New England Journal of Medicine promotes anti-theism

Refuting pseudoscientific anti-design attacks

by , Ph.D.

25 October 2005

A prestigious medical journal has entered the fray against creation. In New England Journal of Medicine 353(14):1437–1439, 6 October 2005, there is a strongly anti-design article by Dr Robert Schwartz, a deputy editor of the journal.

This doesn’t mean that all the readers necessarily support the rogue political or religious policies of the governing elite of the journal. Similarly, the leading British medical journal Lancet came under fire for dabbling in the politics of the Iraq war (on which CMI cannot take a stand as we are officially apolitical).

For comparison, the Orthodox Rabbi Daniel Lapin points out in America’s Real War that many leaders of groups that pass as Jewish organizations avidly promote liberalism that contradicts traditional Judaism, and many American retirees support the AARP for the perks they can get but would strongly oppose its political stands on many issues.

And many people join professional organizations because it’s the ‘thing to do’ or because it is compulsory, not because of any support for an official statement. For example, many American teachers join their main union, the NEA, but are apathetic or opposed to the blatantly political and anti-Christian statements of the official body.

The leading chemist Philip Skell, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, doubtless spoke for many when he recently wrote a famous column in The Scientist, Why Do We Invoke Darwin? Evolutionary theory contributes little to experimental biology [full essay minus expurgated original subtitle available at the-scientist.com/opinion-old/why-do-we-invoke-darwin-48438, Ed.], echoing a BioEssays special issue on evolution in 2000. This should be borne in mind when a scientific society proclaims that evolution is a fact, while the real scientists actually make no use of evolution in their research. That’s because they are concerned with operational science not origins, so have no use for evolution (‘goo-to-you’). It’s ironic to see evolutionists on the one hand claiming that evolution is essential for biology, but on the other hand lamenting the move away from evolution ‘to a more utilitarian science’ which demands ‘more practical benefits from science’ (Evolution and practical science).

A common feature of such editorials is how emotive and fact-free they tend to be. This medical journal article is no exception. We can only hope that the rest of the journal has proper peer-review for quality control. The following article responds point-by-point.

Faith Healers and Physicians — Teaching Pseudoscience by Mandate [Perspective]

Even this title is misleading as far as many creationists are concerned, since they oppose mandatory teaching of any pseudoscience, and even oppose mandatory teaching of creationist science (see Textbook wars: a different angle). Why would we want antitheists to be forced to teach creation, who would be likely to mock or otherwise misrepresent it? We certainly would not want a Eugenie Scott devotee misleadingly implying that we believe in fixity of species.

In the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, Frank Morgan plays five roles. In one of them, he is a flimflam hawker of trivia traveling across the plains of Kansas in a horse-drawn wagon. In another, he is the wizard who, concealed by a curtain, manipulates a machine that controls all of Oz. Now, more than 65 years later, another pitchman is rolling across Kansas, but unlike Morgan's bumbling peddler of trinkets and dreams, the new one has no interest in such trifles.

Describes goo-to-you evolution perfectly. As Skell pointed out:

‘Further, Darwinian explanations for such things are often too supple: Natural selection makes humans self-centered and aggressive—except when it makes them altruistic and peaceable. Or natural selection produces virile men who eagerly spread their seed—except when it prefers men who are faithful protectors and providers. When an explanation is so supple that it can explain any behavior, it is difficult to test it experimentally, much less use it as a catalyst for scientific discovery.’

Ph.D. biologist Don Batten writes:

‘The formulation of special definitions results in many disjointed, conflicting theories parading as a unified theory. For example, in one context evolutionists will argue that female mosquitos are bigger than the males because the female is responsible for egg-laying and the male only has to contribute a little sperm, so bigger females make for greater reproductive success. But in another context, evolutionists will argue that male lions are bigger than the females because the bigger males have greater dominance over other males in the mating game and therefore they will mate with more females and pass on their genes. Both stories sound plausible in isolation, but they “explain” contradictory states of affairs and so have no value in prediction. Such special definitions, or story-telling, do not add up to make a valid scientific theory. Special definitions, which are measurable, testable and explanatory, are only true for special cases and do not provide any unifying theory to explain adaptation in general.’

It is an articulate and sophisticated anti-evolution movement called “intelligent design.” At its core is the idea that a supernatural being—a hidden wizard—has a hidden hand in shaping the living world.

Not at all. A wizard is capricious, while the God of the Bible is a God of order (1 Corinthians 14:33). Thus creationists believe that God’s creative acts were one-off, in the past, while today He sustains His creation in an orderly way—see Naturalism, Origin and Operation Science. Indeed, it was this teaching, and the Dominion Mandate of Genesis 1:28, that led to the rise of modern science. But evolution cannot provide any rational justification for the presuppositions required for science to work.

However, one weakness of the intelligent design movement is that they refuse to identify the designer, and their mantra is ‘leave the Bible out of it’, so they have no grounds for denying a capricious designer. This is one reason we have been somewhat critical of this movement while recognizing its strong points—see:

The intelligent design movement has attracted support from U.S. politicians at every level of government, from the Dutch minister of education, and from the Roman Catholic archbishop of Vienna,

Maybe they are onto something!

who has determined that the theory of evolution is inconsistent with the teachings of his church.

Of course. Conversely, evolution provides the foundational tenets for the religion of humanism. Evolution also makes it possible to be ‘an intellectually fulfilled atheist’, according to the high priest of atheism, Richard Dawkins of Oxford University. So it is not a matter of science vs religion but religion vs religion, as even the agnostic/deist anticreationist philosopher Michael Ruse now admits. Thus it is no wonder that there is an unholy alliance between antitheists and liberal theologians, who are in effect atheists in dog collars, to defend goo-to-you evolution.

In his objection to evolution, the cardinal joins Joseph Stalin, who forbade its teaching in the Soviet Union.

Nonsense. Stalin was an evolutionist through and through. Yaroslavsky’s biography, Landmarks in the Life of Stalin, states that while a seminary student, Stalin ‘began to read Darwin and became an atheist’. Later he promoted the neo-Lamarckian evolutionary ideas of his crony Trofim Lysenko, who believed that acquired skills and learning could be passed along genetically to one’s offspring, and suppressed any challenges to this paradigm. Now, the modern evolutionary establishment follows Stalin in rejecting challenges to the materialistic paradigm. Even the evolutionist historian of science Evelleen Richards recognized that viewpoints opposing the prevailing bias find it impossible to get a fair hearing, let alone research funding or publication.

More important than approval from high-profile national and international leaders, however, is the determination by members of public school boards in at least 20 states that intelligent design should be taught in school beginning in the ninth grade. It has been 80 years since the Tennessee legislature passed the Butler Act, which made the teaching of evolution a misdemeanor,

There are two main differences—the Butler Act

  1. wanted to prevent something taught, while the current legislation proposes to teach something. Now it’s the evolutionists who want to preserve their monopoly by suppressing competition in the marketplace of ideas.

  2. was enacted by the people’s representatives. Now the evolutionists want to subvert the people and preserve their monopoly via unelected and unaccountable activist judges.

and 80 years since John Scopes, a high school science teacher and football coach, was found guilty of violating that law. In the Scopes trial, Clarence Darrow argued, “We have the purpose of preventing bigots and ignoramuses from controlling the education of the United States.”

Darrow evidently preferred to see the teaching of eugenics and white supremacy defended, because that was in the book, Hunter’s Civic Biology, from which Scopes taught!

Darrow lost his case,

Hardly surprising—his client broke the law, at least according to his counsel! In fact, Darrow urged Scopes to perjure himself, because it was not clear that Scopes really had taught evolution. Such is the fruit of evolution, where moral absolutes (such as telling the truth) are replaced with another absolute, namely the good of evolution. This happened in Nazi Germany, as Prof. Richard Weikart has amply documented in his monumental study, From Darwin to Hitler.

And the prosecutor William Jenning Bryan scored a devastating point when he showed that Darrow had defended two spoilt young murderers, Loeb and Leopold, by blaming their crime on their evolutionary indoctrination and alleged evolutionary past. You certainly won’t see this mentioned in most evolutionary accounts of the trial, let alone the distortion of Inherit the Wind.

Indeed, one of Bryan’s main problems was the implications of Darwinism to humanity, including Darwin’s own baneful thoughts on medicine helping the ‘unfit’. Indeed, if evolution were true, why should we help other people medically? Evolution can provide no basis for medical help, and in fact undermines the whole concept.

It is no accident that it was Christian ideas that founded hospitals, orphanages and the Red Cross. Conversely, doctors without ethics can be among the most dangerous members of evolutionary totalitarian régimes, e.g. the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele and Soviet psychiatrists who helped confine Christians and other dissidents to psychiatric hospitals.

Indeed, the journal itself has a history of strong support for eugenics, even to the extent of praising Nazi policies. According to the article Yale Study: U.S. Eugenics Paralleled Nazi Germany:

‘“Germany is perhaps the most progressive nation in restricting fecundity among the unfit,” editors of the New England Journal of Medicine wrote in 1934, a year after Hitler became chancellor.’

and despite all the ensuing decades of science education,

Note that when evolution was largely banned in schools during the alleged scientific nadir for decades after the Scopes Trial, American schools produced more Nobel prizes than the rest of the world combined. In fact, America produced twice as many as all other countries—this was especially pronounced in the biological arena of the Nobels (physiology and medicine), supposedly a field that can’t do without evolution.

the movement to teach intelligent design has spread from school houses to college campuses and university postgraduate programs. I fear that it will soon reach medical schools.

We hope so. Or rather, we hope that young people touched by our biblical creation talks in churches will enter medical schools. Such people will be immune from evolutionary indoctrination, because they will see that evolution is actually an interpretation of scientific data under the axiom of materialism. One wonders whether this Schwartz would fail those who refuse to accept this axiom, similar to the bigotry of Prof. Dini of Texas Tech University.

The debate has been prominent in the press and major scientific journals, but it has not been featured in medical journals, nor has it been discussed publicly by leaders of academic medicine or professional medical societies.

This should tell most readers that goo-to-you evolution has no practical value for medicine!

Some might ask why physicians should care about how we educate our children, and what difference it would make to medicine if we taught children intelligent design as a counterweight to evolution—which, according to the proponents of intelligent design, is a mere theory.

Actually, theory is too good a word for evolution, which is why we advise against saying, ‘Evolution is just a theory.’ A better word would be hypothesis or conjecture.

But acquiescing to this anti-science movement would have far-reaching consequences for the development of future generations of physicians, for the likelihood of discovering new therapies, and for understanding health and disease.

Right, we are to believe that we could never have had such advances in vaccination, germ theory, antiseptics and anesthesia without the evolutionists Louis Pasteur, Joseph Lister and James Simpson—not to mention Dr Raymond Damadian, inventor of the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner, or Graeme Clark, the inventor of the Cochlear bionic ear. Oh wait, these great scientists weren’t evolutionists: they all believed in creation!

To understand why intelligent design constitutes an insidious menace to medicine, it is helpful to trace its roots. In part, it evolved from creationism, which takes the Genesis story of creation literally.

The correct way to take Genesis, and everything else, is as the author would have been understood according to the grammatical and historical context of the words he used. This incorporates a literal interpretation of a literal context, poetic interpretation of poetic context, etc. This is covered in depth in the article Should Genesis be taken literally?

E.g. with Genesis, we can tell it is meant to be historic narrative because it has all the grammatical features of Hebrew narrative, e.g. the first verb is a qatal (historic perfect), and the verbs that move the narrative forward are wayyiqtols (waw consecutives); it contains many ‘accusative particles’ that mark the objects of verbs; and terms are often carefully defined.

As the highly regarded 20th century Old Testament scholar E.J. Young said:

‘the man who says “I believe that Genesis purports to be a historical account, but I do not believe that account” is a far better interpreter of the Bible than the man who says, “I believe that Genesis is profoundly true, but it is poetry.”’

Creationism has been discredited, however, by indisputable physical evidence—carbon dating, for example.

I wonder if Schwartz incorrectly thinks radiocarbon proves millions or billions of years, like the anti-Christian activist ‘Rev.’ Barry Lynn, but unlike informed evolutionists. Perhaps he should stick to medicine, not atheistic polemics and scientific matters he knows little about.

In 1987, the teaching of creationism in public schools was forbidden by the U.S. Supreme Court (Edwards v. Aguillard). Still, a large part of the public believes in creationism and yearns for a return to God in public schools.

There is another large section that yearns for Christians to quit sending their kids to public schools. They would prefer to send them to schools where the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Proverbs 1:7, 9:10), or teach them at home. This part is rather bemused by the debate about public schools, and regards it as the proverbial polishing the floor of the Titanic.

Opinion pollsters tell us that the public admires scientists

This by itself undermines Schwartz’s claims that the (overwhelmingly creationist in the USA, the country referred to) public is ‘anti-science’. Rather, it is anti- a materialistic philosophy of origins that has usurped the word ‘science’ to its own ends, capitalizing on the public’s admiration for science.

but fears godless science that has no place for a Creator. It is mistrust of the very basis of science—

As explained, the very basis of science was the doctrine that the universe was made by an orderly Creator who sustains His creation in an orderly way. Rather, biblical Christians distrust revisionist misotheists who try to wrench science from its foundations, and even turn science upon the theology that spawned it.

especially the biologic sciences—that fuels enthusiasm for a “hidden hand” in the workings of the living world.

As stated, the biblical position is that this ‘hidden hand’ now works in a regular, repeatable way. Conversely, evolutionists have no basis for any regularity in the universe.

Detractors of the theory of evolution contend that there are too many holes in it: it is inconsistent with the fossil record, they say, and it fails to fully account for what we see today in the living world. Worse, it cannot tell us about the meaning of life.

All true. For the fossil record, see The links are missing. Dr William B. Provine, professor of biological sciences, Cornell University agrees that evolution entails purposelessness, and leading atheistic evolutionist Richard Dawkins agrees that evolution means that our best moral impulses ‘have no basis in nature’.

At its root, intelligent design is a medieval theological proposition …

It goes back much further, e.g. Cicero used design arguments before Christ. And while ‘medieval’ is often a term of derision (ignoring the many advances made in this time), some of the leading thinkers of the time used such arguments. Later on, Sir Isaac Newton, probably the greatest scientist of all time, wrote:

‘This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent Being. … This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called “Lord God” Παντοκράτωρ [Pantokratōr cf. 2 Corinthians 6:18] or “Universal Ruler”. … The Supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect.’ [Principia, Book III; cited in; Newton’s Philosophy of Nature: Selections from his writings, p. 42, ed. H.S. Thayer, Hafner Library of Classics, NY, 1953.]

‘Opposition to godliness is atheism in profession and idolatry in practice. Atheism is so senseless and odious to mankind that it never had many professors.’

that is based on faith, not logic,

A false contrast, willfully misunderstanding the biblical definition of faith and the important role of logic in Christianity.

… and certainly not science.

This is not so. Biblical creationists and design theorists use the basic scientific principles of causality (everything that has a beginning has a cause) and analogy (e.g. we observe that intelligence is needed to generate complex coded information in the present, so we can reasonably assume the same for the past). And because there was no material intelligent designer for life, it is legitimate to invoke a non-material designer for life. Note that this is not based on a lack of knowledge, but squarely on what we do know about complex specified information and the laws of chemistry that refute chemical evolutionary ideas of origin of life. And ID theorists have also developed the ideas of information first proposed by the late biblical creationist and triple doctorate A.E. Wilder-Smith, e.g. Dembski’s The Divine Inference, published by the prestigious Cambridge University Press, 1998.

It is theology dressed up as science, but it cannot be easily dismissed.

Apparently atheology dressed up as science is OK though.

The clever twist is that its proponents do not use such words as “God” or “deity” in public or in their literature, nor do they draw on the Bible to buttress their case. This omission, they believe, permits them to deny that intelligent design is faith-based. But what, then, is the meaning of “hidden hand,” “intelligent creator,” or “the Designer”? It is this elusiveness about the intelligent creator that gives intelligent design immense appeal: God can be introduced into the school curriculum without any mention of God.

Actually, that is one problem we have with the IDM too. But their caginess about the designer can be largely blamed on the anti-Christian activist judges who have expunged Christianity from USA public schools, pretending that it is ‘unconstitutional’. This would have been new to the Constitution’s framers, as shown by the Federalist Papers where they explained it, as well as the founders of America’s public schools (see Evolution in American education and the demise of its public school system). But then, these are the judges who claim that a ‘right to privacy’ can be found in an ‘emanation’ upon a ‘penumbra’ supposedly in the Constitution, and thus the ‘right’ of a mother to have her partly-born baby’s brains sucked out. But I digress.

Some of the supporters of intelligent design are knowledgeable and sophisticated. Phillip Johnson, professor emeritus of law at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of the founders and financial backers of the intelligent design movement, can accurately pinpoint many problems that the theory of evolution has not come close to solving. His criticisms have merit,

That really is a rare admission from an evolutionary polemicist.

and his focus on precisely those things that we do not yet know blocks any rational dialogue.

Actually much of the argument is based on what we DO know, not the caricature of a “god of the gaps”. Johnson also points out the materialistic philosophy that CMI had previously pointed out a number of years before he came on the scene.

But Johnson and his followers always end up in the same blind alley: the problems are too complex to be explained by any proposition other than the existence of an intelligent designer. They argue, for example, that some organs, such as the eye, are too complex to have arisen by blind chance; hence, the eye must have been designed by an intelligent creator.

Yes, see this section on eye design and the links therein, and the DVD The Hearing Ear and the Seeing Eye by anatomy professor Dr David Menton. However, I have to admit to being very pleasantly surprised that Schwartz didn’t trot out the long discredited nonsense about the eye being badly designed because of backward wiring, which has been making the rounds in the secular media lately.

The same argument is no doubt applicable to the blood-clotting system: it is too complex to have arisen through mutation and natural selection. Therefore, a hidden hand must have created hemostasis. The promoters of this line of thought do not tell us any more than that about the origins of the hemostatic system—they say only that a complex biologic system demands a creator. But they neglect to tell us that their creator of hemostasis must also be responsible for deep venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, the natural consequences of a complex system of blood clotting. Clearly, such a worldview could have ramifications for those who would study, elucidate, and treat such disorders.

This is a common fallacy in much anti-design polemic—they willfully deny that a broken-down design is still a design. For example, if a driver abuses his car and it breaks down, it doesn’t deny that the car was designed in the first place!

Of course, this necessitates a biblical understanding of the Fall. The IDM refuses to invoke this, so they are indeed vulnerable to such attacks.

In this case, there is a tension between the need for fluid flow and the need to plug leaks efficiently in a high-pressure system. This required an ingenious cascade system which defies evolutionary explanations.

Because of the Fall, sometimes this balance is destroyed, e.g. too little clotting results in hemorrhage and too much results in thrombosis.

Indeed, first and foremost, intelligent design should concern physicians because the debate influences education at all levels. Now that Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader and a graduate of Harvard Medical School, has come out in favor of the teaching of intelligent design,

Maybe a graduate from a leading medical school and heart surgeon might have a point?

medical students may soon be learning that only a hidden hand could be responsible for the complexities of oxidative metabolism in mitochondria.

Indeed so, while simultaneously studying how His design works. Evolution has no useful insights to contribute. I hope they would also learn about the ATP synthase motor.

(An intelligent student might ask why the designer made mitochondria in the first place.)

An even more intelligent student would presume that the designer knew that eukaryotic cells require power.

Moreover, the confusion between faith and science at the highest levels of public education can hardly be an asset to the pool of applicants to medical schools and graduate schools in the sciences.

Rather, the ignorance of the faith that spawned the presuppositions required for science is a baneful liability. Instead, they practice science in a vacuum, not even thinking about the basis for science itself.

What would it mean to take intelligent design seriously at the medical school level? Its proponents tell us that gaps in our knowledge of how living organisms evolved vitiate the theory of evolution. Might we conclude, then, that the cancer cell and its evolution are so complex that a creative designer must be the cause of cancer? But if the designer created cancer, is it against the hidden hand's will to find a cure for cancer? Is it in accord with the plan of the intelligent designer to receive a treatment for cancer?

Cancer is a result of the designed reproductive mechanism going out of control. Evolutionists still have not explained the origin of the first self-reproducing cell by chemical evolution. But the ID advocates who accept long ages have a huge problem: cancer in the fossil record that they believe formed long before their date for Adam, if they even believe he existed at all. And the Bible teaches that it is blessed to work to ameliorate the effects of the Curse, as Jesus showed by His healing miracles.

After all, a Jehovah's Witness would rather die than receive a blood transfusion.

So what? They are a cult, and they have no biblical basis for this absurdity. The biblical injunction against eating blood (Genesis 9:4, Acts 15:20) has nothing to do with transfusion. For one thing, we should take Scripture according to its original meaning, and the original writers and readers had no concept of blood transfusion. And from a scientific perspective, eating is completely different—eaten blood is digested into its components so it ceases to be blood, and the body re-uses the components for different things. Transfused blood is not digested but functions as blood with all its vital properties for life.

It would seem to be biblically blessed to donate blood, because Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13), and the Bible teaches, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11,14).

Yet today more than ever, the profession needs physicians who can channel scientific discoveries to the sick. What effect will pseudoscience-by-fiat have on medical progress?

You mean, like evolution taught as a ‘fact not to be questioned’? See Is evolution really necessary for medical advances?

If we accept the premise that it is not in the long-term interest of medicine to disguise a faith-based belief as a scientific discipline and indoctrinate future physicians and scientists in a creed that thwarts the science of medicine, what can physicians do now? It seems to me that leaders of professional societies and prominent academicians should start speaking up. At the local level, doctors are prominent and respected.

But if they debase their noble profession by becoming advocates for atheism (or at least atheism for all practical purposes when it comes to origins), then they could lose this respect. And Christians should be prepared to challenge their arguments from authority (Argumentum ad verecundiam) if they are speaking outside their field and making logical, philosophical and scientific blunders. We should also challenge them on the whole basis for medically assisting other people, if these are supposed to be just our evolutionary competitors.

They serve on school boards, and some hold public office. They are influential teachers. Many have religious affiliations,

This means nothing. See Is evolution ‘anti-religion’? It depends. But Schwartz seems to be unaware that far too many churchians are already unequally yoked with misotheists.

and they surely know the difference between faith and science.

Why not tell us then? Most likely, it would mean asserting the fallacious fact-value distinction of the NOMA crowd.

Engaging in a public debate about intelligent design is probably not a good idea; any debate about faith and belief will surely end inconclusively. More desirable are education and acting to protect the profession and the public from pseudoscience.

Interestingly, even the Skeptics published an article that recognized that biblical Christianity was the best Antidote to superstition and quackery.

The main need now is to begin to understand what the debate is about and to consider its consequences for the future of medicine.

And as we near the end of this journal’s tirade, we have still not learned how questioning the everything-made-itself hypothesis is such a mortal threat to medicine. Interesting that the non-Christian Australian journalist Andrew Bolt (while not supporting ID) noted in response to an obsessive anti-ID tirade in Australia:

‘I do wonder why the scientists who are so concerned about the march of unreason haven't found time to damn a faith already being taught as “science” in our university—not just the green faith, but homeopathy, which you can do at Victoria University [Melbourne] for a Bachelor of Health Science degree.’

The pity of it all is that opponents of the theory of evolution have missed the main point. The central idea of the theory is not the Victorian image of a hairy ape with a human face. On the contrary, the theory unveils the beautiful thought that all living creatures are related—in a sense, we are all one. This concept, if properly understood, can inspire more faith than any hidden Wizard.

This is actually very dangerous. If we are one with bacteria, it must be a heinous crime to commit genocide against a colony of staphylococci. It is hardly surprising that the evolution-inspired Nazi and Communist régimes thought that genocide of people was on the same level.

Overall, Schwartz’s anticreationist polemic results in confused thinking that undermines the whole basis for his profession.