Is a Naturalistic Worldview Necessary to Medical Education?

Reposted from ("Imago-dei"), a now-defunct website. Comments at have unfortunately disappeared.

Serge's introduction:

A few months back, the New England Journal of Medicine published an editorial decrying the inclusion of intelligent design onto any medical school curriculum. The Christian Medical and Dental Association replied here, and Dr. Paul Giem, who has commented on this blog in the past, e-mailed his reply to me. He makes a very interesting point - what about those schools that were either founded by or still presently adherent to a theistic worldview? Would you refuse treatment from an ER physician that was trained at Loma Linda? What about Georgetown or Loyola? Then you have situations like me; I did my training at two Big 10 schools but (hopefully) will have an advanced degree from Biola in the next year. I even believe (gasp!) that a naturalistic view may not explain everything in the universe. Here is Dr. Giem's response

Recently the Journal printed an article 1 decrying intelligent design (ID). We were told that although ID was "articulate and sophisticated" and "cannot be easily dismissed", it was "pseudoscience" and, the title implied, might lead to "faith healers". Apparently, if we believe ID, we might be inclined to withhold "a treatment for cancer" because it is not "in accord with the plan of the intelligent designer." This "insidious menace to medicine" may "soon reach medical schools."

There is good news and bad news for the author of the article. First, the bad news: The situation is worse than he thinks. There is already a medical school in the U. S. where the proponents of ID are in control; in fact they have been in control for almost 100 years. Worse yet, the Protestant denomination that sponsors the school actually believes, not just in ID, but in a six-day creation.

But there is also good news. That medical school, Loma Linda University, teaches its medical students to treat cancer using all the standard therapies, and even has gotten involved in experimental therapies such as proton beams. Classic faith healing is not part of the curriculum.

It is of interest that, although there are Presbyterian hospitals, and Methodist hospitals, and Adventist hospitals, and Catholic hospitals, and Jewish hospitals, there are not too many atheist or freethinker hospitals. That is not to say that there are not any. But it does suggest that believing in religion, even religion that could agree with ID, does not automatically destroy one's compassion for humanity, or one's willingness to alter the natural course of disease for the benefit of one's fellow humans. From an ID perspective, it is still permissible to treat "deep venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolism."

The author of the article is obviously out of his depth when discussing the theological ramifications of ID. If we see an automobile with a dent in its side, it is not necessary to believe that if the automobile was designed, the dent had same designer. The dent may not have been designed, or it may have been designed by someone else. Similarly, if the human body was designed, it does not follow that cancer or pulmonary emboli were designed, or that they were designed by the same designer as the body. It therefore does not follow that one should not try to fix those defects in the body.

The article apparently believes that either naturalism or evolution (the context appears to suggest "godless science that has no place for a Creator") is "the very basis of science". This would appear to be overstated. Many of the graduates of the aforementioned medical school have done quite well on board exams, and seem to have practiced medicine well in real life, without a firm belief in megaevolution, let alone naturalism. One can argue that such belief is helpful, but not (at least not rationally) that it is essential.

The article misunderstands one other fundamental point. While it is undoubtedly true that some believe in ID because of theological bias, it is also true that others, such as Antony Flew, 2 believe in ID because of the scientific evidence. In order to deny that ID has validity, one must believe in the spontaneous generation of life. At present, that is just too much faith for me. Perhaps considerations like this, rather than (or in addition to) pure electoral politics, accounts for the stated belief of Harvard Medical School graduate Bill Frist.

The article seems to concede as much, when it acknowledges of Philip Johnson (another Harvard grad, although not medical) "His criticisms have merit". It then goes on, inexplicably, to state that "his focus on precisely those things that we do not yet know blocks any rational dialogue." How this blocks rational dialogue is not clear. It would appear that what Johnson has done is, in fact, "rational dialogue." What, precisely, is wrong with pointing out the explanatory weaknesses of a theory when comparing it to an alternate theory?

In fact, the article seems to advise the avoidance of rational dialogue. "Engaging in a public debate about intelligent design is probably not a good idea". Rather, it appears that we are called to suppress ID; "More desirable are education and acting to protect the profession and the public from pseudoscience." It appears that the article logically should favor closing down Loma Linda University, or at least a purging of ID adherents. Does this approach look more like an open view of science, or a closed view similar to that of Stalin?

The mention of Stalin here is not gratuitous. The article correctly noted that Stalin was an enemy of Darwinian evolution later in life; Stalin preferred Lysenko. But Stalin was no friend of ID, and his official propaganda acknowledged the critical value of Darwin in his formative years.3

The author misses the major reason for neglecting to mention the identity of the designer. If one is to keep from going beyond the evidence available from the designed object itself, all that one can say is that there was a designer, and perhaps give a minimum intelligence and skill. The identity, theological orientation, and even the benevolence of the designer are not necessarily evident from an examination of the designed object. If ID were to identify the designer, its opponents could rightly object to its going beyond the evidence.

The author is even out of his depth discussing traditional creationism. The article uses perhaps the poorest possible argument against traditional creationism, namely carbon-14 dating. The author is apparently unaware that carbon-14 dating at present appears to give evidence for a short age for life on earth.4,5 Perhaps the next time the author writes on ID, he will consult more widely and write more carefully.


(1) Schwartz RS. Faith healers and physicians--teaching pseudoscience by mandate. N Engl J Med 2005;353(14):1437-9 (link in introduction)

(2) Flew A, Habermas G. My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism. Philosophia Christi, in press. Available at

(3) Yaroslavsky E. Landmarks in the Life of Stalin Moscow,Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1940, p. 8. Quoted (accurately) in

(4) Giem P. Carbon-14 content of fossil carbon. Origins 2001;51:6-30. Available at

(5) Baumgardner J. 14C evidence for a recent global flood and a young earth. In Vardiman L, Snelling AA, Chafin EF: Radioisotopes and the age of the Earth: Results of a young-Earth Creationist Research Initiative. El Cajon, CA: Institute for Creation Research, 2005, pp. 587-630. An earlier version is available on the web at

Addendum: For note 5, the later version of the Baumgardner reference is now available on the web at

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