Mr. Bloomberg's freewheeling question-and-answer session was peppered with the kind of provocative, blunt talk that could appeal to some voters while alienating others. "It's probably because of our bad educational system, but the percentage of people who believe in creationalism is really scary for a country that's going to have to compete in a world where science and medicine require a better understanding," he said in one such foray.I'm not going to argue with big Mike's contention that our school system is bad. His city did not have the first bad schools in the US, but they have come near to perfecting the practice. But in regards to his quote, I do note that many of those who go out of their way to criticize "creationalism" - which is not even in those schools - constantly try to limit science. The problem is not that they believe that evolution is science (it is and it isn't, depending on how you're talking about it) or that creationalism is not (it's not) but how they constantly assert that science is evolution and that's all science is, and that if one doubts that the incredible variety of life on this planet is solely the result of natural forces, then one is of no use to science.
Part of this is due, to be blunt, to the creationalists' abject refusal to accept natural forces as being the only forces, and physical scientists can only study natural forces. I don't think that's an issue, because one can certainly believe that some rare historical events were caused by supernatural forces while presuming that all the forces one sees in nature are natural, just as a Ford mechanic can believe in Nissans even if they never come into his shop. But a big part of it, especially from politicians, is simply amateurs masquerading as science's defenders, and in doing so, they unfairly and unwisely circumscribe science.
But even limiting science to the purely medical sciences (as Bloomberg connects the two), it would be interesting to see how many a person who doubted evolution could do good science in. Or to put it another way, how many fields of medicine are underlain with the demand that the origin of life must have been purely naturalistic?
We could pick any number of specializations, I suppose, but since I'm lazy I'll just grab a Wikipedia list of the fields involved in medical science. And since I'm lazier, I'm going to let Wikipedia answer the question for me. I'll click through the links to the various entries, and if Wikipedia mentions evolution as part of the field (not part of a related field, e.g. neurology overlapping with psychology), we'll make the assumption that a belief in evolution is necessary to do the science*:
Anatomy (and histology and cytology) - Yes.
Dermatology (skin and skin diseases) - No.
Gynecology (female reproductive system) - No.
Immunology (immune system) - Yes.
Internal medicine (diseases of the internal organs) - No.
Neurology (central nervous system) - No.
Ophthalmology (visual pathways) - No.
Pathology (study of disease processes) - Yes.
Pathophysiology (study of not-quite-diseases) - No.
Pediatrics (children) - No.
Pharmacology (drugs) - No.
Physical therapy (restoration of body functions) - No.
Physiology - (biological functions) - Yes.
Psychiatry - (mental illness) - No.
Radiology - (medical imagery) - No.
Toxicology - (adverse effects of chemicals) - No.
So for the medicals, which ought to be fairly high as they deal with human biology, we get about a quarter (4 in 16) of the fields that require a belief in (or better yet, an understanding of) biological evolution.
In other sciences we'll find a large spread of values, because as some (e.g. biology) will obviously have an evolutionary bias, most do not deal with living things at all (e.g. accoustics, nuclear physics, and cartography). One does not need a theory of the origin of biological diversity to measure the effects of light moving through glass.
The other, more marginal** sciences are a similarly mixed bag - some that deal specifically with people (e.g. anthropology and biochemistry, but not population dynamics) have evolutionary subspecialties. Those which do not deal with humans or animals (e.g. hydrology) do not. Of course, mathematics, computer science, and the like do not either.
One could probably make the argument*** that one needs to believe in evolution in order to do good work in the minority of disciplines that deal directly with origins, but that is a very small part of science. Science's loudest defenders do all of science a disservice when they try to make that small part the whole.
* It's a poor test, perhaps, as one could certainly propose a better one, but this one is fairly objective in that I'm relying on other (presumably) expert opinions and simply counting noses.
** By which I mean that they are often not considered science because they are more freestanding (like engineering and mathematics) or are considered "soft" sciences (like economics and psychology).
*** Of course, one would be wrong, as this guy's PhD in paleontology demonstrates. I really love the pair (Scott and Dini) who assert that the college should not give advanced degrees to those who might use them to undercut "science," by which they mean "evolution." And I didn't realize that Ph.D. stood for "philosopher of science" until I read this article.
Copyright 2007 El Borak, inc. Makers of Land Mimes brand petards and Greek fire for use on performace artists. Invisible casket sold separately.