Pharyngula

Michael Egnor, Paleyist surgeon

The Discovery Institute seems well pleased with their new anachronistic acolyte, a modern neurosurgeon who harks back fondly to the ancient wheeze of Natural Theology from a few centuries back. He’s been promoted to being a regular contributor on the DI Media Complaints Division web page, and he manages to combine the arrogance of a surgeon with the ignorance of most creationist hacks in a way that I’m sure the other DI fellows envy — he’s like the apotheosis of the Intelligent Design ideal. Why, he’s got the dishonesty of Wells, the pomposity of Johnson, the ineffectual stupidity of Luskin, and the egotism of Berlinski, all wrapped up in one package.

Anyway, I’m not planning to waste much effort on the archaic old fossil, but fortunately, Mark Chu-Carroll, Mike Dunford, and Orac are gleefully sharpening their knives and are planning to make Egnor’s welcome to the blogosphere acutely memorable. Orac has a challenge up now, asking Egnor to present…

…instead of his usual evidence-free assertions brimming with unjustified confidence, some actual evidence to support his claims. Inquiring minds want to know: Will Dr. Egnor show us some of these wonderful insights into human biology and disease provided or facilitated by the design inference or will he simply keep repeating the same misinformation?

I predict he’ll keep babbling substance-free nonsense, with occasional detours into whining about incivility. This is a problem with the followers of Paleyism: they are actually satisfied with assertions that lack a mechanism or evidence, because they see mysteries and unsolved complex problems as testimonials to the greater power of their god designer, and every explanation and solution is heresy.

Comments

  1. #1 MarcusA
    March 18, 2007

    How beautifully ironic that the more the IDers try to discredit evolution, the more ID gets reduced. The Scopes trial judge disallowed scientific evidence, later the Dover trail judge disallowed religious evidence. A pattern emerges. Perhaps it never crosses IDers’ minds that they maybe wrong in their position. Before long they will be ‘irretrievably reduced’.

  2. #2 Bob
    March 18, 2007

    Just remember: Darwin was a fan of Paley. And Darwin was a creationist.
    But, of course, Darwin evolved.

  3. #3 plunge
    March 18, 2007

    Meet. Mike. Engor! DI’s famous whiner! They dug him up and shook his hand, appreciate the man!
    -They Might Be Giants

  4. #4 w00t
    March 18, 2007
  5. #5 Caledonian
    March 18, 2007

    The IDists come from a religious tradition in which holding to a position despite all external and internal reasons to abandon it is a virtue, and questioning the position is a sin. This is called “faith”, and the more the “faith” is challenged, the greater the acclaim for maintaining it nonetheless.

    All religions are based to some degree on faith, and that is why religion and science are fundamentally incompatible.

  6. #6 Carlie
    March 18, 2007

    What the heck is it with MD-type people? (no offense to the sane ones, Orac) I got into a heated discussion today about another in the plethora of Creationist videos out there someone I know had seen – the person said how great it is, and scoffed at the fact I said it was crap without having seen it. I looked up the guy who did the video (Jobe Martin), and he’s a DENTIST. Jesus Haploid Christ.

  7. #7 QrazyQat
    March 18, 2007

    What the heck is it with MD-type people?

    It’s the same thing as the engineers in a couple ways. One is that both professions can be done, and done well enough, by people who just follow the recipe. The other is the “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”; they have a little knowledge, just enough to be certain and not enough to know they shouldn’t be so certain (Darwin said something similar but better). It doesn’t mean either engineers or doctors or dentists can’t learn more and know the field — anyone can and many do — but they don’t have to.

  8. #8 Ian H Spedding
    March 18, 2007

    Actually, I’ve been doing a bit of a breakdown of the Darwin dissenters list and its the chemists that seem to be most strongly represented…

  9. #9 Sastra
    March 18, 2007

    Will Dr. Egnor show us some of these wonderful insights into human biology and disease provided or facilitated by the design inference or will he simply keep repeating the same misinformation?

    Oh, that should be easy for him. IF there is a Designer, then this Designer — whoever or whatever it might be — would have wanted us to help sick people and cure disease, so it makes sense to keep on looking for a cure, since there must be one out there somewhere.

    But oh dear, if it all happened “by chance” and “at random,” then there is no good reason to think there is any remedy or fix waiting to be found, it might be impossible — so medical research might just as well give up.

    The Theory of Intelligent Design successfully predicts a reason for doctors to *hope* …

    /sarcasm

  10. #10 Monado
    March 18, 2007

    Paley got it from Cicero about 50 B.C. (who probably gave the credit to Iupiter), so perhaps we could call I.D. apologist Cicerans?

  11. #11 beccarii
    March 18, 2007

    Ian Spedding – I’d be interested in seeing your list of Darwin dissenters, particularly the chemists (since I’m one). The most prominent one of whom I know is Henry Schaefer, a computational chemist at the University of Georgia.

  12. #12 Joe Shelby
    March 18, 2007

    Thinking about what Egnor’s saying, I’m thinking he’s the first barrage in a new campaign strategy (a PR strategy, of course) for anti-science. Instead of saying directly that evolution is false, he’s (by ignoring the tons upon tons of evidences that Orac and MarkCC have presented) simply asserting that “you don’t need evolution to work in biology.”

    Thus, the DI can use his claims and probably others like them to get high schools to remove evolution from curricula merely because “it’s not really that important – people get jobs just fine without it.” So they won’t replace it with creationism, they’ll just turn high school biology into the same facts and figures regurgitation that elementary school science is.

    “Very well educated sheep.” — Number 2, in the Prisoner episode, The General.

    Really, we all here know that there’s no reason at all that kids can’t grasp the basics of evolution by the time they’re 7, if presented right. There’s no reason to wait ’til one is 14 and already getting closed minded about things to mention it.

    I say the same thing about music education – bright kids can grasp music theory and appreciation LONG before the college classes when its finally made available long after they’ve gotten closed-minded about how music works and what they “like”.

  13. #13 Caledonian
    March 18, 2007

    Our school systems are too busy giving extra aid to the worst students to give bright students music appreciation and theory classes.

  14. #14 Joe Shelby
    March 18, 2007

    C: yeah, i know. maybe i should have said there’s no non-financial or non-bureaucratic reason. :)

    My cousin teaches in Columbus, OH, where they all call it “no child gets ahead”.

  15. #15 QrazyQat
    March 18, 2007

    Actually, I’ve been doing a bit of a breakdown of the Darwin dissenters list and its the chemists that seem to be most strongly represented…

    Interesting in that a chemist also can do quite well by just “following the recipe” — the best can’t, but you can have a very good career by doing so. In the “following the recipe” biz, this is literally so for chemists who often are, I’ve seen, highly prized as retired husbands because they often become really good cooks.

  16. #16 QrazyQat
    March 18, 2007

    Our school systems are too busy giving extra aid to the worst students to give bright students music appreciation and theory classes.

    There was a very interesting Daily Howler some time back which pointed to a good point he’d seen about what happens under the NCLB. His entry had more details (I can’t find it with a quick search) but the bottom line is that under NCLB, there is a tremendous incentive to work hardest on those kids who are just barely below whatever the cutoff point is, so both the brightest kids and those kids who need help the most will naturally tend to get shortchanged. This is because — well, assume a level of 70 is where you want kids to get to for funding to not be cut off. The school then gets no credit for taking a kid who’s at 90 and getting them to 99 (which would be terrific) or for taking a kid who’s struggling at 20 and getting them to 50 (which would be fantastic and a really huge help for that kid, and society at large once the kid is out of school). Instead the school gets credit for taking a kid from 68 to 70 and no credit for either of the others.

  17. #17 Interrobang
    March 18, 2007

    I want an atheist surgeon because then I’ll have some idea that s/he’s trying to do the best s/he can for me on the grounds that as a human being, I’m worth it.

    I agree with Joe Shelby’s point about music theory, since I went to school at an elementary school where music theory was a standard part of the curriculum starting in about grade 1. By the time I graduated from high school, I had a Conservatory Gr. VIII equivalent music-theory education. I’m not a professional musician now, and I wouldn’t say I’m exceptionally musically talented, so I would say a moderate amount of theory is within reach of pretty much everyone. (That goes double if you consider that I’m dyscalculic and calling me a “math idiot” would be being charitable. If someone could explain algebra to me in terms of music, I’m, er, all ears.)

    There are also so many different ways of teaching things like music or evolution that with a little perseverance, almost anyone can learn at least the basics.

  18. #18 hephaistos
    March 18, 2007

    My father (“little zeus”) was a very talented, highly respected, self-trained electrical engineer. For all of his intelligence and know how I could never get to square one teaching him what I knew about chemistry. Anything which was not part of his experience (atoms, molecules, chemical properties) or which he could not understand based on his own practical experience was met with, “I don’t see how that can be.” He thought that if we really understood chemistry then we wouldn’t need experiments that couldn’t be done in the machine shop and which couldn’t be understood without recourse to several years of advanced physics and mathematics. After all, my dad was really good at one thing, so he should be good at all things, if those things were explained the right way.

    I suspect that many people who perform successfully at a high level in one field – medicine, engineering, dentistry, theoretical chemistry – imagine that they can, with only a little reading, perform successfully in any other field. The fact that they may have done well in very low-level courses in other fields – biology, organic chemistry, general physics – encourages that belief. In fact, they know so little about anything outside their own field that they really know nothing about anything else. It’s only when we are dropped into graduate level courses, or entered into the publish-or-perish race, that we realize how truly stupid we are. At least that is my experience.

    (I remember spending several hours on the internet one evening reading pure crap written by some nonchemist who said he had discovered, without recourse to complicated quantum mechanics, a lower energy state for the hydrogen atom. His scheme was to access it: the energy released when the so-called 1s electron “fell” to the true ground state which he discovered would provide free energy forever, etc.)

    (In a similar vein a former general chemistry student of mine who is a good engineer occasionally sends me papers he writes in which he simplifies our understanding of the atom. I tell him I am not qualified to judge this work and that he should take a course on real quantum mechanics.)

    I can’t find the quotes quickly in my notebooks, but: Referring to a contemporary case of medical research fraud Linus Pauling stated (in a letter to the editor) that physicians were trained in medicine, not science; that medicine as it is practiced is an art, not science; and that is why there is (according to him) so much biomedical fraud. The author of a book (c 1990)on famous scientific frauds pointed out that many frauds, pseudoscience, and stupid science have as their promoters practical nonscientists like physicians and engineers.

    Let me go on record as saying that I have nothing but the highest respect for physicians, engineers, and anyone else who does their art, craft, or science with integrity. I do not believe that what I do – chemistry – makes me superior to those others simply because of what I do. I will also state, much to my chagrin, that truculant mediocrity is no barrier to getting a Ph.D. in chemistry. I attribute that to the facts that (1) many areas of chemistry do not require a lot of mathematical background and skill (which weeds out a lot of the would-be physicists) and that (2) there are a lot of mediocre graduate programs which need graduate students to do the lab work.

    BTW I was shocked to find out, months ago, that Schaefer is a creationist. He states on his website that his greatest discovery is his religion. I am no judge of theoretical chemistry or Prof. Schafer’s contributions, but I am willing to take his word on this matter.

  19. #19 David Livesay
    March 18, 2007

    I wonder why it wouldn’t occur to a Paleyist surgeon like Egnor that any decent product of intelligent design comes with a service manual to help repairmen fix it. I mean, when you think about it, even the cheapest products we buy have user manuals, service manuals, and a warranty. Why kind of fly-by-night manufacturer would design and produce something as complex as the human body and provide bugger all by way of documentation?

  20. #20 John Pieret
    March 18, 2007

    There is this story about how the Indonesian Ministry of Health has refused to provide samples of the H5N1 “bird flu” virus to the World Health Organization.

    It seems the WHO and the world medical community is in a bit of a tizzy over this but the question is why? After all, bird flu is a rather difficult disease for humans to get, requiring intimate contact with birds that is not common in developed countries. Even in a nation like Indonesia, with over 32 million families in a vast archipelago raising chickens in their backyard, there has been only 81 cases and 63 deaths. Worldwide, only 278 people have gotten the disease with 168 deaths. So why are vaccines selling out before they are even made?

    Since the good doctor assures us that medicine does not need to understand evolution to deal with such things as bacterial resistance “strategies,” surely the same goes for the “strategies” viruses use to change their infection vectors so as to make them more infectious to humans. Why are so many doctors at the WHO and the CDC so worried about this, since an understanding of evolution isn’t needed for medicine?

    Incidently, I think the following is the right take on Indonesia:

    Maurice Middleberg(cq), a vice president of the Global Health Council, a group that advocates efforts to improve the health of people in developing countries, said the practice of sharing virus is essential to confronting the influenza threat – but the needs of developing countries must be considered also.

    “The exchange of scientific information is essential to preventing the emergence of a global pandemic, but a way also must be found so that countries that cannot afford vaccine at commercial rates will be able to get it,” Middleberg said.

    Now, if we can only manage an exchange of scientific information with certain elements within the United States.

  21. #21 Carlie
    March 18, 2007

    Maybe the problem is also with the whole “you’re so great” attitude promulgated towards sort of ok students – the grade inflation/self esteem inflation issue. The people who make steam come out my ears are the ones with a BS in, say, business, who say that they understand evolution better than I do because they got an A in biology in high school.

  22. #22 Bryn
    March 18, 2007

    Why, he’s got the dishonesty of Wells, the pomposity of Johnson, the ineffectual stupidity of Luskin, and the egotism of Berlinski, all wrapped up in one package.

    “Ladies and gentlemen! Give it up for…Mike ‘the Total Package’
    Egnor!!!!”

  23. #23 Dustin
    March 18, 2007

    Our school systems are too busy giving extra aid to the worst students to give bright students music appreciation and theory classes.

    I’m getting the distinct impression that Caledonian dislikes those bothersome poor people. They’re so… icky.

  24. #24 THobbes
    March 18, 2007

    I’m getting the distinct impression that Caledonian dislikes those bothersome poor people.

    Indeed. Apparently an unrecognized goal of the public education system is to cull the weak and stupid so that the herd may survive. Because there aren’t, like, any private schools with high admission standards that cater to exceptionally smart students. Parents, apparently, have absolutely no recourse if they don’t want their precious little darlings to be exposed to the great unwashed.

  25. #25 Ian H Spedding FCD
    March 18, 2007

    beccarii wrote:

    Ian Spedding – I’d be interested in seeing your list of Darwin dissenters, particularly the chemists (since I’m one). The most prominent one of whom I know is Henry Schaefer, a computational chemist at the University of Georgia.

    Sure, where should I send it?

  26. #26 windy
    March 18, 2007

    Paley got it from Cicero about 50 B.C. (who probably gave the credit to Iupiter)

    Cicero found a watch on the beach?? ;)

  27. #27 Stogoe
    March 18, 2007

    No, apparently Caledonian took A Modest Proposal as a guide to moral living.

    (We’re all just delicious sacks of meat. Probably tastier than beef, but a little fatty – well, the American stock anyway..)

  28. #28 Ichthyic
    March 19, 2007

    (We’re all just delicious sacks of meat. Probably tastier than beef, but a little fatty – well, the American stock anyway..)

    hey buddy, that’s prime rib youz talkin’ bout.

  29. #29 beccarii
    March 19, 2007

    Ian, thanks for the response on your compilation of creationists and your offer. You can send it to bobrien@gac.edu.

    On this same topic, upon doing some further research, I’ve had the misfortune to find out that another eminent chemist from Georgia (Georgia Tech, this time – my alma mater), is also on the creationist bandwagon. Google “Eugene Ashby”. An interview with him for the student newspaper is the first hit. It’s good, though, to see that the second hit (a subset of the first one) is a letter from many faculty members there, including numerous chemists, refuting Ashby’s stance.

  30. #30 louis
    March 19, 2007

    I’d like to echo what Hephaistos said. And, although I doubt I really need to do it, remind people that despite the Salem Hypothesis and the excellent work by Ian Spedding, not all chemists are creationists.

    Of course I know no one said they were. I’ll go a step further, any chemist who has done any natural products chemistry or medicinal chemistry and is a creationist should (like any creationist biochemist or biologist or geologist or paleontologist) procure a stout stick and beat themselves across the head and neck with it until it really hurts. They really have seen enough evidence not to be this dumb and can only be doing so for “naughty reasons”.

    Loui

  31. #31 paulh
    March 19, 2007

    Don’t forget the most prominent Creationist Chemist (and self proclaimed best-ever chess player from New Zealand) of them all – Jonathan Sarfati, ex-AiG, now of whatever it is that the former Aussie arm of that group horseshit merchants is called

  32. #32 ThomasHobbes
    March 19, 2007

    If we’re going to list some, then I’ll throw in one from my own alma matter: Phil Skell, creationist chemist from Penn State Univ. He’s well known, I understand, for his particularly vapid, repetitive “challenges” to evolution and abiogenesis. If he’s on the list, I apologize for being redundant. I hear the words “creationist chemist” and that’s who pops into my head.

  33. #33 Raging Bee
    March 19, 2007

    Will Dr. Egnor show us some of these wonderful insights into human biology and disease provided or facilitated by the design inference or will he simply keep repeating the same misinformation?

    The last such insight I remember was the bit about AIDS being intelligently designed to punish gays for being gay. Which should give us a good idea of where ID “science” will lead us, if we let it.

  34. #34 Keith Douglas
    March 19, 2007

    C&E News always seems to find chemists who deny (anthropogenic) global warming and evolution in response to every issue that deals with these topics. Dunno if they are always the same folks or not, or what their letters policy is. (To know how representative the letters are – obviously not very, but how not very.)

  35. #35 hephaistos
    March 19, 2007

    That Chemical and Engineering News feels compelled to publish letters from the antievolution/pro-creation nitwits is something I don’t understand. What is more amazing is that – apropos my long winded comments above – none of these ignoramuses seems to have any special training in the areas they are criticizing. They seem to feel that their Ph.D., and more often BS or MS degree, in chemistry is evidence that they are “scientists”, and that as scientists they are qualified to evaluate everything within science without knowing a lot about it.

    (So I finish telling my class about the origins of fossil fuels and my creationist/evangelical BS chemist technician friend comes up to me and points out that not everyone believes that Earth is millions of years old. I tell him I don’t believe it either, but I am convinced it is true because that is what the evidence shows. He then admonishes me that many people who know more than I ever will about thermodynamics [probably engineers] have demonstrated unequivocally that evolution and the usual geological chronology is wrong. How can an otherwise intelligent person be so ignorant?)

  36. #36 Bryson Brown
    March 19, 2007

    Not to make a major point of it, but it seems unfair to Paley to lump him in with the present ID crowd. Not only did he write before Darwin, he also wrote with a positive theology in mind that he tried to wrestle into accord with biology as he knew it. The ID folk have relieved themselves of all intellectual stress by becoming doctrinal skeptics about the designer; of course the result is that they’ve turned a bad scientific theory into a totally empty one…

  37. #37 Ian H Spedding FCD
    March 20, 2007

    Ian, thanks for the response on your compilation of creationists and your offer. You can send it to bobrien@gac.edu.

    Will do. All I’ve done is so far is do a manual sort on the DI’s list into fields of science. What I’m also doing – which I should have done first – is feed the data into Excel so it can be manipulated in much greater detail.

  38. #38 just kidding
    March 21, 2007

    Off with his head! I’m sure God will teach him how to reattach it.

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