Why Do So Many Doctors Accept Evolution?

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Over at Uncommon Descent, Gil Dodgen asks the question of why so many engineers reject evolution. Dave Scot then asks a similar question about doctors. Not surprisingly, their answers to these questions are self-serving and backed up only by wishful thinking. Dodgen quotes Stephen Meyer as saying that because engineers know all about “design”, they are therefore in a unique position to know about biology. (As a corollary, I suppose biologists must have special insight when it comes to designing bridges.) Even more amusing is Dave Scot’s explanation for why doctors supposedly reject evolution. They are risk adverse. I’ll let others ponder the logic of that one. But all of this begs the question: How many doctors (or engineers) reject evolution, and why do they do so? I think the question is worth looking at, even if just for fun. So let’s do something that the denizens of UD would consider totally alien – let’s look at some data.

Lucky for us, the Louis Finkelstein Institute recently conducted a survey on the beliefs that doctors have concerning evolution and “intelligent design”. The headline for the survey was that a majority of doctors, 63%, preferred evolution over ID. Still, that leaves a fairly sizable minority, 34%, who agree with the ID position. Unfortunately, it’s hard to know what to make of such numbers. Thanks in large part to the obscurantist tactics of its major proponents, “intelligent design” is a fuzzy concept that has any number of possible meanings among lay people. For example, a lot of people seem to think that ID is equivalent to theistic evolution, a position held in contempt by the leading ID advocates. It’s also difficult to compare different surveys against each other, given that (especially for this issue) the answers tend to be extremely sensitive to the wording of the question. For example, any question that makes a reference to God or the Bible will tend to elicit a more positive response than one that doesn’t, even when the questions are essentially the same.

Fortunately, the Finkelstein survey does contain one question that is directly comparable to that asked of the general public in a CBS News poll conducted around the same time. That question asks people about their views on evolution and gives them three choices: The first is that humans were created by God essentially as they are now; the second is that humans have evolved with God guiding the process; and the third is that humans have evolved without God’s guidance. Although the wording differs slightly between the two surveys, the differences are trivial and shouldn’t make any difference in how people respond. Thus I submit that this is the best comparison between surveys that we’re likely to find. I’ve put the results together into a single chart:

evochart.JPG

We can see that the results are quite striking. Doctors are far less likely to believe in the explicitly creationist position than are the general public. They are also far more likely to believe that evolution occurred without divine guidance. Overall, the acceptance of evolution among doctors is around 80% (actually 78% when asked the question directly) whereas it’s only around 45% for the general public. So contrary to the self-congratulatory beliefs of the UD folks, it is not the case that being a doctor somehow makes one more prone to being a IDist/creationist. In fact it makes one much less prone. While some of this may be due to the fact that more educated and affluent people are more likely to accept evolution, much of it is probably due to the medical training that doctors receive. That makes Dave Scot’s remarks all the more ironic. (One quick note: The Gallup organization has been conducting a similar poll for a long time, though they include a 10,000 year age for the human species are part of question #1. Even still, the results for the general public are highly similar to those above. However, if I had included those results broken down by college education, the college educated would have sat somewhere in between the general public and doctors in the above chart. Because I couldn’t find any data for this more recent than 1991, I left it out, but it supports the notion that there is more than just general education that leads doctors to accept evolution.)

It is true of course that doctors are more prone to being creationists than scientists in general and biologists in particular. This is to be fully expected, as it’s unlikely that you’re going to find any one group of people who are more convinced about evolution than biologists and other scientists. But the fact is, we see a steady increase in the acceptance of evolution when we move from the uneducated to the educated, and from those whose educations are irrelevant to evolution towards those who are more relevant. Thus, the prevalence (or rather paucity) of creationist doctors has a simple explanation.

Much the same can be said of engineers. The perception that there exists a large number of creationist engineers has actually spawned its own bit of internet folk wisdom, known as the Salem hypothesis. Although there are no survey data for engineers specifically as far as I know, I strongly suspect that the percentage of engineers who accept evolution is similar to (though probably somewhat less than) that of doctors. Which is to say, an engineer is far less likely to be a creationist than is a member of the general public, yet is more likely to be a creationist than is a scientist. Assuming this is the case, it doesn’t really require any special explanation.

Ironically, ID/creationists are very keen on giving the impression that they have quality credentials, in spite of the fact that they are very quick to dismiss and vilify the vast majority of credentialed scientists. The propaganda put out by the Discovery Institute and other creationist organizations will always mention an advanced degree held by one of their own. This is true even when the degree is of highly questionable relevance. If it seems like there are a lot of engineers and doctors espousing ID, it’s probably just a manifestation of this tactic.

(Cross-posted to Sunbeams From Cucumbers.) Update: Dave Scot throws a childish temper tantrum over at UD, claiming that I “trots out a strawman - [that] ID and “evolution” are mutually exclusive”. Except of course I didn’t. Nowhere do I say that evolution and ID are mutually exclusive. The Finkelstein survey pits them that way, but that’s exactly why I used a question that gives people more than two choices. The fact is, no matter what flavor of IDism/creationism one espouses, the survey data make it abundantly clear that doctors are much less likely to buy into it than are the general public. If doctors are therefore considered to hold some sort of special insight into the evolution debate, this does not bode well for the IDists. That is the substance of the post, and naturally Dave Scot totally ignores it. It appears that in his intellectual dishonesty, he’s reduced to slaying strawmen. :)

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We reported a survey last year ("Poll: 60 Percent of Doctors Reject Darwinism") that showed a surprising percentage of doctors simply don't agree with Darwinian evolution. While doctors seem to be more apt to doubt Darwin's theory than biologists, appa... Read More

Rob Crowther over at the Discovery Institute seems to be a little upset and is accusing evolutionists of arrogance. Commenting on this post by Steve Reuland over at the Panda's Thumb, Crowther opines: You seldom see this kind of arrogance... Read More

90 Comments

Steve — Very nice. However, I suggest a different grouping. Ask these questions of those who have studied at least one quarter (or semester) of biology in college!

I’ll opine that, irrespective of profession or occupation, this group will have about 3/4 accepting ToBE(Theory of Biological Evolution) as opposed to about 1/4 still proclaiming “Goddidit”.

I’ll further opine this accounts for your medical doctor versus engineer percentages, since there are only a few universities which require engineers to take any biology at all..

Another intersting statistic is that the % of doctors in the U.S.A. that are athiests is about 12% (the same as in the general public). There is no question that certain religions are greatly overrepresented in the medical profession when compared to the percentage in the general public. These are Hindu, Muslim, and Jewish in that order. Regardless it still would suport that at least for doctors faith in God and acceptance of evolution presents little conflict.

This comment about obscurantist tactics in ID is either disingenuous or just laughable. ID proponents are clear about what their program and research are about. Opponents keep distorting it. There’s hardly been a report in the news media in years that has accurately summarized ID.

Tom,

Do you know what ID research is going on right now? Do you have some insider information as to what Axe et al are doing at the Biologic Institute? Because last I heard, the ID research program was Top Secret.

As the first two categories in the chart above are Design positions (Created or guided towards creation by an intelligence” positions) then we can safely say that a majority of doctors (60%) support a design hypothesis as the cause behind the origination of human beings.

God guided evolution is a design position. The word “guided” makes this clear. Thus, many of the claims often touted by anti-ID types concerning the idea that the more educated one is the more likely they believe in evolution, are only valid if evolution is understood as “Design by evolution”. (a design position)

Therefore: Unguided Evolution or the idea that human beings are not the product of intelligent design is a slightly minority position among medical doctors.

MS

Well, I’m an engineer, and though I’ve never run a real survey, over the years I’ve found that the majority of us are solidly in the evolution camp.

Most of us learned early and some of us learn the the hard way, that you can’t ignore the laws of nature, and wishing will not make it so.

My profession is littered (sometimes literally) with the bodies of those who decided to pretend things were different than they are, and a few episodes of that are a strong motivator.

Even given that, I still run in to the occasional colleague who professes belief in creation. It may be an uncharitable observation but most of these individuals did not impress me with their technical prowess, and weren’t in a corner of the profession where they had to directly work with the real world.. I was once asked if I’d ever hire an engineer who believed in creationism, and I immediately replied “No. Never”. The woman who asked the question was taken aback, and accused me of religious intolerance. I replied that I simply couldn’t ever trust the professional judgment of someone who was willing to cavalierly ignore mounds of physical evidence.

(Is that actually legal? BTW? It seems like a good reason to me, but it may be legally shakey.)

Mark wrote

God guided evolution is a design position.

God guided evolution is a fudge. Nothing more.

It’s the weak fallback position people use when they decide that “poof” doesn’t cut it. It means that they’ve already accepted evolution as a fact, but they can’t quite bring themselves to admit that there probably is no God because the herd around them has been telling them that since they were two.

It’s Pascal’s wager. It’s “well, maybe it’s possible…”, but it still means that they’re already given up on “It is Truth”.

It’s vacuous.

I’m a medical doctor by training, practiced an obscure specialty for 11 years including training before getting wise.

You’ll notice on the graphs above that only 15% (or whatever) of doctors claim to be hard core creationists (“God created humans in their present form”).

Although it is certainly possible to practice clinical medicine competently as a creationist, it sure takes a lot of denial. And that’s 15% too many, in the sense that they should no better. However, it’s likely to reflect cultural values rather than actual intellectual beliefs.

Medicine is so loaded with examples of evolution in action, it boggles the mind. Infection. Genetics. The immune and inflammatory systems. Cancer (where individual cells gain a reproductive advantage temporarily due to mutation, but at the ultimate expense of the environment that sustains their very existence).

When I was a medical student (long before I knew that nuts and political schemesters, with apologies but no retraction, denied the theory of evolution), I was amazed at how much evolution made sense of the various odd aspects of humans and the parasites who prey on them. My undergraduate degree was in biology, although my classmates seemed to grasp things like antibiotic resistance, no matter what their background.

I’m personally offended, although not an engineer, by the “engineer as creationist” stereotype. It’s extremely unfair. The fact that a few loud creationists have engineering credentials should not provoke anyone to generalize about an honorable and rational profession.

I’m delighted to note that medical schools are starting to include the theory of evolution as part of the curriculum.

I’m a family physician, I accept the evidence for evolution, and I’m an atheist. The religiosity of the docs I’ve met varies widely. In our clinic of 8 physicians, 3 are Christian and the rest are either agnostic or atheist (and this is in Utah). I don’t know, neither have I met, any physician who denies evolution.

Needless to say, I find the current claims at UcD even more bizarre than usual.

Thus, many of the claims often touted by anti-ID types concerning the idea that the more educated one is the more likely they believe in evolution, are only valid if evolution is understood as “Design by evolution”. (a design position)

What chart are you looking at? Even if we accept your bogus grouping, there is still a clear trend of more acceptance of evolution with increased education.

I’d challenge any creationist to produce a survey of any educated group vs the population that shows otherwise. There’s a reason so much creationist effort is aimed at the ignorant.

As the first two categories in the chart above are Design positions (Created or guided towards creation by an intelligence” positions) then we can safely say that a majority of doctors (60%) support a design hypothesis as the cause behind the origination of human beings.

Um, no. Saying that God has guided evolution is clearly not a “design” position as defined by the ID movement. This is evidenced by the fact that the doctors were asked directly whether they preferred ID; only 34% said yes, and this is far fewer than the combined total of those who chose options 1 and 2. Assuming that all of those who chose option 1 were IDists, only about a third of those choosing option 2 could have been. The rest of those choosing option 2 were clearly not taking the ID position. Additionally, the leading lights of ID themselves reject theistic evolution, and this is what option 2 would be most closely associated with. I would argue that were the respondents more aware of what the ID movement is really about, a far smaller percentage would have said they preferred ID. This is especially true given that the vast majority of ID advocates would fit squarely into option 1. Option 2 is an outlier position within the ID movement.

It seems to me that a more relevant datum would be the percentage of professionally trained theologians who understand that evolution is the best explanation for the current state of affairs. I suspect that this would be much higher than for the general public, given the increased education required. Of course, since the cretinists don’t understand data, it would not matter to them.

The first time I heard the ID argument was from a creationist friend. One day, after a tennis match, he pointed to car parked next to a tree and said something like, “See that tree and that car? Can’t you tell that they were both designed?”

I have been a mechanical engineer for many years, mostly designing turbines. My reaction was that anyone who thought that was a convincing argument against evolution probably had never designed anything complex. Design work, like what I understood of evolution, contains a lot of trial-and-error, builds on previous designs incrementally,and is subject to survival in competitive marketplaces. I tried to explain this to my friend using the car as an example. We’ve all seen cars evolve in our lifetimes. Museums are full of extinct forms, like the Model T and the Edsel. They even have vestigial organs which have been adapted to new functions, such as cigarette lighters being used to power electronic equipment.

My friend didn’t accept my analogy, but later when I worked for Cooper Energy Systems, I found the missing link! They have big oil paintings of it on the walls.

Cooper invented the first farm tractor. One painting shows a team of six draft horses, pulling two wagons in tandem, one with a steam engine on it, and the other full of coal. Cooper made the steam engines, and farmers hauled them to their fields to run threshers. Somebody at Cooper got the idea to add a bevel gear so the steam engine could turn a wagon axle.

The next picture shows the same wagon train, with the bevel gear - and a team of two horses still in front! They used the horses for steering! So the first automobile was a mutation of a horse-drawn steam engine.

stevaroni asksed

I was once asked if I’d ever hire an engineer who believed in creationism, and I immediately replied “No. Never”. The woman who asked the question was taken aback, and accused me of religious intolerance. I replied that I simply couldn’t ever trust the professional judgment of someone who was willing to cavalierly ignore mounds of physical evidence.

(Is that actually legal? BTW? It seems like a good reason to me, but it may be legally shakey.)

I made the same assertion to the Ohio State Board of Education, and put it in terms of competence. That’s legal. ‘Course, anyone I’d hire would be for a company that has evolutionary algorithms as its core technology, so it’s a straight line from evolution denial to on-the-job incompetence.

RBH

JimV wrote…

My reaction was that anyone who thought that was a convincing argument against evolution probably had never designed anything complex.

I come across this feeling constantly! Most of the people who have argued “design” with me have never designed anything!

They equate design with mere complexity, but those of us who actually do it for a living see much more complicated patterns. Ironically, one of the hallmarks of human design is the exact kind of incremental mechanical “evolution” Jim talks about!

As a potential future patient, it scares me somewhat to learn that nearly two-thirds of all doctors believe some form of divine intervention was involved in the process that brought forth our species; as a corollary, do they also believe divine intervention is a key success factor in the outcome of a medical treatment?

I’m an engineer (that is the literal translation of the title I’m allowed to use after I graduated). I know next to nothing about biology but after encountering the argument of evolution is a lie because something as complex as the eye has to be designed I did what anyone making such arguments (or countering them) should do and that is study the area of the argument. What I found out was that calling the eye (or generally anything else that people substitute for the eye) designed is an insult to both engineers (and other professions which design) and to christians. If I’d design something the way that most things I’ve looked at in biological systems I’d probably not only lose my job but have a chance of ending up in jail due to criminal neglect (and have a chance of the graduating title to be revoked).

And that is why those it has to be designed arguments are also an insult to christians. It depicts God as an incompetent moron. Which scares me. What kind of christian wants to get rid of something like evolution so bad because it contradicts a single chapter in the bible that they are willing to demean God to achieve their end.

the Salem hypothesis.

I think there is a conflation with another bit of internet folk wisdom, that a high percentage of kooks are engineers.

The general sentiment goes way back before the internet, since some entrepreneurs with spectacular products and failures pretend to be engineers or actually are engineers.

Another and real reason IMO is that while many engineers may have widely varied training and practice, a rather common factor is a high pressure work situation. An enforced “can do” attitude helps when quickly formulating solutions for new problems. This may translate less well to vocal hubris and severe mistakes if engineers take the approach into areas where they don’t get the needed feedback from tests.

AJ Milne made an interesting observation that explains any Salem engineers. The above may also translate to an easy ‘solution’ by ‘goddidit design’. ( http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2007/0[…]ers-and.html ) So instead of simply a kook you get a simple ID kook.

The Salem hypotheses says that engineers sees design and naively believes by analogy in a designer. The hypothesis is a metaexample of the same mistake, reason by naive analogy between engineers work and what some of them believe. I note that it is said to be often used for its humor value. I can see why.

Tom Wrote:

There’s hardly been a report in the news media in years that has accurately summarized ID.

That’s because the media can’t resist the sensationalism of “ID sneaks in God.” The truth is that ID merely sneaks in an unknown designer or designers who, according to Behe, might no longer exist, and according to Dembski, might be themselves designed.

The media rarely gets it straight that chief ID advocates no longer promote teaching about a designer in public schools, but only the misrepresentations of evolution. Students (the few that have any interest) can fill in their unreasonable doubt about evolution with “some designer did something, but don’t ask who, what, when, or how” where design-speak is not so legally risky.

The media also can’t resist the ambiguous “ID ‘is’ creationism” line either. But unlike the mutually contradictory classic creationisms, ID does not make any testable claims as to when and how the designs were actuated in biolgoical systems. Chief IDers seem to know that classic creationism is a mess of scientific failures and irreconcilable differences. But you won’t hear that from an IDer or the media.

The media rarely resists going on a tangent about the religious aspect of ID, when the real juicy part is how ID cherry picks evidence, conflates definitions and concepts, and quote mines like there’s no tomorrow.

IOW, ID is a classic pseudoscience bait-and-switch scam that is more at odds with mainstream monotheistic religion than evolution can ever hope to be.

C’mon, media, get it right for once.

Damn you to the Ninth Hell Frank J!!! Could you at least put a warning at the start of such posts so that we can take our Sarcasm-meters off-line… grumble, mutter, repair bill, groan, mutter, unavailable, grumble, 6 weeks, damn.…

:-)

Here is what I would like to actually be assessed in these sorts of surveys:

Do you believe X is best explained by modern evolutionary biology, the widely accepted science underlying all the different subfields of biology, or do you believe that X is best explained by direct intervention of a creator such as the Judeo-Christian God?

God/Science (check one)

_____ _____ The Origin of Life (on earth)

_____ _____ The Origin of Life on Mars (if it is discovered there)

_____ _____ The rise of new species as seen in the fossil record

_____ _____ Major changes over time such as the evolution of the immune system

_____ _____ The evolution of antibiotic resistant bacteria

_____ _____ The origin and rise of modern humans

_____ _____ Major changes in human prehistory such as upright walking.

For that matter, I’d like to see these questions specifically dealt with by the IDCers. In fact, I think I’ll go over there and ask them…

I accepted the TOE vs Creation long before I became an engineer.

It was about the same time I stopped believing in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny.

I’ll propose that it’s (obviously) possession of logical and critical thought processes that inevitably lead one to the rational conclusion - and may lead one to a profession requiring the same - rather than the other way ‘round.

JMHO

Dave

I think the the Salem hypothesis is perfectly valid though it can be easily misinterpreted. Historically the set of people who get presented as creation “scientists” tends to be heavier on engineers rather than what is traditionally called scientists. That reality does not mean that engineers are more likely to be creationists than the public at large. And indeed I would strongly suspect that engineers have significantly less percentage believers in creationism than the general public though more than scientists and very much more than professional biologists. Or in other words, not all that doctors as the article points out.

One might point out opposition to creationism from the engineers who dislike the misuse of their professions such as An Engineer Looks at the Creationist Movement John W. Patterson from 1982.

I have a degree in biology. Let’s look at the courses that one takes to get such a degree. As either a freshman or a soph, one takes general biology. Yes, evolution is discussed and stated as a proven fact. But, of course, no one is equipped at that time to dispute this “fact”. Then one takes embryology, or something equivalent. One is studying anatomy and various stages of development–evolution has nothing to do with either. Then as a junior and senior you take cell biology, genetics, endocrinology, animal behavior, etc., all of which PRESUPPOSE evolution–no one actually discusses it one way or the other; it’s simply presumed. However, when you take chordate morphology, there you expect–as I did–to have a discussion of evolution, a demonstration of known missing links, etc. But that doesn’t happen there either. The closest one comes to a missing link is the African Lungfish. In my case, all of this left me scratching my head since I received a degree in biology without EVER having a discussion about evolution (oh, perhaps in the general biology class, but like I say, it was standard fare and what would we know about the weaknesses of the theory). And, for the next 13 years, I merrily went on my way thinking that evolution must somehow be true, even though I had never really been given an explanation of it.

The point being: it is no small wonder that many scientists, and even many doctors–as they took many of the same classes–would “believe” in evolution, because they had no reason NOT to believe it since: 1) it was stated as a proven fact, and 2) it was never discussed outside of being presented as a fact.

And, one can easily live out a life as a biologist (other than being a paleontologist or evolutionary biologist) without ever using the ToE. Most biologists in labs “presume” evolution; but what they really do in the lab is to see that A is different from B, and then try to figure out how A got to be B, which is to say that, if you replace the word “evolution” with the word “change” it would neither add, nor subtract, from the meaning and import of almost every paper written that includes the word “evolution”.

So, if 34% of doctors DON’T believe in evolution, well, I think that’s saying something. But—-does anyone out there have ears to listen with?

BlastfromthePast: You sound an awful lot like Larry Fafarman – same dogged repetition of nonsensical or irrelevant points that have been conclusively refuted long ago. And whether or not you’re Larry, a certian matter of timing leads me to conclude that “Me” in another post is really you.

Then…you take cell biology, genetics, endocrinology, animal behavior, etc., all of which PRESUPPOSE evolution—no one actually discusses it one way or the other; it’s simply presumed.

I’ll bet you also took a lot of history and geography classes, all of which PRESUPPOSE round-Earth-ism —- no one actually discusses it one way or the other; it’s simply presumed.

And, one can easily live out a life as a biologist (other than being a paleontologist or evolutionary biologist) without ever using the ToE.

One can also easily live out a life as a Discovery Institute spokesdweeb without ever using the “theory” of “intelligent design.” Your point…?

So, if 34% of doctors DON’T believe in evolution, well, I think that’s saying something.

What, exactly, do you “think” they’re “saying?” Of course, if any of those doctors did any actual scientific work to disprove evolution, and published the results in peer-reviewed publications, that might “say” a little bit more, don’t you “think?”

PS: If you’re Larry, and you really have a degree in biology, then why did you become an engineer? Didn’t understand the biology stuff well enough? (You say you have a degree in biology, but you don’t say you actually became a biologist, or mention any significant work you did as such. Telling omission, that.)

Nah, Blast’s not Larry. (S)He was around here long before Fafarman, and is far less persistant.

Blastfromthepast Wrote:

I have a degree in biology. Let’s look at the courses that one takes to get such a degree…

This wasn’t my experience as a biology major at all. You should probably ask for your money back.

So, if 34% of doctors DON’T believe in evolution, well, I think that’s saying something.

Try reading the survey. The percentage of doctors who say they don’t believe in evolution is only 15%. Although strangely enough, 18% say that they think God created humans exactly as they are now. Who knows what people are thinking when they answer these surveys.

I think there is a conflation with another bit of internet folk wisdom, that a high percentage of kooks are engineers.

The general sentiment goes way back before the internet, since some entrepreneurs with spectacular products and failures pretend to be engineers or actually are engineers.

My take on that is that engineers tend, more than most other professions, to consider their engineering expertise to give them special insight into just about everything. My dad is one, though he’s not a creationist and has never tried to market some sort of miracle device. But he’ll bring up the fact that he’s an engineer at the oddest of times.

That is also why there are (or appear) to be a lot of creationist engineers. It’s not that being an engineer makes one more likely to be a creationist, it’s that creationists who have an engineering degree believe that their degree makes them special, so they talk about their credentials constantly.

BlastfromthePast Wrote:

I received a degree in biology without EVER having a discussion about evolution (oh, perhaps in the general biology class, but like I say, it was standard fare and what would we know about the weaknesses of the theory).

Evolution has nothing to do with anatomy? Or development? Evolution is not discussed in genetics class? What sort of school is this? I have degrees in geology, but wound up as a hydrologist. What courses did I take to get such a degree? Introductory biology, Physical geology, historical geology, paleontology, ecology, evolution, paleoecology, marine biology, among others. At the schools I attended, there were frequent opportunities to question the materials being taught. No one brought up most of the standard Creationist arguments because, well, for the most part we all knew they were baseless. Of course, we can find examples like Kurt Wise or Jonathan Wells, who studied the science yet are challenged when regarding the evidence. In Geotimes, one can find the occasional letter to the editor from a geologist defending creationism (usually from the economic or engineering geology sectors). But on the whole, I think that biologists and geologists (and other scientists) tend to accept evolution as well-founded because of their consideration that it best explains the evidence, rather than because of rote learning or acceptance of dogma.

Glen Davidson -

I’d like to add that, for the record, I have no major disagreement with anything you’ve written in this thread, although I would never deliberately use “straw man” argument techniques. (Note - possibly, this may not apply to simultaneously posted items, but it probably does.)

As someone with a medical degree who has also done some research, I am familiar with the tension that sometimes exists between PhD faculty, graduate students, and medical students/clinical faculty in the medical school environment, and that may have fueled my reply. Perhaps we can agree that the majority of physicians only need to resort to the scientific method in an applied way, rather than needing to do any original research. However, quite difficult problems requiring creative thinking can be encountered in clinical practice.

The matter is somewhat moot, from my point of view. Creationist claims notwithstanding, what the article actually shows is a much higher acceptance of the theory of evolution among physicians than among the general population, or probably, almost any professional group except practicing research scientists. That’s true no matter how one qualifies it. Since physicians and other doctoral level health professionals are the most biologically educated people short of actual practicing biologists, it’s consistent with the hypothesis that the more people know about biology, the more likely they are to accept the theory of evolution.

I’d like to clarify for others who may be confused, that I did not, to the best of my knowledge, create any “straw man”.

Here’s one, though there are others that you also neglect:

2) Clinical medicine is a very applied and macroscopic field, but both clinical research and individual clinical decisions are strongly grounded in the scientific method.

Did anyone say otherwise, or is this just a strawman that you attack in lieu of your inability to find any honest objections to what I wrote? Of course the scientific method is important to clinical medicine, however it is not necessary that one does science (or knows how to), in the real sense. I come from a background where I knew creationist physicians, such as my father, who I’m afraid had little knowledge of science at large even if they were competent in their respective practices.

I never wrote that medical practice isn’t grounded in science, did I? So why do you object as if I had, or as if I hadn’t made other appropriate caveats, like the one where I noted that of physicians that “they are taught the how science proceeds”? Again you fail to actually address what I wrote, all the while claiming a high level of reading comprehension. The latter may be, but your failures would otherwise point to a lack of concern for making an honest reply to me.

My reading comprehension is very strong, so much so that if I suffer “faulty comprehension”, it may reflect the material, rather than my reading of it.

It was a “short answer”, which still had many of the proper caveats. These you blow off as if they didn’t exist. Sorry, the problem is strictly yours, not mine. You could try addressing what I wrote, not what you imagine or misunderstand me to have written.

I suppose that our disagreement hinges partly on the interpretation of the subjective terminology “do real science”.

You take it out of context. I wrote “they do not have to be able to do science in any real sense at all,” which I couched in such a manner to allow for labs and the like for “most of them, anyhow”. I am not going to argue over “do real science” when you have so far failed to adequately address anything that I have written.

Perhaps you could clarify specifically what constitutes “doing real science”.

Someone with such a strong reading comprehension as you aver that you have ought to be able to discern it from the context. I mentioned that they “are taught how science proceeds”, and that they don’t have to be able to do science in the real sense (not typically learned in med school, which other posters have also pointed out). Try, try to put the two together, along with the careful caveat “most of them, anyhow”, and recognize that “most of them aren’t doing what would be called “real science”, doing experimental research and publishing the results.

I know that a short answer is not a comprehensive answer (which seems to bypass a couple of posters here), but it is hardly an excuse to read whatever you like into it.

Well let’s see, you managed not to back up any of your previous accusations. Why am I not surprised?

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

As someone with a medical degree who has also done some research, I am familiar with the tension that sometimes exists between PhD faculty, graduate students, and medical students/clinical faculty in the medical school environment, and that may have fueled my reply. Perhaps we can agree that the majority of physicians only need to resort to the scientific method in an applied way, rather than needing to do any original research. However, quite difficult problems requiring creative thinking can be encountered in clinical practice.

The matter is somewhat moot, from my point of view. Creationist claims notwithstanding, what the article actually shows is a much higher acceptance of the theory of evolution among physicians than among the general population, or probably, almost any professional group except practicing research scientists. That’s true no matter how one qualifies it. Since physicians and other doctoral level health professionals are the most biologically educated people short of actual practicing biologists, it’s consistent with the hypothesis that the more people know about biology, the more likely they are to accept the theory of evolution.

I can live with the above statements, in any case.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

the survey data make it abundantly clear that doctors are much less likely to buy into it than are the general public. If doctors are therefore considered to hold some sort of special insight into the evolution debate, this does not bode well for the IDists.

It is not so cut and dry as that.

If one wishes to argue evolutionary theory is as sure as the sphericality of the Earth, that level of dissent by such a highly educated group absolutely flies in the face of such inflated claims.…..

The majority dissent from Darwinism is not needed, a measurable minority is a significant statement in and of itself. This minority serves as a counter example to the insistence that Darwinism is important for scientific and technological and medical progress.

The interpretation you suggest likens the situation for votes for candidate for public office. It is an inappropriate (but understandably mistaken) analogy.…

The majority dissent from Darwinism is not needed, a measurable minority is a significant statement in and of itself.

but a statement of what, exactly, Sal?

there is a measurable minority of flat earthers still hanging about as well.

do they make a significant statement on the validity of the shape of the earth by their mere existence?

hardly.

they do make an unintended statement about how dissonance can cause a fundamental disconnect from reality, however.

something you exhibit on the majority of your visits here.

Perhaps you are right Glen, and I objected offhand. I just felt your original post seemed insulting, when apparently it was not intended to be. I am sure you can see how it could be taken that way. Certainly any statement can be interpreted in many different ways and I apparently misinterpreted yours as an insult to medical professionals.

Sal, I appreciate your response, especially since it’s civil and actually addresses the topic at hand, unlike that of your colleague Dave Scot.

If one wishes to argue evolutionary theory is as sure as the sphericality of the Earth, that level of dissent by such a highly educated group absolutely flies in the face of such inflated claims.…..

I personally wouldn’t argue that evolution is as sure as the sphericity of the Earth, just that it’s sure beyond a reasonable doubt (as long as one is not unduly influenced by religious or other non-scientific considerations). Of course unlike the sphericity of the Earth, you have to do more than look at a photograph to figure it out.

The majority dissent from Darwinism is not needed, a measurable minority is a significant statement in and of itself. This minority serves as a counter example to the insistence that Darwinism is important for scientific and technological and medical progress.

I don’t think either of these follows. A measurable minority exists for almost any crazy belief among people who are otherwise well-educated and presumably should know better. That is doubly true when said belief is very widespread among the general public and is an integral part of certain subcultures. People don’t check their cultural backgrounds at the door when the enter med school, so I’m not surprised that we see the creationist doctors that we do see. In fact I’d be pretty shocked if they didn’t constitute a measurable minority.

As for evolution being important for scientific and medical progress, the fact that a small minority of doctors opposes evolution doesn’t really have any bearing on that. It just means that these doctors aren’t going to be the ones making the progress in those areas where understanding evolution is important. There is lots to do in medicine that doesn’t involve evolution, but that doesn’t mean that evolution doesn’t matter.

Keep in mind that I made this post as a reaction to the idea that 1) doctors have an inordinate tendency to reject evolution, and 2) this is because they have special insight into evolution that scientists or others presumably don’t have. My point here is that 1 is false so therefore 2 is moot. If you want to take solace in the number of creationist doctors who do exist, be my guest.

For the record, I am a first time poster, an engineer, accept the overwhelming evidence of evolution and am an atheist. However, I find that I am a minority with the peers I have worked with. I would say less than 10% of the engineers I know would consider themselves agnostic or atheist. I think this has more to do with culture and politics than critical thinking skills. I would wager that most Americans don’t really care enough about the question to think critically about their beliefs. They are comfortable in their world and don’t see an advantage to questioning status quo.

Most of the engineers I work with are extremely conservative politically - I think technically conservative people can be socially liberal, but that is not the prevailing opinion. They are typically upper middle class, believe they worked hard to achieve their success, and anyone less fortunate just has not taken the time to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. These folks buy into conservative ideals and that really aligns them with the Christian majority.

I also tend to think that smart people are better at rationalizing their beliefs. They are also confident (OK maybe arrogant) enough to easily dismiss people with views other than their own. Also there is a prevailing belief that raising children in a religious network is better for their kids moral development (again I don’t, but that is my opinion of why others go to church and respond to polls the way they do).

It is not easy to get most people to think rationally about human origins. There is a lot of baggage associated with faith and getting people to abandon this will not be easy, if it is even possible. I don’t think being an engineer or a doctor makes an individual more or less likely to believe or not. I think scientists care more about the question and are more likely to research the facts and base their beliefs on evidence versus internal desires. It is my experience that most believers just want to believe in a higher power and therefore believe. It does not mean they are dumb or incompetent - they just don’t care enough about the question to give up their social structure and emotional comfort.

They are typically upper middle class, believe they worked hard to achieve their success, and anyone less fortunate just has not taken the time to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. These folks buy into conservative ideals and that really aligns them with the Christian majority.

There is at least a tinge of irony to these “social Darwinism” advocates claiming that social Darwinism is evil and a good reason not to support evolution. Of course, they’d likely deny that they are social Darwinists, too.

Most of the engineers I work with are extremely conservative politically - I think technically conservative people can be socially liberal, but that is not the prevailing opinion

That’s weird, that hasn’t been my experience at all with my colleagues at least (except for a stint I did many years ago working at a government aerospace contractor in Florida, where the production team was largely ex Air Force and mind-bogglingly conservative).

can I ask (in general terms) what branch of engineering you’re working in, and what the company is like?

It is not so cut and dry as that.

If one wishes to argue evolutionary theory is as sure as the sphericality of the Earth, that level of dissent by such a highly educated group absolutely flies in the face of such inflated claims.…..

Well, yes, it is as cut and dried as that. Let me rephrase: Evolution is much better understood as theory than is gravity. Sure, there are dissenters from gravity theory, but they aren’t celebrated in fundamentalist churches as are the dissenters from evolution. But then, there are no odd sects of Christianity who have decided to demonize gravity as there are odd sects that have decided to demonize evolution. Let’s be clear about the nature of the issue, too.

It’s just as wacky to deny evolution as it is to deny gravity. Consider that for evolution we know the “particles” that carry it, and we know how to manipulate genes in order to alter the path of natural evolutionary processes.

For gravity, it’s not so certain. Gravitons have not been known so long as genes – no one has ever seen one. No one has ever directly detected a graviton. No one know whether a graviton has mass. It’s only about 24 months ago that the speed of gravitons was determined.

Oh, sure, we indirectly test gravity every day, hundreds of times. We drop our keys on the driveway, and they fall to the ground. We go to sleep on our bed, and we don’t expect to awaken floating about the room. But evolution is similarly tested, indirectly, every day as well. No two humans on Earth are identical, as evolution theory predicts – but each one bears a striking resemblance to each of her parents.

Sal, opposition to evolution is nutso. That you’ve got a few deep pockets and a lot of pulpit pounders to go your way doesn’t change that fact, it only embarrasses the rest of us. Frankly, you’d do better to deny gravity (hey, airplanes do it – maybe gravity is a government conspiracy!). It’s pretty clear that it will be quite a while before anyone photographs even a shadow of a graviton. That’s a significant gap to hide your god in for a long time.

In the meantime, we note that there are no IDists or creationists in the infectious disease wards, nor in the cancer wards. And Bill Dembski’s offer to buy someone a bottle of Scotch is made without any thought to the irony that the grain from which the Scotch is made exists solely by Darwinian principle, and by itself refutes all the PR campaigns you can muster with the mad money DI collects.

It’s a comedy out there. But one needs to know a bit to know when to laugh, and at what.

By the way, you know the Earth is not sphere, right? It’s pear shaped. When are you going to post against NASA for hiding that fact?

I have worked in aerospace for about 20 years. One of the first engineers I worked for was an independent minded atheist/agnostic, but I have to say he was the exception compared to those I usually encounter. I work closely with the military, but most of my peers have not actually been in the service. I know engineers who go to church because of spouse/family pressures and I know engineers who are flat out hard core young earth fundamentalists.

Sal blithered thusly:

The majority dissent from Darwinism is not needed, a measurable minority is a significant statement in and of itself. This minority serves as a counter example to the insistence that Darwinism is important for scientific and technological and medical progress.

What about the measurable majority who reject creationism? What sort of statement do they make?

This is the way of the creationist: take any scrap of “dissent” they can find to validate their prejudice, while ignoring the huge mass of evidence that flatly refutes it.

The weak mind is like a microscope: it magnifies small things and can’t handle big ones.

It is not so cut and dry as that.

If one wishes to argue evolutionary theory is as sure as the sphericality of the Earth, that level of dissent by such a highly educated group absolutely flies in the face of such inflated claims.…..

Why don’t you for once tell us why, instead of repeating your mantra? I don’t even have a clue why anybody would listen to physicians over biologists, other than that you think the percentages are better that way.

My short answer for why so many physicians (if rather less than the general public) do leave the door open to ID was that they, most of them anyhow, are not scientists (I’ll add “per se” this time, hoping everyone is satisfied). This seems a sound point, that you’re not going to get anything like the dissent among biologists that you do among medical doctors. Why is that? Because the biologists have studied it out, or, if by some odd chance this is not why, it is encumbent upon you to show us why this is not the case (and no, I don’t want a bunch of unsupported pseudoscience or wild accusations).

The majority dissent from Darwinism is not needed, a measurable minority is a significant statement in and of itself.

That is how revolutions are made, only it has to be coupled with sound science and generally has to be supported by a solid minority of relevant scientists—not by the professionals who typically depend upon more fundamental biological science rather than actually developing it. You lose on all counts there (hat tip to harold and J. Biggs, I seriously doubt that the medical professionals who are doing research regularly have anywhere near the levels of creationists/IDists that those not doing research have among them).

This minority serves as a counter example to the insistence that Darwinism is important for scientific and technological and medical progress.

Do you ever think before you make your lame accusations? You haven’t in the least connected the IDiots with the useful research that is being done in biology and in medicine, or particularly the sciences of origins, so this particular claptrap is utterly without any basis.

The interpretation you suggest likens the situation for votes for candidate for public office. It is an inappropriate (but understandably mistaken) analogy.…

And everything you have written is mistaken analogy, for you never leave the realm of meaningless parables. You haven’t discussed trends, you haven’t discussed the ability to articulate IDist propaganda among the hacks who discredit science, you haven’t dealt with any of the important data necessary to support your claims and accusations.

By the way, I’m still waiting for you to tell me of any actual biological systems or machines which are like what humans make. Yes, I know that you listed things that have the same names, but you didn’t show that any complex biological machine, system, or entity is physically and chemically like what known intelligent designers produce (and when the time first comes when this can be shown, it will be due to mimicking biological systems). As usual, you have utterly failed to back up your rampant claims.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

It’s a comedy out there. But one needs to know a bit to know when to laugh, and at what.

well, it’s pretty clear we can laugh at Sal at any given moment in time. It doesn’t take an IQ the size of Davetard’s to see that.

does that boy ever make two coherent posts in a row? He sure hasn’t in any of the times I’ve seen him post here.

Over at Uncommon Descent, Gil Dodgen asks the question of why so many engineers reject evolution.

Gil Dodgen and DaveScot actually underestimate the amount of engineering that takes place in biological and medical research. When you look in current issues of Nature, Science or cell you will hardly find an article on biological or medical issues that doesn’t involve advanced genetic engineering. Still, the vast majority of authors of such articles will oppose ID and indeed many of them will have experienced the (unwanted) effects of mutations and natural selection. E.g. certain DNA fragments can be only obtained in the wrong orientation or only with premature stop codons after cloning them in plasmids, presumably because the sequences are incompatible with the life of E. coli. Some technical hint to overcome such issues: Use vectors without any prokaryotic expression systems like the lac promoter that is usually used for alpha complementation because many of such problems relate rather to transcripts or gene products then to the DNA sequence itself.

With respect to the figures for doctors etc. that believe in creationism, ought we not take into account the fact that some, even well educated scientists, for religious reasons reject the theory of evolution simply by holding the bible for being the ultimate truth that takes precedence over any scientific facts or evidence supporting the ToE?

Tabulating the numbers by sorting out all who simply reject science because of religion should significantly lower the number of ‘bona fide creationists’. (I don’t even think such a creature exists).

It is true of course that doctors are more prone to being creationists than scientists in general and biologists in particular

Here are two UK creationists (both YEC’s). Ones a GP and the other a qualified surgeon:

http://www.finalfrontier.org.uk/creation.htm

http://www.onesmallspeck.com/

BlastfromthePast Wrote:

Then one takes embryology, or something equivalent. One is studying anatomy and various stages of development—evolution has nothing to do with either.

Uh…normally you get comparative anatomy somewhere in there, which is very much to do with common descent. Granted, pre-meds may not have to focus on that as opposed to human anatomy.

Then…you take cell biology, genetics, endocrinology, animal behavior, etc., all of which PRESUPPOSE evolution—no one actually discusses it one way or the other; it’s simply presumed.

I’ve taken genetics at OSU. We learned about Luria-Delbruck and the evidence that mutation was random, ribozymes and the RNA world, Hardy-Weinberg and the rest of population genetics.

My wife was a bio major at Berkeley. She got the same sorts of things in genetics that I did, only more so. In animal behavior they covered sexual selection, the origins and adaptive utility of sex (Red Queen, etc.), evolutionary hypotheses for altruism such as the green-beard effect, and Tinbergen’s questions of proximate and ultimate mechanism. In vertebrate natural history they got speciation mechanisms and hybridization.

Maybe you just didn’t go to class much?

It’s quite true that bio students don’t learn about evolution in as much depth or as early as they could, but then they’ve got more prerequisites in other departments to get through than almost any other science major, and intro bio is largely biochem. They certainly learn enough evolutionary theory to understand why creationism and ID are not biologically useful. Which is why, as you noticed, once the students have grasped the material enough to meaningfully dispute evolution, they’re no longer interested in doing so–they understand that it matches the facts.

However, when you take chordate morphology, there you expect—as I did—to have a discussion of evolution, a demonstration of known missing links, etc. But that doesn’t happen there either. The closest one comes to a missing link is the African Lungfish.

You expected a modern organism to be a missing link between other modern organisms? I wonder how your professor responded?

The issue of physicians being scientists or not can be solved rather simply by changing the terms of the discussion to the specific tasks being done. If one does this, then medical research is technological, and physicians most often act as technicians. Using the scientific method does not make for science in itself. Engineers too can use the scientific method because their fields are based on scientific research with additional “stuff”. These (like in medical research) can be values, which is one of the fundamental differences between science and technology.

(I have papers on my website about all of this if anyone cares to see the longer version.)

“In my case, all of this left me scratching my head since I received a degree in biology without EVER having a discussion about evolution “

ehh, Blast-o-hot-air, maybe you should turn in your diploma as obtained under false pretenses…

Just because you avoided the subject does not mean that no-one knows about it.

Bee Raged.… The weak mind is like a microscope: it magnifies small things and can’t handle big ones.

Oooh! I like that, Bee! I’m gonna have to remember that one.

Sal, since your point always seems to be “someone with an education believes ID/disbelieves TOE, therefore ID is true/TOE is false,” you could save a lot of time and brain damage to all concerned if you just pop up periodically and say “I’m still here!” and we can all say OK and continue what we’re doing. Thanks in advance.

stevaroni: Thanks, but the words aren’t really mine; I don’t remember who first said it, or where I read it (many years ago).

I once had a very lovely Christian gal say to me “I doesn’t matter if you don’t believe in God. He believes in you.”

I didn’t want a debate so I left it at that elementary level.

It’s just as well I didn’t say then what I say now to Sal:

Evolution doesn’t care if you believe in it or not. It’s happening anyway.

And, one can easily live out a life as a biologist (other than being a paleontologist or evolutionary biologist) without ever using the ToE. Most biologists in labs “presume” evolution; but what they really do in the lab is to see that A is different from B, and then try to figure out how A got to be B, which is to say that, if you replace the word “evolution” with the word “change” it would neither add, nor subtract, from the meaning and import of almost every paper written that includes the word “evolution”.

As a biologist (and not an evolutionary one, either), I’d say that this is completely false. Modern biology is heavily molecular. We have to relate results obtained usually in animal models to what is expected in other species and especially in humans. Understanding of the evolutionary origins of molecular differences between species is critical to interpreting molecular sequence data, in doing mutational, transgenic, and “knockout” studies, in selecting animal models and interpreting the results obtained with animal models.

BlastfromthePast Said:

It was UCLA I attended. In fact, I was in grad school in Medicial Microbiology for a while. I left the area because I didn’t really have a particular interest in it (But I must say, if they were doing the kinds of things that they’re doing today, I’d probably have been very interested) I got a degree in engineering to make money.

I was at UCLA during the 80’s as an undergrad focusing on bio anth and paleoanth. I took quite a few Life Sciences/Earth Sciences courses. I recall most of my instructors, textbooks and coursework from that time, along with lots of discussions on the evidences of evolution. I think you might have a very selective and errant memory, BlastfromthePast.

Just for my own curiousity – perhaps you can recall a few instructors you had?

I am doing this statistical module in the university. I think everyone is missing the larger picture here. The problem with the medical survey is that these are self response surveys. That means that a large number of people are sent the poll and only a small percentage of the people respond. of these maybe thirty percent (of doctors) are creationists. What this means is that people with stronger views tend to respond more. although many normal people also reply, many of those who reply have a chip on their shoulder. IN this case it would be IDers or creationists. They feel that they are perpetually embattled politically and socially; that the scientific establishment is always against them and have a larger impetus to respond. hence they are likely to respond more. on the other hand, a standard evolutionist is likely to throw away the survey form as he thinks it is just a waste of time, he has nothing to prove. This is very similar to the way Rev Pat Robertson rallied religious fundamentalists to increase voter turnout and thus hijack republican politics in America. At the very least, do not trust self response polls. Closed response (multiple choice) polls also should be checked for choices that bias the results.

sorry just to add. the module is about how people can deceive intentionally or unintentionally with statistics. Big names in the polling industry have a far from clean record in unbiased and reliable polling.

Yep - if there’s a correlation between who decides to bother with answering, versus what their answer is, that is going to throw off the result.

Henry

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This page contains a single entry by Steve Reuland published on January 9, 2007 6:08 PM.

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