Antibiotic resistance *is* evolution

A neurosurgeon who supports intelligent design has written a dumb esssay about antibiotic resistance. It’s an area very close to what I research, so I briefly comment.

Michael Egnor boldly claims that antibiotic resistance has “nothing to do with evolution”, arguing that it is an instance of artificial selection and so, intelligent design rather than the undirected processes of Darwinism. This is vaguely interesting, but quite wrong.

Artificial selection involves intentional manipulation of populations in order to achieve a desired result. Antibiotic treatment might fall into this loose category, but antibiotic resistance – as currently experienced – almost never does. Egnor’s claim is that because intelligent agency is involved in designing and manipulating antibiotics, then bacterial populations’ responses to treatment are not undirected. Sheer semantic sophistry.

Take another example of natural selection – microbial populations’ increased ability to survive in toxic environments (e.g. around mining sites). Is this “intelligent design” because the mining was done by humans? Absurd.

To add to the embarrassment, while we don’t fully understand the origin of all mutations responsible for antibiotic resistance, we do know that many of them are present in natural bacterial populations (so at least some resistance is due to long-standing ‘standing variation’ rather than de novo mutation) – which makes sense, given that most antibiotics are based on compounds naturally produced by fungi and other microbes. The interaction between bacteria and antibiotics is not purely a result of human activity.

I cannot see how this is not natural selection shifting allele frequencies in a population (i.e. evolution). Egnor is responding to ultra-atheist PZ Meyers. Meyers is often way out of his depth when he wades in to discuss religion, but this kind of ‘response’ will only further convince him and his fanboys of his unassailable scientific superiority.

It’s this kind of amateur pontificating that helps give intelligent design a bad name. Stop it, Discovery Institute.