Religion Is No Excuse For Ignorance

Posted by on December 1, 2011 in Quick Note, Thoughts | 10 comments

On the 28th of November, the Mail Online reported that students in a medical course are boycotting certain parts of the syllabus because the views presented clash with some of the beliefs upheld by the Koran. These classes were teaching Darwinian evolution, a key part in any biology-based study. The article itself with the history and subsequent worry associated with the problem. In fact I won’t go into that too much. Read the article for yourself.

While I don’t agree with the Muslim students’ viewpoint, I agree they have the right to boycott any and all classes which may go against their beliefs.

But there is one thing they do not have a right to, that is the right to graduate if they don’t attend these classes as they are not only a vital part of understanding biology, something which is crucial to any professional doctor, they are also reality. No amount of insisting will change the fact that the accepted reality of all life on earth has come about through natural selection and evolution.
Let me put it another way. Would you want a medical professional to believe the literal words of the Koran on the topic of sexual reproduction? The Koran says that life starts from the semen of a man, when mixed with the secretions of a woman. Nowhere does it mention the sperm or egg. Is this how it happens? No, it’s not, but these students could claim that, since the Koran says it is so, then that is what must be taught. These are outdated and disproven theories of sexual reproduction which were originally borrowed from the Greeks. Would it be wise to allow a pediatrician to believe this? Or an obstetrician? Or a gynecologist? It’s only a small part of the whole picture of what goes into making human life, but IT IS WRONG.

See the problem is not presenting different points of view. That can only be healthy. But presenting disproven and outdated fantasies as fact is not only disgraceful truth-bending at its worst, it is potentially harmful to human life. Under no circumstances should a student be allowed to skip a part of a medical degree on the grounds of religion. A student who fails to attend and subsequently fails to pass the subject should be treated the same as any student who refuses to attend class for whatever reason, including laziness or ineptitude. There is no such thing as Muslim biology, or Buddhist maths, and Christian science is a contradiction in terms, so if evolution is to be taught to students of the natural world, then it must be upheld for all students.

There is a lot of pressure from religions to allow for alternate viewpoints in education, and I’m all for teaching all sides, the students will work out the truth eventually. But for Islam, no matter how much evidence to the contrary there is, their belief remains stubbornly fixed in time, somewhere in the dark ages.

And it’s not just the wider community that should be concerned about this trend, the Islamic communities will suffer if it continues also. People could die because of medical “facts” from the Koran, and given the literalist viewpoint many Muslims hold it in, people treated by doctors who uphold these views are in danger.

If these students want to boycott the evolution part of the curriculum, citing the Koran, then they should also boycott the part about sexual reproduction. If they do this, then they should fail, and never be allowed to become doctors.

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10 Comments

  1. Well put.

    If/When the students apply for an exemption on the basis of already having attended extensive teachings** on the topic, then we’ll talk.

    **did these teachings sufficiently cover the material to be presented in this course?

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    • Yes in the education world we call that “Recognition of Prior Learning” or RPL, and there are standards against which this “recognition” must be tested.

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  2. I tried to leave this comment on the Mail’s website but it wasn’t accepted fo some reason. Anyway…
    All university courses where biology is taught should ask the question in the student’s pre-course interview…
    “Evolutionary principles are part of this course so will your religious beliefs conflict with this? Will you have any problems learning the material because of your faith?”
    If the person answers in the affirmative, the interview should be terminated and the application declined there and then.
    This way valuable course places would be available for those who are not held back by primitive superstition, myth and fantasy.

    I also strikes me in light of this new information, should we now ask to know the religious beliefs of medical staff to aid us in deciding their medical legitimacy?

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  3. But there is one thing they do not have a right to, that is the right to graduate if they don’t attend these classes as they are not only a vital part of understanding biology, something which is crucial to any professional doctor, they are also reality.

    So you can’t be a good doctor unless you have a thorough understanding of evolution? What are your grounds for asserting that? Being a doctor is about understanding the normal operation of the body, its ailments, and the treatment of those ailments. I don’t see why you’d need to know or care about the origin of the species as a whole, let alone the origin of species in a general sense, in order to perform that task well.

    The usual connection between medicine and evolution is microbial resistance to antibiotics. It’s very important for a doctor to know about that, of course, but it’s only important that they know and follow best practices for treating such infections; they don’t even need a Natural Selection 101 level understanding of the underlying process in order to do that.

    I think that the faulty premise of your argument is that medical doctors are biologists. They’re not. There’s overlap in the fields, of course, and it might be common practice to include some evolutionary biology component in medical degrees, but the focus of the two fields is entirely different. A biologist arguably should be required to demonstrate an understanding of Evolution as a degree requirement, if for no other reason than it is such a popular theory in our day and age. Even if one disagrees with the theory, one can’t disagree expertly unless one understands its claims in detail. Astronomers should understand Big Bang theory (whether they choose to believe it or not) for exactly the same reason. But the difference between “biologist” and “doctor of medicine” is like the difference between “astronomer” and “astronaut”. Doctors of medicine don’t need to know about evolution (particularly in the “common ancestry” sense) any more than astronauts need to know about the big bang and theories of star and planet formation.

    Let me illustrate my point in another way. If I want to know whether I’m more closely related to a sloth or a weasel, I’ll ask a biologist. If I want to know if there’s anything I can do about a nasty rash, I’ll ask a doctor. I might seek a second opinion in both cases, just to see whether the answer is widely consistent. I don’t need the biologist to diagnose and treat skin conditions, and I don’t need the doctor to know my evolutionary ancestry.

    There’s a middle ground between “doctor of medicine” and “biologist” in the form of “medical researcher”. I think there’s an interesting argument to be had as to whether that position should require an understanding of Evolution, but it’s a can of worms I decline to open right at the moment.

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    • Okay I see your point. But I think you missed my greater point which is that if you wish to become a doctor or ANY person that deals with the health of others at a professional level, you need to at least learn about the facts. I thought my point about the ob/gyn made that clear. I know what you are saying but you miss the broader picture. As Gandalf said in LOTR “YOU SHALL NOT PASS this course if you don’t take the required parts of the curriculum.” Its a slippery slope, and one we shouldn’t even consider following.

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      • I think you missed my greater point which is that if you wish to become a doctor or ANY person that deals with the health of others at a professional level, you need to at least learn about the facts. I thought my point about the ob/gyn made that clear.

        I agree that one must be well versed in the relevant facts. I dispute the relevance of evolutionary theory to the practice of medicine. I thought your analogy with the ob/gyn was apples to oranges in that sense: the mechanics of reproduction are obviously relevant, even to a GP, and if people were walking out of classes because of that particular conflict, then we’d be in agreement — flunk them.

        The question of whether evolution is a fact or not is immaterial, because a working knowledge of evolution is irrelevant to the practice of medicine. If you think I’m wrong about that, I’d be interested to hear your argument. It may be true that the university requires the subject be passed as part of the degree — i.e. they have deemed it relevant by administrative fiat — but if that’s so then I think that the students have a perfectly legitimate cause to protest. If they find the material culturally objectionable, and it’s not genuinely relevant to their qualifications, then why shouldn’t they protest?

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        • I couldn’t say how important evolution is to a medical doctor’s work. It may well be that very little knowledge of evolution is needed for a doctor to effectively practice medicine. However, huge red flags should be raised for any doctor that either didn’t have a rudimentary understanding of evolution or simply did not accept the validity of the theory. It would bring into question their knowledge and/or their judgment.

          Evolution underpins all of modern biology and biology is part of the education one must tackle en route to gaining a medical degree. If a doctor did not possess this knowledge that prerequisite, what other knowledge may they have neglected to learn or retain? And if doctors are rejecting theories as solid as evolution, then what other science or science based medicine could they be eschewing, possibly in favor of untested or woo beliefs or medicine?

          Whether from being a bad student or being influenced by personal beliefs, they may have dismissed other items that might be of more importance? And what does that say about their ability to properly diagnose and treat patients? Perhaps understanding or accepting evolution is not directly tied into the effective practice of medicine (I honestly don’t know), but knowledge and sound judgment certainly is.

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          • Evolution underpins all of modern biology…

            Yes and no. It might appear to underpin things because it explains how they got to be the way that they are — it is the grand narrative of biology. However, most of biology is about understanding the way things actually are, and this requires direct investigation and experiment on those organisms. Once an understanding of the facts has been attained through this research, evolution can be used to suggest how things might have come to be that way, but evolution is the cart that trails the horse of experimental biology, not vice versa. You can do perfectly useful biological research without taking the extra step into evolutionary back-stories.

            Perhaps understanding or accepting evolution is not directly tied into the effective practice of medicine (I honestly don’t know), but knowledge and sound judgment certainly is.

            I see. You don’t know whether evolution has any direct relevance to the practice of medicine, but one’s attitude towards the subject is a kind of touchstone for general soundness of judgement: it demonstrates one’s willingness to defer to generally accepted scientific theories over any other alleged source of truth.

            Is that a fair summary? If so, then I disagree, but I won’t argue the point, and I’m glad that we clarified the matter.

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  4. Imagine a geologist ignoring the evidence of the earth’s true age because he/she believes the bible to be literally correct….. Oh, never mind. I guess we are surrounded by fools.

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  5. Anyone who believes their religion is a source of truth, must realize that it is so only in their circles of belief. After years upon years of trying to get the American people to believe that evolution is a fact is still a continuing battle. When 40% of Americans don’t believe evolution ever happened and it was all magic, and another 40% believe evolution happened with the aid of an invisible deity, I have to say Americans in general are getting battier every day. The Muslims are so anti-science and anti-education that they choose to remain in the dark ages because of an out-dated fairy tale from the Dark Ages. Next thing you know the theocratic governments will issue a book burning of all scientific literature because it doesn’t coincide with their dangerous philosophies.

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