Answering a few intelligent design proponent questions

In a recent Forbes column, Michael Egnor (of Discovery Institute fame) wrote “Why I don’t believe in atheism’s creation myth.”  In the middle of the column, Egnor asks a series of questions concerning evolution and intelligent design.   These random questions are meant to cast doubt in reader’s minds about the validity of evolution without giving any real arguments. He probably doesn’t expect any answers to his questions, but here we go anyway. I have included the questions as written in here along with my own answers.

Why, when the genetic code was unraveled, didn’t scientists question Darwin’s assumption of randomness?

Contrary to Egnor’s insinuation, the unraveling of the genetic code supported randomness. The enzymes that copy DNA are not perfect and allow for random mutations to occur at a low frequency.

Why didn’t Darwinists ask the difficult questions that are posed for their theory by the astonishing complexity of intracellular molecular machinery?

What difficult questions? Scientists ask difficult questions all the time. Does he really think that trying to describe what happens inside a living cell is easy work?

Why do Darwinists claim that intelligent design is untestable, and simultaneously claim that it is wrong?

We already have a highly substantiated theory to explain the diversity of life on earth: evolution.  Therefore, intelligent design is unnecessary.  Why do we need to bring in a baseless idea that is untestable?

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?

What defines science is not what questions it asks, it is in the approach to answering the questions.  In order for something to be scientific, it needs to make predictions that can be tested and be shown to be falsifiable.  Intelligent design does neither.  Science takes into account all evidence.  Intelligent design ignores or denies scientific findings.  Science deals with the natural world.  It does not deal with the supernatural because, by definition, the supernatural does not follow the laws of physics.Intelligent design requires a supernatural being.

Why do Darwinists–scientists–seek recourse in federal courts to silence criticism of their theory in public schools?

We do not want an unscientific viewpoint based on an unscientific set of beliefs determining the direction of science in public schools.  Logic, reason, and evidence have failed to work. Extensive debate doesn’t work. What else do we have? Using the courts is all that is left in many situations.

What is it about the Darwinian understanding of biological origins that is so fragile that it will not withstand scrutiny by schoolchildren?

Scientists are not afraid that school children will be able to disprove evolutionary theory.  We are afraid of having a scientifically illiterate populous.  It is very easy to indoctrinate children.  Their minds have not matured and they do not have the knowledge necessary to fully evaluate a theory such as evolution.

These same questions, or slight variations, seem to arise quite often in Intelligent design proponent’s writings.  They have been answered many times before, but they still keep being asked.  Of course intelligent design proponents are not really interested in the answers, they are more interested in casting doubt on the evolutionary point of view.

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Egnor still insists eugenics is based on evolution

Over at Space City Skeptics, I wrote a blog post criticizing Discovery Institute fellow Michael Egnor’s claim that the only thing evolutionary theory has given medicine is eugenics.  Several other blogs were also critical of this ludicrous idea. Now, Egnor has responded to blogs such as Respectful Insolence, Pharyngula, and my Space City Skeptics post.

In his post, Egnor still still claims that the theory of evolution led to eugenics.  He even goes so far as to call eugenics, “Darwinian medicine 1.0.”  The whole idea is ridiculous.  Eugenics is essentially human breeding, and we all know that animal breeding preceded Darwin by thousands of years.

Egnor implies in his first post that a conference on evolution and medicine was somehow being kept a secret. He said that he is “having trouble finding the program.”  However, details of the conference were are already available on Pharyngula:

(P.Z.) Myers notes that he had posted the conference schedule a while back, which I missed. Sometimes my Internet Content Filter screens out Pharyngula, so it’s not always easy keeping up. I’ll have to dial down the ‘bigotry’ and ‘casual obscenity’ settings.

Notice how Egnor puts the blame for his own ignorance on someone else?  Shouldn’t he have accepted some blame, or better yet, have actually done some research before coming to the conclusion that the conference was being hidden?  This is typical of the Discovery Institute and similar Intelligent Design proponents.  They want to have their conclusion first without finding out the reality.  It is called willful ignorance and is at the core of many of the ID talking points (i.e there are no transitional fossils).

In order to exert some sort of authority on the subject, Egnor goes on and on about how he is a professor of neurosurgery and has a lot of experience in medicine.  However, he is too far removed from basic science to really see how the ideas and knowledge obtained through evolutionary theory really effect his work.  I know this from my own personal experience. I used to work in a neurobiology lab and took a medical neuroscience class. The med class wasn’t anywhere near the level of depth where evolution would be important.  There is just too much other information that is more relevant to being a doctor. It wasn’t until I started studying microbes and their relation to each other and higher life forms that it became obvious of that evolutionary theory permeates nearly everything one does at that level even if it isn’t explicitly stated.

Egnor goes on to say:

My own experience with medical research and education is that medical practice is a very effective check on b.s., because in medicine ideas often have immediately obvious consequences.

If this were true, we wouldn’t need large randomized, double-blind studies for the evaluation of medicines.  We also wouldn’t need to show any result by several different methods before they can be taken seriously.  There are just too many uncontrolled and unknown variables that can’t be accounted for in experiments.  The fact that Egnor doesn’t understand this fundamental property of doing proper science is an example of the improper mindset that ID proponents have.

Of course he doesn’t really address the myriad of reasons why evolutionary theory benefits modern medicine that I and others pointed out.  He does however argue that medicine is just fine with only knowing the “proximate” explanations for diseases, etc. In other words, he believes that doctors and research scientists only need to know the “what” of biology.  Again, Egnor misses the fact that we would not have the knowledge that we have today if it weren’t for evolutionary theory.

Egnor finishes his post with more of his anti-scientific and anti-intellectual prejudice.  He says:

The purpose of the evolutionary explanations is to provide jobs and grant money for evolutionary biologists — a kind of academic workfare for Darwinists-still-seeking-relevance.

This kind of statement would be really funny, if this type of attitude didn’t lead to the general decline of science.  We can see these negative attitudes effect on education, on basic research, and even the perception of the United States.

Michael Egnor is Missing Links

Today, Dr. Michael Egnor illustrated his spite for Dr. Steven Novella.  Dr. Novella is an academic neurologist that runs the Neurologica blog along with the Skeptic’s Guide podcast and the New England Skeptical Society.  I have followed Steve, through the podcast and blog, for nearly the last three years.  He is highly logical, extremely bright, and intellectually honest when debating others.  Egnor does not outright display his spite, but instead insinuates that Steve is somehow hiding from Egnor by deleting posts from the Neurologica blog.  Here is how Egnor finishes the post:

I emailed Dr. Novella, and asked him:

Steven,I’ve noticed a few missing posts on your blog. The posts were related to our on-going debate. Why are they no longer available? …

Mike

So far, no answer. His blog posts are gone. Like they never even happened. So I publicly ask Dr.Novella this question: what happened to your blog posts? A post on your blog NeuroLogica to answer this question would be helpful.

Now I did a little checking this afternoon.  There are a lot of posts that are no longer available on his blog, not just the ones pertaining to Egnor.  Why not mention that others?  Why publically ask Steve and not wait to see if it is some technical glitch?  Because it is an attack on the character of one of Egnor’s enemies.