Evolution Intelligent design/creationism Medicine Pseudoscience Skepticism/critical thinking

It’s not just surgeons anymore!

I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Certainly it’s a bad thing that another physician is diving head-first into the pseudoscience that is “intelligent design” creationism and making a of himself in the process.

On the other hand, at least this time it’s not a surgeon:

A Columbia medical professor made his case for scientific acceptance of “intelligent design” last night and found himself taking fire from his peers for his view.

John Marshall, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Missouri-Columbia, argued in front of about 100 people in a University Hospital auditorium that mainstream scientists were trying to kick intelligent design “off the playing field of science.”

At the heart of the argument for design, say proponents, is that elements of life and the physical world cannot be explained by evolution and show signs of being formed by an intelligent creator.

“It’s as much science as Darwinian evolution is science,” Marshall said. “And as a theory, I believe that intelligent design fits the evidence of biology better than Darwinian evolution.”

He’s even parroting the same spiel that Dr. Michael Egnor, the creationist neurosurgeon who’s caused me so much embarrassment for my profession, likes to spew about DNA:

Marshall held up DNA as a possible example of intelligent design in action, calling it the “most complex, densely packed, elaborate assembly of information in the known universe.”

He said DNA even bears similarities to computer codes or a language.

“There’s some three billion characters of information in each of our cells,” he said. “If one were to put this code, write it out like you would onto a newspaper, you would fill some 75,000 pages of the New York Times.”

I’ve already beat on Dr. Egnor multiple times (metaphorically speaking) for making this same error anthropomorphizing the genetic code; so I’ll restrain myself this time. And, as is the case with all creationists do, Dr. Marshall can’t even get the science right:

Frank Schmidt, an MU biochemistry professor, said he counted “21 distortions 15 half-truths and 10 untruths” in Marshall’s 45-minute presentation.

“What you are doing is cloaking a narrow definition of Christianity, which I find personally offensive, as some sort of scientific truth,” Schmidt said. “And that is what really hacks me off.”

Schmidt questioned Marshall about whether intelligent design proposes a testable prediction, as he said real scientific theory does, or if it simply says that we can’t understand everything. When Marshall would not directly answer the question, Schmidt turned and left the auditorium, saying Marshall should not “pretend to be objective.”

Round of applause to Professor Schmidt for a perfectly elegant way of demonstrating his distaste for pseudoscience!

Naturally, the ID camp is whining about how “abused” poor Dr. Marshall is:

It looks like CSC contributor Michael Egnor is not the only professor of medicine to stick his neck out for intelligent design and face severe personal attack. Dr. John Marshall of The University of Missouri-Columbia lectured this week on his own campus with the title “Intelligent Design: Is It Science or Religion?”

From both news and private reports, it sounds like he was verbally attacked in the Q&A session for his reasonable view that ID should be “part of the scientific discussion.”

Ah, the old “teach the controversy” slogan. The problem is, of course, that ID is not science; consequently it really doesn’t have a place in a purely scientific discussion. Certainly it may have a place in discussions of religion, sociology, culture, and politics, but not science.

Unfortunately, Dr. Marshall, contrary to my initial hopes, won’t get me off the hook, at least not around the ScienceBlogs community. Dr. Egnor is still out there and settling into his role as the Discovery Institute’s pet creationist neurosurgeon. I’m the only academic surgeon in ScienceBlogs who cares a lot about this issue. As for the internists on ScienceBlogs, The Cheerful Oncologist (oncologists are internists, you know) isn’t known for throwing himself into this fray, and Dr. Charles is a family doctor (I don’t know if he finished a family practice or internal medicine residency). They just don’t have a dog in this fight to the extent that I do.

Oh, well, the next time an internist points out Dr. Egnor or Dr. Cook to me, I’ll at least have the ability to point out the embarrassment that is Dr. Marshall to him.

I wish those Tibetan monks high in the Himalayas would hurry up with that mask.

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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