Our favorite creationist neurosurgeon, Michael Egnor, has published his ill-informed and logically-challenged opinions on evolution in a business journal. Darwin’s day is just around the corner (February 12th is the 200th anniversary of his birth and this year is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of the Species), and so it’s a good time for a creationist smack down. As usual Egnor gets everything wrong. He clearly does not understand evolutionary theory, or simply does not care if his straw men are accurate or not as long as he gets to regurgitate the standard anti-evolution propaganda.
In his article he makes a number of wrong or misleading statements, some in question form. He substitues assertion for evidence, and fallacies for logic. His objections to evolution begin with this:
The fossil record shows sharp discontinuity between species, not the gradual transitions that Darwinism inherently predicts.
Wrong. First, I must point out that Egnor insists on referring to evolutionary theory as “Darwinism.” As many others have pointed out before, this is a propaganda tactic to attempt to diminish evolutionary theory to the quaint ideas of one guy. It is also misleading, for the modern synthesis of evolutionary theory differs in significant ways from strict Darwinian theory.
The Humanist Community of Central Ohio sent out a suggestion to various towns to declare 12 February Darwin Day, in honor of the man and his science. Nice gesture, I think; it’s a small token of appreciation that doesn’t cost anyone anything. The city of Whitehall went for it, but then something odd happened — people complained.
So they watered it down to declaring February a month of science, and added Galileo’s name to the list of honorees. OK, that’s a bit craven, and their intent is transparent, but it’s a reasonable compromise. Go for it!
Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough for the creationists. Now they want to remove Darwin’s name! What a silly thing to do.
A recent article in the Times (of London) quotes Steve Jones, a renowned geneticist author of Darwin’s Ghost (nothing less than an updated version of Darwin’s Origin of Species), as saying “Human evolution is over. Quite unexpectedly, we have dropped the human mutation rate because of a change in reproductive patterns.” What’s he talking about?
Jones maintains that older men (35+) contribute most of the new mutations entering the human gene pool, and those people ain’t reproducing as they used to. Really? Perhaps Jones has forgotten that for most of human history people were highly unlikely to live to, let alone reproduce, at that old age (by Pleistocene standards). Besides, what are we to make of cultural trends (in Western societies) that postpone reproduction for both men and women?
Well, Jones says, “In the old days, you would find one powerful man having hundreds of children,” citing the example of Moulay Ismail from 18th century Morocco who (allegedly) copulated with an average of 1.2 women per day for a straight 60 years (without Viagra), thereby producing a whopping 888 children (nicely symmetric number, which probably doesn’t take into account the human tendency for exaggeration and the likely fact that some of Ismail’s concubines were having, shall we say, side jobs). At any rate, these “old days” are just not old enough to be evolutionarily relevant. The appropriate time frame, again, is pre-agricultural time, when most of human evolution took place. And in those old days there simply wasn’t enough food to go around for a single man to maintain dozens of sexual partners and their offspring.
“In ancient times” continues Jones in the Times interview, “half our children could have died by the age of 20. Now, in the Western world, 98 per cent of them are surviving to 21.” The key words here, of course, are “in the Western world,” as infant and child mortality (and hence the opportunity for natural selection to do its work) are still astronomically high outside of Western societies (and a few others, like Japan). Besides, here is an area where I’m going to be glad that natural selection has a little less wiggle room than it would have without modern medicine.
Finally, Jones complains that human populations have become too large (certainly true from the point of view of our environmental impact) and interbreed too much (I will refrain from engaging in ethnic jokes by pointing out that only a Brit could complain about too much sex. Oh, darn, I just did engage in an ethnic joke). The problem here is that this reduces the relevance of the chance factor in evolution, which is associated with random fluctuations in gene frequencies in very small populations. But human populations have probably very rarely been small enough for so-called genetic drift to have a major effect, and Jones seems to be forgetting that the flip side of that coin is that large populations carry more genetic variation, and are thereby better suited to respond to selection.
As for the last comment in the published interview: “History is made in bed, but nowadays the beds are getting closer together. We are mixing into a global mass, and the future is brown.” As in: we will all look the same, because biologically based ethnic differences will be erased by worldwide interbreeding. Well, to begin with, this is just not happening quickly enough for my taste. Talk about a truly color-blind society that would result from it! Second, I’m sure the human ability to arbitrarily define in-group and out-group membership, thereby continuing the self-destructive “us-vs-them” attitude that has characterized us since “the old days” isn’t going to be halted by a simple quirk of demography.
The Church of England will concede in a statement that it was over-defensive and over-emotional in dismissing Darwin’s ideas. It will call “anti-evolutionary fervour” an “indictment” on the Church”.
The bold move is certain to dismay sections of the Church that believe in creationism and regard Darwin’s views as directly opposed to traditional Christian teaching.
The apology, which has been written by the Rev Dr Malcolm Brown, the Church’s director of mission and public affairs, says that Christians, in their response to Darwin’s theory of natural selection, repeated the mistakes they made in doubting Galileo’s astronomy in the 17th century.
There’s a new movie being developed on the life of Charles Darwin that actually has the potential to be good. It’s based on Randal Keyne’s book, Annie’s Box(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), which is an excellent source that humanizes the man well. It also has a good cast so far, although, seriously, Jennifer Connelly is way too hot to play Emma Darwin — they’re going to have to dress her down quite a bit.
DAYTON, TN—A steady stream of devoted evolutionists continued to gather in this small Tennessee town today to witness what many believe is an image of Charles Darwin—author of The Origin Of Species and founder of the modern evolutionary movement—made manifest on a concrete wall in downtown Dayton.
“I brought my baby to touch the wall, so that the power of Darwin can purify her genetic makeup of undesirable inherited traits,” said Darlene Freiberg, one among a growing crowd assembled here to see the mysterious stain, which appeared last Monday on one side of the Rhea County Courthouse. The building was also the location of the famed “Scopes Monkey Trial” and is widely considered one of Darwinism’s holiest sites. “Forgive me, O Charles, for ever doubting your Divine Evolution. After seeing this miracle of limestone pigmentation with my own eyes, my faith in empirical reasoning will never again be tested.”
Added Freiberg, “Behold the power and glory of the scientific method!”