Doctors and Evolution

by David Klinghoffer

In an almost charmingly naïve article, Francie Diep at Pacific Standard wonders, “Why Do Some Doctors Reject Evolution?” Her news peg is Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon who has expressed reservations about Darwinian accounts of evolution — though I don’t know that anyone has questioned him sharply and in an informed way about his ideas on the subject.

Miss Diep is perplexed: “We assumed such beliefs would be unusual among doctors.” Not so, she discovered.

[W]hen Pacific Standard talked to doctors, many didn’t find their colleagues’ rejection of evolution unusual. “Nope, it’s not uncommon at all,” says David Gorski, a surgeon and researcher at Wayne State University. Even in the national spotlight, Carson isn’t the only high-profile politician-physician to doubt the well-established biology concept.

All of the physicians Pacific Standard talked with, both on and off the record, had the same answer to “How is it possible?”: Although doctors use many insights from biology, many don’t actually need to understand or believe in evolution correctly to do their jobs.

“Most physicians are not scientists. This is not a knock, but they’re more akin to engineers,” Gorski says. “They take science that’s already known and they apply it to a problem, the problem being making patients better.”

It’s not a knock? It sure sounds like one. The countervailing consideration is that physicians and engineers — and why not throw in computer scientists as well? — do something on a daily basis that evolutionary biologists never do. The doctor or engineer’s responsibility is to maintain, devise, or build complex systems, even from the ground up, systems that must operate continuously without fail. If the system does fail, then the physician, engineer, or computer scientist has flopped in his job. Not uncommonly, the results of such a flop can be fatal — for the patient on the operating table, for example, or the passenger in the jet airplane…

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