Thursday, July 14, 2016

Egnor Doubles Down

Creationist neurosurgeon Michael Egnor doubles down in his latest at the misnamed site. He's still claiming that animals don't have language.

He really has nothing new to say. He provides no evidence for his claims, just a series of assertions:

"Language in animals has never been demonstrated": actually, it has. I gave several citations, but Egnor didn't address any of them. There is a whole subfield of ethology that deals with this. Egnor didn't even seem to know the name of the field.

"because animals are incapable of language.": pure assertion.

"Claims of animal language have been made by some ethologists, but those claims are mistaken": Egnor suddenly starts using the word "ethologist", which he didn't before. I am glad to have informed him of the name for the practitioners of the field he is criticizing. Again, pure assertion. He doesn't actually address any of the cited studies.

"We should begin with an examination of what we mean by language.": Egnor is not a linguist, either.

"The confusion between signals and designators is at the root of ethologists' misunderstanding about animal "language.": Yeah, all those ethologists who actually study animal language are wrong, but Egnor (who didn't seem to even know the word "ethologist" until two days ago) is right, despite not working in the field. Remember the word "egnorance" and why it was coined?

"Natural animal signals have no grammar": Probably not true. For example, see here and here and here. Now one could certainly take issue with any or all of these, but the point is that there is a large literature that needs to be assessed carefully, and which cannot be addressed by categorical denials of the kind Egnor makes. Egnor does not do this. He just knows he is correct, because ... Aristotle.

"Animals do not signal abstract concepts": pure assertion.

(Quoting de Waal): "We honestly have no evidence for symbolic communication, equally rich and multifunctional as ours, outside our species": A red herring. Nobody said animal language was as "rich and multifunctional" as human language, just that it exists, contrary to Egnor's claims. This is the traditional creationist technique known as "moving the goalposts".

Finally, Egnor insinuates that I haven't read de Waal's books, when I was the one who introduced them to him. He urges me to read de Waal's books. I have. My records show that I read Good Natured in 1996, as well as Chimpanzee Politics and Peacemaking Among Primates.


Magna Charta said...

I used to enjoy arguing with him about same sex marriage, gun control and regulation of banks. He was so predictable in the rancour of his responses that it lost all of its appeal. And he hasn't posted anything on his blog in almost a year.

By all accounts, he is (was) an excellent surgeon. But I don't know if I want someone operating on me who believes that everything is god's will.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

He prefers to post on a site where no comments are allowed. It would be trivial for him to post his DI columns on his blog, if he really wanted to engage. But he doesn't. Like most religionists, he's not really able to defend his viewpoints -- he's just able to repeat them over and over.

JimV said...

Any expert in any field should remember that they got that way by making a lot of mistakes, and learning from them (trial and error, i.e., evolution), and consequently, should realize that their opinions outside their field of expertise are worth as much or as little as the time they spent studying evidence to form them.

I'm not talking about people who operate from a manual and rigorous training. I'm talking about the people who wrote the manuals and developed the training regimens.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

JimV: Even experts can be wrong if they start from a position with no evidence and proceed to elaborate this position extravagantly out of proportion to the evidence. Theology, for example.

JimV said...

Absolutely experts can be wrong. My point was expertise is generally developed by a process of trial and error (with some objective standard for error) rather than navel-gazing, and therefore actual experts should be aware that navel-gazing opinions on matters outside their expertise are apt to be wrong and not worth publishing.

If there are no objective standards to guide a field then it is not clear to me that there are any experts in that field, so I am suspicious of expert astrologers and expert theologians (perhaps I am wrong about the latter, not being an expert in that field). I would also like to distinguish between expert practitioners in a field and those who thoroughly understand the field, for purposes of the above remark. Someone who practices skillfully in a field but does not understand the fundamentals of that field is even less qualified to pontificate on another field. The example I have in mind is a medical doctor who works in the field of biology but does not understand evolution.

Evgeny Selensky said...

What's the fuss about? How does the alleged scientific fact of bona fide animal language change the truth that God created both animals and humans?

John-Hugh Boyd said...

Evgeny Selensky- WHAT truth that God created both animals and humans?

1 Assertion - no evidence given. Back up your assertion WITHOUT quoting the Bible! (The Bible isn't evidence)

2 We are discussing a column by Egnor, that supposedly re-enforces his original column about the non-existence of animal language....... you are off-topic!

Ken Phelps said...

JimV - "If there are no objective standards to guide a field then it is not clear to me that there are any experts in that field..."

This is spot on. Theologians, to pick one of your examples, are experts only on what other theologians say. They have, to this point, failed to connect their several millennia of talking to any actual or unique insight into reality. In other words, anything they say that is true can be derived without the use of theology, and no idea that is unique to theology has ever been shown to be true.

William Spearshake said...

Egnor finally posted a new post on his blog. Big surprise, it's about Democrats being responsible for all evils in the world.

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

Because many religious folk wish to consider animals as objects and as far as possible from humans.