Pharyngula

Michael Egnor, Whig historian

He mangles science, now he defames history. Michael Egnor is like the Swiss army knife of creationist hackery.

Former Vice President Al Gore famously claimed to have invented the Internet because years ago he was in the Senate and sponsored a bill. The assertion that Charles Darwin’s theory was indispensable to classical and molecular genetics is a claim of an even lower order. Darwin’s theory impeded the recognition of Mendel’s discovery for a third of a century, and Darwin’s assertion that random variation was the raw material for biological complexity was of no help in decoding the genetic language of DNA. The single incontrovertible Darwinian contribution to the field of medical genetics was eugenics, which is the Darwinian theory that humans can be bred for social and character traits, like animals. The field of medical genetics is still recovering from eugneics, which was Darwin’s only gift to medicine.

Wow—that is simply breathlessly ahistorical.

  • Al Gore did not claim to have invented the internet.

  • No one has claimed that Darwin invented genetics, either, or even that he was indispensable to it. Mendel’s work languished for thirty years because a) the paper was presented at and published by a relatively obscure natural history society, in Verhandlungen des naturforschenden Vereines im Brunn; b) it really is quite a tedious paper, full of tables of numbers, and not at all the kind of thing most natural historians were keen on at the time; and c) it was unclear how universally applicable his results were—Mendel himself did experiments with hawkweed that gave results that did not fit with the simple Mendelian model. Darwin had a competing (and wrong) model of heredity which did not help matters, but given that the existence of Darwin’s gemmular hypothesis did not impede research in the 20th century, it’s rather silly to blame him for blocking work that he had not even read.

  • The rediscovery of Mendel’s work in 1900 did provoke a great deal of argument within the community of evolutionists for about 20 years; it was not at all clear how to reconcile genetics and Darwinian evolution, and it took a fair amount of scholarship and research to fit them together, work which culminated in the neo-Darwinian synthesis. At that time, though, the most famous name in genetics was Thomas Hunt Morgan, who authored books titled Evolution and Genetics and The Scientific Basis of Evolution — arguing that evolution and genetics were somehow in opposition simply makes no sense at all. Once the concepts were worked out, genetics helped evolution’s case.

  • Watson and Crick both are and were proponents of evolutionary theory, and did not see any conflict between their observations and evolution. I have no idea what Egnor is babbling about when he says “random variation … was no help in decoding the genetic language of DNA.” As geneticists and biochemists worked out the chemical nature of the molecule of heredity, they very quickly puzzled out the mechanisms that generate errors — that work was essential in figuring out how change occurs. Working out the genetic code was a different problem. When Egnor claims that the “understanding of the genetic code was the direct result of the inference to design in biology”, he’s simply lying. Try reading about how the genetic code was cracked by people like Crick and Brenner and Benzer, and what you find is a purely reductionist experimental approach to the problem.

  • Darwin was not a eugenicist. Eugenics owes a greater historical debt to animal husbandry — you do not need evolutionary theory or even genetics to propose that you can change a stock with selective breeding. If Egnor would like to blame agriculture for the cruelties of the eugenics movement, he’d be more accurate.

I’m appalled at Egnor’s poor grasp of the history of these sciences. I suppose it only goes with the territory, though — he’s incompetent when it comes to the science, so why not be a dazzling nincompoop in all areas. He’s a kind of creationist Renaissance man, knowing absolutely nothing about everything.

If Stony Brook lets this man teach, they have a problem. I would actively discourage any students from attending a university that puts such a malinformed fool in front of a classroom.

Comments

  1. #1 Blake Stacey, OM
    March 28, 2007

    DouglasG:

    The Al Gore remark shows where he gets his information from. – Conservapedia? – we’re building tomorrows idiots today!

    Please, it’s spelled Conservapaedia! (-:

  2. #2 Blake Stacey, OM
    March 28, 2007

    j:

    See here.

  3. #3 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 28, 2007

    Eugenics owes a greater historical debt to animal husbandry — you do not need evolutionary theory or even genetics to propose that you can change a stock with selective breeding.

    My understanding was that Darwin was independently influenced by animal husbandry.

    Perhaps we need to make Egnor an evolutionary tree between between the disciplines? But wait… he can’t read those…

    Okay, how about: if eugenics influenced evolution, how is it there are PYGMIES + DWARFS??

    they very quickly puzzled out the mechanisms that generate errors — that work was essential in figuring out how change occurs.

    How and why change occurs is probably the more important part of the code, especially in medicine. One would think that this shouldn’t be a matter of egnorance.

    a swiss army knife has more than one tool.

    LOL!

    So which type of tool is Egnor? He doesn’t cut it, he isn’t too picky about facts, but tries to screw ignorant people. I will vote for a screwdriver, more specifically a cross one.

  4. #4 Glen Davidson
    March 28, 2007

    You provoke their movement by constantly bringing it up, like bad press for a celebrity…

    The learned Jeremy tells us how ID really arose: it wasn’t Phil Johnson, the DI, or Behe. Course not, it was PZ, Dawkins, Gould, and us. You can see why he whines so pitiably, especially about our “gang mentality”. You know how it is, we’re just like UD, since of course we have no real science to protect (that’s right, he didn’t say it, but what other reason would he have?).

    No, we should just let it alone, not file briefs with the court against ID, let them win. What’s it to him? He doesn’t know anything about the threats to schooling, the bullying that ID attempts. He’s pristine, better than everybody, because he’s so like IDists, ignorant, incapable of analyzing the situation, and extremely self-righteous.

    The things we want to go away will never disappear as fast as we want them to. Let time be the factor that removes this movement from the general public’s eye.

    Yes, let it be taught in the schools, and spread through propagandizing of ignorance. That’s how ideas disappear, by having the intelligent educated members of society shut up and make way for the idiots. Oh Jeremy, we have so much to learn from you.

    Grow up in the meantime, its embarrassing.

    Everything about your post is embarrassing, from your total ignorance of sociology, to your inability to discuss the specific threat of ID (thankfully, the education threat has abated at present–Kansas remains a threat on the horizon, however, for in two years the small majority of pro-science board members are the ones mainly up for a vote). Your stupidity is what you enjoin upon us, for we should act as ignorantly as you do, and then you’ll bless us.

    Go to school, little man. Your existence is embarrassing to the human race.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

  5. #5 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 28, 2007

    Jeremy:

    Yes, you can and do efficiently argue against their points. So what? That’s why evolution has the place that it does in science and society, and creationism does not.

    Not at all. Evolution is science because it works, not because scientists argue better than creationists. (Which point of yours is dubious btw, since YEC and ID are excellent PR machines for sterile messages.)

    “We want to get rid of this pseudoscience so no one will succumb to its stupidity.”

    Pretty much, though suppression is the realistic target here. All pseudoscience are antiscientific enterprises, which misled people and take their money in the good name of science.

    Besides the practical aspect, there is also a moral one. Scientists, such as PZ, endeavors for us to learn about nature. All else equal, it would still be unethical to not oppose antiscientism and to not promote knowledge. Unless you can show that your concerns have any real substance, it must be acceptable as default that scientists do as they feel is required of them.

    Btw, a heads up, you are also misrepresenting this blog particularly. The blog owner is a strong believer in education, which is another proactive concern.

  6. #6 Ichthyic
    March 29, 2007

    I mean, we can agitate to have Stony Brook do something about Egnor’s misuse of his position and teaching responsibilities, but if they actually do, you know the DI’s going to make a giant fuss out it.

    New test case? Instead of a case over pushing ID in, they’ll make one out of an ID martyr?

    I’ve been thinking about this for a bit now, and Egnor’s posts and responses are damn near a perfect template.

    I think creating a political martyr figure is EXACTLY what this is all about.

    watch as Egnor’s posts become more and more and yet more ridiculous as time goes by.

    why? he’s trolling his own position; daring the university to say something public in denial, or even remove him from his teaching position.

    remember how much traction they got with the idiotic Sternberg affair?

    you can bet your ass that this is all planned out carefully to garner a specific response.

    It’s very likely why nobody from the eco/evo dept. at Stony, or anyone else from stony for that matter, has said word one about it.

    Unfortunately, as the response from PZ points out, the longer they wait to say something, the worse it looks, and the more impact it will end up having.

    They should have nipped this right in the bud after his very first public posting on the matter, made a public comment, and then left it at that.

    Not that my experience with univeristy administrations has indicated that they treat these kinds of things in clever fashion very often, mind you.

    really, as egnor gets more and more ridiculous, there should be LESS AND LESS reason to even bother responding.

    let him drown in his own blather; giving him bad publicity is EXACTLY what the DI wants, IMO.

  7. #7 David Marjanovi?
    March 29, 2007

    As a teacher yourself you should be aware of the primary problem: tenyear, that annoying but comforting thing that prevents you from being easilly fired once you have it.

    Wow! An eggcorn is born! Tenure has nothing to do with “ten” or “year”, it’s about holding in Latin (you are held, kept, instead of fired).

  8. #8 David Marjanovi?
    March 29, 2007

    As a teacher yourself you should be aware of the primary problem: tenyear, that annoying but comforting thing that prevents you from being easilly fired once you have it.

    Wow! An eggcorn is born! Tenure has nothing to do with “ten” or “year”, it’s about holding in Latin (you are held, kept, instead of fired).

  9. #9 David Marjanovi?
    March 29, 2007

    Verhandlungen des naturforschenden Vereines im Brunn

    in Brünn.

    Any string of German text quoted by a non-speaker turns into a pseudogene at a rate so fast it makes baraminology possible.

  10. #10 David Marjanovi?
    March 29, 2007

    Verhandlungen des naturforschenden Vereines im Brunn

    in Brünn.

    Any string of German text quoted by a non-speaker turns into a pseudogene at a rate so fast it makes baraminology possible.

  11. #11 Blake Stacey, OM
    March 30, 2007

    David Marjanovi?:

    Tenure/ten-year is already in the Eggcorn Database. I recall the usage of “ten-yeared graduate student” was attested in the Jargon File.

  12. #12 Blake Stacey, OM
    March 30, 2007

    Addendum:

    Yes, it’s in the Jargon File, as early as version 1.5 (1983), but not in the very earliest JARGON.TXT.

    TENURED GRADUATE STUDENT noun.

    One who has been in graduate school for ten years (the usual maximum is five or six): a “ten-yeared” student. (Get it?) Students don’t really get tenure, of course, the way professors do, but a tenth-year graduate student has probably been around the university longer than any nontenured professor.

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