Pharyngula

Egnor gives away the store

Michael Egnor has made a blatant tactical error, and Larry Moran catches him on it. Note what Egnor says about evolution, that it is “obviously true”.

Dr. Wells pointed out that research on antibiotic resistance wasn’t guided by Darwinian evolutionary theory. That evolution occurred — that is, that the population of bacteria changed over time — is obviously true, and obviously was relevant to the antibiotic resistance research. Dr. Wells made the observation that the research owed little to Darwin’s theory that all biological complexity arose by natural selection without teleology.

Larry challenges the IDiots to ‘fess up and agree that they’ve conceded on the facts of evolution and are reduced to rhetorical sophistry, squabbling against this “Darwinism” thing of their own invention. I don’t expect they will; they’ll either pretend it was never said, or begin a little evasive dance, which will at least be entertaining.

I’d like to see the creationists do something else. Egnor’s redefinition shows that their objection is to the absence of teleology in evolutionary explanations, so let’s see them counter it with evidence for teleology. In those bacteria that evolved antibiotic resistance, for instance — show me the hand of a god reaching in and tweaking those genes.

Comments

  1. #1 Anon
    March 18, 2008

    I have heard about the hand of a priest reaching in and tweaking some jeans.

    Does that count?

  2. #2 lauram
    March 18, 2008

    They’ll just attribute this to the whole “micro-evoluation” vs. “macro-evolution.” They seem to have no problem conceding micro-evolution, but apparently since we’ve never seen a banana in a peanut butter jar, that proves there’s no macro-evolution. Keep up, willya? ;*)

  3. #3 jdb
    March 18, 2008

    Perhaps God has a fondness for bacteria that matches his fondness for beetles.

  4. #4 genewitch
    March 18, 2008

    I think you’ll find that if you ask enough people two questions: “DO you think that darwin was right?” or “do you think that evolution is how life progressed on this planet” and compare results within the populations, you’ll find that it’s darwin that has the negative stigma attached, and through that, therefore evolution.

    I think that the fact that Darwin is used so often in conjunction with evolution it has given these folks a springboard to jump from. They can actually quote darwin’s literature and find problems with it (stuff that has been disproven, for instance) – then use that to disprove evolution on the whole… or at least say “there’s fighting between biologists”

    Whereas i think you’ll find all biologists know about the nature of darwin’s body of work and ALSO all of the stuff since. that’s the difference.

    What’s in a name, folks?

  5. #5 hyperdeath
    March 18, 2008

    If you must resort to “teleology” (which is a pseudo-academic euphemism for “god did it”), then what does that say about god? Mainly, that he’s a sadistic lunatic, who creates new pathogens for the fun of it.

  6. #6 Laurie
    March 18, 2008

    They’ll just say it was the hand of satan. There is no way to win against illogical stupidity.

  7. #7 Marcus Ranum
    March 18, 2008

    I am consistently disappointed by the lack of research focus searching for The Hand Of God. After all, since it is supposed to manifest in the here-and-now, we could expect to find abnormalities in probability distributions around Lourdes, or The Pope. And, of course, the insertion of the soul would be a pretty cool event to detect. There are so many experimental opportunities to test for and measure The Hand Of God but, sadly, religious “scientists” are so noble that they prefer to try to shore up the theory of evolution by trying to find its shortcomings, instead of performing nobel prize-worthy research of their own.

    I would greatly welcome evidence of The Hand Of God and would love to see the religious “scientists” commit red slaughter on eachother as they tried to figure out exactly which “god” it was…

  8. #8 Glen Davidson
    March 18, 2008

    Basically the whole case for MET rests within the context of there being no evidence for teleology.

    So if they allow that “microevolution” (scare quotes because one never knows what they mean by that term) is due to Darwinism, and non-teleological, they’re stuck with the familiar fact that nothing they call “macroevolution” differs significantly in mechanism from their “microevolution,” and is also non-teleological.

    They may not wish to do that. However, since they almost always are able to ignore not only their decided lack of evidence, but also the masses of information that decide against any reasonable design hypothesis, there’d be nothing new in allowing that “Darwin was right about microevolution” while denying that the same type of evidence involved with “macroevolution” is due to “design.”

    For, they have never been internally consistent, let alone interested in explaining anything at all, other than ‘Jeebus done it.’

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  9. #9 cserpent
    March 18, 2008

    I have heard about the hand of a priest reaching in and tweaking some jeans.

    Thanks anon, now I have to clean coffee off of my monitor.

  10. #10 Glen Davidson
    March 18, 2008

    nothing they call “macroevolution” differs significantly in mechanism

    I should probably correct myself to say that there do seem to be some significant differences in mechanism, such as chromosomal changes, between what we call microevolution and what we call macroevolution. The problem being that what they call microevolution rarely is predicated on anything tangible, plus the primary patterns and evidences for evolution don’t differ all that much even across what we call microevolution and what we call macroevolution.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  11. #11 Tulse
    March 18, 2008

    So if they allow that “microevolution” (scare quotes because one never knows what they mean by that term) is due to Darwinism, and non-teleological, they’re stuck with the familiar fact that nothing they call “macroevolution” differs significantly in mechanism from their “microevolution,” and is also non-teleological.

    The move seems to be to admit variation and change in “created kinds”, or “baramins”, but not sufficient variation and change to create new kinds or baramins. What they are relying on is that it generally takes a very long time to for large enough evolutionary change to produce speciation, especially with obvious, noticeable phenotypic differences. Since they don’t see those sort of evolutionary changes, they assert that only small ones actually occur, and their baramin are safe.

  12. #12 Sastra
    March 18, 2008

    They’re playing on the ambiguity in the concept of “teleology.” In the mind of someone who believes in God, all events are the result of God’s will, simply because any event which happened must have been part of the overall plan. As long as you jump this teleology of intention back far enough, it says nothing. If everything is X, then saying something is “X” is vacuous. Call everyone a “blond” — including people with red hair and black hair and no hair at all — and your claim that someone is “blond” can safely be ignored as completely uninformative.

    What the ID folk are going for, however, is direct intention and intervention. Some things are miracles — and some things are not. Their implication that “Darwinism” means “no teleology” is a direct hit against the idea that “God is behind all things” with nothing left to chance. No — as PZ says, sometimes they want God’s hand reaching in, and sometimes they want it to be just sheer accident.

  13. #13 danley
    March 18, 2008

    This is like the tactical error Dr. Williams made when he said that Christianity is “telling a story.” Albeit, one with no fucking evidence.

    http://timesonline.typepad.com/faith/2008/03/archbishop-of-c.html

  14. #14 The Backpacker
    March 18, 2008

    I don’t get how you can take Microevolution + time and not get Macroevolution. Unless you really belive the earth is only 6000 years old the line from the one to the other is very clear.

  15. #15 James F
    March 18, 2008

    As far as I can tell, “Darwinism” is their code for “belief that all religion must be eliminated,” or at least that’s a major component of it. Certainly this is not a goal of anyone performing science as a methodologial naturalist, and I would further argue that even fundamentalist views can exist without being actively suppressed by evolution and science in general as long as fundamentalists follow George Carlin’s suggested commandment, “Thou shalt keep thy religion to thyself.” Granted, it’s a bit like (borrowing from PZ) insisting that the sky is green: denial of basic scientific concepts effectively excludes religious fundamentalists from working in the sciences and makes them hypocritical if they use vaccines, antibiotics, and other fruits of modern medicine.

  16. #16 raven
    March 18, 2008

    They are just playing with words. The last refuge of the intellectually bankrupt.

    Egnor seems to be saying, evolution occurs, it is important, but it is a tautology, but it is obvious, but it is macroevolution, but life changing through time incrementally is not evolution, but Darwinism is evil.

    At this point, it is just propaganda and lies and they know it.

    Evolutionary thought has been making inroads into medical research for decades because it is useful. It is not just anti-anything resistance which are huge problems that kill millions every year. The current paradigm for cancer is an evolutionary one with cells escaping growth control, evading host defenses, acquiring a blood supply, metastasizing, becoming resistant to multiple therapies. A process that now seems to require up to 10 or 15 mutations. Cancer will kill roughly 2 billion of the people now living on the planet. Plus emerging diseases, animal models, and a lot else.

    The old guard such as Egnor and Simmons know it and oppose it for religious reasons. Best I can say, they will swim against the tide and die out eventually.

  17. #17 Holbach
    March 18, 2008

    Here we are ever again defending science against the insane
    morons whose comments should rightly be submitted to Mad
    Magazine. Can you imagine if we did not blast these morons
    in print and on Pharyngula and just let them run amok and
    unchallenged, what the outcome will be? Berlinski,Wells,Behe and the whole slime bag of them will
    announce that they have won the battle against the atheistic horde and will run rampant and render our great
    country unto their ghost god’s conntrol. We have not heard
    anything new to blast, so a good idea would be to ghost write their insane ideas and submit them to Mad Magazine
    and those supermarket tabloids that excel in crazy slime.

  18. #18 Alec
    March 18, 2008

    Speaking of baramins (Tulse, #11) I was innocently trying to get some real work done when I came across this gem in the course of a literature search: “VISUALIZING BARAMINIC DISTANCES USING CLASSICAL MULTIDIMENSIONAL SCALING” http://www.grisda.org/origins/57009.pdf.

    I especially loved this section: “Statistical baraminology methods also have their drawbacks. For example, Robinson and Cavanaugh (1998b) found significant, positive baraminic distance correlation between humans and primates when using molecular data. This violated their proposal that significant positive correlation indicated taxic continuity” and later “One approach to explain anomalous results of statistical baraminology methods is to utilize different methods on the same set of taxa.” In other words: our statistical methods showed that there was a connection between humans and primates, so we need to look for some different statistical methods.

  19. #19 Rey Fox
    March 18, 2008

    I will not have you smear Mad magazine anymore, Holbach.

  20. #20 Olorin
    March 18, 2008

    Marcus Ranum (#7) said: “I am consistently disappointed by the lack of research focus searching for The Hand Of God.”

    Marcus, ID research will continue to disappoint until you understand that it is a very different process from scientific research. Scientific research is based upon observation and measurement. But, because ID has an inherently religious nature, it proceeds in the same way as theological research: by quotation and interpretation of authorities.

    This difference may explain many aspects of ID. It certainly explains their proclivity for quote-mining. Just as theologians substantiate their theological theories by the “evidence” of biblical hermeneutics, IDers verify their positions by quoting and (mis)interpreting statements made by authorities in science. They seem to feel no motivation to perform their own experiments or compile inferences from the natural world; their research paradigm is based upon the methodology of theology, not of science.

    Once we understand this basic difference, we need no longer think of ID research as “bad science.” Instead, we can appreciate even more that intelligent design research is fundamentally NOT SCIENCE AT ALL.

    Hope this helps :-)

  21. #21 Phoenix Woman
    March 18, 2008

    I have heard about the hand of a priest reaching in and tweaking some jeans.

    Does that count?

    Nobody could have predicted the breach of the Levi’s!

  22. #22 dsmvwld
    March 18, 2008

    Note what Egnor says about evolution, that it is “obviously true”.

    Gosh, PZ, what was that about ellipses you were saying the other day?

  23. #23 Olorin
    March 18, 2008

    Glen D (#8) said “So if they allow that ‘microevolution’ … is due to Darwinism, and non-teleological, they’re stuck with the familiar fact that nothing they call ‘macroevolution’ differs significantly in mechanism from their ‘microevolution,’ and is also non-teleological.”

    A similar hypothesis in physics divided gravitation into microgravity and macrogravity. The former attracts apples to Earth. The macro form holds planets in their orbits. The two are obviously different; it defies common sense that the feeble force of a falling fruit—or even the catastrophic collapse of a construction crane—could produce the incredibly mighty forces required to hold planets in place.

    This was, of course, the state of physics before Isaac Newton. Newton’s genius was exactly the insight that these seemingly disparate forces are one and the same, governed by the same laws. Darwin’s insight was that the small changes produced by breeding of domestic animals and plants can also change bacteria into bactrian camels. That is, the only difference between microevolution and macroevolution is huge heapings of time, just as the only difference between “microgravity” and “macrogravity” is mammoth measures of mass. In each case, the mechanisms are the same; only the parameters differ.

  24. #24 MartinM
    March 18, 2008

    Gosh, PZ, what was that about ellipses you were saying the other day?

    There is no ellipsis in the quote provided, you utter berk.

  25. #25 Science Goddess
    March 18, 2008

    To my knowledge, the NIH (not even the NCCAM) funds research into the “Hand of God”. Maybe we can borrow Jon Stweart’s “God Meter” and use it to test the presence of the Divine in Lourdes, etc. Might get some travel money from the Alt Med folks!

    SG

  26. #26 DwarfPygmy
    March 18, 2008

    Gosh, PZ, what was that about ellipses you were saying the other day?

    That they result from stretches being applied to circles.

  27. #27 amphiox
    March 18, 2008

    re: microevolution vs macroevolution

    Ah, but that is the crux of their argument, is it not? The only way that microevolution cannot lead to macroevolution is for their god to step in and stop it. Deliberately. Every single time. For every single species.

  28. #28 Pierce R. Butler
    March 18, 2008

    Olorin @ 23: Newton’s genius was exactly the insight that these seemingly disparate forces are one and the same, governed by the same laws.

    A strong case could be made that it was Johannes Kepler who deserves credit for that insight, even though his proposed explanatory “law” (that the sun actively pushed planets around their orbits) didn’t last long.

    An even stronger case can be made that the mental logjam was broken by the Nova of 1572 – the first (to European Christian philosophers) undeniable evidence that the Heavens were in fact subject to change.

  29. #29 Efogoto
    March 18, 2008

    Gosh, PZ, what was that about ellipses you were saying the other day?

    He said you should go check the original work to see what was left out. You’ve pointed out the partial quote. If you read further, you’ll find that PZ provided the full quote afterwards for your edification and enjoyment.

  30. #30 Matt Heath
    March 18, 2008

    @hyperdeath(#5): Well “teleology” doesn’t always mean “god did it”. Sometimes it means “the Marxian concept of history did it”. I think it always mean “some bollocks did it” though

  31. #31 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 18, 2008

    Egnor, the intellectual ant, laboring away with burdens larger than himself. [Say it quickly: “Egnor ant”, egnor-ant”, …]

    I am consistently disappointed by the lack of research focus searching for The Hand Of God.

    And I’m disappointed by the lack of philosophical focus – AFAIU philosophers maintain that searching will get you The Finger, you aren’t supposed to try to shake The Hand.

    But I swat that away. No Finger Prints means no hand. What, do you think an owner of a Hand would sit idle? I think Thing T. Thing would have something to sign about that.

  32. #32 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 18, 2008

    Egnor, the intellectual ant, laboring away with burdens larger than himself. [Say it quickly: “Egnor ant”, egnor-ant”, …]

    I am consistently disappointed by the lack of research focus searching for The Hand Of God.

    And I’m disappointed by the lack of philosophical focus – AFAIU philosophers maintain that searching will get you The Finger, you aren’t supposed to try to shake The Hand.

    But I swat that away. No Finger Prints means no hand. What, do you think an owner of a Hand would sit idle? I think Thing T. Thing would have something to sign about that.

  33. #33 Kseniya
    March 18, 2008

    Gosh, PZ, what was that about ellipses you were saying the other day?

    LOL. Gotta love how they grasp at straws.

  34. #34 Holbach
    March 18, 2008

    Rey Fox @ #19 Forgive me; Mad Magazine will reject that
    crud and maintain it’s unique character!

  35. #35 Ichthyic
    March 18, 2008

    LOL. Gotta love how they grasp at straws.

    In this case, straws manufactured by their own demented minds, since those were dashes written by Egnor simply as a parenthetical device, not cuts made by PZ.

    grasping, though, does indeed describe creationism as a mindset.

    It’s pathetic to the point of revulsion. Hard to even feel pity, really.

  36. #36 Rey Fox
    March 18, 2008

    Note also that the full in-context quote is not only linked to, but displayed right underneath PZ’s quotation of it.

    Epic fail.

  37. #37 HP
    March 18, 2008

    Sastra @ 12 As long as you jump this teleology of intention back far enough, it says nothing. If everything is X, then saying something is “X” is vacuous.

    Exactly. It’s like claiming to find evidence of design in a universe where everything is created by God.

    Did the creator God somehow design all living things, but leave, say, grains of sand up to chance? If God created the universe, then mountaintops and sandy beaches and ozone molecules and poop are every bit as “designed” as life. And if everything is equally designed, then there’s no way to differentiate design from not-design.

  38. #38 Doc Bill
    March 18, 2008

    Perhaps God has a fondness for bacteria that matches his fondness for beetles.

    Naw, God is definitely a Rolling Stones fan.

  39. #39 Olorin
    March 18, 2008

    Check out Uncommon Descent, March 17. I posted a slight modification of my comment #20, above, as comment #21 to “John Scotus Eriugena – a 9th century advocate of ‘intelligent design’.”

    The moderator passed it, with the added notation “Heh, I was tempted to just zap this one but I thought you guys might have fun tearing this one apart. — P” Heh, indeed. As is generally true of IDiots, his sarcasm detector was malfunctioning. It was entered under the name “Al Fakir.” (Hopefully, they also won’t recognize the pun on “al-kafir,” “the infidel.”)

  40. #40 Thomas S. Howard
    March 18, 2008

    Here’s my favorite part of Egnor’s drool:

    Dr. Moran has a low view of people who question his evolutionary views from the perspective of design. In 2006 he said of students who support the inference to design in biology:

    Flunk the IDiots…40% of the freshman class [at UCSD] reject Darwinism… the university has become alarmed at the stupidity of its freshman class and has offered remedial instruction for those who believe in Intelligent Design Creationism…UCSD should not have required their uneducated students to attend remedial classes. Instead, they should never have admitted them in the first place…[T]he University should just flunk the lot of them and make room for smart students who have a chance of benefiting from a high quality education.

    In light of the this viscious [sic] suppression of dissent from Darwin’s theory that is so characteristic of ideologues like Dr. Moran, I made the following observation:

    OK, so Moran expressing an opinion about what he thinks UCSD should do counts as “viscious [sic] suppression”?

    No, vicious suppression is, say, what the Cheka got up to during the Red Terror. Even if this policy recommendation were implemented, one could quite easily argue that it would just be strict enforcement of minimal standards. Don’t worry, though; I’m sure UCSD will keep your creationist children and their tuition around for the foreseeable future. Anyway, Egnor drips on with his “observation” (that is, his unsubstantiated allegation):

    If you were a scientist, how candid about questioning the relevance of Darwinism would you be if your livelihood depended on Darwinist professors like Dr. Myers and Dr. Moran?

    Dr. Moran’s response was a post titled “Michael Egnor is an Idiot”.

    Heh.

    I’ve also gotta wonder about all those ellipses in the Moran quote. Off to check that out.

  41. #41 Kseniya
    March 18, 2008

    Yeah. If you look around the known universe, I think it’s pretty clear that God’s inordinate fondness for beetles is exceeded by his inordinate fondness for stones.

  42. #42 Thomas S. Howard
    March 18, 2008

    Hunh. The ellipses actually don’t affect the accuracy of the quote too badly. Anyone care to venture a probability calculation on the chances of that happening w/o the intervention of the Designer?

    Not that it’s wholly correct of course. That is actually prohibited by physical law, I believe. The 40% bit is really a paraphrase of some guy on Uncommon Descent who was upset that UCSD even had the temerity to require remedial biological instruction. Or, as the ID folk would have it, anti-religious indoctrination. Oh, Jesus…

    Link to nonsense:
    http://tinyurl.com/2uv7mj

  43. #43 Kerry Maxwell
    March 19, 2008

    (Quote Raven @ #16)The current paradigm for cancer is an evolutionary one with cells escaping growth control, evading host defenses, acquiring a blood supply, metastasizing, becoming resistant to multiple therapies.

    Sounds like the paradigm for denialist *movements* as well.

  44. #44 Autumn
    March 19, 2008

    Thomas S. Howard,
    I’m sorry, but you are more of a man than I (in a non-sexist, strictly idiomatic sense) if you read below the fold of the link you provided. I was astonished at the graphic heading the page showing a flagellum embedded in a clearly demarcated bi-lipid stucture, with a molecular-ish representation of the interior parts, but having the “tail” of the flagellum appear as a bad photoshop of an earth-worm.

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