September 8, 2009 | David F. Coppedge

Do You Need a Darwinian Doctor?

Visualize a cartoon of Charles Darwin as Hippocrates.  It accompanies a book review in Science by Peter T. Ellison (Harvard).1  Ellison realizes that the mass of material doctors need to master is formidable, but thinks that “Evolutionary biology, however, is no longer an expendable topic in medical education.”
    The book is Principles of Evolutionary Medicine by Gluckman, Beedle, and Hanson (Oxford, 2009).  Ellison had only minor gripes about the book.  He was thrilled to see a new treatise on a topic he feels important.  “In 2009, the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, evolutionary biology is still trying to earn a place in medical education,” Ellison said.  He was glad to see a book on this topic specifically designed as a medical school textbook, “and it succeeds brilliantly.”
    What, exactly, does Darwinism have to offer?  Ellison summarized three parts of the book:

  1. Background: Part one introduces evolutionary theory “from ground zero to a sophisticated, contemporary level.”  Topics discussed are life history, game theory, intragenomic conflict, and human evolution.  “Side boxes present compelling examples drawn from current research literature that convey the excitement and relevance of research in human evolutionary biology,” Ellison said, but he did not cite any examples that would excite a doctor or encourage him to be a better help to patients.
  2. Explanation: Part two, Ellison said, includes four chapters that “showcase the power of evolutionary biology to organize and explain complex areas of human biology relevant to modern medicine.”  These include sex, “an evolutionary understanding of reproductive physiology and the forces that have shaped it”; nutrition and metabolism, “topics particularly pertinent in a time of increasing obesity and prevalence of metabolic syndromes that also demonstrate the potential of an evolutionary perspective in forging a synthetic understanding of genetic, developmental, environmental, and behavioral risk factors”; defense, e.g., “the evolution of virulence, antibiotic resistance, immunization strategies, and autoimmune disease”; and human behavior, “including mental illness as well as the influence of lifestyle factors on human health and disease.”  Again, though, Ellison did not explain why an evolutionary explanation is better than a design explanation when it comes to performing surgery.
  3. Understanding: Part three “presents a set of effective organizing principles for understanding the causes of human diseases from an evolutionary perspective.”  Ellison says this section can help doctors “internalize and readily apply” what they have learned about evolution.  He did not say how it would make their medical practice better. 

Medicine has apparently been advancing just fine without Darwin’s input.  Ellison began his review with a puzzling anecdote.  He noted that in 1870, Darwin’s Bulldog himself, Thomas Huxley, addressed medical students at University College London and yet did not mention evolution once.  Huxley’s point was that medical schools need to cut out extraneous material, because students already have too much to learn.  So if Darwin’s Bulldog did not include evolution as an essential element of medical education then, how can Ellison make the case that medical students need lessons in evolutionary theory now, with 140 years of additional complex material added to the curriculum?  Most of the major discoveries in anatomy and physiology at the metabolic, cell and tissue level have been made since then.
    Ellison noted that a panel of deans and faculty from medical schools from around the world “endorsed the incorporation of evolutionary principles in medical curricula” last April, “And yet one can probably count on the digits of a three-toed sloth the number of medical schools currently offering such instruction.”  Ellison did not comment on whether that illustrates the survival of the fittest.


1.  Peter T. Ellison, “Evolutionary Biology for Doctors,” Science, 4 September 2009: Vol. 325. no. 5945, p. 1207, DOI: 10.1126/science.1179152.

The Darwin Party has been pushing this agenda for years (11/16/2002, 01/13/2003, 05/31/2004, 04/25/2007).  Thankfully med schools aren’t buying it – at least in the free market.  If government takes over medical care, Darwinism will undoubtedly become the central unifying theme of medicine, because it will justify eliminating the unfit to save costs.  Darwinism is all about selfishness, costs and benefits.  It is NOT about compassion and oaths to “do no harm.”
    If you would avoid a charlatan trying to fix an ailment you don’t have, then run for your life from a doctor wearing a Darwin fish.  We don’t need the head of Darwin on the body of Hippocrates.  We need the opposite.

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Categories: Education, Health

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