Sunday, March 11, 2007

Dogfight #4: Dr. Michael Egnor

Since PZ's big round number B recently occurred and I couldn't conjure up a poem, guess I'll do another Dogfight for him. Today's target: Dr. Michael Egnor, who, aside from being a Cretinist recently touted by the "Discovery Institute," is the cause of much embarrassment for Orac.

So, without further ado:

Learning about biochemistry and learning about molecular biology, I found some aspects of it quite unsatisfying in a sense that there was so much astonishing complexity, so much beauty in the way life worked at the molecular level that I couldn't understand how it came to be.

I would suggest you hook up with a biologist, then, and study biology. Chances are, it'd get more beautiful once you did get an understanding of our current level of knowledge.

At the time, although I didn't question Darwinism explicitly because I didn't realize how much evidence there was to support questioning Darwinism, I felt that there was something really missing in my understanding of biological complexity. But I didn't think a whole lot about it and went on to practice neurosurgery and do my own research.

Evidence such as...?

As time went on, I came to seriously question whether just randomness, just random meaningless events, could really generate the kind of beauty and elegance and complexity that's at the core of living things.

And already you demonstrate what level of understanding of evolution you have: None whatsoever. Evolution isn't random. It's stochastic: It's a process with random elements, but the end result is still non-random. To use an extreme example, a fast-running deer is much more likely to survive than a paraplegic one. If evolution was random, they'd have about the same chance. Natural selection is non-random. When I was in seventh-grade biology, I understood that simple concept.

Also, what's with 'meaning'? A person might call a hammer meaningless, but it's still quite a useful tool for driving a nail. Should I expect this to be a repeat from an old troll who claimed that he was somehow able to change the dripping of a faucet by 'applying meaning' to it?

What troubled me about my attempt to understand where the complexity and the elegance of life came from was a difficulty in seeing how, for example, the genetic code could arise by chance. It seemed to me preposterous to assume that a representation of an informational code, which is really a language, with letters and words and syntax and punctuation, could arise by random events, no matter how many random events, or no matter what kind of selection pressure you offered. We have no experience in nature whatsoever with representational codes or languages except in biology, and the only experience we have in our lives is with such languages that are intelligently designed by people.

1. Thought experiments don't prove anything. Just grab a genetic algorithm and run it!

2. Stop drinking from the reification Kool-Aid: We call it a language because that's an easy to grasp analogy.

3. Languages aren't always intelligently designed: They evolve. Someone comes up with new words, expressions, etcetera, often on whims, and if the community finds the innovation useful enough, it survives. If I'm lucky, 'flarschnikit' might survive as a meme.

The difficulty was that I didn't realize that a very powerful scientific case can be made that these aspects of living things are not random, and it wasn't until I read the work of Michael Behe or Bill Dembski and Phillip Johnson that I came to see that the qualms that I had, the suspicions that I had, about the adequecy of Darwinism to explain biological complexity had a very sound scientific basis. In fact, in my view, th science that Behe and Dembski and Johnson were talking about was much better science than the Darwinism that I had been taught.

Yeah. Behe, the guy who does science so astounding, and so much better than real science, he has to argue that the definition of science must be downgraded to include Astrology.

And Dembski, who argues that the universe is designed because everything is flarschnikity.

What struck me as astonishing in looking at the work of Bill Dembski and Phil Johnson and Michael that if you look objectively at the genetic code, at much of modern molecular biology, you see a specified complexity that is really in some way the semantics of meaning in, for example, the genetic code, that the gene that codes for an enzyme doesn't itself do what the enzyme does. It doesn't catalyze a reaction. It simply has a meaning that is translated into the enzyme that catalyzes the reaction. How can one generate by random processes, regardless of what kind of selection pressure you have, because all selection pressure has been historically nonintelligent. It gets colder, it gets warmer, a boulder falls on an animal, something happens, but it's not intelligently caused. But such selection pressure, how can that generate meaning? How can that generate a code, a language? And those questions are very good scientific questions. They're the kinds of questions that Darwinists should have asked in the 1950's immediately after the genetic code was revealed. It's the kind of thing that should have stopped Darwinism in its tracks.

Now that stupidity's just painful. I imagine it's even moreso for those of you with a better understanding of how those molecules shuffle about. I think we've gone into one of those meaningless marijuana-inspired rants about an undefined 'meaning'.

Somehow, I suspect this quote had a lot of d00000d!s and Maaaaan!s removed before I read it. And this guy's a doctor? No wonder Orac's got that bag on his head. Wonder if this guy's brain surgery comes with a free Q-Ray bracelet or something.

Okay, that's about my limit. Think I'm approaching the event horizon of Egnor's brain. Happy B, PZ!


Joshua said...

Ludicrous. The genetic code was a prediction that Darwin made. He didn't know what it was, exactly, but he knew that descent with modification required a method of heredity with the exact properties that genes were found to have when science rediscovered and expanded on the research of Gregor Mendel. That's what the entire neo-Darwinian synthesis was about.

Dikkii said...

I'm kinda speechless.

In fact, in my view, th science that Behe and Dembski and Johnson were talking about was much better science than the Darwinism that I had been taught.

Straight outta the DI's propaganda machine. And so very very wrong.

What drugs is he on? And where can I get some?

Seriously, he'll be trying to convince us that reality is relative, next.

Spirula said...

astonishing complexity

so much beauty

beauty and elegance and complexity


ID "theory".

quite unsatisfying

there was something really missing

difficulty in seeing how

seemed to me preposterous

suspicions that I had

in my view

ID "science".

R2K said...

: )

Rockstar Ryan said...

Like I always say - I love the term "Darwinist"; like there have been no advances in biology since Charles Darwin.

Believe in germ theory? Sit down, Pasteurian!

Believe that rockets fly into space? Shut up, Goddardist!

Rockstar Ryan said...

By the way, anyone hear from Cocksnack lately? His friend Ass Weasel has recently paid me a visit.

Akusai said...

He hasn't even updated his own shitty blog in over a month, and I haven't registered any hits on my Sitemeter from Las Vegas since his last trolling at my place.

Maybe he died?

Tom Foss said...

I haven't seen him since he bowed out of Matt's trollbecue some time ago.

Anonymous said...

At the end of the day all that matters is whether or not Egnor is a competent surgeon.

Quacks have their licenses pulled, competent surgeons do not.

Tom Foss said...

The only thing that matters to Egnor's patients and practice as a surgeon is his competence in that field.

What matters to his activities as a Discovery Institute mouthpiece and anti-evolution pundit, however, is another matter entirely.

Bronze Dog said...

IDiots often have crazy ideas about how germs and antibiotics work, so that's one cause for concern about Egnor's competence.

Also, given that he's a dualist, it's kind of like saying he doesn't believe his own profession does anything.

That's enough for me to question his competence.