Intelligent design/creationism Medicine

I hang my head in shame for my profession a second time

Lately, I’ve been frequently lamenting how easily physicians can be seduced by the pseudoscience known as “intelligent design” (ID) creationism (or even old-fashioned young earth creationism). Yesterday, I even hung my head in shame after learning of a particularly clueless creationist surgeon, to the point of speculating that I might not be able to show my face in ScienceBlogs for a few days.

Then, just as I was getting set to show my face in ScienceBlogs again after only a one day absence (having decided not to let one clueless surgeon deter me), I see this on Bill Dembski’s blog.


It’s a mention of a new physicians group called Physicians and Surgeons for Scientific Integrity. Seeing my fellow physicians demonstrate such ignorance yet again is profoundly embarrassing to me. Guys, I’m beginning to take such support of pseudoscience personally. Look at the statement they want physicians to sign:


As medical doctors we are skeptical of the claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the origination and complexity of life and we therefore dissent from Darwinian macroevolution as a viable theory. This does not imply the endorsement of any alternative theory.

“This does not imply the endorsement of any alternative theory”? Heh. The statement to be signed is so vacuous as to be utterly meaningless. “Skeptical”? Lovely. As scientists we should always be skeptical of all scientific theories. Not surprisingly, PSSI is too spineless to back any “alternative theory.” Why do you think that is? Could it be because at present there is no credible alternative theory to evolution that explains the diversity of life? All there is is a religion-inspired pseudoscientific variant of creationism known as ID. Gee, you don’t think that, through its statement, PSSI is hoping that “skepticism” of “Darwinism” among physicians will translate into support for ID, do you? Perish the thought! They don’t back any “alternative” theory. Believe them because they say so. They just express “skepticism” about “Darwinism” and want you to, too. Really. Trust them; they’re doctors.

How disingenuous can you get?

In any case, as PZ and Josh have said about a similar petition, it’s such a vague, meaningless statement that almost anyone could sign it. And, like so many backers of ID, PSSI then pulls out the old canard of “freedom of inquiry”:

Sadly, academic freedom is no longer assured in America and other countries. This is especially true when it involves espousing views contrary to the theory of Darwinian macroevolution. Numerous instances have been documented where scientists and teachers have been censored and even removed from their positions for facilitating open discussion of the empirical problems of the dominant theory. In fact, one scientist who simply followed procedures in allowing a controversial article to be peer-reviewed and then published in the journal he edited, was publicly vilified and relentlessly persecuted.[1]

As academia has suppressed freedom of speech in this area, another avenue needs to be available to promote accurate knowledge and the free exchange of ideas concerning the debate over Darwinism and alternative theories on origins. To accomplish that goal, Physicians and Surgeons for Scientific Integrity (PSSI) has been established. PSSI is a means for physicians and surgeons to be counted among those skeptical of nature-driven Darwinian macroevolution. PSSI members agree to a “Physicians and Surgeons’ Statement of Dissent” which states “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the origination and complexity of life and we therefore dissent from Darwinian macroevolution as a viable theory. This does not imply the endorsement of any alternative theory.” This statement is similar to that signed by over 500 scientists worldwide and posted by Discovery Institute at the web site

Allowing physicians and surgeons to speak on this subject with a united voice in significant numbers is one of the best ways to let the scientific facts be known, and to dispel falsehoods, innuendoes, fantasies, and distortions that recently have been flooding the media.

Wah wah wah. Whine, whine, whine. No one’s stopping ID advocates from “espousing views contrary to the Darwinian theory of macroevolution”–except in public school science classes, where they don’t belong because ID is not yet science and almost certainly never will be. No, it’s ID advocates who want special treatment, for ID to be taught as a viable alternative to evolution before ever actually earning that right through evidence and experimentation. In fact, if these guys ever actually did any–oh, say–scientific research that truly called the present iteration of the theory of evolution into doubt or actually showed support for one of these “alternative theories” (and, of course, no they don’t mean “intelligent design,” nudge, nudge, wink, wink), the scientific community would be forced to take notice. Of course, ID advocates don’t (and won’t), and that’s why they are widely viewed among biological scientists as nothing more than religion-inspired scientific poseurs. These doctors are no better. In fact, they’re worse, because they plan to use their status as doctors to push their disingenuous “skepticism” about Darwinism, which in my opinion is in reality camouflaged advocacy of ID:

PSSI will be involved in activities and events to educate the public on this critical subject. These include the distribution of the UMOL DVD to high school and college students, teachers and professors, and sponsoring educational conferences, seminars and debates in the United States and internationally.

I was sorely tempted to join up in order to function as a mole and see what these guys are up to, but then I saw that they were publicly listing members. No way would I want my name to be associated with that group, even for the purpose of undercover work. So, for now, I’ll just have to take comfort in the fact that, as of today (which, for some reason, they seem to think is May 6), there are only twenty physicians listed as members (with only one general surgeon) and that I don’t recognize any of the names on the list. Even so, campaigns like this are one consequence of the woeful lack of understanding of evolution among physicians.

Between PSSI and PZ’s mention of yet another clueless creationist physician named Geoffrey Simmons, who wrote a book (entitled What Darwin Didn’t Know: A Doctor Dissects the Theory of Evolution) also explicitly trying to use his status as a physician to add a false air of authority to his fallacy-filled and inane denunciations of Darwin added on top of Dr. Jordan yesterday, this has been a bad week for physicians interested in sound science. Heck, Dr. Simmons, who gives speeches in which he makes ridiculous assertions that archeologists claim that the monkey skulls they find are pre-human in order to get their pictures in magazines and make more money, also uses one of the stupidest creationist canards of all–“Billions of years isn’t enough time; nobody has shown that a dog can become a cat”–for cryin’ out loud! It’s almost as bad as Dr. Jordan’s apparent belief that evolution states that amoebas “got together and designed” human beings.

All I can say is: Oh, the shame, the shame–again.

Geez, not showing my face around ScienceBlogs for a while might not be enough after this double whammy. Anyone got a paper bag that I can borrow?

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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