Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Michael Egnor tries again

Posted in Freespace by Skepdude on April 14, 2009

“Listen to the fool’s reproach! It is a kingly title!”—William Blake

Dr. Egnor has posted a response to <=”to<“>my comments about his blog posts. He basically makes three points: first, he accuses me of misrepresenting him by calling him a creationist; second, he claims that it is constitutional for creationists to teach religion in government schools; third, he claims I am part of a conspiracy to preach atheism to schoolkids…or something. Let’s see how much of this holds up.

He begins by ensuring us that although he believes in magic and mysticism, he isn’t exactly a young earth creationist. No, he’s an old earth creationist instead. He “respect[s] young earth creationists” and “strongly support[s] their right to participate fully in public discourse, but [he] do[es] not share some of their scientific viewpoints.” I believe that’s exactly what I said to begin with….  But obviously this is irrelevant. The point is, Egnor believes that government-funded, government-operated schools should teach other people’s children that God created life.

My point was that the phrase “participate fully in public discourse” can mean a lot of different things. It can mean the individual right of creationists like Egnor to state their beliefs in public—a right guaranteed to all individuals by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Or it can mean the purported “right” of elected officials to abuse their authority by using the government to endorse their religious views as true and to put that message into government-run schools, funded with taxpayer dollars—something that is absolutely prohibited by the Constitution of the United States. It is the latter that Dr. Egnor endorsed, and endorses again in his most recent post.

The Constitution (which Dr. Egnor can read here for free) forbids the government from anything like an establishment of religion. What that means is, it is illegal for the government to set forth a religious viewpoint as being true. To say that life was created and designed by a divine Designer is a religious belief. It is therefore unconstitutional to teach it in a government run classroom on the taxpayer’s dime to other people’s children.

The Constitution does not bar the government from making other kinds of statements—that is, it does not bar the government from making statements of fact that are supported by science. (It doesn’t even bar the government from teaching untrue facts; Egnor claims that evolution can “only” be taught “in a constitutional manner” if its “weaknesses” are taught—but in fact, the Constitution places very few limits on what government may teach in schools, and that is not one of them.) If those facts turn out to be inconsistent with Dr. Egnor’s religious views—well, that’s just too bad.

As I explained in my article, Reason And Common Ground, the government is perfectly free to teach children that the seasons are caused by the tilt of the earth’s axis, even though that conflicts with the views of Greek polytheists who think the seasons are caused by Persephone’s annual visits to her husband Hades. What the government may not do is say that the myth of Persephone is true or that it is false. It certainly can say that there is no evidence to support it, or that all the evidence points in the direction of the theory of the earth’s tilt on its axis. In exactly the same way, the state may teach students evolution, even though it conflicts with some people’s religious views.

Think what it would mean if the opposite were true: if every person claiming a mystical revelation or an insight into magical processes could wield a heckler’s veto over every expressive act by government. Government could not set up a fire department, because people would complain that fires are caused by Thor’s lightning. Government could not promote sanitation, because it might offend those who believe diseases are God’s punishment for sin. Government could not try to educate the public about violence against women, because it might offend fundamentalist Muslims. There is good reason that the Constitution allows—indeed, expects—the government to teach non-religious concepts and even concepts that are contrary to some people’s religious views, while forbidding it from making religious statements.


Egnorance and stupidity…

Posted in Journey Through a Burning Mind by Skepdude on March 6, 2009

Mike Egnor is a neurosurgeon, famous for his notoriously fallacious arguments and bad logic when trying to support the fairy tale that is intelligent design. He contributes to a ridiculous blog in which he often comments on news around evolution -a well of fallacies, misunderstandings of even basic evolutionary concepts, and just plain silliness. Actually, it is not even a blog: Egnor doesn’t allow comments on his posts, probably in fear of armies of people ridiculing him for his outrageously stupid way of “thinking”. Steven Novella has exposed Egnor a number of times already but he just doesn’t seem to notice… Everyone else though, has already acknowledged the vacuity in his argumentation… The term “Egnorance” was promptly and rightfully coined and is in wide use today.

Egnor’s latest rant is about the scientists’ response to the Academic Freedom bill that was recently passed in Louisiana. On paper, this law simply allows teachers to bring material and discuss controversies and weaknesses of scientific theories in the classroom without the fear of being “punished” somehow for this. In reality, this bill is of course a weasel’s way of introducing intelligent design and creationism into science classrooms.

To their honour, the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) has actively opposed this ridiculous bill, and now that the bill was passed, they (along with many other science societies) have decided to boycott the State of Louisiana and organize their conferences in other states, more open to science and proper education.

Egnor however, thinks the SICB is just promoting censorship in the classrooms (what an irony from a guy that doesn’t allow comments in his blog!). You see, Egnor thinks that academic freedom is about discussing a scientific theory in a science classroom. He believes that science is done in the highschool classrooms:


Michael Egnor pounds his shoe

Posted in Pharyngula by Skepdude on March 4, 2009

E WILL BURY YOU!” seems to be his message in his latest complaint. He is very upset that The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology is boycotting Louisiana, and he informs us all in a long argumentum ad populum that the ignorant outnumber us, addressed to the president and members of SICB.

Most Americans are creationists, in the sense that they believe that God played an important role in creating human beings and they don’t accept a strictly Darwinian explanation for life. And they think that they ought to be able to ask questions about evolution in their own public schools. They don’t share your passion for ideological purity in science classes. They have a quaint notion that science depends on the freedom to ask questions, and their insistence on academic freedom is catching on. They don’t want religion taught in the science classroom, but they know that students are not learning about all of the science surrounding evolution. Seventy-eight percent of Americans support academic freedom in the teaching of evolution in schools, and that number is rising fast — it’s up 9% in the past 3 years. People clearly resent your demand for censorship. After all, it’s their children in their schools, and they aren’t happy with a bunch of supercilious Darwinists telling them that they can’t even question Darwinism in their own classrooms. So if you’re going to boycott all the creationists who despise you, you’ll eventually have to hold all of your conventions in Madison or Ann Arbor. Keep up the arrogance and eventually you won’t have to boycott people at all. People will boycott you.

Whoa. I’m impressed.

Note the open admission that the Discovery Institute’s audience are the god-fearin’ creationists, and that the people they regard as “on their side” are plain-and-simple, unmodified creationists, not just the usual Intelligent Design creationists. That’s useful to see.

There’s also the usual distortions. People ought to be able to ask questions about evolution in the public schools — that’s what science is all about, and I would encourage kids to raise their hands and speak out in class. However, none of this argument is about squelching inquiry: it’s about whether weak and discredited ideas, like ID, ought to be given special privilege and elevated to the standard curriculum. They shouldn’t.

We’re also seeing the usual deprecation of expertise. SICB is an organization of thousands of scientists who have invested years of their life in the study of biology. They are experts. Against that, we have millions of people in Louisiana who, while competent in their own areas of work, have very little knowledge of biology. According to Michael Egnor, the people we should listen to on this relatively rarefied subject are the majority who know nothing about it. Would he be quite so sanguine if we dismissed his specialization, neurosurgery, and suggested that he needed to follow the suggestions of a roofer from Baton Rouge? Is it “censorship” that he doesn’t allow his patients’ families into the operating room to give him a hand?


Forbes on evolution and intelligent design

Posted in Rationally Speaking by Skepdude on February 12, 2009


This is the year of Darwin (yes, yes, it’s also the year of astronomy, I know), and especially this week — around the date of Chuck’s birth — we are seeing a spike of events, radio and tv pieces, and printed articles. (Expect a second peak in November, for the anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species.) One of the most schizophrenic treatments of the topic surely is the one published this week by Forbes magazine. They have a number of solid pieces by recognized scientists and science writers (for instance by evo-devo researcher Sean Carroll, philosopher Michael Ruse, and writer Michael Shermer). But they also have four, I repeat four, insanely anti-intellectual articles by pro-ID writers: Ken Ham (the “CEO” of Answers in Genesis and founder of the oxymoronic Creation Museum in Kentucky), John West (the hack author of Darwin Day in America), Jonathan Wells (the infamous author of Icons of Evolution), and my colleague here at Stony Brook, Neurosurgery Vice Chairman Michael Egnor. I will ignore the first three because I have dealt with them on numerous occasions in the past, and concentrate instead on Egnor.

He begins his piece by stating that “As an undergraduate biochemistry major, I was uncomfortable with
Darwinian explanations for biological complexity. Living things certainly appeared to be designed.” That’s a bad enough reflection on undergraduate science education in the United States at the time (alas, it ain’t much better today, in this respect), but the fact that Egnor persists in such a naive way of thinking today, as a professor of neurosurgery is really a shame (for him and for Stony Brook).

Egnor goes on trotting out the same old tired creationist “objections” to evolution. The fossil record has discontinuities (yes, it does, and they have been shown over and over to be perfectly compatible with evolution, considering the time scales involved); biomolecules are so complex that they couldn’t possibly have originated naturally (an argument from ignorance, both in the philosophical sense and in the personal sense that Egnor is obviously ignorant about molecular evolution); the genetic “code” couldn’t exist without design, because only intelligent beings produce codes (an astounding example of taking a metaphor literally instead of looking at the perfectly explicable biochemistry of nucleic acids). Then Egnor proceeds by asking what he seems to think are devastating questions for “evolutionists.” Let’s take a look.

“Why do Darwinists claim that intelligent design theory isn’t scientific, when both intelligent design and Darwinism are merely the affirmative and negative answers to the same scientific question: Is there evidence for teleology in biology?” This betrays Egnor’s ignorance of the nature of science. The question of teleology in biology is most certainly not a scientific question, it is a philosophical one. And “Darwinism” is not a negative answer to that question, it is a positive answer to the question of how adaptive complexity originated during the history of life on earth.

“Why do Darwinists–scientists–seek recourse in federal courts to silence criticism of their theory in public schools?” Because the issue is one of government-mandated separation of Church and State and school board-regulated criteria for what should be taught in science classrooms. The creation-evolution debate is not a scientific debate, it is a social controversy, and as such it naturally, if unfortunately, involves court challenges.

“What is it about the Darwinian understanding of biological origins that is so fragile that it will not withstand scrutiny by schoolchildren?” Are you kidding? Schoolchildren do not understand plenty of other solidly established science either. For instance, many children (and a good number of adults) seem to think of the world in terms of Aristotelian, not Newtonian (let alone relativistic) physics. Should we ban Sir Isaac from science curriculum as a result?

Egnor ends his piece with a long whine about how he has been vilified on the internet (well, join the club, dude), and how “fundamentalist atheists” have called for him to be fired. I don’t know how good a neurosurgeon Egnor is, but I assume he is good enough to have obtained his post at Stony Brook. As such, he should retain it. But if he were in my Department (Ecology & Evolution) I most certainly would call for him to be booted out immediately on the ground that he doesn’t understand the basic foundations of the science in which he is supposed to carry out scholarship and which he should be able to teach to students.

This isn’t a matter of “ostracism” or “intolerance” (rather ironic terms when they come from creationists), it is a matter of intellectual honesty. I don’t subscribe to the Dawkins-style attack on creationists (amply quoted by Egnor, of course), which he calls “ignorant, stupid, insane … or wicked.” Most creationists are none of the last three (though ignorance often does play a role. But then again, I’m just as ignorant of neurosurgery). But Egnor, Ham, Wells, West and especially the editors of Forbes should understand once and for all that evolution is to biology what relativity or quantum mechanics are to physics, what the big bang is to cosmology, or what the atomic theory is to chemistry. Evolution is a scientific fact as solid as they come, and a scientific theory as well established as any other scientific theory is. Creationism and its cousin intelligent design are primitive ideas that were reasonable enough in a pre-scientific society, but do not have a respectable place at the table of intellectual discourse anymore. It’s time to get used to it.


Desecration of the Eucharist, Conscience, and P.Z. Myers’ Hypocrisy-A reply

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on August 27, 2008

When I started Skepfeeds I had made a conscious decision to limit my entries and to concentrate mostly on gathering the best skeptical blogs of the day under one roof. However, I have reserved the right to post an entry in regards to certain things that really itch. One such thing presented itself in (not surprisingly) the IDiotic website of the (Un)Discovery Institute, an entry by Michael Egnor titled “Desecration of the Eucharist, Conscience, and P.Z. Myers’ Hypocrisy”. You may know Mr. Egnor from his never ending fight with Dr. Steven Novella over the dualism/materialism brain issue. For more on this head over to Dr. Novella’s blog, Neurologica.

Mr. Egnor starts his entry with such:

Danio, guest blogger at Pharyngula, has a post advocating the denial of legal protection for health care workers who, because of religious beliefs or other moral objections, refuse to provide services such as abortions or contraception. It’s hard to believe that any person with even a modicum of respect for individual rights would support taking legal sanction against physicians, nurses, and pharmacists who, because of genuine deeply held religious belief or other moral principles, believe that such acts as abortion or contraception are immoral. From the standpoint of traditional medical ethics, healthcare professionals are only under legal compulsion to provide care in a life-saving emergency. The controversial “treatments” in dispute are not emergencies, and are certainly not life-saving. That abortion and contraception aren’t life-saving is actually the point of the doctors, nurses, and pharmacists who are acting on conscience.

Where do I start with this one? First, if you go and read the post that Egnor is referring to you will not find not one statement supporting “taking legal sanction against physicians, nurses, and pharmacists who, because of genuine deeply held religious belief or other moral principles”. In fact, most people involved in this debate do not advocate that a doctor should be held legally liable for refusing to perform an abortion. What we are saying is that a doctor, whose job description involves performing abortions, should not be allowed to be such a doctor if he refuses to perform said duties. Claiming, like Egnor erroneously does, that we are seeking to hold these people accountable legally is simply a lie or a complete misunderstanding of the argument being put forward.

If someone is in fact making that argument, that we should jail doctors that refuse to perform abortions or pharmacists that refuse to sell contraceptive pills, then that person too is an idiot. The argument is simple. If a doctor is expected to perform abortions, as part of the duties of the profession he freely choose, then he should not be allowed to pull out the religious/moral card to refuse to perform such duties, not if he wishes to remain employed in said profession. It is a simple choice really, either you perform all your duties or don’t become that kind of doctor. Be a dentist or podiatrist or neurosurgeon for god’s sake, and keep your religious “conscience” intact.

Secondly, no one is making any statements with regards to the doctor’s personal beliefs and moral stance. Every person has the right to abide by any moral or religious philosophy they choose to, so long as that does not interfere with other people’s rights. And this is not that case. These doctors want to basically impose their personal beliefs to their patients, by refusing to follow their patient’s wishes. How would Mr. Egnor feel if a doctors found it morally objectionable to treat black women and refused to perform “non life-threatening” services for them? Would he find the use of the morality card acceptable then? What if an atheistic doctor refused to perform his duties if the patient  was a Christian? Would Mr. Egnor find that acceptable? Something tells me he would be the first one to cry foul. Clearly the doctor’s moral beliefs should have no say in their performance of their professional duties. No law should allow doctors to discriminate and that is the point of the entry that Egnor is attacking. Such law is wrong and should not be allowed to pass. So how can Egnor take that and twist into a request to legally prosecute these doctors? Makes no sense to me!

Danio misses the irony. Pharyngula’s own P.Z. Myers has been the beneficiary of lavish free-speech protection, in which his own peculiar “pious” opinion trumps secular law.

I failed to notice that PZ’s opinions were being formulated into a bill to be passed by Congress. Maybe Egnor knows something we don’t!

Myers, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris, has been publishing atheist ideology and anti-Christian hatred on Pharyngula for several years while on the Minnesota public payroll. In all likelihood, he’s used some public property or publicly financed time to disseminate his spew. Recently, he desecrated the Eucharist by obtaining a consecrated Host, nailing it, throwing it in the garbage, and posting a photograph of it on Pharyngula. One doubts that his prolific bigotry is produced entirely on his own time and resources; the good taxpayers of Minnesota, including devout Catholic taxpayers, likely subsidize this bigot’s performance art.

Ok, now he’s really showing the limits of his own stupidity. Pharyngula, is a personal blog, not in any way associated with the University of Minessota, which is where PZ teaches. The rules of the University of Minessota, which Egnor also quotes, do not extend to every minute of PZ’s life. He is a private citizen, and as long as he’s expressing his personal opinion, on his own time, in his own private blog, and all this activity is not constured to represent the opinions of the university, how the hell can such a stupid argument be made? Likewise, any of the good christian doctors Egnor is fighting so hard to protect, can share his religious and moral thoughts with the world in a personal blog, just liek PZs and no one would lift a finger to censor that.

Futhermore, being a regular reader of Pharyngula, I am aware that PZ owns a laptop so that does away with the “resources” claim. Also, as far as I know, tenured university professors are not paid by the hour, so the “time” argument does not make much sense either. This is such a lame attempt that it really makes me wonder how the hell did this guy ever earn a real doctor’s degree with such low reasoning skills? Because if you didn’t know, Egnor is in fact a neuro-something something.

Myers has been protected from the legal consequences of his malicious desecration of the Eucharist.

Is there really a law in the books that protects the rights of a piece of flat bread? Now that would be bigotry, and as far as I know, there are no legal consequences to desecrating a piece of bread, otherwise you could rest assured that PZ would be in jail by now. But, I could be wrong, I am not a lawyer.

Freedom of expression, whether it is expression of anti-Christian bigotry or a belief in the sanctity of human life or a disagreement with Darwinian orthodoxy in a classroom, is our most important freedom, and I will defend it even for those with whom I most strongly disagree. In fact, I defend it particularly for those with whom I disagree. Yet Myers and his minions, who are obvious beneficiaries of the right of freedom of expression, demand the firing or silencing of scientists and teachers who question Darwinian orthodoxy, and now they have the audacity to demand that the law impose legal and professional sanctions on Christian doctors who in good conscience would not abort a baby.

This is really becoming idiotic. There goes the “freedome of expression” argument regarding the teaching of ID in the classrooms. How many times will these people use the same stupid argument? No matter how many times you show the fallacy, they just don’t care and it seems that they think that by repeating it a lot, it will become valid. News flash, it wont! And why is he singling out Christian doctors only? I am sure there are some Mulsim, Jewish, and atheist doctors too who feel uneasy about performing an abortion. A bit hypocritical don’t you think?

In closing, the good Christian has this to say:

Myers and his minions are bigots. And censors. And hypocrites.

Now you’ve hurt our feelings. Bad, bad Egnor!