He mangles science, now he defames history. Michael Egnor is like the Swiss army knife of creationist hackery.
Former Vice President Al Gore famously claimed to have invented the Internet because years ago he was in the Senate and sponsored a bill. The assertion that Charles Darwin’s theory was indispensable to classical and molecular genetics is a claim of an even lower order. Darwin’s theory impeded the recognition of Mendel’s discovery for a third of a century, and Darwin’s assertion that random variation was the raw material for biological complexity was of no help in decoding the genetic language of DNA. The single incontrovertible Darwinian contribution to the field of medical genetics was eugenics, which is the Darwinian theory that humans can be bred for social and character traits, like animals. The field of medical genetics is still recovering from eugneics, which was Darwin’s only gift to medicine.
Wow—that is simply breathlessly ahistorical.
No one has claimed that Darwin invented genetics, either, or even that he was indispensable to it. Mendel’s work languished for thirty years because a) the paper was presented at and published by a relatively obscure natural history society, in Verhandlungen des naturforschenden Vereines im Brunn; b) it really is quite a tedious paper, full of tables of numbers, and not at all the kind of thing most natural historians were keen on at the time; and c) it was unclear how universally applicable his results were—Mendel himself did experiments with hawkweed that gave results that did not fit with the simple Mendelian model. Darwin had a competing (and wrong) model of heredity which did not help matters, but given that the existence of Darwin’s gemmular hypothesis did not impede research in the 20th century, it’s rather silly to blame him for blocking work that he had not even read.
The rediscovery of Mendel’s work in 1900 did provoke a great deal of argument within the community of evolutionists for about 20 years; it was not at all clear how to reconcile genetics and Darwinian evolution, and it took a fair amount of scholarship and research to fit them together, work which culminated in the neo-Darwinian synthesis. At that time, though, the most famous name in genetics was Thomas Hunt Morgan, who authored books titled Evolution and Genetics and The Scientific Basis of Evolution — arguing that evolution and genetics were somehow in opposition simply makes no sense at all. Once the concepts were worked out, genetics helped evolution’s case.
Watson and Crick both are and were proponents of evolutionary theory, and did not see any conflict between their observations and evolution. I have no idea what Egnor is babbling about when he says “random variation … was no help in decoding the genetic language of DNA.” As geneticists and biochemists worked out the chemical nature of the molecule of heredity, they very quickly puzzled out the mechanisms that generate errors — that work was essential in figuring out how change occurs. Working out the genetic code was a different problem. When Egnor claims that the “understanding of the genetic code was the direct result of the inference to design in biology”, he’s simply lying. Try reading about how the genetic code was cracked by people like Crick and Brenner and Benzer, and what you find is a purely reductionist experimental approach to the problem.
Darwin was not a eugenicist. Eugenics owes a greater historical debt to animal husbandry — you do not need evolutionary theory or even genetics to propose that you can change a stock with selective breeding. If Egnor would like to blame agriculture for the cruelties of the eugenics movement, he’d be more accurate.
I’m appalled at Egnor’s poor grasp of the history of these sciences. I suppose it only goes with the territory, though — he’s incompetent when it comes to the science, so why not be a dazzling nincompoop in all areas. He’s a kind of creationist Renaissance man, knowing absolutely nothing about everything.
If Stony Brook lets this man teach, they have a problem. I would actively discourage any students from attending a university that puts such a malinformed fool in front of a classroom.