Dr. Egnor is wrong -- Genomics Shows Why

One of the most interesting creationists to ever push his head out of the Discovery Institute is a neurosurgeon by the name of Michael Egnor. Dr. Egnor gained his recognition by penning an essay about why he wouldn't want his doctor to understand evolution. He went about proving that he himself certainly didn't know about evolution.

The most interesting line in his otherwise unremarkable essay came when he said the following:

If you needed treatment for a brain tumor, your medical team would include a physicist (who designed the MRI that diagnosed your tumor), a chemist and a pharmacologist (who made the medicine to treat you), an engineer and an anesthesiologist (who designed and used the machine that give you anesthesia), a neurosurgeon (who did the surgery to remove your tumor), a pathologist (who studied the tumor under a microscope and determined what type of tumor it was), and nurses and oncologists (who help you recover and help make sure the tumor doesn’t come back). There would be no evolutionary biologists on your team.

To be honest, this is largely true and mostly on point. Certainly nobody would want an evolutionary biologist working on their tumor. However, if you were the family member of the person with the tumor, you might have a very different opinion about it all.

The new science of genomic medicine is looking to allow us to trace our personal genetic heritages back hundreds of thousands if not possibly millions of years. One of the most important findings in cancer research, something that I hope even Dr. Egnor would not be "Egnorant" about is the importance of family history in the assessment of cancer risk.

There are tumors that are caused by genetic problems, yet some of these are quite common. From Dr. Egnor's point of view, all he can point to to explain this huge life-changing problem in the lives of his patients is God's will, or perhaps sin (which is also God's will). However the explanations open to the evolutionary biologist are numerous and not only that, the evolutionary biologist can use the knowledge we have of the human genome and the differences between our genome and those of our simian, primate and mammalian relatives to try to find ways to cure or prevent these horrible tumors.

Poor Dr. Egnor will be left where he is now, in the operating room, thinking that there's nothing evolutionary biology has to offer him, but this simply isn't the case even if he looks at the patient he just operated on.

You see the cancer that he is removing also evolved within the patient he is removing it from. Almost all malignant tumors must first lose the gene p53 which would otherwise cause the cell to stop dividing and suicide itself. This is something that each cell contains, so before a tumor can grow, it must first evolve a loss of this gene. To quote the article referenced above:

It seems that DNA damage itself is not the critical event that leads to cancer, as long as the oncogenic-stress pathways that activate p53 are intact. Furthermore, these results underscore the need to ensure that the relevant upstream pathway for p53 activation is intact, possibly even enhanced. For example, drugs in development enhance the function of kinases that activate p53 in response to DNA damage.

To clarify, it is critical that we understand how the gene p53 works to develop drugs that can fight, or even better prevent the cancers that Dr. Egnor is trying to remove. One of the most important components of that understanding comes from studying this gene in other organisms to whom we are related.

Even more interesting is the program for a symposium held in Copenhagen earlier this year. Titles include:

100 Million years of evolutionary history of the human genome
David Haussler, Professor, Director of Center for Biomolecular Science & Engineering, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of California Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz

Selection and population sizes in the human lineage inferred from primate genome sequences
Mikkel Heide Schierup, Associate Professor, Bioinformatics Research Center, University of Aarhus

Genome Wide Association studies bring new responses about diabetes and obesity global epidemics
Philippe Froguel, Professor, Chair in Genomic Medicine, Division of Medicine, Imperial College London

Yet to Dr. Egnor, this is all irrelevant. Dr. Egnor represents the worst of the creationist mindset. He doesn't even want to understand the earth and the histories of his patients. He doesn't want to find ways to prevent a disease. He just wants to keep doing what he's always done, ignorant of the greater march of science around him.