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Sunday, February 02, 2003

Macro or Micro-and I'm not Talking Economics-The story of a Texas Tech biology prof, Michael Dini, who refuses to give recommendations to creationists (or at least to people who can't support evolution as the basis of life) has been around the Blogosphere this week. Eugene Volokh mugwumps on the legal implications, weighing the religious discrimination implications with academic freedom. Moira Breen, not a Bible-thumper to be sure, surpises herself by coming down on the side of the creationist students
Despite what people may believe about biology as a unified subject, and pace Dobzhansky's famous dictum about the centrality of evolution in biology, it's quite possible to obtain a degree in molecular biology, biochemistry, or related fields without ever having to trouble oneself with gaining any real understanding of Darwinian theory. (This was true in my day, and I assume it's even more the case now - how often, in large schools, do population and evolutionary biology even share a department with molecular biology or biochemistry?) Dini makes an egregious attempt to link creationist beliefs and bad clinical practice via the example of the overprescription of antibiotics that leads to antibiotic resistance. Clayton Cramer refutes this reasoning with some empirical observations, but I'd also like to point out that explanations for the development of antibiotic resistance do not invoke any macroevolutionary mechanism - therefore, to the best of my knowledge, there is no reason to assume that creationists reject any clinically significant knowledge about the process of the development of antibiotic resistance. They may not believe it's evolution in action, but they deny neither that it happens nor that it happens because of improper use of antibiotics.
There are quite a few creationists who will accept microevolution (small changes in existing species) but not buy macroevolution (big, cumulative changes that create entire new species). Here's a piece from Bryan Preston (that doesn't seem to be a year ago already) on that topic of speciation. The idea that bacteria develop resistance to drugs via microevolution wouldn't get one labled one a heretic in most theoligically conservative churches. This will be an interesting one to see filter through the courts. There are a number of areas where religious beliefs and academia are clashing; the most prominent ones are where college anti-discrimination policies are attacking parachurch organizations like InterVarsity for insisting that officers be professing evangelical Christians. However, this Texas Tech case, if decided in favor of the professor, has the potential of blackballing conservative Christians (or people of other faiths as well) from pursuing careers in science and medicine unless they abandon their faith.

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