The Years of Living Stupidly

Number 8 in a series

The photo shows creationists Walter Bradley and Ide Trotter at a workshop hosted by the Texas Education Agency, where they were assigned the task of reviewing high school biology texts for public schools.

I tend to devote this series to people being stupid about science, such as by using science and religion in the same sentence. That often comes about when people, caught up in religion, carry the contagion with them when they step across the line into fields of science—or into any other area requiring rational thought. Who does this a lot are the people at the Discovery Institute (DI), the premier organization in this country promoting Intelligent Design.

A rich resource on this kind of foolishness is the DI’s Center for Science and Culture (CSC), founded by creationist Stephen C. Meyer, among others. the thinking of DI fellows and the CSC are made public on an associated site called Evolution News. More recently, I found the following posted on the Discovery Institute site:

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor: Why Machines Will Never Think

From remarks at the official launch of the Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence


This is interesting on multiple levels, one of which relates to Dr. Michael Egnor, whom we have met before:

Michael Egnor is a prominent neurosurgeon and a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Stony Brook University. He became inoculated against evolution (the science of biological evolution) after reading  Michael Denton‘s book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. Egnor has aligned himself with the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture (CSC), one of the leading creationist organizations in this country and likely the absolute leader in support of the Intelligent Design version of creationism. An excerpt from one of his posts on the CSC’s Evolution News blog may be characteristic:

Scopes was put on trial for violating the Butler Act, which prohibited teaching human evolution to schoolchildren in Tennessee. What Scopes actually taught, if anything, is unclear, because Scopes was untruthful about what he did, and the trial was a legal ploy to spur a Supreme Court ruling. The truth was a secondary consideration at best to Scopes and to his team.

Hunter’s textbook Civic Biology was racist and taught eugenics. It was vile stuff. If a teacher taught from it today, he would not be prosecuted for violating the Butler Act. He would be prosecuted for federal civil rights violations.

Follow the link and read the post for complete details. Anyhow, Dr. Egnor now proposes to  boldly step outside his realm of expertise and into the quagmire that is Artificial Intelligence (AI). I took some time to read through his thinking on the matter, and you are invited to do likewise. What I found is that, while Dr. Egnor is likely correct in some of his conclusions, he is correct for the wrong reasons. An illustration from Dr. Egnor’s monograph:

What is the hallmark of human thought, and what distinguishes thoughts from material things? Franz Brentano (1838–1917), a German philosopher in the 19th century, answered this question decisively. All thoughts are about something, whereas no material object is inherently “about” anything. This property of aboutness is called intentionality, and intentionality is the hallmark of the mind. Every thought that I have shares the property of aboutness—I think about my vacation, or about politics, or about my family. But no material object is, in itself, “about” anything. A mountain or a rock or a pen lacks aboutness—they are just objects. Only a mind has intentionality, and intentionality is the hallmark of the mind.

Another word for intentionality is meaning. All thoughts inherently mean something. A truly meaningless thought is an oxymoron. The meaning may be trivial or confusing, but every thought entails meaning of some sort. Every thought is about something, and that something is the meaning of the thought.

That’s what I like about philosophers. First, they fall back on what other philosophers have said—with little or no attempt at confirmation, and they talk of things being true, apparently for the sole reason that they say they are true. How about, “Only a mind has intentionality, and intentionality is the hallmark of the mind?” Whether he realizes it or not, what Dr. Egnor has just done is to write a definition for the word mind. Please note the statement does not preclude a computer becoming a mind. What it says is that if a computer attains intentionality, then a computer can become a mind. Dr. Egnor never offers any reason a computer cannot become a mind. He says it, so it must be so.

Under other circumstances I would pass off Dr. Egnor’s musing as the product of religious corruption. I cannot do this, because it happens that Dr. Egnor, in his musings, is in the company of mental giants, one being renowned mathematical physicist Roger Penrose. It happens that Penrose is of the same mind as Dr. Egnor in this matter. Neither believes a computer can become a mind, and Penrose has written a book on the matter titled The Emperor’s New Mind. I have had a copy of the book since it came out in 1989, but I did not read through it. That’s because I quickly encountered conclusions I cannot sign off on. In the book, Penrose seems to invoke the argument from incredulity, much as Dr. Egnor does above. Martin Gardner wrote the forward, concluding:

Penrose’s achievements in mathematics and physics– and I have touched on only a small fraction– spring from a lifelong sense of wonder toward the mystery and beauty of being. His little finger tells him that the human mind is more than just a collection of tiny wires and switches. The Adam of his prologue and epilogue is partly a symbol of the dawn of consciousness in the slow evolution of sentient life. To me he is also Penrose– the child sitting in the third row, a distance back from the leaders of AI– who dares to suggest that the emperors of strong AI have no clothes. Many of Penrose’s opinions are infused with humour, but this one is no laughing matter.

Penrose, Roger. The Emperor’s New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics (Oxford Landmark Science) (Kindle Locations 143-148). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

Here is a sampling of Penrose’s own thinking, highlighted in my Kindle edition by earlier readers:

Most particularly, I argue that the phenomenon of consciousness cannot be accommodated within the framework of present-day physical theory.

Penrose, Roger. The Emperor’s New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics (Oxford Landmark Science) (Kindle Locations 153-154). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

My reasoning, as presented in this book, has two main strands to it. The first of these endeavours to show, by appealing to results of Gödel (and Turing) that mathematical thinking (and hence conscious thinking generally) is something that cannot be encapsulated within any purely computational model of thought. This is the part of my argument that my critics have most frequently taken issue with. The second strand of the reasoning is to demonstrate that there is an important gap in our physical picture of the world, at a level which ought to bridge the submicroscopic world of quantum physics to the macro-world of classical physics. My viewpoint demands that the missing physics falling within this gap, when found, will play an essential part in the physical understanding of the conscious mind. Moreover, there must be something outside purely computational action in this sought-for area of physics.

Penrose, Roger. The Emperor’s New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics (Oxford Landmark Science) (Kindle Locations 164-170). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

Penrose appears to set aside a special place for living forms, and he does not limit this thinking to the mind. I took four courses from  Wolfgang Rindler, and after I got my degree I came back to the campus to attend a 70th birthday party for him. Roger Penrose attended, as well, and he gave a talk in which he explained that living material needs to be explained in terms of  quantum physics. I  got that this was an explanation in terms of quantum  physics beyond the fact that quantum physics determines basic chemical properties of the elements, and I asked the question, “Are you resurrecting the concept of vitalism?” He assured me he was not, and I let it go at that. For the moment. The truth is, I consider Penrose’s invocation of quantum mechanics as vitalism dressed up in a lab coat.

Apparently anybody can be a philosopher, so I’m thinking about giving it a try. In future postings I will provide rational explanations for human thought, life, death, and the origin of the universe. Keep reading.

Ferris Bueller Gets Expelled

This is the seventh installment of my review of Expelled, the video produced by Premise Media and featuring Ben Stein. In the previous installment I reviewed the case of Dr. Michael Egnor, a prominent neurosurgeon who opposes the modern theories of biology. My review included some quotes from Dr. Egnor, one of which is interesting:

I call upon my “20 years [of performing] over 4000 brain operations” to attest that I have never once used evolutionary biology in my work. How could I since evolution is random and doctors look for patterns, patterns that lie far afield from the randomness that is evolution?

Dr. Egnor chooses to be ignorant of some basic biology and wants to make the case that this ignorance does not affect his work. It would seem that his work extends beyond his medical practice. He is a principal contributer to the Evolution News blog run by the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture (CSC), a major proponent of creationism. A recent contribution includes the following paragraph:

Scopes’s legacy consists entirely of inviting prosecution by proudly teaching human evolution from a eugenic racist textbook. Coyne offers no explanation for his embrace of Scopes’s legacy. He instead assures us that his feelings weren’t hurt by our posts, and castigates David and me for lying “in service of Jesus” (I’m Catholic, and David is an Orthodox Jew). Coyne insists that “an apology is in order” — our apology to him — yet he believes an apology is “about as likely as Egnor confessing that he’s finally seen the truth of evolution.” Ironically, telling the truth about evolution — telling exactly what Scopes taught to his students — is precisely what David and I did. Coyne replies to our simple observation by dissembling, changing the subject, and pouting.

This quote and the one before indicate some of the hazards of stepping outside one’s area of expertise. In the first quote Dr. Egnor displays either basic ignorance of some basic science or else merely some carelessness in stating his case. He makes a point of calling biological evolution a random process, which is not a complete and therefore not an accurate description. The modern theory of evolution involves random processes that induce changes in the genome of a species, but that is about the extent of randomness. Dr. Egnor would have been more accurate, more erudite, if he had emphasized that biological evolution is undirected. The facts be known, what creationists object to so much about biological evolution is not the random processes involved, but the lack of direction. That there is no guiding hand (God) involved is what gives them (including Dr. Egnor) heartburn. What do not like is the absence of God.

The second quote displays an ignorance about the Scopes trial, an ignorance that could have been resolved by reading any of a number of books about the trial. Specifically, Dr. Egnor should have known that John T. Scopes did not teach evolution. His prosecution was a sham, set up by prominent citizens of Dayton, Tennessee, along with the ACLU, to test the legality of the Butler Act. Not knowing some basic information and then revealing this ignorance might not damage Dr. Egnor’s ability to practice medicine, but it dims his light as a commentator on public affairs.

The Hitler Connection

An anti-evolution work of any great length would be incomplete without diving into the Hitler connection, and Expelled has it. But first we are treated to a view from the past—a clip of Uncle Joe (Stalin) waving bravely from the reviewing stand at Red Square. Then we see Ben Stein visiting the Hadamar Euthanasia Center in Germany.

Beginning in 1939, the Nazis used this site as one of six for the T-4 Euthanasia Programme, which performed mass sterilizations and mass murder of “undesirable” members of German society, specifically those with physical and mental disabilities. In total, an estimated 200,000 people were killed at these facilities, including thousands of children. These actions were in keeping with the eugenics ideas about racial purity developed by German researchers. While officially ended in 1941, the programme lasted until the German surrender in 1945. Nearly 15,000 German citizens were transported to the hospital and died there, most killed in a gas chamber. In addition, hundreds of forced labourers from Poland and other countries occupied by the Nazis were killed there.

[Some links deleted]

Ben Stein interviews Uta George at the center. She explains why all these people were killed. They were deemed unfit or undesirable.

The scene cuts to a clip from a Nazi propaganda film. It shows a deer in a natural setting:

We humans have transgressed the law of natural selection in the last decades…

The clip goes on to show images of undesirable people. They are homely to the extreme, some would even say ugly. They may be Jews. We have allowed such useless people to propagate. The error needs to be corrected. Stein asks her to confirm that this is a “Darwinian concept.” She does. He suggests a Malthusian connection. She does not understand. He mentions the economic theories of Thomas Malthus. She does not know Malthus. He mentions “limited resources.” That idea connects. She understands these people needed to be eliminated because their existence strained at society’s limited resources.

Ben and Uta tour this relic of institutionalized murder to lay bare the inhumanity. Here is the corridor down which “patients” took their final steps. Here is the examining table where brains were removed from skulls. Here are the two ovens where bodies were cremated. Darwinism.

Next Ben Stein journey’s with Richard Weikart to that world renowned site of inhumanity, Auschwitz in Poland. As a Jew, this place has a more specific meaning. Jews were murdered here and at similar sites on an industrial scale until European Jewry was nearly eliminated. The two discuss Weikart’s view that Darwinism promotes, and has in the past promoted, racism. Weikart’s book is From Darwin to Hitler.

From Darwin to Hitler: evolutionary ethics, eugenics, and racism in Germany is a 2004 book by Richard Weikart, a historian at California State University, Stanislaus, and a senior fellow for the Center for Science and Culture of the Discovery Institute. The work is controversial. Graeme Gooday, John M. Lynch, Kenneth G. Wilson, and Constance K. Barsky wrote that “numerous reviews have accused Weikart of selectively viewing his rich primary material, ignoring political, social, psychological, and economic factors” that helped shape Nazi eugenics and racism.

“No Darwin, no Holocaust” is a quote that comes up in this video and frequently in anti-evolution propaganda. To those who mouth this phrase I reply, “You wish.” If you want that to be true then you might be required to explain where racism and genocide got its drive before 1849. I will give you something to start with. Here is where racism and genocide come from:

Zephaniah 2:12-15King James Version (KJV)

12 Ye Ethiopians also, ye shall be slain by my sword.

13 And he will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria; and will make Nineveh a desolation, and dry like a wilderness.

14 And flocks shall lie down in the midst of her, all the beasts of the nations: both the cormorant and the bittern shall lodge in the upper lintels of it; their voice shall sing in the windows; desolation shall be in the thresholds; for he shall uncover the cedar work.

15 This is the rejoicing city that dwelt carelessly, that said in her heart, I am, and there is none beside me: how is she become a desolation, a place for beasts to lie down in! every one that passeth by her shall hiss, and wag his hand.

And here:

Judges 1:1-8King James Version (KJV)

Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass, that the children of Israel asked the Lord, saying, Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them?

And the Lord said, Judah shall go up: behold, I have delivered the land into his hand.

And Judah said unto Simeon his brother, Come up with me into my lot, that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I likewise will go with thee into thy lot. So Simeon went with him.

And Judah went up; and the Lord delivered the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand: and they slew of them in Bezek ten thousand men.

And they found Adonibezek in Bezek: and they fought against him, and they slew the Canaanites and the Perizzites.

But Adonibezek fled; and they pursued after him, and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and his great toes.

And Adonibezek said, Threescore and ten kings, having their thumbs and their great toes cut off, gathered their meat under my table: as I have done, so God hath requited me. And they brought him to Jerusalem, and there he died.

Now the children of Judah had fought against Jerusalem, and had taken it, and smitten it with the edge of the sword, and set the city on fire.

This is where people learn to hate. There’s more if you care to look.

So Ben Stein (and the CSC) want us to know that Darwinism contributes to racism. Really? I wonder if Stein and those at the CSC know what deep-dyed racism looks like. I decided to search out the soul of racism in America, and here is what I found. Here is what racism looks like. I found these in Google Images:

And this:


And finally these:

KKKandCross ku-klux-klan

This is what racism looks like, Ben Stein. Please note the symbol that is a common denominator in all these images. Do you feel more comfortable now?

I point out that these people are not Darwinists. They are dead sure that God created the Earth and also created man in his own image.

Next up in the review of Expelled—the war between science and religion.

And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.

Ferris Bueller Gets Expelled

This is the sixth of the series of reviews of Expelled, the video produced by Premise Media and featuring Ben Stein. In the previous installment I reviewed the case of Pamela Winnick, a journalist supposedly “expelled” for even mentioning the term “Intelligent Design.”

Winnick has written the book A Jealous God: Science’s Crusade Against Religion, published in 2005 by Thomas Nelson and sold by HarperCollins Christian Publishing (established in 2012). Thomas Nelson is a centuries-old publishing concern that now has a presence in America:

Thomas Nelson, now based in Nashville, publishes leading Christian authors, including Billy Graham, Max Lucado, John Eldredge, John Maxwell, Charles Stanley, Michael A. O’Donnell, Ted Dekker, John Townsend, and Dave Stone.

So why am I bringing all this up? Maybe it’s because I find it curious that an author setting out a case against modern science is seeming to market her work to a Christian readership. Her response to a critique by Wesley Ellsberry is also enlightening:

 Those of you out there accusing me of being a creationist merely because I gave the PBS series a bad review (deservedly so) and have a foundation to explore, from a media standpoint, the evolution debate out to know that I’m a practicing Jew and a liberal Democrat and a native of New York City.

I am also an attorney.

Also FYI, the paper I write for, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has strongly endorsed the teaching of evolution (and properly so in my opion)–primarily because I was the only reporter in all of PA who scooped the story of how PA almost adopted standards that might have allowed the teaching of evolution.

I am, however, writing a book about the subject showing how the media and scientific elite has stifled meaningful debate on the subject. In doing so, I am indeed supported ($25,000) by the Phillips Foundation, an organization which takes absolutely no position on the subject of evolution, but which seeks to promote fair and balanced reporting in all subject areas.

Whoever out there who is mis-identifying my purpose a ought to have the courage to identify him/herself. There is terribly reminiscent of the McCarthy period and reflects terribly on all of who seek to defend Darwinism.

[This was an RSS post, apparently written in haste. I have left the typos in place.]

A liberal Democrat? That is interesting. I have been in the creationism business for 25 years, and I have found few Democrats and fewer liberals siding with creationism. I was not able to track down Ellsberry’s original critique, but his response to Winnick’s response is available. Some of his remarks are notable:

The Phillips Foundation clearly states that the fellowship is about exploring the lack of “tolerance” for “teaching creationism”. It says nothing about “meaningful debate”. This contradicts Winnick’s claim that the Phillips Foundation takes “absolutely no position on the subject of evolution”.

Further, the content of the Phillips Foundation site gives no support to the claim by Winnick that the Phillips Foundation’s only concern is promoting fair and balanced reporting. Consider, for instance, this page, which repeats the phrase, “liberal bias”, throughout.

Other pages which belie the stated goal of “objective journalism” include this page, which lists the projects picked out by the 1999 fellowship recipients. It’s not just me who can see this, for this page on Contests and Scholarships: Free-Market Conservatism lists the fellowship program of the Phillips Foundation right at the top.

Full disclosure: I am a Wesley Ellsberry fan. He worked with the National Center for Science Education in preparing a case for the plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case, and we have hosted him at the North Texas Skeptics in years back. It will be interesting in future posts to explore the Pamela Winnick controversy at greater length.

In the mean time I will get on to the next and the final of the souls who suffered expulsion in the Ben Stein video.

Michael Egnor

Dr. Michael Egnor on creationism website

Dr. Michael Egnor on creationism website

Michael Egnor is a prominent neurosurgeon and a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Stony Brook University. He became inoculated against evolution (the science of biological evolution) after reading  Michael Denton‘s book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. Egnor has aligned himself with the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture (CSC), one of the leading creationist organizations in this country and likely the absolute leader in support of the Intelligent Design version of creationism. An excerpt from one of his posts on the CSC’s Evolution News blog may be characteristic:

Scopes was put on trial for violating the Butler Act, which prohibited teaching human evolution to schoolchildren in Tennessee. What Scopes actually taught, if anything, is unclear, because Scopes was untruthful about what he did, and the trial was a legal ploy to spur a Supreme Court ruling. The truth was a secondary consideration at best to Scopes and to his team.

Hunter’s textbook Civic Biology was racist and taught eugenics. It was vile stuff. If a teacher taught from it today, he would not be prosecuted for violating the Butler Act. He would be prosecuted for federal civil rights violations.

If Dr. Egnor had a great interest in laying out the facts about the Scopes Trial he could have further elaborated:

  • The ACLU advertised for somebody to participate in a test case of the Butler Act.
  • John T. Scopes was a college student at the time, on a break in his education, teaching high school physics in Dayton, Tennessee. He was also the baseball coach.
  • Prominent citizens in the town decided to bring the ACLU case to Dayton, and the persuaded Scopes to volunteer as the subject.
  • Scopes did not teach evolution. That was never a secret. The high school principal taught the section on evolution, but nobody wanted him to be prosecuted.
  • Students of Scopes were tutored by the defense not to reveal that Scopes had not taught evolution. This was an open secret, because everybody involved wanted a trial.

What is refreshing is that Dr. Egnor did go to the trouble to read George William Hunter’s A Civic Biology. The original copyright is 100 years old this year, and Amazon’s Kindle edition became available two years ago, with a free version appearing on Amazon in December of last year. Being on a tight budget (currently unemployed) I obtained the free version. The book contains 11 uses of the word “eugenics.” In one case the word is used twice in reference to selective breeding of plants and animals (not people). There is one section on eugenics involving people. The remaining uses of the word are in references to other publications and in the index. Here is an excerpt on human eugenics:

Eugenics.—When people marry there are certain things that the individual as well as the race should demand. The most important of these is freedom from germ diseases which might be handed down to the offspring. Tuberculosis, syphilis, that dread disease which cripples and kills hundreds of thousands of innocent children, epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity. The science of being well born is called eugenics.

Hunter, George William (2012-12-18). A Civic Biology Presented in Problems (Kindle Locations 3261-3264). . Kindle Edition.

The section goes on to describe stories of two famous families, one exhibiting the flower of human intellect and achievement and the other exposing the worst of human nature. I will send a copy of the full text of this section to anybody who requests one.

In his desire to enlighten his readers Dr. Egnor has glossed over a number of points:

  • John Scopes did not write this book.
  • John Scopes did not cause this book to be purchased for the school. The Dayton, Tennessee, school system did.
  • John Scopes was not the biology teacher. He taught only some classes.
  • Eugenics has nothing to do with Darwinian evolution. Darwinian evolution relates to evolution facilitated by natural selection. Selective breeding of plants, animals and even humans is not natural selection.

Then what was it that got Dr. Egnor expelled?


The Alliance for Science, a citizen’s group in Virginia, sponsored an essay contest for high school students on the topic “Why I would want my doctor to have studied evolution,” to highlight the important role of evolution in the medical sciences. Physician Michael Egnor posted an essay on an intelligent design blog in response, claiming that evolution was irrelevant to medicine. This was more a statement of Egnor’s ignorance about evolution than a reflection on evolution’s place in medicine.

The Claim

“When neurosurgeon Michael Egnor wrote an essay for high school students saying doctors didn’t need to study evolution in order to practice medicine, the Darwinists were quick to try and exterminate this new threat.” (Ben Stein, Expelled)

This is from the NCSE Expelled Exposed site. They provide some additional elaboration:

The Claim

Michael Egnor says in Expelled that he expected criticism, but was shocked by the “viciousness” and “baseness” of the response.

The Facts

Michael Egnor had apparently never been on the Internet before.

Yes, tell me about it, Dr. Egnor.

Back in 2007 Burt Humburg posted on The Panda’s Thumb blog a doctor’s response to Dr. Egnor’s assertion that physicians do not study evolution and do not need to know or accept evolution:


Isn’t it “a funny question” whether we would want physicians to know evolution? There are basic sciences that are taught in medical school that must be “important to medicine” like anatomy and physiology. Doctors don’t “study evolution in medical school”, “there are no courses in medical school on evolution,” “there are no professors of evolution” in medical schools,” and “there are no departments of evolutionary biology in medical schools,” and “no evolutionary biologists” would provide useful information to a medical team in hospital. Therefore, evolution just isn’t important to the practice of medicine. I call upon my “20 years [of performing] over 4000 brain operations” to attest that I have never once used evolutionary biology in my work. How could I since evolution is random and doctors look for patterns, patterns that lie far afield from the randomness that is evolution? “I do use many” understandings provided by basic science in my work, such as population biology, “[but] evolutionary biology itself, as distinct from these scientific fields, contributes nothing to modern medicine.” “No Nobel prize in medicine has ever been awarded for work in evolutionary biology.” So I wouldn’t want my doctor to have studied evolution; that answer wouldn’t win the “Alliance for Science” prize, but it would be the truth.


Section 1: Evolution is a Vital Basic Science for Medicine
I’ll start off my fisking by criticizing an aspect of medical practice and, to make sense of it, those who aren’t physicians need to know that there’s a great divide in the practice of medicine between the physicians who practice to simply the “standard of care,” (the kind of practice you’re expected to know for quizzes, tests, and boards and the level of care you need to meet to not get sued) and the physicians who know the basic science behind why the standards of care are what they are.

For example, when someone is having a heart attack (and daily after they have one), they need to be on aspirin because of the pathophysiology of heart attacks. (I review much of it that pathophysiology here.) Briefly, the aspirin irreversibly inhibits the platelet enzyme involved with forming clots. But you don’t have to know about the irreversible acetylation of cyclooxygenase that occurs in the presence of acetylsalycylic acid in platelets; all you have to do is give people aspirins after heart attacks. The “divide” I refer to is between the physicians who know the biochemistry behind that reaction and the doctors who are content to know only that they should give aspirins after heart attacks. Make no mistake: one can be a great doctor and simply practice to the standard of care knowing not a whit of the basic science that provides that standard’s underpinnings. But if you can know the reasons why the standard of care is the way it is, why on Earth would you limit yourself by choosing to not know it?

The example I’ve given here is limited to a single therapeutic regimen in cardiology, but ideally there’s basic science that undergirds everything we do in medicine. There’s a reason why it’s no big deal if you’re not wearing lead in the radiology suite (thanks to the inverse-square law, as long as you’re three or four feet away from the radiation source, the dose you get is negligible). There’s a reason why diazepam – a drug we use to treat seizures – can cause seizures (much of the brain’s neurons are inhibitory and their suppression leads to increased seizure activity). There’s a reason why two different rheumatological diseases can require separate therapies (diseases involving deposition of immune complexes wouldn’t likely be amenable to an exchange of antibiodies as much as they would be to suppression of the immune system overall). Again, there are doctors who know or want to know the reasons behind the practice and there are doctors who don’t know and/or don’t want to know those reasons.

Doctor Egnor seems to like being in that latter category. More than that, he seems to recommend not knowing the basic science that undergirds the practice of medicine, to the extent that he perceives evolution might have had a hand in developing the state of the art. I see his perspectives as nothing more than ignorance advocacy for the basic sciences, writ large and not limited whatsoever to evolution.

Michael Egnor has thrown in his lot with the science deprived at the CSC, and as a result a lot of shine has gone off his “M.D.” My personal perspective: I live in a city with (what seems to be) a highly religious population. My own personal physician asks me my religious affiliation. (?) I told him I am a Texan. My beloved spouse goes to a doctor in this city’s vast medical establishment. There are copies of prayers on the wall in the waiting room. I’m still alive and doing well, but I would get great comfort if my personal physician would talk dirty to me. Tell me about the biological origins of human diseases. All that nasty stuff. I think I know my doctor well enough to be sure he is up to speed and knows all about modern biology. That’s the assurance I need, not an appeal to some higher power that erupted in the brains of primitive tribes thousands of years ago.

More later on Michael Egnor. Next up I will renew my review of Expelled with a discussion of Hitler, the Holocaust and how Darwin is to blame.

And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.

Ferris Bueller Gets Expelled


This is the fifth in the series on Expelled, the video by Premise Media and featuring Ben Stein. Previously I told the case of Robert Marks, who did not exactly get expelled. He is Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Baylor University, and he got to keep his job and about everything else. Baylor University just disassociated itself from his advocacy for Intelligent Design, and Professor Marks is no longer allowed to host his website on a University server or to attach his personal agenda to the name of Baylor University. Bummer!

Something interesting about that story is it pokes a hole in the story spread by creationists that the science behind biological evolution is a conspiracy to suppress religious doctrine. If atheists are working to turn people away from God, then they are getting a lot of help from Christians. Please note that Baylor is not a secular institution:

Baylor University is a private Baptist university in Waco, Texas. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas, Baylor is the oldest continuously operating university in Texas and was one of the first educational institutions west of the Mississippi River. The university’s 1,000-acre campus is located on the banks of the Brazos River next to freeway I-35, between the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and Austin. Baylor University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Baylor is notable for its law, business, science, music and English programs.

[Some links deleted]

Let’s see who else teaches biological evolution and expels Intelligent Design from its science curriculum:

  • Southern Methodist University
  • Texas Christian University
  • Brigham Young University
  • Wheaton College
  • Notre Dame

Who does support creationism? Liberty University comes to mind:

Liberty University teaches young Earth creationism as an explanation for the appearance of life on earth. The university works with young Earth creationist organizations including Answers in Genesis. In biology classes students are taught both creationism and evolution and that creationism offers a better explanation of biological diversity than evolution. In October, 2006 the university published an advertisement in The Chronicle of Higher Education in an attempt to recruit staff to its biology department. The advertisement stated that the university was “seeking faculty who can demonstrate a personal faith commitment to its evangelical Christian purpose” and specified that “compatibility with a young-earth creationist philosophy [is] required.”

[Some links deleted]

Now, that’s academic freedom!

Pamela Winnick

One of those featured in Expelled is Pamela Winnick. Her appearance in the video (just now watched the clip) is brief, so I rely on what the NCSE has to say:

The Claim

“I was not taking a position in favor of creationism, I was writing about intelligent design…. And having merely written on a subject was enough to put you on this blacklist. If you give any credence to it whatsoever, which means just writing about it, you’re just finished as a journalist.” (Pamela Winnick, Expelled)

The Facts

Winnick’s earliest known writing on intelligent design appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette during the adoption of the Pennsylvania science education standards in late 2000. At the time, her articles regularly used phrases and characterizations about evolution that derived from intelligent design talking points. Her position did not necessarily support intelligent design in particular, but communicated the general notion that “fairness” required access to the marketplace of ideas and that students were somehow poorer for not hearing about intelligent design (and similar alternatives that falsely claimed scientific status).

However, this relatively innocuous coverage was only the beginning. In February 2001, Winnick interviewed intelligent design proponent Michael Behe with a collection of softball questions and presented his answers uncritically. Later that year she wrote a review of PBS’s Evolution series where she criticized it for not covering “the Intelligent Design movement, which began about a decade ago when serious scientists – many with doctorates from prestigious universities – began to tackle evolution on scientific grounds.” This is not “just writing about” intelligent design. This is an endorsement.

So Winnick was advocating intelligent design. Even so, this sounds like a poor basis for being blacklisted as a journalist – but there is no evidence that this ever happened. As a supposedly “blacklisted” reporter, Winnick continued to write for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette until August 2002, almost two years after she began her supposedly career-ending articles on intelligent design; she continues to write occasional guest columns for them (including an anti-evolution opinion piece in December 2005), and has written recent articles for the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal.

Winnick’s interview with Michael Behe contains an interesting bit:

Q. Has your questioning of evolution affected your academic career?

A. My questioning of Darwinian evolution has brought me notoriety in some circles, but hasn’t brought any negative repercussions. I still teach and publish as before, although my research interests have shifted toward more explicitly evolutionary questions. I’m frequently asked to lecture on college campuses. I’m having a lot of fun!

Talk about being expelled!

Winnick’s review of the PBS documentary gives the indication she is not a fan of Charles Darwin:

In yet another tedious re-enactment, we’re shown the eventual demise of Darwin’s own religious faith. Having flunked out of medical school, he had flirted briefly with joining the clergy — but eventually he loses all belief in God.

We witness this when Darwin’s daughter dies at age 10. Others in the grieving family go to church, but Darwin lingers behind and — in what is supposed to be a portentous moment — cannot bring himself to follow the others into church. What causes his atheism? Did it spring from his own theories? Or from the sheer cruelty of life?

It took 21 years for Darwin to write “Origin of Species,” suggesting that he suffered profound inner turmoil at the implications of his theory and its eventual reception by the public. A genuinely dramatic rendering of Darwin’s life would have portrayed this struggle. Instead, we’re subjected to banalities and melodrama.

Once having undertaken to show us Darwin’s life, the producers had the obligation to give us the whole truth — a very dangerous terrain into which few care to tread.

But why will no one speak of Darwin’s vicious racism, so amply set out in his book “The Descent of Man,” in which he plainly states that blacks are inferior to whites? Why not also tell us about the influence he exerted, however unintentionally, on the eugenics movement and on Marx and Hitler?

This is a story about the development of a scientific theory. In her review Winnick exhibits an obsession with the inner Darwin. There is the matter of 19th century racism and the matter of evolutionary theory driving eugenics (Marx and Hitler). A look at Darwin’s book reveals maybe half a hundred uses of the word “Negro” or Negroes.” This book is, after all, about the descent of man. A typical use is this example, talking about the impact of geography on racial differences:

Our naturalist would then perhaps turn to geographical distribution, and he would probably declare that those forms must be distinct species, which differ not only in appearance, but are fitted for hot, as well as damp or dry countries, and for the Artic regions. He might appeal to the fact that no species in the group next to man–namely, the Quadrumana, can resist a low temperature, or any considerable change of climate; and that the species which come nearest to man have never been reared to maturity, even under the temperate climate of Europe. He would be deeply impressed with the fact, first noticed by Agassiz (7. ‘Diversity of Origin of the Human Races,’ in the ‘Christian Examiner,’ July 1850.), that the different races of man are distributed over the world in the same zoological provinces, as those inhabited by undoubtedly distinct species and genera of mammals. This is manifestly the case with the Australian, Mongolian, and Negro races of man; in a less well-marked manner with the Hottentots; but plainly with the Papuans and Malays, who are separated, as Mr. Wallace has shewn, by nearly the same line which divides the great Malayan and Australian zoological provinces. The Aborigines of America range throughout the Continent; and this at first appears opposed to the above rule, for most of the productions of the Southern and Northern halves differ widely: yet some few living forms, as the opossum, range from the one into the other, as did formerly some of the gigantic Edentata. The Esquimaux, like other Arctic animals, extend round the whole polar regions. It should be observed that the amount of difference between the mammals of the several zoological provinces does not correspond with the degree of separation between the latter; so that it can hardly be considered as an anomaly that the Negro differs more, and the American much less from the other races of man, than do the mammals of the African and American continents from the mammals of the other provinces. Man, it may be added, does not appear to have aboriginally inhabited any oceanic island; and in this respect, he resembles the other members of his class.

Charles Darwin (2014-07-04). The Descent Of Man (Illustrated) (Kindle Locations 3332-3347). . Kindle Edition.

In discussing race Darwin speaks the language of 19th century science and society, such language now considered less than polite. Not emphasized by present day enemies of Darwin is that he was a staunch abolitionist and an advocate of equal treatment.

Darwin’s final word on the subject would not seem to fit Winnick’s agenda:

Through the means just specified, aided perhaps by others as yet undiscovered, man has been raised to his present state. But since he attained to the rank of manhood, he has diverged into distinct races, or as they may be more fitly called, sub-species. Some of these, such as the Negro and European, are so distinct that, if specimens had been brought to a naturalist without any further information, they would undoubtedly have been considered by him as good and true species. Nevertheless all the races agree in so many unimportant details of structure and in so many mental peculiarities that these can be accounted for only by inheritance from a common progenitor; and a progenitor thus characterised would probably deserve to rank as man.

Charles Darwin (2014-07-04). The Descent Of Man (Illustrated) (Kindle Locations 11484-11489). . Kindle Edition.

Regarding eugenics, Marx and Hitler—

If Hitler found comfort in Darwin he had a different way of showing it. The University of Arizona has placed on line documents relating to books scheduled to be burned by the Nazis:

6. Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism (Haeckel).

Don’t ask me what Monism is, but Wikipedia’s item on Ernst Haeckel has this:

Haeckel founded a group called the “Monist League” to promote his religious and political beliefs.

Karl Marx thought Darwin’s studies supported his social theories, but Darwin did not return the favor.

Karl Marx (1818 — 1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820 — 1895) published The Communist Manifesto in 1848, with Marx’s work Das Kapital published in three volumes in 1867, 1885 and 1894. These works established the principles of communism, which had at its core the evolution of societies by advancement between different states. This, they argued, was caused by class struggle, and the proletariat should co-operate to overthrow the bourgeoisie.

When Karl Marx read Darwin’s work on evolution he immediately believed that it supported his worldview and theory of class struggle. Karl Marx sent Darwin an autographed copy of his Das Kapital; Darwin responded with a polite “thank you” letter, but never read the book. Marx believed that Darwin’s work both helped to explain the internal struggles of human society, and provided a material explanation for the processes of nature, something which his philosophy was heavily based on. However, he had difficulty accepting the apparent support Darwin’s book gave to the theories of Thomas Malthus.

In 1861 Karl Marx wrote to his friend Ferdinand Lassalle, “Darwin’s work is most important and suits my purpose in that it provides a basis in natural science for the historical class struggle. … Despite all shortcomings, it is here that, for the first time, ‘teleology’ in natural science is not only dealt a mortal blow but its rational meaning is empirically explained.”

The radical economist Herbert Spencer (1820 — 1903) coined the phrase survival of the fittest in his 1851 work Social Statics to describe his revolutionary liberal economic theory, which in 20th century terms would be considered right-wing. Spencer supported the Whig Malthusian argument that programmes to aid the poor, (i.e. the proletariat) did more harm than good, in direct contrast to Tory paternalism, and to communism which advocated “to each according to their needs, from each according to their ability”.

[Some links deleted]

Do we want to consider for a moment that Darwin’s work did give aid and comfort to Marx and Hitler? Let’s do and then see what derives.

First note that Marx caused no harm. He did not kill anybody, he did not put anybody in prison or confiscate anybody’s property. He never exercised political control over people. He only wrote papers and books and spoke in favor of his peculiar social ideas. In America that is called freedom of speech.

But suppose that Adolph Hitler and the other Nazis did get inspiration from Darwin before going off to start wars and to exterminate by murder millions of innocents. This would not invalidate Darwin’s theories. If Darwin was right, then that’s the matter. The consequences of an idea do not invalidate the truth of the idea. Tough it out.

R.G. Price has posted an item titled The Mis-portrayal of Darwin as a Racist. Among other things he has this to say:

Darwin’s View of Race

In contrast to the existing views on race, Darwin showed that:

    • People cannot be classified as different species
    • All races are related and have a common ancestry
    • All people come from “savage” origins
    • The different races have much more in common than was widely believed
    • The mental capabilities of all races are virtually the same and there is greater variation within races than between races
    • Different races of people can interbreed and there is no concern for ill effects
    • Culture, not biology, accounted for the greatest differences between the races
    • Races are not distinct, but rather they blend together

Pamela Winnick may have gotten her peculiar slant from her inner self, or she may have gotten it straight from the producers of the Expelled video, because Ben Stein eventually gets around to the Darwinian inspiration for racism, eugenics and genocide. It’s a heartwarming thing to witness.

Winnick’s problem as a serious journalist is her injection of personal views (or the views marketed by the creationists) into what should have been objective reporting. Editors tend to shy away from contributors who can’t submit a straight story. This is not so much expulsion as it is good journalism. Her book is A Jealous God, available from Amazon in hardback and Kindle editions.

Coming next, world class neurosurgeon Michael Egnor.