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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Medical Students and evolution

There has been a fair amount of discussion, over the past few years, as to whether pre-medical students need to have some background in the basic ideas and theory of evolution. (For more on this, do a search on the phrase "medical student" combined with the word evolution.) Part of this discussion was generated by the story of a pre-med student who was a young-earth creationist, and was denied a recommendation to medical school by a faculty member.

The Panda's Thumb is a multi-author blog, with several contributors. The main thrust is against the Intelligent Design movement, and some of the posts have been strident and intolerant of Christianity in general, as well as of the ID movement. However, some posts do an excellent job of considering scientific evidence bearing on evolution, particularly as it relates to the scientific claims of the ID movement, and some authors seem to understand the concerns of Christians, and sympathize with them. The blog is required reading for anyone expecting to keep up with the Intelligent Design field. A post, a few years ago, by Jack Krebs, considered the question "Why should medical students study evolution?" I was impressed with the tone, and the content.

The author is, or has been, a high school teacher himself, and knows full well that, whatever the subject of a high school class, students won't retain all of it, and may never use the specific course material in their careers. He also knows that that shouldn't mean that students aren't taught anything, and that a few students really may use a lot of the material of some high school classes. (Speaking from experience, the same is certainly true of university classes!)

Although he doesn't define evolution -- an all too common problem with writing on the subject, from many different viewpoints -- he is sympathetic to the claims of religion, and indicates that he opposes a naturalistic world-view.

Krebs goes on to answer his question by including an actual example, where knowledge of the biochemistry, genetics and neurobiology of mice seems to offer some hope of treating bipolar disorders in humans. Almost certainly, if no one had looked at similarities between humans and mice, with a view to learning more about their similarities, this hope would not have been possible.

Krebs doesn't make a knock-down case, but it's a case, and should be pondered carefully by those who believe that studying similarities between organisms is not of use in the medical profession.

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