Thursday, May 24, 2007


Surgeon on the Cutting Edge?

Dr. Michael Egnor is back with another demonstration of exactly how up-to-date he is as far as the entire evolutionary biology versus Intelligent Design Creationism debate. This time, he is extolling an analogy to the Antikythera mechanism and how we can draw the inference that it was designed:
Further examination of this device, called the Antikythera mechanism, including x-ray and CT studies, shows it to be a remarkable assembly of precisely designed gears. Many scientists believe that it was a device for predicting eclipses and planetary motion, but its precise function is still a mystery. Its resemblance to an analog computer is striking ... Archeologists believe that the technology to produce such a device didn’t emerge until at least the 14th century A.D. They have no evidence as to who designed it, and no evidence even of who could have designed it. Yet the inference to design is obvious, and no archeologist doubts that it is a designed artifact. Design can be inferred from an artifact alone, regardless of the obscurity or the implausibility of a designer.
Now where have I heard that argument before?
In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone and were asked how the stone came to be there, I might possibly answer that for anything I knew to the contrary it had lain there forever; nor would it, perhaps, be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place, I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that for anything I knew the watch might have always been there. Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for the stone; why is it not as admissible in the second case as in the first?

For this reason, and for no other, namely, that when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive - what we could not discover in the stone - that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose … To reckon up a few of the plainest of these parts and of their offices, all tending to one result: we see a cylindrical box containing a coiled elastic spring, which, by its endeavor to relax itself, turns round the box. We next observe a flexible chain - artificially wrought for the sake of flexure - communicating the action of the spring from the box to the fusee. We then find a series of wheels, the teeth of which catch in and apply to each other, conducting the motion from the fusee to the balance and from the balance to the pointer, and at the same time, by the size and shape of those wheels, so regulating that motion is to terminate in causing an index, by an equable and measured progression, to pass over a given space in a given time.
But note that, in both cases, the inference to design comes precisely from a recognition of a human-type purpose and means of attaining that purpose. The Antikythera mechanism clearly appears to be using gears to produce calculations of some sort, the way a watch uses them to produce a consistent turning of the watch's hands. Thus, the inference to a human maker is based on our own experience of what technologies we know we use.

But what experience do we have of designers using self-reproducing entities over millions of years to hone and adapt their designs to ever-changing environments? Of course, Dr. Egnor may want to deny the change in species that Michael Behe and other ID proponents admit, but then he is committing a petitio principii fallacy by assuming the very thing that he is trying to prove: that variation and selection is insufficient to produce the complex structures and processes he claims must come from design. Without an ability to rule that out as a source of the alleged design, his analogy must fail as unrealistic.

Let's hope, for the sake of the good doctor's patients, that he is closer to the 21st Century in medicine than he is in his arguments for ID.

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