What Goes On in Medical School?


It’s probably nothing. But the latest in-your-face conservative pick by President Trump adds one more leg to the stool. Is there some reason why so many prominent radical creationists are medical doctors?

mark green

Creating a modern military….

Tennessee Senator Mark Green is only the latest. He is awaiting confirmation hearings to become Secretary of the Army. He’s already taking some heat for his official proclamations about gender and sexuality. In 2015, he delivered a fiery creationist sermon to a Cincinnati church.

For those of us who keep track of such things, Senator Green apparently emphasized two favorite notions of twenty-first century creationists. He insisted that the second law of thermodynamics militated against evolution. Since entropy increases over time, the argument goes, things won’t get more organized over time, but less.

As Green put it,

If you put a lawn mower out in your yard and a hundred years come back, it’s rusted and falling apart. You can’t put parts out there and a hundred years later it’s gonna come back together. That is a violation of a law of thermodynamics. A physical law that exists in the universe.

Green also embraced the “irreducible complexity” argument beloved by today’s intelligent designers. As articulated by biochemist Michael Behe, this argument points to some organic systems such as blood-clotting. If the entire process needs to be in place in order to confer any evolutionary benefit, the argument goes (roughly), then it makes no sense for it to have evolved in pieces.

We don’t want to argue the merits of these creationist arguments here. Our question this morning is different. In his 2015 Cincinnati sermon, Senator Green claimed to be an expert about the scientific weaknesses of evolutionary theory. On what grounds? Because of his work and training as a medical doctor.

It’s not much to go on, but there certainly seems to be a mini-trend involved here. Senator Green joins other prominent doctor/creationists in politics. Most obviously, Secretary Ben Carson rose to prominence as a young-earth creationist and pediatric neurosurgeon. Representative Paul Broun of Georgia, too, headed the House science committee, hated evolution, and claimed that his “scientific” education as a medical doctor had convinced him of the weaknesses of evolutionary science.

What is going on here? One might think that medical training would weed out creationist thinking. Most medical doctors, after all, study lots of biology. And, as the man said, nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.

Again, our sample of only three prominent doctor/creationists isn’t large enough to prove anything, but it does raise the question. Why do so many of our prominent creationists come from the field of medicine?

One answer would seem to be that medical doctors can claim the prestige of science without actually doing any pure scientific research themselves. They can claim to be experts, but they really are more interested in the mechanics of biology than the driving processes.

As anthropologist David Long found in his study of undergrad bio majors, it is very easy to study biology and remain a committed young-earth creationist.

Clearly, as the case of Senator Green reminds us, simply learning more biology will not convince people out of their creationist beliefs. Just like other prominent doctor/creationists, Dr. Green’s creationism is something besides a lack of knowledge about mainstream science.


Broun and the Budget

US Representative Paul Broun (R-GA) garnered a lot of attention last year, including a commentary in the Chronicle of Higher Education by yours truly, for his claim that evolution, embryology, and the Big Bang theory were lies from the pit of hell.

Today Broun took to the pages of the New York Times to call for more drastic budget cuts.  Broun calls Representative Paul Ryan’s budget cuts too mild.  Instead, Broun insists, we need to cut the federal government drastically, including eliminating the Departments of Education and Energy.

Broun writes,

Constitutionally speaking, the federal government should not have a role in K-12 public education anyway. Overpaid Washington bureaucrats shouldn’t be deciding how to provide for teachers and students, whose own state and local governments are better equipped to understand their needs. A Heritage Foundation study showed that in 2010, the average salary of an Education Department employee reached $103,000 — nearly double the average public-school teacher’s salary. Let’s phase out a large portion of the department’s roughly $70 billion budget. We can transfer the remaining dollars directly to the states, where they will be used more wisely.

Broun’s missive demonstrates the tight connections between various strains of conservative educational ideology.  Does Broun want less evolution taught in public schools?  Yes.  Does he also want a smaller, leaner, more local government?  Yes.

In Broun’s conservative thinking, these are not utterly separate ideas, but facets of the same good ideas.  If education decisions were made closer to home, Broun argues, they would be made “more wisely.”  Local governments, Broun writes, are “better equipped to understand [teachers’ and students’] needs.”  In short, not only would an elimination the Education Department make good fiscal sense, Broun insists, but it would allow schools to respect the religious views of local creationist parents.


2016, Rubio, and the Age of the Earth

Senator Marco Rubio’s comments to a GQ reporter have attracted more than their share of attention lately.  When asked about the age of the earth, Rubio hedged:

“I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell  you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I  think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of  the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our  economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to  answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple  theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country  where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents  should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says.  Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll  ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.”

This answer certainly sounds like a dodge from a 2016-conscious politician.  Keenly aware of the thinking among the GOP base, and with an eye to the 2016 presidential primaries, it seems, Rubio carefully gave an answer designed not to offend the sensibilities of young-earth creationists.  Rubio’s language here clearly differentiates him from the true GOP creationist politicians like US Representative Paul Broun.  Good science?  Definitely not.  But is it good politics?

Writing in the New York Times, Ross Douthat offered a politician’s answer that might serve the GOP better in the long run.  Aspiring GOP leaders, Douthat suggested, could respond to gotcha questions in this way:

“I’m not a scientist, but I respect the scientific consensus that says that the earth is — what, something like a few billions of years old, right? I don’t have any trouble reconciling that consensus with my faith. I don’t think the 7 days in Genesis have to be literal 24-hour days. I don’t have strong opinions about the specifics of how to teach these issues — that’s for school boards to decide, and I’m not running for school board — but I think religion and science can be conversation partners, and I think kids can benefit from that conversation.

Douthat makes the excellent point that this is more a crisis of Christianity than of the GOP.  The notion of a young earth has only been used as a litmus test for fundamentalist Protestantism in the last fifty years or so.  For centuries before that, Bible Christians could legitimately disagree about the age of the earth without being accused of backsliding away from true faith.

However, for someone like Rubio with his eyes on the White House, Douthat’s suggestion does not fit.  Politicians don’t win national office by moral or intellectual courage.  They win by offering a recipe of ideological notions that satisfy their constituents.  And these days, like it or lump it, the GOP base has strong feelings in favor of a young earth.

ILYBYGTH in the Chronicle of Higher Education

Hot off the presses!  I’m happy to say that the Chronicle of Higher Education is running a commentary of mine in this morning’s edition.

Readers of ILYBYGTH might not find much new in this piece.  I argue that many evolution educators display a woeful and unproductive misunderstanding of creationism.  For instance, evolution supporters generally assume that creationists such as US Representative Paul Broun must be utterly ignorant of science.  In fact, Broun and many other creationists often have degrees in science.  Broun, for instance, has a BS in chemistry and an MD.

As political scientists Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer have demonstrated, creationists often know plenty about evolution.  Creationists just don’t believe it.

Another tricky point about Representative Broun’s particular style of creationism rests in the nature of representative democracy.  As I ask in the CHE piece, “Do we really want to demand than an elected official not fight for the ideas in which his constituents believe?”

I also appreciate the comments on the online CHE article.  There are some of the usual displays of huffy antagonism.  For instance, one reader suggested that the best lenses to understand creationism would be “abnormal psychology” and “cult theory.”  But other commenters raised more intriguing points.  One suggested that the real issue is that American education tends not to teach students anything they don’t know already.  Another pointed out that any teaching that seems to come between parents and children will be resisted.

I’ll look forward to reading more comments as they come in.  Especially since many of them make excellent counter-arguments.


Berger on Broun and Equal-Opportunity Superstition

Peter Berger recently noted the strange furor over Representative Paul Broun’s evolution comments.  The recently reelected Broun had attracted attention for sermonizing that evolution, embryology, and the Big Bang Theory were lies “straight from the pit of hell.”

Berger does not support Broun’s vision of true science.  But Berger makes the more sophisticated point that the uproar over Broun’s scientific vision has a long and unfortunate history.  Why, Berger asks, do such statements attract such vituperative responses on Capitol Hill?

Berger says it best:

“I will speculate that what we have here is an ideologically congenial case that bundles together a set of common left-liberal prejudices—against Republicans, Evangelicals and the South. These are the stereotypical characters in the nightmares of American progressives—a grand conspiracy to take control of Washington and clamp down on their genitalia. H.L. Mencken, in his journalistic coverage of the 1925 ‘monkey trial’ in Dayton, Tennessee was the granddaddy of this particular worldview: Go south and west of Baltimore, and you are in the land of the Yahoos.

“I would not for a moment dispute the characterization of the views expressed by Messrs. Broun and Akin as grossly superstitious. But I believe in equal treatment of all superstitions, on both sides of the aisle. Thus the same individuals who sneer at the beliefs of Bible-thumping Republicans believe that all differences between men and women are social conventions, that an eight-month embryo is as much a part of the mother’s body as her appendix, that racism can be abolished by the government allotting privileges by way of racial quotas, that wealth can be distributed without being produced, that homicidal regimes can be influenced by moral persuasion… Need I go on ?

“Let me suggest a nonpartisan generalization: Superstitions abound all over the political map. It is an interesting question which superstitions are more harmful to society.”

As we’ve argued here before, we don’t have to agree with Broun’s ideas to recognize them as commonly held notions about the nature of science and humanity.  We can fight against those ideas without being disingenuously shocked by them.  Instead of wasting time and effort telling one another that we can’t believe how someone could hold such beliefs in 2012, those like me who want better evolution education would be better off spending our time trying to understand the origins and nature of those beliefs.

Election Update: Darwin Defeated in Georgia

As we reported recently, some evolutionists hoped to make an election-day point in Georgia with a write-in campaign for Charles Darwin.  The incumbent, Dr. Paul Broun, had called evolution, embryology, and the Big Bang Theory “lies straight out of the pit of hell.”

The tallies are not fully in, but it looks as if Darwin went down to a decisive defeat.

The candidate could not be reached for comment.

Election Day Coverage: Voting “Darwin” in Georgia

Darwin for Congress?

He’s not on the ballot.  He’s not even alive.  But Charles Darwin is campaigning for the US House of Representatives in Georgia.

After US Representative Dr. Paul Broun famously opined that evolution, embryology, and the Big Bang theory were “lies straight out of the pit of hell,” Georgia’s evolutionists decided to push for a write-in election for Charlie D.

Does Darwin stand a chance?  Maybe if given billions of years to evolve a campaign.

All joking aside, Representative Broun will win in a cake walk.  Even Broun’s most ardent foes are hoping for only a small symbolic protest vote for Darwin.

For those like me who hope to see better education in America’s schools–including better evolution education–Broun’s lack of opposition comes as a sobering reminder of the political nature of American education.  Those evolutionists such as Bill Nye who slam Broun’s credentials forget one crucial detail: Representative Dr. Broun was elected, and he’s going to be re-elected.  Signing a petition–as have roughly 85,000 people at Change.org–is not the easy way to remove Dr. Broun from the House committee on science.

The way to do it is to get involved in local and state politics.  Don’t just run a last-minute write-in campaign for a dead Darwin.  Seek out a plausible electoral alternative to politicians whom you don’t think are qualified to make decisions about science.