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Friday, June 23, 2006

New England Journal of Medicine: Insulating Darwinism from criticism - but what about patients?

Recently The New England Journal of Medicine published a commentary on historic American school board controversies around Darwinism, creationism, and intelligent design, that end up in court. The author, George J. Annas, J.D., M.P.H., from the Department of Health Law, Bioethics, and Human Rights, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, warns that the next threat (a fourth wave) will be
It looks as if this next wave will jettison the creationist and intelligent-design baggage and concentrate exclusively on a "teach the controversy" strategy. That this controversy is one largely manufactured by the proponents of creationism and intelligent design may not matter, and as long as the controversy is taught in classes on current affairs, politics, or religion, and not in science classes, neither scientists nor citizens should be concerned.

Well, that's an interesting way to insulate Darwinism from criticism! Consider the following: In biology class, you can learn that
"In all social mammals, the altruism (or apparent altruism) of siblings towards one another is about as strong and common as the altruism (or apparent altruism) of parents towards their offspring."

Do you wonder, along with agnostic Australian philosopher David Stove, linked above, how this inevitable and admitted consequence of neo-Darwinism (first advanced by Hamilton in 1964) can possibly fit the evidence? You might wonder why identical twins do not share boyfriends, or why kittens do not ensure that all their sibs get a fair amount to eat from the feeding tray. The mother cat may go hungry to feed her babies; but do they go hungry to feed each other? Yet they are co-heirs with their mother of the "selfish genes" that supposedly create apparent altruism. For that matter, do identical twins usually share boyfriends?)

Well, if you wonder about these things, you won't be able to ask your biology teacher! Darwinism is to be taught in biology class in much the same way that Roman Catholicism is taught in a confirmation class - as revealed religion. You will have to ask your current affairs, politics, or religion teacher about it - and she probably doesn't know anything about it.

In any event, if she said anything like, "No, that doesn't make sense, does it?" the long knives would be out. So she will probably avoid the issue, as countless pious Christian evolutionists do, by insisting that "there is no conflict between faith and science."

Now, all that is fair enough if we have agreed that Darwinism is the publicly funded religion of the school and university system, and must be insulated from dissent when it proclaims its miracles (altruistic kittens come to mind here).

But what about patients?
Incidentally, New England Journal of Medicine has come under fire recently, for its handling of the VIOXX mess and for peer review* issues generally. Apparently, the Journal waited years to correct dangerously misleading coverage. On NEJM's performance in the VIOXX affair, journalist Paul Greenberg comments,
Good Grief. If anything else could've gone wrong in the "editing" of this article or in making excuses for it, I don't want to think about it. This is the sort of thing that gives editors nightmares.

Are VIOXX and peer review relevant to NEJM's entry into the Darwin wars? I would argue so. The NEJM, like all medical journals, has serious conflicts of interest to address, namely its relationship to the drug companies that fund research and journals. Much as we might like to believe that the journal editors represent authoritative opinion, they often represent merely an establishment enforcing a viewpoint that is in its own interests, irrespective of evidence.

Incidentally, Annas also opines,
Of course, the theory of evolution cannot answer all questions about how life emerged or how the human brain developed, nor is evolution even relevant to the question of where the original matter of the universe came from. There is plenty of room for diverse opinions and beliefs on these subjects.

Nonsense! I just got done co-writing a book on neuroscience, and I can quite safely say that there is no room willingly granted for non-materialist approaches to neuroscience. Despite evidence against materialism, alternative views are classified as "non-science" or "anti-science," often by the same people who flack for Darwinism. I'll write more on that later.

* You must log in to The New York Times. The slug reads, "Recent disclosures of fraudulent or flawed studies in medical and scientific journals have called into question as never before the merits of their peer-review system."
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

A summary of the Catholic Church's entry into the controversy, essentially on the side of ID.

O'Leary's intro to non-Darwinian agnostic philosopher David Stove ?

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

O’Leary’s comments on Francis Beckwith, a Dembski associate, being denied tenure at Baylor.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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