'Why would I want my doctor to have studied evolution?'
Dear High School Students,
The folks at the Alliance for Science have sponsored an essay contest for high school students. They ask students to write an essay on 'Why I would want my doctor to have studied evolution.' First prize is a copy of Darwin's Origin of Species. Second prize is two copies of Darwin's Origin of Species! (Just kidding.)
Really, it's a funny question. Think about it. Would anyone sponsor an essay contest on 'Why I would want my doctor to study anatomy' or 'Why I would want my doctor to study physiology'? Of course not, because we all know that these kinds of science are important to medicine. Is evolutionary biology important? If it is, why do they have to ask the question?
Doctors don't study evolution. Doctors never study it in medical school, and they never use evolutionary biology in their practice. There are no courses in medical school on evolution. There are no 'professors of evolution' in medical schools. There are no departments of evolutionary biology in medical schools.
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.
I am a professor of neurosurgery, I work and teach at a medical school, I do brain research, and in 20 years I've performed over 4000 brain operations. I never use evolutionary biology in my work. Would I be a better surgeon if I assumed that the brain arose by random events? Of course not. Doctors are detectives. We look for patterns, and in the human body, patterns look very much like they were designed. Doctors know that, from the intricate structure of the human brain to the genetic code, our bodies show astonishing evidence of design. That's why most doctors--nearly two-thirds according to national polls--don't believe that human beings arose merely by chance and natural selection. Most doctors don't accept evolutionary biology as an adequate explanation for life. Doctors see, first-hand, the design of life.
I do use many kinds of science related to changes in organisms over time. Genetics is very important, as are population biology and microbiology. But evolutionary biology itself, as distinct from these scientific fields, contributes nothing to modern medicine.
Without using evolutionary theory, doctors and scientists have discovered vaccines (Jenner, in the 18th century, before Darwin was born), discovered that germs cause infectious diseases (Pasteur, in the 19th century, who ignored Darwin), discovered genes (Mendel, in the 19th century, who was a priest and not a supporter of Darwin's theory), discovered antibiotics, and unraveled the secrets of the genetic code (the key to these discoveries was the discovery of the apparent design in the DNA double helix). Heart, liver, and kidney transplants, new treatments for cancer and heart disease, and a host of life-saving advances in medicine have been developed without input from evolutionary biologists. No Nobel prize in medicine has ever been awarded for work in evolutionary biology. In fact, I think it's safe to say that the only contribution evolution has made to modern medicine is to take it down the horrific road of eugenics, which brought forced sterilization and bodily harm to many thousands of Americans in the early 1900s. That's a contribution which has brought shame--not advance--to the medical field.
So 'Why would I want my doctor to have studied evolution?' I wouldn't. Evolutionary biology isn't important to modern medicine. That answer won't win the 'Alliance for Science' prize. It's just the truth.
Michael Egnor, M.D.