Feb 06 2009

Egnor in Forbes on Evolution

Our favorite creationist neurosurgeon, Michael Egnor, has published his ill-informed and logically-challenged opinions on evolution in a business journal. Darwin’s day is just around the corner (February 12th is the 200th anniversary of his birth and this year is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of the Species), and so it’s a good time for a creationist smack down. As usual Egnor gets everything wrong. He clearly does not understand evolutionary theory, or simply does not care if his straw men are accurate or not as long as he gets to regurgitate the standard anti-evolution propaganda.

In his article he makes a number of wrong or misleading statements, some in question form. He substitues assertion for evidence, and fallacies for logic. His objections to evolution begin with this:

The fossil record shows sharp discontinuity between species, not the gradual transitions that Darwinism inherently predicts.

Wrong.  First, I must point out that Egnor insists on referring to evolutionary theory as “Darwinism.” As many others have pointed out before, this is a propaganda tactic to attempt to diminish evolutionary theory to the quaint ideas of one guy. It is also misleading, for the modern synthesis of evolutionary theory differs in significant ways from strict Darwinian theory.

This is pertinent to this specific example. Darwin himself thought that the fossil record would show gradual continual change among species. What we found, rather, was relative stability punctuated by speciation events – species would remain mostly stable for about 2 million years on average, then disappear from the fossil record. Meanwhile, new species would appear. Gould and Eldridge termed this pattern punctuated equilirium, and creationists have dutifly ignored them ever since.

Egnor is also wrong on many levels. First, while species are generally stable, they do drift over their time on earth. Sometimes they even show gradual directed change. Also, you have to consider the overall pattern of the fossil record, not just zoom in myopically to the regions of stability. The fossil record shows a pattern of new species arising which are clearly related to and derived from older species. There is a clear pattern of branching descent in the fossil record – to the degree that it is complete. The fossil record is highly spotty, but the more we fill it in the more it fits the pattern of branching descent.

Further, as predicted by evolutionary theory, some fossil species we find fill in gaps between extant species.  The gaps have been steadily shrinking since Darwin’s time. How far do the gaps have to shrink before Egnor would think there was not “sharp discontinuity?” He can decide to demand arbitrarily small gaps that will never be filled – such are the tactics of deniers.

And further still modern biology of extant species puts the lie to Egnors false assertion. Species are not sharply discontinuous. Species are actually very fuzzy entities, with many sub-populations and local varieties, and even apparently different species can often exchange DNA. Species are only truly discontinuous when they can no longer interbreed and produce fertile young – something which is demanded by evolution and genetics, not contradictory of it.

Egnor continues:

Darwin’s theory offers no coherent, evidence-based explanation for the evolution of even a single molecular pathway from primordial components.

Wrong. Here Egnor is just flaunting his own ignorance of the theory he rejects.  He is trying to echo the claims of Behe and irreducible complexity. And yet, biologists have fleshed out much of the molecular pathways that Behe himself used as examples, such as the clotting cascade and the bacterial flagellum. Read these posts by Ken Miller who destroys Casey Luskin from the DiscoTute on this very issue. Here is also a brief discussion of the bacterial flagellum. What Egnor fails to realize is that being personally ignorant of something does not mean it doesn’t exist (a phenomenon formally known as being “egnorant” – and yes, I know I’m the 1 millionth blogger to hit upon that happy pun).

The egnorance continues:

The origin of the genetic code belies random causation. All codes with which we have experience arise from intelligent agency.

Wrong.  Intelligent Designer proponents  have been abusing information theory for over a decade now – another discipline that they do not make sufficient efforts to understand. The genetic code is not random – it the the product of very non-random selection. That is the whole point of evolution – incremental increases in information can be retained by selection, and therefore information and complexity can slowly increase over evolutionary time.

Egnor is also committing a logical fallacy – his statement is a non sequitur. His unstated major premise is that no system can be unique or without precedence. Well, life is the most complex thing in nature. It stands to reason that it will display properties of complexity that do not have examples outside of life. Yet, Egnor treats his statement as if it proves the genetic code could not have evolved. It’s absurd.

There is evidence for variation, selection, gene duplication, redundancy, vestigial genes, and homology – all the pieces are in place. Further, the pattern of variation that we see in the genetic code of life is so overwhelmingly consistent with common descent that there is simply no other plausible explanation – short of just saying that God or ID miracled it into existence and maliciously made the genetic code look exactly as if it evolved. (Here is a good overview.)

He continues:

Intricate biomolecules such as enzymes are so functionally complex that it’s difficult to see how they could arise by random mutations.

Ah – the argument from personal incredulity.  Egnor would limit science to his own feeble and biased imagination. Further, this is a false premise – they did not arise by random mutation. They arose by varation from mutations and recombination combined with natural selection. You need to keep the selection bit in place.

And it is not difficult for me to imagine it at all – I guess I remember more of my biochemistry from med school than Egnor. Organic reactions can take place without enzymes – just slowly. Enzymes, which are proteins that catalyze organic reactions, make these reactions go faster. But they do not have to be “perfect” or necessarily complex to have some activity. A protein that makes a reaction go a little faster by chance could still provide a selective advantage. Over millions of years, variation and selection can slowly modify the protein so that it is a better and better enzyme. This is actually an excellent system for gradual change over time. This change may also be punctuated by mutations that happen to provide a significant advantage.

I would further add that gene duplication allows for redundant enzymes, so that one is free to drift in random directions while the other copy continues its original function. This allows for tremendous molecular evolutionary experimentation.

Egnor has more questions:

Why, when the genetic code was unraveled, didn’t scientists question Darwin’s assumption of randomness? Why didn’t Darwinists ask the difficult questions that are posed for their theory by the astonishing complexity of intracellular molecular machinery? Why do Darwinists claim that intelligent design is untestable, and simultaneously claim that it is wrong?

Wrong and wrong. Scientists did question Darwin’s assumptions when genetics were discovered.  Mutations seemed decidedly not gradual. Natural selection was questioned also. Its just that over the first 30-40 years of the 20th century these questions were carefully worked out – the difficult questions were asked and answered, and some continue to be. The result was the modern synthesis of evolutionary theory. Egnor and his cronies just didn’t like the answers to which the evidence lead the scientific community. Sore losers.

Further, Egnor keeps referring to randomness. But evolution is not random in that natural selection is the non-random survival of individuals who have some advantage.

And finally, scientists do not state that ID is wrong. We state that it is not even wrong – it is simply not asking a teastable scientific question. I discuss in detail here why ID is not science. This distinction is perhaps too subtle for Egnor. To further demonstrate his lack of understanding, he continues:

Why do Darwinists claim that intelligent design theory isn’t scientific, when both intelligent design and Darwinism are merely the affirmative and negative answers to the same scientific question: Is there evidence for teleology in biology?

Because asking a question is not sufficient to be considered a science. I can ask, “Does God exist?” That does not make it a scientific question.  You have to be able to say – if ID exists in biology, then what would we expect to find in nature? ID proponents refuse to make such predictive statements. Rather, they try to get away with saying what we will not find in nature (that’s the whole point of irreducible complexity), namely an evolutionary explanation for every jot and tittle of life, down to the last protein. But the failure to find evidence for a competing explanation does not render your theory scientific or testable. What ID proponents want is to set up a goal-post for evolution so that they can forever nudge it back, and then invoke a false dichotomy to declare ID the winner by default.

This concatenation of logical fallacies is not science. Egnor needs to answer this – what would ID look like in nature, stated in an operational and testable format. This cannot just be – “well, duh, it sure looks designed to me.”   The scientific community is still waiting. Give us something testable that could prove ID wrong. Evolution has survived many such challenges.

As you can see, Egnor has mastered the Gish Gallop by which he can generate misconceptions in far fewer keystrokes than it would take me to correct (even with linking to other extensive posts for backup).  So I will finish with just one more:

Why do Darwinists–scientists–seek recourse in federal courts to silence criticism of their theory in public schools? What is it about the Darwinian understanding of biological origins that is so fragile that it will not withstand scrutiny by schoolchildren?

It really is pathetic that the IDers are trying to goad us this way. Why don’t they just point at scientists and say, “chicken” while making clucking noises. Maybe that will work.

The science of evolution is rock solid. It has withstood tough scientific challenge – the scrutiny that counts.  The issue is not about wanting to shield a theory from criticism or close examination, but the quality of science education. ID is simply not science. It is chock full of misinformation and logical fallacies. It makes a good example of pseudoscience at an appropriately advanced level of study – college, say. But it is not appropriate for highschool science classrooms, and is never appropriate to be presented as if it were legitimate science. The fact that we don’t teach astrology in science classroom does not mean that we feel modern astronomy is fragile. Nor does the plate tectonic theory have anything to fear from the hollow-earthers.

Egnor’s recycled creationist arguments have all been demolished many times over in the past, and we will have to do it again in the future. The argument doesn’t change because Egnor and his ilk are not interested in genuine intellectual discourse. Rather they are just trying to provide cover for believers – for those who wish to impose their personal religious beliefs onto science education.

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60 responses so far

60 Responses to “Egnor in Forbes on Evolution”

  1. azinykon 06 Feb 2009 at 12:50 pm

    “Egnor continues:

    ‘Darwin’s theory offers no coherent, evidence-based explanation for the evolution of even a single molecular pathway from primordial components.’

    Wrong.”

    I think Egnor is actually right here, because of the weasely, almost Ray Comfort-esque way he’s phrased his claim so that he can’t possibly lose. What he’s saying is that we aren’t absolutely certain how a complicated, 30-step biological process evolved out of water, carbon dioxide, methane, and so on. That’s true; we’re still speculating about different possibilities for the origin of life, and we don’t know exactly what course the molecules took over a 3 or 4-billion-year span. But that’s a ridiculous standard of evidence. As you pointed out, Steve, we actually know a tremendous amount about the evolution of these molecular pathways, and Egnor is disingenuous to imply that until we know everything, we don’t know anything. There’s also no reason to think that since mainstream biology is incomplete, that ID is just as valid.

    You don’t need to know the whole genome of smallpox to know that germs cause disease.

  2. superdaveon 06 Feb 2009 at 12:50 pm

    This entry perfectly demonstrates the multiplicative property of disproving logical fallacies. Every word in a fallacious statement seems to require at least ten more to explain the truth.

  3. mannik5000on 06 Feb 2009 at 1:02 pm

    “What he’s saying is that we aren’t absolutely certain how a complicated, 30-step biological process evolved out of water, carbon dioxide, methane, and so on.”

    But evolution isn’t supposed to cover abiogenesis, it deals with the heredity of life once it already going.

  4. moneduloideson 06 Feb 2009 at 1:51 pm

    The more I read of Egnor, the more I begin to warm up to the guy. It takes a certain amount of intelligence to identify which fallacy-ridden statements will function well as propaganda for the ID machine.

    It’s kinda endearing…

  5. Steven Novellaon 06 Feb 2009 at 2:02 pm

    azinyk – I have to disagree. Egnor was not as careful in his phrasing as you imply.

    “no coherent, evidence-based explanation”

    is not the same thing as

    “absolutely certain”

    Science is never absolutely certain. But evolution does provide a coherent testable explanation that is supported by existing evidence. It also falls far short of a complete explanation, but that’s not what he said.

    That is the bait and switch, however, as you pointed out. Another unstated major premise they use is that lack of 100% complete information = no information. That irreducible complexity in a nutshell – until evolution explains everything to arbitrary detail, it has proved nothing and ID wins by default.

  6. jonny_ehon 06 Feb 2009 at 3:09 pm

    I’m rather curious why a fool like Egnor gets published in a major magazine about a topic he knows nothing about, without a counter point by someone who does. Seems pretty unprofessional on Forbes’ part!

  7. Enzoon 06 Feb 2009 at 3:22 pm

    The tragedy here is that critique and input of this quality will never be seen by Mr. Egnor’s target audience. I can’t stand that a reader of the article may be swayed by what may seem to be a perfectly informed comment on evolution. Using buzz phrases like “biomolecules” and “intramolecular molecular machinery” can go a long way to establish false credibility. It’s obnoxious.

    Scientists have the responsibility to be careful with what they say in public forums. Even if Mr. Egnor believes his own views, he has the responsibility to research the facts and cite them to support his opinion.

    It’s almost too bad that any peer reviewed journal won’t accept this nonsense into publication. Instead, it is intentionally spread into the public eye by a publication that will publish opinion under the guise of informed scientific knowledge.

    You supposedly have training, DOCTOR Egnor… Pick on someone your own size.

  8. DevilsAdvocateon 06 Feb 2009 at 3:41 pm

    In the first paragraph of the Forbes.com article (link early on in Dr. N’s above blog entry) Egnor briefly describes himself – neurosurgery prof, medical scientist, former biochem undergrad, etc. He paints a favorable picture of himself, that of being a scientist and educator. He soon goes on to report feeling uneasy early on with evolution as an explanation of speciation. Suspiciously missing is any reference to his religious beliefs then or now. He wants readers to believe his uneasiness with evolutionary theory, later to evolve into outright dismissal (pun intended), originates from the science and medicine part of his being. This strikes me as deceitful and depicts a man unable to publicly own his religious faith.

    I’m not enough of an optimist to hope he’d also be able to see how his religious beliefs have affected his grasp of science (or what might be better termed his gasp of science).

    Why a business journal? For Egnor, why not? It’s just another place to install some ID propaganda. For the business journal’s part (Forbes.com), while it’s not business-related, it’s an obvious controversy generator, which means it’s a ‘hit’ generator, and in turn, a revenue generator, so yeah, in a way it is connected to business.

  9. pecon 06 Feb 2009 at 4:11 pm

    “There is evidence for variation, selection, gene duplication, redundancy, vestigial genes, and homology – all the pieces are in place. Further, the pattern of variation that we see in the genetic code of life is so overwhelmingly consistent with common descent that there is simply no other plausible explanation”

    Egnor is questioning Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection; he is not questioning common descent, as you must be aware.

    And ID does not question “variation, selection, gene duplication, redundancy, vestigial genes, and homology.”

    No one is seriously questioning evolution theory. The really serious and important question is whether undirected variations, acted on by natural selection, can entirely explain the evolution of all species.

    When scientists question whether variations are undirected, you accuse them of doubting evolution, or natural selection, or common descent.

    Talk about logical fallacies!

  10. DevilsAdvocateon 06 Feb 2009 at 5:05 pm

    One thing’s for certain – trolls do not evolve.

  11. Karl Withakayon 06 Feb 2009 at 5:16 pm

    pec, usually anytime an ID’er mentions gaps in the fossil record, they ARE arguing against evolution and common descent, intelligently guided or not.

  12. Karl Withakayon 06 Feb 2009 at 5:55 pm

    I’ve thought for a long time now, that if the universe was created by a god, he was certainly a sneaky SOB to have gone to so much effort to not only hide evidence of his existence, but to actually create so much (false/misleading) evidence supporting his non-existence or non-involvement in the workings of the universe.

    The large amount of garbage code in the human genome seems to support a lack of intelligent design. You don’t see too many computer programs with large amounts of useless, meaningless garbage code, at least not from halfway decent programmers.

    Maybe the garbage code is added to make the code harder to crack like they did in WWII, the world wonders.

  13. Karl Withakayon 06 Feb 2009 at 6:28 pm

    Also, sometimes I wonder what the point is in investing so much effort into pushing ID.

    If ID were somehow proven to be true, at best, it wouldn’t correlate with the belief in a specific god, such as the Christian God. It wouldn’t really support anything beyond some kind of non-specific intelligent designer, unless you found the words, “Jesus was here” coded in the DNA of some naturally occurring species.

  14. Jim Shaveron 06 Feb 2009 at 7:02 pm

    I love the smell of burnt pseudoscientist in the afternoon.

    Awesome job, Dr. Novella!

    I was going to mention a misspelled word in

    We state that it is not even wrong – it is simply not asking a teastable scientific question.

    but I’m in such a good mood after reading your post that I think I’ll just skip the proofreading (although “science classroom” in your penultimate paragraph should probably be plural). :D

    Karl Withakay:

    …unless you found the words, “Jesus was here” coded in the DNA…

    Not so fast, K. It’s there. Oh, it’s there alright. All one need do is find a good (divinely inspired?) transcode, which isn’t so hard with the right software. Haven’t you heard of Bible codes? ;)

  15. Jivlainon 06 Feb 2009 at 9:10 pm

    Of course, none of the creationists in the Forbes article gave any indication that they were aware of any research that had been done into evolution since Darwin, with one exception (Wallace).

  16. pecon 06 Feb 2009 at 9:20 pm

    “The large amount of garbage code in the human genome seems to support a lack of intelligent design.”

    Any code that researchers could not understand has been called “garbage.” It simply means they don’t know what it’s for, not that they know it has no use. Increasingly, “garbage” DNA is found to have functions.

    The idea that DNA contains “junk,” as well as the idea that organisms are poorly designed, are common anti-ID arguments. But the more scientists learn about DNA, and about life in general, the more amazingly complex, and ingeniously designed, it appears.

  17. DevilsAdvocateon 06 Feb 2009 at 9:22 pm

    Ah, appears to whom?

  18. HHCon 06 Feb 2009 at 11:16 pm

    Dr. Egnor’s article is a commentary, which he most likely sent to Forbes.com to get free promotion for the institute and his religious crusade against Darwinism. Sorry, its just not the same as a Forbes interview. My husband was interviewed about telecommunications approximately ten years ago. The female journalist contacted him about the acquisition of a cable company by a telephone company. He was interviewed by the journalist and a telecommunications article on Forbes.com was written.

  19. Nitpickingon 07 Feb 2009 at 9:03 am

    I think Egnor is engaging in some very dishonest wordplay to give a false impression. Specifically, he’s equating Dr. Novella’s (and my, and any honest person’s) position that teaching ID as science is wrong, with the assertion that ID is factually wrong.

    Similar wording, quite different meaning, unless a Creationist (=”liar”) gets into the subject.

  20. dcardanion 07 Feb 2009 at 5:13 pm

    Why is Forbes publishing anything about evolution? Isn’t Forbes supposed to be a business magazine?

  21. JohnFroston 07 Feb 2009 at 5:29 pm

    “DiscoTute”

    I’ve never heard it called that before. Brilliant ^_^ I’m sooo using this from now on.

  22. pecon 07 Feb 2009 at 7:28 pm

    Yes DevilsAdvocate, it’s true that contemporary materialists fail to see, or somehow deny, the amazing inventiveness and complexity of nature. Very sad.

  23. tmac57on 07 Feb 2009 at 8:06 pm

    While I freely admit that I am no scientist or expert in any of these matters, the one question that always occurs to me is, if life is so complex that it can only be attributable to some omnipotent creator , then isn’t that creator also in need of an even greater creator and so forth? If not then that creator is an apriori being, and that is no more easy to logically reconcile than any Id or creationist objection to any perceived weaknesses in evolution.
    Also, I would like anyone who is questioning that mere chance could play any part in the unlikely event of life forming in the universe try this thought experiment: Suppose that there was some cosmological lottery where the chance of any sentient being in existence was assigned a number that if drawn would be the odds of 1 in however many atoms exist in the universe (whatever that is). Now suppose that your number is drawn on the 1st drawing! Wow it was a miracle,right? No, it was extremely unlikely, but to the person that it happens to (earth) it is a fact. Sooner or later given the right conditions , “unlikely” things will happen.

  24. DevilsAdvocateon 07 Feb 2009 at 9:12 pm

    Forgive us, Pec, for not being able to see as far as you. You are kind to endure us.

  25. CKavaon 07 Feb 2009 at 9:13 pm

    “Yes DevilsAdvocate, it’s true that contemporary materialists fail to see, or somehow deny, the amazing inventiveness and complexity of nature. Very sad.”

    That’s one for the pec scrapbook. File under ‘incredible unintentional irony’.

  26. wertyson 08 Feb 2009 at 5:30 am

    If pec feels sad we must be onto something….

  27. PaulGon 08 Feb 2009 at 6:12 am

    When I think of pec (rarely) I’m reminded of “Bullseye”, Bill Sykes’ dog in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. He’s always there, causes trouble and usually gets kicked about a fair bit.

    But he always comes back for more.

  28. Dave S.on 08 Feb 2009 at 9:30 am

    Yes DevilsAdvocate, it’s true that contemporary materialists fail to see, or somehow deny, the amazing inventiveness and complexity of nature. Very sad.

    Yes, it is very sad. Especially when virtually all the complexity discovered in cells was discovered by materialist scientists using materialist methods. The non-materialists have contributed next to nothing. I would say nothing period, but let`s be generous. Certainly the modern non-materialists have contributed nothing whatsoever.

    And isn`t your problem that such scientists DO attribute this complexity to the inventiveness of Nature?

  29. pecon 08 Feb 2009 at 10:28 am

    You are assuming that all scientists are materialists, just because you are.

  30. tmac57on 08 Feb 2009 at 12:15 pm

    Pec, exactly what does a non-materialist believe or know that a materialist does not ?

  31. pecon 08 Feb 2009 at 3:01 pm

    “exactly what does a non-materialist believe or know that a materialist does not ?”

    A non-materialist knows that human beings know very little of all there is to know. A non-materialist knows that the “material” world is not made out of “matter,” and that the ultimate foundation of reality is beyond our comprehension. A non-materialist can be as scientific and rational as any materialist — there is nothing in the scientific method that dictates a materialist ideology.

  32. tmac57on 08 Feb 2009 at 4:55 pm

    So Pec,
    If “A non-materialist knows that human beings know very little of all there is to know.”, then how do you know “that the “material” world is not made out of “matter,”and that the ultimate foundation of reality is beyond our comprehension” or that “A non-materialist can be as scientific and rational as any materialist — there is nothing in the scientific method that dictates a materialist ideology.”
    You appear to be very certain of what you seem to be characterizing as an almost unknowable “reality”.

  33. Thenewyorkdolleyon 08 Feb 2009 at 5:04 pm

    I think the most ardent ‘materialists’ will claim that we know very little of that which is knowable. This is a silly game of ‘I know you are but what am I?’ on the part of everyone’s favorite troll.

  34. daedalus2uon 08 Feb 2009 at 5:48 pm

    The materialist makes no claim as to what the fundamental foundation of reality is/is not, and whether it is/is not knowable.

    The non-materialist “knows” that the fundamental foundation of reality is unknowable.

    How does the non-materialist “know” this?

    Via means that are unknowable.

    How does the non-materialist know that this is correct?

    Via means that are unknowable.

  35. pecon 08 Feb 2009 at 7:37 pm

    “The materialist makes no claim as to what the fundamental foundation of reality is/is not, and whether it is/is not knowable.”

    Then what is a materialist? If you believe all of reality is material, what could that possibly mean? Given matrix theory, etc., who what knowledgeable scientist would claim to be a materialist? Of course you can say no you’re really a naturalist. But that doesn’t help, because obviously all of nature is nature.

    Dr. N and most of you at this blog deny the possible existence of life energy, without having any scientific reason, because you are materialists (or naturalists).

    So materialists, it seems, do make claims about the nature of nature and the foundations of reality. They claim that only certain types of energies and fields can possibly exist, and other types cannot.

    You accept the reality of fields that organize the structure of matter on the level of physics, but you will not consider the possible existence of fields that organize matter on the level of biology.

    Why?? Why not?? Your system appears to be closed, rather than open-ended and scientific.

  36. daedalus2uon 08 Feb 2009 at 8:33 pm

    pec, we would accept such fields in biology if there was evidence for them.

    There is abundant evidence for fields in physics.

    The only known or observed fields in biology are exactly the same fields that are known and observed in physics, and in biology those fields have exactly the same properties that they have in physics.

    If fields had effects in biology, they would be observable with physics. Fields that are not observable with physics have had no measured or detected effects in biology.

  37. sonicon 08 Feb 2009 at 10:03 pm

    This blog entry is below the usual standards of logic and argumentation usually displayed by Dr. N. The problems are numerous- I’ll cover a couple of the most glaring examples

    Egnor titles his article
    “Why I don’t believe in atheism’s creation myth.”
    He then goes on to describe that myth as
    “All biology could be explained by random variation and natural selection.”
    The atheist Darwinists who he seems to be talking about are Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins, as this is the way they describe evolution and they are the atheists who most readily admit to it.

    You attack him for not going into ‘punctuated equilibrium’
    Non sequitur as this is not a part of what he is talking about
    (See Dennett’s “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” re: Gould)

    Egnor states, “The origin of the genetic code belies random causation. All codes with which we have experience arise from intelligent agency.”
    You then agree with this statement by saying that this is a misstatement of evolutionary theory. You then fail to give a meaningful counter-example to the main point- that “All codes with which we have experience arise from intelligent agency.”
    Another point where you claim to be in disagreement, but where you actually agree—
    “Further, the pattern of variation that we see in the genetic code of life is so overwhelmingly consistent with common descent that there is simply no other plausible explanation – short of just saying that God or ID miracled it into existence and maliciously made the genetic code look exactly as if it evolved”
    God would be the common ancestor and the cause of common descent if God miracled it into existence. So you are attacking him on a point that you agree with him on- there is a common ancestor.

    Egnor says-
    “Intricate biomolecules such as enzymes are so functionally complex that it’s difficult to see how they could arise by random mutations”

    This is an argument from plausibility. It is not plausible to Egnor. This is a common thing for scientist to say. “Personal incredulity” refers to a person not believing that God would create what we find as much as it refers to anything else. One could easily argue that Darwinism is nothing more than an argument from ‘personal incredulity’.

    You seem to think ID does make testable, falsifiable predictions- and it does. You then say it does not. But what was all the stuff about ‘irreducible complexity’ you had earlier in this very blog entry? (the argument between Miller and Behe is on going and hardly decided in favor of Miller)
    So it seems you have some basic agreement with Egnor here- that ID has produced testable statements, but then you seem to disagree with yourself about that. Confusing.

    Mainly Egnor is describing why he does not believe a certain statement of evolutionary theory- a statement that he makes clearly. There is nothing in this blog entry that speaks to his main statement (other than to falsely claim that it is not relevant)

  38. weingon 08 Feb 2009 at 10:52 pm

    “All codes with which we have experience arise from intelligent agency.”

    That is not true as the genetic code does not require an intelligent agency. A simple example would be random mutations that make bacteria resistant to antibiotics in their environment allowing only the bacteria that have the mutations to be selected for survival. No intelligence required, simply survival.

  39. weingon 08 Feb 2009 at 10:57 pm

    I must have missed something. What falsifiable predictions does ID make?

  40. RickKon 09 Feb 2009 at 12:01 am

    Pec, please stop.

    Stop with the non-material argument. Stop with the “everybody denies life energy because we’re all close minded materialists.”

    You’re just playing word games, and I’m so tired of these meaningless arguments.

    If there is a life force or a supernatural entity or a divine designer, and they never have any influence on the natural world, then THEY DON’T MATTER.

    If they have influence on the natural world, then show us the evidence, the test, the experiment, SOMETHING that shows they matter.

    “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” Thank you Mr. Hitchens for that.

    Every supposedly closed, materialist mind reading this blog will change IN A SECOND if real evidence of some new life energy is found, if an example of divine design is captured in a lab, or if some other material manifestation of the non-material is observed. But until then, stop arguing against people who assume natural effects have natural causes. They base that assumption on the fact that to date there have been BILLIONS of test cases where it’s been true and ZERO where it hasn’t.

  41. daedalus2uon 09 Feb 2009 at 12:09 am

    The falsifiable prediction that ID makes is that the theory of evolution will not explain everything about biological life on Earth, from its origins, to the life history of each and every organism that ever lived, to each extant organism that is alive today in complete detail.

    The essence of the prediction is that there will always be gaps in the picture of life on Earth that the theory of evolution puts together.

    That prediction will only be falsified when the theory of evolution does do those things and there are no gaps left at all.

  42. RickKon 09 Feb 2009 at 12:44 am

    daedalus2u

    So in other words, we can make God so small as to fit into any gap. Is that right?

    I’m reminded of Sagan:
    “In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed!”? Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.”

  43. weingon 09 Feb 2009 at 1:11 am

    daedalus2u,
    Since there will always be gaps in our knowledge in the theory of evolution, doesn’t that make ID unfalsifiable?

  44. artfulDon 09 Feb 2009 at 1:55 am

    Excuse me for interrupting, but a prediction that something won’t ever happen does not exactly fall in the falsifiable category.

    It’s similar to a prediction that the erstwhile supernatural will someday reveal itself as just plain old natural.

  45. CKavaon 09 Feb 2009 at 6:25 am

    Sonic> I completely disagree with your analysis. The points where you contend that Dr. Egnor and Dr. Novella agree actually seem like substantial differences.

    For instance, believing in a creator is not at all like believeing in a common ancestor. It’s an entirely different concept. Being created by a God is not the same thing as evolving from a common ancestor regardless of how you try to spin it.

    You’re other points I also find extremely underwhelming. Egnor is also not just attacking Dawkin’s and Dennet’s perspective on evolution… he is attacking evolution full stop. Are you aware of Egnor’s other writings? If so it’s really hard to see how you could make the arguments you do.

  46. Steven Novellaon 09 Feb 2009 at 8:58 am

    Sonic – I found it very difficult to follow your arguments. They are so completely without logic.

    Your write :”You attack him for not going into ‘punctuated equilibrium’ Non sequitur as this is not a part of what he is talking about (See Dennett’s “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” re: Gould)”

    How is this a non sequitur? I was specifically responding to Egnor’s point that there is sharp discontinuity in the fossil record. The quote is right there – how can you say this is not what he is talking about.

    On the points where I appear to agree with Egnor and do not give a counter example – that is because I am not attacking the premise, but the logic. I am saying his logic is flawed. You are saying, Aha – so you agree with his premise. Monstrous non sequitur on your part.

    Regarding personal incredulity vs plausibility – this is admittedly a fuzzy line, but it is not as sharp as you are pretending either. Egnor gives no reasons why a certain amount of complexity could not arise from variation and selection. He does not make a plausibility argument – it’s not plausible based upon what? He simply says that is does not seem possible to him – that personal incredulity. Egnor is concluding that evolution is impossible, and all he offers is that it does not “seem” possible.

    Legitimate plausibility arguments need to be based upon something solid. He has nothing.

    ID not does make testable predictions. If you think it does, name one. And I never implied that it did. Shooting down bad logic does not render an idea scientifically falsifiable.

    IC is a good example. Behe’s examples were demolished by Miller (yes, that debate is won), but Luskiin (if you read the links) just moves the goalpost further. Well, he argues, we need even more detail. It’s endless, hence not falsifiable. And in any case, IC is about evolution – not design. It is based upon the false dichotomy that if you can disprove evolution, ID wins by default. Again, bad logic.

  47. daedalus2uon 09 Feb 2009 at 9:52 am

    Rickk, exactly. Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.”

    They want/need a God that can be used as a tool to manipulate themselves and other humans. A little god serves that purpose better.

  48. tmac57on 09 Feb 2009 at 11:16 am

    daedalus2u, I agree that some believers “want/need a God that can be used as a tool to manipulate themselves and other humans. “, but my guess is that most just accept whatever they were taught from the beginning, without much deeper reflection. Outside of religious scholars and activists, the believers that I have observed, know almost nothing of the arguments that scientists ,skeptics, secularists etc. make against a “creator”. They have little motivation to explore the question, and are probably afraid that if they did start asking questions, they would be condemned by their family friends and community. In some parts of the world they could be killed for any such “heresy”. So it’s no wonder that it’s such a slog to try and advance public thinking to try to catch up to what the rest of us can see so clearly .

  49. azinykon 09 Feb 2009 at 12:48 pm

    Steve Novella wrote:
    “azinyk – I have to disagree. Egnor was not as careful in his phrasing as you imply.”

    Maybe “careful” is the wrong word, but I do think he has – or believes he has – an airtight argument. For instance, “from primordial components” means “from simple non-living molecules”. Sure, you and I know that abiogenesis isn’t a part of evolution, but it is for Egnor. In creationist terminology, “evolution” doesn’t mean “changes in gene frequency over time” or “common ancestry and modification driven by natural selection”. Creationists use the term evolution to refer to the entire scientific alternative to creation, including the origin of life, the origin of the universe, the nature of the mind, and so on. By expanding the problem like that, he makes it a lot more difficult to defend evolution. When debating against a biologist, he can throw in some irrelevant chemistry question, and his Christian followers will think he scored a big hit.

    “Evidence based”, in Egnor’s mind, means the same thing as Ken Ham’s “Were you there?”. Egnor’s standard of evidence excludes pretty much all the molecular data we have, because he rejects some reasonable assumptions as wildly speculative. You’d probably need a time machine to get good enough evidence to satisfy him, and maybe not even that would enough. That’s what I meant when I said he’s set the situation up so he can’t possibly lose.

  50. stompsfrogson 09 Feb 2009 at 2:04 pm

    “First, I must point out that Egnor insists on referring to evolutionary theory as “Darwinism.” As many others have pointed out before, this is a propaganda tactic to attempt to diminish evolutionary theory to the quaint ideas of one guy.”

    There should be a name for that. It’s too common not to have a snappy term…

    The jerks @ wattsupwiththat kept asking me about Al Gore and I was all like, STFU I don’t care about that guy. (I’m not as eloquent as the good doctor.)

  51. Dave S.on 09 Feb 2009 at 3:39 pm

    pec writes:

    You are assuming that all scientists are materialists, just because you are.

    Great, show me wrong. Tell us about the discoveries of new complexities of the cell that have been uncovered by scientists working with non-material methodologies. Be sure to post your references so we can see for ourselves how this non-material science works.

  52. RickKon 09 Feb 2009 at 4:50 pm

    Azinyk wrote: “Sure, you and I know that abiogenesis isn’t a part of evolution, but it is for Egnor.”

    But we should not allow creationists to do this. It’s like someone saying all of chemistry is invalid because it doesn’t explain where the elements come from. It’s a tactic, and we should call them out on it every single time.

    And Egnor is using his degree, blatantly in the title of his sad little article, to convey some legitimacy, to convey that he understands the scientific method. Of course, the text of the article demonstrates to the educated that he has exactly zero understanding of what science really is.

    Or, he’s just doing some extreme lying like some reality show contestant in an attempt promote his name, thinking any publicity is good publicity.

  53. sonicon 10 Feb 2009 at 2:54 am

    This one seems messy compared to some—
    Egnor very specifically states-
    “All biology could be explained by random variation and natural selection.”
    That is the notion he is questioning. Does ‘punctuated equalibrium’ fit in that description. I think not. Therefore attacking Egnor for not mentioning it is a non sequitur. Egnor has defined his terms.

    Many evolutionists think ‘punctuated equilibrium’ is hokum, btw- for a more modern approach-
    http://www.biology-direct.com/content/2/1/21

    How can you say that ID makes no testable predictions and then give the example of IC in the very next paragraph? Isn’t IC a prediction of ID? If not, then how would IC be accomplished?
    (Again the ‘destroyed argument isn’t what Miller claims it is- but that is a different topic)

    The use of the term ‘Darwinist’-as “I am a Darwinist.” would fit with Dennett and Dawkins nicely.
    Hasn’t anyone here read “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea”?

    I agree that ‘plausability v incredulity’ is a fuzzy line. When someone says a lichen ‘evolved’ into an elephant- I could say “Good, would you demonstrate that please”
    I say no more on that.

    As an interesting note- mutation is not random. Look up the term ‘mutation SOS response’ or go to
    http://www.pnas.org/content/97/12/6646.abstract

  54. weingon 10 Feb 2009 at 10:11 am

    Just because adaptive mutation evolved via mutations in regulatory genes with survival advantages in the face of starvation in some bacteria does not mean that random mutations do not continue to occur.

  55. Watcheron 10 Feb 2009 at 12:03 pm

    Also, pointing to one study that says that E. coli has the ability to ramp up it’s mutation rate doesn’t mean random mutation occurs. I’m pretty sure you’re skewing the topic matter to fit your own argument, and not reporting what was originally proposed by the researchers in the study. In my understanding, this study shows that E. coli has the ability to increase it’s random mutation rate through the up-regulation of certain proofreading proteins, enzymes, recombination, etc. Those random mutations lead to dead ends, but hopefully one will be better suited than the rest, and able to survive.

  56. RickKon 10 Feb 2009 at 4:54 pm

    sonic said: “How can you say that ID makes no testable predictions and then give the example of IC in the very next paragraph? Isn’t IC a prediction of ID? If not, then how would IC be accomplished?”

    All right, how do you predict irreducible complexity (IC)? Where will it appear? How often will it appear? What constitutes irreducible complexity? If a biological pathway is found to create something you call irreducibly complex, does that invalidate all examples of IC? Or can intelligent design proponents just run along pointing at feature after feature saying “oh yeah!?, but can you explain THAT!?”.

    The burden of proof is on ID. We’ve observed evolution. We’ve got an increasingly continuous record of evidence to support (sometimes gradual, sometimes rapid) NATURAL evolution from static species to static species. We’re adding daily to our understanding of the mechanisms of early replication, natural mutation (and other vectors for variation) and selection. We’ve observed in nature and demonstrated in labs the awesome power of the of combination of genetic mutation and natural selection when a population is small and/or under stress. All the building blocks are there, formed into a foundation for an increasingly robust theory. It’s so good a theory that we can point to a gap in the fossil record of species and say “we know this should have existed, we know when it should have existed, and we know where. Now let’s go dig one up.” And it WORKS!

    So the burden is with ID to present the components of a proper theory:

    - What is the mechanism? How does flesh go from “un-designed” to “designed”?
    - Where is the documentation of “design” occurring? Where are the observations?
    - How does ID fit with our other sciences? How does it mesh with paleontology, geology, physics, chemistry, etc.?
    - What can you predict with ID? For example, do you predict that a particular irreducibly complex feature must have existed in a “reducibly” complex form earlier in that creature’s evolution?

    Anyone can get into the science game, all you need is the ante. If you’ve got a good enough hypothesis to get a seat at the table, (and you can survive the inevitable trash-talk from the other players) you can play too.

    Ante up.

  57. sonicon 11 Feb 2009 at 7:31 pm

    weing-watcher
    OK. Not all mutation appears to be random (in that it can occur more often and for a specific result under certain circumstances)
    I gave you the reference!!

    RickK-
    It is not my job to produce scientific hypothesis for theories I do not fully understand or agree with (necessarily).
    I made the point that if IC is part of ID, then it is a testable hypothesis.
    “We will find a transitional form,” is a testable, but not falsifiable hypothesis. (How many years are we going to wait)

    If I told you I was going to build a staicase to the moon, you might question it. I could point out that I have an algorithm and time.

    I find the ‘unquestionable’ science absurd.
    What questions do you have about evolution?

  58. vigieron 12 Feb 2009 at 9:09 pm

    Well, as usual, the dear Dr. has it wrong.

    “As many others have pointed out before, this is a propaganda tactic to attempt to diminish evolutionary theory to the quaint ideas of one guy. It is also misleading, for the modern synthesis of evolutionary theory differs in significant ways from strict Darwinian theory.”

    Curiously, we find the use of the word Darwinism and Darwinist throughout the Darwinist literature.

    The AAAS’s own journal, Science, commonly uses the term “Darwinism” to describe modern evolutionary biology.

    I just did a search of http://www.sciencemag.org on ‘Darwinism’ – the term shows a mere 741 times in the magazine! – and it’s die-hard pro-Darwinism magazine. 114 hits on ‘darwinist’.

    So this bitchy little nonsense over use of a term is indeed lame.

    Scientists use the term in their popular writings. Richard Dawkins writes that “There are people in this world who desperately want to not have to believe in Darwinism.” (The Blind Watchmaker, W.W. Norton, 1996, pg. 250) The term “Darwinism” has over 20 entries in the index to Stephen Jay Gould’s magnum opus, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory.

    So talk about nit-picking and utter nonsense. As always from the man who ‘thinks’ he is nothing but a pack of neurons, a bag of animated meat – yet wants to convince the world that a bag of meat has something meaningful to say!

    Sorry logic on Novella’s part indeed.

    Yet the man persists :

    “The science of evolution is rock solid. It has withstood tough scientific challenge – the scrutiny that counts. The issue is not about wanting to shield a theory from criticism or close examination, but the quality of science education. ID is simply not science. It is chock full of misinformation and logical fallacies.”

    Rock solid? Well it depends on which definition of evo you’re using of course. As macro-evolution is without the slightest grain of evidence beyond every Darwinian fundamentalist scientist preaching that there are “mountains” of it – yet never being able to produce it – and the ubiquitous just-so story Mr. Novella is so good at telling. Indeed all these Darwinians seem to think that some other scientists has the mountains of evidence since not one of them can produce even mole hill’s worth.

    Don’t believe me? Wel then where are the macro-evo lab experiments? Experiments showing macro-evo?
    Oh dear! There are none! Why? Because it takes gazillions of years so we have to illicitly extrapolate micro into macro and you must take it by blind faith thereon out. How convenient for the theory n’est-ce pas?

    ID is far more science than Darwinism ever will be.
    Indeed, this is even testified to by some prominent NDE supporting scientists.

    Just take the following example:

    “A scientific theory is an established and experimentally verified fact or collection of facts about the world. Unlike the everyday use of the word theory, it is not an unproved idea, or just some theoretical speculation. The latter meaning of a ‘theory’ in science is called a hypothesis.” – http://www.whatislife.com/glossary/t.htm

    compared to :

    “The history of organic life is undemonstrable; we cannot prove a whole lot in evolutionary biology, and our findings will always be hypothesis. There is one true evolutionary history of life, and whether we will actually ever know it is not likely. Most importantly, we have to think about questioning underlying assumptions, whether we are dealing with molecules or anything else.” Jeffrey H. Schwartz, Professor of Biological Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh, February 9, 2007

    Sorry but Mr. Novella’s fighting a losing battle and his own slew of perpetuated logical blunders and mis-information is not only not helping but is truly worthy of a “Darwin Award” of the year.

    Mr. N’s answers are incredibly off, for example –

    “Intelligent Designer proponents have been abusing information theory for over a decade now – another discipline that they do not make sufficient efforts to understand.”

    Exactly what do you know of information theory yourself, sir? By your responses I’d say nothing at all.

    Code implies intelligence intrinsically.

    There is no such thing as complex coded information processing without intelligence.

    Moreover, it isn’t going to happen soon or ever. Code by very definition implies symboloy and convention, syntax, and semantics (ever heard of semantic biology? didn’t think so) – which cannot exist without will and mind.

    Code even implies purpose.

    Given that the genetic code is not analogous to code but IS code (Yockey) and that it is the most concise, efficient, compressed code in the known universe, your statement rings vacuous – as most everything you have to spew out in favor of your gods “scientism” and “pleasure”.

    Do you actually know anything about the genetic code? Certainly isn’t showing here.

    Can you understand the very simple concept that error detection and correction mechanisms intrinsically mean foreknowledge of correct system state? It is impossible for error detection and correction to exist without knowledge and knowledge requires a mind. DNA contains all of this.

    Sheesh this isn’t even grade school hard!!

    As a professional informatics specialist I find your remarks exceedingly naive.

    You snot Egnor for his use of the word “random” – as though IDists coined the term in relation to mutations. If your knew anything at all about genetic entropy and mutational meltdown coupled with Kimura’s (and others) mutation/selection distribution graphs, you would also know that Darwinism is doomed due to what we now know about that alone.

    You might be a half-decent neurologist but your ignorance of coded information systems and information theory is appallingly evident throughout this blog.

    Shannon’s theory is insufficient for deciphering the genetic code the more recent algorithmic information theory is better adapted to genetic information since the genome contains millions of precise functional algorithms.

    Maybe you should go into politics – that’s where good liars, hand wavers and smoke and mirror specialists make the best money.

  59. artfulDon 12 Feb 2009 at 10:46 pm

    It’s a more likely assumption that “purpose” was simply an emergent property of the mechanical process of predicting future consequences that is the essential difference between inert entities and those we refer to as living. Life thrives through a calculative process that just as conceivably has created its own evolving codes as having had them created fot it.

  60. thetaon 14 Feb 2009 at 11:37 pm

    Two things

    1) Sonic I actually understand where you are coming from, but I think your desire to chastise Dr. Novella is distorting your thinking. He poisoned the well with the language he used to describe Egnor, “our favourite creationist” and his “cronies”, but I think that’s irrelevant to his main arguments. As Vigier also points out Novella’s critique of Egnor’s usage of the word Darwinist doesn’t hold; both populisers of evolution and intelligent design use the word (however it is interesting to note that Egnor uses the word evolutionary biologists to reffer to the scientists whereas he uses the word Darwinists to reffer to those he believes have an ideological position). The non-sequiters that you mention only exist in your narrow interpretation of Egnors article. I suggest you read it again.

    Egnor’s article is an attack on evolution; that he describes it as an atheists creation myth is an attempt to poison a well by associating with infamous celebrities like Dawkins. Nowhere does he state his article only deals with the celebrities espousing their view on evolution (although the view of evolution they hold [i]is[/i] that of the scientific consensus); in his personal testimony he mentions both evolutionary biologists and Darwinists as if the term were interchangable.

    Egnor presents the state of the fossil record as if it constitues evidence against evolution. Whether or not the theory of punctuated equillibrium is correct is still a genuine secondary scientific constroversy. If you interpret the article as specific attack against Dawkins, who does not accept punctuated equillibrium, then Novella’s point would indeed appear to be a non-sequitor. But Novella’s mistake is that of mislabelling what Dawkins reffers to as the concept of variable speedism. There are few evolutionary biologists do not accept this concept, the controversy lies in whether or not they accept discrete variable speedism (punctuated equilibrium) as opposed to continuously variable speedism (Dawkins position). Egnor and other ID proponents do fail to address the fact that evolutionary biologists do not think that species evolution at a consistent rate, and are attacking a strawman.

    I’ll it at that.

    2) Vigier,

    I must say your post made me smile. I’m not going to critique your arguments, nor is this meant as an ad-hominen attack or an appeal to emotion. It’s simply a comment.

    Do not present bullshit as if its science backed by evidence and is accepted by the scientific consensus. Don’t, seriously it’s not a good stratedgy. Curious people will be intrigued. Curious people will be excited. Curious people will enthusiastically do some more research. Curious people will realise your bullshit for what it is, but now interested will become well informed of how evolution really works, and what evidence it really has. Seriously don’t screw yourself over like that.

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