault of science.

  77. #77 Torbjrn Larsson
    February 24, 2007

    DI proclaim loudly: ‘Just because science blogs has answered Egnor’s question any number of times, don’t think we won’t present a particular uninterested response as a weakness. Oh, and since he is a “professor of neurosurgey [sic]” we will claim you are responseless.’ I think they have to rethink that strategy now, silently.

    Salvador Cordova has taught Egnor well. Always try to project an affable atmosphere while stabbing opposite discussion participants in the back.

    “I believe in evolution as much as you do, in the sense that living things have changed over time. … I think that some aspects of living things, particularly the specified information in biological molecules, are more reasonably explained as the consequence of design.”

    The obvious contradiction doesn’t bother Egnor. Nor does the problem of distinguishing aspect from aspect. Instead he is perfectly willing to conflate science with pseudoscience. Perhaps for him cancer is tissue as much as brain tissue – and a neurosurgeon can as well leave it in there.

    “There isn’t any area of medicine that makes much routine use of evolutionary biology”

    Except that cancer and their treatments rely heavily on evolutionary effects. Perhaps Egnor need some help with PubMed searches here too. I’m sure we can oblige in that case.

    Oh, and neurosurgeons doesn’t bother much with the background behind tissue matching either. After all, our heart surgery colleges are perfectly willing to transplant any animal heart. It was probably just bad luck that the patient that got a baboon instead of a chimp heart immediately died from rejection in spite of a “class A” match. ( http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?sec=health&res=9A0DE6DE1F39F934A25752C1A962948260 )

    “Doctors don’t deal much with evolutionary biology, since eugenics went out of fashion.”

    That is another Cordova specialty, take an issue that has been appropriated by political or other means (here medical) and pretend that it was the fault of science.

  78. #78 PragmaticChris
    February 24, 2007

    “He’s like Michael Behe, in that we can plop mountains of information in front of him, and he’ll just blithely claim it doesn’t exist.”

    Doesn’t that explain the majority of Creationists?

  79. #79 MarkP
    February 24, 2007

    Matzke: First, you have just conceded that Egnor and the DI were exactly wrong, when they claimed that evolution couldn’t produce new information.

    FTK: Don’t put words in my mouth. Ever. I asked a question that was not even particularly relevant to this discussion…

    Yes, and the reason you did it was because you were losing the intellectual battle on the original question Nick mentioned. Nick’s conclusion was not unreasonable. Abruptly changing subjects to something irrelevant like that is a pretty common evasion tactic. It’s no doubt how so many IDer/creationists manage to compartmentalize in the face of such a mountain of contrary evidence: Pretend your question is more challenging than it is, pretend no one could answer it, move quickly to the next overrated question.

  80. #80 George
    February 24, 2007

    Like Behe before him, Egnor has staked his intellectual reputation on IDiocy. Behe was shown to be such a fool in the Dover trial. Behe allowed his religion to guide his scientific thought. A famous Saint warned long ago about such foolishness. Perhaps Egnor will retreat before he makes a more public fool of himself.

    Maybe all MD’s should be required to write on evolution for publication. {I know I would never have Dr. Egnor as surgeon, he is such a fool, lord knows what would happen.} Then, we would have on record their intellect and could make informed decisions.

  81. #81 PZ Myers
    February 24, 2007

    For another fine example, watch Flock of Dodos, and pay attention to the interview with William Harris, one of ID’s proponents in Kansas. He makes a sublime fool of himself.

  82. #82 llewelly
    February 24, 2007

    (do they do any science at the D.I.?)

    If one assumes that Earth’s extant critters are the result of Intelligent Design, it naturally follows that one can learn a great deal about the creator by studying its creations. Now go read Carl Zimmer’s Parasite Rex , for example, and ask, what do the features of these creatures imply about the creator?

    That’s why the D.I. does no science.

  83. #83 Ichthyic
    February 24, 2007

    Behe allowed his religion to guide his scientific thought.

    no. to really understand these people you have to understand that Behe beleives that his religion MUST guide his scientific thought; all else is secondary.

    It’s a subtle but distinct difference that’s entirely relevant to why these people are so intractable.

  84. #84 Torbjrn Larsson
    February 24, 2007

    Continuing the comparsion between Cordova and Egnor into the science, his grasp is as feeble as Sal’s. Yes, it is actually that bad! The neurosurgeon part doesn’t seem to help, contradicting DI’s claims here or on its list. Nothing new there, of course.

    This philosophical conundrum isn’t anything new in science. We don’t know where the laws of physics come from either, but that doesn’t preclude the scientific inference that there are laws of physics.

    Philosophical conundrums doesn’t apply in science. Since Egnor is perfectly willing to embrace pseudoscience uncritically, it isn’t too surprising he has problems with distinguishing philosophy from science either. He obviously doesn’t know what science is.

    But in this particular case science can contribute to philosophy. There have been two main strategies used in the search for a fundamental theory, for a long time now. Either it is uniquely constrained, i.e. there is only one set of fundamental laws and parameters that works. Or it is not uniquely constrained, so random chance played some part in us observing the universe that we do. This should be well known even for scientist illiterates such as Egnor and Cordova.

    Newton’s demonstration of a ‘clockwork’ physical world that adhered to mathematical laws played an important role in the rise of Deism in the 18th century.

    If so, deism is now gutted.

    ‘Free will’ is a folk psychology concept, and is not a problem for either philosophy or neuroscience. It is now known that we construct our view of our immediate ‘plans’ and actions after the response is initiated. So this end of the determinism problem is disempowered – we can have free will in a deterministic setting.

    On the other end of the determinism problem, physics has also learned that it leads to unpredictive chaos. And underneath the classical deterministic regime lies quantum mechanics, without chaos but now known to instead lead to outcomes with genuinely stochastic character. So physics both eats the cake and keeps it when it comes to ‘clockwork’ determinism.

    The conclusions that we can draw from science that constrain philosophy and religion is quite different today, for obvious reasons. I’m sure Egnor would be illuminated here if he decides to take a further look on Pharyngula.

    But the information in living things is specified; it does things, specific things. In that sense, it differs completely from Shannon information

    I’m sure that no neurosurgeon thinks when looking at reconnecting nerve tissues, “what information increase will this make to my patient”. The proper question is probably “how much function will I restore”.

    Biology is primarily about function. Others have delved into the information issue in great depth, but I would add two things.

    First, if we want to complement the primary picture that evolution deals with, we can look at structure and information on several levels that is ignored by Egnor. (Or is it ‘Egnored’? 🙂 Phylogenetic trees is a structure, with information, that is generally produced on several levels, from molecules to species. Allele frequencies is another structure, with information, that is produced over populations.

    Second, such structures are predicted without any recourse to physical information theory. But if we tried that route, we would probably end up using other measures than KC complexity in most cases. For example, a measure that describes neural networks (and perhaps lateral gene transfer) should maximize between complete regularity and complete irregularity, with connections on all order of ranges. There are several such measures.

  85. #85 Torbjrn Larsson
    February 24, 2007

    Continuing the comparsion between Cordova and Egnor into the science, his grasp is as feeble as Sal’s. Yes, it is actually that bad! The neurosurgeon part doesn’t seem to help, contradicting DI’s claims here or on its list. Nothing new there, of course.

    This philosophical conundrum isn’t anything new in science. We don’t know where the laws of physics come from either, but that doesn’t preclude the scientific inference that there are laws of physics.

    Philosophical conundrums doesn’t apply in science. Since Egnor is perfectly willing to embrace pseudoscience uncritically, it isn’t too surprising he has problems with distinguishing philosophy from science either. He obviously doesn’t know what science is.

    But in this particular case science can contribute to philosophy. There have been two main strategies used in the search for a fundamental theory, for a long time now. Either it is uniquely constrained, i.e. there is only one set of fundamental laws and parameters that works. Or it is not uniquely constrained, so random chance played some part in us observing the universe that we do. This should be well known even for scientist illiterates such as Egnor and Cordova.

    Newton’s demonstration of a ‘clockwork’ physical world that adhered to mathematical laws played an important role in the rise of Deism in the 18th century.

    If so, deism is now gutted.

    ‘Free will’ is a folk psychology concept, and is not a problem for either philosophy or neuroscience. It is now known that we construct our view of our immediate ‘plans’ and actions after the response is initiated. So this end of the determinism problem is disempowered – we can have free will in a deterministic setting.

    On the other end of the determinism problem, physics has also learned that it leads to unpredictive chaos. And underneath the classical deterministic regime lies quantum mechanics, without chaos but now known to instead lead to outcomes with genuinely stochastic character. So physics both eats the cake and keeps it when it comes to ‘clockwork’ determinism.

    The conclusions that we can draw from science that constrain philosophy and religion is quite different today, for obvious reasons. I’m sure Egnor would be illuminated here if he decides to take a further look on Pharyngula.

    But the information in living things is specified; it does things, specific things. In that sense, it differs completely from Shannon information

    I’m sure that no neurosurgeon thinks when looking at reconnecting nerve tissues, “what information increase will this make to my patient”. The proper question is probably “how much function will I restore”.

    Biology is primarily about function. Others have delved into the information issue in great depth, but I would add two things.

    First, if we want to complement the primary picture that evolution deals with, we can look at structure and information on several levels that is ignored by Egnor. (Or is it ‘Egnored’? 🙂 Phylogenetic trees is a structure, with information, that is generally produced on several levels, from molecules to species. Allele frequencies is another structure, with information, that is produced over populations.

    Second, such structures are predicted without any recourse to physical information theory. But if we tried that route, we would probably end up using other measures than KC complexity in most cases. For example, a measure that describes neural networks (and perhaps lateral gene transfer) should maximize between complete regularity and complete irregularity, with connections on all order of ranges. There are several such measures.

  86. #86 George
    February 24, 2007

    I asked a question that was not even particularly relevant to this discussion, but it is a fact that if you take all this evolutionary magic back to it’s origin, we have no clue as to how this story got it’s start. How did natural selection and the other evolutionary mechanisms get their start? What did these mechanisms have to work with? Nothing? Something? How did the “illusion” of design and irreducible complexity evolve from a starting point in which there was nothing to work with? These type of questions are the primary reason why the inference of ID is becoming more interesting every day.

    Instead of attributing the origin to a completely empty concept (i.e., God or Intelligent Design), try looking at the natural processes that were at work on this planet way, way back then. Read a book like The Selfish Gene. Why embrace an abstraction like “Intelligent Design” which, let’s face it, can add almost nothing to our understanding of how the world works? Or, instead of trumpeting I.D. as an alternative to evolution, consider I.D. as a branch of aesthetics that has next to nothing to contribute to our understanding of how the material world functions. That’s how I look at it.

    Like yourself, I know almost nothing about science, but I sense that you are grasping at straws because you don’t like the answers science has to offer. Problem is, it doesn’t matter what you want the world to be like – the world, you, and I are products of completely natural processes that CAN be explained by science. How do I know? Because they’ve got a great track record so far (and because the D.I. has nothing to show for itself but bluster). If you want to throw around some vague philosophical principles to help make sense of the design you see in nature, fine, but acknowledge that what you are doing with concepts like God and Intelligent Design are at best clumsy substitutes for the more refined, more evidential explanations that science can and will offer. Stop pretending that I.D. can compete with science.

    In short: Don’t make up new mysteries where none are needed. God is a product of our collective stupidity. We don’t need him anymore. You don’t need him anymore. We don’t need his modern day substitute, Intelligent Design, either.

  87. #87 Mr. Sugarbear
    February 24, 2007

    David wrote:

    “Sugarbear, I’ve been studying molecular biology for 5 years now, and I still don’t understand what you mean. Transposable elements are recruited?!?”

    That’s a direct quote from the paper by Long et.al.
    (Table 1, pg 2 4th mechanism down)

  88. #88 jm
    February 24, 2007

    The mutation for Cornelia de Lange Syndrome as increase in information?

    http://www.cdlsusa.org/about_cdls/faq.shtml#heredity

  89. #89 Tom Foss
    February 24, 2007

    Well, this is of course because of the Vast Darwin-Wing Conspiracy keeping them down.

    Wouldn’t that be a vast Finch-Wing Conspiracy?

    Anyway, this discussion reminds me of a bit in Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things, where he talks about how people who face a lot of uncertainty and danger in their everyday lives tend to be more superstitious. Could that be a factor here, especially with a practice as rife with risks as neurosurgery?

  90. #90 Ichthyic
    February 24, 2007

    sugarbear is:

    Charlie Wagner
    AKA Little Blond Girl, Militant Agnostic, many others

    who is supposed to be banned for good reason.

    let the disemvoweling begin!

    my tiny violin is playing for you CW.

  91. #91 Mike Egnor
    February 24, 2007

    P.Z.,

    Thanks for your comments. You and your acolytes, even more than giant cephalopods, stimulate me. Thanks.

    Your assertion that you answered my challenge ‘perfectly’ is, well, not perfect. I asked for a measurement of new information, not anecdotes about new functions. You and Nick have managed to generate molecular ‘just-so’ stories, anecdotes without actual quantitative measurement, for your central hypothesis that Darwinism can account for biological complexity. I guess ‘just-so’ stories are in your genes.

    Perhaps if I duplicated my question: ‘How much information, measured in a biologically relevant way, can a Darwinian process generate?’ ‘How much information, measured in a biologically relevant way, can a Darwinian process generate?’

    Is my question twice as clear now?

    But I don’t blame you for having trouble with the quantitative part (that is, all) of my question. Part of my own research is mathematical modeling of intracranial dynamics. I’m not very good at it, at least not very good at the mathematics, and that’s been a big help, in this way: It’s very easy to model biological systems by getting caught up in mathematical elegance. Fortunately, mathematical elegance isn’t easy for me. Mathematics is beautiful, and one can spend a lifetime in finite element analysis, or applications of the Navier-Stokes equation to cerebrospinal fluid dynamics, or in Shannon information theory, for that matter. The problem with mathematical elegance is to be found in an old adage in chemical engineering: the only completely accurate model of a system is the system itself. All real mathematical models are degenerate. Each model conceals some part of the system, and illuminates another. The trick to modeling is to understand the system well enough to know how to model it in order to uncover the dynamic of interest. A model should be heuristic, not necessarily elegant. Sometimes mathematical elegance is a fetish that leads away from reality.

    How can you model biological complexity? It’s the central core of the Darwin-ID debate. No one questions evolving bird beaks (although moth coloration has taken a beating recently). Folks question the machine-like stuff in cells, the computer language, the assembly lines, the eerie stuff. How did it get there? To answer that, we need a quantitative answer. We all know that RM+NS can make changes, but are the changes enough to make us, so to speak. Is there more to it than RM+NS? The choices are, to paraphrase Dawkins, ‘is biology the study of things that look designed, but aren’t?’ or ‘is biology the study of things that look designed, and are?’ Many of us think that the test between ‘aren’t’ and ‘are’ is the measurement of the novel information-generating capacity of RM+NS. But to measure information, we have to model it.

    How can we model it? As I’m not a practitioner of mathematical elegance, I focus on the heuristic power of the models. Shannon information is a lousy model of biological complexity. Shannon information is a model of the compressibility of a signal, and like much of information theory, it was developed for the communications industry. A signal that is repetitive is highly compressible, and in Shannon information theory, a repetitive signal has relatively low information content. A gene that is amplified a thousand times doesn’t have much more Shannon information than a single gene, because to send the ‘gene amplification’ message, you need only to send the gene, with the codicil: repeat 1000x. Random signals, with high entropy, have high information content, because they’re not compressible. You have to send the whole thing.

    Apply Shannon information theory to an elephant. Biologically speaking, an elephant, as a zygote, has extraordinarily high information content. All the elephant is to be, biological-complexity-information-wise, is in a single cell, a single genome. Yet Shannon information theory would denote the elephant zygote as highly compressible, with very low information content. When the elephant gets old, and passes away, and gets cremated, the dispersed-elephant-ashes would have high information content, because each atom of elephant would disperse in its own zip code, and be maximally random. In the Shannon model, an elephant’s biological information content is minimal when it’s a zygote, and maximal when its dust in the wind. The Shannon model predicts that your biological complexity increases when you die. P.Z., it’s not a good model.

    What is a good model? I don’t know. It’s tough to model and measure biological complexity/information in a way that illuminates the important stuff about life. Biological information is representational, linguistic, functional, and elegant. Physical information theory, of the sort used in classical physics and quantum mechanics seems more apt, but it’s beyond me, mathematics-wise.

    My challenge to you to measure the information content in living things wasn’t to get you to do it. I knew you couldn’t. My challenge was to point out the magnitude of the problem that we all face in understanding biological complexity, and to suggest some respect for Bill Dembski’s efforts to tackle this enormous problem. He’s trying to answer it in a way that means something real. You can’t solve this with a PubMed search and citation chaff. This isn’t a courtroom.

    The adequacy of RM+NS to generate biological complexity/information is at the heart of the Darwin-ID debate, and we can’t as yet measure it in a way that we all agree is meaningful. We each have theories, and our theories aren’t facts. You don’t know any more than we do, and perhaps, you know less. At least we know what we don’t know.

    Now on to a canard that leaves me breathless (but, you’ll regret, not wordless). Several of your buddies in the comments section suggested that Darwinism is essential to modern medicine, and imply that my skepticism is tantamount to medical ignorance (not always spelled with an ‘i’). Darwinism has nothing to do with modern medicine, but it had a lot to do with medicine in the early 20th century.

    Darwinism has scraped against medicine in three ways: Eugenics, bacterial resistance to antibiotics, and the application of taxonomy to medical research. One scrape was hard, two weren’t.

    Perhaps a fable (not a just-so story!) will illustrate. Imagine that you, P.Z., were a student in 1925. You would study Darwinism fairly intensively as a high school student, undergrad, and med student (it’s a hypothetical!). In high school you’d read Hunter’s ‘A Civic Biology’ (unless you lived in Dayton, Tennessee), which taught the Darwinian superiority of the Nordic races and the need to eliminate the lesser races. In college you would take courses on Eugenics (thousands were offered), and learn the application of dog breeding to humans. As a medical student you would be steeped in Eugenic practices. You might do a term paper on Darwin’s lament in the ‘Descent of Man’ (ever heard of the book?) that the smallpox vaccine was regrettable because it enabled the ‘weak’ to breed, noting that ‘no breeder would ever breed from his worst stock’. You would then go off to practice medicine, and join the Eugenic frenzy. Fifty thousand Americans, tagged ‘feeble minded’ and manifestly poor breeding stock, were sterilized involuntarily. Your Darwinian-Eugenic work would be mainstream medicine, endorsed by all the big guys, except the ‘anti-science’ types like Chesterton and the Catholics, who kept bleating about human dignity, and your only interruption would be those pesky Germans who kept visiting, and learning from you. Darwinism was absolutely indispensable to Eugenics, and to American medicine (and some continental European medicine) in the first half of the 20th century.

    Zoom ahead in time. You, P.Z., are now a pre-med, circa 1990. You never even heard of Eugenics (the Darwin memory hole took care of that). You’re sitting in Bio 101, and it comes time to read ‘Origin’. ‘Descent’ is off the reading list. You’re not paying much attention. There’s a bottled giant cephalopod on the shelf, and it’s alluring. When Professor Meyers gets to the chapter in Origin about the pigeons, it’s zone-out time. You get to medical school with zero knowledge of Darwinism. Medical school is no help. No one teaches squat about Darwin in med school anymore, and Professor Egnor gets testy every time someone brings it up. Finally, circa 2000, you’re practicing medicine, with a ‘Darwin hole’ in your brain. ‘Natural Selection’, to you, is something about the MCAT’s.

    Then you get your first patient with a bacterial infection. You order penicillin, and for a few days, things are going swimmingly. Then, suddenly, the patient gets sick again! The cultures show the bacteria are resistant to penicillin! You know all about molecular biology and biochemistry (no cephalopods with tentacles askew in those classes), so you understand all about the molecular mechanisms of bacterial resistance. You give a new antibiotic, and it works! But you’re in an epistemological crisis: why did your patient still have an infection, after the penicillin?

    Off to the library, and you come across ‘Origin’. You read, and the light shines. ‘Organisms vary; some survive, some don’t’. What would medicine do without Darwin!

    Next, you, P.Z., enlightened but not yet fully, decide to do some medical research. You want to study pulmonary blood flow. So you look through a catalogue for experimental animals. Not yet fully up to speed on Darwin, you don’t know which model to use, so you order fish. Your research on pulmonary blood flow flounders (a pun!), so back to the library, back to Origin for a little enlightenment. Yikes! Fish have gills! Mammals are closer than Osteichthyeses to humans! Darwin actually taught Linnaeus that (or was it the other way around? I forget.) You order some rats. Now you are onto a much better model for pulmonary blood flow, albeit less tasty. Darwin helps again!

    Darwinism, understood as the theory that RM+NS accounts fully for biological complexity, doesn’t have squat to do with the practice of modern medicine. It’s not taught in medical schools, for a reason.

    Darwinism was the indispensible basis for Eugenics. I teach in the medical ethics course in my medical school. I make sure the students learn about Eugenics, and where it came from. I have a particular distaste for your ideological ancestors.

    A final note on Mike Behe. I reject any comparison between Behe and me. Mike raised a question that Darwin raised, very perceptively, in the language of molecular biology. He asked what you guys should have asked, and pursued with rigor, 50 years ago. It is a very sensible and important question, about the plausibility of the random assembly of intricate molecular structures. For his efforts, he has weathered your quite vicious and unprofessional scorn with wisdom and decency that I doubt I could muster. I admire his courage. I have neither his insight nor his grace. Don’t compare me to him.

    Mike

  92. #92 Art
    February 24, 2007

    Lessee if I’m reading this correctly – Egnor asks how much “biologically meaningful information” Darwinian processes can “produce”, and then turns around and in essence says that he has no clue how to measure, or even describe, “biologically meaningful information”.

    So, Mike, are you asking for someone to explain to you what “biologically-meaningful information” actually is?

  93. #93 Erasmus
    February 24, 2007

    Rhetoric is of premium values in pleas for solipcism.

    What part of null hypothesis do you not understand? Affirm your antecedents all you want, cartesian alternatives are anathema to your apologetics. Anyone can wave their hands and murmur quietly into the dark warm night, but eventually you must come to terms with the burning and more relevant question: How many angels may dance on the head of a pin? If the woodchuck could chuck wood, would that excuse your equivocating about what the hell you mean by ‘information’.

  94. #94 Luna_the_cat
    February 24, 2007

    What a lot of words used to say “I now define biological information as something that it is impossible for you to quantify, therefore Darwinism fails because you cannot prove by quantitative methods that information increases”, and “I equate Darwinism with bad things only, and fail to understand how it has contributed to my field”.

    And here I thought lack of brevity was one of *my* failings.

    If I had more time, I would start disassembling your appallingly bad “examples” of various concepts, not to mention your factual errors (eugenics forgotten? evolutionary science unwilling to address the plausibility of “random assembly of intricate molecular structures”? since when? on what planet?) — but there are a lot of able people here to do that. But you will ignore all the information given here as irrelevant too, won’t you. That has been your track record so far.

  95. #95 FhnuZoag
    February 24, 2007

    Egnor:

    You miss the point. The point is that PZ’s example shows that any attempt at defining information so as to relate to new characteristics cannot be used to prove ID, because it is observable that such ‘information’ increases.

    You might do a term paper on Darwin’s lament in the ‘Descent of Man’ (ever heard of the book?) that the smallpox vaccine was regrettable because it enabled the ‘weak’ to breed, noting that ‘no breeder would ever breed from his worst stock’.

    Man, selective quote! The *immediate sentence* following that in the Descent of Man is:

    The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly
    an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally
    acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered,
    in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely
    diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of
    hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our
    nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation,
    for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if
    we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could
    only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil.

  96. #96 FhnuZoag
    February 24, 2007

    In case you feel that somehow the Descent of Man is deeply buried in the evil atheist psyche, please note that full text of the book is available on Infidels.org.

    http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/charles_darwin/descent_of_man/

  97. #97 craig
    February 24, 2007

    “How did the “illusion” of design and irreducible complexity evolve from a starting point in which there was nothing to work with?”

    Well, I’m neither a scientist nor an M.D., hell I’m not even a high school graduate… but I’ll hazard a guess here.

    The “illusion” of design evolved the same way all illusions evolve… in the human brain. It evolved because there was something to work with – your mind.

    The characteristics of a certain hill on mars came about through the effects of weathering. The illusion of the “Face on Mars” that some people see it as arose in those people’s minds. The illusion is not in the rock, its in their heads.

  98. #98 FhnuZoag
    February 24, 2007

    Darwinism, understood as the theory that RM+NS accounts fully for biological complexity, doesn’t have squat to do with the practice of modern medicine. It’s not taught in medical schools, for a reason.

    Ok, then. Try this. It is from evolutionary theory that we infer that all organisms have a common ancestry, and thus must share components and indeed structual traits to various extents across all levels.

    Contrast that with an ID based system. In that case, when faced with a new organism – a new disease, for example, or a new type of bacteria, there would be No Reason At All to believe that the new organism would have anything in common with past ones. Because it just got cranked out of the great Random Number Generator in the sky, it doesn’t have to use DNA. It doesn’t have to be cellular in nature. It doesn’t have to use proteins or receptors or so on. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be made of matter. We’d have to experiment from the very fundamentals to identify its properties. Surely something of a restriction on working out a way to kill it?

    The only reason to apply the basic assumption of biology and all medicine that living beings are fundamentally similar is provided by evolutionism, and the theory of common ancestry it provides. Otherwise, your assumptions actually have no basis, and you are only doing what you are doing because your education told you to.

  99. #99 Tyler DiPietro
    February 24, 2007

    Shannon information is a lousy model of biological complexity. Shannon information is a model of the compressibility of a signal, and like much of information theory, it was developed for the communications industry. A signal that is repetitive is highly compressible, and in Shannon information theory, a repetitive signal has relatively low information content. A gene that is amplified a thousand times doesn’t have much more Shannon information than a single gene, because to send the ‘gene amplification’ message, you need only to send the gene, with the codicil: repeat 1000x. Random signals, with high entropy, have high information content, because they’re not compressible. You have to send the whole thing.

    You have only redundantly demonstrated that you have absolutely no clue what you are talking about.

    1. You are conflating the definition of Shannon information with Kolmogorov-Chaitin information. K-C theory deals with the compessibility of individual objects, Shannon theory deals with entropy across an ensemble of messages agreed upon by a sender and a reciever. Shannon information is a measure of the freedom when selecting an outcome among the ensemble of messages, compressibility is only of peripheral relevance.

    2. You have not defined what measure of biological complexity you wish to use, and even admit that you cannot do it:

    The adequacy of RM+NS to generate biological complexity/information is at the heart of the Darwin-ID debate, and we can’t as yet measure it in a way that we all agree is meaningful.

    You have essentially destroyed your whole. You are demanding a demonstration of the production of a quantity that you yourself admit that you cannot define. Your entire argument is about evolution not being able to produce a quantity you cannot define, and here it falls apart like a house of cards built on sand.

  100. #100 BC
    February 24, 2007

    > Darwinism was the indispensible basis for Eugenics.

    Of course it was. That’s why slavery existed in America in the first place. That’s why Whites said that Blacks were “like children” who needed to be ruled by the better races. That’s why it was illegal for Whites and Blacks to marry in the US – because Confederate racists learned it all from Darwin. Uh, huh. And racists could never find any support for their racism in the Bible (Curse of Ham, Genesis 9:20-26) In fact, the KKK wasn’t “Christian” at all, they derived all their views from Darwin. How does the word “Bullshit” sound to you? Care to tell everyone an even bigger lie?

    “‘the blacks are justly captives by just sentence of God for the sins of their fathers, and that in sign thereof God gave them that color.” – Dominican Fray Francisco de la Cruz, 1575 AD

    “By the late 1600s, the curse of Ham was well entrenched as divine sanction for slavery. In colonial America, the belief that Ham was black, and that Noah’s curse was race-related, was widely subscribed to in both the North and South.”

    The fact of the matter is that racism has always existed, people noticed differences in races (which has been ascribed to everything from genes, to culture, fortunate accidents, environment, availability of the tools to build civilizations, to divine curses) and people sought to explain the “superiority” and “inferiority” of races within the context of their existing knowledge (whether that is the Bible – where Genesis 9:20-26 was used to explain why Blacks’ “rightful” position was subserviance, to evolution – which allows for the possibility of racial differences, but does *not* say that human racial differences actually exist in any meaningful way).

    Second, what does the social effects of evolution (even if it was actually true), have to do with the truth of evolution? Nothing. It’s simple scare tactics. It’s the same old “if you don’t believe, you will go to hell” tactic used by religion and cults reworded into “if people believe in evolution, all these evil things will happen”.

  101. #101 afterthought
    February 24, 2007

    Mike’s long post reminds of the saying:
    “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit”
    Except it doesn’t appear people here are baffled easily, but are rather attuned to detecting bullshit.

  102. #102 Raguel
    February 24, 2007

    Well I’m no biologist or mathematician. My background, such that it is, is in chemistry. However, from what I understand, biologists already know there’s more to evolution than just RM+NS. If Darwinism is just RM + NS, it’s dead and buried.

    Secondly, I still don’t see how quantifying the change of information due to “Darwinism” is at all helpful. It seems to me that homology in addition to the fact of imperfect replication is alone sufficient. If a novel (or slightly different) phenotype does not have a corresponding novel (or slightly different) genotype, then Darwinism is not sufficient to address this. If a change in genotype could not possibly have occurred by imperfect replication then Darwinism would not be sufficient. If the reverse of those statements are true, then Darwinism is sufficient.

    I don’t think I made any logical errors but I’d like to hear them if I did.

  103. #103 Charles Morrison
    February 24, 2007

    Dr. Egnor, RM + NS is not the totality of evolutionary theory, which you should know from Biology 101. Genetic drift? Sexual selection?

    Please, Dr. Egnor. As a fellow physician, I am pleading with you to stop embarrassing our profession. You are not an expert in evolutionary theory, and you are making that clearer with each comment. Your pronouncements on evolutionary theory carry no weight whatsoever, and by allowing the Discovery Institute to trumpet your name, you are simply prostituting the respect that society traditonally holds for its physicians.

    Please, please just stop.

  104. #104 Tyler DiPietro
    February 24, 2007

    Trying to find a semi-substantial claim in Egnor’s post is like digging for a particular grain of salt in the Atlantic Ocean, but I managed to find these relatively contiguous points:

    We all know that RM+NS can make changes, but are the changes enough to make us, so to speak. Is there more to it than RM+NS? The choices are, to paraphrase Dawkins, ‘is biology the study of things that look designed, but aren’t?’ or ‘is biology the study of things that look designed, and are?’ Many of us think that the test between ‘aren’t’ and ‘are’ is the measurement of the novel information-generating capacity of RM+NS. But to measure information, we have to model it.

    ……

    Apply Shannon information theory to an elephant. Biologically speaking, an elephant, as a zygote, has extraordinarily high information content. All the elephant is to be, biological-complexity-information-wise, is in a single cell, a single genome. Yet Shannon information theory would denote the elephant zygote as highly compressible, with very low information content. When the elephant gets old, and passes away, and gets cremated, the dispersed-elephant-ashes would have high information content, because each atom of elephant would disperse in its own zip code, and be maximally random. In the Shannon model, an elephant’s biological information content is minimal when it’s a zygote, and maximal when its dust in the wind. The Shannon model predicts that your biological complexity increases when you die. P.Z., it’s not a good model.

    Other than the fact that you are here, as elsewhere, conflating two different definitions of information, you are displaying yet more ignorance. The algorithmic information content (the only feasible definition in this instance) of the elephant does not change when it dies. When you are describing a dead elephant, you are effectively describing an arbitrarily different object than before. Algorithmic information is a recursively invariant quantity. A description of “elephant” has a different algorithmic information content than cremated remains across several geographic regions.

    And more so, if you are going to argue that RM/NS can’t produce new “information”, you have a perfect case here where something without even a selective process to aid it produces a new quantity. That should clue you in that the relevance of “information” here is either extremely limited or nonexistent, not that the existing models of information are simply not good enough.

  105. #105 Ichthyic
    February 25, 2007

    Perhaps if I duplicated my question: ‘How much information, measured in a biologically relevant way, can a Darwinian process generate?’ ‘How much information, measured in a biologically relevant way, can a Darwinian process generate?’

    Is my question twice as clear now?

    It’s exactly the same level of relevance and clarity as this one, which I pose to you, doc:

    How much would could a wood chuck chuck, if a wood chuck, could chuck, wood?

    as to your actual understanding of how to quantify information content, and whether than has ANY relevance to evolution in general, you’ve already had many responses (and not just here) to that one; which, in this thread alone, have shown your knowledge of information theory to be based on nothing more than mereley the respewing of the childish ramblings of ignorant creationists who haven’t the slightest clue what information really means.

    heck, why not trot out the old SLoT argument, eh?

    at what point did you decide that selling out to psuedoscience was the right thing to do?

    serious question.

    really.

  106. #106 Ichthyic
    February 25, 2007

    Darwinism was the indispensible basis for Eugenics. I teach in the medical ethics course in my medical school. I make sure the students learn about Eugenics, and where it came from. I have a particular distaste for your ideological ancestors.

    holy crap! if this is really the kind of thing he teaches in his classes on medical ethics, I’d say that’s grounds for some serious investigation by his own college.

    if he’s being truthful, this man is insane.

  107. #107 Lee
    February 25, 2007

    So Egnor said:
    “I reject any comparison between Behe and me. Mike raised a question that Darwin raised, very perceptively, in the language of molecular biology. He asked what you guys should have asked, and pursued with rigor, 50 years ago. It is a very sensible and important question, about the plausibility of the random assembly of intricate molecular structures. For his efforts, he has weathered your quite vicious and unprofessional scorn with wisdom and decency that I doubt I could muster.”

    Please let me say,as gently and politely as possible, that on this Egnor is full of s***. And yes, that particular phrasing IS as gentle and polite as I can be.

    Herman Muller first predicted “interlocking complexity” as an expected consequence of evolutionary mechanisms, as far back as 1918, and a tremendous amount of subsequent work, especially over the last couple decades as the molecualr revolution in biology made it possible to explore molecular and evolutionary relationships between genes and proteins, has focussed on this.

    Here is a good basic overview of the Muller part – note that it also talks briefly about one of the systems that has been heavily studied, and in which the relationships between “irreducible” factors is being elucidated.:

    http://www.talkorigins.org/origins/postmonth/sep06.html

    For Egnor to say that “you guys should have asked, and pursued with rigor, 50 years ago” is simply to betray his utter ignorance on this issue.

  108. #108 Ichthyic
    February 25, 2007

    For Egnor to say that “you guys should have asked, and pursued with rigor, 50 years ago” is simply to betray his utter ignorance on this issue.

    shocker.

  109. #109 Azkyroth
    February 25, 2007

    FortheKids bleated:

    Don’t put words in my mouth. Ever.

    Stop misrepresenting science and you might receive some sympathy in this regard. But yes, logically your statement reads as a concession that Egnor is wrong about the generation of “biological information” now, though it leads into the blockheaded assumption that the origin of “biological information” is somehow relevant to how new “biological information” comes into existence today.

    I asked a question that was not even particularly relevant to this discussion, but it is a fact that if you take all this evolutionary magic back to it’s origin, we have no clue as to how this story got it’s start. How did natural selection and the other evolutionary mechanisms get their start? What did these mechanisms have to work with? Nothing? Something? How did the “illusion” of design and irreducible complexity evolve from a starting point in which there was nothing to work with? These type of questions are the primary reason why the inference of ID is becoming more interesting every day.

    All of these questions have been answered either by multiple plausible, *properly scientific* hypotheses awaiting wheat-from-chaff separation by testing, or hypotheses that have been tested and found to be wheat. Many of them have been discussed in this thread. Your continuing to talk as though they haven’t been clearly marks you as either as dumb as a brick or as dishonest as your mythical devil. I’m amazed PZ isn’t disemvoweling you yet; you contribute nothing to the discussion, attempt aggressively to derail it, and refuse to learn from the answers to your tape-loop boilerplate questions.

  110. #110 Doc Bill
    February 25, 2007

    The ethical thing for Egnor to do would be to admit that he’s a creationist and that he believes that his god created and still creates new life and that he is unable to reconcile his religious beliefs with mainstream biological science. And, stated like that, what would be the argument?

    That would be the ethical thing to do. Alas, what does Egnor know about ethics?

  111. #111 Ichthyic
    February 25, 2007

    And, stated like that, what would be the argument?

    you mean, other than a general one about his idiocy?

    how about his ability to teach a biomedical ethics course at a university where he applies his religious ideology in a bit of historical revisionism, just like he describes?

    for me, the fact that he is dishonest about the origins of his own worldview is less important than the impact of that worldview on how he teaches the next generation of medical students.

    He admits he teaches (passionately) historical revisionism about the source and basis of eugenics.

    when cognitive dissonance becomes so extreme that one has to reinvent history in order to maintain one’s worldview, one has no business teaching any more.

  112. #112 Doc Bill
    February 25, 2007

    Exactly.

    One thing that has always bugged me about creationists is their inability or unwillingness to simply state their position openly and honestly. There is one guy whose name escapes me who wrote that even if all the evidence in the Universe was against his faith he would still believe.

    It bugs me that Egnor sneaks around with pitiful weasely arguments that only show him to be a fool. I guess he’s living proof that you don’t need a working brain to fix a malfunctioning brain.

    Heal with steel, Egnor, but leave the science to us.

  113. #113 Ichthyic
    February 25, 2007

    I was just watching an episode of “Scrubs” the other day, where they were making fun of how little surgeons know about medicine.

    I thought they were overstating the case for comic effect.

    guess not. Must have been one of those “funny ’cause it’s true” kind of things.

  114. #114 argystokes
    February 25, 2007

    There is one guy whose name escapes me who wrote that even if all the evidence in the Universe was against his faith he would still believe.

    I believe Kurt Wise is the name you are looking for.

  115. #115 paul
    February 25, 2007

    This is fun, watching someone so Egnor-ant of evolution getting schooled.

  116. #116 JohnK
    February 25, 2007

    Mendal was far more responsible for providing direct support for eugenics than Darwin. Perhaps Egnor should be crusading against Mendalism.

    Let’s see. Obsessed with anti-eugenics, “your ideological ancestors”, ID advocate without any idea what measure, quantified in bits, he is demanding.
    Not surprising he would write a letter to the NYTimes like this one.
    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9404E5D9133BF932A15755C0A9639C8B63
    Unbelievable straining, fixating on a terminological technicality to avoid the point. Ideologue par excellance.

  117. #117 Ichthyic
    February 25, 2007

    oh, John, I think that letter is worthy of reposting here in its entirety:

    To the Editor:

    Terri Schiavo’s autopsy report claimed that she was probably blind. Supporters of the decision to starve her to death have hailed this finding as bolstering their argument that withdrawal of her feeding tube was ethical.

    Their reasoning is hard to follow.

    If Ms. Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state, blindness is a meaningless diagnosis. Only sentient people can see, and only sentient people can be blind. And if she were blind, then she was sentient, and the diagnosis of persistent vegetative state was a genuinely fatal mistake.

    The lapses in logic aside, it’s chilling to assert that it’s more ethical to starve a handicapped person if that person is blind. This is what passes for ethics among advocates for euthanasia.

    Michael Egnor, M.D.
    Stony Brook, N.Y., June 18, 2005

    The writer is vice chairman of the department of neurological surgery, SUNY, Stony Brook.

    The VICE CHAIRMAN, no less.

    something in the medical industry is seriously broke, and it ain’t just universal health care.

  118. #118 Tyler DiPietro
    February 25, 2007

    This is fun, watching someone so Egnor-ant of evolution getting schooled.

    Absolutely true. I can’t wait to wake up tomorrow and see how a fresh PZ finishes off the butt-reaming we’ve dealt Egnor thus far. But alas, as implied, I’m tired.

    See ya’ll in the mornin’!

  119. #119 George
    February 25, 2007

    Look Ichthyic, here’s another from Aug. 22, 2006:

    To the Editor:

    I disagree with Dr. Krauss’s essay “How to Make Sure Children are Scientifically Illiterate.” Darwinists are not advancing science by seeking federal court injunctions against criticism of Darwinism. Science is not a body of knowledge; it’s a method of inquiry. Freedom of inquiry is indispensable to science.

    Students should be taught to question prevailing theories — even entrenched dogma like Darwinism — with rigor and with civility. Contra Dr. Krauss, the opposite of science is not ignorance; it’s censorship.

    Michael Egnor, M.D.
    Stony Brook, N.Y.
    The writer is a professor of neurosurgery at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/22/science/22letters.html?ex=1172552400&en=e957ad2addc8c51e&ei=5070

  120. #120 George
    February 25, 2007

    One more letter he wrote (5 Jun 2006), in response to this article:

    Defending science education against intelligent design: a call to action, J. Clin. Invest. 2006; 116: 1134-1138

    To the Editor:

    The essay by Attie et al (‘Defending science education against design: a call to action’) is an odd ‘call to action’. Scientists generally consider a ‘call to action’ to be a call for more vigorous discussion and research. Dr Attie’s ‘call to action’ is a call for censorship.

    Dr. Attie assembles a philosopher, an historian, a lawyer, and a couple of politicians to coauthor an essay encouraging scientists to lobby for laws that censor criticism of Darwinism in schools. They assert that if you don’t accept Darwinism as an adequate explanation for biological complexity, you’re ‘anti-science’.

    The authors’ preference for censorship, rather than debate, is understandable. Poorly thought-out arguments don’t hold up well in open debate. They devote a paragraph to testing (and claiming to refute) Mike Behe’s concept of irreducible complexity. The first sentence of their next paragraph is “ID makes no testable predictions.” They propose a law that mandates that public school students be taught material that ‘describes only natural processes’. That rules out the Big Bang, black holes, multiverses, and much of modern cosmology. Emergence of the universe ex- nihilo, physics in singularities, and the existence of countless other universes are by definition not ‘natural processes’. Censor quantum mechanics as well. There’s nothing ‘natural’ about Schrodinger’s cat!

    The authors’ policies, if taken seriously, would exclude many of the most important advances in 20th century physics. The most interesting and fruitful science challenges dogma, and the most entrenched dogma in modern biology is Darwinism.

    The authors express concern that discussion of Darwinism and intelligent design will cripple science education. Yet the United States leads the western world in science and in skepticism about Darwinism. The current American debate about the origin of biological complexity is clear evidence that free inquiry is quite compatible with leadership in science.

    Science thrives in an atmosphere of free inquiry. Teach the controversy!

    Michael Egnor, M.D.

    http://www.jci.org/cgi/eletters/116/5/1134

  121. #121 George
    February 25, 2007

    Hey, Dr. Egnor, speaking of information, have a look at what you are achieving. Here’s what two people who quote you approvingly have to say:

    It looks like more and more ‘scientific minds’ are coming to the conclusion that Darwin’s theory of evolution is wrong. It’s about time that these people come to the conclusion that there is no ‘missing link’. The links to creation are all present and accounted for in the Bible.

    http://worshippingchristian.org/blog/?p=2111

    [mentions you approvingly then goes on to say…]
    Millions of years ago so goes the story of the evolution, not that they can prove it but they need those years for the impossible to happen, things that were without life came to life. Lets not forget that the earth would of being a lot hotter then it is today as the sun had millions of years of fuel which had yet to be burnt making real life and not this hypothetic life near impossible to exist[.]

    To solve the problem of the different species they put men’s skulls with monkey jaws or the other way around and woo-lar, the missing link. Diversity in the same species happens but this is not evolution ie people on high altitudes develop better oxygen systems due to the less amount of oxygen at those higher altitudes they are not a new species.

    So why do the godless want to take God out of the picture?
    […quote from Thessalonians…]
    They take pleasure in wickedness and hate the truth so they need a lie to kill their consciences. Another characteristic of the godless is eventually the more wicked they are the more they believe they are gods because of their power over the weak but in Hell they will all be the weak at the mercy of the devils and demons. Once in hell they will know they are not gods but fools, and the evil spirits have no more need to be subservient to them because now they are their masters.

    http://groups.google.com/group/alt.religion.christian.roman-catholic/browse_thread/thread/b59f93eef8c1556f/8d5901a99528579d?lnk=raot

    Do you really want to be the go-to guy for this crowd?

  122. #122 SEF
    February 25, 2007

    Darwinism was the indispensible basis for Eugenics. I teach in the medical ethics course in my medical school. I make sure the students learn about Eugenics, and where it came from. I have a particular distaste for your ideological ancestors.

    Not content with being arrogantly ignorant of a great many things in science (and maths and computing and history and even the ability to put together a logical, coherent and consistent argument) and stupidly not being ashamed to flaunt this in public, that’s now quite a confession from Michael Egnor of incompetence at (part of) his own job. Could he seriously believe it wise to post it on a very public blog like this one?

    Religion really does seem to rot the brain – or perhaps preferentially attract pre-rotted ones. Creationism and other fundamentalisms being the most obvious subset in the frame.

  123. #123 Luna_the_cat
    February 25, 2007

    Egnor had written (to the J. Clin. Invest.:
    … They propose a law that mandates that public school students be taught material that ‘describes only natural processes’. That rules out the Big Bang, black holes, multiverses, and much of modern cosmology. Emergence of the universe ex- nihilo, physics in singularities, and the existence of countless other universes are by definition not ‘natural processes’. Censor quantum mechanics as well. There’s nothing ‘natural’ about Schrodinger’s cat!

    Uh…wha…? I freely admit that I am not a physicist, but is he really claiming here that the processes of physics here described are not natural?

    On what basis is this claim made?

  124. #124 Mike Egnor
    February 25, 2007

    I love you guys. So much venom, so little insight. The comments are scattered, and several are incoherent, but I’ll do my best:

    My question about the information-generating capacity of RM+NS was rhetorical. I know you can’t answer it. Now you know, too. The scientific debate about Darwin/ID turns on the issue of biological complexity. We are still struggling with the issue of how to quantify it. Information content seems the most promising, but, as my question demonstrates, it’s deeply problematic. Empirical verification of your claim that RM+NS is sufficient to explain biological complexity is necessary for you your theory to be a ‘fact’. As you have so clearly demonstrated, it’s not a fact, so far.

    Regarding your ‘Eugenics denial’, the link between Darwinism and Eugenics is tight, a matter of historical record. Everytime I hear the trope ‘Darwinism is indispensible to medicine’, I’m going to stick Eugenics in your face. Darwinism was indispensible to Eugenics, but is indispensible to nothing else in medicine.

    Perhaps my favorite is your insistance that I not express opinions on evolutionary biology, as I’m not an expert in it. Yet this blog is full of non-expert opinions: how many of you are theologians, historians, ethicists, or physicians? What are your credentials to analyze religion, the history of Eugenics, the Schiavo case, or the role of Darwinism in medicine?

    And, of course there’s the occassional comment that I should be ‘investigated’ by my university. You make the kind of discussion that we’re having here about Darwinism and ID a federal crime in public schools, and now you want me ‘investigated’. You betray so much about yourselves.

    Mike

  125. #125 Carlie
    February 25, 2007

    I know that it’s difficult enough to get thick-headed people like Egnor to understand natural selection at all, but would it help any to add back some of the complexity in all the basic explanations? (yes, I realize basic complexity is an oxymoron). I’m just thinking about the fact that he, along with so many others, keeps on harping about how he “doesn’t think natural selection can account for everything”. Guess what, Mr. Egnor? Neither do evolutionary biologists. I bet he doesn’t know the first thing about sexual selection, kin selection, the neutral hypothesis, Red Queen parasitic interactions, predator-prey dynamics, etc., etc. Those are mostly specific variants on natural selection, but they do have the advantage of being somewhat easier to grasp, because people intuitively “get” the weed-out pressures created by mates and diseases and predators more than the generic pressure of the environment. Just a thought.

  126. #126 SEF
    February 25, 2007

    Information content seems the most promising, but, as my question demonstrates, it’s deeply problematic. Empirical verification of your claim that RM+NS is sufficient to explain biological complexity is necessary for you your theory to be a ‘fact’.

    I can see that it’s problematic for you – in that you’ve already repeatedly demonstrated that you haven’t a clue what you are talking about! However, that doesn’t make it a real problem for the less ignorant and more sane observer.

    It has already been empirically verified that C can become U; that A can become AA (or other duplications of various lengths occur) and that A-T can become A-C and subsequently get misrepaired (and the resultant phenotype then do something slightly different than the ancestral one). Unless you are planning to dispute those facts: what version of “information” measurement can you possibly imagine in your fantasy world in which combinations of such duplication and modification events would not then possibly have more “information” than the previous incarnation?

  127. #127 SEF
    February 25, 2007

    I’ve thought of an analogy which even the most retarded medical doctor ought to understand – being very much in line with public information messages.

    An apple a day might not keep the doctor away. But what if I had 5 apples – by a simple duplication process. Would that not be more? Though it probably still wouldn’t count as 5 portions of fruit and veg. if one insists on them being different.

    However, what if I swapped one of my apples for an orange and another for a tomato and so on (even if I didn’t mean to do it but just grabbed the wrong item by mistake). Do I not now have the stipulated 5 portions of fruit and veg? Is that not more (in any sane, numerate and literate person’s view) than before?

  128. #128 Caledonian
    February 25, 2007

    I find it remarkable that people are still trying to argue with this cretin. It’s like trying to teach an alcohol-and-water dipper bird how to dance.

    Do you hate to leave ignorant arguments unchecked? Do you believe that Egnor might in some tiny corner of his mind be amenable to reason and evidence? Bored?

  129. #129 Clutch
    February 25, 2007

    Hey, evolution smarty-pantses! I’d just like you to tell me, simply and straight-up, the mathematical degree to which snarfs podinkle. Dembski’s been saying for years that snarfs podinkle! Can you tell me how much, though?

    Don’t worry — I’m just asking in order to get *you* to realize that you can’t answer. It’s a vast scientific problem, huh? I did a PubMed search on “snarfs” and “podinkling”, and got *nothing*. NOTHING!

    Now I’ll bet you’re going to venomously attack me with nonsense like “What the hell do you mean by ‘snarfs’?” and “Can you define ‘podinkling’ for us?” and “Holy mangled Schiavo reasoning, how thick *are* you?” But when the dust has settled, none of you will have answered my very simple question by just telling me the mathematical extent to which snarfs podinkle. It really just makes me shake my head in sadness at the delusions of evolutionary Darwinist censoring eugenic euthanists.

    Professor Dr Authority Q. Iteachstuff, Vice Chair and Scoutmaster

  130. #130 afterthought
    February 25, 2007

    I’m with you Caledonian, but I think a number of people really do want Egnor to understand. Egnor seems unwilling or unable, which does make it a waste of time. The goal for Egnor is PR (Which is the only effort DI cares to make.), not actual explanations as shown by this:

    What happens when a professor of neurosurgey who is a Darwin-skeptic and just happens to be a brain surgeon visits a popular Darwinist blog? He leaves with unanswered questions.

    Just a dishonest game being played here. They will also claim lack of “civility” like this:

    I love you guys. So much venom, so little insight. The comments are scattered, and several are incoherent, but I’ll do my best: …

    — Egnor

    Same old stuff.

  131. #131 FhnuZoag
    February 25, 2007

    Egnor:

    In what way does Darwinism, defined by you as the theory that all biological complexity is accounted for by NS and RM, find itself as being indispensable for Eugenics? All that is required for Eugenics is (a) the observation that selective breeding works, (b) a basic disregard of ethics.

    It isn’t required for evolution to be true for selective breeding to be a good idea, after all. People have been selectively breeding animals for ages. Nor is dehumanisation anything new – slavery emerged long before evolution. It’s not like the eugenicists gave a damn about the appearance of new species and so on, since their goals were not to create a new species, but merely enhance the averaged characteristics of mankind. They were looking at the future, and the past was hardly relevant.

    Besides, Eugenics, being the appointment of a few misguided individuals as the intelligent designers of a new human race, works arguably far better in an ID framework.

  132. #132 Steve_C
    February 25, 2007

    “Regarding your ‘Eugenics denial’, the link between Darwinism and Eugenics is tight, a matter of historical record. Everytime I hear the trope ‘Darwinism is indispensible to medicine’, I’m going to stick Eugenics in your face. Darwinism was indispensible to Eugenics, but is indispensible to nothing else in medicine.”

    Everytime you stick eugenics in our face we’ll stick the Human Genome Project in yours.
    Genetics sprang from Darwin’s theory. It’s what we’re “debating” are we not?

    Genetics isn’t indispensible to medicine?

  133. #133 Julie Stahlhut
    February 25, 2007

    “Egnor continues–unanswered–to press Darwinists for how Darwinian mechanisms produce new information.”

    I suppose if you can ignore the existence of several thousand scientific papers that answer this question, you can ignore the existence of several hundred posted responses as well.

  134. #134 rjb
    February 25, 2007

    Eugenics is simply a horrendous policy application of science. Do you essentially blame Bohr and the atomic model for nuclear weapons? Does that make the atomic model any less valid? As has been pointed out, the prevailing racism of the day adopted aspects of evolution to support its already entrenched views.

    But then what does Dr. Egnor say about genetic counseling? Is this not a “good” application of our knowledge of heritability and transmission of genetic information? It rests on the same basic principles that fueled the eugenics movement, but it’s the application of the idea that is different.

    To simplify the argument to “eugenics is bad, therefore evolutionary theory is flawed” is extremely naive at best, and intellectually dishonest.

  135. #135 Steve_C
    February 25, 2007

    That’s because anyone who supports the DI is full of shit.

  136. #136 ryogam
    February 25, 2007

    The fact that we have a need for neurosurgeons at all is evidence against the hypothesis that human beings were designed by an intelligent entity.

  137. #137 Marc Geerlings
    February 25, 2007

    Egnor wrote:
    >”Regarding your ‘Eugenics denial’, the link between Darwinism
    >and Eugenics is tight, a matter of historical record.

    How strange, you seem to like historical record, well maybe you should read up on some classics. Like, lets see… history of ancient Greece….. Spartan….. Ring a bell?

    If this wasn’t a strong sample of Eugenics then what is…..

    Eugenics is nothing more then selective breeding, somethiing that goes back to the fist domesticated animals. Really, do you really think that humankind with all its twisted and sick ideas really needed darwinisme to come to the idea that what can be done to animals might actually work on humans too? How simplistic view of the world you have……

  138. #138 MarkP
    February 25, 2007

    Egnor said: My question about the information-generating capacity of RM+NS was rhetorical. I know you can’t answer it. Now you know, too.

    Uh…the fact that the question is unanswerable because “information” as you use it is undefined defeats your argument, not ours. Scientists do not try to support evolution with information theory.

    The scientific debate about Darwin/ID turns on the issue of biological complexity.

    There is no scientific debate about Darwin and ID. Darwin was a man, evolution is a scientific theory, ID is a PR scam.

    We are still struggling with the issue of how to quantify it. Information content seems the most promising, but, as my question demonstrates, it’s deeply problematic.

    “We” being “nitwits at the DI”. Again, that destroys your criticism, not evolutionary theory, as wonderfully lampooned by Clutch above in comment #125.

    Perhaps my favorite is your insistance that I not express opinions on evolutionary biology, as I’m not an expert in it. Yet this blog is full of non-expert opinions

    Apples and oranges. You need a lot more credibility to criticise a succesful theory than you do to defend one. This should be obvious, to anyone actually being rational about it.

    Get a clue Sir. Your objections and questions are straight from the DI playbook, practically word for word, and are easily refutable by simple google searches. Oh wait, I forgot, you don’t know much about how to do that either. Nonetheless, none of your pompously ignorant proclamations are new or challenging to any of us that have been at this for a while. It’s only a matter of each of us deciding how much debunking of your intellectually dishonest claptrap we are in the mood for. Whack-a-mole gets boring after a while, even when you’re winning.

  139. #139 Erasmus
    February 25, 2007

    more directly eugenics was part of the bourgeois tradition exemplified in darwin’s milieu by Parson Malthus and the enactment of the poor laws. in any direction you take to investigate egnor’s claim you wind up with a judeo-christian ethical or revelation tradition as a major force in shaping the movement. add idealist german type philosophy and you have a method for madmen. kind of like naive blind cartesian reductionism meets the Logos of John the Baptist. paging billy D.

    egnor, as many have pointed out, doesn’t give a flying damn about the answers to his questions. there are no answers because there are no questions. cue Clutch, with the best answer yet.

    Egnor: you can’t prove that I can’t prove that snarfs DON’T podinkle. You should quit bloviating (can’t quite bring myself to type ‘teaching’) and write letters to the editor of Sword of The Lord full time.

    Hope to see you in Hell (I’ll save you a seat!)

    Best

    Erasmus

  140. #140 Charles Morrison
    February 25, 2007

    Perhaps my favorite is your insistance that I not express opinions on evolutionary biology, as I’m not an expert in it. Yet this blog is full of non-expert opinions: how many of you are theologians, historians, ethicists, or physicians?

    I’m a physician, and I made that comment. You know so little about evolutionary theory that you don’t even realize what a fool you’re making of yourself.

    I would like to know why you (and the ID folks, for that matter) conflate complexity with artifice. If I were to stumble upon a brick on the beach, I would reach the conclusion that it was designed with the same surety of a watch. Why is this, when a brick is so simple a structure?

    It is for two reasons: 1) Bricks and watches do not reproduce, and so we must look elsewhere for their origin, and 2) We have experience with brickmakers and watchmakers making bricks and watches. It is not complexity that draws us to the conclusion there was a watchmaker, it is our experience with people making watches. We have no such experience with beings making universes or humans, so the analogy is flawed at the outset.

    Hume destroyed the argument from design three hundred years ago. Why you and the ID proponents continue to advance it is beyond me. Evolutionary theory already accounts for “irreducible complexity” in exactly the manner that has been described for you in this thread: altering existing components by gene duplication and mutation to jury-rig them into performing a different function. “Specified complexity” is nonsense, as you’ve already pointed out. If you wish to argue from information theory, please use terms that are actually used in information theory.

    Otherwise, you continue to demonstrate your ignorance of both mathematics and basic biology. Again, as a colleague, I implore you to stop embarrassing our profession and stick to your area of expertise.

  141. #141 Jkrehbiel
    February 25, 2007

    In 1984 a surgical team headed by Dr. Leonard L. Bailey transplanted a baboon heart into a human infant. When asked how they justified this operation in light of th 35 million years since a common ancestor, the doctor replied that he really couldn’t answer the question, since he didn’t believe in evolution.

    Stupidity kills. I would not go under the knife with a superstitious surgeon.

  142. #142 Caledonian
    February 25, 2007

    But how would you find out if your assigned surgeon were a superstitious fool?

  143. #143 Iain Walker
    February 25, 2007

    Darwinism was indispensible to Eugenics
    Why were so many early supporters of eugenics Lamarkists, then?

  144. #144 SEF
    February 25, 2007

    The other notable thing is that, in reality, only Egnor (and the DI) are significantly bothered about or impressed by his qualifications as being an indicator of expertise (eg repeatedly mentioning them). Bogus appeals to authority being primarily a religious (though also medical hierarchy etc) thing. Here, people are mostly unconcerned that he’s merely a neurosurgeon and are instead observing his lack of actual displayed ability in any of the subject areas under discussion instead – ie are judging by the real measure of any expertise.

  145. #145 Amenhotep
    February 25, 2007

    Evolution *is* taught in medical schools. I know, because I teach it (Belfast, UK).

  146. #146 Doc Bill
    February 25, 2007

    Just as I would not expect my auto mechanic to understand science, I don’t expect Egnor to understand science. After all, it’s not necessary for a brain mechanic to understand the scientific method; he needs dexterity and skills at improvising.

    Egnor writes: Empirical verification of your claim that RM+NS is sufficient to explain biological complexity is necessary for you your theory to be a ‘fact’.

    Theories, dear doctor Egnor, don’t become “facts.” “Facts” are observations that just sit there waiting to be plugged into a hypothesis. And so it goes.

    All this should have been explained to you in high school biology. Perhaps it was so long ago you have simply forgotten.

    In any case, I don’t pretend to know anything about surgery and you should stop pretending that you know anything about science.

    No venom, see? Just colleagal advice.

  147. #147 Tyler DiPietro
    February 25, 2007

    The scientific debate about Darwin/ID turns on the issue of biological complexity. We are still struggling with the issue of how to quantify it. Information content seems the most promising, but, as my question demonstrates, it’s deeply problematic. Empirical verification of your claim that RM+NS is sufficient to explain biological complexity is necessary for you your theory to be a ‘fact’. As you have so clearly demonstrated, it’s not a fact, so far.

    Egnor, you are extremely annoying, and I don’t even know why I am bothering to say this again after it’s been explained to you a million times over and over, but: YOU CANNOT DEMAND A DEMONSTRATION OF AN UNDEFINED QUANTITY, AND IF YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO QUANTIFY INFORMATION THEN YOU HAVE NO ARGUMENT AGAINST EVOLUTION. You are an embarrassment.

  148. #148 John Pieret
    February 25, 2007

    Darwinism was the indispensible basis for Eugenics.

    How then do you explain the Spartans abandoning male babies they considered too small, weak or sick at the Apothetae?

    Regarding your ‘Eugenics denial’, the link between Darwinism and Eugenics is tight, a matter of historical record.

    Only to those ignorant both of history and the nature of eugenics, which was nothing more than age-old principles of stock breeding applied, also from time immemorial, to people.

    Blaming Darwin for the techniques of farming is like blaming Jesus for the Inquisition, the Crusades and the 30 Years War. The proponents of violence, injustice and stupidity don’t need justification but they will use any that happen to be at hand.

    What is your excuse for promoting stupidity in your classes?

  149. #149 George - Oregon
    February 25, 2007

    Dr. Egnor has exceeded expectations for the level foolishness he exemplifies. To aver that biologists have ignored the tough question Dr. Behe raises is inane.

    It is the great questions that have driven scientists to roll up their sleeves and get to work to discover the answers. This how Dr. Behe could be confronted with reams of research on the very questions he posed, yet there was no research on the question by Dr. Behe. He willfully dismissed these great works. It is truly sad to witness a person of obvious potential so captivated by ignorance.

    The same holds true here. Dr. Egnor raises a question from ignorance or willful dismissal. He has clearly not tried to even educate himself well on the topic before raising his argument. Now confronted, similar to how Dr. Behe was confronted in the Dover trial, Dr. Egnor has egg on his face.

    I recall in my studies of biology at Wisconsin years ago, that I was fascinated by mystery of mechanisms by which a single fertilized egg cell could develop into a wonderful and complex creature. I have enjoyed having the opportunity to learn much more about how this actually happens, and even more about how the mechanisms fit so well with evolution of new creatures with greater (information) complexity over the reaches of time. I am very thankful that scientists such as PZ, did not simply stop with this great question and say god did it. I am also thankful they take the time to extend their teaching using this great forum.

  150. #150 bobsnodgrass
    February 25, 2007

    I am a physician; I say that Dr. Egnor’s persistent comments illustrate the Peter principle- successful people reach a point where we don’t understand some of the problems that we face. Hopefully, many of us realize this and go back to what we know.

    Anyone who insists on talking about Darwinism has a cognitive problem. Do we talk about quantum theory as Bohrism or Diracism? Is microbiology Pasteurism or Kochism? Is neuroanatomy Cajalism? Darwin was wrong about some things-he was loathe to accept some of the implications of cell theory, for example- but he was a great man. Cajal was wrong about many things, but I revere him as a great man of neuroscience. I can and do question everything written by the great men and women of science. I know that every book contains errors (including mine). I can still believe in a deity even if I say that all texts are created by humans.

  151. #151 John Lynch
    February 25, 2007

    Yet this blog is full of non-expert opinions: how many of you are theologians, historians, ethicists, or physicians? What are your credentials to analyze religion, the history of Eugenics, the Schiavo case, or the role of Darwinism in medicine?

    Tu quoque. You are the one who has stepped out of his “expertise” (particularly when it comes to discussing the complicated relationships between Darwinism, Mendelism, eugenics and racism). Stick to dealing with pediatric neurosurgery … we can only hope you are better at that.

  152. #152 John
    February 25, 2007

    Egnor wrote:
    “I love you guys. So much venom, so little insight. The comments are scattered, and several are incoherent, but I’ll do my best:…”

    To do what? Obfuscate?

    “My question about the information-generating capacity of RM+NS was rhetorical. I know you can’t answer it.”

    But it was answered. All the goalpost-moving in the world won’t change that.

    “Now you know, too.”

    We know that you are a dishonest fraud.

    “The scientific debate about Darwin/ID turns on the issue of biological complexity.”

    Scientific controversies are never decided by debate; they are decided by data. Your side has produced zero data from tests of ID hypotheses. Why? You don’t have any real faith. This leads to the idiotic spectacle of a surgeon claiming to understand evolutionary theory by writing “RM+NS.”

    “We are still struggling with the issue of how to quantify it. Information content seems the most promising, but, as my question demonstrates, it’s deeply problematic.”

    No, your conflation of two different information measurement systems shows that you are intellectually shallow, not deep.

    “Empirical verification of your claim that RM+NS is sufficient to explain biological complexity is necessary for you your theory to be a ‘fact’.”

    1) I don’t know of anyone claiming that RM+NS is sufficient. Hell, even Darwin was about more than just RM+NS. And as others have noted, in real science, all conclusions are provisional.

    “Regarding your ‘Eugenics denial’, the link between Darwinism and Eugenics is tight, a matter of historical record.”

    Ah, but the link between a child having neurosurgery and being more likely to die than a child going to school for a day is tight, too. May I then use this clear link to conclude that pediatric neurosurgery is a bad thing? “Link” in either context is a weasel word, used to deceive.

    “Everytime I hear the trope ‘Darwinism is indispensible to medicine’, I’m going to stick Eugenics in your face.”

    I don’t think that anyone was making such a claim about “Darwinism,” which as you know, is yet another dishonest weasel word.

    “Perhaps my favorite is your insistance that I not express opinions on evolutionary biology, as I’m not an expert in it.”

    Where has anyone insisted on this?

    “Yet this blog is full of non-expert opinions: how many of you are theologians, historians, ethicists, or physicians? What are your credentials to analyze religion, the history of Eugenics, the Schiavo case, or the role of Darwinism in medicine?”

    How about someone who has the credentials to teach first-year medical school “basic science” courses, which we both know are only designed to help students pass the boards, not to teach the scientific method? While there are plenty of expert physician-scientists, real scientific training in medical school is entirely optional, and few medical students choose it.

  153. #153 Nick (Matzke)
    February 25, 2007

    Michael Egnor replied,

    “My question about the information-generating capacity of RM+NS was rhetorical. I know you can’t answer it.”

    What unbelievable hackery! For the better part of a week, over on the Time magazine blog, Egnor was confidently, indignantly putting forward the claim that evolutionary processes couldn’t produce new genetic information. This was his great big defeater of evolution, the main reason he thought the scientific establishment, the schools, the judges, etc. were being unreasonable in dismissing “intelligent design.”

    Eventually, the Discovery Institute blog, proud of its favored son, linked to Egnor’s virtuoso performance at Time magazine. So finally some people who are intimately familiar with the typical ID arguments saw Egnor’s argument, and so posted examples from the scientific literature of the origin of new genetic information — exactly what Egnor claimed didn’t exist.

    As for a quantitative definition of information increase, he missed the most obvious answer: we can measure new information in terms of (wait for it) new genes with different sequences from their ancestors. The Long et al. 2003 paper, Table 2, includes twenty-two (that’s 22!) examples of new genes whose origin has been reconstructed in detail. 22. That’s a quantity. That’s quantitative. New genes with new sequences are a universally-accepted form of new biological information, whether you measure “information” in terms of counting genes, counting the amount of coding DNA, Shannon information, compressibility, etc. It doesn’t matter — it’s new information any way you cut it. Game over.

    Ever since then, Egnor has been obfuscating and trying to change the subject. At a late date, he decides that his original question was “rhetorical” and that he won’t accept any answers, even those published by top scientists in the top peer-reviewed journals, in original empirical research — because he’s concluded that “information” is impossible to define. Way to go, genius, you’ve just holed your own ship beneath the waterline and showed that your initial brave posturing on the Time magazine blog was actually just empty bluster.

    As for the universal creationist cop-out, “oh, that’s a just-so story,” which they employ whenever the published scientific evidence is piled up in front of them to such an extent that even they can’t deny its existence any longer — first, explanations that are testable, tested, and verified are not just-so stories. They are confirmed scientific hypotheses. The origin of the Sdic gene from a merger of copies of Cdic and AnnX is not a guess or a “theory, not a fact.” The evidence is right there in the sequences. Even the role of natural selection is preserved in the Sdic case, in the ratio of non-synonymous to synonymous substitutions. I’m sure Egnor doesn’t even know that natural selection leaves these sorts of fingerprints in the genome, but that’s par for the creationist course.

    To sum up: until Egnor actually acts like a scientist and actually deals with the evidence we have presented, and explains why the evolutionary origin of 20+ new genes is not an increase in genetic information, he’s just another crank who has no right to be taken seriously by other scientists.

  154. #155 Matt
    February 25, 2007

    But he meant rhetorical bits, not real ones.

  155. #156 Milo Johnson
    February 25, 2007

    Egnoramus, you are a perfect example of the truth as often attributed to the great Samuel Langhorne Clemens: “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It annoys the pig and wastes your time.”

  156. #157 cdesign proponentsist
    February 25, 2007

    Dr. Egnor said…

    You don’t know any more than we do, and perhaps, you know less. At least we know what we don’t know.

    No, I think everything you write demonstrates you have no idea where your expertise ends and your ignorance begins. But thanks for the laugh.

  157. #158 Ichthyic
    February 25, 2007

    Egnor buries himself with his own ignorance.

    so what else is new?

    I’m still curious as to the historical revisionism he appears to be teaching in his courses.

    I think a few letters asking for an inquiry into the content of his current courses might be warranted.

    personally, I think it’s time for the good professor to take the golden parachute.

    Stony Brook’s school of medicine is easily reachable.

  158. #159 thwaite
    February 25, 2007

    Also at Stony Brook, and still editor of the Quarterly Review of Biology last time I looked (which was a while ago), is George C. Williams:

    Professor George Christopher Williams (b. May 12, 1926) is an American evolutionary biologist… professor emeritus of biology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He is best known for his vigorous critique of group selection. …

    Perhaps a chat with this campus colleague is in order?

  159. #160 Factician
    February 25, 2007

    Two points for Egnor:

    1) The eugenics issue is one that creationists like to lay on geneticists. It’s a canard for one simple reason. The science that undesirable traits are passed on is mostly true. The policy of mandatorily sterilizing people is a policy issue, not a science issue (and as a policy issue, was a horrendous mistake). To take a more modern example, it’s like saying global warming isn’t happening because you don’t like one particular policy for taking care of it (and make no mistake, no decent human being condones the mandatory sterilization that took place in North America and the genocide that took place in Nazi occupied Europe). Or an older example: That Einstein was wrong because his work resulted in the atomic bomb. No, the work itself was correct, despite the terrible policy consequences. But let’s re-examine the science of it: Take cystic fibrosis for example. If we successfully develop a treatment for it, it will increase the frequency of the CF gene in the population as a whole. I think we all agree that’s not a good thing. Nonetheless, developing a treatment for this horrendous disease is the right thing to do, and we need to find a way to mitigate the genetic effects (like, for example, developing gene therapy to cure the disorder, rather than merely treat it). Let’s not pretend that the policy issues are the same as the science. To do so is disingenuous.

    2) While I agree with you that understanding the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection is not required for being a successful physician (you being the perfect example) your dismissal of it in your example is irrelevant. Modern understanding of biology is based on an understanding of molecular biology. And molecular biology rests on the foundation of Evolution. Most chemotherapy and most gene therapy techniques in the pipeline are there because biologists understand evolution. And they’ll be available to you, even if you don’t understand why. (As an analogy, just because you don’t understand modern physics, doesn’t mean that your computer won’t work for you). And to say that you don’t need physics, because you can clearly use Microsoft Excel without understanding physicis, is also disingenuous. The people who built your computer understand, so you don’t have to.

  160. #161 Factician
    February 25, 2007

    One of the best MD/PhDs that I know told me he had to forget major events from his childhood to fit all the facts from medical school into his head.

    Just for the folks who took me literally at this, I should have been clear. My friend was using what I thought a clever joke to demonstrate the sheer magnitude of the task faced by physicians-in-training. They have to memorize enormous piles of stuff. But they needn’t truly understand it (and we needn’t demand that of them). Like in my example above, you don’t need to undrstand modern physics to be able to use Microsoft Excel. Thankfully, there are physicists at Intel who can do that part for us.

  161. #162 Swiftee
    February 25, 2007

    Hh, wndr f ny f y bbs r fmlr wth th cncpt f “whstlng pst th grvyrd”?

    f nt, y shld nfrm yrslvs bcs ths thrd s th ntrnt qvlnt f grvyrd whstlr’s symphny…wth spttl.

  162. #163 MarkP
    February 25, 2007

    Matzke wrote: I’m sure Egnor doesn’t even know that natural selection leaves these sorts of fingerprints in the genome, but that’s par for the creationist course.

    But, but, but, you can’ prove those aren’t G…, I mean, the Intelligent Designer I’ll Out Tomorrow’s (I.D.I.O.T.’s) fingerprints! Fingerprints don’t have specified complexity, only fingers do. It was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Gene(ome), or … something.

    Oh, I almost forgot: DARWINISM! JUST SO STORY! AD HOMINEM!

  163. #164 bob
    February 25, 2007

    I’ve just read the letter to the editor about Ms. Schiavo. Come on Egnor, where you drunk? What would you call someone whose brain was so damaged that they could neither think or see? Part of the case to keep her on life support was that people believed that she could follow objects with her eyes. Others claimed that the movements of the eye were random, and not a sign of brain activity. The autopsy suggests that later view was correct, because the part of the brain that recieves and processes visual information was destroyed. Brain dead people are blind. If they’re not blind, what would you call their lack of vision?!

    It reminds me of Luis De Jesus claiming he’s not a false prophet, because false prophets are supposed to preform miracles. He has not done anything, ergo he’s Jesus.

    Dr. Engor the easiest way to show ‘evilutionist’ that they are wrong is to define exactly what you mean by information. You can’t claim evolution can’t increase information, if you can not define information. It would be like me calling you stupid for not being able to build a hoochiemacallit. And by hoochiemacallit, I mean a object you can’t build. I’m willing to bet you can’t build a hoochiemacallit.

  164. #165 Ichthyic
    February 25, 2007

    Perhaps a chat with this campus colleague is in order?

    excellent idea.

    How many here would like to see Williams address Eregnor’s ignorance directly?

    raise your hand.

    or send an email to williams and ask what he is waiting for.

    or send an email to PZ and ask him to ask Williams what he is waiting for.

  165. #166 Ichthyic
    February 25, 2007
  166. #167 MarkP
    February 25, 2007

    Swiftee said: Heh, I wonder if any of you boobs are familiar with the concept of “whistling past the graveyard”?

    If you mean that the collosal problem we have with science education in this country, exemplefied by Dr. Egnor, is really no laughing matter, I can see your point. One would think that by now we wouldn’t have to fight this battle any more. I mean for Jayzus sake, the Pope finally got around to admitting that Darwin might have been onto something. Took him over 100 years to do so, but hey, why get picky?

    We just have to remember that there are still people who think the earth is flat, or that the moon landing was a hoax, but Roswell was real. There will always be people with worldviews that don’t allow them to face certain facts. In a sense that is why the modern scientific system works so well. It has the best mechanism for detecting when we are bullshitting ourselves. It is hard to bullshit, in detail, in front of a knowledgeable audience. Religious mechanisms like those employed by the IDers/creationists, don’t, which is why they stay stuck in the same errors forever.

    We just have to keep getting the facts out there where those not so afflicted can see them.

  167. #168 Monado
    February 25, 2007

    Here is the letter from Michael Egnor about Terry Schiavo, along with some commentary, on “Welcome to 201k” blog.

  168. #169 slpage
    February 25, 2007

    What a fool.

    Gee – you’d think a brain surgeon might, you know, com eup with some evidence form the brain’s complexity or something.

    All he is is another pseudo-expert on “information”..

    What a fool…

    http://all-too-common-dissent.blogspot.com/2007/02/brain-surgeon-challenges-darwinism.html

  169. #170 PZ Myers
    February 25, 2007

    That’s a pretty solid rebuttal on that 201K blog, too. Maybe Egnor should have consulted an MD with some knowledge of neurology before he wrote his piss-ignorant lett…oh. Wait. We have a problem, Houston.

  170. #171 Jud
    February 25, 2007

    Dr. Egnor said:

    “I teach in the medical ethics course in my medical school.”

    This from someone who presented himself as ready to forthrightly evaluate the evidence cited in response to his challenge, whose reply, when more than satisfactory evidence is cited, is not solid scientific evaluation of that evidence, but mere name-calling (“just-so stories”)? This seems to me to be quite clearly dishonest (if I am wrong, then I ask Dr. Egnor to provide a thorough scientific evaluation and point-by-point refutation of just one of the many articles cited in response to his challenge). I very sincerely hope Dr. Egnor teaches a higher ethical standard than the one he is using here.

    (Those who follow my comments on this and other blogs know I am ordinarily far more civil than even this mild criticism, but frankly I am disturbed by the self-congratulatory note about teaching medical ethics combined with Dr. Egnor’s refusal to engage in the honest scientific interchange he himself invited.)

  171. #172 John
    February 25, 2007

    Egnor wrote:
    “He [Behe] asked what you guys should have asked, and pursued with rigor, 50 years ago.”

    Why hasn’t he pursued it then? The guy hasn’t published a single datum since 1997. And no, his computer simulations purporting to falsify MET aren’t data.

    “It is a very sensible and important question, about the plausibility of the random assembly of intricate molecular structures.”

    If it’s so important, why hasn’t Behe lifted a finger to pursue it in his lab or in the field?

    “For his efforts, he has weathered your quite vicious and unprofessional scorn with wisdom and decency that I doubt I could muster.”

    Efforts? He hasn’t made any scientific efforts (producing data) since he embraced ID. What do you make of that link?

  172. #173 Ichthyic
    February 25, 2007

    “For his efforts, he has weathered your quite vicious and unprofessional scorn with wisdom and decency that I doubt I could muster.”

    if idiots couldn’t weather having their idiocy pointed out to them, they wouldn’t BE idiots now, would they?

  173. #174 Jud
    February 25, 2007

    Dr. Egnor said: “You make the kind of discussion that we’re having here about Darwinism and ID a federal crime in public schools….”

    “You” (by which I presume you mean those who support the science of evolutionary biology) did nothing of the sort. There are several errors of fact in your statement. Here are the ones I can think of at the moment:

    – There is nothing criminal nor even un-Constitutional about having this sort of discussion in public schools.

    – The leading federal court ruling on the subject, Kitzmiller v. Dover, found it was un-Constitutional (not criminal – no one went to jail, or was subject to any fine) to teach Intelligent Design as science in public schools (not that it was un-Constitutional to have discussions about whether evolutionary processes can produce new information).

    – It was in fact the supporters of Intelligent Design, not the supporters of the science of evolutionary biology, who purposefully sought a test case. The Thomas More Law Center searched the nation for years for a public school board willing to be sued for mandating the teaching of Intelligent Design in science classes, and finally found one in Dover.

  174. #175 David Denning
    February 25, 2007

    Upon reading some of the letters by Egnor, I would think we have a good catagory in which to classify them: EgnorRants.

  175. #176 Torbjrn Larsson
    February 25, 2007

    Obviously there is little use in continuing answer Egnor, since he isn’t interested in understanding the answers. But it is always a good thing to show curious bystanders what science says.

    I asked for a measurement of new information, not anecdotes about new functions.

    Here the three basic mistakes are repeated:
    – Evolution theory predicts function without discussing information.
    – Scientific theories are not “just-so” stories but makes testable predictions.
    – There is no unique measure of information.

    Since several others have explained the confusion Egnor have about information measures, I will only add two things.

    First, it is known that no single information measure can capture all structures. ( See for example http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1990Natur.344..705M .) Second, as Mark Chu-Carroll noted on his blog “Good Math, Bad Math” Egnor can’t ask for specific values of information outside Shannon information that is the only uniquely defined such measure.

    Physical information theory, of the sort used in classical physics and quantum mechanics seems more apt,

    There is very little use of information theory in physics and computer science outside some specific uses. Especially QM has very little done in this regard.

    One should think that this fact would tip creationists that they are following a chimera.

    Darwinism, understood as the theory that RM+NS accounts fully for biological complexity, doesn’t have squat to do with the practice of modern medicine.

    Again, since several have explained the confusion Egnor have about evolution (which he typically confuses with Darwinism, and Darwinism with RM+NS) and his distasteful continuing mention of eugenics, I will only add a few things.

    First, nobody suggests that practicing modern medicine means practicing evolutionary biology. What we can claim is that medicine is compliant with evolutionary predictions. For example, that tissue matching may be necessary and that tissues from related species match better.

    Second, modern medicine in fact uses evolutionary methods. Some medicines are now developed by test tube evolution.

    Third, a scientific theory isn’t dogma. This is something a creationist can’t easily understand, but science has progressed since Darwin’s introduction of evolutionary theory. It makes no sense to refer to Darwin’s books for help on modern scientific knowledge.

    Fourth, Egnor is (surprise, surprise!) making an old quotemining of Darwin. Darwin didn’t claim that the smallpox vaccine was regrettable. He was describing that evolution is still taking place in the modern society:

    “I have hitherto only considered the advancement of man from a semi-human condition to that of the modern savage. But some remarks on the action of natural selection on civilised nations may be worth adding. This subject has been ably discussed by Mr. W. R. Greg,* and previously by Mr. Wallace and Mr. Galton.*(2) Most of my remarks are taken from these three authors.
    [ … ]
    There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.
    [ … ]
    The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil. We must therefore bear the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely that the weaker and inferior members of society do not marry so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased by the weak in body or mind refraining
    from marriage, though this is more to be hoped for than expected.
    [Bold added.]”
    ( http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/charles_darwin/descent_of_man/chapter_05.html )

    Oh, and if Egnor reads this, PZ spells his name Myers.

  176. #177 Torbjrn Larsson
    February 25, 2007

    Obviously there is little use in continuing answer Egnor, since he isn’t interested in understanding the answers. But it is always a good thing to show curious bystanders what science says.

    I asked for a measurement of new information, not anecdotes about new functions.

    Here the three basic mistakes are repeated:
    – Evolution theory predicts function without discussing information.
    – Scientific theories are not “just-so” stories but makes testable predictions.
    – There is no unique measure of information.

    Since several others have explained the confusion Egnor have about information measures, I will only add two things.

    First, it is known that no single information measure can capture all structures. ( See for example http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1990Natur.344..705M .) Second, as Mark Chu-Carroll noted on his blog “Good Math, Bad Math” Egnor can’t ask for specific values of information outside Shannon information that is the only uniquely defined such measure.

    Physical information theory, of the sort used in classical physics and quantum mechanics seems more apt,

    There is very little use of information theory in physics and computer science outside some specific uses. Especially QM has very little done in this regard.

    One should think that this fact would tip creationists that they are following a chimera.

    Darwinism, understood as the theory that RM+NS accounts fully for biological complexity, doesn’t have squat to do with the practice of modern medicine.

    Again, since several have explained the confusion Egnor have about evolution (which he typically confuses with Darwinism, and Darwinism with RM+NS) and his distasteful continuing mention of eugenics, I will only add a few things.

    First, nobody suggests that practicing modern medicine means practicing evolutionary biology. What we can claim is that medicine is compliant with evolutionary predictions. For example, that tissue matching may be necessary and that tissues from related species match better.

    Second, modern medicine in fact uses evolutionary methods. Some medicines are now developed by test tube evolution.

    Third, a scientific theory isn’t dogma. This is something a creationist can’t easily understand, but science has progressed since Darwin’s introduction of evolutionary theory. It makes no sense to refer to Darwin’s books for help on modern scientific knowledge.

    Fourth, Egnor is (surprise, surprise!) making an old quotemining of Darwin. Darwin didn’t claim that the smallpox vaccine was regrettable. He was describing that evolution is still taking place in the modern society:

    “I have hitherto only considered the advancement of man from a semi-human condition to that of the modern savage. But some remarks on the action of natural selection on civilised nations may be worth adding. This subject has been ably discussed by Mr. W. R. Greg,* and previously by Mr. Wallace and Mr. Galton.*(2) Most of my remarks are taken from these three authors.
    [ … ]
    There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.
    [ … ]
    The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil. We must therefore bear the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely that the weaker and inferior members of society do not marry so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased by the weak in body or mind refraining
    from marriage, though this is more to be hoped for than expected.
    [Bold added.]”
    ( http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/charles_darwin/descent_of_man/chapter_05.html )

    Oh, and if Egnor reads this, PZ spells his name Myers.

  177. #178 Orac
    February 26, 2007

    This one’s for Dr. Egnor, from a fellow surgeon. He’ll probably dismiss it because I’m not a neurosurgeon and therefore not as “studly” as he is, surgically speaking, but nonetheless…

  178. #179 MorpheusPA
    February 26, 2007

    The Egnorant one may not be learning anything, but I sure am and I’m probably not the only one! You guys have given me weeks of research on new topics.

    Thanks so much! It’s not true that arguing does no good. It certainly won’t change the fool’s outlook, but those of us around him who are not so foolish are happy to learn many new things.

    Please keep up the good work. You may never get ForTheGods (or whatever its name is) or Egnor to learn a durned thing, but I might just manage it if I try very, very hard.

    (A public service message to those who want to give up because one person doesn’t listen)

    A Content and Happy Morph With Something New To Learn

  179. #180 Raging Bee
    February 26, 2007

    …the link between Darwinism and Eugenics is tight, a matter of historical record.

    Not as tight as the link between Christianity and the burning of alleged witches based on hysteria, transparently-cobbled-up logic, and the flimsiest of evidence.

    Also, the link between racism and eugenics is pretty tight too, and racism predates “Darwinism” by THOUSANDS of years.

  180. #181 Stanton
    February 26, 2007

    You also forgot the little detail about how many Christians have been using Christianity to promote Anti-Semitism for the last 1500+ years.
    That, and if Creationists ever bothered to read “Mein Kampf,” they’d realize that it reads as though Hitler plagarized Martin Luther’s “Of the Jews and Their Lies.”

  181. #182 Andrew Wade
    February 26, 2007

    Ric,

    Dembski is trying to argue that vestigial structures like the appendix jibe with design because some cars retain vestigial running boards!!!! Yeah, because cars are similar to biological organisms. What a false analogy. The idiocy is astounding.

    I have to disagree. If you want to know what features you should be looking for in organisms to (possibly) indicate design, it makes sense to look at entities that are known to be intelligently designed (such as cars). How useful this would be, (assuming, hah, that organisms are in fact intelligently designed), depends on how anthropomorphic the designer is. If the (purported) designer is the somewhat etherial god of most Christians, you might have a problem; such a god might think nothing of creating a universe 10^26 plus meters in diameter as stage dressing for hypercephalic apes on a pale blue dot and is unlikely to design organisms in the same manner a human would. The petulant sky daddy god of the YECs and their kin is another matter; such a god might design a tiger in rather the same way as Ford designs a car, and about as well.

    But Dembski does have a point here: vestigial structures are not necessarily inconsistent with design. Running boards are a bad example (they’re probably decorative rather than vestigial), but I can think of a couple of examples that probably do qualify as vestigial structures in intelligently designed entities. Not in cars; I’m not familiar enough with them. But in software. The usage of a software programming interface tends to change over time; and some functions become unused and poorly maintained. The sysctl interface in Linux is an example and is arguable vestigial. There are also analogues of junk DNA around; there are various drivers hanging around the Linux source tree that don’t even compile. And as software goes, Linux is probably among the best maintained.

    Now none of this is to say that the “theory” of Intelligent Design isn’t a load of dingo’s kidneys. But it behoves us to be careful when we criticize it.

  182. #183 Raging Bee
    February 26, 2007

    But Dembski does have a point here: vestigial structures are not necessarily inconsistent with design.

    NOTHING is inconsistent with design. Whatever we observe of anything, anywhere, is, by definition, what Go — oops, I mean The Designer — intended it to be.

  183. #184 Leon
    February 26, 2007

    That was good! But Nick, that should be “such a benighted view of the relevant science”, not “beknighted”. Just a nitpick, but considering the connotation of “night” in this sense vs. the usual positive image of knights (in shining armor or not), I thought it was worth mentioning.

  184. #185 Andrew Wade
    February 26, 2007

    But Dembski does have a point here: vestigial structures are not necessarily inconsistent with design.

    NOTHING is inconsistent with design. Whatever we observe of anything, anywhere, is, by definition, what Go — oops, I mean The Designer — intended it to be.

    Ah, now that does tend to be the case with Intelligent Design as promulgated by Dembski et. al.. And it’s a fatal flaw in that “theory”. But not all design theories share this characteristic. The YECs, with their petulant sky daddy models, tend to make all sorts of specific predictions and retrodictions. Vagueness tends not be such a problem with such “theories” so much as gross inconsistency with the evidence.

    Now in this thread, we’ve been arguing with someone from the Dembski school of vagueness. And posters other than myself have skewered him on it. But YECs will need a different approach.

  185. #186 Ichthyic
    February 26, 2007

    Vagueness tends not be such a problem with such “theories” so much as gross inconsistency with the evidence.

    well, isn’t that exactly the reason ID was developed as a sociopolitiacl strategy to begin with?

    It’s so vague they can argue from many sides of their mouth at once, and still claim perceptual validity.

    Hence the reason they HATE judge Jones’ decision so much, as it removes their ability to hedge their argument as they see fit.

    they hate it so much that Dembski even made a “fart” animation of the the judge, and even emailed a copy to the judge himself.

    Nothing says “I have no argument”, like making a fart joke of someone who calls you on your BS.

  186. #187 RickD
    February 26, 2007

    OK, I’ll put on my NCBI alum hat, as well as my mathie hat and my molecular evolution hat.

    Dr. Egnor isn’t finding papers at PubMed that concern “information” and “measurement” and “random” because it’s a freaking bio-med database, not a math database! Indeed, he’s behaving a bit like a child here. I see 2374 papers that answer to the query “information” and “measurement” and “random”. I guess his point is that nobody has studied this particular question in the bacterial species E. coli, so therefore no research has happened?

    Actually, I have no idea what his point is. If he wants to make a cogent point, I’d be happy to respond. Thus far, all I can see is that his point is that, if he puts enough different words in his query to PubMed, he finds a vanishingly small number of hits.

    How did this man get a doctoral degree?

  187. #188 Mr. Gunn
    February 26, 2007

    I could understand if he’s scared that without religion, we’ll march straight into eugenics with no pesky ethical considerations to hold us back, but if that is the case, that’s kinda insulting. He fails to recognize that people can be ethical without any sort of religious belief.

    At this point, he’s really just a troll.

  188. #189 Azkyroth
    February 27, 2007

    Dr. Egnor,

    It is abundantly clear that you know nothing meaningful about information theory, evolutionary biology past and present, or even history, and are completely unschooled in the basics of presenting an intelligent argument, the scientific method, or, alarmingly, even in researching medical literature. Furthermore, many of your comments suggest that you either are deeply and fundamentally dishonest and have knowingly lied to your students, the readers of the NY Times, and the “fool” half of the fools-and-villains following of the Discovery Institute, or possess a level of intellectual functioning more consistent with one a patient you had lost, then with what society expects of a practitioner of medicine. Either way, I would strongly encourage you to stick to matters more relevant to your own field of expertise.

    Figuring out how to reverse you own lobotomy might make a good project.

  189. #190 Ichthyic
    February 27, 2007

    Figuring out how to reverse you own lobotomy might make a good project.

    it’s truly amazing, isn’t it? makes one wonder if this guy always spoke thusly, or whether it is a more recent phenomenon.

    after all, for anybody who knows anything about John Davison, he was well published in biology and a decent teacher as well, until about 1984. Then, all the pins just broke loose or something.

    something similar here, maybe?

    what about Behe? was he always as nutty as he is now? Was there ever a more rational version, like there was with Davison?

    Is it a collapse of mental barriers between the “Woo” and the science, or was there some preexisting psychological malady long before the irrationality took over?

    and, more importantly, why aren’t there more public studies of this? I can only recall one fairly recent study looking at heritable components to extreme “religiosity”, for example (it was a twin study).

    I’m no psych major, but I know enough from studying animal behavior (where studying general psychology is useful) to be surprised there aren’t many studies looking into this kind of thing.

  190. #191 SEF
    February 27, 2007

    surprised there aren’t many studies looking into this kind of thing.

    Given the nature of it, it might be on some sort of unwritten untouchable list. Rather like the explicit exclusion clause normally granted to religion/culture over the matter of shared delusion/psychotic disorder (and the consequent claim that it’s rare), when instead religion should be considered a prime example of that disorder.

    http://www.emedicine.com/med/topic3352.htm
    (I like the way Japan manages to break that taboo.)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folie_a_deux
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delusion (incl. get-out clause)

  191. #192 Ichthyic
    February 27, 2007

    that first link was interesting, but really they are talking about more of a direct transmission, which indeed is pretty rare.

    In the case of creationists, there might be an underlying predisposition towards relying on authority, and a fixation on rigid, simplistic behavioral modalities, which then certain types of religious practice simply reinforce.

    having peers that don’t attempt to challenge the reinforcement, or even add to it, simply end up as further amplifying the pre-existing behavior.

    I think looking at the history of the creationist movement in the US, like the references posted by Nick (in a different thread), also suggests that it wasn’t really a religious split, so much as it was a group of like-MINDED individuals modifying existing religious philosophies to better reinforce some pre-existing bias.

    If you know any bipolar individuals, you know that there are certain drugs and actions that can trigger a manic episode, for example, and this often reinforces the behaviors that lead to the drug taking or other enabling behavior.

    same with alchoholism and/or drug addiction; some individuals are predisposed to becoming addicts far more easily than others. It’s not the alchol that makes an alcoholic, per se, but rather it acts as an enabler, reinforcing the addictive behavior. Sure, drying someone out helps them to break the addictive cycle (like removing a creationist from extreme religious peer pressure also might do the same thing), but in the end, it’s the underlying addictive behavior that needs treatment if one is to really be successful in recovering from alcoholism.

    again, this is all speculative, but there are common patterns that anyone can notice if you look close enough.

    this, combined with a handful of studies supporting at least some heritable component to “extreme religiosity”, suggest that there indeed might be similar things happening in both creationists and alcoholics, and it might be a worthwhile endeavor to at least investigate the possibility.

    If you’ve ever spent much time conversing with a creationist, they react entirely differently to rational argument than “moderate” xians do.

    for example, compare how Scott Hatfield responds to questioning as opposed to the subject of this thread, Mikey Egnor.

    BIG difference, wouldn’t you say?

    There is simply no way all of that difference is simply due to differences in the particular religious sects they belong to. There are psychological differences in how they respond, and the kinds of things they respond with.

    One is interested in engaging conversation, in at least exploring what others have to say, and the other is simply not.

  192. #193 SEF
    February 27, 2007

    there might be an underlying predisposition towards relying on authority, and a fixation on rigid, simplistic behavioral modalities, which then certain types of religious practice simply reinforce.

    a handful of studies supporting at least some heritable component to “extreme religiosity”

    Here’s an article (from my “interesting” link collection) exploring religiosity (and the persistence if vagueness of it) in the UK:

    http://soc.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/39/1/11.pdf

    Silly summary: people are still potty in approximately the same proportions as ever, but they don’t necessarily pin their tails on the same donkeys any more.

  193. #194 Chuck
    February 27, 2007

    Dr. Egnor is making the same unfortunate mistake that most creationists, of various stripes, make: the naturalistic fallacy. He is emotionally wedded to a set of moral principles, which are admirable principles in themselves – and then he worries that if Darwin’s scheme is true, that moral ediface is invalid. That is why such obviously intelligent people as Dr. Egnor fall into creationism. It all comes down to this: Darwin’s statement that it is unfortunate that vaccines were developed simply does not invalidate common descent or natural selection on variation or evolution. These processes have occured in the natural world from the beginnings of life and account for the unity and diversity of life on the planet now, for genomic data, and for the fossil receord. Arguing that, therefore, governments as a matter of policy should ‘weed out’ undesirables does not follow! Evolution happened, but that does not mean that eugenics as a policy was ever a good idea, and politicians from the 1920s advocating eugenics does not invalidate the science behind modern evolutionary biology.

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