Intelligent design/creationism Medicine Skepticism/critical thinking Surgery

Irony meter about to explode. Must. Escape.

I don’t want to make this blog “all Egnor all the time.” I know it’s hard to believe, given my posting behavior recently, but really I don’t. No matter how much the Discovery Institute’s creationist neurosurgeon may embarrass the hell out of me as (I shudder to have to admit) a fellow surgeon, I’ve recently been trying to ration the rebuttals of his nonsense about evolution, and I note that I took one swipe at him yesterday. Even so, I hope you’ll forgive me for this brief lapse. I had to do it because my irony meter is building up to a meltdown and explosion because of what Dr. Michael Egnor recently posted in a post called Pseudo-Darwinism: A Theory for All Seasons.

In essence, he was responding to Reed Cartwright’s taking him to the woodshed for a little education regarding evolution after his ignorant pontificating that “Darwinism” (his epithet for evolution, spat out through clenched teeth) did not contribute to the development of genetics. His response to Dr. Cartwright’s quite reasonable observation that “the research program of Crick, Brenner, Benzer, and colleagues relied heavily on applying Darwinian principles (random mutation and selection) to model organisms” is what did the damage to my irony meter:

Darwin asserted that all natural biological complexity arose by random undesigned variation and natural selection. The intentional alteration and intentional selection of microorganisms is a nice example of designed variation and artificial selection. Dr. Cartwright’s application of Darwin’s theory to intentional design and breeding of bacteria is pseudo-Darwinism.

Pseudo-Darwinism–in this case, the attribution of Darwin’s theory to design and artificial selection–is the antithesis of Darwin’s theory. Crick and colleagues chose variants to study and artificially selected them. Their work was carefully planned. It wasn’t random and it wasn’t natural. The biotech industry breeds bacteria, combining molecular biology with ancient principles of breeding. Darwin learned from breeding; he didn’t invent it or any of its principles.

Excuse me while I pull the plug on my irony meter; the poor thing just wasn’t “designed” to withstand such naked chutzpah. Believe it or not, Dr. Egnor is actually lecturing Dr. Cartwright about the difference between artificial and natural selection.

Maybe my efforts at explaining to Dr. Egnor that, contrary to his repeated assertions to the contrary, eugenics is not based on “Darwinism” because it is artificial, not natural selection have finally sunk in! In fact, whether he realizes it or not, Dr. Egnor has just undermined one of his favorite arguments against “Darwinism.” Remember how Dr. Egnor loves to claim that Darwin’s theory directly resulted in eugenics, in fact going so far as to say that the “only contribution evolution has made to modern medicine is to take it down the horrific road of eugenics“? Heck, Dr. Egnor even said, “The single incontrovertible Darwinian contribution to the field of medical genetics was eugenics, which is the Darwinian theory that humans can be bred for social and character traits, like animals.”

Which is artificial, not natural selection, just like what Dr. Egnor said about “breeding” bacteria!

I would like to congratulate Dr. Egnor for finally realizing that there is indeed a difference between artificial and natural selection and that Darwin’s theory is all about the latter, not the former. It took a lot of effort on my part (and the part of others) attempts to school him on this point, and our efforts finally appear to have borne fruit. Unfortunately, Dr. Egnor either does not realize or will never admit that, in his eagerness to refute Dr. Cartwright, he’s actually self-refuted his own ignorant blather about “Darwinism” and eugenics, a Discovery Institute talking point that he likes to parrot ad nauseum! (As for the rest of his error-filled “rebuttal” of Dr. Cartwright, I’ll leave them to Dr. Cartwright himself to refute. Indeed, if we do a little alteration to a couple of Dr. Egnor’s statements, I couldn’t have put it better myself:

“The attribution of Darwin’s theory to the design and artificial selection that is eugenics is the antithesis of Darwin’s theory.”


“The application of Darwin’s theory to intentional design and breeding of people is pseudo-Darwinism.”

Very nice. Thanks a lot, Dr. Egnor! I’ll remember those quotes for future use! I especially like the term “pseudo-Darwinism” to refer to attributing intentional design and breeding to Darwin’s theory, as creationists like to do so much when attributing the intentional design and breeding of people (i.e., eugenics) to Darwinism.

I guess it’s all just more evidence of Dr. Egnor’s genius, where words mean exactly what he says they mean, no more, no less. To him, all biology is “reverse engineering” of “designed” structures, and, apparently, the distinction between artificial and natural selection is important to him when he thinks that it can be used against “Darwinists” but to be discarded when it interferes with his zeal to demonize Darwin’s theory as being responsible for the horrific eugenics movement that became all too popular in the early 20th century.

Irony indeed.

It’s a good thing, though, that I did turn off my irony meter after seeing Dr. Egnor’s post. The poor thing wouldn’t be able to withstand the second hit coming from the “intelligent design” movement’s big kahuna, Bill Dembski, last night, and which I was made aware of early this morning by Mike, PZ, and John regarding the recent debate about “framing” science. Believe it or not, Bill Dembski surpassed even Dr. Egnor in the irony department:

“Framing,” as a colleague of mine pointed out, is the term that UC Berkeley Professor of Linguistics George Lakoff uses to urge Democrats that the public will agree with liberal policies if only the policies are described in different terms — “framed” in other words. Politics aside, framing is part and parcel with the condescension of our secular elite that the masses cannot be reasoned with and must therefore be manipulated.

The authors of “Framing Science” (see below), which appeared in Science, are world-renowned scientists and therefore know whereof they speak. Well, not exactly. Matthew Nisbet is a professor of communication and Chris Mooney is a correspondent for the atheist magazine Seed. (Nisbet’s blog is also hosted by Seed.) Nisbet and Mooney are both outspoken defenders of Darwinism and critics of ID — which is no doubt why the American Association for the Advancement of Science (publisher of Science) regards them as qualified to “frame” science.

Egads! Bill Dembski and the entire “intelligent design” movement do nothing other than trying to frame their religious pseudoscience as “real science” with vacuous slogans designed to frame ID as a scientifically legitimate alternative to evolution (it ain’t) and to frame the debate as a matter of “fairness” rather than the matter of science that it is, slogans such as “teach the controversy”!

Excuse me. I have to go and clean up. Even unplugged, my irony meter just couldn’t withstand the two-prong assault from Michael Egnor and Bill Dembski. There are smoldering parts strewn all over the place now. Poor thing. It never stood a chance.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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