Feb 25 2009

Egnor Sinks to New Lows

This is low, even for Dr. Michael Egnor, who has been an active apologist for the nonsensical anti-evolution propaganda over at the Discovery Institute. Egnor cannot seem to resist when he thinks he has caught someone in an error, and so he throws whatever faint whisper of logic or scholarship he has overboard (hardly noticeable, really) and sinks to new lows of intellectual buffoonery.

In this case he is responding to my discussion of the evolutionary tree of life – the fact that the fossil record and genetic evidence support the conclusion that all life is related through a pattern of branching descent. He refers to my summary of the current consensus of scientific opinion as an “astonishing gaffe.”

Punctuated Equilibrium

Egnor is using an old creationist trick – the deliberate misinterpretation of legitimate scientific debate about the details of evolution as if it calls into question the fact of evolution itself. He writes:

The fossil record does not show a “clear pattern of branching descent in the fossil record”, even “to the degree that it is complete.” The fossil record shows punctuated equilibrium, which is stasis in a species for millions of years, then disappearance of the species. New species arise, discontinuous with old species. Even isolated ‘transitional’ forms are rare, and gradual transitions are virtually non-existent.

Here we see that Egnor does not understand even the most basic evolutionary concepts.  New species that arise in the fossil record are not “discontinuous with old species,” unless he means by that the simple fact that they are recognizably distinct species, which makes the statement rather pointless – new species are new species. New species, rather, are derived from older species – they are morphological variations on existing patterns.

For example, vertebrates first arise in the fossil record in the late Cambrian, about 500 million years ago. Later in the fossil record vertebrate fish with jaws appear. Later still land vertebrates appear, with features of one branch of fish. These early terrestrial vertebrates have some features that all later land vertebrates will share. However, within this group of land vertebrates sub-groups appear over time, each with their own set of features that all of their members will have.

This kind of analysis looks at homology – features that are shared because they derive from a common ancestor. Homology is distinguished from analogy – features that look similar because of common function, but are different in the details. Homologous traits, on the other hand, share details that cannot be explained by shared function. Looking at life from this perspective we see a clear pattern of branching descent that follows a temporal sequence compatible with evolution from common descent.

Egnor’s statement that the fossil record does not show branching descent because it shows punctuated equilibrium misunderstands both concepts, the one has nothing to do with the other. Punctuated equilibrium is about what happens between the branching points (speciation events), not about the branching itself. PE states that species will be largely stable, in equilibrium with their environment, for most of their time on earth, but this stasis will be punctuated by relatively rapid (geologically speaking – 5-50 thousand years) speciation events. Darwinian gradualism, on the other hands, states that species are gradually changing throughout their existence. Both views, however, incorporate branching speciation. Both views have the same evolutionary interpretation of the nestled hierarchy of life.

What we do not see in the fossil record, however, is true discontinuity – the type that Egnor is talking about which would call evolution into question. We do not see the appearance of species with radically different body plans, or impossible (evolutionarily) chimeras with homologous traits from distinct branches. Nothing that would falsify common descent. If Egnor believes such a creature exists he should name it and claim his Nobel prize.

The Tree of Life

Not content to butcher punctuated equilibrium and misinterpret the fossil evidence, Egnor next sets out to completely misrepresent a New Scientist article about the tree of life. He writes:

Furthermore, molecular genetics has refuted Darwin’s “Tree of Life”— as Dr. Novella characterizes it, the “clear pattern of branching descent”— unequivocally. The generally pro-Darwinism magazine New Scientist, in its recent cover story, “Why Darwin Was Wrong About the Tree of Life”, pointed out that scientists are abandoning the vertical Tree of Life. Molecular biology is showing deep inconsistencies in Darwinists’ simplistic understanding of similarities and differences in biological structure:

He then gives quotes selected to mislead his readers as to what the article actually says. For example, he give the follow excerpt:

…Many biologists now argue that the tree concept is obsolete and needs to be discarded. We have no evidence at all that the tree of life is a reality…[t]hat bombshell has even persuaded some that our fundamental view of biology needs to change…The tree of life is being politely buried, we all know that…What’s less accepted is that our whole fundamental view of biology needs to change. Biology is vastly more complex than we thought…and facing up to this complexity will be as scary as the conceptual upheavals physicists had to take on board in the early 20th century…

Beware when Egnor uses “…”  – that usually means he is taking quotes out of context and excluding information that would help the reader understand what is actually being written. Read the full article yourself.

I must say at first that the New Scientist article went for maximal sensationalism and overstated the case. But even accounting for that, Egnor had to go out of his way to completely miss the bottom line.  From reading Egnor you might think there is recent evidence that calls evolution and common branching descent into question. Again – this is the old creationist trick of distorting progress toward a more complex and complete view of evolution with calling evolution itself into question.

The article is talking about the fact that in recent years scientists have discovered that horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is much more common than previously thought. What this means is that species, even after separating, can still transfer genetic material to other species, even distantly related.

Of course, Egnor does not point out that this is primarily talking about single-celled life. He left that bit out. This is crucial because he offered this as a counter to my contention that the fossil record indicates branching descent. There is no fossil record for branching descent among single-celled creatures.

This is also not new. We have known for a long time that bacteria swap genes. Yes, it is more extensive than previously thought, but so what. Like most things in science, nature turns out to be more complex than we at first imagine. Simple models need to be made more complex and subtle, but that does not invalidate the more basic knowledge, it just deepens it.

For example, we now know about epigenetics – factors other than the DNA that influence development. This does not mean, however, that DNA is not the primary molecule of inheritance. We now know about relativity – this does not mean that Newton’s mechanics are wrong, they are just incomplete.

What about multicellular life and HGT? Here is a quote from the article Egnor does not want you to see:

Nobody is arguing – yet – that the tree concept has outlived its usefulness in animals and plants. While vertical descent is no longer the only game in town, it is still the best way of explaining how multicellular organisms are related to one another – a tree of 51 per cent, maybe. In that respect, Darwin’s vision has triumphed: he knew nothing of micro-organisms and built his theory on the plants and animals he could see around him.

With multicellular life there is horizontal transfer – closely related species may mate and swap genes, for example. Also, viruses may pick up bits of DNA from one species and transplant them to another phylogenetically distant species.  This is old news. We are likely to discover more horizontal transfer than was previously known. Again – a big so what? Among multicellular life a vertical tree of branching descent is still the dominant pattern we see.

Further, the degree to which the tree of life is vertical vs a horizontal web of life is irrelevant to the question at hand – is evolution correct. That there are mechanisms of horizontal gene transfer in no way invalidates the fact of evolution. Nature almost always turns out to be more messy than our clean models of it.

Genetic Evidence

Egnor writes:

Molecular biology is showing deep inconsistencies in Darwinists’ simplistic understanding of similarities and differences in biological structure:

You would think that the molecular biology he is referring to is being done by scientists who are not “Darwinists”.  If you interpret “Darwinist” as Egnor does – anyone who accepts the modern synthesis of evolutionary theory, then this is dead wrong. The only thing that is simplistic is Egnor’s straw man of what evolutionists claim. It is evolutionary biologists who are discovering the rich complexity of life at all levels, and furthering our understand of the the complexities of evolution.

But to get back to the genetic evidence for branching descent, I have gone over this before. This is a home run for common descent. Here is a good talkorigins article on this topic, which states:

Humans and chimpanzees have the exact same cytochrome c protein sequence. The “null hypothesis” given above is false. In the absence of common descent, the chance of this occurrence is conservatively less than 10-93 (1 out of 1093). Thus, the high degree of similarity in these proteins is a spectacular corroboration of the theory of common descent. Furthermore, human and chimpanzee cytochrome c proteins differ by ~10 amino acids from all other mammals. The chance of this occurring in the absence of a hereditary mechanism is less than 10-29. The yeast Candida krusei is one of the most distantly related eukaryotic organisms from humans. Candida has 51 amino acid differences from the human sequence. A conservative estimate of this probability is less than 10-25.

Egnor has failed to address this evidence, or even show that he understands it. The dominant pattern within the genetics of various species is one of nestled hierarchies – branching descent. Yes – there are exceptions, which can be explained by horizontal transfer. That is a level of deeper complexity – it does not invalidate the overall evolutionary pattern, which is overwhelming.


Egnor concludes:

The evidence is so clear that Darwin’s “Tree of Life” is wrong that now even Darwinists are jumping ship.

So why would Dr. Novella publicly misrepresent the state of the science? Either Dr. Novella’s claim is the result of his ignorance of the relevant science, or it is an intentional misrepresentation.

Dr. Novella should explain his misrepresentation.

It is Egnor who has some explaining to do. He has misrepresented my position. He has misunderstood punctuated equilibrium. He has misrepresented the state of the fossil and genetic evidence. And he grossly misrepresented the New Scientist article.

Egnor should clarify what he actually believes, rather than just playing the creationist game of exploiting a poor understanding of the complexities of evolutionary theory to create the false impression that the fact of evolution itself is in doubt.

Egnor claims he is not a creationist, which is absurd on its face. But he should clarify his position. Does he accept common descent or not.  If not, how does he account for the dominant pattern of branching descent that we do see in the fossil record and the genetic evidence. If he thinks there are problems with evolutionary theory he should make a positive case for a viable alternative.

Of course he can’t. Egnor cannot win with legitimate scientific arguments, so instead he is trying to make this personal, as if my views are somehow aberrant. Rather, Egnor is at odds with the scientific community. He is perfectly at home with his creationist buddies, whose modus operandi is to distort, misrepresent, and selectively quote. Their purpose is not to enhance understanding but to sow confusion.


105 responses so far

105 Responses to “Egnor Sinks to New Lows”

  1. NaonTiotamion 25 Feb 2009 at 8:08 am

    Awesome work, Steve. I’d compliment you more, but I’m sure it just all goes over your head (in the sense that you simply don’t read the praise anymore: there’s simply too much!).

    I’ve been annoyed, as have many, many other people in the skeptical/scientific community, at New Scientist for publishing that featured article like they did. Everyone guessed that it would be taken out of context by the creationist “anti-Darwinist” community, and even the conclusions that were scientifically drawn were sensationalist and over-generalised. It’s stuff like that that really does make me facepalm, probably even more so than the usual creationist blasts of anti-science.

    So, nice work. I hope you eventually triumph over Egnor’s inane arguments, but I fear that day will never come until one of you is dead. Hopefully that day is not soon. ;p

  2. theoon 25 Feb 2009 at 8:53 am

    Yes – I tried to read that article but couldn’t stand the straw man upon straw man. Egnor beclowns himself yet again.

    Egnor shows he is disingenuous, intransigent and in the end, simple minded. I know you like the battle Steve, but sheesh, you getting worn out yet?

  3. Dave The Happy Singeron 25 Feb 2009 at 8:57 am

    This is a brilliant response. It made be ripple with delight like some kind of excited cephalopod.

    My favourite part was your use of my all-time favourite skeptical word: buffoonery. It’s polite enough to say in front of the Queen and yet it means bullshit.

    Stay Happy!

  4. Smedon 25 Feb 2009 at 9:08 am

    How does Egnor not get tired of being so badly embarassed?

  5. mindmeon 25 Feb 2009 at 10:01 am

    A purely rhetorical question (for we all know Egnor’s true audience) but one I’d be curious for Egnor to answer. Who does he think he’s trying to convince? Even on the NPR interview, the science hosts quickly summed up Egnor’s arguments as not science because they were simply not testable. They were not at all convinced of his arguments. He utterly failed.

    If Egnor wanted to chance science’s mind about some surgical procedure in neurology, he’d take it directly to the scientific community in the medical literature. He’d go to medical conferences. He’d present a paper, get feedback from peers, etc. He’d not write about it on a popular blog.

    By way of PZ’s blog, Nick Gotelli summed it up best:


    ||Instead of spending time on public debates, why aren’t members of your institute publishing their ideas in prominent peer-reviewed journals such as Science, Nature, or the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences? If you want to be taken seriously by scientists and scholars, this is where you need to publish. Academic publishing is an intellectual free market, where ideas that have credible empirical support are carefully and thoroughly explored. Nothing could possibly be more exciting and electrifying to biology than scientific disproof of evolutionary theory or scientific proof of the existence of a god. That would be Nobel Prize winning work, and it would be eagerly published by any of the prominent mainstream journals.||

    I just find it very suspicious when someone who should be intimately familiar with how controversial ideas in one area of science (medicine) are actually debated and become the dominant paradigm actually abandons that when approaching creationism.

  6. Steve Pageon 25 Feb 2009 at 10:30 am

    That was piss-poor, even by Egnor’s standards. He must operate on the principle that his target audience (the IDiotards) will not bother to check any of the articles he references, thus gaining him favour within their community without having to do all of that pesky science to support his position. The man is, at best, woefully misinformed, and, at worst, a brazen liar. He must fit in well at that twathive, the DiscoTute.

  7. Sintesion 25 Feb 2009 at 10:33 am

    “Their purpose is not to enhance understanding but to sow confusion.”

    Truer words never spoken. Another great job Dr. Novella. I know it must get extraordinarily tiresome playing wack-a-mole with these disingenuous creeps but I definitely appreciate your efforts. As a long time listener and reader I’m always picking up something new and interesting from these exchanges.

  8. Doctor Evidenceon 25 Feb 2009 at 10:46 am

    with his Delusional Credentials, Dr. Egnor should get a job at the bank.

  9. Oracon 25 Feb 2009 at 10:57 am

    It is Egnor who has some explaining to do. He has misrepresented my position. He has misunderstood punctuated equilibrium. He has misrepresented the state of the fossil and genetic evidence. And he grossly misrepresented the New Scientist article.

    Dammit, why does Dr. Egnor have to keep embarrassing the surgical profession by his ignorant pontifications about creationism? Geez, I was thinking of doing a takedown myself, but fortunately Steve took care of it before I did. Unfortunately, Generation Rescue has just published a new ad on USA Today, combined it with an article by the crank tag-team of David Kirby and RFK, Jr., and tried to claim that the Vaccine Court has admitted in earlier cases that the MMR vaccine causes autism and that Saint Wakefield was right all along, just for the wrong reasons.

    Just when I thought I was out (for a while, anyway) they have to go and pull me back in (tomorrow, probably).

  10. Steven Novellaon 25 Feb 2009 at 10:57 am

    IMO – the purpose of the blog and Egnor’s posts is not to engage in serious honest intellectual discourse, but to provide intellectual cover for the creationist masses. My purpose is to expose their folly and to learn about the process of pathological logic and science. In that context, Egnor is a great specimen.

  11. mindmeon 25 Feb 2009 at 11:22 am

    Egnor reminds me of HIV denialist Peter Duesberg, although at least Deusberg went a more traditional route. Duesberg published his ideas in PNAS.

    As a member of the national academy of science, Duesberg was allowed to publish in PNAS without peer review, as long as another member vouched for the paper. The editor of PNAS could see Duesberg’s paper was full of holes and asked him to reconsider. Duesberg pressed ahead. The editor had to eventually accept it was Duesberg’s right as a member of NAS and gave up trying to save Duesberg from himself. This generated this wonderful “I throw my hands up” comments by the editor to Duesberg:

    ||If you wish to make these unsupported, vague, and prejudicial statements in print, so be it. But I cannot see how this would be convincing to any scientifically trained reader.||

    Egnor? I would ask you the same question. Why not, at the very least, throw up a poster at a neurological conference?

  12. MBoazon 25 Feb 2009 at 11:22 am

    I am so not applying to med. school @ Stony Brook.

  13. Doctor Evidenceon 25 Feb 2009 at 11:23 am

    assuming that the creationist audience is made up of
    people who are seeking solace in a religion they consider as
    providing hope, integrity and truth, it really is just too
    bad that they are being lead over the cliff by the likes of
    those who display opposite qualities.

  14. RickKon 25 Feb 2009 at 11:27 am

    In the woods behind our house is a tree where two branches appear to have become tangled in earlier years and have fused together.

    I guess by Egnor’s logic, it is no longer a tree.

    Just because a human picks up some DNA from an endogenous retrovirus doesn’t mean the species has changed. Because our earliest, most humble ancestors may have traded DNA or fused into symbiotic relationships (ala mitochondria) doesn’t mean anybody is re-drawing the Tree of Life posters on classroom walls.

    It seems to me that Egnor is prostituting his education and degrees to provide quotes that creationists with less fancy titles can cite with “a leading scientist says…”. Truth appears to have nothing to do with it. It’s all about who makes the most noise with the most repetitive slogans – rather like the advertising industry.

    A surgeon turning his degree into nothing more than a McDonald’s ad – his mother must be proud.

  15. RickKon 25 Feb 2009 at 11:38 am

    Regarding punctuated equilibria – creationists keep using it as an example of “spontaneous” speciation, when in fact it means that speciation happens a different rates under different circumstances, but PE does not in any way suggest the magical appearance of new creatures.

    Does anyone have a really good, simple analogy to counter these idiots – something they can understand?

    “Punctuated Equilibria simply says that you can score more runs in one inning than in another, but it doesn’t change the fact that the runners cross home plate one at a time, in order.”

    Got something punchier?

  16. schafersmanon 25 Feb 2009 at 2:57 pm

    Steve, your response to Egnor was excellent. I read the original Forbes columns by Egnor and his fellow DI Creationists and was suitably appalled. Then I read the exchanges between you and him. Your final reply is a gem. Egnor is biologically illiterate, not an uncommon condition of medical doctors who ignore genetics and evolution in their medical studies, and believes his own rhetoric, which is always cause for alarm.

    I am an evolutionary paleontologist, and your analysis of PE and inferring branching and common descent from the fossil record and molecular systematics is right on the mark.

    Your readers may be interested in my essay on the New Scientist fiasco at http://www.texscience.org/reports/sboe-tree-life-2009feb7.htm. When science journalists publish sensationalistic articles like that one, they give ammunition to Creationists polemicists.

    Thank you for writing your blog.

  17. HHCon 25 Feb 2009 at 3:11 pm

    Evolution News and Views from the Discovery Institute has reviewed a monograph from Richard Weikart’s from “Darwin to Hitler”. Weikart tries to explain religious and racial hatred as a result of Darwinism. That’s too easy. For example the French Catholics in Paris, France still continued to confiscate Jewish property and round up and send French Parisians to their deaths during WWII long after Hitler’s army lost its grip on Paris (Documentation from the Jerusalem Post). Catholism has a long Eurpopean history of Jewish hatred, e.g. Jews were historically equated with wolves and drawings depicted them this way.

    Dr. Egnor thinks informing readers ( Forbes.com) that he is a Catholic is somehow a badge of honor and respectability. Sorry, history blatantly shows its not.

  18. Traveleron 25 Feb 2009 at 4:52 pm

    I also agree that the purpose of Egnor’s blog must be to provide comfort and justification to those who are already creationists. Pastors can point to it and tell their flock, “See! This scientician doubts evolution! Don’t listen to the Darwinists who are trying to fool you!” Whether his blog is accurate and honest makes little difference. Few of the people influenced by it will ever see more than a few excerpted quotes. Fewer still will read the original materials he references — much less understand them.

    I think the really interesting question is what is going through Egnor’s mind when he reads something like the New Scientist article? Does he intentionally just skim the article for useful quotes to mine, or does he really read it with the intention of trying to understand it? And if he is trying to understand it, does his ideology blind him to its true implications, or is he willfully dishonest?

    I wonder if we could tell the difference by doing an fMRI on him while he writes a blog entry?

  19. SDRon 25 Feb 2009 at 5:15 pm

    Egnor has no intellectual honest whatsoever. He dares claim that you misrepresent the science, while HE both misunderstand and misrepresents the science, and misrepresents your position.

    You as a skeptic, not only give scientific evidence, but have written many times specifically not to trust you simply due to your expertise, but to check the veracity of the evidence you give ourselves. Egnore, on the other hand, simply makes claims without any scientific evidence, lies, or misrepresents the evidence, knowing that his supporters, as science haters, will never check his claims for themselves.

    It’s clear who has the ethical authority in this discussion

  20. SDRon 25 Feb 2009 at 5:16 pm

    intellectual honesty*

    That’s what I get for not proofreading before I comment.

  21. tmac57on 25 Feb 2009 at 5:28 pm

    Steve, I am always amazed at your tenacity and capacity to endure lightweights like Egnor. How can he take himself seriously when he has no workable opposing scientific theory as an alternative to a robustly tested and debated theory such as Evolution. All he does is cowardly snipe from the sidelines and insist that due to his own incredulity there must be a designer, and since Evolution hasn’t explained every single detail about life, then it must be wrong! What a hack!

  22. artfulDon 25 Feb 2009 at 6:32 pm

    Egnor never alludes in any way to the possibility that evolution itself is an intelligent process that participates in its own design.
    But then neither does his opponent.

  23. _Arthuron 25 Feb 2009 at 6:41 pm

    I fail to understand the fascination of Creationists with the Cambrian. Yes, most phyla begin to diverge at the Cambrian, but, to me, most of the Cambrian creatures look like worms, no matter what phylum they belong to.

    To anyone with notion of biology, the concept of “phylum” is deeply interwoven with the concept of Common Descent. Obviously, Creationists have a very different conception of what’s a phylum, since they marvel at the “sudden apparition” of so many phyla is so few a hundred million years.

  24. Enzoon 25 Feb 2009 at 7:09 pm

    I was struck by Dr. Egnor’s choice to make this a very personal issue for you, Dr. Novella. It seems this has become a war now, with both of you directly addressing each other in the title of blog entries.

    The title “Darwinist Steven Novella Endorses Darwin’s Discredited ‘Tree of Life’” and the essay itself is outright accusatory. It sounds like the next step in a smear campaign. This is disgusting. Does this man honestly believe you are the leader of some vast conspiracy to lead the public into some unsupported conclusion?

    I’d have difficulty finding a better insult than accusing someone of your intellectual caliber of scientific fraud. I can’t help but notice Dr. Egnor is attempting to set you up as a bad guy to his audience just as he is the bad guy to us.

    Just wanted to say thank you for keeping your response dispassionate, non-accusatory and scientific (as always).

    …..But have you given thought to challenging Egnor to a duel? I believe it’s traditional to slap him with a glove.

  25. tmac57on 25 Feb 2009 at 7:18 pm

    artfulD: Please clarify. I couldn’t parse that sentence.Thanks

  26. tmac57on 25 Feb 2009 at 7:53 pm

    In the ‘Doubting Darwin:Debate Over The Mind’s Evolution’ on NPR , Egnor stated ” that an intelligent designer was involved in producing not only the brain but all living things and certain features of the universe. Without this designer, the brain would be just a meat computer made up of brain cells, he says.”
    I ‘m afraid. I’m afraid, Steve. Steve, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going……Daisy , Daisy…..

  27. artfulDon 25 Feb 2009 at 7:56 pm

    Sorry, but that just won’t be parsible.

  28. tmac57on 25 Feb 2009 at 8:59 pm

    artfulD: touche!!..or is that touchy.. I always forget.

  29. MarkMarijnissenon 25 Feb 2009 at 9:01 pm

    All good intentions to take Egnor as intellectually honest vanish in thin air. Even if Egnor did not understand a slightest bit of the article he quoted, even then Egnor knows he is quote mining. And as if that weren’t enough, he accuses Novella of misinterpreting the article and the current state of science! That is just outrageous – this really is Egnor lower than ever.

    What puzzles me the most and I find absolutely fascinating is why people like Egnor are doing this. Of course, I understand some people have a rock-solid belief in something, and they distort every evidence so it fits their view. But that isn’t the case here – he is just flat out trying to convince his audience – not himself! It seems Egnor can’t stand his “defeat” from Novella and only cares to save his pride by writing some logically twisted how-low-can-you-go rhetoric, failing to realise this too will be set right by Novella…. but Novella has refuted Egnor so many times – he must realise that by now!

    I truly do not get this man – it is fascinating.

    Oh, and another thing: I really appreciate this blog and Novella’s intentions. Egnor is indeed and excellent specimen. When I first started reading Neurologicablog about a year ago, I was a bit shocked at the way Egnor and Novella were adressing eachother. With Steven calling Egnor intelectually dishonest, and so on. However, Novella always convinced me, and during the last year, I have become more and more skeptical. I learned about logical fallacies and other techniques by creationist, anti-vaccine etc that previously we only doubted upon instead of scrutenized and dismissed as wrong.

    It really would be nice if you go through with your idea to create a course in “skepticism” or ” critical thinking”. I guess I just learned it with reading skeptical blog and reading proper reasoning (with no explanation with it – you tend to pick this up when reading this blog, i think). However, it would be nice to become a bit better at this, as of now, I am not confident enough to start writing my own articles and blog – but I would be happy to contribute to the skeptical community.

  30. RickKon 25 Feb 2009 at 9:25 pm

    Is there a comments section or discussion forum in the Discovery Institute blog? There doesn’t seem any way to comment on their blog postings.

  31. artfulDon 25 Feb 2009 at 9:28 pm

    tmac57: This is about as parsimonious as I can make it:

    All creatures learn, to at least a minimal extent, from their experience. That experience has a noticeable effect on their survival and their adaptation. In the process of adaptation these learned behaviors somehow morph into heritable instinctive or pre-learned reactions to similar environmental situations that are then supplemented by further learning in succeeding environments by succeeding generations.

  32. daedalus2uon 25 Feb 2009 at 10:10 pm

    AD, you have described Lysenkoism quite well.


  33. daedalus2uon 25 Feb 2009 at 10:15 pm

    Mark, my hypothesis for the reason that people like Egnor do things like this is pretty simple (and actually pretty good evidence that the mind is only in the brain and is purely material.)

    People like Egnor and the rabid creationist zealots simply do not understand the science because their brains do not have the neural structures that can support the ideas. They are incapable of understanding the science because they don’t have the neural structures to represent the concepts with. They are incapable of accurately think about the ideas, which is why they cannot accurately articulate them, only the crude straw-men that they construct using their own religious beliefs as a structure. That is why they rail about Darwinism. They don’t have the ability to conceive of any belief structure that is not ordained by a charismatic leader. The concept of figuring something out is anathema. “Knowledge” comes from God, through Revelation to charismatic leaders, then those leaders reveal that to the followers.

    This is actually a reasonable argument for beliefs and thoughts only being instantiated in a material brain that is only plastic via materialistic changes (which take time and effort). That time and effort is what it takes to acquire an education. Years and decades of learning to modulate your brain structure so that the ideas that are learned can be understood. Presumably an immaterial mind would have greater plasticity and would have a wider range of possible thoughts and would not need to be remodeled to understand simple concepts like evolution. If humans used an immaterial mind to think with, all humans would be able to understand the same things and the time constant for learning those things would be the same time constant as the plasticity of the immaterial mind (presumably faster than that of the brain). That Egnor can’t understand Dr Novella’s arguments sufficiently well to re-articulate them is a pretty good argument that he doesn’t have an immaterial mind.

  34. daedalus2uon 25 Feb 2009 at 10:19 pm

    AD, sorry, I confabulated Lysenkoism with Lamarckism. It is Lamarckism that you described very well, but Lysenko was an adherent of Lamarckism.


  35. artfulDon 25 Feb 2009 at 10:26 pm

    daedalus, the above dissertation is simply nonsensical. You haven’t a clue as to how the brain structure really functions or evolves, and that applies to your Lysenkoism remark in particular.
    Take you out of whatever protective cocoon you have been afforded by the kindness of strangers and you’d be a goner.

  36. DarwynJacksonon 25 Feb 2009 at 11:37 pm

    Egnor seems do reduce his credibility with the scientific community every time he speaks out. This is just the worst recent example.

    Is he considered legitimate even within the medical community? I don’t mean to call into question his skills as a surgeon, but rather, do his scientific misunderstandings compromise his standing among other physicians?

  37. Gary Goldwateron 26 Feb 2009 at 1:52 am

    Thorough, awesome, and convincing slapdown of Dr. Egnor’s blog.

    Your series with Dr. Egnor is good for my science education because he gives an organized presentation of the self-congratulatory thinking common in denialist circles. And you make sure your responses are thorough so that the reader can understand both Dr. Egnor & your points in a transparent and honest format.

    This series is also an adult version of the Elmer Fudd vs. Buggs Bunny series. Dr. Novella as the wabbit and Dr. Egnor as Elmer who is always out trying to hunt Buggs down only to be put in his place once again.

  38. QuestionEverythingon 26 Feb 2009 at 3:10 am

    The great thing about the position we take as skeptics versus the position “they” take as creationists can be summed up in Dr Novella’s ongoing jostling with Egnor. We care about the truth, we care about science, we aren’t attached to any one view because if it were proven wrong tomorrow we would follow the evidence. We tend to know more about logical falacies and are able to spot them as we read/listen.

    Contrast that with: don’t care about facts, distort facts and evidence to fit prior beliefs, argue from emotion, distrust science, litter arguments with logical fallacies and not care, in short – be intellectually sloppy.

    No human being can justify belief – as creationists/fundamentalists do – with such certainty and unshakable conviction. It is, frankly, dishonest and so closed minded as to be stifling the genuine wonder we should all feel about scientific knowledge.

    Thank you Dr Novella for promoting the wonder and brilliance of science while exposing the noxious weeds of the world, Egnor being a great example.