Does Evolution Belong in Biomedical Curricula?
In a recent issue of The Scientist, Leonid Moroz, a professor at the University of Florida’s College of Medicine, authored an article calling for the inclusion of courses on evolutionary biology in the curricula of medical schools and biomedical Ph.D. programs. He states: “Evolutionary theory, speciation, principles of biological classification, and biodiversity must be part of the required curricula not only for biologists but for medical students as well” (Moroz, 2010, 24(11):36). Dr. Moroz contends that natural selection and other evolutionary principles are fundamental biological concepts, which must be taught in such curricula. This call for biomedical educational reform is not new. In the January 26, 2010 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a collection of articles was published in a special supplementary edition of the journal, which conveyed the thoughts of some scientists that medical school curricula needed a course on evolutionary biology (“Evolution in Health…,” 2010, 107[suppl. 1]:1691-1807). The question of whether medical school and biomedical graduate programs should require a course on evolutionary biology is complicated to say the least.
First, evolutionary biology must, as always, be defined. Microevolution (or the small genetic changes occurring in populations that lead to differences within a species) has relevance to medicine and medical research. Consider, for example, the idea of antibiotic resistance in bacteria and viruses. Over time and under the pressures of antibiotics, many strains of bacteria and some viruses will undergo genetic changes (mutations) that allow them to become resistant to the drug(s) that would otherwise be lethal. Additionally, bacteria have the amazing ability to transfer genes between one another, thereby passing antibiotic resistances from one bacterium to another. This problem of antibiotic resistance is a significant medical concern, especially for some diseases such as tuberculosis and HIVwhere multidrug-resistant strains of the infectious agent, which are difficult to treat, are causing disease. However, macroevolution (or the idea that over long periods of time species will evolve into new and distinctive species) does not have relevance in medicine. Macroevolution is the alleged process by which many, many small genetic changes accumulate over time to transform one organism into a new and different organism. For example, macroevolution is the alleged process by which evolutionists claim that bacteria evolved into mitochondria and eventually eukaryotes, how reptiles evolved into birds, and how apes evolved into humans. Even if true (and it is not), this description of evolution has no place in medical or biomedical curricula.
APPLICATIONS FOR MEDICAL PROGRAMS
Modern medical (M.D.) programs are designed to give future physicians a foundational understanding of the biochemical and cellular basis of the human body, and then teach them about the body’s anatomy, physiology, and various disease states. The microevolutionary genetic changes that are attributed to antibiotic resistance and phenotypic variation (physical and biochemical differences between people) in the human population are currently not stressed in medical curricula. Nesse and colleagues stated: “[F]ew physicians and medical researchers have taken a course on evolutionary biology, and no medical school teaches evolutionary biology as a basic science for medicine” (2010, p. 1806). What the authors of this article fail to do is distinguish microevolution from macroevolution. It is likely that physicians could benefit from a better understanding of how small genetic changes lead to diversity in the human population and adaptations such as antibiotic resistance in pathogens. Macroevolution (also known as Darwinian evolutionary theory) is an attempt to explain the origin of life. It does not address disease states nor how we treat disease. Even if Darwinian evolutionary theory were a proven science, it would serve no purpose in the preparation of future physicians. The reality is that Darwinian evolution is simply an unproven hypothesis, which means that it certainly does not belong in medical school coursework.
Knowing that your doctor has only two years of coursework in his or her medical school program, would you want this person, who is going to be caring for the medical needs of you and your family, to spend less time learning about how the human body works, and more time learning about the monkeys from which humans supposedly originated? The idea is rather preposterous. Physicians obviously need to know everything possible about the human body and its diseases, not about how single-celled organisms allegedly evolved over millions of years into humans. The brief two years of required medical school coursework are a major hurdle in adding any form of evolutionary biology to the curricula, because if any course or set of material is added, then something else has to be removed. There is only so much time for medical educators to teach students in this two-year period. I, for one, would much rather my doctor spend time on medically relevant content than the unproven “science” of macroevolution.
APPLICATIONS FOR BIOMEDICAL PROGRAMS
In 2007, I received a Ph.D. in cell biology from a biomedical graduate program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine. In that program I took no formal coursework in evolutionary theory or speciation, nor were such courses even an option. Instead, I took coursework in biochemistry, genetics, cell biology, virology, and the biology of disease, among others. Moroz claims that this kind of curricula is “sacrificing a deeper understanding of the fundamental laws of biology,” and students in such programs “lose some strategic advantage as well as a long-term perspective” (p. 36). I must disagree.
Modern graduate doctoral programs in the biomedical sciences are designed to train future scientists in how to conduct research that has the potential to lead to new medical discoveries, such as the origins of disease and the development of novel disease treatments and cures. This training requires a strong foundation in the scientific method and its direct application, as well as basic science coursework in human and pathogen biology. Just as was described above for physicians, an understanding of microevolutionary processes has benefit for future biomedical scientists. For example, to develop a new and improved drug to treat the HIV virus, one would need to know why current drugs are becoming less effective due to viral genetic changes. However, macroevolution does not belong in the curricula of future medical researchers for all of the same reasons that it does not belong in medical school programs: (1) Darwinian evolutionary theory is an unproven hypothesis, and (2) it has no application in medicine.
APPLICATIONS FOR BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH
In his article, quoting Theodosius Dobhansky, Moroz stated: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” (p. 36). What this means is that one cannot understand life and its intricacies unless it is looked at from the perspective of evolution. “Whether we like it or not, biology simply means evolution,” Moroz went on to observe (p. 36). Once again, I must strongly disagree.
I once had a conversation with my graduate Ph.D.advisor, a pediatric oncologist and scientist, about the similarities in DNAsequence and genome structure between humans and other organisms. He, believing in Darwinian evolution, and I, believing that God created each organism separately, had very different perspectives on biology. But, he concluded that no matter which stance you take on the origin of life, evolution or creation, the way in which we conduct biomedical research is unchanged. Common ancestry due to macroevolution would be expected to lead to organism similarities, just as common design due to a Designer would also lead to similarities in organism structure and function. The point is that biology does make sense in light of creation. Statements made by individuals such as Moroz or Dobzhansky regarding the need for evolution to understand biology are nothing more than evolutionist propaganda, intending to use the letters behind one’s name to sway the population into believing that macroevolution must be fact.
Moroz did write correctly in his article that “many, if not most, breakthroughs in biology and medicine have come by studying experimental models representing the entire spectrum of the diversity of life: from bacteria to yeasts, from infusorians to algae, from hydra to squid and sea slugs” (p. 36). Obviously, scientists cannot use humans as their lab animals, so we use other organisms instead. Indeed, biomedical research relies upon model organisms such as the mouse, fly, worm, and yeast to model what is going on in humans. This modeling of physiology and disease pathology works because of the similarities all organisms share—including humans. However, what is important to note, and what Dr. Morov does not say, is that Darwinian macroevolution need not be true, let alone understood or taught to medical students, for these similarities to be utilized for biomedical research. God created humans, mice, flies, worms, and yeast with both their distinctions and similarities. This common design allows scientists to maximize on the similarities for research purposes.
While I took no formal courses in evolutionary biology during my own graduate coursework, I was exposed to some evolutionary theory embedded in courses such as biochemistry. On one particular biochemistry exam, I was posed with observations about the similarities and differences between protein amino acid sequences among various species and asked, “How do you account for these observations?” My response on the exam read: “I account for this observation by believing that God created these proteins in this manner,” followed by, “The evolutionist accounts for this observation by.…” I received 80% credit for my response, but more interestingly, the professor wrote these words below my response: “This particular belief will make it more difficult for you to function as a professional biologist.” Did this statement turn out to be true? No. I have functioned well, perhaps excellently in my professional career. I have published research in top-tier journals and won awards. I do not mention these things to boast, but rather to prove that biology does not depend on evolution, just as medicine does not depend on evolution.
The topic of evolutionary theory in biomedical curricula is complex. The principles of microevolution would likely be beneficial for both future researchers and physicians if they can be worked into an already content-heavy curriculum. But, Darwinian evolutionary theory, biodiversity, and speciation do not belong in biomedical or medical curricula. As scientists, physicians, and medical educators make decisions regarding curriculum reform, let us hope that prudent wisdom will prevail over the biased agenda of many staunch macroevolutionists.
Moroz, Leonid (2010), “The Devolution of Evolution,” The Scientist, 24(11):36.
“Evolution in Health and Medicine Special Feature” (2010), Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(suppl. 1):1691-1807, January 26.
Nesse, Randolph M., et al. (2010), “Making Evolutionary Biology a Basic Science for Medicine,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107[suppl. 1]:1806, January 26.
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