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Feedback archiveFeedback 2002

Is evolution really necessary for medical advances?

28 October 2002

Yet another email from self-described ‘professional biologist’ Dr Richard Meiss, Speedway, IN, who wrote, ‘Please feel free to reply to these comments and/or to place them on your web page.’ In his letter, printed below, he takes issue with Ken Ham’s radio broadcast ‘Evolution—Does It Help Technology?’, and tries to demonstrate how evolution is so vital for medical research. Once more it illustrates an argument from authority (the technical term is Argumentum ad verecundiam), where Dr Meiss speaks outside his own field. His letter is reprinted (indented dark red), with point-by-point responses by Dr Carl Wieland, a medical doctor, demonstrating that the alleged medical advances are easily explained from a design perspective, and documenting how evolution has actually hindered research.

Dear Richard, you wrote:


Subject: Evolution—Does It Help Technology? [Ed. Note: the three books have been deleted in accordance with our feedback rules against advertising other products. However, Dr Wieland is familiar with them as will be shown]

To the editor —

In his radio talk for 23 Ocober 2002, entitled ‘Evolution—Does It Help Technology?’, Ken Ham makes the assertion that evolution and its underlying concepts have no value in helping to develop or understand technologies that are useful to people. In response, I would like first to point out the important role of evolutionary concepts in medical science and technology, especially in the areas of infection prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. I offer the following books as evidence that evolution has informed many areas of medicine: [Ed. Note: the two references were deleted again in accordance with feedback rules, and once more our articles have interacted with the claims] …

These are not trivial writings—to understand and apply them does take education and effort. So please do not dismiss them out of hand without examining their content. Mr. Ham further cites that the notion that the human appendix is an evolutionary vestige (note that vestigial does not necessary mean functionless) has somehow impeded the progress of scientific research. In what way has it done this? As a medical researcher, I am anxious to know.

In other fields as diverse as electronic and traffic systems design, as well as in cutting-edge neurophysiological research, evolutionary concepts are used to develop optimal solutions to complex problems through an approach called ‘genetic algorithms’ or ‘neural network analysis.’ I offer a few of the many works addressing this application of electronic and traffice system design. …

Again, please do not reject these works out of hand. They are works of solid science and mathematics that describe real-world applications of evolutionary theory to practical problems.

I fear that you have again left your listeners with a distorted view of how science is actually done. I suspect that such is your intent. Please feel free to reply to these comments and/or to place them on your web page.

Sincerely,

Richard A. Meiss, Ph.D.

Speedway, IN U.S.A


To the editor—

In his radio talk for 23 Ocober 2002, entitled ‘Evolution—Does It Help Technology?’, Ken Ham makes the assertion that evolution and its underlying concepts have no value in helping to develop or understand technologies that are useful to people.

This is not the only time we have made such an assertion. We cited an evolutionist who with one breath claimed that evolution was absolutely vital (and as usual, equivocating about the meaning), then with another breath lamented that many university departments are moving away from evolutionary theorizing to concentrate on science which has a practical benefit! (See ‘Evolution and practical science—Countering a common belief with Creation magazine.’)

In response, I would like first to point out the important role of evolutionary concepts in medical science and technology, especially in the areas of infection prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. I offer the following books as evidence that evolution has informed many areas of medicine: [Ed. Note: the three books have been deleted in accordance with our feedback rules against advertising other products. However, Dr Wieland is familiar with them as will be shown] …
These are not trivial writings—to understand and apply them does take education and effort. So please do not dismiss them out of hand without examining their content.

I am, for example, more than familiar with the content of the Nesse and Williams book, Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine that Dr Meiss recommended. I have written on these issues in the past. One short example from our magazine is Healers hail Darwin. Let me cite one way in which someone could kid themselves into thinking that an evolutionary approach has been helpful. Take fever in infective illness, and let us assume for the moment that it has been firmly established that some degree of fever is useful in helping the body fight infection.

A committed evolutionary medicine person might say: ‘Here we’ve been suppressing fever; yet had we thought in Darwinian terms, we would have realized that it is probably adaptive. So that would have been progress.’ Similarly, the ‘selectionist’ looks at diarrhoea as likely adaptive to expel pathogens, which of course is relevant to attempts to suppress it, etc. But it takes only a trivial mental exercise to realise that in both instances, a ‘design’ explanation would achieve the same end.

Most of the examples of the value of the ‘evolutionary’ approach, to my knowledge, fall in that category. Where it refers to the evolution of pathogens, the triumphant evolutionary notions are soon dispelled by an understanding of the issues concerning natural selection and information, etc. See our Web articles: ‘Muddy Waters’ , ‘Has AIDS evolved?’, ‘Superbugs: Not super after all’ and ‘Anthrax and antibiotics: Is evolution relevant?’.

Mr. Ham further cites that the notion that the human appendix is an evolutionary vestige (note that vestigial does not necessary mean functionless) …

Actually that is modern evolutionary revisionism—as we pointed out to you before . If you have any evidence to the contrary, please present it rather than repeat the same tired old canards.

… has somehow impeded the progress of scientific research. In what way has it done this? As a medical researcher, I am anxious to know.

Ah yes, we were beginning to miss your favorite logical fallacy, argument from authority. Never mind that research into muscle action doesn’t make one an expert in the history of medical research.

The long-held assumption that certain organs (including the appendix) had no function slowed down the incentive to look for a function, not surprisingly. Even now, research on further elucidating the immunological function of the appendix's lymphatic tissue is hardly likely to attract great interest in view of the longheld notion of its ‘uselessness’. And as we pointed out to you earlier, we are aware of revisionist redefinitions, but even many evolutionists today use the word to mean ‘useless’. And its alleged ‘uselessness’ was used as a demonstration of its vestigiality.

Once more, we have pointed this out at length on our website. (See ‘Has AIDS evolved?’, ‘Superbugs: Not super after all’ and ‘Anthrax and antibiotics: Is evolution relevant?’)

A recent example was the discovery of an important function in ‘vestigial’ horse muscles, and the discoverer then wondered whether other alleged vestigial organs might also turn out to have important functions. (See ‘Useless horse body parts?’)

Incidentally, as a medical researcher, one would have presumed you would be aware of the way in which the presumed uselessness of the thymus was a major factor in permitting normal thymuses in children to be radiated with impunity, with tragic results. You will also presumably be aware of the way in which it was fashionable to remove portions of the obviously ‘vestigial’ colon. If the assumption had applied from the beginning in Western medicine that no organ in the human body was likely to be functionless, it again does not take much mental effort to deduce that it would have likely hastened the elucidation of such functions.

In other fields as diverse as electronic and traffic systems design, as well as in cutting-edge neurophysiological research, evolutionary concepts are used to develop optimal solutions to complex problems through an approach called ‘genetic algorithms’ or ‘neural network analysis.’ I offer a few of the many works addressing this application of evolutionary theory to technological advances: [Ed. Note: the two references were deleted again in accordance with feedback rules, and once more our articles have interacted with the claims] …
Again, please do not reject these works out of hand. They are works of solid science and mathematics that describe real-world applications of evolutionary theory to practical problems.

They are not rejected out of hand, nor is that our style. I wonder how much you have attempted to study our material before offering this ‘critique’, however, because if you had searched on our site, typing in the words ‘genetic algorithms’ would have brought up eight matches, of which the first one was an article by Dr Don Batten on that very subject.

I fear that you have again left your listeners with a distorted view of how science is actually done. I suspect that such is your intent.

I certainly have gleaned from your whole approach that you are rather hostile to our position. My colleagues inform me that there is a long history of vexatious emails from you, also replete with misunderstanding and misrepresentation. Who knows, perhaps after studying the matter somewhat, whether you then agree with us or not, you will come to the conclusion that there has indeed been considerable misunderstanding of our position on your part.

Please feel free to reply to these comments and/or to place them on your web page.
Sincerely,
Richard A. Meiss, Ph.D.
Speedway, IN U.S.A.

Sincerely,
Dr Carl Wieland


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