Egnor Challenge Update

Two weeks ago I issued a challenge to creationist Michael Egnor. Egnor, you may recall, said the following:

Doctors don’t study evolution. Doctors never study it in medical school, and they never use evolutionary biology in their practice.

So I presented a case of a doctor doing exactly that and asked Egnor to reconcile the two. So far no response. In the meantime Egnor has gone on to make a large number of assertions about evolutionary theory, with out providing any support for those assertions. One of those is below.

For several millennia before Darwin, all biology was comparative biology. Before the scientific revolution, biologists spent their time studying and comparing the design of living things. In the 4th century B.C., Aristotle wrote extensively on comparative biology, and classified living things according to structural and functional similarities. The great 2nd century A.D. Roman physician Galen, who was the father of classical anatomy, dissected apes, not humans, and drew inferences to human anatomy from his animal dissections. Andreas Vesalius, the 16th century founder of modern anatomy, dissected humans and corrected Galen’s erroneous extrapolations from animal dissections. The great 17th century physician William Harvey discovered the circulation of blood by extensive physiological studies of animals. It is noteworthy that all these pioneering comparative biologists based their work on the inference that living things were designed.

Egnor seems to be saying that we can do comparative anatomy, for example, and dissect apes and make inferences about humans based on that without understanding the underlying relationships between the two (and note it is those underlying relationships that allow us to make the inferences). I bring this up because I am reading Scientists Confront Intelligent Design and Creationism edited by by Andrew J. Petto and Laurie R. Godfrey (I will be reviewing the book in a later post) and found an interesting statement I would like to excerpt from the book. The statement comes from the chapter by Norman Johnson:

Knowing the facts of science without an understanding of the theories that unify them, and without an understanding of how we came to know the facts, is as sterile as being able to recite Shakespeare without an understanding of what the lines mean and how they relate to one another. It is more important to understand the processes behind how the speed of light was calculated and the implications the speed of light has for physics than it is to know what the speed of light is. The theories provide the structure needed to organize the facts so that their relationship to other facts can be better understood, explained and predicted. Without theories, it would be impossible to calculate the earth’s diameter, the earth’s distance from the sun, or the speed of light.

Or, I might add, practice medicine. We can collect all sorts of amazing facts about human or animal anatomy, rather like a stamp collector collects stamps, but as Johnson points out, this is a pretty sterile endeavor until we have a theory to relate the facts to each other and explain them. Which is precisely what Egnor’s view of science and medicine leaves out – an explanation of the relationship between all those facts that Galen, Harvey, and Vesalius discovered. ID proponents may think this is an acceptable way of doing science, but to me it smacks of intellectual dishonesty and a total lack of curiosity about how the world works…

One Response

  1. Yeah, Egnor has what I call the “cosmic oddity shop” model of science — it’s just a collection of odd facts floating isolated in conceptual space, unconnected by any organizing principles. That’s the model used by an incurious 5 year-old collecting beetles. (An intellectually curious 5 year-old would begin to generate organizing principles for his collection.)

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