Discovery Institute's Doctor Shopping

Two days ago, word of a survey reached the ears of the Panda’s Thumb. (Not to mix metaphors too much.) A Jewish theological seminary in New Jersey had polled doctors to see what their feelings were on evolution, intelligent design, etc. Additionally, they stratified the results based on religious identification. The results were hardly surprising to those who have been critics of the intelligent design movement. As the resident doctor here at the Thumb, I deferred commenting on this particular survey because the results were so predictable.

Well, the Discovery Institute is shopping around the idea that this survey provides evidence of a growing body of scientists that endorse ID creationism. (To be fair, their language only said that this survey was evidence of “a lively debate,” as though their enthusiasm was less about any scientific breakthrough and more about simply being prominent.)

We’ll discuss this survey on the flip side…

There are several interesting things about the data reported for that poll. Mainly, of course, and most obvious, is the distribution of responses across religions. For example,

The majority of all doctors (78%) accept evolution rather than reject it and, of those, Jews are most positive (94%), Catholics are next (86%) followed by Protestants (59%).

The pattern is even more striking when the responses of other religious/ethnic groups are included. While 43% of Protestant physicians agree “More with evolution”, 61% of Catholics, 86% of Jews, 68% of Hindus, 71% of Buddhists, 95% of atheists, and 86% of “spiritual but no organized religion” agree. Most striking, just 20% of Muslim respondents agree.

What does this mean? The press release says

“As our earlier physician studies indicated, religion, culture and ethnic heritage have an impact on their views of science, even from this relatively homogenous group of physicians who share similar education, income and social status,” noted Glenn Kessler, co-founder and managing partner, HCD Research.

Controlling for education, income, and social status, the variables that govern opinions on the evo-creo issue are extra-scientific, and specifically heavily loaded on religious beliefs. Again, ID creationism receives its support for reasons not related to science. ID creationism is a response to socio-religious issues, even among highly educated people who (though they tend not to be as well educated in the doing of science as popular opinion believes) presumably at least use the results of scientific research every day.

I do wish these polls would ask the question that the Cleveland Plain Dealer asked:

QUESTION: Would you say that you are very familiar, somewhat familiar, or not that familiar with the concept of “intelligent design?” Very Familiar - 18%; Somewhat Familiar - 37%; Not Familiar - 45%

Writing from personal experience, I can attest that all of the people in medical school who endorsed intelligent design creationism (who made their affinities known) did so due to strictly religious reasons. Further, the majority of my classmates did not know what intelligent design was nor what the big deal about evolution was. (This was a medical school in Kansas City and Wichita populated almost exclusively by Kansans; not exactly an American Atheists meeting.) Needless to say, the claims made by the creationists in Topeka - that it is not possible to be a Christian and an advocate of evolution - are false.

It remains for me to mention that, in medical school, intelligent design concepts were never used in lectures. Contrarily, evolutionary perspectives not only made the material easier to understand, it provided the basis for the research about which we were learning and concepts directly related to evolution were a portion of both the USMLE Steps 1 and 2 when I took it.

In another essay, I intend to describe why it is that most doctors should not be considered scientists. Suffice it to say that for the DI to shop around a list of “scientists” who endorse ID creationism whose scientists are mainly M.D.’s is telling.


– Richard Hoppe assisted greatly in the development of this post.