Who is Right About Sinuses?


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #22

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #23

I wanted to add a final thought on this thread. There has been a public back and forth between Dr. Egnor from the Discovery Institute, and Dr. Lents, the author of Human Errors:

The topic of this thread is a post by Dr. Egnor on sinuses. A mispercievd error in Engor’s references was put forward as a challenge to DI’s honestly. Dr. Egnor responded by showing that it was not he who was in error on this point. That is why this correction was important.

As small of a detail as this may seen, I believe honesty is a fundamentally important currency in the contentious conversations like this. Just like Dr. Lents, I affirm evolutionary science, and see very strong evidence for common descent (http://peacefulscience.org/evidence-and-evolution/). Just like Dr. Lent’s I am unconvinced by Intelligent Design arguments. Still, it seemed that Dr. Egnor was correct on this point. Not wanting to preempt Dr. Lents, I cautiously agreed:

Dr. Engor might be wrong on this or that, but he was not dishonest. Neither was Dr. Lents. Dr. Lents retracted this in a note on the original blog post:

[Another Edit: The DI finally got around to answering this post. They did correctly out one mistake I made in terminology, which they make a huge deal out of, and which I have corrected in the text below. Then they write a great deal using selective and misleading quoting of their sourced to advance a new idea that drainage in the maxillary sinuses actually works by… actually, I’m not going to try to summarize their idea because it’s very convoluted and self-contradicting. The drainage pattern they describe would make Rube Goldberg blush. Needless to say, the drainage doesn’t work that way and if it did, it would be an even worse “design” than we thought.]
https://thehumanevolutionblog.com/2018/05/23/response-creationists-testes-sinuses/

I commend Dr. Lents for retracting this error, correctly acknowledging that Dr. Egnor had it right: the maxillary sinus is in fact one of the paranasal sinuses. This is exactly what we should expect scientists too do, especially when engaging the public. If retractions like this were common, we the whole conversation might improve.

At the same time, it is clear there is remaining disagreement between DI and Dr. Lents, and that is to be expected. Though it is not the focus or precise argument of his book, Dr. Lents is often making a “bad design” argument for evolution. This is a common argument offered to support evolution, and Dr. Lents is certainly not the first to make it.

Having recognized that Dr. Lents holds to a very common view, I confess that I do not personally think the bad design argument is valid. In my view, it mistakes the quirks and “seams” in our body as errors, and makes a theological argument that extends beyond science. In contrast with the bad design argument, I prefer to insist science remain neutral and silent on theological arguments such as these, and see these quirks as biological mysteries that often reveal evidence of common descent, and non-intuitive details of how our bodies work. I know I may be in the minority among biologists in disputing the bad design argument, but I hope that could shift in the future. Nothing intrinsic to evolutionary science requires us to make those arguments.

With that disclaimer, I want to thank both the DI, Dr. Egnor and Dr. Lents for engaging this conversation. Though the acrimony is not necessary, it is not surprising. These are the grand questions we are facing, and they are important.

Peace.


Common Ground on Bad Design