Hitchin’ a Ride: Darwinism is indispensable to Darwinists

Michael Egnor

Philip Skell, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a pioneer in antibiotic research, said it best: Darwinism is a “narrative gloss” on biology. Darwinists expropriate the work of other fields of science, then claim the credit for Darwin’s theory. Nowhere in science is the truth of Skell’s observation more apparent than in the Darwinist claim that Darwin’s theory — the assertion that random variation and natural selection is the source of all biological complexity — is indispensable to modern medicine. It is a claim that, upon inspection, is almost delusional.

I’ve examined this claim in detail in a series of posts: here, and here and here. Darwinists claim that comparative medicine and biology, which is the study of the similarities between non-human organisms and humans, arose from Darwin’s theory. That’s nonsense. Comparative biology has been the been the basis for biological science for thousands of years, and many of the greatest medical advances, such as Galen’s and Vesalius’ studies of anatomy and Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of the blood, were the fruit of comparative biological research that antedated Darwin by centuries. The father of modern comparative biology was Carolus Linnaeus, who worked a century before Darwin was born.
Darwinists claim that modern medical genetics owes much to Darwin’s theory. That’s nonsense as well. Darwin contributed nothing original to our understanding of the basic mechanisms of heredity. His view of heredity was vaguely Lamarckian (the theory that traits acquired in adulthood could be passed to offspring) and he ascribed to the erroneous theory of ‘blending’ inheritance, which denied the existence of discrete units of heredity. The father of modern genetics was Gregor Mendel, an Austrian monk and a contemporary of Darwin, who worked out the basic rules of inheritance in plants in his garden in a monastery. The frenzy over Darwin’s theory distracted 19th century scientists, and Mendel’s seminal discoveries in genetics went unrecognized for half a century. Modern molecular genetics began with the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953. Watson and Crick discerned the structure and function of DNA by designing models of the double helix, and subsequent work revealed the molecular language of heredity. The Darwinian inference of randomness as the origin of biological structure was obviously of no help in translating the genetic code, which is a symbolic language.
Finally, Darwinists claim that our understanding of bacterial resistance to antibiotics is dependent on Darwin’s theory of natural selection. But “natural selection” is a tautology, not a theory. The fit survive. Who are the fit? The survivors. Who are the survivors? The fit. The concept is true (how could it be false?), but it’s worthless to science and medicine. The observation that bacteria that aren’t killed by antibiotics aren’t killed by antibiotics is of no value in understanding or treating infectious diseases. We use microbiology, molecular biology, pharmacology, and statistical methods in population biology to understand and treat infections.
The astonishing Darwinian claim of indispensability in areas of science that antedate it by millennia (such as comparative biology) and in areas of science to which it is obviously tangential or merely tautological (molecular genetics or bacterial resistance to antibiotics) bespeak its irrelevance to biology and medicine. Some less-grounded Darwinists like Daniel Dennett have even gone further, claiming that the universe itself can be explained by Darwinian mechanisms. Darwinism is indispensable to cosmology!
There’s a reason for this almost delusional attribution of scientific progress to Darwin’s theory. Darwinism is based on the radical and unsubstantiated assertion that all natural biological complexity arose from random heritable variation and natural selection. It is the creation myth of contemporary philosophical materialism, which is the view that the material world (matter and energy) are the only things that exist. The materialist worldview depends critically on Darwin’s theory. We can do science just fine without Darwin’s theory, using molecular biology, biological statistics, and other well established fields of biology.
It’s time for fields of science on which Darwinism has hitched a ride to open the door and let it off. If Darwinists have real quantitative evidence that biological complexity arose entirely by chance and necessity, they should show us the evidence. Until then, Darwinists insult our intelligence when they claim that Darwinism is indispensable to any area of science or medicine. Darwin’s theory is indispensible in only one way: Darwinists can’t do philosophy without Darwin’s theory.

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.