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Monday, October 06, 2008

Does the study of evolution have practical benefits for science or medicine?

Here's a podcast by Casey Luskin, one of the evil Discos, on whether the study of evolution has any practical benefits for science:
Does evolution have any practical benefits for science? In this episode of ID the Future, Casey Luskin reveals that the answer, surprisingly, is no. Listen as Luskin discusses past biological discoveries, reviews recent surveys of biologists, and quotes several scientists, including noted Professor of Biology and intelligent design critic Jerry Coyne. All three sources agree: the theory of evolution has yielded few practical benefits for scientific discovery.
Actually, that's not really very surprising.

The study of evolution is the study of - to use the vernacular - what used to was and ain't no more. It is necessarily heavy on speculation and interpretation. That's okay, as long as it doesn't become a cult.

Fast forward to Darwinism, which - unfortunately - has become a cult, big time.

Plus, I have been meaning to post this for months - Catriona J MacCallum (PLOS Biology, April 2007 Volume 5 Issue 4 e112) argues for the alleged importance of evolution in medicine. She complains,
One reason that evolution doesn’t figure prominently in the medical community is that although it makes sense to have evolution taught as part of medicine, that doesn’t make it essential. ... , medicine is primarily focused on problem-solving and proximate causation, and ultimate explanations can seem irrelevant to clinical practice. Crudely put, does a mechanic need to understand the origins, history, and technological advances that have gone into the modern motor vehicle in order to fix it?
Crudely put, medicine is about saving lives and limbs today in the real world.

MacCallum thinks that evolution can help us understand epidemics, and this may be so if we mean the evolution of bacteria in a test tube. Not that bacteria evolve much, if you go by Edge of Evolution, except that they tend to junk intricate machinery under stress.

Apart from that, consider the example of heart attacks: What if the lemur-like creature from which humans are said to descend never had heart attacks? What if it usually did, under stress? How does such information help the medical interne whose patient presents with cardiac arrest? Whatever the interne decides to do must work in half a minute, not half a billion years.

Yes, evolution is very interesting - like any other type of ancient history - but no, it is not essential. I think it should definitely be studied, along with the cave paintings, ancient Egypt and theories about the origin of life and the universe and all that. But the burden of pretending that evolution is useful in a concrete way is tiresome and surely avoidable.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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