Monday, December 15, 2008


Dangerous Fool

Mark Chu-Carroll has an excellent must-read post on why Dr. Michel Egnor's blather about evolution being useless in medical practice because natural selection is supposedly a tautology ("what survives, survives") is not only wrong, it would be, even if true, only trivially so and why Egnor's misrepresentations, on the other hand, are not themselves trivial and must be constantly and forcefully opposed.

Egnor is wrong because he leaves out the crucial and well supported observation that offspring aren't exactly the same as their parents, and those changes can be inherited by their offspring. That means that populations are not merely shifting between preexisting traits but that new traits are arising that have immense import for medical practice.

But even if we ignore this fundamental error of Egnor's, all science can have crucial bits reduced to apparent tautologies because logically valid syllogisms, on which inferences can be based, have to be tautological in order to be valid.

Finally, Mark demonstrates from personal experience why Egnor's misrepresentation can lead to tragic results:

My father died a year and a half ago. What finally killed him was pneumonia. But what caused his death was the stupidity and ignorance of an asshole doctor. My father died of an antibiotic resistant infection. His doctor was, unfortunately, a fundamentalist christian, but for some reason, my dad trusted him. This doctor watched as a series of infections ravaged my father's body, and at pretty much every step, he did the wrong damned thing. The reasoning behind his errors relates directly to the kind of argument Egnor makes: antibiotic resistance isn't the production of new traits; it's merely the selection of existing traits in a population. So he prescribed antibiotics in a way that anyone with a damned clue about how bacteria evolve would have predicted would increase the antibiotic resistance of the bacteria.

Egnor is not just a ludicrous shill for religious denial of science, he is a dangerous one.

If the IDists were sincere in their profession that they accept "microevolution," shouldn't Egnor (for example) be willing to say that antibiotics can produce genuinely new traits in a population of bacteria?
If they had a consistent, rationally-arrived at position, that would doubtless be true. But Egnor is motivated by the desire to deny evolutionary theory a role in medicine so as to make it appear less important to students and encourage them to go on ignoring the science behind it and how it was arrived at.

Egnor's rhetoric demands that he take an illogical position, which neatly demonstrates what his real priority is.
One of the little paradoxes about the philosophy of science is the appearance of a tautology in Newton's laws of motion.

Force = mass times acceleration

What is force? What is mass? This relation between force and mass can be stated so that it is simply a tautology. Mass is measured by the amount of acceleration that it has when it is acted on by a force. Force is measured by the amount of acceleration that it gives to a mass.

Quite aside from whether natural selection is a tautology (after all, there are famous experiments which have tested it), calling it a tautology does not mean that it is useless.

Tom S.
Good example!
Yes, I fear you're right, John. But this does show that they are not as logical as they would have us believe, and there are advantages in highlighting that.
Even Answers in Genesis lists "Natural selection is a tautology" on their web page as an argument they think creationists should NOT use.

I.e. Ken Ham. would not use Egnor's argument. That should tell Egnor something...
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