Creationist Wisdom #870: The Surgeon

Today’s letter-to-the-editor appears in the Fresno Bee of Fresno, California. The title is Scientific theories of naturalism are taught as truth in California’s public schools, and they have a comments feature.

Unless the letter-writer is a politician, preacher, or other public figure, we won’t embarrass or promote him by using his full name — but today we’ve got a surgeon, which is sufficient for full name treatment. The letter is from Dr. J. Philip A. Hinton of Fresno. We’ll give you some excerpts from his letter, with bold font added by us for emphasis, and occasional Curmudgeonly interjections that look [like this]. Here we go!

Andrew Fiala is just plain wrong (The Bee, June 3). In criticizing the Rev. Franklin Graham’s views on public schools, Fiala states: “Science and the humanities offer a method of investigation. They do not propose a body of dogmatic truth.”

The doctor is talking about this earlier letter, a good one, written by a philosophy professor: Are public schools the enemy, or the answer, to the challenges before us now? The doctor disagrees and says:

Nothing could be further from the truth. Public schools do promote a religious belief — the belief that there is no God.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! After that keen insight he tells us:

Science as taught in public schools does indeed propose a body of dogmatic truth. It is the belief system of naturalism — there is no God and everything in the universe came about by chance. Abiogenesis — the belief that life originated by chance in the primordial soup — is taught as fact. Evolution — the belief that all species developed by chance by random incremental mutation from the first living cell acted on by natural selection — is taught as fact.

Wow — the schools teach naturalism instead of super-naturalism. This is an outrage! The doctor continues:

But scientific evidence does not support either of these assertions. The only evidence for chance origin of life is that amino acids can be produced by natural methods from inorganic precursors in a reducing atmosphere. This was established by Stanley Miller in 1952. [See Miller–Urey experiment.] But all subsequent experiments aimed at producing life by chance have failed. Why? Because the simplest possible form of life — the first living cell — is not simple.

Ooooooooooooh! It’s not simple. Let’s read on:

The simplest possible living cell has 473 genes and 531,000 base pairs of DNA all in precise sequential order. Nothing simpler than this is life. Nothing simpler can survive under natural conditions. And this level of complexity cannot be the result of chance.

Wow — it’s not simple, and it’s not the result of chance. What does it mean? The doctor informs us:

The conclusion is clear. Life is designed. [Hee hee!] Similarly, when the hundreds of changes in DNA base pairs needed for a new species is noted, there is no way this can happen by chance random mutation of DNA. Adaptation of species does occur. This is clear from studies of finch beaks in the Galapagos. But new species requiring hundreds of DNA changes are not possible by chance mutation.

Egad — evolution is impossible! This is amazing information. Here’s the conclusion of the doctor’s letter:

Science is clear. Life and species did not develop by chance. But scientific evidence is ignored in public schools because the belief system of naturalism prevails.

Well, dear reader, you heard it from a surgeon. Perhaps, at last, you’ll abandon your foolish faith in Darwinism.

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34 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #870: The Surgeon

  1. Dave Luckett

    The usual argument from ignorance. “I don’t know/ nobody knows how this happened, therefore God.” News at eleven.

  2. @Dave Lockett
    And may I add:
    We don’t know what God did, or how he did it, except that evolution wasn’t involved.

  3. Michael Fugate

    Dr Hinton is 75, a vascular surgeon, and graduate of UCSF in 1969.
    Dr Fiala is a philosophy professor who studies war and peace, politics, religion, and ethics, and is a graduate of UCLA and Vanderbilt.

    Fiala wrote a well reasoned article, Hinton an unreasoned reply. Hopefully they teach better thinking skills in medical now.

  4. Have a soup of amino acids churning around together, linking up with each other in untold quadrillions of possible combinations over millions or hundreds of millions of years on the early Earth, and it’s not too hard to imagine that a special combination that can replicate will finally come together. It would only have to happen once, and the self-replication would then take over, doubling, then re-doubling — increasing exponentially.

    Every once in a while, a glitch will occur, and a not-quite-exact copy will happen. Most of the time it won’t make much difference; in fact, many of these mutations will introduce a fatal flaw. But — sometimes the new combination is better suited to its environment and thrives — doubling and re-doubling exponentially , leading to a new species.

    Can’t imagine why our good surgeon has a hard time believing this could happen.

    For the record — no public school is teaching this idea as fact. That’s a false claim made by the religious right in an attempt to denigrate public schools, furthering their efforts to divert public funds to religious schools in the form of vouchers.

  5. Michael Fugate

    Conservatives managed to divert all the money going to prisons by convincing people that privatization would save money – hah! One of the biggest scams in the history of the US. All we got was the biggest prison population in the world and the debt to go with it. Now they are trying to do the same with schools. If they win, everyone will be going to school until they are 55! Charter schools and vouchers – we can’t be that stupid can we?

  6. “Hopefully they teach better thinking skills in medical now.”

    Surgery is a subset of medicine and I have noticed that there are a *lot* of creationist medical doctors and surgeons. That leads me to suspect that some medical classes have little or no evolution taught in them. Also be aware that there are some medical classes that do teach evolution despite the willful ignorance of some in the medical; community. For example fish paleontologist (author of the excellent “Your Inner Fish”) Neil Shubin teaches a human anatomy class and many of his students are very surprised to find that out. Of course it isn’t possible to educate someone who is anti-education.
    https://www.hhmi.org/biointeractive/your-inner-fish-series

    You can find a list of medical doctors and surgeons who dispute evolution at this link: https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Lists_of_creationist_scientists

    Also note that surgeon names not included on that particular list (as far as I know) include:
    Michael Egnor (Discover Institute obscurantist)
    Ben Carson (Joseph built the pyramids to store grain idiot and secretary of HUD)
    C. Everett Koop (Reagan’s anti-evolution Surgeon General)
    etc. The actual list is quite long.

  7. Methinks the creationist surgeon might have been talking to the creationist gynecologist, namely one Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell.

    Haven’t heard from her, lately.

    I wonder what bush she’s been hiding under?

  8. Christine Janis

    @ Zetopan. Also add David Menton to that list (he who claims that Tiktaalik, [apparently] unlike other tetrapods, had no bony connection between the forelimbs and the backbone — I just shrug my shoulders at that notion.)

    I think this tendency of doctors to believe in evolution is related to the following:

    1. Doctors are taught only about the human body, not about any other animal. They don’t even know that we’re practically identical to other great apes. They somehow think that evolution means that humans came into being from nothing simply by chance — they are completely unaware of even extant ‘intermediate’ forms (or, for example, how the ontogeny of our excretory and circulatory systems traces the phylogenetic pattern in other vertebrates — in fact, their developmentary trajectory makes no sense at all except in that context). But, being also taught that they are the masters of the universe, they assume that the fact that they know of no evidence means that none exists.

    2. It’s not just that doctors aren’t taught evolutionary biology (or aren’t taught anatomy and physiology in an evolutionary context), they aren’t taught other types of science in this ‘how do we get to infer the conclusions from the evidence’ fashion. Other advanced students of biology will get that approach at least in discussion of research papers, but medicine tends to be taught as received wisdom fiat. Anatomy, for example, is often taught as a ‘nuts and bolts’ learning the names of all the parts rather than as a synthetic understanding of form and function.

  9. And to add to the list there are also a lot of veterinarians who are anti-evolution. Something appears to be rotten in some medical education.

  10. @Zetopan
    As I was reading the comments about medical education, I was thinking “but that couldn’t be true about veterinarians.” Surely they must learn a lot about comparative anatomy!

  11. It’s remarkable how incurious many of them are about biology, as such. Some of the more extreme anti-evolutionists refer, sneeringly, to biologists as mere ‘butterfly-collectors’; they don’t seem to regard it as a science at all.

    For all their talk about ‘the wonders of God’s Creation’, when you start pointing out details- flaws, inconsistencies, etc- just watch how fast their eyes start glazing over.

  12. “the result of chance”
    Surgeon or not, if you don’t understand the difference between chance and probability you are already disqualified before you open your mouth.

    @ChrisS wonders: “It’s remarkable how incurious many of them are about biology”
    Not really. It’s the result of what’s called projection in psychology. Compare the retired surgeon’s “Science as taught in public schools does indeed propose a body of dogmatic truth.”
    It goes like this.

    1. I cling to my body of dogmatic truth.
    2. It conficts with what you say.
    3. So what you say is part of your body of dogmatic truth.
    4. I know your body of dogmatic truth is false.
    5. Hence I do not need to learn anything about what you say.

    Step 3 is projection.

  13. Pete Moulton

    “Well, dear reader, you heard it from a surgeon. Perhaps, at last, you’ll abandon your foolish faith in Darwinism.”

    Well, I wouldn’t know about ‘Darwinism,’ but my acceptance of evolutionary theory has suffered no damage from the surgeon’s ‘arguments.’

    He’s given my faith in surgery a serious hit, however.

  14. In summary, surgeons are the engineers of the biosciences.

  15. Creationism is surprisingly popular with both medics and engineers. Perhaps that is because they are trained to see form in terms of function, and it is all too easy (since we were social animals long before we were scientists) to interpret function as evidence of purpose. Also, such is the state of science education in the US that this surgeon may indeed have heard almost nothing about evolution in the classroom at any level. My own current writing plans are directed largely at addressing this problem.

    Let me now defend the surgeon on two important points. The Urey Miller experiment demystifies the origin of biomolecules, but (as most in the origins of life community have thought for decades) does indeed refer to conditions whose direct relevance to the early Earth is doubtful, and does not address the hardest part of the origins of life problem, which is, as the surgeon says, the emergence of sufficient complexity. I have seen the Urey Miller experiment described as solving the problem of the origins of life, and this is wrong.

    And I have also seen some scientists maintaining that the scientific method rules out the supernatural a priori; philosophers call this position Intrinsic methodological naturalism. The surgeon is right to criticise this as a question-begging arbitrary presumption. We do indeed scientifically investigate purported supernatural phenomena such as esp, the efficacy of prayer, and ghosts, but invariably come up empty, leading to what is called pragmatic methodological naturalism, which means, basically, that investigating supernaturalist claims is likely to be a waste of time.

  16. Karl Goldsmith (@KarlGoldsmith)

    It seems the Mitchell couple of AiG both still have a medical license, suppose that explains why they have only written two articles each this year.

  17. @Paul Braterman
    It is worthwhile to remind scientists that they shuld not rule out a priori any hypothesis. But there is a difficulty which supernatural hypotheses in general, and alternatives to evolution in particular pose: What is the suernatural hypothesis?
    What are the rules that the supernatural follows?
    Omnipotent creators of everything – what sense does it make to say that they
    follow any rules – that they are the subject of any rules, in particular, any human studies?
    We understand someting better when we rule out possibilities. Yet when we resort to the supernatural, we are doing the opposite: We are admitting more possibilities. Essentially infinite possibilities.
    ID is a case study in the pointlessness of ruling in endless possibilties. In the last 20-someting years, with the attention of many researchers, it has not advanced the field. Actually, the researchers have focussed their attention only on finding fault with concensus science, especially evolutionary biology.
    That sets no example of exploring supernatural explanations.

  18. TomS, indeed there is difficulty even defining the “supernatural”. IIRC, Laplace commented on the (for him) awkward fact that magnetic forces had material effects but did not at that time have any known kind of material cause. There is a paper by Edis and Boudry about this problem; I have a high regard for both authors but lack the technical competence to pronounce on how successful they have been.

  19. I would also add this: creationists are highly motivated to find fault with evolution science, whereas we may be tempted, if only in self-defence, to lean in the opposite direction (the overselling of Urey-Miller is an example). So they do at times ask good questions; the problem, however, is that they are committed to ignoring the answers, making useful dialogue impossible.

    It was questioning from a creationist that sent me in search of the Nile and Amazon canyons, which I found beneath the present floodplain and in the Andes anticline respectively.

  20. “That sets no example of exploring supernatural explanations.”

    The actual goal of scientific creationism is to *unexplain* everything until their audience reaches a sufficiently low enough level of understanding that creationism is the only possible conclusion. That is a *very* low bar and they are also very persistent, having achieved that required state of arrogant willful ignorance themselves. Their attacks on education will not stop until they are rendered entirely irrelevant, and that will *not* occur during the Trump administration.

  21. Paul Braterman says: “And I have also seen some scientists maintaining that the scientific method rules out the supernatural a priori …”

    I think this is essentially true. Supernatural entities are defined as existing beyond time and space, which makes detecting them inherently impossible. Further, because the gods do their deeds by supernatural means, there is no way to formulate any law or mechanism which can be tested to explain or predict their alleged activities. Additionally, miracles — by definition — cannot be comprehended by mortals such as ourselves. So although supernatural events may sometimes occur due to the activities of supernatural entities, the methods of science are inherently inadequate for investigating such things.

  22. Michael Fugate

    Paul is giving the doctor too much credit; his assertions are not evidence. How does evidence not support abiogenesis or evolution? The doctor doesn’t say.

  23. PaulB speculates: “Creationism is surprisingly popular with both medics and engineers. Perhaps that is because …..”
    Perhaps it’s the other way round. Suppose you are born in a fundagelical creationist family and go to college. Then it’s not very likely that you will study probabilistic Modern Physics, Geology or (gasp!) Paleonthology. Rather you will pick a study that confirms your views on design in study.

    “We do indeed scientifically investigate purported supernatural phenomena such as esp, the efficacy of prayer, and ghosts.”
    If a significant correlation is found between such phenomena and natural effects, how do you know those phenomena are supernatural? The simple fact that such investigations use empirical data (which by definition are found in our natural reality) almost by definition means that those phenomena are natural indeed – or that we are not investigating the supernatural phenomena we think we investigate.

    “investigating supernaturalist claims is likely to be a waste of time.”
    And the explanation is exceptionally simple: using natural means to investigate supernaturalist claims is a category error.
    However it’s too strong to say that the scientific method (in my terminology a synonym of methodological naturalism) “rules out the supernatural”. Rather it’s indifferent towards it, exactly because it lacks the means to investigate it.
    The important point is – and I’ve stressed this quite often – that those who claim knowledge about the supernatural have to develop their own methodology but thus far never even try. In other words: as soon as our surgeon (or Klinkleclapper or Ol’Hambo or any other believer) demonstrates how to separate correct claims about the supernatural from incorrect ones I’ll pay close attention. Especially they need to explain how a supposed supernatural entity is even capable of interactiving with our natural reality without using natural means. Until then I’ll keep on paraphrasing my compatriot Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis:

    to derive a supernatural reality from our natural one requires a salto mortale.

    FDN studied theology before he became an apostate.

  24. FrankB, well argued; it comes back to what would count as “supernatural”, and if an effect can be demonstrated by natural means, then what is supernatural about it? I suppose if someone says “Thoughts can be transmitted from one mind to another without using a material medium to transmit information”, we can test it and fail to confirm it. If we *did* confirm the claim, as JB Rhine thought he had, by matching what the sender saw to what the guesser thought he had seen, then we would simply expand our definition of the material to include the thought-transmitting field, much as scientists since Faraday have expanded their definition of the material to include force fields.

    If I am right here, then “Science cannot investigate the supernatural” doesn’t mean very much, although Lewontin thought it meant a great deal:

    “It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated.”

    That is what the surgeon is challenging, and why I think he is right to do so. But I’ll leave it there.

  25. Re: Supernatural vs. natural — Just as recently as the nineteenth century radio communications would have been deemed supernatural. Without a radio receiver, there would have been no way to discern radio waves; thus no way to study this phenomenon. Same goes for radiation, although there are discernible effects if the dose is large enough. But no one would know the cause, so it would have seemed supernatural.

    Are there yet some unknown forces still to be discovered? I wouldn’t bet on it, but I wouldn’t bet against it, either. I remain agnostic concerning supernaturalism, albeit very skeptical. Electromagnetism, strong force, weak force, and gravity seem to have all bets covered, but how can we be sure?

  26. Along the same lines, we don’t know much about dark matter and even less about dark energy.

  27. When were the Stong Nuclear Force and the Weak Nuclear Force discovered?

  28. Michael Fugate

    How does one do science if not by “adhering to material causes”? How do we know if there are gods, let alone if they are immaterial?

  29. Michael Fugate, we can (and do) investigate phenomena even when we know that if the phenomenon is real we won’t be able, at least in the short run, to explain it. But I’m now convinced by the arguments here that I don’t know what a cause could possibly be if not material, so I now regard Lewontin’s position as redundant rather than wrong.

  30. Michael Fugate

    I agree, it just seems to me if we are doing science we are stuck with matter and energy.

  31. In psychology and scientific brands of sociology, we can study attitudes in terms of temperament and circumstance, and learn a lot. I am confident that if we knew enough, the results could be translated into statements about matter and energy inside brains, but the meaning would be lost in that translation.

  32. And space and time.

  33. Eric Lipps

    The simplest possible living cell has 473 genes and 531,000 base pairs of DNA all in precise sequential order. Nothing simpler than this is life. Nothing simpler can survive under natural conditions. And this level of complexity cannot be the result of chance.

    That, of course, is a dogmatic statement; where’s the evidence? Who gets to decide that nothing with, say, 472 genes is really alive?

    As for that “precise sequential order,” who says those 531,000 base pairs always have to be in the same order?

  34. Remind me to never get appendicitis in Fresno. Thanks .