Summary

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)

The Facts

Although most physicians accept evolution, there have certainly in the past been antievolutionist physicians; Egnor’s views are hardly a “new threat.” Criticism of the essay came not only from the university professors and researchers who supposedly make up “Big Science”, but from Egnor’s fellow medical professionals, who recognized Egnor’s arguments as old hat, and another attempt by creationists to co-opt the respectability of a white coat:

After my having written repeated debunkings of various physicians who are creationists (mostly of the “intelligent design” variety), in retrospect I should have seen this one coming. I should have seen that the Discovery Institute, eager to use anyone they can find whom they can represent to the public as having scientific credentials (never mind whether those credentials have anything to do with evolutionary biology) and thus dupe the public into seeing them as having authority when they start laying down ignorant brain farts about how they “doubt Darwinism,” would settle on physicians. After all, as I have pointed out before, until recently medical schools taught little about evolutionary biology (that is, if they taught anything at all about it), and as a result all too many physicians, particularly the ones whose undergraduate majors were not biology, tend to be no more knowledgeable about evolution than your average lawyer….

The reason that a contest with such a topic was thought to be a good idea, I’d guess, is because evolution-ignorant creationists like Dr. Egnor are constantly attacking evolution in a manner that you don’t see other of the basic sciences that form the basis of medicine ever being attacked. – “Orac”, an oncologist and surgeon, in Train wreck, thy name is Egnor! Blog post, Respectful Insolence.

What’s going on here is that Egnor dislikes evolution and is hoping to de-emphasize its importance. Why? It is possible that he earnestly and sincerely believes that evolution has not contributed to his art. It is possible that he earnestly and sincerely believes that recognizing the validity of evolution would render his life meaningless or without value. It is possible he is a cynical liar and he wants no readers of the Discovery Institute Ministry of Media Complaints who credit his perspectives to enter or do well in medical school. (Hey, if true, he wouldn’t be the first surgeon who knew better about evolution but still advocated for ID only to make a buck, gain a little influence, or exhibit some sort of other ulterior motive.) Whatever his motivations may be, readers should not credit his testimony: he is at least dead wrong.

Further, his perspectives are very difficult to distinguish from ignorance advocacy. Egnor first came to attention when a blogger at Time magazine criticized him for not being an expert in evolution. He has stated that he does not use evolution, but this is more an admission of a willful disregard for the evolution he does use and upon which his art is based. Taken together, along with his assurance that the only contribution evolution has made to medicine was eugenics, his writings bespeak the dangerous combination of ignorance and arrogance, traits altogether common with creationists, but that shine in Dr. Egnor to such an extent that a neologism should bear his namesake.” – Burt Humburg, a physician, in Egnorance: The Egotistical Combination of Ignorance and Arrogance. Blog post, The Panda’s Thumb.

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.

Read More

Egnoring the Data: How 78% of Doctors Became A Small Minority. Blog post, The Panda’s Thumb.

Alliance for Science Essay Contest Winners: “Why would I want my doctor to have studied evolution?”