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Does Medical Science Need Evolutionary Science?


Recently the Christian Post interviewed me about comments by astronaut John Glenn on whether evolution is compatible with religion, and whether evolution should be taught in public schools. Although the vast majority of the interview was about science education policy, I was quoted as saying only one thing: "Some definitions of evolution are completely compatible with a belief in God and others aren't. That is a key aspect of evolution we need to remember."

Which is true, but there's so much more to talk about than that.

The article did quote extensively from Josh Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education. And that's fine. I have no objection to him presenting his viewpoint on evolution, but it's too bad readers missed the other side of the discussion. Intelligent design theorists have potent scientific arguments and rebuttals to many evolutionary claims. Those deserve to be heard as well.

Rosenau said one thing that calls for a specific response since you hear it all the time. He claimed that "how well we understand evolution is critical to how we understand the human person and advances in medicine." What about that? Is evolutionary theory "critical" to medicine?

Well, there are many in the sciences who would disagree with Josh Rosenau. David Klinghoffer wrote about this last week, explaining that many doctors feel evolution is not relevant to practicing medicine. In fact, a poll of doctors from 2006 (reported by the Christian Post, no less) found that at least 34 percent of U.S. physicians think intelligence played a role in the origin of humans. That's a very significant portion of doctors who support intelligent design.

On the flipside, evolutionary science has hindered medical research by promulgating the now-defunct concept of "junk DNA". That's the evolution-based idea that most of the DNA in human cells is useless junk. It's now known that the vast majority of our DNA has function, but evolution discouraged research into "junk DNA." In this regard, with its faulty understanding of "the human person" as being the result of strictly blind physical mechanisms, evolution has obstructed "advances in medicine."

Many other examples could be given. For another, evolutionary science has wrongly assumed that many organs are "vestigial" and thus unnecessary or unimportant. Those organs include the appendix, tonsils, coccyx, and thyroid. It's now known that each of those organs plays an important role in human physiology. By presuming nonfunctionality or reduced functionality in these organs, evolutionary science did great medical damage to many patients.

Want to know more? We discuss these topics in the curriculum Discovering Intelligent Design. See Chapter 12, titled "Poorly Designed Arguments." Now, we've made a new online component of our curriculum available as well, and it's free.


Of course the classic case where evolutionary biology is said to aid medicine is in fighting antibiotic resistant bacteria. And yes, those microbes are a serious problem, resulting from the operation of natural selection, a phenomenon that no one denies. The problem must be dealt with, but such resistance typically entails extremely small-scale change in bacteria. The important claim that Darwinism makes has to do with its supposed ability to account for major, not minor, change.

In fighting antibiotic resistance, Darwin's theory actually provides little guidance. Indeed, quite the opposite. As SUNY Professor of Neurosurgery Michael Egnor has written here, "Darwinism tells us that ... bacteria survive antibiotics that they're not sensitive to, so non-killed bacteria will eventually outnumber killed bacteria. That's it."

To create drugs that outsmart evolving bacteria or cancer cells, biomedical researchers must use a process of intelligent design. They create drug cocktails that bank upon the fact that there are limits to how much living things can evolve on their own. Far from being evidence for Darwinian theory, antibiotic resistant bacteria point to what Michael Behe has called "the edge of evolution," beyond which unguided Darwinian processes are powerless.

As even evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne admits, evolutionary theory has yielded few practical benefits.

[T]ruth be told, evolution hasn't yielded many practical or commercial benefits. Yes, bacteria evolve drug resistance, and yes, we must take countermeasures, but beyond that there is not much to say. Evolution cannot help us predict what new vaccines to manufacture because microbes evolve unpredictably. But hasn't evolution helped guide animal and plant breeding? Not very much. Most improvement in crop plants and animals occurred long before we knew anything about evolution, and came about by people following the genetic principle of 'like begets like'. Even now, as its practitioners admit, the field of quantitative genetics has been of little value in helping improve varieties. Future advances will almost certainly come from transgenics, which is not based on evolution at all.

(Jerry Coyne, "Selling Darwin: Does it matter whether evolution has any commercial applications?," reviewing The Evolving World: Evolution in Everyday Life by David P. Mindell, in Nature, 442:983-984 (August 31, 2006).)

I don't think the author of the Christian Post article was intentionally trying to leave out this information. It was probably just an oversight, or due to his newness to the issues. But as I mentioned, if you want a comprehensive introduction to the arguments for intelligent design, check out Discovering Intelligent Design and be sure to also use our new online component.

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