Dr. Michael Egnor is creationist neurosurgeon at SUNY Stony Brook—an embarrassment to that fine institution, I’d imagine—and the most recent addition to the Discovery Institutes’s roster. He is well known in the blogsphere for his ability to make the most illogical and obviously factually incorrect claims in an effort to discredit “Darwinism”. (Okay that is not actually a novel phenotype among the creationists and intelligent design activists.) For example, he actually argued that evolution had nothing to do antibiotic resistance, a Hovindesque argument. (Hopefully, Egnor pays his taxes and is not a complete Hovind imitation.)
Fact checking doesn’t matter when you are as arrogant as Egnor. In a memorable exchange, he argued that evolution was not important to medicine because not a single medical school had any classes or professors dealing with evolution. When it was shown that there was an entire evolution graduate program in his own medical school, he then argued that the existence of such programs doesn’t prove that evolution is important to medicine, ignoring completely what his original argument was. What rational man can make both these claims while completely ignoring the connection? I dubbed such an egotistical combination of ignorance and arrogance “egnorance“.
But Egnor is simply unable to control his egnorance. He continues to write for the Discovery Institute, each time justifying the gift of his name to “egnorance”.—He is like a junky, except his addiction isn’t crack but making a total jackass out of himself.—In his latest pair of posts he is on roll, inventing fictions about history to illogically argue that because at some point in history someone didn’t use evolution in medicine or genetics, then evolution is not important to how those things are studied today. It is like arguing that, because Hippocrates didn’t practice neurosurgery, neurosurgery is dispensable to medicine.
… Darwin’s assertion that random variation was the raw material for biological complexity was of no help in decoding the genetic language of DNA.
Egnor is completely and utterly wrong. This is a total distortion of the actual research that went into determining the genetic code. The research program of Crick, Brenner, Benzer, and colleagues relied heavily on applying Darwinian principles (random mutation and selection) to model organisms. Specifically, they isolated mutations in bacterial viruses (phages), and then used selection to find revertants under controlled experimental conditions. With such data, Crick et al. (1961) were able to demonstrate that each residue in a protein was encoded by a non-overlapping triplet of nucleic-acid residues. In another example, with the same system Benner et al. (1967) used selection experiments on mutations to argue that UGA did not code for an amino acid and specifically argued that it must have an important function “because otherwise natural selection would have certainly allocated it to an amino acid.”
So in spite of Egnor’s egnorance, Darwin’s ideas were not only a help but very essential “in decoding the genetic language of DNA.”
Now the biotech industry is founded on the application of Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Selection is an essential part of the process that creates transgenic organisms, like bacteria that produce human insulin. Humans are unable to create transgenic organisms directly, instead they use recombination DNA technology, which randomly creates transgenic organisms from building blocks provided by the researcher. The result is a population of organisms, in which a small minority contains the desired transgenic trait. The researcher then uses Darwin’s mechanism, selection, to evolve a population that is enriched for the desired trait. And voila, with what to someone like Dr. Egnor must seem like wizardry, a population of bacteria can now produce human insulin, enriching and saving the lives of millions, all thanks to Charles Darwin.