Darwinist Sleight-of-Thumb

Michael Egnor

If you want a clear example of Darwinist sleight-of-hand, read the Panda’s Thumb tirade about my posts on the relevance of Darwinism to modern medicine (here). My interlocutors, between puns on my name, insults and obscenities, raise off-point topics that evade the central issue: is Darwinism, which is the assertion that all biological complexity has arisen by random heritable variation and natural selection, relevant to the practice of medicine? Several bloggers raised the standard Darwinist trope about bacterial antibiotic resistance. This issue is an important source of misunderstanding about the application of Darwin’s theory to medicine.

The Darwinist assertion that random variation and natural selection (chance and necessity) account for all biological complexity has nothing to do with the mundane observation that it’s unwise to unnecessarily expose populations of bacteria to antibiotics. The observation that an antibiotic will kill the bacteria that are killed by it, and the antibiotic will not kill the bacteria that are not killed by it, is a tautology. If you expose a population of bacteria to antibiotics, the unkilled ones will, over time, outnumber the killed ones. The unkilled ones will be the ones that are resistant to the antibiotics. Think about it. That’s Darwinism’s seminal contribution to our understanding of bacterial resistance to antibiotics.
Preventing the emergence of resistant strains of bacteria is important work, but the insight that Darwinism brings to the problem — the unkilled ones eventually outnumber the killed ones — is of no help. We can figure that out ourselves. The tough work on preventing the emergence of resistant bacteria is done by microbiologists, epidemiologists, molecular geneticists, pharmacologists, and physicians who are infectious disease specialists. Darwinism, understood as the view that “chance and necessity” explains all biological complexity, plays no role.
The Darwinist modus operandi for a century and a half has been to slip a philosophical agenda — scientific materialism — in with the science. They hijack other fields of biology — microbiology, population biology, epidemiology, genetics, etc — then they assert that Darwinism is essential to those fields, then they claim that the hypothesis that random variation and natural selection is the origin of all biological complexity is a “fact” supported by overwhelming evidence. When challenged, they prove the “fact” of scientific materialism by doing a Pub-Med search for thousands of tangential articles from the fields they’ve hijacked.
Not a single Darwinist in this debate has addressed the issue of how their trivial contribution to our understanding of bacterial resistance to antibiotics-‘unkilled bacteria will eventually outnumber killed ones’- in any way supports the assertion that all biological complexity is the result of random variation and natural selection.
Darwinists are hoping that people don’t notice this non-sequitur. The reason for their rage at intelligent design advocates is that we have noticed it.

Michael Egnor

Senior Fellow, Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Michael R. Egnor, MD, is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook, has served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and award-winning brain surgeon. He was named one of New York’s best doctors by the New York Magazine in 2005. He received his medical education at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. His research on hydrocephalus has been published in journals including Journal of Neurosurgery, Pediatrics, and Cerebrospinal Fluid Research. He is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Hydrocephalus Association in the United States and has lectured extensively throughout the United States and Europe.