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Egnor with Another (shockingly) Bad Argument Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Posted by henry000 in anti-creationism, anti-ID, creationism, evolution, intelligent design, Michael Egnor, science.
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Michael Egnor has recently come up with a shockingly bad argument against the process of evolution. It is so bad, that some scientific commentators have even called it the worst anti-evolution argument they have ever heard. For those who don’t know, Egnor is a pro-ID neurosurgeon working for the Discovery Institute (a pro-ID organisation), whose bad creationist arguments have made him a favourite target of ridicule and rebuttal amongst scientific bloggers.

Egnor’s argument goes like this: cancer is a real evolution phenomenon that should produce better brain through random mutation and natural selection.

Here is the full text that I have reposted here. The entire article can be found here.

Dr. Novella is missing a much better example of random mutation and natural selection that’s not metaphorical at all. Cancer is a test of Darwin’s theory. Cancer is real biological evolution by random mutation and natural selection, writ fast. There’s no reason to invoke encyclopedia typos or tractor engines in order to understand what “chance and necessity” can do to a living system. Brain tumors are perfect little Novellian “two-cycle engines” nestled inside the skull, “random mutations” coming out the ears, and “natural selection” like there’s no tomorrow (excuse the metaphors). Brain tumors are constantly generating new biological variation, and they are avatars of natural selection. They provide a tremendous spectrum of variation, from “variation jet-engines” like malignant glioblastoma multiforme to “variation tortoises” like benign pilocytic astrocytomas. Cancer wards are full of patients brimming with “two-stroke engines” of evolutionary change.

… If random mutations and natural selection — Dr. Novella’s “two stroke engine” — is the source of all functional integrated biological complexity, brain tumors ought to help our brains evolve in some way.

A quick history is required before we understand the full context. Dr. Novella is a Yale neuroscientist and an active blogger who loves a bit of battle against creationists. Novella wrote a blog entry on Egnor, where his “two cycle engine” metaphor was mentioned. In reply, Egnor wrote that if evolution is correct, then brain tumours should produce better brain.

Needless to say, Egnor’s shocking lack of understanding of evolution is been comprehensively rebuttal and ridiculed by reasonable people on the Internet. Some credible and better ones include the following:

The fallacy of Egnor’s argument is twofold, which I will quickly summarise here – read the above links for detailed rebuttal.

Firstly, evolution works at hereditary level, so that any advantageous mutation might be passed down to generations. The mutation that causes cancer is a somatic mutation, that is, it is a mutation that takes place in non-reproductive cells in the individual, and hence not inheritable. Any mutation or feature that is not inheritable, no matter how good it is, cannot be naturally-selected and therefore passed down to generations.

Secondly, the cancerous mutation takes place at the cell level – not at the individual organism level. So the advantage and disadvantage we talk about here is for the cells. In the case of cancer, the mutation is good for the cancer cells – not for the host – so they multiply quickly – and in the process harming and killing the host as they use up all resources.

I do not enjoy ridicule or insult people who make mistakes in understanding things, nor using their occupation or intelligence as a basis, but I do have problems with people who are completely ignorant. Egnor has consistently shown his lack of understanding of evolution over and over again (hence receiving so much scorn). Is he plainly ignorant or just being deliberate to attract attention to ID?

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