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Denial of evolution can be
hazardous to your health…

by Donald Prothero, Aug 10 2011

The continuing problem of creationists and their efforts to hamper science education and research in this country never seems to abate. Some people throw up their hands in resignation and say, “We can never change their minds, so let’s just ignore them.” As I pointed out in my book Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters, we cannot afford to ignore the creationist threat to science. Not only do they undermine the proper teaching of biology in our schools, but they have made no secret that their goal is to suppress any science that is not consistent with their literalistic view of the Bible. Good bye, astronomy and cosmology. Good bye, physical anthropology and human paleontology. Good bye, geology (and forget finding oil or coal or gas ever again). Good bye molecular biology, and its evidence for evolution. And forget all the benefits that these sciences provide us, or the richer perspective on life that we gain by understanding our true place in the universe, rather than the version handed down by some Bronze Age shepherds.

But a bigger problem is the fact that in some cases, denial of evolution is dangerous or even deadly. Evolution keeps happening all the time, whether creationists want to believe it or not. Yet if we deny the fact that evolution is happening in viruses and bacteria and in other pathogens and pests, it only makes the problem worse when they evolve resistance to whatever we throw at them. If creationists ran the labs that produce these protective chemicals, do you think we would have a chance when the next deadly pest hits us?

Many insects and weeds have evolved resistance to pesticides and herbicides, all within a few decades, causing enormous economic damage to people all over the world. Every modern housefly now carries the genes that make it resistant not only to DDT, but also pyrethroids, dieldrin, organophosphates and carbamates, so there are few poisons left that can suppress them. The mosquitoes that evolved resistance to DDT and other organophosphate insecticides apparently evolved in Africa during the 1960s, spread on to Asia, then reached California by 1984, Italy in 1985, and France in 1986. As entomologist Martin Taylor describes it (in Weiner, 1994, p. 255):

It always seems amazing to me that evolutionists pay so little attention to this kind of thing, and that cotton growers are having to deal with these pests in the very states whose legislatures are so hostile to the theory of evolution. Because it is the evolution itself they are struggling against in their fields every season. These people are trying to ban the teaching of evolution while their own cotton crops are failing because of evolution. How can you be a creationist farmer any more?

But the most egregious example of evolution denial didn’t just hurt people, but actually killed a baby. In 1984, when a surgeon at Loma Linda University in California attempted to replace the defective heart of “Baby Fae” with the heart of a baboon. Not surprisingly, the poor baby died a few days later due to immune rejection. An Australian radio crew interviewed the surgeon, Dr. Leonard Bailey, and asked him why he didn’t use a more closely related primate, such as a chimpanzee, and avoid the possibility of immune rejection, given the baboon’s great evolutionary distance from humans. Bailey said, “Er, I find that difficult to answer. You see, I don’t believe in evolution.” If Bailey had performed the same experiment in any other medical institution except Loma Linda (which is run by the creationist Seventh-Day Adventist Church), his experiments would be labeled dangerous and unethical, and he would have been sued for malpractice and his medical license revoked. But under the cover of religion, his unscientific beliefs caused an innocent baby to die of immune rejection, when other alternatives might have been available. And Bailey still continues on at Loma Linda, treating kids with no regrets about his unethical experiment.

So just think about that the next time you hear someone say, “Oh, creationism is not hurting anyone.”

12 Responses to “Denial of evolution can be
hazardous to your health…”

  1. Old Rockin' Dave says:

    Good point about the Baby Fae case, but a failure to understand the underlying science has never kept people from using it.
    Flat-Earthers don’t insist on taking intercontinental flights that go ‘straight’ rather than over the Arctic. People who reject relativity still manage to use satellite phones and TV. I am sure that many creationists still get the latest influenza vaccines while germ-theory rejectionists are not noted for drinking sewage-contaminated water. And some of the people who reject the West and have never learned to read can still fire a Kalashnikov.
    Too bad we can’t stop people from using technology from sources they reject.

  2. Trimegistus says:

    This touches on something I’ve noticed: the debate (if one can call it that) about evolution is actually about terminology. Your “intelligent design” advocate would say that bacteria developing antibiotic resistance is an example of “adaptation.” They also use that to describe how species in the fossil record change to fit new conditions.

    In essence, they’ve simply redefined evolution by natural selection as “adaptation” and have more or less accepted it. When they fight against the teaching of “evolution” they’re really opposed to teaching about abiogenesis. They’ve just been using the word “evolution” as shorthand for “life arising without God doing it” that they had to come up with their own vocabulary.

    • itzac says:

      I think you’re missing the false distinction most creationists make between micro- and macro-evolution. Most will admit the possibility of individual adaptations, but categorically reject the idea the many such adaptations could accumulate over time to create a new species. What you’re describing is a view more common to moderate Christians.

      It’s us evil darwinists who must be wrong to think different sets of changes could accumulate over millennia to generate humans and apes from the same primate ancestor.

  3. Max says:

    Strange, I would’ve expected a Creationist to reject organ transplants between species (no pun intended) and maybe even oppose testing drugs on animals.

    “Since they are the closest relatives to humans, nonhuman primates were first considered as a potential organ source for xenotransplantation to humans. Chimpanzees were originally considered to be the best option since their organs are of similar size, and they have good blood type compatibility with humans. However, since chimpanzees are listed as an endangered species, other potential donors were sought out. Baboons are more readily available, however they are also not practical as potential donors. Problems include their smaller body size, the infrequency of blood group O (the universal donor), their long gestation period, and they typically produce few offspring. In addition, a major problem with the use of nonhuman primates is the increased risk of disease transmission, since they are so closely related to humans. Pigs are currently thought to be the best candidates for organ donation. The risk of cross-species disease transmission is decreased because of their increased phylogenetic distance from humans. They are readily available, their organs are anatomically comparable in size, and new infectious agents are less likely since they have been in close contact with humans through domestication for many generations. Current experiments in xenotransplantation most often use pigs as the donor, and baboons as human models.”

  4. WScott says:

    Trimegistus & itzac both make great points: whether they call it adaptation or micro-evolution, the vast majority of Christians (even creationists) have no problem accepting the type of small changes discussed here. What they don’t see is how lots of little changes can add up to create new species – they’re used to thinking of the line between species as an absolute division, rather than an accumulation of incremental changes over generations. It seems to me this is the weak point we ought to be attacking in creationist arguments more.

  5. marke says:

    I think one of the more interesting and compelling evolutionary stories to come out in recent years is that the closest living relative to the hippopotamus is the whale.

    Some palaeontologists had long noted they both had a some similar bone structures, unique to those species, but it was not until the advent of DNA testing that this link was widely accepted.

    I wonder if creationists ever notice that as science develops, the evidence all keeps pointing in the same direction?

  6. Wonderful blog post, thank you! The only thing I would add is that creationists invent rationalizations to circumvent having to confront things like the evolution of resistance. So this they term “microevolution” and even Kent Hovind would admit to that. It’s speciation they don’t like. Their position is untenable, but they go as far as they want to keep others of their ilk on board without having to concede too much ground to real science.

  7. Kitty says:

    I also think that “it won’t do any good, no one ever changes their mind..” is an awfully convenient excuse to stop trying.

    • @Kitty: I don’t stop trying, but in the 4 years since my evolution book has been out, almost no creationists have responded to it on line or anywhere else–they simply ignore what they don’t want to hear. What IS encouraging is the huge number of “fence-sitters” who have been confused about these issues, and found my book helped them understand and accept evolution. THOSE are the people we MUST try to reach!

  8. Jay Voigt says:

    This is great, I would love to see it expanded on even more! You should outline the details of exactly what the beliefs of these creationist/intelligent design morons believe and exactly how science proves that their ridiculous ideas of the nature of our universe are in conflict. I hate, hate, hate this ignorance, it makes me ABSOLUTELY furious. FURIOUS!

  9. Jason D. says:

    I think you misunderstand Christians and creationism. I am a creationist but I do not believe or act in the same way that you protray creationists to act in this article. The way this article is written, it seems to me that you believe that all Christians are drop dead Bible literalists , while those people are only a small minority. I do believe that the world was created in 7, 24-hour days roughly 6 thousand years ago, but I do not discredit all scientific evidence of evolution as you seem to think all Christians do as stated in this article. The article implies that creationists do not believe in evolution at all. I in fact do fully believe that evolution observably takes place every day in small organisms and bacteria, I just do not believe that the same evolution took place over millions of years to turn fish into humans. The last example you provided is simply ignorance on the behalf of the doctor. In fact that is not even an argument of evolution. Through DNA testing we can observe that chimps are more closely related than baboons to humans without worrying about the past.