Sep 24 2007

The Anti-Evolution Propaganda Doesn’t Stop

The Discovery Institute – an Intelligent Design (ID) propaganda machine – has a blog called Evolution News and Views. Within its digital pages you will find an endless stream of mindless anti-evolution propaganda. Seriously, you could devote an entire blog just to correcting the nonsense spewing forth daily from this cesspool of antiscience. I try not to get sucked into it too often, but when my favorite ID blogger, Dr. Egnor, rears his head it’s hard to resist.

This week Dr. Egnor (a neurosurgeon who has decided to take up a sideline of embarrassing himself with scientific illiteracy and illogic) tries to make fun of an interesting paper in Nature Genetics. A press release about the paper summarizes the findings thusly:

“Humans have many more copies of (the salivary amylase gene) than any of their ape relatives, the study found, and they use the copies to flood their mouths with amylase, an enzyme that digests starch. The finding bolsters the idea that starch was a crucial addition to the diet of early humans, and that natural selection favored individuals who could make more starch-digesting protein.”

The study authors speculate quite reasonably that humans required the extra enzyme because they had greater caloric needs than their ape cousins. The one physiological fact that separates humans from all other apes is our big brain, and the brain is very calorie hungry, gobbling 10% of all of our energy needs. Caloric intake would have been a limiting factor in evolving such a big brain, so the authors hypothesize that perhaps this led to selective pressures for the extra digesting enzymes. Again, this is perfectly reasonable as a hypothesis, although certainly it is not the only possibility.

The paper has Dr. Egnor in a tizzy. Why? I can only speculate. It seems that he objects a priori to any science that operates within the evolutionary paradigm. This is not surprising, given that he is an evolution denier. It also seems that he is enamored of the “spit-brain research” crack that he used to title his ramblings. He must have thought this was so clever that he could build a blog entry around it.

What is his point? He doesn’t really have one, and least not one that is recognizable and coherent. He does rant about researchers making any tenuous link to brain evolution as a way of garnering attention for their narrow research. Egnor does not make any cogent defense of this accusation, however. Researchers will commonly speculate about the implications of their findings, especially if that helps point the way to further questions that can be investigated. Given that ID has no research program, and ID’ers would not know a scientific hypothesis if they tripped over one, it is no surprise that Egnor demonstrates no appreciation for the need to generate new hypotheses.

Egnor writes:

“Evolutionary ‘theory’ is immune to satire. Satire depends on exaggeration, and evolutionary theory is such far-fetched science— substituting preposterous generalizations, non-sequiturs and jargon for meaningful scientific inference— that it can’t be satirized. It can only be described, which is funny enough.”

The image of a pot and a kettle comes to mind. Actually, Egnor’s words would be too kind by a wide margin if applied to ID. But you can satire ID. Here is a cartoon that was recently brought to my attention that does it nicely.

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