Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Annals of Egnorance: Evolution and Modern Medicine

"Is Darwinism indispensable to modern medicine?" asks intelligent design activist Dr. Michael Egnor in a recent post published on the Discovery Institute's Evolution News and Views blog.

Dr. Egnor, a professor of neurosurgery and pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook answers his own question with a resounding, "No!"

"Darwinism," writes the good doctor, "understood as the theory that all biological structure arose by random variation and natural selection, is not necessary" to an understanding of comparative medicine, molecular genetics, or bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

The problem with this statement for intelligent design proponents in general, and despite his impressive credentials for Dr. Egnor in particular, is that evidence to the contrary keeps rearing its ugly head.

Just yesterday, Terry Gross inteviewed Dr. David G. Nathan who is president emeritus of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Robert A. Stranahan Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School on "Fresh Air."

Dr. Nathan is the author of The Cancer Treatment Revolution, a book about new cancer-fighting techniques, including "smart" drugs, that are helping thousands of patients survive cancer.

In a discussion of treating cancer with these new "smart" drugs, which are designed to target only cancer cells, Nathan explains the failure of single agent treatment and the reasoning behind combination chemotherapy.

"Single agents just don't work," says Nathan.


"The cancer cell is injured. It's DNA is in bad shape," says Nathan. "So it keeps randomly mutating, and it will mutate in the face of the drug to open up another pathway, or even to change the protein itself... it's entire structure so that the drug can no longer get into it.

"If there are resistant cells, already in the cancer cell mix, then by natural selection you're going to kill off all the sensitive cells and leave only the resistant cells."

That's why the hot area in cancer research now is in finding new "smart" drugs that target only cancer cells and using them in combinations that anticipate mutation and natural selection -- just the process that Egnor claims is irrelevant to modern medicine.

Mind you, Terry Gross and David Nathan were not discussing evolution. They were not talking about the so-called controversy about intelligent design. The process of mutation and natural selection came up naturally in a discussion of cutting edge treatment for cancer.

Readers of Red State Rabble and other blogs that follow the culture war over evolution and creationism will find either Dr. Egnor or Dr. Nathan's arguments persuasive based on their beliefs about the merits of evolution, young earth or old earth creationism, or intelligent design.

Of course we hope most readers will find the evidence for evolution most convincing.

But, for a cancer victim, that same choice is much more critical. Making the wrong choice could be fatal.

You can listen to Gross and Nathan on Fresh Air from WHYY. The whole interview is fascinating and informative and well worth your time. The part quoted above starts about 10 minutes in.


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