by Greg Mayer
I think I’ve been able to figure out why chemist Philip Skell’s attack on Jerry in Forbes was so unresponsive to what Jerry actually wrote: he probably wrote most of it before seeing Jerry’s article! P.Z. Myers noted a piece in the Eugene, Oregon, Register-Guard by teacher Stuart Faulk rebutting Skell’s arguments. Addressing Skell’s claim that evolution is irrelevant to medicine, Faulk (who is Skell’s son-in-law!) does some research:
The contention that evolutionary science is not useful is easily shown false by counter-example. The necessary research is accomplished by walking the five feet to my coffee table and picking up the March edition of Scientific American magazine, in which the article “New Tactics Against Tuberculosis” describes progress against the spread of drug-resistant TB….As the authors state of one promising approach, “It allows us to harness the power of natural selection in our quest to thwart (drug-resistant TB).”
He also notes that Skell’s claim that for evolution to be relevant to medicine, then paleontology must drive its research agenda, is an “absurd idea”, “introduced by Skell, not evolutionary scientists.” Faulk goes on to note that Skell’s real concerns are religious, not scientific, as “any Web search will show”.
That Skell’s arguments are easily rebutted is not surprising; what is surprising is that Faulk was responding to something Skell wrote in the Register-Guard that appeared February 12, the same day as Jerry’s piece in Forbes, and 11 days before Skell’s piece in Forbes. The Register-Guard piece is only available on the web as an excerpt, but it seems to be much the same as what appeared in Forbes. You compare:
The Register-Guard, Feb. 12: “Darwin was great, but too often he’s oversold”
In 1942 Nobel Laureate Ernst Chain wrote explicitly that his discovery (with Florey and Fleming) of penicillin, and the development of bacterial resistance to that antibiotic, owed nothing to Darwin’s and Alfred Wallace’s evolutionary theories. The same can be said about a variety of other 20th century discoveries: that of the structure of the double helix; the characterization of the ribosome; the mapping of genomes; research on medications and drug reactions; improvements in food production and sanitation; and various new surgeries.
Forbes, Feb. 23, “The dangers of overselling evolution”
In 1942, Nobel Laureate Ernst Chain wrote that his discovery of penicillin (with Howard Florey and Alexander Fleming) and the development of bacterial resistance to that antibiotic owed nothing to Darwin’s and Alfred Russel Wallace’s evolutionary theories.
The same can be said about a variety of other 20th-century findings: the discovery of the structure of the double helix; the characterization of the ribosome; the mapping of genomes; research on medications and drug reactions; improvements in food production and sanitation; new surgeries; and other developments.
I can understand why Jerry found Skell’s Forbes piece off-point:
The curious thing is that Skell’s piece is not, as it pretends to be, a critique of what I said in Forbes, but merely a repetition of the argument, which he has been making for years, that evolution is of no practical use for humanity and of no use to experimental biology
The one thing I would add to these critiques of Skell is to point out his curious use of the phrase “experimental biology”, and his disdain for what he seems to consider unobservable or uncertain knowledge. He seems to imply that chemistry and “experimental” biology, are good science, because they are observable; other sorts of biology (i.e. evolution), and (if the apparent criterion is to be applied uniformly), geology and astronomy are not, because we have not seen a live trilobite, or Gondwanaland, or a star moving along the main sequence. Thus creationists seek not just to eliminate biology, but much of the rest of science as well. All knowledge in empirical science, including chemistry, is tentative; and the changes in the kinds of plants and animals you see as you travel up slope on a fossiliferous exposure are much more observable than any chemical bond.