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Physicians and Origins

Some are surprised to learn that practicing physicians are involved in the evolution and origins debate.  This point becomes pertinent when someone disagrees with a physician researcher.  Typically, in lieu of addressing the scientific point being promulgated, he/she will eschew the research based on the premise that the author is, after all, “only a physician.

At first glance, this criticism—that a medical doctor does not have the scientific authority to comment on the theory of evolution—seems reasonable; but, in reality, this line of reasoning is weak.  Physicians have been responsible for many significant discoveries in this area of science.  

Some of the more famous medical doctors and their discoveries include: Dr. Raymond Dart, discoverer of Australopithecus africanus; Dr. Eugene Dubois, discoverer of Homo erectus; Dr. Davidson Black, discoverer of Sinanthropus pekinensis; and Dr. Robert Broom, discoverer of Paranthropus robustus.

One reason physicians have made so many contributions to the science of origins is their training.  Most physicians take coursework in anatomy, neuroanatomy, biology, cell biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, genetics, embryology, microbiology, statistics, physiology, pathology, and reproductive medicine.  All of these courses are also the core studies for the theory of evolution.

Dr. Raymond Dart
Dr. Raymond Dart
1893-1988
Australian Physician
Discovered Australopithecus africanus

 

Dr. Robert Broom
Dr. Robert Broom (left).
1866-1951
South African Physician
Discovered Paranthropus robustus

Dr. Davidson Black
Dr. Davidson Black
1884-1934
Canadian Physician
Discovered Sinanthropus pekinensis
Dr. Eugene Dubois
Dr. Eugene Dubois
1858-1940
Dutch Physician
Discovered Homo erectus

 

First Major Theory of Origins Overturned by a Physician

An interesting fact is that physicians were instrumental in overturning the first two major natural theories of origins (origin theories that do not resort to a creator).

Spontaneous generation was the first natural theory and was accepted by the majority of secular scientists from the time of Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) until the time Darwin published his theory of evolution in 1859.

Spontaneous generation suggested that mice spontaneously came from dirty underwear, that maggots spontaneously came from rotting meat, and that bacteria spontaneously arose from sterile water.

Eventually, two men, separated by more than 150 years, disproved spontaneous generation.  Dr. Francesco Redi, a practicing Italian physician, and Dr. Louis Pasteur, a French chemist, designed and carried out two famous experiments credited with overturning spontaneous generation. (See video.)

 

Dr. Francesco Redi
Dr. Francesco Redi
Italian Physician
1626-1697

 

 

 

Second Major Theory Overturned by a Physician

Dr. August Weismann
Dr. August Weismann
German Medical Doctor
1834-1914

 

 

The second major theory of origins was Darwin’s theory of evolution.  According to Darwin’s writings, one type of animal changed into a completely different type of animal, in part, because of the law of use and disuse.  For example, Darwin believed if a horse was exercised and developed large muscles (use of a body part), the offspring of the horse would be born with large muscles, which, of course, is not true.  Darwin wrote, “I think that there can be little doubt that use in our domestic animals strengthens and enlarges certain parts, and disuse diminishes them; and that such modifications are inherited.”

Darwin also believed that if an animal lived underground in darkness and did not use its eyes (disuse of a body part), eventually the animal would shed these unused body parts in subsequent generations.  This, of course, is not true either.  Darwin wrote, “The eyes of moles and of some burrowing rodents are rudimentary in size, and in some cases are quite covered by skin and fur. This state of the eyes is probably due to gradual reduction from disuse, but aided perhaps by natural selection.”  (The Origin of Species, 1860, Chapter V, Laws of Variation, Subsection 1 The Effects of Use and Disuse.) 

Throughout his lifetime, Darwin wrote extensively about use and disuse as a mechanism for evolution both in his letters and in his two books.  He considered this law (also called the law of acquired characters or Lamarckism) to be a major mechanism for his theory.  Although the law of use and disuse had been believed for over 2,000 years, it was overturned by a medical doctor named Dr. August Weismann.  With his famous tail-cutting experiment, Dr. Weismann gutted Darwin’s theory shortly after Darwin died.  The theory was left without a plausible mechanism for how animals could change. (Natural selection can only remove existing traits, not add them.) Watch video now.

 

Prominent Evolution Scientists Without Science Degrees


Charles Darwin
1809-1882
Wrote theory of evolution.

Some prominent scientists working in the field of evolution never even obtained a science degree.  Charles Darwin, for example, attempted medical school but dropped out after two years.  Later, he went to Christ’s College in Cambridge and studied theology. (http://www.oum.ox.ac.uk/learning/htmls/darwin.htm).

The Origin of Species
Charles Darwin’s Book
The Origin of Species
Arthur Woodward
Arthur Woodward
1864-1944
Director Geology
Natural History Museum London

Darwin was not alone. For example, the Director of Geology at the Natural History Museum London (Arthur Woodward) did not have a science degree either.  He not only held this prominent post at the top British museum, he also authored many books about evolution.

Natural History Museum London
Natural History Museum London
Arthur Woodward was the
Director of Geology
Florentino Ameghino
Florentino Ameghino
1854-1911
Director
Natural History Museum Buenos Aires
Professor of Geology at The National University
of La Plata and Professor of Zoology at the University
of Córdoba in Argentina

The Director of the Natural Science Museum in Buenos Aires (Florentino Ameghino) also did not have a science degree. He wrote many books on evolution and named many new types of animals. 

Natural Sciences Museum Buenos Aires
Natural Sciences Museum Buenos Aires
Florentino Ameghino was the
Director of this Museum

It should be noted that all three of these researchers without science degrees, Darwin, Woodward and Ameghino, made significant mistakes in their fields: Darwin’s belief in the law of use and disuse on which he based his theory, Woodward’s discovery of the ape man Eoanthropus dawsoni, which turned out to be an altered orangutan jaw, and Ameghino’s ape man discovery of Tetraprothomo argentinus, which was composed of a non-primate leg bone.

 

Prominent Evolution Scientists Working Outside of Their Field

Dr. Phil Gingerich
Dr. Phil Gingerich
Geologist
University of Michigan

 

Dr. David Weishampel
Dr. David Weishampel
Geologist
The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

No single scientist is proficient in all areas of science.  Experts in biology, zoology, paleontology, geology, anatomy, anthropology, paleoanthropology, dentistry, and medicine work in the field of evolution and comment on the entire theory, not just the areas in which they are formally trained.  For example, the world’s leading authority on whale evolution (Dr. Phil Gingerich) has his training in geology (the study of rocks and sediment layers), not zoology, paleontology, or whales and teaches primate evolution at the University of Michigan.  Similarly, one of the world’s leading authorities on dinosaur evolution (Dr. David Weishampel) also has his degree in geology, not paleontology, and teaches anatomy at a medical school. 

The practice of working outside the area in which a scientist is formally trained is very common in the field of evolution science.  

 

 

 

Summary

Based on historical evidence, false theories may have persisted for longer than necessary if physicians had been excluded from the origins debate.  A physician working in this field is equivalent to a scientist working in this field.  For that reason, physicians (both pro-evolution and anti-evolution) have a relevant place in today’s discussion regarding the latest natural theory of origins, called neo-Darwinian evolution.

Dr. Carl Werner is an American physician. 

 


 
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