Mike Dunford posted Entry 2998 on March 17, 2007 02:09 PM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/2988

Dr. Michael Egnor is, once again, trying to explain why evolution isn’t important to medicine. This time he’s responding to Mark Chu-Carroll’s post on Tautology. In his latest post, Egnor continues to challenge the conventional wisdom that an understanding of evolution in general and natural selection in particular is essential to understanding and dealing with the phenomenon of bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

Here’s his latest statement along those lines:

Mark, your dad’s illness didn’t happen because his doctor didn’t know enough about random mutation and natural selection. Our battle against bacterial resistance to antibiotics depends on the study of the intricate molecular strategies bacteria use to fight antibiotics, and our development of new antibiotics is a process of designing drugs to counter the bacterial strategies. We use molecular biology, microbiology, and pharmacology. We understand that bacteria aren’t killed by antibiotics that they’re resistant to. We understand tautologies. Darwin isn’t a big help here.

Thus far, Dr. Egnor has only discussed the phenomenon of bacterial resistance in general. I’m going to present a pair of real, specific, and relatively recent scenarios where I think an understanding of evolution by natural selection has played an important role in public health debates involving appropriate uses of specific antibiotics. My question - and challenge - to Dr. Egnor is this: can you explain why an understanding of evolution by natural selection was really not important in these specific cases? If you cannot, can you please explain why you still believe that an understanding of evolution by natural selection is irrelevant to medicine?

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Comment #165819

Posted by Ron Okimoto on March 17, 2007 4:48 PM (e)

About the saddest thing about Egnor is that natural selection is accepted to be a fact of nature by even a lot of the old generation scientific creationist scam artists that preceded the ID creationist scam artists. They call it micro evolution. What possible good would trying to deny natural selection do for Egnor? Antibiotic resistance is just one case of natural selection in action. Even Egnor could go out and measure selection in nature if he wanted to. It isn’t just a public health issue unless you think that Egnor’s mental health and those like him are public issue.

Comment #165821

Posted by David B. Benson on March 17, 2007 4:54 PM (e)

Egnor’s mental health:

Irrationality Disorder

Comment #165824

Posted by Tom on March 17, 2007 6:03 PM (e)

This one’s too easy. Egnor agrees with microevolution. So do all ID proponents. The development of all new species just by unguided mutation and natural selection is what’s in question.

Comment #165830

Posted by stevaroni on March 17, 2007 7:19 PM (e)

Our battle against bacterial resistance to antibiotics depends on the study of the intricate molecular strategies bacteria use to fight antibiotics, and our development of new antibiotics is a process of designing drugs to counter the bacterial strategies.

Um, the “strategy” bacteria use to better resist antibiotics they were previously susceptible to certainly seems to be evolution via natural selection, but correct me if I’m wrong here.

Comment #165831

Posted by Sir_Toejam on March 17, 2007 7:32 PM (e)

This one’s too easy. Egnor agrees with microevolution. So do all ID proponents.

NO. IDiots have reinvented the term “microevolution” to mean something that differs from standard evolutionary theiry, and then say they agree with it.

it’s a standard tactic of the DI to reinvent terms to better fit their own preconceived notions.

has nothing to do with whether they “agree” with the concept of microevolution within the field of evolutionary biology.

so you are either:

ignorant of this fact, in which case i hope this will serve to get you to at least take a closer look at the spins the DI creates, or you are intentionally promulgating this falsehood.

so which is it? ignorant or lying?

Comment #165842

Posted by BC on March 18, 2007 1:35 AM (e)

Egnor agrees with microevolution. So do all ID proponents.

Uh huh. Maybe you missed the word “evolution” in microevolution. Or maybe you missed the part where Egnor says doctors don’t need to know about evolution. In any case, lots of IDists and creationists think that “microevolution” works, but deny natural selection by saying it is a tautology. WTF? How the hell do they thing “micro” evolution works? Ultimately, they have a incoherent view of how the world works - accepting “micro” evolution but denying natural selection. It’s like denying the existence of gravity but accepting the fact that gravity works on earth.

Comment #165843

Posted by MarkP on March 18, 2007 1:44 AM (e)

Egnor agrees with microevolution. So do all ID proponents. The development of all new species just by unguided mutation and natural selection is what’s in question.

The problem is the mechanisms for both are exactly the same. Your position is the equivalent of granting that I can walk across the room, but denying that I can walk across the street.

Comment #165847

Posted by realpc on March 18, 2007 5:23 AM (e)

Egnor has used the word “evolution” to mean the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution by selection from purposeless variations. That was his mistake, but it’s easy to see what he really meant.

It’s perfectly obvious that Egnor understands that bacteria adapt to antibiotics. I don’t see him questioning that fact anywhere. And he knows how important this adaptation is for medical science. He thinks it’s an utterly obvious fact, a tautology, which anyone can easily comprehend. You do not have to build an entire course of study on a tautology.

And we really have no basis for saying the variations in bacteria are without purpose. Egnor objects to the neo-Darwinian claim that genetic variations are random (do not respond to environmental changes, have no evolutionary purpose).

When you state that macroevolution and microevolution have the same mechanism, you are going beyond the evidence. That is where ID and the currently accepted theory diverge.

Comment #165851

Posted by Laser on March 18, 2007 6:55 AM (e)

Egnor objects to the neo-Darwinian claim that genetic variations are random (do not respond to environmental changes, have no evolutionary purpose).

What you and Egnor have in common is your strawman “understanding” of evolution. I’m not a biologist, but even I know that evolution makes no such claim. All your posting here do is continually show your lack of knowledge and dishonesty.

Comment #165852

Posted by Tom on March 18, 2007 7:00 AM (e)

ID proponents did not invent the term microevolution, my friends. Check out Stephen Jay Gould’s magnum opus on evolution; check out Ernst Mayr’s “What is Evolution.” A quick look at the index of one will do; in Mayr’s book, if I recall correctly, you can find it in the table of contents. Not a minor topic there.

I don’t recall either of them being on the Discovery Institute payroll.

Sheesh.

Comment #165853

Posted by Tom on March 18, 2007 7:01 AM (e)

ID proponents did not invent the term microevolution, my friends. Check out Stephen Jay Gould’s magnum opus on evolution; check out Ernst Mayr’s “What Evolution Is.” (I don’t have the book at hand, so I may not have the title exactly correct.) A quick look at the index of Gould’s book will do; in Mayr’s book, if I recall correctly, you can find it in the table of contents. It’s not a minor topic there.

I don’t recall Gould or Mayr being on the Discovery Institute payroll.

Sheesh.

Comment #165857

Posted by Jim Wynne on March 18, 2007 7:57 AM (e)

Tom wrote:

ID proponents did not invent the term microevolution, my friends.

Maybe you weren’t paying attention. No one is saying that the Paleyists coined the term. Read:

Sir_Toejam wrote:

NO. IDiots have reinvented the term “microevolution” to mean something that differs from standard evolutionary theiry, and then say they agree with it.

It is indeed a common creationist tactic to take commonly understood scientific terms and make strawmen out of them.

Comment #165858

Posted by Mats on March 18, 2007 7:59 AM (e)

Medicine needs evolution just like a shark needs a pair of glasses.

Comment #165859

Posted by David Stanton on March 18, 2007 8:06 AM (e)

realpc said:

“And we really have no basis for saying the variations in bacteria are without purpose. Egnor objects to the neo-Darwinian claim that genetic variations are random (do not respond to environmental changes, have no evolutionary purpose).”

Of course, this is not the issue at all. Mutations are “random” in the sense that they do not OCCUR in RESPONSE to particular enmvironmental conditions in such a way as to BENEFIT the organism. In that sense, and in that sense only, they “have no evolutionary purpose”. They most certainly do “respond” to environmental changes, that’s called SELECTION. They most certainly do have an “evolutionary purpose” if they increase in frequency because of selection.

If the calim is that GOD made the specific mutations that increase fitness in a given environment increase in frequency in order to provide a benefit to the organism then evidence must be provided. There are two problems with this. One is that no such evidence has ever been observed, even though it has been looked for extensively in the case of bacterial antibiotic resistance. What has been found is that “random” mutatons occur, some of which increase resistance even in the absence of selection and that these variants increase in frequency in response to selection. The second problem is that if God really had to do things this way in order to get the result she wanted, she must be pretty incompetent!

Comment #165860

Posted by Richard Simons on March 18, 2007 8:11 AM (e)

Medicine needs evolution just like a shark needs a pair of glasses.

Most people have stopped using ‘arguments’ like this by the time they have reached high school.

Comment #165862

Posted by Vyoma on March 18, 2007 8:41 AM (e)

Mats wrote:

Medicine needs evolution just like a shark needs a pair of glasses.

OK, let’s go with that.

Phylogenetic evidence, which is part of the data considered in evolutionary biology, suggests that the mammalian eyes descended with modification from the same ancestral line that gave rise to shark eyes. While I’m not aware of any study that has been carried out that points to the prevalence of malformation of the eye in sharks, based upon what we know about mammals, it is indeed possible that such a condition exists among Chondrichthyes. Among humans, we have the technology to create corrective lenses for those of us who need them. A near-sighted shark, which could very well be one which expressed the condition due to a defective gene or combination of genes (i.e., a mutation) doesn’t get that benefit, and thus would be at a disadvantage when competing against other sharks for food. This disadvantage would make our poor cartilaginous friend less likely to survive to maturity and reproduce. It might also make this particular shark more likely to wind up on another shark’s dinner plate, since we know that smaller sharks need to avoid larger ones during a feeding frenzy. When all is said and done, then, we probably wouldn’t see too many near-sighted sharks (and they probably wouldn’t see us, either). Thus, it’s not the case that no shark ever needs glasses, but that sharks who need them a) tend not to live very long and b) have a very hard time getting to the optometrist.

Thus, we can say that a shark may need glasses very badly and, to extend your argument, a particular medical discipline is likely to require evolutionary theory in order to progress (i.e., to survive the rigor to which real-world application will subject it, in much the same way that real-world selection subjects our hypothetical shark to competition). We may conclude, therefore, that while the family GP may never find it necessary to apply evolutionary biology to his daily practice, it is very likely that some medicine or technique that he employs has, in fact, come about as the result of an understanding of evolutionary theory.

You will undoubtedly disagree with this; evolution deniers, I have found, seldom consider the reasoning behind their assertions. I invite you to prove me wrong, therefore, by launching a useful study based upon empirical data. To do so, all you would need do is engage in random sampling of embryonic sharks to check for proper formation of the eye before hatching, thus eliminating the influence of competition-based selection on your data. If you can empirically demonstrate that there is no such thing as an embryonic shark with a malformed eye, your argument about evolutionary biology’s influence on medicine still won’t hold any water (because you’re comparing apples and oranges here), but you’ll at least know (as will the rest of us, assuming that you published) whether or not there are any sharks who could benefit from glasses.

Comment #165865

Posted by realpc on March 18, 2007 9:04 AM (e)

Mutations are “random” in the sense that they do not OCCUR in RESPONSE to particular enmvironmental conditions in such a way as to BENEFIT the organism. In that sense, and in that sense only, they “have no evolutionary purpose”. They most certainly do “respond” to environmental changes, that’s called SELECTION. They most certainly do have an “evolutionary purpose” if they increase in frequency because of selection.

Some of the neo-Darwinists here continually deny that the above comment is a statement of neo-Darwinism. Ok, which is it?

This comment states that, according to the accepted theory, the response to environmental pressures is entirely in the selection process, never in the mutation-generating process.

That is where neo-Darwinism and ID diverge; that is what ID is questioning.

I have been accused of attacking a straw man version of neo-Darwinism, and of misunderstanding what neo-Darwinism is about. Ok, well…?

Do you agree with David Stanton’s defnition, or not? If you agree with him, they I have not been attacking a straw man.

Comment #165866

Posted by Vyoma on March 18, 2007 9:15 AM (e)

Tilter at Straw Windmills, realpc wrote:

This comment states that, according to the accepted theory, the response to environmental pressures is entirely in the selection process, never in the mutation-generating process.

That is where neo-Darwinism and ID diverge; that is what ID is questioning.

No, where evolutionary biology and ID diverge is that ID posits an intelligent designer and evolutionary biology does not. Again, you’re attempting to create yet another strawman at which to tilt.

And Stanton is essentially correct; mutations do not occur as a response to environmental pressures as a means to benefit an organism. They may, however, occur as a result of an environmental factor, but even in this case a particular germ line mutation may or may not result in some benefit to the descendants of the particular organism in which it occurred. Natural selection is not a response to environmental pressures, though it is the result of environmental pressures. The ability to respond in such as way as to increase fitness due to environmental pressures is the outcome of selection (e.g., the abuility to adapt behavior to a given condition, to migrate successfully to more suitable habitat, etc.).

You need to sort out your fruit basket. You’ve got your apples and oranges mixed up.

Comment #165867

Posted by David Stanton on March 18, 2007 9:32 AM (e)

realpc said:

“This comment states that, according to the accepted theory, the response to environmental pressures is entirely in the selection process, never in the mutation-generating process.
That is where neo-Darwinism and ID diverge; that is what ID is questioning.”

I never said that the environment could not AFFECT the “mutation-generating process”. I only stated that it could not do so in such a way as to specifically benefit the organism due to some planning or forethought by altering the frequency of beneficial mutations in a specific environment. Obviously there is such a thing as evolvability. Past selection pressures have molded genetic systems and those that remain do indeed have some pretty amazing adaptations that do increase the frequency of many types of mutations. The human immune system is an example of this as discussed here previously. But it is still based on RANDOM mutations in that many different mutations occur and the beneficial ones increase in frequency due to selection. If God needed to intervene to cause just the right mutation at just the right time to protect humans from infection, why didn’t she just not create the harmful bacteria or prevent the infection in the first place?

This view may be what ID is “questioning” but the evidence is firmly in favor of random mutation and natural selection. You can “question” all you want, but until you have some evidence no one need believe you.

As far as “neo-Darwinism” goes, I never even mentioned that term. Evolution would still work even if some deterministic mechanism for generating beneficial mutations was discovered. In fact, as has previously been pointed out here, it would work even better. However, until someone has some evidence to the contrary, randomness remains the null hypothesis and it has yet to be disproven. Of course, coming up with a plausible mechanism by which beneficial mutations could be specifically created would go a long way in making the argument. Unfortunately, this entire line of reasoning seems to pretty much undermine the creationist talking point that there are “no beneficial mutations”.

Comment #165868

Posted by MarkP on March 18, 2007 9:59 AM (e)

Realpc dissembled thusly:

It’s perfectly obvious that Egnor understands that bacteria adapt to antibiotics…. He thinks it’s an utterly obvious fact, a tautology, which anyone can easily comprehend.

Again the troll has problems with the English language. Tautology != obvious fact:

Obvious Fact: RealPc is a lying troll.

Tautology: Realpc is a lying troll, therefore lies are contained in Realpc’s writing.

And if bacterial adaptation is such an obvious fact, then why was no one in human history aware of this until the last century?

And we really have no basis for saying the variations in bacteria are without purpose.

We have a truly obvious one which anyone can easily comprehend - there is no evidence that they have purpose, just like there is no evidence a rainbow has purpose, or that a hurricane has purpose.

Egnor objects to the neo-Darwinian claim that genetic variations are random (do not respond to environmental changes, have no evolutionary purpose).

Egnor’s error is in assuming that the rate of genetic variation itself varying in response to environmental changes is somehow evidence of purpose. It isn’t.

When you state that macroevolution and microevolution have the same mechanism, you are going beyond the evidence.

Then it should be a simple task for you to identify the mechanism, complete with evidenciary backing, that exists in one, but not the other. That is, if you understood any of the words that spew from your forked tongue.

That is where ID and the currently accepted theory diverge.

Evolutionary is a robust scientific theory. ID is a politico/religious movement. They diverge in every way that matters.

Comment #165872

Posted by Laser on March 18, 2007 11:04 AM (e)

I have been accused of attacking a straw man version of neo-Darwinism, and of misunderstanding what neo-Darwinism is about. Ok, well…?

You do both. It’s not contradictory for people who post here to point out that you do both. In fact, one could argue that your misunderstanding of evolution leads you to attack a strawman of it, so there’s no contradiction among the people who (continually) correct you, though you would dearly like to make it appear that there is one.

Comment #165882

Posted by Jeffrey K McKee on March 18, 2007 4:13 PM (e)

Egnor is probably more familiar with biology than the “redoubtable” legal boy wonder, Casey Luskin, but hasn’t been fully graced by the art of ID spin. Indeed, the hole of his scientific credibility keeps on reaching new depths with every post. I’d bet that even the DI sees that, and will decommission him soon.

Jeff

Comment #165883

Posted by Popper's Ghost on March 18, 2007 5:52 PM (e)

It’s perfectly obvious that Egnor understands that bacteria adapt to antibiotics. I don’t see him questioning that fact anywhere.

Perhaps that’s because your head is encased in lead.

And he knows how important this adaptation is for medical science. He thinks it’s an utterly obvious fact, a tautology, which anyone can easily comprehend.

Are you really that stupid? A tautology is a logical fact, one that is independent of any empirical observation.

Comment #165884

Posted by Popper's Ghost on March 18, 2007 6:15 PM (e)

And we really have no basis for saying the variations in bacteria are without purpose.

Would you claim that we really have no basis for saying the variations in human intelligence are without purpose – that there’s no reason to think that no one/nothing intended you to be so stupid?

Comment #165886

Posted by Popper's Ghost on March 18, 2007 6:34 PM (e)

And we really have no basis for saying the variations in bacteria are without purpose. Egnor objects to the neo-Darwinian claim that genetic variations are random (do not respond to environmental changes, have no evolutionary purpose).

Yeah, sure, because the proponderance of mutations are beneficial, and it takes no time at all for the most effective adaptations to arise.

IDiot.

Comment #165887

Posted by Popper's Ghost on March 18, 2007 7:07 PM (e)

This one’s too easy. Egnor agrees with microevolution. So do all ID proponents. The development of all new species just by unguided mutation and natural selection is what’s in question.

What’s too easy is the way you and realpc just make this stuff up without any familiarity with what Egnor has actually said. Egnor in fact questions even microevolution, specifically microevolution of resistance to antibiotics:

It’s one thing to propose that animals might get longer fur if the weather turns colder because of natural selection. You know, it’s a perfectly reasonable inference. You might infer that bacteria that had mutations that in some accidental way prevented them from being killed by antibiotics might have evolved resistance to antibiotics. Those are all plausible. I’m not so sure they’re so well proven, but they’re plausible.

Comment #165909

Posted by Frank J on March 19, 2007 4:31 AM (e)

Jeffrey K. McKee wrote:

I’d bet that even the DI sees that, and will decommission him soon.

18 months ago I would have agreed completely, but now I’m not so sure. Since Dover they have been acting like they have nothing to lose, and sounding more cartoonish than ever. Take Ann Coulter. Please.

Comment #165920

Posted by Raging Bee on March 19, 2007 8:49 AM (e)

Egnor has used the word “evolution” to mean the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution by selection from purposeless variations. That was his mistake, but it’s easy to see what he really meant.

Translation: “Okay, I can no longer deny that you’ve completely refuted what Egnor said; so instead I’ll just pretend he ‘really meant’ something else entirely. If Chomsky’s fans can do it, so can I.”

Comment #165927

Posted by Laser Potato on March 19, 2007 9:27 AM (e)

Agreeing with microevolution but then not agreeing with macroevolution is a little thing we like to call “hypocrisy”. The fact that they can’t accept the idea that small, gradual changes over long periods of time can end up creating new species but small changes can ocurr within a species shows that they pick and choose how they want thier logic to work. Again, small changes can ocurr within a species, but lots of small changes can’t happen over time?! Something seriously fishy is going on here…

Comment #165947

Posted by Dave Thomas on March 19, 2007 2:51 PM (e)

Laser Potato, you are apparently unaware of the Prime Axiom of Creationism:

No number of Small Changes, even if accumulated over vast stretches of time, can ever add up to a Big Change.

Silly Spud! ;-)

Comment #165948

Posted by David Stanton on March 19, 2007 3:13 PM (e)

“You might infer that bacteria that had mutations that in some accidental way prevented them from being killed by antibiotics might have evolved resistance to antibiotics. Those are all plausible. I’m not so sure they’re so well proven, but they’re plausible.”

Actually you don’t have to “infer” anything in this case. There are published studies where mutations occuring in nature have been isolated and have been shown to have arisen prior to selection for antibiotic resistance. The same mutations have been observed to occur in the laboratory, again prior to selection by antibiotics along with many mutations that did not confer resistance and many that were deleterious for various reasons. The laboratory results were even used to predict what mutations would most likely arise in nature in the future and the predictions were confirmed by observations of natural isolates in later studies. This is about as “well proven” as it gets.

I also wanted to clarify a small point. Random processes can also affect the fate of mutations, especially neutral mutations. No one can deny the strong effects of drift on genetic variation. In fact, this is one of the things that allows populations to maintain large amounts of variation which could be an advantage in a changing environment. The mutations don’t know what the environment will be like in the future, they either occur or they don’t and then they either drift to fixation or are eventually eliminated. This process might take a very long time, depending on the population size, so a lot of variation can often be found at any one time. Kimura showed us long ago how this works and why it is important. No magic need be inferred.

Comment #165951

Posted by lanewilcox on March 19, 2007 4:38 PM (e)

tom-“This one’s too easy. Egnor agrees with microevolution. So do all ID proponents. The development of all new species just by unguided mutation and natural selection is what’s in question.”

Ahh, now what is the mechanism that stops micro from becoming macro? I have yet to see ID proponentists show research that gives us a biological “brake” to micro. The Two “types” of evolution are the same in as far as how they work, therefore there must be something that prevents micro from becoming Macro.

Comment #166018

Posted by Raging Bee on March 20, 2007 9:13 AM (e)

Given the subject of Egnor’s latest post, I’m beginning to suspect that he’s given up on addressing the points raised by his critics, and is now changing the subject.

He did promise to address at least some of our points, but creationists aren’t known for keeping their promises.

Comment #166199

Posted by brightmoon on March 21, 2007 6:42 AM (e)

“Medicine needs evolution just like a shark needs a pair of glasses.”

ill break it you you gently

the entire history of modern medicine is based on common descent, starting with the smallpox vaccination, which only worked because cowpox is a non-lethal closely related virus

i guess sharks are getting bad eyesight now and i guess Dr Egnor isnt a cardiologist (they use dog hearts to test surgical techniques- guess why)

Comment #166233

Posted by Jim Wynne on March 21, 2007 11:15 AM (e)

Dave Thomas wrote:

No number of Small Changes, even if accumulated over vast stretches of time, can ever add up to a Big Change.

For a good example of the principle, have a look at this Jesus and Mo comic