Is Evolutionary Theory Useless?

The latest rant by Michael Egnor, the ID-creationist neurosurgeon with a surname that simply demands snarky puns, has got me thinking not so much about the crux of his graphic tantrum (“There’s lots of idiots like me! *thumps chest* and we’ll kick your ass!”) – but about something he wrote that’s quite superfluous to Egnor’s petulant ravings:

A lot of taxpayers realize that Darwinist “just-so stories” are of little value to the real research going on in biology and medicine. Evolutionary research — like the research that claimed that the human brain evolved because apes got better spit — is a real “shovel ready” project, in the sense that a lot of folks would like to take a shovel to it.

As you can deduce from this representative excerpt, somewhere in America, much mouth-foaming and frothing is afoot. The message is clear, though: Egnor says that evolutionary theory is useless, the money used to fund evolutionary research would be better spent on other fields of science (or on more megachurches, yay!)

Ya’ll informed evolutionists probably know by now that the  usual suspects addressed this matter yonks ago – but really, I think TalkOrigins has a fine tradition of overkill when addressing idiotic claims by creationists.

The real reason why I think Evolutionary Theory is useful is not because of a specific practical implication of evolutionary theory – I’m sure there’s plenty, and I’m also sure that useless theories (so to speak) aren’t wrong simply because they’re useless.

The real reason why evolutionary theory is useful is the same reason why any pursuit of knowledge is useful: you don’t put a price tag on curiosity, you can’t filter the desire to understand in a way that will produce nothing but the next weapon or utility – science doesn’t work that way, and without science, technology is impossible.

In his epic “Demon-Haunted World”, Carl Sagan has a chapter called “Maxwell and the Nerds”. The “Maxwell” here, is, of course, James Maxwell, the Scottish physicist who discovered electromagnetism (I got to use some of his equations in high school!).

Sagan puts forth a truly remarkable argument in this chapter: he brings to light the fact that Maxwell wasn’t in any way directed or instructed to discover electromagnetism. He did not receive an incentive for producing a technology that will allow the advent of radios and television (which would have been impossible had he not discovered electromagnetism).

He went on and pursued physics and math because he was curious. He simply wanted to know.

This was in an age of no scientific funding. An age when a man pursuant of knowledge had to produce it on his own. Without this creative impulse – human technology and scientific advancement could not exist – and this is, to my opinion, the main reason why evolutionary theory is useful: it is useful because elucidating the nature of the universe results from the same Maxwellian passion for knowledge that is just as needed to produce light bulbs and television.

You can’t separate scientific discovery from scientific curiosity, and you can’t separate the creativity that brings forth the innovations that make our lives easier from the creativity that simply results in better understanding the universe –Evolutionary theory is useful because human scientific endeavors are useful.

You can’t put a price tag on that, Egnor.


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